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Another Voice: Catholics have a duty not to penalize the needy

By Debra Abrams

Along with my Catholic sisters and brothers, I have followed with deep concern the storm swirling in the Diocese of Buffalo. As of today, 168 Child Victims Act lawsuits are pending against the Diocese of Buffalo. It is a daily struggle to remain a Catholic. However, the time has passed when Buffalo Catholics – like those in so many other cities – have felt powerless as a laity. We have awakened and are making choices.

Many of us have taken steps to take back our lay power in the only way we know how – by withholding funds or by leaving the church outright. Both actions have had profound impacts on our Catholic faith community and on Western New York as a whole.

A national survey released in June by the Pew Research Center reported that approximately one-fourth of Catholics said they had reduced donations and cut back on their Mass attendance because of the abuse crisis. Our intentions may seem well-considered, but they have jeopardized another group of vulnerable people – the poor.

Locally, the numbers speak for themselves. Catholic Charities in Buffalo serves more than 152,000 people annually. This year the Annual Appeal was short $1.7 million of an $11 million goal – over a 15% decline. And this happened even when donors were offered the choice of giving directly to Catholic Charities and not to the diocese.

Other local nonprofits are experiencing similar shortfalls. Ultimately, the poor, the voiceless and the most vulnerable are paying for the sins originating within the diocese.

As a professional grant writer working with local nonprofits, I have witnessed the ongoing unanswered needs in Buffalo human service agencies – places where more belt tightening is the only response to thinning coffers. That $1.7 million could have subsidized thousands of hours of training and providing volunteers to work in community kitchens, tutoring children, providing nursing services to seniors and so much more. Cutting programs by 20% means some vulnerable clients will just have to do without the basics this year.

So, what’s the solution? Instead of withholding funds we take back our Catholic power by writing a check as a restricted gift to a local nonprofit that feeds the poor, houses the homeless or offers health care or hospice for those whose health is fragile. As the holidays are soon upon us, we can make a restricted gift to cover a parish’s Advent Giving Tree, or a specific ministry such as the parish nurse, or nursing home ministry. Write the restriction of your gift in the memo section of your check and make sure to attach a note with your gift that clearly delineates how and in what time frame your funds are to be used.

Debra Abrams is a Buffalo-based grant writing consultant with a focus on nonprofit institutions.

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