Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Supporting the mission"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Feb. 2, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

The month of February has traditionally been the time for asking our diocesan family to support our diocesan mission. I say it has been a tradition, because from my days as a young priest I remember our first effort, in 1961, when Bishop Topel began what was then called the DDF – the Diocesan Development Fund. That was 45 years ago. This annual appeal supported the office of the bishop and related ministries on the diocesan level. We have never levied a diocesan tax to supply that funding; many dioceses today have both. The tax, or diocesanum, as it is called, is to support the less noticeable types of needs for which the diocesan family is responsible, such as administration of financial matters and the like

These past couple of years have been challenging ones for the diocese as we continue to move through the Chapter 11 Reorganization process and, I hope, soon come to a settlement of the abuse claims. As I have said many times before, we entered Chapter 11 so that we can treat all of the victims of clergy sexual abuse in a fair and just manner. Second, we need to – and must – support the continuing mission of the diocese. And finally, as the Catholic Bishops have promised in their Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth, every effort must be made to make sure that to the best of our ability such abuse will never happen again.

In our diocese, as all over the country, we have made a massive effort to implement the safe environment program. For those of you involved in parish ministry, you know how thorough we have tried to make this training, so that it is as effective as possible. Although periodically one hears criticism that the Church is slipping back to “business as usual,” that is not my perception. We must be deeply committed to the safe environment in which the ministries of the Church take place.

The process of litigation has been costly. As we look to the future of continuing the mission of the Church and our diocese, this mission demands support. Our Annual Catholic Appeal addresses the support of this mission. It’s important for all of us to remember that we are in this business together of supporting the Church in a spirit of stewardship and generosity. So often people look to the support only of specific programs or needs. But really, the motivation should come from the heart: a motivation to support the mission of the Church, responding generously, grounded in a spirituality which appreciates how richly God blesses us and how we need to share those blessings by giving generously. “The gift you have received, give as a gift,” as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of Matthew (10:8).

Until recently, about 60 percent of the funding for our diocesan ministries came from the Annual Catholic Appeal. For the rest, we relied on investment income in one form or the other to support our mission. But that reality has dramatically changed: Today, about 91 percent of the funds needed to support our mission must come from the ACA. That is not only because of diocesan resources being used to support the Chapter 11 litigation. Even before we were dealing with this complex issue, we knew we had to do something to address the shortfall brought about by declining investment revenue. We have already taken action over the past few years to downsize our operational staffs. To my knowledge, almost every other diocese in the country has been involved in the same process of protecting the mission, while being good and wise stewards of our resources.

The Annual Catholic Appeal will not be business as usual this year. It will set the tone of the diocese emerging from bankruptcy. Failure to meet parish goals will have a direct impact on the diocesan responsibility to successfully come out of Chapter 11. These are two issues we need to reflect upon in this regard. Broad participation is very important. We have heard the observation before: that about one-third of parish membership donates well; one-third donates modestly; and one-third gives nothing at all. That reality challenges us to base our values on the spirituality of giving.

(By the way, you should know that as a group, some of the most generous supporters of the ACA are the priests.)

All of us need to evaluate constantly how generously we share the gifts with which God has blessed us. If you want to embark upon a good examination of conscience, look at your check book or credit card account. As St. Paul reminds us, God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9, 7); and God will not be outdone in generosity. We all know that. May we also live it.

Please: participate generously in our Annual Catholic Appeal.

May God’s peace and joy be with all of you.

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