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CHICAGO (ChurchMilitant.com) - Despite holding the largest fundraiser in U.S. Church history, the archdiocese of Chicago's education trust is underfunded — and $167 million is unaccounted for.
In 2013, the late Cdl. Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, kicked off a $350 million fundraiser called "To Teach Who Christ Is." One of the promises Cdl. George made to the faithful was that he would set up an educational trust fund with $150 million. The Catholic Education Scholarship Trust would be invested, and scholarships would be paid from the investment earnings.
With the trust set up as an endowment and by using the investment income and 3% to 7% of the trust's assets, scholarships could be provided for decades.
Catholics responded with generosity and exceeded the goal by $77 million. According to the archdiocese's latest newsletter, pledges exceeded $422 million in cash, bequests and documented pledges. Of those pledges, only 66% of them have been paid, leaving the archdiocese with almost $231 million from the campaign.
On Thursday, the Chicago Tribune published an expert analysis of the archdiocese's finances, claiming six years after it was formed, the trust has a shortfall of $105 million. The education trust currently holds only $45 million in assets, less than one-third of the $150 million that was promised by the archdiocese.
According to Betsy Bohlen, the chief operating officer for the archdiocese of Chicago, $75 million of that is in the form of bequests from Catholics that are still living.
They found since 2014, almost $18 million was paid out in scholarships for Catholic schools. Combined with the $45 million held in trust, of the entire $231 million raised, around $167 million is unaccounted for.
Only $2.7 million in scholarships came from the education trust while the rest came from a separate scholarship program, Caritas, created to meet the immediate needs of students.
Without notifying the community, the archdiocese decided to take $18.8 million in donations from a few wealthy donors to create Caritas. According to Bohlen, the fundraising planners didn't fully understand the archdiocese's needs.
"After the campaign started, there was a growing recognition, based on more analytics … that 'Boy, our schools are in real trouble,'" Bohlen said.
For over two years, the education trust wasn't used for any scholarships. Instead, all of the scholarship money was coming from Caritas — between $3 and $4 million annually.
Although not being used for scholarships, the education trust was paying the archdiocese hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrative fees, the majority of that money going to pay the salaries of staff members managing scholarships. Between 2013 and 2016, those fees racked up to $439,000.
The first scholarships from the educational trust were granted in 2017, and it cost the fund an additional $410,000 in fees. The following year, the fees were $285,000.
Bohlen claimed the cost was incurred to separate the trust from the archdiocese, shielding it from abuse claims.
"There was feedback from donors early on, that given misconduct and others, to preserve the independence as much as possible," Bohlen said.
Right on the heels of To Teach Who Christ Is, Cdl. Cupich launched "Renew My Church," a program aimed at spiritual renewal and growing the Church. Chicago Catholics blasted the program, calling it "Ruin My Church" and saying it's all about the money.
The director of Renew My Church is Fr. Jason Malave, who sources claim is friendly to the LGBT cause. All of the parishes and schools in the archdiocese are grouped and together must form a plan to merge or close parishes and schools that aren't vibrant.
Incarnation parish and school in Palos Heights was told if they wanted the school to stay open, they needed three years of operating expenses on hand in cash.
Parents had four months to raise $600,000. After scrambling to organize multiple fundraisers and secure corporate sponsors, they ultimately raised $154,000.
That wasn't enough to save the school. The archdiocese refused requests for additional time and instead told parents to "start shopping for schools."
Donors were told that the money would be returned to them — but a year later, it wasn't.
A similar story happened at Our Lady of the Ridge. Parents raised almost $250,000 and their school was shuttered.
Father Malave responded to Church Militant's query by claiming Incarnation's closing "was not formally part of the Renew My Church process."
Last year, the archdiocese of Chicago reported a loss of $92 million. The archdiocese estimates that they will be paying out $156 million to settle sexual abuse claims, above and beyond the $210 million already paid out.
Bohlen said Catholics still involved in the Church will have to brace for change as more of the archdiocese's real estate holdings go up for sale.
"We will have to sell things that will be difficult and painful to sell, but they are our assets to sell," Bohlen said. "And we believe there are enough of those assets to pay our liabilities, but there are difficult decisions ahead."
Bohlen said the archdiocese will turn to those same wealthy donors to replenish the Caritas fund.
Church Militant reached out to the Bohlen and the archdiocese of Chicago but no response was received by press time.