Archdiocese Refuses to Account for $167 Million From Fundraiser

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by Anita Carey  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 1, 2019   

'Fact Sheet' response to media criticism fails to say how TTWCI monies are used

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CHICAGO (ChuchMilitant.com) - The archdiocese of Chicago issued a rebuttal to a media report showing $105 million missing from an educational trust but failed to say what they did with the rest of the money.

In response to a report published last week by the Chicago Tribune detailing the archdiocese of Chicago's financial reports, Cdl. Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, issued a "Fact Sheet for Parishes and Schools" to help school and parish leadership respond to questions or concerns.

The report found that six years after an education trust was formed, it had only a fraction of the amount promised by Cdl. Francis George in 2013 when he launched the "To Teach Who Christ Is" (TTWCI) campaign. They also found between 2013 and 2018, over $1.1 million of the trust were used to pay for administration fees, mostly for archdiocesan staff. Once the fund started issuing scholarships, those fees skyrocketed.

Church Militant obtained a copy of the "Fact Sheet," and in the archdiocese's rebuttal of the Chicago Tribune report, they mirrored many of the statements made by Betsy Bohlen, the chief operating officer for the archdiocese.

Some of those were:

  • "After fulfillment of all pledges, we expect the total balance of the trust to be close to the original target. The lower current balance of the trust reflects unfilled pledges from yet to-be-realized bequests and other pledges still being fulfilled."
  • "All donations to the To Teach Who Christ Is campaign are being distributed in accordance with the original intent of the campaign and the specific intent of donors. All contributions to the trust are used for scholarships. The trust is not at the original goal level yet because of bequests and unfilled pledges."
  • "The expenses of the trust represent normal start-up administrative costs, including trust management fees, investment management fees, audit fees and other administrative costs. In any given year, the expenses of the trust have been less than 2% of the balance of the trust and will decrease as a percentage as the trust grows. The administrative cost percentage is less than the five percent allowed for administrative expenses by the government for scholarship granting organizations (SGOs) under the tax credit legislation." 

One correction made was lowering the total amount paid out in scholarships by $8.8 million.

"The Caritas Scholarship program had distributed more than $10 million in scholarship funds since 2014 to almost 7,000 students at 100 schools across the Archdiocese," they claimed. This is significantly lower than the amount of $18.8 million that was reported earlier

The archdiocese also refuted the claim that their finances were unstable, claiming, "We have had a balanced budget in core operations since 2017." 

The archdiocese does admit that the source of the $92 million loss they reported last year was as a result of sex abuse settlements.

"However, the total financial results of the Archdiocese indicate significant losses, which are primarily a result of misconduct settlements. Misconduct costs are not included in core expenses but are included in the full financials statements of the Archdiocese," the Fact Sheet notes.

The $350 million TTWCI campaign was the largest in the history of the U.S. Catholic Church, and the promise of keeping Chicago's Catholic education system funded resonated with Catholics. The goal was exceeded by $77 million.

While not all of the pledges have been paid, Cdl. Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, has received almost $231 million from TTWCI. In addition, in 2017, he launched Renew My Church, a plan to consolidate "worship sites" and schools to make a more vibrant Church. 

The problem is, by closing down Catholic schools, parents often do not have another option for their children and leave Catholic schools entirely.

 

Church Militant caught up with Andrea Covert, an outspoken critic of Renew My Church. Covert and her son went through two closures under Cdl. Cupich's reign and are currently without a home parish.
 
Covert and her son had to endure the threat of closure of his new school, St. Jane de Chantal, after his first Catholic school closed. After reports surfaced, the archdiocese announced it would stay open and instead stated St. Camillus parish would be closing this summer. Parishioners there pledged $248,000 to TTWCI. 


The first parish closure the Coverts went through was Incarnation parish and school in Palos Heights. Covert explained the parishioners had given generously to the TTWCI campaign, but when the school needed help, the archdiocese didn't give one penny back to them in support.

Incarnation's school was closed, and the parishioners were told by the archdiocese that their donations, which exceeded $150,000, would be given back to them.

"Despite repeated requests, we have not received our money back," she said. 

They are our assets to sell.

Covert added Incarnation's school is still sitting there, vacant, and she wants to know how the archdiocese is saving money when there are still costs being incurred for owning the building.

Another question she had was, "Why are so many renovations being done to the churches when there is no money for schools?" 

Church Militant reached out multiple times to archdiocesan staff with those and a number of other questions, such as: "Are these buildings being fixed up to be sold?"

The archdiocese readily admits they are using the sales of diocesan properties to pay for sex abuse settlements. In the Chicago Tribune report, Bohlen admitted, "We will have to sell things that will be difficult and painful to sell, but they are our assets to sell."

All of our communications were ignored and our questions went unanswered.

According to the July TTWCI newsletter, 66% of the pledges have been paid, giving the archdiocese approximately $230 million. While $150 million was earmarked for scholarships, no mention was made as to how the other funds were being used.

Looking back to the May 2014 newsletter, it explained the some of the money was going to religious education programs and building repairs. The late Cdl. George, Cdl. Cupich's predecessor, said:

Parishes have received $3.5 million and more than $10 million has been received to support religious education programs and Catholic schools, fund need-based scholarships for Catholic school students, and enable life and safety-related repairs and improvements to be made to some of our facilities. 

"I really feel like there's not going to be a Catholic Church in Chicago," Covert said. 

The entire archdiocese of Chicago "Fact Sheet" can be found here.

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