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:
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.
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.
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.