Catholic Foundation Cash Skyrocketing in Spite of Abuse Crisis

by Stephen Wynne  •  •  January 11, 2019   

Diocese-managed assets more than double since 2016

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WASHINGTON ( - According to a new report by wealth management firm Wilmington Trust, Catholic foundations in the United States are thriving in spite of the clerical sex abuse crisis.

In a study of 181 U.S. dioceses, Wilmington found that, owing to rising donations and market stability, assets managed by Catholic foundations have more than doubled over the past three years, skyrocketing from $4.6 billion in 2016 to $9.5 billion at the end of 2018.

Such foundations, the firm noted, are "used to manage and expand endowment funds that provide ongoing philanthropic support to the Catholic mission, and in some cases, manage overall fundraising."

Most aim to forge long-term financial support for the Church through planned giving and endowment building, with some managing all diocesan fundraising, including "annual appeals, Catholic Charities, and planned giving."

"Most (again not all) foundations are formed not simply to raise money, but to raise money for specific purposes for specific strategic reasons of the diocese or archdiocese," Gavan Mooney, president and chief client officer of philanthropic firm Changing Our World, explained in the report. "These may include elements of education, evangelization, infrastructure, or services. In turn, the foundation becomes a strategic funder for those purposes."

According to John Scibilia of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, "Traditional forms of stewardship campaigns seeking annual 'pledges' generally do not resonate with newer members of a church who do not have a pledging history. Foundations help a church broaden its fundraising perspective."

The Wilmington Trust report comes at a time when many U.S. Catholic churches are struggling to survive declining religious observance and a bevy of clerical sex abuse settlements.

"Planned legacy gifts, for example, are more likely when prospective donors see the funds are well cared for and thoughtfully dispersed over time," Scibilia continued. "Churches may also experience windfall gains when selling property or air rights."

"A well-structured foundation gives the congregation a safe place for the funds to reside and grow while members take the time needed in a process to decide how best to use the funds to advance their mission rather than the money burning a hole in their pockets," he added.

Currently, 181 U.S. Catholic foundations exist; of the 181 dioceses in the United States, 26, including the archdiocese of New York, use multiple foundations to grow funds.

Fifteen major foundations have been set up in just the past three years, including five in Michigan alone.

Msgr. Greg Mustaciuolo

America's newest and largest Catholic philanthropy is the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation (MCHF). Established by New York's eight dioceses in 2018, MCHF oversees $3.2 billion in assets to support Catholic health care efforts.

Its chief executive officer, Msgr. Greg Mustaciuolo, was removed as vicar general of the archdiocese of New York after the launch of New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood's investigation into clerical sex abuse and cover-up; according to various inside sources, Mustaciuolo has a long record of protecting gay New York priests, including Fr. Peter Miqueli, who embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars while cavorting with a gay-for-pay male prostitute.

The Wilmington Trust report comes at a time when many U.S. Catholic churches are struggling to survive declining religious observance and a bevy of clerical sex abuse payouts. In total, U.S. dioceses have paid out nearly $4 billion in abuse settlements; since 2005, predator priests have driven 19 dioceses into bankruptcy.

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