Catholics and Finances, A Spiritual Reflection (Part 4/4)


Almost 30 years ago, sociologist Andrew Greeley stunned just about everyone (including his fellow-Catholics) by reporting that Irish Catholics were second only to Jews in levels of educational and economic attainment among American ethnic groups. And the Irish weren’t alone among their high-achieving Catholic brethren. Thus, in a predictably American way, Catholic wealth in recent decades has begun flowing to foundations dedicated to Catholic causes. As Dr. Francis Butler, president of FADICA (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities), has noted, Catholics “are forming community foundations and setting up trusts rather than just turning over their money to their dioceses. This is the wave of the future for Catholics.”


“Leveraging” Change

Many Catholics now sense that they’re combatants in a “culture war.” What the new Catholic philanthropy must grasp is that the culture war is, at bottom, a war of ideas. This war has to be fought by idea warriors, deployed in those places where elite opinion is molded and shaped. In this way, conscientious Catholics of faith, influence and affluence can begin leveraging cultural change by changing and affecting the debate on an issue through tactical, focused Catholic philanthropy.

But lay Catholic philanthropists will soon learn what their Protestant, Jewish, and secular fellow-philanthropists have learned: Giving money away intelligently and effectively is no easy business. Like every other serious group of philanthropists in the United States, Catholic philanthropists must strive to be both strategic and responsible. That, in turn, suggests certain imperatives that ought to shape the new Catholic philanthropy in the early twenty-first century. Two areas that must be considered are as follows:


Resisting Tribalism and Nostalgia

Catholics must reconsider any nostalgic loyalty to many Catholic institutions and places of primary, secondary and higher education that simply are not what they were when the philanthropists were in school. Is it wise to financially support colleges, universities, Catholic institutions and foundations whose behaviors, policies and/or philosophies are not in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church? Are Catholic social welfare charities too closely tied to, and dependent upon, government? Are Catholic charities suffering from the inefficiencies that usually accompany bureaucratization and centralization? How can Catholic charities and social welfare agencies better implement Pope John Paul II’s strategy of empowering the poor, laid out in the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus? These questions will strike some as rude, but they are also necessary if Catholic giving is to properly steward the Church.

Forming New Alliances

Catholic philanthropists might well consider forming new alliances with like-minded donors to achieve common strategic goals like the reform of Catholic higher education, Catholic welfare agencies, or the advancement of a culture of life in critical public policies. These alliances need not be formal or highly structured (See, for example, The Gesu School in Philadelphia). What I (Fr. Zlock) have found especially revealing and intriguing about Gesu are the number of non-Catholic philanthropists from other religious denominations who contribute to this institution - often at very generous and significant levels.

We need to get smarter. We also need to be tougher if we want begin making progress in the “war of ideas.” Others, with worldviews contrary to our won, already are. If we really believe in our beliefs and that these beliefs will demonstrably benefit the common good, this is a campaign worth winning.








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