Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis Releases Financial Report: Curious Steep Jump in Communications Expenses Coinciding with Anti-Gay Marriage Initiative

In the financial report recently released (pdf) by the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis providing details of its financial records for 2013, there's an interesting detail that, to my mind, richly deserves a great deal of attention. As Brian Roewe notes for National Catholic Reporter and Jean Hopfensperger and Tony Kennedy for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the report shows the archdiocese's operating expenses jumping by about $9 million in 2012.* Part of the reason is that the archdiocese, which faces an onslaught of lawsuits related to clerical abuse of minors, added $5 million to its litigation reserve fund in 2012.

But as Hopfensperger and Kennedy note, the report also shows that the archdiocese "spent an additional $2.8 million on its communications office and an evangelical initiative" in this time frame. Here's Brian Roewe on the same jump in expenses for the communications office and "an evangelical initiative":

Also of note was the rapid growth of its communications and community relations services. In 2012, the department's expenses totaled $731,541, lowest among all programs and services. A year later, the expenses spiked to $3.6 million -- greater than that of parish services ($2.2 million) and of the general and administrative costs ($3.1 million), which includes the archbishop, auxiliary bishops, and its financing and accounting. 
In his summary of the audit, Mertens notes that on July 1, the Spirit newspaper and other diocesan publications became part of the communications office. Also in 2013, the office launched the Rediscover initiative, an outreach program. 
The timeline of the jump also aligns with the archdiocese's participation in a statewide campaign supporting a state amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Voters ultimately rejected the amendment, and seven months later, the state Legislature legalized same-sex marriage in Minnesota. Estimates have the Twin Cities archdiocese spending close to $1 million on the campaign between 2010 and 2012.

Think for a moment about the implications of what Roewe is reporting here: over the past decade, the archdiocese has spent (according to its own disclosure) nearly $9 million to deal with cases of clergy sexual misconduct. In that same decade, the archdiocese has caused immense grief and anger by closing a large number of parishes due to financial duress.  

And in the midst of these serious financial stresses, with a deficit of almost $4 million, suddenly the archdiocese finds funds to increase its communications budget from $731,541 to $3.6 million in a single year--a year that just happens to correspond with the year in which the archdiocese made a battle to pass an amendment attacking the rights of gay citizens a top priority? What's going on here, I wonder?

As Brian Roewe points out, isn't it interesting that the precipitous jump in the budget of the communications office of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese just happens to correspond precisely with the time frame in which the archbishop of this archdiocese, John Nienstedt, was spearheading a campaign among all the state's Catholics to amend the state constitution and inscribe anti-gay prejudice in it? 

In 2012-2013, the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis spent more money on communications than it did on parish services and general and administrative costs--an increase of $2,868,459 on communications. Why that sudden increase, one wonders? And where's the money coming from?

To the best of my knowledge (and I'd be happy to have anyone reading this posting correct me here and provide more complete information), the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis has never disclosed the identity of the "anonymous donor" who, according to the archdiocese, supplied the funds to produce and distribute  to every Catholic household in 2010 a video attacking the right of civil marriage for same-sex couples. As the Minnesota NPR article I've just linked by Elizabeth Dunbar and Madeleine Baran notes, the video was produced by the Knights of Columbus.

As Baird Helgeson reported in 2012, the Knights, who have moved to the hard right under the leadership of "former Republican operative" Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, were in the thick  of the battle to amend Minnesota's constitution in 2012, and gave more than $130,000 to that fight. But as Rose French noted, also in 2012, the bishops of Minnesota sent a letter to the Catholic households of the state asking that individual Catholics donate money to pay for expensive ads around the state attacking marriage equality.

French quotes John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron, who finds the mailing of this solicitation to all Catholic households in the state "unusual," and who says he has never heard of any such comprehensive and extensive request for funds from lay Catholics in any other area of the country, as Catholic dioceses combat marriage equality. French also notes,

So far this year, Catholic leadership has been one of the biggest financial backers of pro-amendment forces, directing close to $500,000 in support of it, according to campaign finance records. The Minnesota Catholic Conference said it reported raising $750,000 in 2011. Much of that came in a $650,000 contribution from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which tapped its investments to help fund the marriage amendment campaign.

The surprising steep increase in the communications budget for the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis in the same year in which the archbishop of this diocese made it his highest priority to attack the rights of gay citizens of the state of Minnesota, and the linking of this increase in the archdiocese's financial report to "an evangelical initiative," raise all kinds of questions for me. These include the following:

1. Is "new evangelization" now being linked by Catholic leaders to political campaigns to attack gay citizens and strip those citizens of rights?

2. Who's paying for the stepped-up communications initiatives (linked to "evangelical initiatives") of Catholic dioceses?

3. Why is so much money being spent on these initiatives when the church faces many other pressing needs, including keeping parishes and schools open?

4. If these communications-cum-evangelical initiatives are essentially political, is it appropriate to ask lay Catholics to foot the bill for these initiatives?

5. And to repeat question #1 in slightly sharper focus: Is the "new evangelization" becoming, in effect, an evangelical smokescreen for political initiatives that a large percentage of Catholics--including in Minnesota, where the discriminatory proposal to amend the state constitution to inscribe prejudice in it was voted down--do not support?

If this is the case, then perhaps it's the leaders of the Catholic church who need to be evangelized. By the laity of the church.

* On a second reading of my text, I see I got Jean Hopfensperger's name wrong when I posted this piece. I've now corrected the misspelling, with apologies to Ms. Hopfensperger.

No comments: