COLUMBUS — Lent began Wednesday — Ash Wednesday. It's a time when Christians to pray, fast, reflect and repent in the 40 days before Easter.
Some members of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus and other Ohio dioceses that have released lists of clergy members accused of sexually abusing children might also be thinking about their monetary contributions to the church.
The Columbus Diocese on Friday released a list of 34 clergy members who had been "credibly accused" of sexually abusing children. Two more were added Tuesday, bringing the total to 36. Columbus was the last of the six dioceses in the state to release its list.
"If Catholics had withheld donations, this would have stopped a long time ago," said Robert Hoatson, a former priest in New Jersey who helps lead Catholic Whistleblowers, a group that speaks out against sexual abuse in the church.
Marc Thiessen, a conservative Washington Post columnist who is Catholic, wrote Tuesday about annual fundraising drives by many of the nation's Catholic bishops.
"My advice to fellow Catholics? Don't give them a dime," he wrote.
"When your pastor hands you an envelope, hand it back empty — or better yet, send your bishop a letter explaining that he will get no financial support until the conspiracy of silence is ended and the corrupt bishops are held to account," he wrote.
But Hoatson believes that most Catholics will continue to contribute as they have, even after the accused clergy members were identified.
"Some Catholics will respond in horror, and say, 'Thirty-four names in one diocese in Ohio,'" Hoatson said. "Then they'll go to church the next day and put the same amount as they always have in the collection baskets."
He said people tell him, "Our priest is so good; our parish is so good."
"Close your wallets and your pocketbooks, and things will change overnight if you do that," Hoatson said.
Local developer Donald W. Kelley has been a longtime contributor to church causes. A member of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Whitehall, Kelley said he already has made his commitment to the church for those causes. Kelley did not disclose the amount but acknowledged, "It's a lot of money."
Kelley, 89, is concerned about church leadership, and leaders of other institutions as well.
"There's been a moral decline among the leadership class," he said, not just in the church, but also in government and social institutions.
"The church has a systemic problem. You're not going to solve it by apologies."
Kelley said it wouldn't surprise him if contributions overall declined. "People are just digesting this now," he said.
Some local churches are in the midst of fundraising campaigns. St. Catharine Church in the Eastmoor neighborhood is in the last stages of a capital campaign for a new parish center and Eucharistic adoration chapel.
"Our original goal was $6.8 million and was increased over the past year to $8 million, which has been achieved in pledges already," said Doug Stein, the campaign manager and development director for the parish.
The Rev. Daniel Dury, the parish pastor, said that even with the release of the list of reported local abusers, people are fulfilling their pledges. He has seen no drop-off in weekly contributions, although he said "it's a possibility, for sure."
Dury said he did not mention the diocese's list during his homilies on Sunday, although he said he has addressed the issue of abuse in the past. The parish hosted a day of prayer for survivors of sexual abuse in August 2018.
Meanwhile, the parish has 25 people converting to Catholicism, the most Dury said he has seen in his six years as pastor.
The 23-county diocese now has 278,000 Catholics, 26 percent more than the 220,000 in 1999. Its numbers are growing along with the population of the Columbus metro area.
In 2018, the Bishop's Annual Appeal brought in more than $7.8 million; the goal was $6.75 million. The diocese-wide appeal raises money for priest and seminarian education, Catholic schools and education, spiritual programs, parish life and social issues.
The 2019 campaign begins in May; the goal is $6.85 million. "We hope that members of the diocese continue to support the many good works of our diocese and its parishes by continuing their generous contributions to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal," George Jones, a diocesan spokesman, wrote in an email this week.
Hoatson said that probably will happen.
"Columbus will meet its goal. They probably will meet it. They tell the parishes that 20 percent of the money comes back to the parish," he said.
But some people will remain steadfast, he said, and decline the bishop's appeal.
The Rev. James Connell, a 76-year-old retired priest in the Milwaukee Diocese who also is a member of Catholic Whistleblowers, said such a protest might not be effective because when money gets tight in a diocese, the people who suffer are the lay employees, who face layoffs.
"No priest lost a job — no bishop — for a lack of money," Connell said.