Sunday, July 14, 2002

Parish sees no decrease in offerings

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        EDGEWOOD - St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church is one of the most affluent parishes in the Diocese of Covington. The Rev. Robert C. Wehage, parish pastor, says that means parishioners know all about money - and they want to know where it goes.

        Father Wehage says his parish also has given him a good indication that most area Catholics are not changing their church-giving habits because of the ongoing nationwide sex-abuse scandal.

        There has been no dip in donations to his parish, he says, and many other parishes report the same.

        “I can honestly say that I have not seen anything significant,” says Father Wehage, who has been pastor for about three years and also serves as diocesan administrator. “And our parishioners would have no problem letting me know if there were a problem.”

        Experts say that if giving within the Catholic Church is affected on any level, it would be reflected in donations to dioceses, which oversee individual parishes. Local giving - there are more than 300 parishes in the Diocese of Covington and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati combined - probably won't see any change, because most Catholics understand that their churches operate almost entirely on their own financially, experts say.

        That understanding stems from the kind of layperson involvement and financial accountability that is not always in place at dioceses.

        “In this day and age, people have got to know where their money is going,” says the Most Rev. William B. Friend, a former banker and bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport, who also serves as secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

        The bishop was a banker before entering the priesthood.

        “It's funny - I got out of banking because I was tired of taking care of other people's money, and look at me now. But that's the way we have to look at it,” he says.

        Such openness is apparent at St. Pius X, home to about 7,000 Catholics in central Kenton County.

        Father Wehage publishes monthly financial reports in the church bulletin. As required by the diocese, the parish has a finance council consisting of six lay people with backgrounds in business, banking, real estate and law.

        “We haven't noticed any financial effect out of the scandal, and I don't think we will at St. Pius or pretty much anywhere around here,” says Don Hemmer, an Edgewood lawyer who serves on the finance council. “The fact that people here know where the money goes certainly helps with that.”

        The finance council helps the priest plan the church's $2.7 million annual budget, which includes money to run a parochial school. Father Wehage says 36 percent of all contributions help subsidize school operations, to help keep tuition down. (The national average is 32 percent.)

        Forty-five percent of contributions goes toward school salaries, while about 14 percent pays nonclerical salaries, including for a youth minister, music director and maintenance manager.

        About 5 percent is sent to the diocese for operational expenses there, and another 5.75 percent helps fund the diocese's nine high schools.

        “I don't know a year where we've been out of the black, and I expect the same this year,” says Father Wehage. The parish's investments did lose $180,000 on paper in fiscal 2001.

        Individual St. Pius parishioners also say their giving habits have not changed. One man says he's increasing his giving to help offset any potential impact of the scandal.

        “I knew some people would stop giving, and I wanted to make up the shortfall,” says Bill Schult, 40, a manufacturing executive from Edgewood. "I have complete trust and faith with the diocese.”

        Enquirer reporter Jim Hannah contributed.


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