Following are excerpts from Bishop Robert Morlino’s comments on the new Annual Catholic Appeal prepared by Catholic Herald editor Mary C. Uhler.
Q: Why should Catholics in the Diocese of Madison support the Annual Catholic Appeal?
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit founded the universal Church on the Apostles. As can be easily seen, all the many ministries and responsibilities that fall upon me as the bishop of this local Church are far reaching. I simply cannot fulfill these responsibilities without your help! The assistance and cooperation of each and every member of the faithful is necessary and your support of the Annual Catholic Appeal is needed to make this possible.
Similarly, through Baptism, Confirmation, and reception of Holy Eucharist, each of us has been given the awesome responsibility of helping bring the saving power of Jesus Christ, through the Church, to every person on earth. This starts by living and teaching the faith in your home, in your parish and local community, in our diocese, and, yes, throughout the whole world. Through your support of the Annual Catholic Appeal, you, in part, fulfill this mission of yours. Q: How important is the Annual Catholic Appeal to the ministries of the diocese?
The mission of all the diocesan offices is to help people throughout the diocese, both directly and through our 133 parishes, meet Jesus risen from the dead, face to face, and be changed by him. The appeal is absolutely essential in terms of supporting the ministries of the diocese.
In recent years, we have made as specific priorities for our diocese the areas of vocations to the priesthood, an increased focus on evangelization and catechesis, and a renewed understanding of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and sacramental life of the Church. These priorities have necessitated an increased investment of time, energy, and money. For instance the number of seminarians has happily increased in the past five years, but this means that the overall costs for their education has also increased.
In addition, we’ve been working to provide even greater services to our parishes and to move the diocese forward. We have added positions in such areas as safe environment, to make sure our young people and other vulnerable populations are protected; planning, to foresee the needs of the diocese and our parishes as we continue to grow and change; information technology; Catholic schools; faith formation; marriage and family life; communications; outreach to the poor; and worship. All of these are good things — great things — but they require an increased investment.
Q: Why was the appeal started this year?
Catholic dioceses generate the majority of their funding in three ways: a tax on parish income, income from investments, and an annual appeal to generate direct contributions to support diocesan ministries and services. Only a handful of dioceses do not have an annual appeal. In our state, the Dioceses of Green Bay and La Crosse and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee all have a tax and an appeal.
In the past, the Diocese of Madison has managed to support itself through a moderate tax and investment income. Now, it faces a situation, caused by increases in costs and decreases in investment income, that requires either a doubling of taxes or an annual appeal.
I invited all priests of the diocese to a meeting to consider the best way to structure the tax vs. the goal of an appeal. The priests considered three options and the majority recommended that the tax be lowered (equivalent to six percent of Offertory income) and the appeal goal be set at 10 percent of Offertory income. I concurred with that recommendation.
As a result, the overall parish tax was reduced by $1 million to $2.2 million, a reduction of over 30 percent, and the tax will continue to be mandatory. Parish Annual Catholic Appeal goals will be 10 percent of parish Offertory income from fiscal year 2006-07. The Annual Catholic Appeal goals will not be mandatory. We invite parishioners to participate in this new way of supporting the diocese.
Q: How would you say that Catholics should think about the Appeal, especially with the tough economic times we’re experiencing?
We recognize that these are tough economic times. However, I would remind people that these are tough economic times for the people we’re serving. Charity should be the last thing that goes, because there really is a greater need at this time than before.
The diocese is making an effort to keep expenses down. We’ve frozen salaries and asked our staff to curtail unnecessary travel. I myself will not go to the next national bishops’ meeting.
We understand that more sacrifice may be involved now, but loving sacrifice becomes a joy when it is accepted with love.
Q: Are you hopeful as we move forward with the Appeal?
Yes! Our diocese is made up of wonderful, loving people, who want to love and serve Our Lord and their neighbor. You take this responsibility, which we share, very seriously and want to advance the work of the Church, which is making the loving mercy of Jesus Christ known to everyone.
We are the only diocese in the state where the Catholic population and the total population are growing. We have a vibrant future ahead of us. Yet, no one can do everything but everyone can do something. And with your help, support, and prayers, I am extremely hopeful.