By MARK PATTISON
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — One byproduct of canceled Masses is no offertory collection. And a byproduct of no offertory collection is puncture wounds in the budgets of parishes, dioceses and national collections.
“It’s a big hit, and it’s gonna hurt,” said Patrick Markey, executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, based in Phoenix.
Rare is the U.S. diocese that has not canceled public Masses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Some announced a two-week cancellation in hopes of resuming them for Passion Sunday. Others, following the Vatican’s lead, have opted to call off any public celebrations through Easter. Still others are in an “until further notice” holding pattern.
How long a parish can go without receiving revenue from parishioners is a still-unanswered question. Dioceses that assess parishes a percentage of offertory income also would feel the pinch, so help from them for financially hurting parishes is limited, according to Markey.
“Rather than the chancery giving them money, the chancery needs the money from the parishes to allow it to operate,” he said.
Another factor is national collections. CRS’ annual Rice Bowl campaign in U.S. parishes concludes in early April. Also due up: the Pontifical Collection for the Holy Land, traditionally done on Good Friday — April 10 this year — and the Catholic Home Missions Appeal, scheduled for April 25-26.
“We’ve seen in other downturns, they’ve given immediately to help out,” Markey said, but “if they’re not in a church to hear that appeal, they’re not going to think about it. It’s going to have a big impact. I just would urge people to remember the church, even though they’re not home. Send a check to the parish anyway, just as you would if you were in church. All those parishes rely on those donations to operate.”
He added some U.S. Catholics “may not be receiving their own paycheck” as government-ordered closures have thrown many people out of work. It may become a situation that parishes and dioceses also face.
Dioceses and churches are “trying to make contingency plans,” Markey said. “They understand from an HR (human resources) perspective how to do it. They’ll want to pay everybody, but they have to be realistic about that.”
The main reason for the uncertainty is that no one knows for just how long life on lockdown may last.
“It’s one thing as we watch Mass attendance go down. It’s another when the only situation we have similar to this is when a major blizzard hits early in the year and it really impacts giving in particular regions, but it’s not the entire country,” Campbell said. “This is uncharted waters. ”
“Uncharted waters” was a phrase used also by Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle, chairman of the USCCB Committee on National Collections.
“The focus clearly for bishops today is on our people,” he told Catholic News Service. “We are facing a pandemic, and every bishop in this country right now is making many, many, many decisions about keeping our people safe, our parishioners, our workers, our volunteers.”
As archbishop of an area that became an early epicenter of the pandemic, he said: “We’re already working with parishes to get a sense of what their cash reserves are and how long that can carry them, and what we as an archdioceses will hopefully be able to do to help bridge things until normalcy returns again.
“But we’re in uncharted waters now. Right now, people’s health and safety is our primary concern. But we’re looking at the present reality and we will start putting in place a plan to help our parishes get back on their feet again — and the archdiocese.”
Archbishop Etienne added, “But we trust always in the goodness of our people. They always step up and I have trust in God and I have trust in the people of God, and I’m not going to let go of that — either one.”
There are about 17,000 Catholic parishes in the United States, but a small percentage offer online donation services. One such service, Faith Direct, counts about 900 Catholic clients, less than 5.3 percent of all U.S. parishes.
The intent of online giving is to move away from the offertory envelopes at parishes and toward a “managed giving” system that can provide income to the parish, and for second collections, even when the parishioner isn’t at church on a given Sunday, said Brad Otto, Faith Direct general manager.
By MARK PATTISON