Oftentimes commentary writers seek to elicit an emotional response from their readers, such as when they write about an issue that angers them, and they hope to inspire others to see and feel that same anger, and follow their advice in doing something about it.
That seemed to be the case with a Washington Post columnist, a Catholic who in a recent post expressed the righteous anger felt by the faithful over the abuse crisis and the Church's response to it.
That anger over the sexual abuse of innocent minors by clergy who betrayed their trust, and over cover-ups by some bishops and a lack of transparency and accountability by church officials in addressing the crisis, is understandable and justified.
As a fellow Catholic, I share that anger and sorrow over the crisis, which for the people of the Archdiocese of Washington has had the heart-rending dimension of having our former cardinal archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, found guilty by the Church of sexual abuse and misconduct and stripped of his priesthood.
Having reported on the issue for decades, I know of the deep scars that clergy sexual abuse brings to survivors and the wounds it brings to the Catholic community, with everyone affected in need of Christ's healing.
I've also reported on the Church's extensive child protection efforts, which include mandatory reporting of suspected cases of abuse to civil authorities, permanent removal from ministry of anyone found guilty of abuse, criminal background checks on all staff members and volunteers who work with children, and age-appropriate educational efforts to help prevent abuse from happening.
But I believe that the columnist's solution, for Catholics to "boycott the bishops" by not giving any money to diocesan appeals, could not be more wrong, and would ultimately hurt not the bishops – whom the writer seems to want to bring to their knees not in prayer but in shame – but would instead harm the Church's outreach to those in need and undermine its everyday ministries to people.
As the editor of the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington, I've had countless opportunities over the years to witness and report on those helped by its Annual Appeal, which provides the main source of funding for the archdioceses's educational and charitable outreach and for its wide range of ministries serving people in the nation's capital and five surrounding Maryland counties.
I have given talks at my parish about a man who was once a drug addict and lost everything because of his addiction, but during his recovery he promised God that he would dedicate his life to helping other addicts, and he kept his promise by providing that outreach through a Catholic Charities program.
Catholic Charities – the largest non-governmental social service agency in metropolitan Washington, which last year served about 143,000 men, women and children – receives key support from the Annual Appeal.
This year, the Archdiocese of Washington's Annual Appeal marks its 50th anniversary, and when Cardinal Patrick O'Boyle, then the archbishop of Washington, announced the appeal in 1969, he emphasized the importance of how "the people of God join together in advancing God's work on Earth."
For the past five decades, the Annual Appeal has continued to do just that, as a work of faith impacting the lives of thousands of people in our community every day through the programs it supports.
This summer, I attended Mass at a Maryland parish on the weekend after the McCarrick scandal hit the news, and a seminarian serving at that church stood up after Communion and spoke from his heart to the parishioners, asking for their prayers and support to help him one day become a good and holy priest.
Funding from the Annual Appeal supports the education and formation of the 87 men now studying to become priests for the Archdiocese of Washington, including 11 men on track to be ordained to the priesthood in June.
By investing in the appeal, Catholics are supporting the next generation of priests who will bring Christ's love and the sacraments to people at all stages of life.
That investment also helps fund tuition assistance for families so their children can attend Catholic school. Recently while I covered a story at a Catholic school in a city neighborhood, students, parents and school officials told me how Catholic education gives children hope for a brighter future.
Weeks earlier, I covered the archdiocese's Annual Youth Rally and Mass for Life at the Capital One Arena in Washington, where about 18,000 young people from throughout the area and from across the country prayed and prepared to march together to witness to the God-given dignity of human life from conception to natural death.
That too receives major funding from the Annual Appeal.
In January when I wrote an article about the 2019 Annual Appeal, Elizabeth Shaughney, its director, said, "For most people, some aspect of the appeal hits close to home for them."
That certainly has been the case for my family. Twelve years ago after our youngest son was born, a priest serving as that hospital's chaplain came by my wife's room to offer her Communion during his rounds serving Catholic patients. Years later, that same priest comforted our family at that hospital after the death of my wife's mother.
Hospital chaplaincies are among the dozens of local ministries supported by the appeal, as are campus ministries at local colleges and universities, youth and young adult programs, prison ministries and outreach to people with special needs.
Last year at a challenging time for the Catholic Church in Washington, local Catholics donated $14.165 million to the Annual Appeal, which amounted to 99.1 percent of its goal.
Joe Gillmer, the archdiocese's executive director of development, noted that more than 34,000 people donated to the appeal then, and their gifts "will positively impact the lives of tens of thousands of people this year."
Praising that generous response, Gillmer said it reflected Catholics "recognizing as a Church that we have a job to do, a mission to support those in need... It's a reminder that no matter what circumstances are in the world, we always come together for (our) faith, for things that are important."
That generosity, he said, shows "we're here for each other."
Every cent donated to the Annual Appeal goes directly to the programs and charities that are part of the appeal, with administrative costs for the appeal coming from separate funding sources for the archdiocese. No donations from the appeal or from parish giving are used for legal costs or settlements related to abuse cases.
"All of this is going to things that make a difference," Gillmer said.
He added that when people from across the archdiocese donate to the Annual Appeal, that support is able to "leverage an extraordinary impact... This means that things (the archdiocese's outreach and ministries) happen. We do the work of the Church."
So the Washington Post's columnist's call to boycott the bishops by withdrawing financial support to diocesan appeals punishes not the bishops but would harm Church efforts to bring Christ's love and hope to people in our community.
As we try to shine Christ's light through the darkness of the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, we must seek not revenge, but God's grace. All Catholics need to help rebuild the Church, not by destroying its foundation of good works but by supporting them through efforts like the Annual Appeal, at a time when those outreach programs and ministries are needed now more than ever.