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the bait-&-switch

By Diogenes (articles ) | Oct 08, 2006

Hats off to Jeff Miller for surfacing a legitimate gripe, and one that has a widespread basis in fact: Flaky para-Catholic or post-Catholic outfits that fund-raise by posing as devout, orthodox, rosary-rattling missionaries of the old school:

If you have ever donated money to any Catholic organization you are sure to get tons of mail from religious orders soliciting donations. Often included in these letters are religious medals, address stamps, and sometimes Rosaries or even statues. When we get these my wife will ask me to check them out to see if they are worth supporting. Normally the answer turns out be be no. Today I received one from a order of Dominican sisters. The letter had the picture of two nuns in their habit at the top of the letterhead along with a nice graphic of St. Joseph.

I found their web site and was not surprised to find that not one of the pictures of the sisters showed them wearing a Dominican habit. I found one of the women from the letterhead, though she was also sans habit. The pictures of them at Mass showed the same thing. A review of the website revealed no religious art and St. Joseph was nowhere to be found. The links of course did not include the Vatican and were mainly to questionable retreat houses. The pending social justice issue of the day appears to be genetically engineered crops.

I have found many of these fund raising letters to be highly deceptive. They promote themselves as looking like a traditional Catholic order in their letters. A religious bait and switch. They send traditional devotional items and prayers, but these groups themselves practice devotions more suited for new agers.

Can you relate? I thought so.

It's worth pondering the significance of the fact that there's no two-way traffic on this street: we don't find conservative congregations like the Nashville Dominicans donning polyester pantsuits and feigning enthusiasm for women's ordination in order to scam unwary liberal donors. Both sides understand that the sort of folks willing to sacrifice their savings for religious purposes want those purposes to be unabashedly Catholic. (There's an analogy to be found in the election year political fight for the "religious values voters.")

Here's another instance in which the Web might be put to godly use. It would be a valuable service to the Church if an OTR reader with the interest and technical know-how could set up a website at which Catholic fund-raising appeals could be checked against the genuine dispositions and ideology of the organizations that sponsor them. It would be particularly useful in distinguishing the very numerous and very different congregations of religious -- especially women -- that march under the same general name of Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, etc. Even careful, attentive, and generous layfolks can easily get confused in sorting through the thickets of religious solicitation. And it's painful, after all, to think that pious Aunt Mildred is splitting her pension with nuns who burn incense to Ishtar and the Eight Winds, when the photo on the fund-raising brochure leads her to imagine she's helping pay for the monstrance in the Adoration Chapel.

If you're able to lend a hand in the effort, think of it as a positive response to the call to the laity given in Lumen Gentium (31):

Since [the laity] are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.

Sister will love you for it.


William Haefele, The New Yorker, December 23, 2002

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Show 11 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Sterling - Oct. 13, 2006 8:57 PM ET USA

    That is a very good idea, Centurion. It never occurred to me to notify the bishop. If he's on the ball (surely some must be) it would be a way to ferret out the fraud.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 12, 2006 3:17 PM ET USA

    I know of people who have received the same solicitation. I advised them to keep the trinkets and the dime and not to dignify the request with an asnwer. The bishop of the diocese should be informed as well as the Mother General of the Order.

  • Posted by: SER - Oct. 09, 2006 11:14 PM ET USA

    And now, sadly, the truly faithful communites who would use our contributions for God's work must be further scrutinized as we seek to sort the wheat and the weeds...

  • Posted by: Sterling - Oct. 09, 2006 9:03 PM ET USA

    The Alaskan Bishop appeal is worrisome. It has come every 10 days it seems for the past ten years, but I've never donated I also get tons of mail with trinkets enclosed from a children's school. Then there is a "radio priest" who's always appealing to me. Who can afford to send me stuff for ten years when I don't donate? Forget about orthodox - could they be total frauds who don't even have a school or a radio ministry?

  • Posted by: Coco - Oct. 09, 2006 6:35 PM ET USA

    We regularly get letters from a bishop in Alaska. Recently I learned that the Alaskan bishops have decided that the entire congregation at Mass must stand until the last person has received the Holy Eucharist. This decisio caused great turmoil in the pews, but the bishops stuck to their guns. Boy, that must really enlighten the poor, uneducated Catholics in the mission territories about the Real Presence!

  • Posted by: - Oct. 09, 2006 1:19 PM ET USA

    Excellent post, D. Best example of "we need your money" to be ignored at all costs: Catholic Charities of San Francisco. Need I say more? I think not.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 09, 2006 12:45 PM ET USA

    Hey, don't let those Rosaries, medals and Holy cards go to waste. My wife collects them and ships them off to the missions once a year. Last year she shipped 15lbs!

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Oct. 09, 2006 7:41 AM ET USA

    Very good idea. It would be a service to the holy people of God.

  • Posted by: Canismater - Oct. 09, 2006 6:17 AM ET USA

    In the same way it sickens me every year when they are allowed to collect at Sunday Mass for the retired religious. They wheel out the faithful habit wearing nursing home sisters for the crowds, and immediately send them back to their institutional prisons when they've taken their loot. The money raised pays for the apartments they live in instead of their community, the jewelry, the cars, etc. They are playing games with the sensus fidelium instead of listening to it.

  • Posted by: Laity1 - Oct. 09, 2006 12:44 AM ET USA

    I'm still trying to figure out which of the envelopes in my parish tithe packet are funding nonsense, not to mention the tons of other solicitation mail I receive.

  • Posted by: Brennan - Oct. 08, 2006 3:15 PM ET USA

    And of course isn't it ironic that the very people who have been involved in desacralizing and "simplifying" the Church for the past 40 years have to turn to traditional devotions to attract donations. I think the same applies for religious orders trying to attract vocations. It's as if they instinctively know their stripped down, bare Catholicism doesn't attract anyone.

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