Action Alert!

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

Richard Cross holds a doctorate in psychology, who has taught at the university level, including at Franciscan University. He is currently an educational researcher and consultant in the field of psychology and related disciplines.
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  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Oct. 05, 2010 8:50 PM ET USA

    Hi, I recently became a New York Times writer, hired by some New Jersey guys I met in a bar who had been hired in turn a few years ago by a renegade Times maintenance man, and they even got promoted by a sympathetic NYT editor whose identity they won't reveal. I've submitted several stories to the editorial desk, but mysteriously, not even an acknowledgment yet. No pay, either. I wonder why?

  • Posted by: - Oct. 04, 2010 11:46 PM ET USA

    Time has to do something to bolster its readership which rivals that of Appaloosa Rider and Mink Farming Digest.