“In the work of teaching and applying Christian morality, the Church needs the dedication of pastors, the knowledge of theologians, and the contribution of all men of good will. Faith and the practice of the Gospel provide each person with an experience of life ‘in Christ,’ who enlightens him and makes him able to evaluate the divine and human realities according to the Spirit of God. Thus the Holy Spirit can use the humblest to enlighten the learned and those in the highest positions.”CCC 2038
With CCC 2038 to cover my conscience, I, a humble man of good will, am sitting here with the Catechism, a highlighter, a cup of Folger’s, and a keyboard, and I’m about to drop a big ol’ contribution of enlightenment.
I’m here to talk about “The Annual Catholic Appeal.” Long story short, I’m not giving any money (well not directly – it’ll get siphoned from my general collection contribution) to the San Diego Annual Catholic Appeal. I’ll go further and say there’s no particular reason that any Catholic should feel obligated to do so.
Actually, I take that second part back (pretend here that I don’t have a backspace key). Catholics in San Diego might **feel** obligated to donate to the ACA, and that is because of ACA homilies that we hear each year from various pastors who are under a great deal of pressure, or suffer from poor formation, or for whatever reason, are just a tad bit disingenuous in how they frame the actual, moral obligation to contribute to the ACA.
Disingenuous how? I’ll keep it as simple as I can. To paraphrase and over-generalize, pastors will remind their congregation about the fifth precept of the Church, which is, “You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.” Most pastors will then imply, strongly, that this definitely specifically means contributing to their parish collection or to the ACA, if one has the ability.
That implication simply has no basis – legally, morally, whatever – in Catholic theology.
Case in point, take this ACA letter from a beloved pastor of a local parish:
When I read a letter like this, I get the feeling that I’m being told that I have a duty – a requirement – to give some money to the Annual Catholic Appeal. Well, good news for me, no such requirement exists.
Disclaimer: I am sorry to pick on this priest, who’s identity I have half-assedly obscured (I will say he is not the pastor of my parish). This is a kind priest, a talented and insightful homilist, and a truly gifted confessor. I think that just goes to show that the myth about how Catholics are supposed to support the Church, is deeply embedded. Let’s cherry-pick the parts of his letter that make him look bad (hey, at least I’m trying to be honest, if I’m being unfair):
“There are so many worthy charitable causes. Nevertheless, as Catholics, preeminent among them is our love and care for the Church.” Fact check, true, but he goes on. “Therefore, I would ask every family to make a pledge to the Annual Catholic Appeal.” Well, asking for that… makes things a little awkward. I don’t like to say no, especially to a person who I see as a spiritual father. That gets very uncomfortable. I understand how, in this priest’s opinion, part of one’s response to the call of discipleship is participation in the Annual Catholic Appeal. However, and correct me if I am wrong, that is sheer opinion. And it seems to me that he’s a bit sloppy in choosing to not underscore the point that it is merely one man’s opinion. Plus, he doesn’t ask you to consider making a pledge; he skips that part. No room for considering. He’s being direct.
Here’s the truth: If I’d like to provide for the needs of the Church, as the fifth precept demands, our current economy provides a nearly unlimited number of ways to accomplish this. The ACA might be one of them; but it’s definitely not the only way. And in my opinion, clearly not a “preeminent” way. Patreon and GoFundMe – ever heard of those? Consider the Catechism’s definition of “Church”:
“In Christian usage, the word ‘Church’ designates the liturgical assembly, but also the local community or the whole universal community of believers.”CCC 752
That is a very, VERY, broad definition. And so, the question a good Catholic should ask is, out of all the ways they can financially “provide for the needs of the Church,” where does the ACA rank, in terms of being a wise, efficient, faithful and fruitful steward of your resources?
The economy will always be changing. In 1975, I suppose this sort of centralized fund-raising drive may have been the very best and most efficient way – perhaps the only way – to adequately support the needs of the Church. But it’s 2021. We have gotten really sophisticated at how to get our money into the hands of those that will do the Church’s work with it. I can give my contribution directly to not only the hungry person on the street, but also the priest in an obscure town in Minnesota, who I’ve noticed has been doing the work of the Church really well.
The Annual Catholic Appeal can be presented as one of many ways to give. A priest can say, “Hey, I think these ACA folks are doing a bang-up job, and I recommend that you support them if you can!” But too often, that’s not the message delivered, and that’s why I wrote this. To imply that giving to the ACA is a moral imperative, like going to Church on Sunday, or not eating meat on Fridays in Lent, is wrong, lazy, and unfair, and I’m here to call it out.
Well, I hope this blog post makes somebody feel better about not donating to their parish or ACA. I’ve been shooting from the hip here. I’m no canon lawyer, and not even a theologian, but I think what I’ve written is pretty standard, common sense. If I’m wrong, let me know about it in the comments. Comments will help me get more clicks.