This past weekend at the parish where I help out we had a visiting priest make an appeal for a development organization, Cross International. It raised some red flags:
- To Catholic audiences, Cross International presents itself as a Catholic ministry. The term “Catholic Outreach” is all over their literature complete with pictures of the pope, religious sisters, priests and bishop. But, I suspect that “Catholic Outreach” does not refer to Catholics reaching out to the poor as it may appear, but refers to that organization’s outreach to Catholics to fund their ministries. On the phone, once I had identified myself as a Catholic priest, the spokeswoman claimed that the organization was founded by Catholic lay people some 8 years ago.
- Their website indicates that they are a ministry of the Kielar Family Foundation. Some further research online revealed that the organization is, in fact, a Baptist organization. See this web link: http://www.crosstv.com/crossint.htm and then click on the “Statement of Faith” link.
- The priest who came to our parish told me that this organization had permission to not take a second collection but have the people put money in the envelopes to send in directly with their addresses and phone numbers and email addresses or give them to him on their way out of mass. Upon dropping him off at the airport, a great wad of cash and envelopes spilled from his pocket, which gave me the impression that there was no accountability for what he had collected—though this is only an impression. Still, without a second collection to be counted by the parish, there is no system of accountability. And, envelopes filled out by parishioners leave them vulnerable to multiple future appeals. Later, I learned that the Diocese has a strict policy requiring a second collection for each appeal so that the money can be counted and sent to the organization by the Diocese, not the parish.
- While here, the visiting priest said that there are eight full time staff at Cross International making calls to parishes to allow appeals and 50 priests on call to make the parish visits. Other priests in my area have told me they are regularly hounded by aggressive phone calls from Cross International to permit an appeal in their parish. [It should be noted that dioceses across the country require parishes to take one mission appeal from a Catholic missionary organization each year. And, each organization is given one parish appeal per diocese per year. Cross International defeats this system by calling pastors directly and pressuring them to take an additional appeal. So, while legitimate Catholic missionary organizations are strictly limited in their appeals to one parish per diocese per year, Cross International is canvassing parishes throughout the country at will. Clearly, fairness is at issue here, as well.]
Later, when I called Cross International to confront them with all these inconsistencies, they admitted that they were two organizations in one–that is, one organization with one logo with two faces. Cross International is the Protestant (though they claimed not to be Baptist despite their own literature) side and Cross International Catholic Outreach is the “Catholic side.” But, this essential fact does not appear anywhere in their literature. And no list of the ministries they support is to be found anywhere in their printed literature. The second spokeswoman claimed that Protestant funds go to Protestant ministries and that Catholic funds go to Catholic ministries–but again, nothing in their literature admits to this division of funds or ministries, so accountability for their funding is impossible. Furthermore, she said that any checks made out to simply “Cross International” would go to the Protestant side, nevermind that our visiting priest routinely called the organization just that.
Apparently, their appeals around the country are quite successful, having distributed over $90 million in the past year to Protestant ministries and over $58 million to Catholic ministries. Note that these are two separate and parallel websites neither of which link to or acknowledge each other.
Note that $57 million of the $58 million on the Catholic side goes to just one beneficiary. If there is a primary beneficiary, why is it not highlighted in some fashion elsewhere on the site? What is MOPS anyway? Why does MOPS have multiple entries but one by itself is so huge? I am no expert in any way on these matters, but they raise real questions in my mind.
And, if Cross International was founded by lay Catholics, why is the Protestant side so much bigger?
Is accountability and transparency too much to ask for? I have no basis for saying that funds do not go where they are said to go, but these questionable business and church practices make me wonder…