One of the ways we can see the consequences of not properly addressing allegations of sexual abuse is by looking at donations. Since the Catholic Church is not a democracy, legitimate actions of the faithful to address massive problems in the Church is via prayer and action. Actions in which Catholics may participate include voicing problems one sees in the Church with leadership in the Church. If that does not have a constructive response, then voicing these concerns to the faithful at large is necessary. This is how we have been assisting Bishop Raica with major concerns, since at this time, he is refusing to meet with us.
Another action that faithful Catholics have with regard to addressing concerns in the Church is with their donation dollars. This is more than voicing a criticism; Catholics have a moral obligation to be good stewards of their money, as the blessing of money to donate ultimately comes from God himself.
We have received reports that weekly collection basket donations at St. Francis Xavier Church in Petoskey plummeted by over $70,000 last year. It is the belief of many in the Petoskey area that this represents genuine displeasure and disgust over the handling of Father Matthew Cowan. Fr. Cowan’s suspension last year over his public allegations of sexual abuse by disgraced Fr. Dennis Stilwell caused an uproar across the Diocese. Fr. Stilwell was not suspended from ministry during the mysterious investigation (no documentation from the Diocesan Review board was released) and was allowed to retire last year and continue ministry as a sacramental minister for parishes in Boyne City and Boyne Falls. Father Stilwell has a track record of hiring, for years, a Diocesan-listed sexual abuser to work with altar servers in his parish. He also lists, as one of his good friends, Bishop Robert Lynch. Bishop Lynch is known for his paying of nearly $100,000 to a former communications director who had accused him of sexual harassment. How was all of this allowed to occur without consequences?
Meanwhile, Fr. Cowan continues to be suspended from priestly ministry in a Diocese woefully short of priests, including orthodox and passionate clergy, to serve the faithful of the Diocese. Catholics seem to be responding with their checkbooks. We will see if this trend at St. Francis Xavier will reverse itself this year as Fr. Stilwell retired from the parish last August.
Other parishes have also noted decreases in donations; these decreases are also attributed to problems in the Diocese with regard to transparency and accountability. This does not bode well for the upcoming Catholic Services Appeal this spring. We will have more on the Catholic Services Appeal in the coming weeks.