power of the purse

Phyllis Zagano`s latest National Catholic Reporter article is titled Rome`s checkbook strategy on women religious. The Vatican is realizing the pastoral damage done with the Apostolic Visitations of U.S. Women`s Institutes. The Vatican depends on the wealth of the U.S. Church. Zagano points out that `women control the bulk of those millions of checkbooks`. If the women are angry, the checkbooks are shut and remain shut. She believes that the Vatican`s `strategies of reconciliation` are motivated more on keeping the money flowing than healing the underlying anger produced by the visitations. Still, it made the boys in the hats stand up and take notice!

I`ve pondered the `power of the purse` many times over the years. About 15 years ago, my husband and I had a horrible experience with our local church. It was a dysfunctional time in our parish and in our diocese. Since then, I have shared my story with friends from around the world. Too often, they respond with a similar scenario; priests and bishops on power trips, abuse of leadership and financial resources, hurtful divides between the laity and the ordained, and the list goes on. Our church consists of sinners and saints, and many of us have experienced the darker side of the institutional organization. It`s nothing new. Of course, for every nasty pastor and bishop, there are holy men who understand the church as the people of God and give their lives in collaborative service. But, too often the nastiness of one bugger is enough to make folks leave – never to return. And, the hurt and anger is seldom left behind.

We live in the rural prairies of Canada. Our parish community reflects the town – small, intimate, where everyone knows your name, and knows your business. We used to give generously to the parish. But, during `the troubles` we stopped giving, knowing it would hurt the parish coffers. We weren`t the only ones angry in the parish at the time. Tongues wagged, griped and complained about the pastor and the bishop`s influence. Yet, most of the core faithful continued to give of their time, treasure and talents. We`ve had a mixed bag of pastors since. The core faithful continue to give, in good times and bad.

The power of the purse. Sadly, it is sometimes the only corporate power that we have as laity. But, as individuals, we can also withhold our time and talents. Fifteen years later, I still see the same good women and men in our parish scurrying around in their busyness on a Sunday morning. I admire their ability to rise above the words and actions of an individual priest. I have neither the strength of character or stomach to do so any more. If I have good reason to bitch and complain, then I can`t fake a smile and pretend all is well. When this Mama ain`t happy, ain`t nobody happy!

Should a faithful Catholic give unconditionally of their time, treasure and talents for the good of the community? In a dysfunctional parish situation, does unconditional giving merely enable the damaging behaviour to continue? How do we, as lay women and men, use wisely the power given to us?