Fr Michael Sharkey looks at the way cash donated to the pontifical mission aid societies is distributed by the Pope
THE POPE gave away $134 million of your money last week. The coins, banknotes and cheques that you donated to the Pontifical Mission Aid Societies last year have been committed to various mission enterprises throughout the world.
. Let me explain. There are three Pontifical Mission Aid Societies. There is the Association for the Propagation of the Faith (APF) which is he fund for the missions in general. This year it had 92 million dollars to dispense.
Then there is the Society of St Peter, Apostle for Native Clergy ($32 million) which is for the education of seminarians and male and female members of religious congregations in the mission territories. Finally, there is the Holy Childhood Association, which is concerned with mission enterprises specifically for the benefit of children. This year they have $9 million which will be given to orphanages, kindergartens, dispensaries and clinics.
The largest sums each year come from the United States and West Germany. Last year America gave $46.5 million and West Germany $11 million to the main fund, though for the St Peter Apostle fund in West Germany gave 57.5 million and the United States S2.5 million. Per capita, each Catholic in America gave an average of 90 cents. The next highest average comes from Luxembourg (81 cents per Catholic), with Scotland in third place (63 cents per Catholic).
Each country has a National Director to head the appeals. In the United States and West Germany the Holy Childhood Associations have separate directors. All these Directors are appointed by the Vatican from nominations sent in by Episcopal Conferences. They each have their own methods of collecting money, and all of them have an office staff to help them. Much money comes in through collections in churches, much in answer to advertisement and a lot from individual collecting boxes, some from fundraising activities by school children.
It mounts up, and it requires very expert and responsible banking services in each country.
Each country changes the total amount collected into dollars, in so far as local currency laws allow this. In Ireland, for example, no one is permitted to buy "forward dollars" so the 'Irish collection is never as definite as the others but either suffers or prospers with the fluctuations of the exchange rate.
Every May all the national directors come together in Rome to decide how the money is to be distributed. The group of 90 or so meet under the chairmanship of Archbishop Jose Sanchez on the premises of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. It takes a full week to decide how to distribute all the money; though they keep back some funds until their November meeting to meet the needs of late applications and emergencies.
Every missionary bishop in the world — there are 910 — knows in advance that the APF will guarantee him an average of $35,000. Some receive a little more, some a little less, depending on size of diocese. A third of the remainder of the APF funds is then committed to the training of cathechists, which shows what priority they are in the mission territories. Then, the national directors have to decide how to respond to the 2,500 requests for the funding of particular projects.
These projects are proposed locally, though they must have the endorsement of the bishop (or of the superior general if it is a matter involving a religious congregation). Each request for aid must be accompanied by the appropriate expertise. The appeal may be for the building of a church, or a religious education centre, or a new novitiate; it may be for a new motor boat so that a priest can visit the islands which comprise his parish; it may be for the repair of a presbytery roof blown off in a gale.
The staff of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith check all these requests, summarise them and present them for decision to the national directors who are free to intervene in each and every case, though, of course, they tend to limit themselves to those matters of which they have first hand experience. Some requests are met in full, some get part, and some indeed get more than they have asked for.
When all the decisions are made, the Congregation advises each National Director where to send his money, since it is largely banked in the country where it was collected. It is sent direct to the particular missions in order to keep bank charges to a minimum.
The funds of the Society of St Peter Apostle are distributed along similar principles. Every bishop or religious superior knows, for example, that the fund will give $330 for the support of each seminarian or novice. What funds are left are then distributed for particular projects.
The Holy Childhood Association does much the same. It guarantees each missionary diocese the sum of $5,000 to be spent for the benefit of children, the remainder being given for particular projects.
There is other money collected in local and national churches which is earmarked for the missions, but the money described above is that donated to the pontifical mission aid societies.