08/09/2010 12:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Church Collection: Should Conscientious Catholics Stop Giving?

My friend Louise, who writes a newspaper column and covers local and neighborhood news on her popular Brooklyn website, taps me, now and then, to serve as her go-to person for background on Catholic matters. She and I were talking not long ago about a Roman Catholic pastor who had been transferred to another parish. Louise made a face.

"Oh, no!" I exclaimed. "He didn't do anything wrong! The diocese moves them after about a dozen years." She wanted to know how it worked -- who decides (the bishop of the diocese) and why? I explained the part I knew, and ventured a few theories. Economics, I suggested, sometimes plays a role.

"Sometimes the boss moves a 'big earner' to a parish where tithing is low --"

She interrupted, laughing. "I notice you do that a lot."

"Do what?"

"Use 'mobspeak' when you talk about the Church. Terms like 'big earner.'"

It makes sense. When I think about my Church, lately, I can't help but think about "spinach,"
"scratch," "scarole" ...

Why? Because people whose opinions on Catholic things I most value have exhorted me to stop putting money in the basket at mass, and I am starting to think they're right.

But I'm torn. I'm just not sure.

I love my parish, our parishioners, our liturgies, our church building. My pastor is a Prince -- and not the Machiavelli kind, either. Were it possible to tithe to the parish alone, I'd tithe double! I know my offertory gift supports the overburdened rectory staff, several social justice programs and the upkeep of the architectural masterpiece my church is, a landmark building many non-Catholics enjoy. I know a small core of middle-class parishioners and many poor and elderly people generously stretch to contribute what they can in order to keep my diverse, active parish afloat, and I want to help.

But I'm torn. For I know that the capo di tutti capi skims his take off the top first.

I receive a lot of Roman Catholic "shakedown" mail. Most of these solicitations wind up shredded or deleted. Last week, however, I responded to one by giving a contribution to SOA Watch, a 20-year-old organization that peacefully advocates against torture in Latin America. SOA (School of the Americas), which currently goes by the name of WHINSEC (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperations), is located at Fort Benning in Georgia and is funded by U.S. tax dollars. The school is an academy for torture. In the latter half of the 20th Century, roughly 60,000 Latin American military personnel and law enforcement trained at SOA have employed their expertise in torture and mass-murder for the purpose of keeping dictators in power and rendering humanitarian workers, teachers, clergy, journalists, intellectuals, activists and "insurgents," neutralized or dead. More than a few hundred civilians have been murdered in the last three decades by School of the Americas-trained personnel.

Graduates of SOA include Manuel Noriega; many of Augusto Pinochet's generals; and Roberto d'Aubuisson, the commander of El Salvador's notorious death squads, who executed tens of thousands of Salvadoran civilians, including El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero, three nuns and a church worker (whom they raped before murdering) in 1980. Moved by the extrajudicial killings of seven Jesuit priests (in 1989) and the deaths of the aforementioned martyred women (two of whom were his friends) Roman Catholic priest Father Roy Bourgeois and other activists working in Latin America to challenge U.S. policy there co-founded SOA Watch in 1990.

Roy Bourgeois was born and educated in Louisiana, served four years the Navy, spent a year in Viet Nam, was awarded a Purple Heart, and was ordained into one of the Maryknoll orders in 1972. He has spent more than four years in U.S. federal prison for non-violent protest, and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Each year in November, SOA Watch stages a vigil outside of Fort Benning to honor the lives of the men, women and children who were butchered by SOA graduates and to protest the existence of the "School for Assassins." Since 1990 SOA Watch has led a campaign to shut WHINSEC down.

Up until recently the Maryknolls supported this work with an annual grant of $17,000.00, but on July 22, U.S. Catholic reported that the Maryknoll order had withdrawn this $17,000 grant -- without issuing an explanation. Perhaps there is one.

Why did SOA Watch lose this $17,000 grant?

The Maryknolls aren't saying ("Code of Omerta?") many feel (word on the street) is that the boss has a beef and is sending Bourgeois a message. Father Bourgeois, who has long been a fervent and outspoken advocate for women's ordination, was publically excommunicated in 2008 for taking part in a the Roman Catholic ordination of a woman. Perhaps this order does not come from the top, but public excommunication does, and if the order did come from the big boss, the it is likely the Maryknolls might be loath to sing like a canary.

Bourgeois is now currently trying to raise $17,000 to cover the amount the Maryknolls' grant used to provide in support of SOA Watch.

So I think I'll tithe to Bourgeois and SOA Watch this Sunday, resting assured that the Holy (God)father won't get a piece of that action.

I won't have to worry this week that he'll use my dough to bankroll consiglieri who get bosses off the hook when they're charged with pimping out children, or nabbed on tax code and RICO violation counts; nor fear my contributions will be used to fund cheese-eaters on Apostolic Inquisition teams (technically Apostolic Visitation teams), Vatican snitches who spy on women in convents.

This week leg-breakers who muscle impoverished women in developing nations, warning them that contraception leads to eternal damnation, won't do so on my nickel. I won't have to fret this week over my complicity in subsidizing hatchet-men who preach that it pleases God when women give birth to more children than they can feed, or over underwriting enforcers who exhort Catholics in AIDS-ravaged regions not to use condoms in order to preserve their lives. I can take a break this week from worrying that my "tributes" make me an accessory to spreading AIDS in nations like Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria where both Catholicism and transmission of HIV are on the rise.

I'll tithe to SOA Watch this week.

It's hard not to notice the ironies at hand: On one hand, we have a priest who is actually consecrating his life -- his flesh, blood and soul -- to living Christ's example.

And and on the other hand, we have the thuggish dictator, the capo di tutti, getting in his way. We have Joey Rats, the Holy (God)father who extends his ringed hand to kiss, not in peace, but in princely petulance, as he sacrifices the lives of all who might be spared the torments of SOA-trained butchers, for the greater good of upholding the foolish doctrine of his misogynistic Magisterium on the matter of women's ordination.

It's tricky, the question of parish giving. If people of conscience stop giving to parishes run by men of conscience, parishes with conscience won't survive. Therein lies the rub. That's what the head of the Syndicate wants. The capo di tutti capi wants parishes like mine to fold.

Joey Rats wants to ice feminists, dissenters, and homosexuals. He wants to put two in the back of the head of Social Justice do-gooders and progressives. And he wants "the faithful" to pay for these hits.

My hope is that pastors will work with parishioners to seek a workaround for supporting parishes, but at least for the present time, I plan to use my Catholic donation dollars to support women priests' congregations, ministries that serve the poor, LBGT Catholic ministry, SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), The Catholic Worker, Pax Christi, and SOA Watch.

I'll be at mass this Sunday, and I admit that as I contemplate my plan to liberate myself from the papal vigorish, I'll twitch. I'll anguish a little as the offertory basket on a stick passes, but I believe right now that it would be a sin for me to give even one thin dime to Joey Rats and his bagmen.

I'm torn, and still not sure.

But there's one thing I am sure of, however: if Father Bourgeois were a bishop, say, instead of a "stand-up guy" -- if he were a bishop, say, whose only sin was covering up the serial rapes of a few 10-year-old children, and not taking part in a woman's ordination -- Father Roy Bourgeois might still have that "17."