Denver's Catholic Foundation and Its Implications
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Sat Jun 26, 2010 at 02:35:03 PM EST
Many US Catholic dioceses have affilitated foundations - separately incorporated religious non-profits - to make additional funds available to the bishop at a time of dwindling "Sunday collections" and to shelter assets from lawsuits against the diocese. These foundations are eligible for the same tax and nondisclosure benefits available to all religious organization in the US - contributions are tax deductible, earnings such as investment income are tax exempt, no financial reporting is required, no disclosure of where the money comes from or where it goes is necessary.
Within a year after being named Archbishop of Denver in 1997, Charles Chaput formed such a foundation. According Chaput's weekly newspaper, the Denver Catholic Register (DCR), its purpose was "to create a mechanism to receive major gifts, transactions and endowments" and "to support Archbishop Chaput's larger developmental issues for the Church in northern Colorado." In November 1999, Chaput opened the first meeting of The Catholic Foundation's board of trustees. It was announced at the time that the Foundation had assets totaling $19.5 million "the majority of which were transferred from investments and properties held by the Archdiocese of Denver."

In addition to complete confidentiality, the Foundation also offers its contributors tax benefits not available from other types of non-profits. Besides the usual gifts and endowments, the Foundation has solicited donations in the form of:

Insurance: "Gifts can be made by naming the foundation as the owner or beneficiary of a life insurance policy. Proceeds of the policy are tax-exempt. In addition, some present values and future premiums will also qualify for charitable donations."
IRA Proceeds: "Those aged 70 and a half or older can make gifts using IRA funds without tax implications. If someone is required to receive minimum distributions from their IRA they cannot claim a charitable deduction for their gift but they will not pay income tax on the IRA gift amount. Certain restrictions apply."
Charitable Gift Annuity: "Through a contractual agreement, the donor transfers assets in exchange for the Foundation's promise to pay an annuity and can provide substantial tax savings since the gift is tax deductible and the fixed payments are partly tax free."
Charitable Trusts: "A charitable remainder trust, charitable annuity trust and/or a unitrust provide the donor with income based on the value of the property given. Further, these methods offer worthwhile income and estate benefits."

The Foundation states its purpose is "providing donor and endowment services" and grantmaking, in that order. The Foundation even offers "consulting services for professional clients who are considering philanthropic strategies for tax or estate planning purposes. Types of advisers we work with include: tax attorneys, financial advisors, business managers, estate planners, accountants, insurance representatives and mergers-and-acquisitions specialists."

Though not required to do so, Chaput continued the practice of his predecessors by including an Archdiocesan Annual Report in the DCR. These reports include financial statements for all archdiocesan entities (seminaries, high schools, cemetaries, etc.) and administrative functions (insurance, revolving trust fund, construction and real estate etc.) although each is separately incorporated. The parishes, their elementary schools, Catholic Charities and Archdiocesan Housing are not included. In less than two years, the Foundation held almost 20 percent of archdiocesan combined net assets as shown in the annual report, rose to 40 percent by 2004, and was back down to 34 percent by 2009 - or a little over $73 million of the more than $214 million in archdiocesan net assets, mostly in investments. (Only $62 million of Denver's net assets were in property in 2009.)


Chaput touts the Foundation as a means "to help Catholics serve others"; "to not lose sight [of] the needs of the Church, her people and the marginalized" and "to bring the light of Christ to the young and old, rich and poor, and to the sick, lonely and broken in our midst."  Rather than experience in charities and non-profits, however, the employment backgrounds of those selected to manage the Foundation and its trustees are as founders, presidents and CEOs from the most powerful sectors of Colorado commerce: local and international mining, lumber, construction, mortgage lending, brokerage and banking, accounting and financial services, venture capitalists and investment management, communications and media, neocon foundations, property acquisition and real estate development, an international corporate attorney, a president of the International Chamber of Commerce and vice chairman of the United States Council for International Business, top executives of Qwest Communications International, Inc. and RBC Daniels "leader in financial services, part of the Royal Bank of Canada and one of the 12 largest banks in the world." Some of the Foundation's administrators and trustees also double as archdiocesan consultors deciding which companies and real estate transactions will receive investment funding from archdiocesan entities in addition to the Foundation.

If you check their names on and, you would find most are heavy contributors to the Republican Party and candidates as well as hands-on involvement in their campaigns.[1, 2 3] The group also includes the founding president and members of the Colorado chapter of Legatus, an international group of Catholic business executive who, in February 2010, presented former President George W. Bush with their "pro-life" award at a gala dinner.  


Not much to the poor.

In 2008, the Foundation provided information about grant recipients although only in broad catergories. The report showed only 11 percent ($860,000) of grant monies went to "Humanitarian/Social Outreach" and that was divided among "schools, theological formation, evangelization and catechesis, parish support, clergy retirement, food, clothing, utility, medical, fuel and other such needs for indigent or low income individuals" including non-Catholic organizations, and "funds for works of faith, charity and hope distributed through the Office of the Archbishop" The proportion for grants to "Humanitarian and Community Services" was reduced to 5 percent in 2009 while the Foundation president stated in the DCR last September, "Our donors live the beatitudes by saving the lives and easing the suffering of the sick and dying not only in northern Colorado but throughout the world."

This paucity of assistance to, in Chaput's words, "the marginalized....the old and poor, the sick, lonely and broken in our midst," is a reflection of the archbishop's lack of dedication to social services. Similarly to the Foundation,  the Archdiocese of Denver lists "Social Development and World Peace" as an expense category which received only 8 percent of chancery (archdiocesan headquarters) spending from 1997 through 2009 (excluding 1999, for which no annual report was available). Llike the Foundation, it is unknown how much of that actually went to the poor. Catholic Charities (CC), the only archdiocesan agency completely dedicated to helping the unfortunate, states year after year in its annual report that it receives only 3 to 4 percent of its income from the "archdiocese, parishes and other church." In the last three years combined (2007, 2008, 2009), CC reports a total of $2,609,679 income from this source while the chancery during the same period shows $5,764,804 provided for "Social Development and World Peace." Not knowing how much was from "parishes and other church", it can only be estimated that less than half of the 8 percent of chancery funds went to CC.

Residents of northern Colorado are accustomed to Chaput boasting about the work done by Catholic Charities, which is indeed exemplary. In his publications and websites, the archbishop exhorts Catholics to be generous to his appeal for donations so they can participate in his work of helping the needy without advising his readers how little will actually be shared with the poor. What the archbishop also doesn't mention is that the largest source (35 percent) of financial support to CC comes from the tax payers: the US Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing Urban Development, Justice, and Veterans Affairs; state agencies including the Colorado Departments of Education, Human Services, Public Health, Environment and Transportation as well as the Colorado Division of Housing; and local governments including the Denver Department of Human Services, Denver Housing & Neighborhood Develpment Services, Denver Public Schools, Denver Regional Council on Government and numerous other smaller city and county agencies.

In 2008, the Foundation stated it had provided $45 million in grants in the past ten years. Some grants, as well as investments, were in national and foreign organizations. The archdiocesan annual reports from 1997 through 2009 (excluding 1999) state the archbishop gave away $34 million in gifts.

Most people think that the Catholic Church receives the bulk of its income from a percentage of parish collections forwarded to the (arch)bishop. In the Denver archdiocese, however, only $54 million (21 percent) of $251 million in chancery income from 1997-2009 came from the parishes. For the archdiocesan entities combined, $312 million (34 percent) came from gifts. (The rest is from investment income, program fees, tuition, cemetary sales, etc.)

Some dioceses are not as wealthy as Denver; some more so. With 192 dioceses in the US, their numerous foundations and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also receiving millions in donations and government grants, that is a staggering amount of money coming and going with no transparency or accountability.

During the recent battle over health-care reform legislation, it was noted that "unlike corporate and advocacy groups that lobby Congress, churches and their affiliates are exempt from the Lobby Disclosure Act of 1995, which requires lobbyists to file disclosure forms detailing their spending and naming their lobbyists." [4] Religious organizations are also exempt from Federal Elections Commission (FEC) regulations affecting PACs, 527s, candidates and political parties which bar foreign contributors and require disclosures of contributors and donations such as the information I obtained on the Foundation's officers and trustees.

Also regarding the health-care reform, after Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak (MI -01) consulted with the USCCB in constructing the Stupak Amendment upholding the current law which prohibits public funding for abortions, right through to the House reconciliation vote on March 21 following President Barack Obama's pledge to issue an executive order for the same purpose, Stupak wrote, "Ultimately, what that people [he previously named the USCCB] tried to use abortion as a tool to stop health-care reform, even after protections were added. That realization has stayed with me in the weeks since...." [5]  

Stupak's assessment was confirmed by a recent statement by Cardinal Francis George, president of the USCCB, regarding the Catholic Health Association which broke with the bishops in supporting the legislation. George said, "the Catholic Health Association and other so-called Catholic groups provided cover for those on the fence to support Obama and the administration," [6] confirming that the bishops were more concerned with the political ramifications of defeating the bill than they were with the health and well-being of this nation, born or unborn.


The next big legislative battle to involve the Catholic Church will be immigration reform which, if you ask any relatively well-informed American, is about securing the border, providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already living here and a guest-worker program with penalties for companies which hire illegal immigrants. These are the basic issues for past and present legislative proposals as well as the previous position of the USCCB.

The USCCB, however, is now calling for "economic development in sending countries" to be an integral component of any reform. [7] Bishop John C. Wester, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, stated "Congress should examine how the root causes of migration can be addressed, so that migrants can stay where they are and work in dignity," [8] On another occasion Wester "underlined the need to address the economic root causes of migration and seek economic policies which would help create jobs" in other countries. [9]  Wester also wrote an article for Politico: "Immigration is not just a domestic issue; it is keyed to foreign affairs. Over the long term, joint efforts could be pursued to promote development in communities now drained by the migrant outflow." [10]  

Opus Dei priest, Jose' Gomez, was Chaput's auxiliary bishop after being in charge of the Opus Dei regional headquarters in Houston. He has just been installed as Archbishop of Los Angeles and has already stated his agreement with the USCCB position. [11] For its members, including a chapter in Denver, Opus Dei is a structured and orthodox form of Catholicism. Its leaders, however, are transnational corporatists who use the hidden and global financial network of the Catholic Church to shuffle their money around the world. [12] They also run innocuous-sounding organizations such as the Madison Program, the Association for Cultural Interchange, the Clover Foundation and the Higher Education Initiatives Fund as financial conduits. [13]  

While still located in Denver, Gomez formed the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL) in 2004. Board members include a New Yorker previously with Merrill Lynch, a Miami vice-president of an engineering and construction company, a Houston general manager of a manufacturer of metal building components, a Phoenix president and CEO of the largest Latino Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in the US with total assets in excess of $100 million and a Denver president of a private investment management company.

In another recent hierarchical appointment to a pan-american financial center, Thomas Wenski was named Archbishop of Miami which he calls "The Capital of the Hemisphere." [14]  Wenski gave the invocation at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Latin American moguls and their American partners no doubt favor increased US funding of commercial development in this hemisphere.

Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press)

  1. Sontazershrein, "McCain's Colorado money machine" PoliticsWest March 25, 2008  22251/mccains_colorado_money_machine.
  3. Jane Norton "GOP Senate candidates choose their teams" Colorado Statesman September 25, 2009
  1. Joe Eaton "Transparency: Catholic Bishop's Abortion War Chest Stays Secret" Center for Public Transparency, April 20, 2010
  2. Bart Stupak, "Health Care Hell" Newsweek May 6, 2010
  3. "Cardinal George: Sr. Keehan chose Obama over Catholic bishops" Catholic News Agency, June 16, 2010
  1. ttp:/
  2. "Bishop Answers Tough Questions About Immigration" Our Sunday Visitor May 16, 2010
9. "Solving Illegal Immigration Requires Fixing Economic Causes, Stresses," Catholic News Agency, June 4, 2010 n-requires-fixing-economic-causes-stresses-bishop-wester

  1. John C. Wester, "Migrants pawns in Mexico-U.S. game", May 19, 2010
  2. "Archbishop Gomez analyzes future of Hispanics in US Catholic Church" Catholic News Agency, May 28, 2010
  1. Robert A. Hutchinson, Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei (St. Martin's Press) 1999
  2. Max Blumenthal, "Princeton Tilts Right" The Nation March 13, 2006
  3. Rocco Palmo, "Wenski, "Capital of the Hemisphere" Whispers in the Loggia, June 1, 2010

It's refreshing to see Chaput's practices scrutinized.

Great work!

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jun 27, 2010 at 08:58:04 AM EST

but I'll go with the fact that so much of the lobbying and DC schmoozing is off the record and enjoys a complete lack of oversight.

I've read here and elsewhere that it seems that the bishops are becoming partners with religious right ideologues in matters outside their shared anti-abortion/contraception conviction and homosexual-marginalizing.

Ms. Clermont's excellent work in this article is another sign that things are not going to go well for the 'have-nots', especially with the EU/G-20 leaders advocating yet more cuts to social safety nets in order to pay for wars and financial shenanigans by the rich. I sure wouldn't mind being proven wrong, and the global Catholic leadership taking a more charitable stance in support of the poor.

by trog69 on Sat Jul 10, 2010 at 03:20:47 PM EST

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