CE President Reponds to Disgruntled CSS Users


Dear Catholic Exchange:

I want to first of all thank you for your excellent Bible studies. They have provided much fruit for my Catholic school theology students. However, I am very disappointed that you have taken them off your site. I understand that these things cost money, but why offer them in the first place if you didn't intend to keep them online?

I am disappointed that your site seems to be becoming commercially oriented. I'm sure Dr. Scott Hahn et. al. make enough income on their books and tapes that you can afford to give struggling students free access to your materials. This has always been one of the blessings of the Internet. With the Bible studies gone, I sadly will not be accessing your site as much. I guess I'll have to buy the books which will probably lead to less access by my students because I will not be able to afford as many. I have a website for my students myself and have spent many hours offering free materials. It is totally understandable to charge for published books and tapes — but are you claiming that you can't offer online Bible study documents because you don't have enough money? How much does it cost to type up a document and put it online? I really hope you will go back to your old format.

In Christ,

Charles



Dear Catholic Exchange:

Why did you take your CSS studies off your site? If your plan is to come out with a book that contains the studies, why didn't you wait until it was in the stores, or at least explain what you are doing? I thought I had found a basis for Bible study. Now I am certain I have not. The last thing I would want is to be unsure of the availability of future studies. Please don't tell me that server space was costing to much. The cost of the space required to hold the information for the studies covering the entire Bible would be trivial in this day and age.

The one thing we feel fortunate about is that we did not start down a path that was blocked in mid-journey. Again, my concern is not your need to make a buck selling a publication with the studies. My problem is the extremely poor manner in which handled the transition. Now my journey begins anew.

+JMJ,

Matthew H.




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Dear Charles,

Thank you for your feedback. Allow me to respond point-by-point. You wrote:

I understand that these things cost money; but why offer them in the first place if you didn't intend to keep them online?

As our postings and emails over the last two months have repeatedly made clear, there will be two Bible studies available for free on the site at all times — the current study and the one immediately preceding.

I am disappointed that your site seems to be becoming commercially oriented.

Is it? Do you say this because we're now selling a few religious products in our online store, including our old Bible studies in electronic and print form, and have begun charging a few hundred dollars for our custom parish websites which are worth thousands? Are you suggesting we also should offer our family-filtered ISP connection service for free? And our advertising? Sir, not even a major commercial corporation could afford to give all their products and services away for free and remain viable. How do you expect a humble donor-driven non-profit to do so and remain afloat? That said, our records indicate that you have never donated to Catholic Exchange. So I ask you, how can we afford to do such things if people like you do not send in a few dollars every couple of months?

Scott Hahn et. al. make enough income on their books and tapes that you can afford to give struggling students free access to your materials — this has always been one of the blessings of the Internet.

It is also the reason most dot.coms have gone out of business. We feel a tremendous responsibility not to go out of business ourselves because we're feeding a large and growing worldwide flock. The money does not go to pay Scott Hahn, BTW. Catholic Exchange consists of about 10 staffers, most of whom are married part-timers with young families to support. We have left the corporate world and are dedicating our lives and skills to serving the Lord rather than the highest bidder in the commercial marketplace. We are responding to Christ's call to “Take nothing with you on your journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in your belts” (Mark 6:8). In other words, we are relying on God's Providence through the generosity of those we serve in the community for our modest monthly pay. We never know if we're going to cover our overhead on any given month — and some months we do not. But the Lord provides because Catholic Exchange/CSS is bearing fruit for His Kingdom. Our voluminous viewer letters attest to this. Regarding “free access for struggling students,” I should point out that we routinely given away free promotion and free print Bible studies to struggling apostolates in Pakistan, Romania, and places closer to home. All these groups needed to do was ask.

With the Bible studies gone, I sadly will not be accessing your site as much.

That is unfortunate for you. But again, there will be two free Bible studies available on the site at all times. Back studies are available for modest prices in our online store. You should organize your group around the free online studies which appear each week.

Are you claiming that you can't offer online Bible study documents because you don't have enough money? How much does it really cost to type up a document and put it online?

It costs us $25,000 a month to run our apostolate. Every $5 donation counts. Your second question fails to address the cost of paying for the creation of the study. Type up a document? I wish it were that simple. Our predecessor organization invested over $800,000 in the creation of the first six CSS studies and the technology to provide it online. Again, those involved in researching and producing these studies have families to support. The studies themselves do not fall from the sky bound and gift-wrapped like manna from heaven and land beside a typist's keyboard. They are produced over months and years by real people living real lives of service and sacrifice.

I hope you understand the way things work a bit better after this explanation, Charles. We would appreciate your understanding and support because after all, we are all in this together.

Yours in Christ,

Tom Allen

Editor & President

on behalf of the entire staff and management of CatholicExchange.com



Dear Matthew H.:

You ask why we are transitioning to a new Bible study system. Let me attempt to answer.

First of all, contrary to what you indicate, we in fact took great pains to facilitate a smooth transition to the new system. Starting back in September, we posted a special announcement that ran for several weeks on the site and also went out to all our subscribers via email. After that we repeatedly published reminders on the site to avoid confusion. You apparently have not visited the site or read our special announcement emails in the past couple months or you certainly would have seen the notices.

For your information, Catholic Exchange consists of about 10 part-time staffers, most of whom are married with young families to support. We left careers in the corporate world and are responding to Christ's call to “Take nothing with you on your journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in your belts” (Mark 6:8). In other words, we are relying on God's Providence through the generosity of those we serve in the community for our modest monthly pay.

For your further edification, our annual operating budget is approximately $300,000. That is just to stay afloat; it does not include any investment in the improvements we desperately need. On this $300,000 annual budget we are providing a worldwide community of several hundred thousand people with the following services, all free-of-charge: a DAILY serving of high quality news, weather, sports, entertainment and financial information; the very best in Catholic faith content from some of the finest Catholic writers and thinkers; a first-rate Catholic Scripture Study; daily Saint-of-the-day profiles; a comprehensive Faith Question & Answer service; a humongous Catholic Library; articles and movie reviews from the Bishops; daily Words of Encouragement; a live online adoration chapel; U.S. Mass times; Catholic greeting cards; a prayer bulletin board; Catholic online radio and TV; a homiletic service for any priest in the world who wants it. All this every day, 24/7 — and it's all free. There is much more, like our complimentary research service, HomePage newsletter, and soon-to-be unveiled five-star Flash movie “Proud to Be Catholic,” but I think you get the point. All free, and all on a skeleton budget of $300,000 by a dedicated staff of mortgage-paying, family-providing young mothers and fathers.

Now take a moment to compare that to other Catholic media organizations like Circle Media (publishers of the National Catholic Register), Ignatius Press, St. Joseph Communications, CRISIS Magazine, Catholic Answers and St. Anthony Messenger, all of which require much larger budgets to provide a much narrower menu of services. Check out this site — GuideStar — to acquaint yourself with the financial data of these and other fine Catholic organizations. You will discover that they are operating on budgets in excess if a million — and in many cases five-plus million — dollars annually. All are helping build the Kingdom, that's for sure. But I'll leave it to you to determine which are producing the greatest amount of fruit per dollar spent.

All that said, our records indicate that you have never made a donation to Catholic Exchange, Matthew. In fact, every single letter of complaint we have received about this has been from a non-donor. (You might recall that the above scripture goes on to read, “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them” (Mark 6:11).)

Allow me to relate a quick story about a man named Bill Cox, who lived in a homeless shelter in Seattle that I used to help run and who once told me something very revealing. Bill slept on mat #210. He always looked like the cat's pajamas in the freshly cleaned and pressed clothes we'd provide him. He enjoyed his three squares a day and was a great guy (when he was sober). He could've been anybody's Grandpa. He came up to me one day and said, “Tom, my dad said to me once when I was a young boy, he said 'Billy, in this world there are givers and takers. You should be a taker!'” Apparently this unfortunate attitude is more widespread than I'd imagined. Again, not a single complainer about our minor program modification has cared to donate a single dollar to Catholic Exchange during the entire 16 months of our existence. So I ask you, if our services are so important to you that you felt the need to compose and send your unkind note, then shouldn't we have been worthy of a five-spot at some point along the way to help us cover our costs?

So good luck on your journey to find a better Catholic Bible study and website. Should you have a change of heart, we will of course welcome you back with open arms. Hopefully you will have recognized that the motivation behind managing our unique assets more carefully is not to make people's lives difficult, but rather to provide a better service that touches more and more souls for many years to come.

Yours in Christ,

Tom Allen,

Editor & President

on behalf of the entire staff and management of CatholicExchange.com

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