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Bishops leave Food for the Poor

LITTLE MORE than a year after they signed up to reform an organisation rocked by scandal, three US Catholic bishops have resigned from the board of Food for the Poor, saying the charity rejected their suggestions.

But Food for the Poor, a multimillion-dollar non-profit based in Deerfield Beach that runs anti-hunger programmes in 16 Caribbean and Central American countries, said the bishops' proposal would have given the church "total control" of the operation.

Last year, the agency shipped $273 million in aid abroad.

That proposal would also "seriously limit our scope and mission," the agency said in a written response to questions from Florida's Sun-Sentinel newspaper. "Food for the Poor could not, in good conscience, accede to the Archbishop's plan."

Thomas Wenski, auxiliary bishop of Miami, resigned from the board on October 30.

The resignations of two other bishops, Norbert M. Dorsey of Orlando and Gordon Bennett of Baltimore, soon followed.

On December 5, Archbishop John C. Favalora of Miami also sent a letter to Archdiocesan priests asking them to cease raising money for Food for the Poor.

"Our position is that they are no longer affiliated with the Archdiocese," said Mary Ross Agosta.

She declined to release the letter Favalora sent throughout the diocese on December 5.

In October 2000, former director Ferdinand Mahfood quit after news reports that he had diverted $400,000 of the charity's funds to two female employees with whom he was sexually involved.

Ferdinand Mahfood's brother, Robin Mahfood, replaced him.

After the scandal broke, Wenski said the Mahfood family had approached Favalora and other Catholic bishops about joining the board.

The Archdiocese had been under the impression the new board seats came with decision-making power, Wenski said.

"But that wasn't the case," he said. "We came to the board thinking we would have a say in governing decisions. But basically, at the meetings, we were given points of information and told what they going to do. That was frustrating."

Wenski said, in his time on the board, he did not see any evidence agency funds were being improperly used.

But Wenski said the charity had outgrown its family-based roots. It needs to implement more "checks and balances" for spending money.

The charity's critics say the Mahfood family still retains tight control over its finances, with family members placed in key positions such as president and board chair.

The bishops wanted the agency to agree to rotate control of the non-profit between the Mahfoods, the Archdiocese of Miami and the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Wenski said. "If they want to operate at a higher level, they are going to have to institute more checks and balances," Wenski said.

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