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Atheist philanthropist gives New York Archdiocese largest-ever donation
Cardinal Egan of the Archdiocese of New York
Cardinal Egan of the Archdiocese of New York

.- A New York philanthropist is giving the Archdiocese of New York its largest donation ever — $22.5 million — earmarked for scholarships to Catholic elementary schools.

Robert Wilson, a former Wall Street investor, told The Associated Press that he is an atheist, but he has no problem donating money to a fund linked to Catholic schools.

“Let's face it, without the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no Western civilization,” Wilson said. “Shunning religious organizations would be abhorrent. Keep in mind, I'm helping to pay tuition, the money isn't going directly to the schools.”

The 80-year-old said he hopes his gift will inspire others to give. An anonymous donor has given an additional $4.5 million to the archdiocese after learning that Wilson's gift would be announced, reported church officials.

The money will be used to fund the Cardinal's Scholarship Program, which was started in 2005 to give disadvantaged students attending the archdiocese's inner-city schools, in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, partial or full tuition grants.

The goal of the campaign is to raise $158 million by 2010 in order to fund 11,700 scholarships. The total amount raised to date is $97 million, including Wilson's gift.

In recent years, the archdiocese has faced declining donations, church attendance and parish memberships, forcing the closure of some schools and churches. In 2006, the archdiocese closed eight metropolitan-area schools.

About 44,000 of the archdiocese's 107,000 students are currently enrolled in inner-city schools. Of that inner-city student population, more than half live below the poverty line.

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