Retired hedge fund manager Robert Wilson yesterday donated $22.5 million to the Archdiocese of New York's Cardinal's Scholarship program. The gift is the largest in the Archdiocese's history. About 44,000 of the 107,000 students in the Archdiocese's schools come from families below the poverty line. The Cardinal's Scholarship program offers needy students full or partial scholarships and families do not need to be Catholic to apply. Mr. Wilson's gift will fund 3,000 scholarships, nearly double the current number served by the program.
Although Mr. Wilson is an atheist, he says that he has no problem donating money to Catholic schools: "Let's face it, without the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no Western civilization. Shunning religious organizations would be abhorrent....It was a chance for a very modest amount of money to get kids out of a lousy school system and into a good school system."
Cardinal Egan praised Mr. Wilson for his "historic and farsighted support" and Archdiocese spokesman Joe Zwilling thanked him for helping provide poor children with "a Catholic school education that gives [them] the tools for a better life."
In 2006, Mr. Wilson was the 12th most generous U.S. philanthropist, donating $147.2 million to charities.
With all the publicity given to mean-spirited demagogues such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, it is truly refreshing to see someone like Robert Wilson. If atheists want to show the world that ethics do not necessarily need to be grounded in religious faith, they ought to follow Mr. Wilson's example. He is able to acknowledge the good work that the Catholic Church does while still maintaining his own personal worldview.
Do I share Mr. Wilson's worldview? Of course not. But that does not stop me from acknowledging the good work that he is doing. I am able to separate my disagreement with his atheism from my admiration of his philanthropy.