The Catholic Church and financial transparency: VOTF rates dioceses nationally

Sunday collections and annual appeals: How transparent is your Catholic diocese or archdiocese Do they post audited financial statements on their websites? How are cash donations protected from theft? Recent survey results make me feel as insecure as a basket of $20 bills in an empty room.

The national survey by Voice of the Faithful measured and ranked on-line financial transparency of 177 U.S. territorial dioceses and archdioceses by examining their websites for audited financial statements and weekly collection security practices. VOTF is a Catholic lay group founded in 2002 in response to the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church.

Answers to ten objective survey questions were examined about arch/diocese website information:

•Can financial data be found within a few to several minutes?

•Is there a workable search function?

•Are audited financial statements posted?

•If not, is financial info reported in another format, e.g., booklet form?

•Is the Bishop’s Annual Appeal explained somewhere on the website, and/or is it reported on the financial statements?

•Is the annual parish assessment explained somewhere on the website, and/or is it reported on the financial statements?

•Is contact info for the business office posted?

•Is the finance council identified?

•Are parish financial guidelines posted?

•Are detailed collection and counting procedures posted?

Results: many websites do not post audited financial statements. Likewise, Sunday collection security methods are not posted, or fell short of good protocols: Get cash donations into serially numbered, secure containers quickly. Require at least three money counters present so no one is ever left alone with the cash.

On a Pass/Fail grade, half the responding dioceses fail. Half the archdioceses get a D or lower. The highest possible score is 60 points. For example, the Boston Archdiocese scored 46.  The lowest was Mobile, Alabama at 10.

Why are some arch/diocese scores so low?

The VOTF report concluded: “One answer is that they’re saying financial reports and financial guidelines are need- to-know information, and that the laity—without whose financial support the hierarchy could not function—do not have a need to know.”

VOTF now asks the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to develop and practice uniform financial accountability and transparency “to which the Catholic laity are entitled and have every right to expect.”

The Catholic Church aside, all congregations should expect such transparency.

“Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  (Mark 12:17)  In other words, financial tribute is Caesar’s, but spiritual obedience belongs to God. Spiritual obedience by officials ensure charitable donations do not become personal tribute.

Read the VOTF survey here

Email Suzette Standring: suzmar@comcast.net

This column ran in The Patriot Ledger, Dec. 7, 2018

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Suzette Standring

SUZETTE MARTINEZ STANDRING is a nationally syndicated columnist with GateHouse Media. Her two award winning books, The Art of Opinion Writing: Insider Secrets from Top Op-Ed Columnists (2014) and The Art of Column Writing (2008) are used in journalism courses such as Johns Hopkins University. Suzette is a past president of The National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and the host of It’s All Write With Suzette, a cable TV show about writing. Visit www.readsuzette.com or email suzmar@comcast.net
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