Accountant's Report Accuses L.I. Diocese of Hoarding Funds
By Bruce Lambert
New York Times [New York NY]
March 25, 2004
Critics are accusing Long Island's Roman Catholic diocese of accumulating $119 million in reserve funds, an amount they say is grossly excessive and should be used for worthy causes.
The criticism is based on a newly released study conducted by an accountant who is a parishioner in the diocese and concludes that the church's reserves are enough to pay four years of operating expenses.
H. Richard Grafer, a Catholic and a retired partner in the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, studied financial reports issued by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which covers Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Mr. Grafer, who is involved with a local chapter Voice of the Faithful, a national lay group, conducted the analysis on his own initiative.
His report, which has been publicized by a lay group, comes as the diocese is trying to reverse a decline in attendance and donations after the child sex abuse scandal and criticism of Bishop William F. Murphy on that and other issues.
A diocese spokesman, Father James C. Vlaun, disputed the critics, saying that the church practices what it preaches by reserving and using funds to further its mission.
"These reserves are not really excess," Father Vlaun said. "They are part and parcel of our ministry. For example, some of them support parishes having difficulties because their buildings are aging, and we may need money for immediate repairs."
But Mr. Grafer's report says that most nonprofit groups aim for a reserve equal to one year's expenses. "Therefore, four years' worth of such reserves is not only excessive, it is abusive and totally contradictory to the spirit of stewardship which the Diocese of Rockville Centre so avidly espouses," he said.
Church officials "should discontinue all stewardship preaching until the appropriate example is set" by the diocese, Mr. Grafer wrote. He accused the church of "a classic double standard" in constantly asking parishioners to contribute while it hoards reserves.
"I believe the diocese has been far too conservative in the management of its financial affairs, at the expense of the parishes and all those in need on Long Island," Mr. Grafer wrote to the bishop.
The report will be discussed at a public meeting at 7 tonight at the Port Washington Public Library, 245 Main Street, Port Washington. The meeting is sponsored by a Catholic lay group, the Parish Voice Manhasset-Port Washington, an affiliate of Voice of the Faithful.
"We are a very rich diocese, and I don't see why anyone should go hungry, naked or thirsty when we are so blessed," said Denis D. McKeown, a founder of the Long Island chapter of the Voice of the Faithful. "On the one hand, it's wonderful to have all this money. On the other hand, why do you continue to beg for more? How much is enough?"
But Father Vlaun said that some of the money is used for grants or loans or is reserved for future needs.
The chapter treasurer for Voice of the Faithful, Kevin J. Connors, said he was not surprised by the report and had seen figures suggesting even higher reserves. He expressed concern that despite the reserves, the drop in donations last year resulted in cutbacks of some Catholic programs and their workers.
Reflecting shrinking donations, the annual Bishop's Appeal fund-raising drive, which was renamed the Catholic Ministries Appeal this year, collected $9 million last year, far short of it $15 million goal. "We're doing much better," Father Vlaun said. "Our numbers are up in both attendance and donations. We're in recovery."