Bishop Focused on Improving Bookeeping

By Patrick R. Linsey
Wilton Villager [Connecticut]
December 8, 2006

Region — After a priest allegedly plundered parish coffers last spring, Bishop William Lori is reforming finance practices in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

Lori and diocese Chief Financial Officer Norm Walker discussed the changes at an editorial board meeting with The Times Tuesday. Lori scheduled the meeting to "look back" on a tumultuous first five years as bishop that included the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and clergy sex abuse scandal.

"Completing five years seems like a time for a retrospective," he said.

Lori said he is working with pastors and parish finance councils to bolster congregations' confidence in church bookkeeping.

The dioceses' 87 parishes "vary in size and all kinds of other ways," Lori said, "but we'd like to have standard procedures."

The Rev. Michael Jude Fay was forced out of his Darien church last spring after allegedly misspending $1.4 million in parish funds on items such a limousine rides, jewelry and the purchase of a luxury condominium in Florida.

Now Walker is heading a six-part reform process that will review accounting practices at all parishes in the Bridgeport Diocese, which comprises Fairfield County.

The diocese also hopes to create a readable financial manual for diocese parishes and establish procedures for parishioners to report suspected misconduct.

Walker said the diocese is in talks with accounting firms to review most parishes. Some smaller parishes will go through internal reviews, he said.

The reform plans have already been presented to area pastors.

"The questions we got were the questions of people who are really involved," Lori said. "The priests want to do this right."

The parish reviews will not be formal audits, said Walker, but will focus on the procedures employed by each church. Misconduct such that occurred at St. John's Church in Darien would be readily apparent, he said.

"If you walked into another parish that this was going on, you would have identified them in five minutes," Walker said. "Anyone at all schooled would recognize there was a complete absence of record keeping."

The church has paid off much of its settlement with victims of clergy sexual abuse through the sale of property, said Lori. Most of the cases go back 20 or more years, he said, and the church is now focused on preventing further abuse.

Lori also touted the work of Catholic Charities, which he said is the second largest provider of social services in the county after the federal government. In Norwalk, church charities operate a school-readiness program for 68 children between 3 and 5 years old — most on scholarships.

And through its senior nutrition program, the church serves 86,000 meals each year in Norwalk alone.

"We're interested in values. We're interested in truth," said Lori. "But from those values and truth come service."

One of his challenges is to "give young people the freedom to say yes to God," Lori said. The Bridgeport Diocese has ordained "more young priests than perhaps any other diocese in New England," he added.

Lori said the diocese has been "ahead of the curve" in enforcing the Vatican's ban on men with "homosexual tendencies" joining the priesthood.

"For quite a long time, our diocese has had a screening process that's pretty much second-to-none," he said. "Human nature is not so clear. Human nature is a spectrum. We have to look and make prudent judgments."


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