Diocese of Scranton’s financial future uncertain

The Citizens Voice

May 31, 2020

By Frank Wilkes Lesnefsky

In the wake of the 2018 grand jury sex abuse report, the Diocese of Scranton faced a staggering deficit of $27.6 million and the lowest donations in 15 years when it ended its fiscal year on June 30.

Less than a year later, the diocese sold $27 million in property, covering its deficit. Donations began to rebound. The Scranton diocese appeared to be on solid ground — unlike 27 dioceses across the country forced to file for bankruptcy amid sex abuse scandals requiring compensation to victims over the past 16 years.

Then, COVID-19 hit Northeast Pennsylvania.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, bishop of the diocese, to close all 118 parishes across the 11-county diocese on March 16, leaving churches with empty pews and shallow collection plates.

While diocesan officials are confident they will weather the pandemic, financial uncertainty looms.

Times-Shamrock newspapers analyzed 15 years of audits and financial statements for the Diocese of Scranton’s administrative offices from 2004 through 2019,. Diocesan fiscal years are July 1 through June 30. The financial documents detail the ups and downs of the diocese’s finances and can help predict its financial security.

Audits do not include individual parishes, which act as separate diocesan entities, and diocesan organizations, such as Catholic Social Services and the Catholic School System, which are maintained separately from the administrative offices.

Dioceses often operate under a hierarchic, centuries-old Canon Law system that long predates modern corporate law, said Marie T. Reilly, J.D., a professor of law and bankruptcy attorney at Penn State University. Bishops will hire and fire priests, sit as members of parish boards and control financial decisions, but parishes and the like do not fall under diocesan assets — a notion courts have always upheld, she said.

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