Voice of the Faithful [Boston, MA]
July 13, 2022
Just 10% of U.S. dioceses received scores above 60% in Voice of the Faithful’s recently published 2022 report of lay involvement in Catholic Church governance. This is the first online review of diocesan finance councils’ composition and compliance with Canon Law as represented on diocesan websites.
“With diocesan finance councils that adhere to the letter and spirit of Canon Law, Catholics can be more confident that diocesan finance councils exercise proper stewardship and oversight of the secular goods of the Church,” said Joseph Finn, C.P.A., former VOTF treasurer and trustee and longtime advocate for lay role in Church governance.
However, “In our opinion,” the report’s authors concluded, “evidence of compliance with Canon Law by the diocesan finance councils is disappointingly low. The fact that only 18 dioceses achieved a passing grade obviously means there is room for improvement.” To underscore the hope for improvement, the report notes that, during VOTF’s related five-year history of producing its annual online diocesan financial transparency reviews, most dioceses have increased their scores.
For this governance report, independent reviewers examined all 176 U.S. dioceses’ websites to ascertain DFCs’ level of compliance with Canon Law, regarding the duties, responsibilities, and authority of the DFC. Canon Law stipulates, for example, that DFC membership comprise individuals “competent” in finance, law, and real estate. Considering that clerical formation typically does not focus on these areas, the necessary competencies would be found with professionally educated and experienced lay men and women.
The governance report’s reviewers graded dioceses’ using a 10-question worksheet and seven of the questions referenced Canon Law directly:
- Is current information about DFC members posted on the website? (Canon 492)
- Are the terms of service for DFC members posted on the website? (Canon 492 and USCCB “Diocesan Financial Management: A Guide to Best Practices”)
- What is the nature of DFC membership? (Canon 492 and USCCB DFM)
- Does the posted meeting information indicate that the bishop or his representative attends DFC meetings? (Canon 492)
- Is the DFC responsible for the preparation of the diocesan budget as to income and expenses for the coming year? (Canon 493)
- Does the DFC perform a diocesan financial review at the end of the year? (Canons 493 and 1287)
- Are acts of Extraordinary Administration defined on the diocesan website and does DFC approve their implementation? (Canon 1277)
“Based on our report’s findings, we feel more strongly than ever that Diocesan Finance Councils, with appropriate lay involvement, can promote diocesan financial competence, increase financial transparency, and help prevent clergy abuse, and that a properly staffed and functioning DFC can provide a check on financial malfeasance, like that perpetrated within recent memory by the former bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia,” Finn said.
Such low scores support VOTF’s contention that, had dioceses followed canon 1277 with regard to obtaining “consent” from their finance councils for “extraordinary” payments to clergy abuse survivors, the “scandal and sin and sickness of abuse of children would most probably not have persisted as long as it has,” according to the report. Lay involvement would have benefited financial transparency, and bishops would have been able to avoid being criticized for covering up the scandal with secret payments to survivors.
The top five highest scoring dioceses in the report were: Memphis, Tennessee, 95%; Kansas City, Kansas, 92%; Scranton, Pennsylvania, 83%; Atlanta, Georgia, 80%; and Cheyenne, Wyoming, 80%. The two lowest scoring dioceses were Crookston, Minnesota, and Altoona-Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which each scored zero. Thirty dioceses scored 7%, and twenty-six scored 10%.
With this governance report, VOTF now has three comprehensive reviews of all U.S. dioceses’ websites that can give the faithful in each parish enough information to judge diocesan activities within the purview of the reports:
- “Measuring and Ranking Diocesan Online Financial Transparency: 2021 Report” (VOTF’s fifth such annual report)
- “Measuring Abuse Prevention and Safe Environment Programs as Reported Online in Diocesan Policies and Practices: 2022 Report” (VOTF’s first such report)
- “Measuring Lay Involvement in Governance of the Church by and through the Diocesan Finance Council: 2022 Report” (VOTF’s first such report)
VOTF also maintains a webpage called “Financial Accountability” that contains links to resources to help Catholics understand diocesan and parish finances. Click here to view the page.One of the links on that page goes to “Financial Accountability – U.S. Dioceses,” a website VOTF developed to provide information on demographics, overall finances, the content of financials and diocesan finance council information for all U.S. dioceses. Click here to access the website directly.
Voice of the Faithful’s® mission is to provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church. VOTF’s goals are to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, to support priests of integrity, and to shape structural change within the Catholic Church. More information is at www.votf.org.