Bishops Advised to Tighten Financial Oversight in Parishes

By Daniel Burke
National Catholic Reporter [United States]
January 22, 2007

The nation's 19,000-odd Roman Catholic parishes should tighten internal controls to protect against financial improprieties, according to a committee of experts that advises the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The lay-led committee, which recommended keeping a closer eye on the collection plate and "effective oversight by the bishop," has been discussing its proposals for a year, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops' conference.

Eighty-five percent of Catholic dioceses responding to a recent survey experienced embezzlement during the past five years, according to a Villanova University report. (See NCR News, Dec. 21) Eleven percent reported internal thefts of more than $500,000 each.

A Virginia priest appeared in court Thursday (Jan. 18) to face charges of felony embezzlement after the Richmond, Va., diocese accused him of stealing more than $600,000 from two Virginia churches.

The USCCB's Accounting Practices Committee recommends parishes send an annual letter to their bishop, detailing the names and professional titles of parish finance council members, dates of meetings and a copy of published financial statements and budgets.

Parish finance council members should undergo thorough training and dioceses should establish policies to cover conflicts of interest, fraud and whistle-blower protections, according to the committee.

The committee also said seminarians should be given financial training. Bishop Dennis Schnurr of Duluth, Minn., rejected that suggestion, according to a statement from the USCCB.

"Seminary days are jampacked enough, and I am not certain that finances should be added to the schedule," Schnurr said. "Members of the laity who have expertise and experience with administration and finance should be encouraged to consider a stewardship of their talents."


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