Richmond Diocese Seeks to Guard Cash
Procedures, Tamper-Proof Bags Suggested to Assure Collection Donations Are Safe

Richmond Times-Dispatch [Virginia]
February 18, 2007

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond has recommended offering-handling safeguards and distributed tamper-proof money bags to parishes to make sure parishioners' donations go to charities and programs as intended.

The security measures follow two recent financial scandals in the sprawling diocese: accusations that a retired priest embezzled more than $1 million from two Louisa County parishes and the arrest of a church secretary in Richmond shown on video allegedly slipping Sunday offerings into her purse.

John Barrett, the diocesan finance director, said he recommended the safeguards for all parishes after the incidents. He wants every parish in the diocese to hold money collected during Mass in the tamper-proof bags until the money can be counted and recorded.

The counting, Barrett said, should be done by teams that include at least two unrelated people. Then, after the money is banked, a bookkeeper should compare the deposit slip with the total tallied by the counters, he said.

"It's just another safeguard to protect against someone putting their hand in the collection," Barrett said. The checks and balances may also protect volunteers who handle parish money from false accusations of theft, he said.

The Rev. Robert A. Brownell, pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in Richmond, said that since the discovery of the alleged embezzlement at his church, all the money has gone into tamper-proof bags.

He also said the rule that two people unrelated by blood or marriage do the collection counting has always been in place at St. Peter but has not always been followed. It is now, he said.

At Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Norfolk, the Rev. Joseph H. Metzger III said he ordered security bags even before Barrett's recommendations.

"We want to be above reproach; we've had no problems," he said. "It's just good stewardship."

At St. Luke Catholic Church in Virginia Beach, deacon Lawrence Illy said collection money is held in a safe before and after it is counted.

"We know who has the money at all times," he said.

At St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Virginia Beach, Thomas McAndrews said members of the counting teams are changed weekly. McAndrews, the chairman of St. Gregory's finance council, said that as soon as each collection is counted, it is deposited in a credit union ATM on the church's campus.

"Human beings are human beings," McAndrews said. "Temptations are out there; we do our best to reduce the amount of temptations."

Staff writer Bill Wasson contributed to this report.


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