Catholic Church reform movement Voice of the Faithful applauds the Archdiocese of Boston’s parish “Offertory Collection Controls Initiative,” which helps make sure Sunday donations make it to the bank. The pilot project was initiated in Brockton, Mass., in July. “It’s been a long time coming – more than 25 years by my counting,” said VOTF member Michael Ryan.
Ryan has been advocating at least that long for more secure practices for parish collections. He is a retired federal law enforcement official with experience in conducting financial audits and security. He also wrote Nonfeasance: the Remarkable Failure of the Catholic Church to Protect Its Primary Source of Income, which was published in 2011.
The Church’s Canon Law requires that administrators ‘exercise vigilance so that the goods entrusted to their care are in no way lost or damaged.’ (Canon 1284 §2)
“Despite Canon Law, easy opportunities for theft exist throughout the Church’s parishes and dioceses,” Ryan says. “Considering there are more than 17,000 parishes and nearly 200 dioceses in the U.S., you can see the potential enormity of the problem. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops could end that nearly Conference-wide vulnerability by simple decree (under provisions of Canon 455), but for reasons best known only to them, they have steadfastly refused to do so.”
Statistics back up Ryan’s concern. A 2007 Villanova University study estimated that 85% of responding dioceses discovered losses and thefts within the previous five years. Eleven percent of these reported losses of more than $500,000. A 2014 University of Cincinnati study found that 64 percent of small businesses, which parishes resemble in size and number of employees, say they experience employee theft, but only 16 percent of them report it. And National Catholic Reporter said in a 2012 story that, “according to the most modest estimates, at least $89 million donated each year by the people never gets to the intended Catholic cause or recipient due to theft.”
Ryan has long contended that parish practices as simple and low-cost as using tally sheets, multiple counters and secure collection bags could significantly cut down on the possibility of theft from parish collections. These are exactly the practices the Archdiocese of Boston is now promulgating with its “Offertory Collection Controls Initiative.”
The initiative is explained in its “Offertory Collection Controls: Responsible Stewardship” video (https://player.vimeo.com/video/133384564?badge=0), in which Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, said, “We want to make sure that the whole process is safe and transparent so that all the people’s donations will be properly cared for and banked.” The archdiocese plans to implement its initiative at all parishes during the 2016 fiscal year.
VOTF already counts the Boston archdiocese as among the most financially transparent dioceses in the country. Ryan, an active member of VOTF’s Financial Accountability & Transparency Working Group, said he is hopeful Pope Francis’ renewed emphasis on financial accountability and transparency will be fully accepted and embraced by the USCCB and its members.
Voice of the Faithful®: Voice of the Faithful® is a worldwide movement of faithful Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and increase the laity’s role in the governance and guidance of the Church. More information is at www.votf.org.