Diocese, parishes strive for transparency - Catholic Courier

Diocese, parishes strive for transparency

Included in the Oct. 4 bulletin of Tioga County’s Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes was a lengthy report by parish business manager Matt DiLallo, detailing the parishes’ income and expenditures for the prior fiscal year.

"We had three pages front and back, which was probably overwhelming to some. But it’s information we needed to get out to the public," DiLallo said.

Parishioners deserve such detailed disclosures to show that their donations are being spent diligently, DiLallo said, adding that over the summer of 2009 he wrote a bulletin article "Your Donations at Work," detailing physical work being done on parish properties.

"You look at what just happened in our economy, where banks and companies were not responsible with their shareholders. The parishioners are our shareholders, and to a much higher degree the church expects us to be responsible," he remarked.

Whereas parishioners are expected to be generous with their treasure, the Catholic Church dictates that parish leaders must, in turn, use the funds properly. A prime example is how weekly collections are to be handled.

Lisa Passero, diocesan chief financial officer, said her office maintains several regulations to ensure that offerings are collected, managed and reported accurately and fairly from the moment money is dropped into the collection basket. Among these requirements are putting funds in specialized safeguarded bags; counting collections with at least two people in the room from a rotating team; locking the funds in secure locations; and depositing them at a bank as quickly as possible.

Determination of how income is used and what type of budget to set are the responsibilities of the pastoral leader as indicated by Canon 532 of the Code of Canon Law. Other notable financially related church laws are Canon 537, which states that each parish must have a finance council to assist that leader; Canon 1284, which notes the obligation to use donated funds for their intended purposes and to keep accurate records; and Canon 1287, which calls for parishes to present an annual report to local church authorities as well as an account to parishioners.

Passero noted that her office operates an internal-audit function through which the finances of all diocesan entities are reviewed on a rotating basis. This mechanism helps reduce the possibility of mismanagement or fraud.

"Our tone from the top is very clear," she said, stating that Bishop Matthew H. Clark "will not tolerate noncompliance with policies and procedures. You take your lead from the bishop."

Passero added that the diocesan Pastoral Center commits itself to a similar set of standards, as evidenced by the diocesan financial report that appears annually in the Catholic Courier. This report provides detailed information on the center’s operations and associated funds; a balance sheet; and a statement of activities.

"This really shows that the diocese views transparency as non-negotiable," Passero said.

In instances where someone suspects financial fraud or abuse at the Pastoral Center, diocesan parishes, schools and/or agencies, Passero suggested contacting the diocesan Internal Audit Department, which offers a hotline number of 585-328-3228, ext. 1266 (toll free at 1-800-388-7177, ext. 1266), for filing anonymous reports.

However, Passero said the likelihood of such reports becoming necessary is greatly reduced by the existence and enforcement of church laws and diocesan policies. She added that demonstrating accountability helps build trust with the faithful and increases their tendency to donate — a trend DiLallo has found to be true as well.

"Transparency allows people to feel more comfortable. If they know their money is going to be spent on something of value, they’ll be more likely to contribute," he said. "People are really good at filling a need if they feel it’s a genuine, legitimate need."

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