VOTF study reveals wide disparity in online financial transparency of U.S. Roman Catholic Dioceses

Nov. 6, 2017―A recently completed study reveals a wide disparity in online financial transparency for U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses. The study was conducted by the Finance Working Group of Voice of the Faithful®, a movement of Catholics concerned, among other things, with helping to ensure that the hierarchy uses the Church’s financial resources accountably and transparently.

The working group’s review of all 177 U.S. diocesan websites shows a level of openness well below what could be reasonably expected of an organization anywhere near the size of the U.S. Catholic Church. Overall scores ranged from 59 to 10 out of a possible 60. (Click here for a link to read the entire report, “Measuring and Ranking Diocesan Online Financial Transparency,” which includes exhibits detailing scores for each of the 10 questions researchers used to judge degree of financial transparency.)

“Many years of doing government-sponsored research and development left me with a healthy respect for the degree of financial accountability required from those who receive taxpayers’ money,” said Margaret Roylance, Ph.D., a VOTF trustee and Finance Working Group chair. “We wanted to learn if a comparable level of accountability for donations to the church was possible. We set out to determine the level of transparency and accountability Catholics could expect concerning their donations. Could they find and easily interpret their dioceses’ finances from information on diocesan websites, where most people these days would look?”

The study did not attempt to discover why wide discrepancies in scores exist, but the degree of financial transparency does not seem to correlate to size, amount of financial resources, geography or relative importance. For example, the nation’s largest diocese, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, scored 45. The Archdiocese of New York, the U.S.’ second largest diocese, scored 27. The Diocese of Yakima, Washington, with only about 70,000 Catholics, scored 55. The Archdiocese of Baltimore, the site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ upcoming fall assembly, scored 55, while the Archdiocese of Washington, where the U.S.C.C.B.’s headquarters is, scored 31.

The study found that 61 dioceses posted no financial data to their websites, and 75 dioceses did not post parish financial guidelines. The researchers reported that this lack of transparency could mean these dioceses consider financial data and parish financial guidelines to be need-to-know information, and believe the laity – without whose financial support the hierarchy could not function – do not have a need to know.

The average overall score for all U.S. dioceses is 36, which computes to 60% if scoring were on a percentage basis. The median score for the dioceses is 39. If the purpose of the study had been to measure the dioceses on a pass/fail basis, the overall score would mean that half of the dioceses failed to achieve a passing grade.

“It is vital that bishops demonstrate to the laity that they believe in the importance of financial transparency by requiring that audited financial statements be published,” said accounting professional Sandra Guynn, a VOTF trustee and Finance Working Group member, “and that financial best practices be implemented to protect parishes and dioceses against embezzlement and fraud.”

The six highest scoring dioceses are:

  • Diocese of Sacramento, California, 59
  • Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 56
  • Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, 56
  • Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, 56
  • Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland, 55
  • Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, 55

The six lowest scoring dioceses are:

  • Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut, 17
  • Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, 15
  • Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama, 10
  • Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, 10
  • Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi, 10
  • Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, 10

Voice of the Faithful Statement, Nov. 6, 2017

Contact: Nick Ingala, nickingala@votf.org, 781-559-3360

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.