Voice of the Faithful publishes 2023 diocesan financial and governance transparency reports

BOSTON, Mass., Dec. 19, 2023 ― Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic Lay Apostolate committed to promoting transparency in Church operations, has published its 2023 diocesan financial and governance transparency reports. This year marks the seventh year VOTF has reviewed all USCCB dioceses for their online financial transparency and the second year VOTF has studied their online governance transparency, as reflected by lay involvement in Diocesan Finance Councils. The overall results of both studies continue to be positive, report authors said, but much could be improved.

VOTF’s 2023 diocesan financial and governance transparency reviews of all 176 dioceses* comprising the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was conducted during the summer of 2023 by independent reviewers. The reports are “Measuring and Ranking Diocesan Online Financial Transparency: 2023 Report,” and “Lay Involvement in Church Governance Through the Diocesan Finance Council: 2023 Report.” These and all previous VOTF reports on diocesan online financial and governance transparency can be read by clicking here.

The 2023 financial transparency report showed that the number of dioceses posting current audited financial reports increased only incrementally from 115 last year to 116 this year. Posting current audited financial statements is the hallmark of diocesan financial transparency,” said Margaret Roylance, VOTF trustee and Finance Working Group chair.

The report also showed that a new high of 10 U.S. dioceses received a score of 100%, but despite this significant improvement in high-scoring dioceses, the overall average U.S. diocesan transparency score increased only 1%, from 70% in 2022 to 71% in 2023.

“The gradual increase in financial transparency scores over time,” the report said, “does not reflect gradual progress by each individual diocese, but rather significantly increased scores on the part of some dioceses and almost equal decreases in scores of others.” In 2023, the five dioceses losing the most points were responsible for a total loss of 158 points, which nearly erased the gain of 185 points by the five most improved dioceses.

Authors of both reports this year noted this phenomenon. Between 2022 and 2023, an increasing number of dioceses scored both within the passing range of 60%-100% and within the low performing range of 1%-20%.

“High transparency dioceses tend to increase their scores over time, reflecting a commitment to transparency,” The governance transparency report said. “Other dioceses make no progress or fall backward. It appears that the leadership of these lower scoring dioceses have decided that sharing financial or governance information with lay members of their dioceses is not a priority. The VOTF Governance review is a detailed examination of diocesan financial governance which is one aspect of diocesan financial transparency. It is, therefore, not surprising that similar trends may be observed in both studies,” the governance report said.

The ten highest scoring dioceses in VOTF’s financial transparency report, each of whom received the maximum score of 100%, are Bellville, Illinois; Charleston, South Carolina; Erie, Pittsburgh, Scranton and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania; Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas; Lexington, Kentucky; Orlando, Florida; and Rochester, New York. Also noteworthy among the next highest scoring dioceses was Youngstown, which not only scored 96% in 2023, but also gained 24 points over its 2022 score of 72%. As pointed out in previous transparency studies, size and financial resources do not appear to be key for achieving financial transparency.

The dioceses with the most improved scores from 2022 to 2023 are Helena, Montana, 30% to 70%; Spokane, Washington, 52% to 92%; Fairbanks, Alaska, 35% to 70%; Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama, 57% to 92%; and Springfield, Massachusetts, 25% to 60%. All these dioceses posted audited financial statements this year for the first time since VOTF began these studies in 2017.

The lowest scoring diocese are Steubenville, Ohio, 22%; Reno, Nevada, 20%; Tulsa, Oklahoma, 20%; Shreveport, Louisiana, 19%; and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, 17%. None of these dioceses posted audited financial statements in 2023.

VOTF’s 2023 diocesan financial transparency report authors made the following recommendations:

  • VOTF encourages Catholics whose dioceses do not post audited financial reports to communicate their concerns to parish and diocesan leadership, and if leadership says you must request the information, do so.
  • VOTF encourages Catholics who cannot find any useful financial information on their diocesan websites, including information about the Diocesan Finance Council, to communicate their concerns to parish and diocesan leadership.
  • VOTF encourages Catholics whose dioceses do post audited financial statements to use VOTF’s online guide, “What to Look for When Reviewing Diocesan Financial Statements.”

The objective for VOTF’s governance transparency review was to determine diocesan compliance with Canon Law relating to DFCs, based on information displayed on diocesan websites. VOTF is particularly interested in DFCs because of the importance of lay membership. Under Canon Law, DFC members have duties of “consent” and “consult.” DFC members also are to be “competent” in matters, for example, of finance, law and real estate. These are competencies that few members of the clergy possess, making lay membership vital.

Also, Canon 1277 requires consent from DFCs for bishops to pay “extraordinary” expenses. “I could easily argue that secret settlement payments to victims of clergy sexual abuse are ‘extraordinary’ and that, if bishops had obtained consent from their DFCs, the scandal of child sex abuse would have been discovered much sooner,” said Margaret Roylance, VOTF trustee and Finance Working Group chair.

This year, the governance transparency review saw a 60% increase in the number of dioceses receiving passing scores, 29 dioceses in 2023 compared to 18 in 2022, but the 2023 overall average score was 34% compared to 31% in 2022. “In our opinion,” the governance transparency report’s authors concluded, “evidence of compliance with Canon Law by the Diocesan Finance Councils remains disappointingly low,” even with the increase in the number of dioceses receiving passing scores.

For VOTF’s 2023 governance transparency review, the six top-scoring dioceses are Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, 100%; Lexington, Kentucky, 100%; Rochester, New York, 100%; Memphis, Tennessee, 95%; Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington, 95%; and Youngstown, Ohio, 95%. Among the lowest scoring dioceses are Shreveport, Louisiana, 0%; Lubbock, Texas, 5%; and 33 dioceses tied at 7%.

VOTF’s 2023 report authors emphasized again this year, as they have every year these reviews have been conducted, that, “if the Church had been transparent about payments made to silence victims of clergy sexual abuse, the horror of clergy sexual abuse, although not prevented, would have been reported, not covered up, abusers would have been called to account for their crimes and victims of serial abusers would have been protected.”

*The dioceses of Anchorage and Juneau merged in 2022, so the total number of dioceses in the USCCB went from 177 in 2022 to 176 in 2023.

Voice of the Faithful®: Voice of the Faithful’s® mission is to provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church. More information is at www.votf.org.