In the Vineyard: April 23, 2018

In the Vineyard :: April 23, 2018 :: Volume 18, Issue 8

News from National

Holy Cross Professor Joins Speakers for VOTF Conference

William A. Clark, S.J., an Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, has joined clergy abuse survivor advocate Marie Collins and internationally known theologian Prof. Massimo Faggioli on the speakers list for VOTF’s 2018 Conference: Progress & Promise. You can register using the link below.

Fr. Clark specializes in systematic theology, particularly ecclesiology, and has a special interest in parish life, issues affecting local church communities, and lay leadership in the Church. He will discuss the latter at the Conference.

At Holy Cross, Fr. Clark offers various courses on Catholicism, local church communities, and Christian prayer. He is the author of A Voice of Their Own: The Authority of the Local Parish (Liturgical Press, 2005), and various articles, book chapters, dictionary entries, and reviews. He has also presented many lectures and retreats for parishes and other church groups in New England, around the country, and abroad.

In addition to his academic work, Fr. Clark has extensive experience in parish pastoral work, retreat direction, and music ministry. He served as pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Kingston, Jamaica, for several years. A CD of his original Christian music, performed with a small group of musicians named “Spirit Call,” is available from him, for the benefit of poor families in Jamaica.

Fr. Clark earned degrees at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and Loyola University of Chicago. He took his doctorate in sacred theology at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and began teaching at Holy Cross in September 2001.

Register by clicking here …

Cost per person: $85 Early Bird Special

Date:Oct. 6, 2018 Time: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Location: Providence, RI, Marriott Downtown

Make your hotel reservation by clicking here …

Following the Money: Diocesan Financial Transparency

Recent news reports in New York and Pennsylvania illustrate several reasons Catholic parishioners should pay attention to where their dollars go.

Diligence and attention may not prevent outright fraud—as occurred in Downington PA where pastor Msgr. Joseph McLoone diverted parish funds to personal use—but it can at least catch it. In our 2017 report on “Diocesan Online Financial Transparency,” the diocese of Philadelphia scored 40 points out of a possible 60, primarily because it failed to publish detailed guidelines for parish finances. As we note in the report, weekly collections are a primary source of revenue so proper collection and counting procedures are essential.

Fortunately for St. Joseph’s parish, which already had been wounded by the sex-abuse scandals in the diocese, oversight by lay people caught the irregularities that led to a diocesan audit exposing the diversion of funds. That’s a critical step—all the guidelines and safeguards in the world will not work unless lay people speak up and take the proper steps when they suspect malfeasance. It’s why we see financial monitoring as a key responsibility for the faithful. It isn’t enough to demand transparency; we also must examine the available records to note discrepancies.

A second news report, this one about the diocese of Buffalo, illustrates the same principle. In the midst of settlement payments to survivors of clergy sex abuse there, Bishop Richard J. Malone has said that no gifts from Catholic Charities will go to the settlements. News media, and some of the faithful, say not so fast. If the diocese relies on self-insured coverage, investments, and property sales to make the payments, it does indeed come from the pockets of Catholics in the diocese.

According to reporters from the Buffalo News, the diocese takes 35% of donations to Catholic Charities for its central operations and another 20% or so from each parish’s revenue. Those funds, in turn, are available for the diocese’s self-funded insurance as well as its many other central administrative functions, its grants and charity work, and so on.

The question is not whether such funds should be used to recompense survivors for the immense personal harm suffered—they should—but whether the bishop’s characterization of the funding source is accurate. And that question can be raised because Buffalo tells its faithful what funds they collect and where they spend it; Buffalo scored 55 out of 60 in the 2017 VOTF diocesan finance analysis. The Catholic faithful can examine the records themselves — VOTF also provides a checklist and helpful instructions on how to analyze a diocesan financial statement.

Bishop Malone may be criticized for thinking “no gifts” will be applied to the settlements, and he has not provided an estimate on total cost for the settlements. But he cannot be faulted for telling the faithful where their donations go. Indeed, it would be nice to extend that transparency to the separate Catholic Foundation that “accepts and invests” trust funds and to the Retirement Fund for the Religious in Buffalo.

Retirement funds are what landed the diocese of LaCrosse in the news. The diocese ended its retirement coverage for lay employees in 2006 and moved them into a 403(b) “thrift plan.” But it still was responsible for paying pension benefits to those who were covered as of 2006. Now it says the retirees must accept a lump-sum payment; they cannot expect full payout; but there were no details as of mid-April as to how much any individual might receive.

National Catholic Reporter asked Jack Ruhl, who has studied diocesan pension funds extensively, what he thought of the fund dissolution. “I have never seen a diocese sweep all net assets … to a separate corporation and then say they are cutting pensions,” he replied.

Faithful in the diocese would not get much help figuring out this problem. LaCrosse scored 28 in the VOTF report on diocesan transparency. If you could find a financial statement—there is no obvious link to it on diocesan web pages and you must enter “financial statements” into its Search option—you could locate only a few retirement fund details in the footnotes from the auditing firm’s report (Note 10). There you would learn that unfunded benefits ballooned from $2.7 million in FY2014 to $5.2 million in FY2015.

Nor would you get much help if you tried to call the finance office in the diocese—there is no listing for that office, or for a “business” office, even if you try the Search function.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the independent auditor did not give the LaCrosse diocese a clean bill of financial health. They gave a Qualified opinion only, which is a negative financial rating. (In audit terms, an Unqualified report is the desirable opinion; it means the auditors find no reason to take issue with the finances or with what has been reported to them, and that the diocese is following generally accepted practices.) The retirement issue was not where the auditors found fault, however. Instead, they found that the diocese is not consistently valuing and depreciating its property and equipment.

VOTF has long supported stronger efforts on diocesan and parish financial transparency and accountability, not just by clergy collecting funds but also by the faithful paying attention to what’s reported by the diocese or parish. Or in some cases, what is not reported. To see what tools we offer to help you, see the Financial Accountability program on our web site.

Catholic Whistleblowers WantUSCCB to Update Clergy Abuse Policies & Include Laity in the Process

Catholic Whistleblowers, a Catholic watchdog group, recently sent a letter to the USCCB, challenging them to revise their out-of-date policies regarding sexual abuse of minors, and to include abuse survivors and the laity in the process.

The main topics the group would like addressed are:

  • Reform of statute of limitation for abuse reporting
  • Commitment of USCCB to zero tolerance policy towards abuse
  • Inclusion of all priests and deacons who are members of some clerical religious order
  • Inclusion of non-ordained men and women who are part of religious community
  • Naming of those with a substantiated allegation of abuse on the diocesan website
  • Redefinition of “vulnerable adult”
  • Revision of audit process

The letter, which can be read here, also asks that any changes be widely circulated and open to revisions.

Highlighting issues we face working together to Keep the Faith, Change the Church


Francis admits ‘serious mistakes’ in handling of Chile abuse cases.
“Pope Francis has admitted making ‘serious mistakes’in his handling of clergy sexual abuse cases in Chile, telling the country’s bishops in a lengthy letter that he feels ‘pain and shame’ for the ‘crucified lives’ of those who suffered abuse. But Francis has not revealed whether he will sack a Chilean prelate accused of covering up abuse, whom he has previously defended to the outrage of abuse survivors. Instead, Francis has asked the country’s bishops to come to Rome en masse for a meeting at some point soon.” By Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter

As diocese prepares to pay victims, its primary source of money: parishioners
“Bishop Richard J. Malone assures donors that no gifts to Catholic Charities will be used to settle clergy sexual abuse claims. But area Catholics – one way or another – are paying. To compensate sex abuse victims, Malone said the diocese will rely on insurance coverage, investment reserves and the possible sale of property, all of which trace back to the wallets and pocketbooks of people in the pews” By Jay Tokasz, The Buffalo News

First class action against Church looms under new laws
“The Sale Diocese (Australia) could become embroiled in a landmark class action to be brought by alleged victims of child abuse. The proposed action relates to alleged historical child sex and physical abuse offences at St Patrick’s College in Sale, many of which are said to have occurred in the 1970s when the school housed boarders. Two St Patrick’s cases have already been prosecuted in the criminal system, with another case against a Marist Brother, alleging multiple victims, set to go to trial later this year.” By

In Gaudete et Exultate, Pope answers ‘Amoris’ critics; don’t ‘reduce, constrict’ Gospel
“Although a new document from Pope Francis on holiness reflects permanent themes in his thinking and in Catholic spirituality, in context, it also offers indirect commentary on two recent burning questions: First, what does the pope really believe about Hell, the afterlife, and the spiritual realm? Second, how would he answer critics such as the several hundred who gathered in Rome to contest his 2016 document Amoris Laetitia?” By Inés San Martin,

Catholic Whistleblowers want ‘substantial revisions’ to church’s sex abuse policies
“A Catholic watchdog group is challenging the U.S. bishops to make ‘substantial revisions’ to their nearly two-decade-old policies regarding sexual abuse of minors, and to include abuse survivors and the laity in the process. Among seven reforms to the guiding documents — the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Young People, or the Dallas Charter, and the Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons — proposed by the Catholic Whistleblowers are: extending its zero tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse to any cleric, religious or church employee, including bishops complicit with abuse …” By Peter Roewe, National Catholic Reporter

Click here to read the rest of this issue of Focus …

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