August 6, 2015
Finances and Accountability
I hate doing this: Talking about money. I mean it. When I was growing up, I remember my father commenting, “The only time we hear from the archbishop is when he asks for money.”
My hope is that you will agree that I do not deserve such a comment: I do my best not to dwell on the topic of finances. In fact, just to make sure, I checked: Of my 164 columns for Catholic New York (CNY) since my arrival, I’ve only addressed archdiocesan finances eight times.
Come to think about it, maybe I deserve criticism for not talking about money enough! Because you, my people, do! It’s not that I talk about dollars, but that you, my people to whom I want to listen, chat a lot about it.
That’s why, in the last issue of CNY, we once again, for the sixth year in a row, published our financial statements. I work for Jesus, His Church, and you, my “stockholders.” I owe you accountability.
We are blessed with an excellent archdiocesan Finance Office, led by William Whiston, along with David Brown, Frank Napolitano, Andrew Donnelly, Jim Murphy and our energetic and diligent finance council, comprised of highly respected business leaders. Thanks to all of them, we have in place vigorous best practices/procedures that assure high standards and accountability. We also have amazingly generous people who loyally support their parishes and their archdiocese.
A year or so ago, a potential benefactor told me he would give me a large gift if I would allow scrutiny of our finances by an outside agency specializing in church administration. I explained that we already had audits and supervision, but told him I was more than happy to have this agency examine us.
They did; they gave us an “A”; they reported that we didn’t need their services as we were already doing everything they would have suggested.
(The man still did not give me a large offering!)
Some few criticize the financial statements which have been prepared in the same consistent manner as our publication two weeks ago as “not the whole story.” They’re right. To publish all the footnotes and all the audits would require a book, not a newspaper insert! We have received positive feedback from many of our people who find our financial report easy to read and understandable. And, Mr. Whiston is always available to answer any questions and provide more detail to those who enjoy reading footnotes on financial statements.
Can I make a few observations?
One, we are not a rich archdiocese! That everybody thinks we are wealthy is perhaps our major economic challenge! I recently had a request from a brother bishop for $1 million to help him build his cathedral.
“I wish I could give it to you,” I wrote back, “but I still have to raise $70 million to repair mine!”
“Ah, but you’re a rich diocese,” he replied.
No, we are not! Yes, we are secure, able to pay our bills and fund the ministries of sanctification, teaching, and charity exhorted us by Jesus. But, we’re not loaded.
As I’ve joked to you in the past, I’m still trying to find the “sacks of gold” everybody tells me Cardinal Spellman left! No luck! I was hoping the excavation for the Cathedral repair would have located them!
Two, recent charges that the archdiocese is making tons of money off our properties are groundless. You have read, as have I, the angry accusations that the only reason we have made the painful decision to merge some of our parishes is so we can sell the property to stuff diocesan coffers. Malarkey! Parish properties belong to…the parish! Yes, if and when they are sold, leased, or rented—decisions which would only be made in concert with pastors and parish leadership—the archdiocese would be repaid past bills, and share in some of the income, not to buy me Cuban cigars or 18-year-old Jameson, but to help support parishes, schools, and apostolates which have no such income.
Then there was the unfortunate charge that “the archdiocese” was hoarding revenue from the rental of closed schools. Baloney! Once again, that money belongs to the parish, although we do insist that a portion of the income from rentals of former parish schools be returned to the “mean, old archdiocese,” for guess what? Distribution to our regional schools!
Three, how does the archdiocese procure its resources? Well, for one, we depend on the Cardinal’s Annual Stewardship Appeal for $20 million each year, and you generously come through. Second, we tax the parishes—sorry!—something called the cathedraticum, which brings in approximately $13 million annually (half of which is returned to support our regional schools and religious education programs). Third, people give us extraordinary gifts and bequests, thank you! And, fourth, we do have some investments and endowments which generate revenue.
But...and here’s my point...all that income doesn’t sit in my desk drawer, but goes back out to ministries and services! What we get we give back!
Four, this myth that the “stingy, nasty archdiocese” is rolling-in-dough can and has created a bit of a “sense of entitlement” in some. For instance, when a parish is strapped, as many are, the big temptation when deciding which bill not to pay is to ignore...you got it, the archdiocese! Legitimate bills from the archdiocese for centrally negotiated medical and property casualty insurance and pension programs, or loans, for instance, are left unpaid, since “the archdiocese has plenty.”
Or, parishioners who are eager for a new church, or an expansion and renovation for the one they have, are reluctant to raise the 50% we require before granting permission, and ask, “Why can’t that ‘rich, old archdiocese’ pay for it?”
The archdiocese is not the federal government that is expected to subsidize everything, and thus is strangling in debt, forced to tax more.
Sorry for whining a bit, but it stings me when I hear the archdiocese unfairly blamed for being stingy and money hungry.
Five, like all of you, the archdiocese has made some tough decisions, allowing us to be more frugal in our finances, especially considering all the essential services we support and need to fund.
One was the regionalization of schools. When all of our schools were parish operated, they were struggling and gradually going out of business, despite substantial subsidies from the parishes and archdiocese. The archdiocese was supporting our schools to the tune of $40+ million annually—to keep them open. This was not sustainable, and adversely impacted other important ministries.
Finally, I keep using the term “the archdiocese.” But, there is no such thing as an amorphous, bloated, impersonal, corrupt, money-grabbing “archdiocese”! The archdiocese is—you! When “the archdiocese” is asked to pay for something, that means you are! We have no income apart from the goodness and loyalty of you, our people.
Forgive the length of this column. The news is good: Your archdiocese is solvent and frugal in using your money as you intend. We’ve had to make neuralgic choices, and will have to do so again. But, I owe you this accountability, this trust, this reporting, these explanations…and I owe you sound stewardship and deep gratitude!
I hope I don’t have to talk about money for awhile...