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Too many missing funds: Catholic institutions need tighter financial controls

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 16, 2013

Frankly I’m tired of reading stories like this one, about people who have stolen money from Catholic dioceses, parishes, and schools. It’s time—it’s long past time, actually—for some tighter financial controls.

For years I served on the board of an ecumenical initiative: a pregnancy-help organization. Thanks mostly to the Protestant members, and with the help of eagle-eyed auditors, we established very rigorous procedures for handling money. The controls were often tedious, but they served two important purposes. First, no one stole the organization’s funds. Second, no one was ever suspected of stealing. The controls protected the organization; they also protected the reputations of employees. They even protected the employees from temptation.

Contrast that belt-and-suspenders approach with the way donations are collected and processed in a typical Catholic parish. The ushers take up the collection, the cash and envelopes go into a sack, and then--- who knows? We rely on the honesty and goodwill of everyone who handles the funds. Usually that’s a good enough guarantee. But as the headlines occasionally remind us, not always.

No accounting system is perfect. Even the best auditors can be tricked by clever crooks. We can’t devise a foolproof system. But we can, at least, put systems in place that recognize the reality of Original Sin.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: PerMariam - May. 18, 2013 10:57 PM ET USA

    I agree with caution. Some 20 Diocese(s) mandated universal accounting program for all parishes. Part one is digital software wherein real time Parish transactions are recorded at the Chancery and off site locations. Part two is real time personal information (name, addresses, contribution)from each parishioner without knowledge nor consent. The holy grail of Diocesan "command and control" is at hand - at the expense of the natural right to privacy and Canon Law. Original sin is everywhere.