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Diocese starts educational sessions on parish finances

Posted By February 6, 2014 | 1:05 pm | Local
DIOCESAN-SEAL

By Tanya Connor

The authority and limits of pastors and parish finance councils, and guidance for their work together, are among topics being addressed at meetings the diocese is holding in response to concerns Bishop McManus expressed.
“Our focus for the next 12 months will be to educate and assist finance councils and pastors in effective administration,” the bishop wrote in a Nov. 22 letter, in which he announced new policies and plans. He cited concerns about debts, misappropriated funds and financial transparency.
He wrote that regular educational sessions would be held for parish finance councils, coordinated by the diocesan Office of Fiscal Affairs, and for pastors and seminarians, coordinated by the Office of Ongoing Priestly Formation.
Jerome D. Jussaume, co-director of the fiscal affairs office, said the recent meetings for priests and parish finance council members were the start of those his office is coordinating. Still to be scheduled are ones the Priestly Formation Office is coordinating, he said.
The meeting Saturday at the Chancery provided the same information as sessions already held in Webster and Leominster, Mr. Jussaume said. The information was to be repeated to another group yesterday at St. Joan of Arc Parish.
Saturday Father Richard F. Reidy, vicar general and moderator of the curia, said that in ordinary matters the pastor’s word is the ultimate one, but pastors are urged to use others’ expertise, and must comply with canon and civil law. For things such as selling parish assets, pastors need the bishop’s approval.
In response to a question later about what should be done if a finance council fears something seriously wrong is happening, Father Reidy reiterated that the pastor’s authority is ultimate except in a case of negligence. If council members suspect negligence, they should speak to the pastor. If not satisfied with his response, they should contact authorities at the Chancery.
In his presentation Father Reidy said that when a priest becomes a pastor, he takes an oath to administer well and a parish inventory is taken. The pastor must see that the property is cared for, bills and loans are paid and donors’ intentions are respected. He must have a budget, publish an annual report and pay decent wages. He must also consider the poor and those who will come after him.
The finance council is advisory to the pastor, Father Reidy said. It must approve the annual report, which the chairperson must sign.
Mr. Jussaume gave suggestions for the make-up and work of finance councils.
He said it is good to have council members with experience in management, budgeting, accounting, construction and/or the legal field. A chairperson and a secretary are needed.
Mr. Jussaume suggested having three to nine members, an odd number if the council takes votes that are advisory to the pastor. With larger councils there can be subcommittees dealing with such concerns as budget, facilities and maintenance, and planning and development.
He warned against having parish employees or those with a business relationship with the parish on the council.
It is good to meet monthly and have open meetings, unless there is a valid reason for a closed meeting, such as discussion about employees and contracts with vendors, he said.
The case of a parish having 27 bank accounts led Mr. Jussaume to make the point that a parish needs only one checking account for each of its major entities, such as its church, its school and/or its cemetery.
He said any parish can have a savings account with the Diocesan Expansion Fund, depositing and withdrawing money as needed. The DEF pays interest at 1 percent below the prime rate, which is now 3.25 percent.
Parishes wanting a loan from the DEF must make a presentation that includes a plan for paying back the money, he said. The DEF then makes a recommendation to the bishop, who decides whether the parish gets the loan. Interest on loans is generally 2 percent above the prime rate, he said.
Mr. Jussaume also talked about ways to handle the collection taken at Mass. It should be counted by people who are not related to each other, then secured and taken to the bank. No one should be involved in more than one of the collection duties. Transactions must be reviewed regularly.
Carol A. Adams, co-director of the fiscal affairs office, spoke about parish budgets.
Preparing a budget involves looking at goals and their financial impact, and estimating revenue and expenses by looking at the previous year’s data, she said.
If there is a deficit, revenue must be increased or expenses decreased. If the parish is just breaking even, there is no room for error. The ideal is to have a surplus, which allows for unexpected changes and adding to cash reserves.
“Not paying bills is not a way to balance your budget,” she warned.
The pastor, with the finance council’s advice, approves the final budget, she said. She suggested sharing the budget with parishioners even if it is not  balanced, because that can show them the need to increase the collection.
Ms. Adams called for preparing a 12-month cash flow projection, noting that parishes do not have the same amount of money coming in each month.
The pastor has ultimate responsibility for the budget, the staff does day-to-day management, the finance council provides oversight and advice and the parish council is involved in decisions that affect the budget, she said.
The pastor should go over the budget with the bookkeeper, and the finance council members should receive monthly reports if they do not meet that often, she said. Any significant variances should be investigated and necessary action plans recommended.
A financial report, including all outstanding debt and unpaid bills, must be made annually, Ms. Adams said. It is to be reviewed by the finance council and signed by the chairperson, submitted to the bishop for review, published in the parish bulletin and posted on the parish and diocesan websites.
Ms. Adams reminded listeners to include the amount for debt repayment in the budget and to be proactive in maintaining the physical plant and assets, prioritizing needs and strategizing funding.
She said financial reporting leads to transparency that builds trust.
Michael P. Gillespie, director of the diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development, said stewardship of one’s time, talent and treasure is best understood in the context of conversion and evangelization. It is different from fundraising in that it is based on spirituality, on the need to give, not the need to receive.
He called listeners’ attention to a list of discernment questions which asked whether their parish is ready for stewardship.
He spoke of the 2010 Sharing Our Blessings increased offertory initiative that parishes in the diocese participated in. Sixty-five parishes were reported to have at least a 25 percent increase in their collection. Mr. Gillespie said those parishes that do annual renewals of the initiative have continued to see an increase.