December 28, 2018
Dear Parishioners for Justice:
The purpose of this letter is to provide an update to an inquiry about the accounting of funds by the administrators of St. Isabel Church. The inquiry has received no response, yet the questions remain; and new ones have arisen.
On December 10, 2018, the appended open letter, signed by twelve parishioners of St. Isabel, was mailed to the Finance Council Chair, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Venice, and the Director of the Finance Department of the Diocese of Venice. Accompanying the letter was the recapitulation of financial data provided in the Bulletin of St. Isabel Church over the period April 08, 2018 – December 02, 2018. As indicated in the cover letter and accompanying documentation, the data in the bulletin raises questions about the actual amounts reported. Whether the inconsistencies are due to minimal carelessness or are indicative of serious malfeasance is not possible to determine from the information made available. Hence, clarification was sought. This clarification has not been forthcoming.
Coincidentally, just after the enclosed was prepared, the administrators of St. Isabel mailed out a document labeled “St. Isabel Parish Financial Report Fiscal Year 2017-2018” along with promotional material for upcoming fundraisers. This report was mailed to some subset of registered parishioners of St. Isabel. Unfortunately, a number of statements in this document seem to be at odds with factual information. Additionally, some of the numbers reported suggest errors of some sort on the order of thousands of dollars. A path of inquiry about these matters is unclear, especially in light of the lack of response to the earlier appended inquiry.
We further note the following information from the 2018 “Financial Policies and Procedures for Parishes & Schools” of the Diocese of Venice in Florida. In Appendix C describing the Parish Finance Council Charter, Article V Duties/Responsibilities, B. Financial Records and Reporting, the statement is made:
- As required by canon 1287 paragraph 2 and Particular law of the Diocese, assist in preparing/presenting/communicating an annual financial report (assets, liabilities, net assets, revenues and expenses) to all parishioners published in the Parish bulletin by September 30 of each year. Specific information should be included on the Parish, School, Parish organizations, and memorial garden/columbarium.
The mailed “Financial Report” does not fulfill the requirements of this tenet of Canon Law and of the Particular law of the Diocese in that it was not provided to all parishioners, was not published in the Parish bulletin, was not published prior to September 30, did not include specific information about parish organizations, and did not include specific information on the memorial garden.
The apparent laxity in reporting on the collection and use of contributions to St. Isabel, the opaque reporting of the use of resources of St. Isabel Parish, and the unwillingness of administrators to respond to questions about Parish resources might cause one to wonder about the prudence in providing support to parish collections, the Casino Night, and the Orchid Ball. Contributors to any charitable organization deserve to know how their contributions are being used and the assurance of no malfeasance.
December 06, 2018
Open Letter to Administrators of St. Isabel Parish
The appended document raises questions about the collections and reporting of funds raised in the St. Isabel Bulletin over the period April 08, 2018 – December 02, 2018. The questions that arise involve Concern about the transparency of the reporting of parish collections and, in fact, the veracity of the data presented. The questions that demand attention include the following:
- Do the data indicate something more serious than minimal “rounding” of the figures or carelessness in the timing of periodic reports?
- Do the data suggest some improper diversion of income to an unauthorized person, entity, or account?
- Do the data suggest artificial inflation or deflation of (a) parish income or (b) CFA contributions?
- Who are the individuals who are nominally responsible for “counting” the receipts (ushers or otherwise), and would they be amenable to commenting on the apparent anomalies?
These questions cannot be answered by a casual dismissal of this inquiry. They require a formal response. These questions are raised in the form of an open letter to alert the entire parish community that there may be irregularities in the statements on the collection of funds. Therefore:
- This letter, along with its attachments, should be considered a formal request for answers from the Finance Council of the parish, which has responsibility under Canon Law (Can. 537) for overseeing the proper conduct of the parish’s financial affairs.
- This letter, along with its attachments, should be considered a formal submission to the Chancellor of the Diocese and the Director of the Diocesan Finance Department as a request for a formal audit of the financial management of St. Isabel parish.
- The financial anomalies uncovered here, based on limited access to data, should be transmitted to the entire parish community along with the formal responses ‘of the Finance Council and the Diocese so that parishioners will be well-informed about the actual financial contributions.
- The undersigned believe it is in the best interests of the parish that the issues raised in the accompanying analysis be fully addressed immediately, prior to Christmas collections and the fundraising events scheduled for the New Year. We have served the parish in many and multiple roles including lector, extraordinary minister,·acolyte, finance committee member, usher, organizational leadership, and participants in a range of service efforts for the parish and the people of the Diocese of Venice. We offer this letter and attachments out of a sense of responsibility to those who attend St. Isabel.
With concern for our parish,
Sent by posted mail to: John Temporiti, Finance Council Chair, St. Isabel Parish
Volodymyr Smeryk, Chancellor, Diocese of Venice
Peter McPartland, Director, Finance Department, Diocese of Venice
Analysis of Financial Information in St. Isabel Bulletins. April 22 – December 02. 2018
We began collecting the St. Isabel Church weekly bulletin on April 22. 2018. Based on the data in the bulletins collected, we have compiled the reported contributions to the weekly offertory collection and to the Catholic Faith Appeal (CFA). We would have preferred to go back further with the reported data, but bulletins are only posted for one week and are not archived. This reduces transparency of financial dealings. Furthermore, the absence of an archive of bulletins is inconsistent with the standard operating procedure of most, if not all, parishes in the Diocese of Venice.’ Despite the limitation on the quantity of data that was available, we have identified some disturbing trends in the information we were able to examine. In our opinion, these issues must be examined carefully and explained publicly. We will identify problems with both the weekly collection reports and with the CFA reports.
Financial Data Used
It is our understanding that weekend collections from the Saturday and Sunday Masses are counted on the Monday following the weekend. Weekly amounts for both the collections and the CFA are reported in the bulletin. In the bulletins from April 8 through October 21, the data provided was for two weeks earlier. Beginning on October 28 and through November 25, the data is identified as collection and CFA information from three weeks previous. Then beginning with December 2, the data was for two weeks previous. This means that data for October 7 was presented twice, but no data for November 11 is available. The data employed here is from the thirty-three St. Isabel bulletins published from April 22, 2018 through December 02, 2018.
Weekly Collection Data
The weekly collection data is depicted in Figure 1. In 2018, Easter was on April 1. However, the bulletin of April 22 provides collection data for the week of April 8 but calls it the “Easter Offertory.” Thus, it is not clear if the total reported is for Easter or for the following week. The collection for that week was the largest of any week reported. Note that in the figure, some of the amounts are indicated with a blue bar, others are in red, and one is magenta. The ones in red, along with the one in magenta, are those for which the number of cents appended to the contributions is zero, “00.” It turns out that eleven (11) of the thirty-two (32) weeks for which data is reported come out even, with no extraneous cents. This is approximately 1/3 of the weeks. We did a non-scientific inquiry of numbers reported in other bulletins from parishes in the Diocese of Venice. Of the twelve checked, none came out even in terms of dollars; all had extra cents. One might expect, from random analysis, that a weekly contribution would come out with no extraneous cents about 1% of the time. Perhaps this percent might be a bit higher, but the near 33% reported by St. Isabel is not credible. This raises questions about where the cents have gone. And then, if cents are not being reported correctly, there is some likelihood that dollars are not being reported accurately either. The magenta bar is particularly troublesome. This collection was taken on Labor Day weekend. The office of St. Isabel was closed on the Monday of this weekend, Labor Day itself. Therefore, we do not know when the offertory collection was counted. The value of the collection was reported to be $3200.00.
The “roundness” of this number adds fuel to the question of whether dollars, let alone cents, are being counted accurately, being reported accurately, being estimated, disappearing, or being used in some irregular manner.
CFA Weekly Data
A complete study of all parishes in the Diocese of Venice to determine archiving procedures was not undertaken; The assertion here is based on random selection of several parishes.
The weekly data for the CFA is depicted in Figure 2. For every week that a non-zero contribution was reported, the value reported was in dollars with zero cents . The total amount collected for the CFA is listed in the bulletin each week as some value of dollars plus $.95.
Weekly contributions are calculated by subtracting the total contribution listed for consecutive weeks. Seemingly, the number of cents in addition to dollars for each week should be reported; and the total should reflect variations in the number of cents contributed. There are several additional anomalies. There is no identifiable reason for the extremely high value of contributions to the CFA reported for the weekend of April 22, $9,393.00. In conjunction with the reported offertory collection for the weekend of April 22, $12,739.36, this weekend provides the highest total revenue of any weekend. There is no apparent reason that this weekend would have this high total or that the CFA total alone would be so large. Also of concern is the fact that for the weeks from June 10 through September 2, the reported total of contributions to the CFA is $0.00. This three-month hiatus in giving corresponds to the three-month paid vacation enjoyed annually by the parish business manager/bookkeeper (m/b). A reported contribution of $0.00 to the CFA over the three month period, if not correct, suggests a worse financial situation for the parish than was the actual case and thus would have involved fraudulent data being used along with the text urging contributions to the CFA. The cause of the high contribution on the week of September 9 is also unclear. If it is an aggregation of funds contributed in previous weeks, then this would confirm that the numbers being reported during the three-month paid vacation of the m/b were incorrect. lt also raises the question of where the money was being held.
Concerns about the veracity of numbers being reported for the CFA suggested an experiment. At the 5:00PM Mass on Saturday, November 10, an envelope was put in the collection basket. The envelope was one issued by the Diocese of Venice that directs on one side that the contents are for the CFA. The large letters “CFA” were also added to the obverse side of the envelope. The contribution put in the envelope was $.68 cash. This amount was written on the envelope in large numbers and the envelope was sealed. The purpose of this experiment was to see if the total contributed to the CFA, listed in the bulletin each week as a dollar amount plus $.95, would be altered to account for the cents contributed. Unfortunately, the total contribution for the weekend of November 11 was not reported. However, the total reported to be in hand as of the following weekend of November 18 was still a dollar amount plus $.95. Although it is possible that someone contributed $.32 so that there was no change in the total amount of cents collected, this is unlikely. Even more unlikely is the possibility that the only week of the thirty-two reported where someone contributed an amount other than whole dollars was the weekend of the experiment. The most reasonable conclusion is that money contributed to the CFA and/or the offertory collection is not being properly accounted for, monitored, or reported.
Additional Concerns and Summary
The St. Isabel administration claims that donations are down. Most recently, a special fundraising event was announced as being scheduled for January 17, 2019 to support the parish. The justification for this event, announced at the Women’s Guild meeting, is that there was a loss of income due to the red tide this past summer and fall that seriously decreased the number of visitors to Sanibel and, as a consequence, diminished contributions at St. Isabel.
One problem with this scenario is that the administration also claims that it set the date for the event six months prior to November. If that is the case, the event was scheduled prior to the development of summer and fall red tide. The inconsistency must be explained. The reason proposed for the decrease in donations is disingenuous, at best. In light of the other identified concerns about accounting for the resources contributed by the parishioners of and visitors to St. Isabel, there is a need for complete transparency, an honest and complete report on the use of resources by the parish. Regaining the trust of potential contributors will be a difficult task made even more difficult by the fact that the finance committee has been purged of people who asked questions about and carefully monitored the use of parish funds.