Comment on the January 15, 2019 Letter from Peter McPartland, Director of Finance, Diocese of Venice
January 22, 2019
Dear Followers of Parishioners for Justice:
The Vatican has announced that the meeting of the heads of the national conferences of bishops for the protection of minors in the Church will focus on the three main themes of “responsibility, accountability, and transparency.” Had these three qualities been emphasized in the past, the sexual abuse crisis might have been avoided. The crisis should serve as an alert that these three themes should be hallmarks of any Church dealings in order to ensure that crises do not develop in other areas of Church life. For this reason, it is surprising that the letter from 12 Parishioners of St. Isabel and subsequent letters and data postings asking for financial clarification should be characterized by the Director of Finance of the Diocese of Venice as “shocking in tone,” with “reckless alarm.” He also expressed disappointment that this presentation was “even published on the internet.” The letters were said to be best characterized as “shouting fire in a crowded theatre.” The suggestion that the letters might have been disseminated “to intentionally cause division in the Parish and Diocese” is a baseless conjecture; any divisions that exist in the Parish can be laid at the feet of the administration practices within the Diocese of Venice. Mr. McPartland states that it is his hope and prayers that his letter “will bring clarity to the topics raised.” This is a perplexing statement, in that the topics raised were neither addressed nor clarified. Rather there was praise for Diocesan procedures, some mention of those procedures, and an incorrect statement of how some of those procedures have been implemented.
In the interest of clarity, and as an encouragement for responsibility, accountability, and transparency, the unanswered questions posed previously and publicly are raised again here. The questions posed are based on the letters to the Diocesan administration, the response to one letter from the Parish Finance Council Chair, publications of the Parish, information posted on the internet by the Diocese of Venice, and the letter from Mr. McPartland. Unfortunately, St. Isabel Parish documents are not available on the internet as the Parish chooses to post its bulletins only for one week; and its financial report was not posted. The Parishioner letters and Diocesan responses are posted on the Parishioners for Justice website in the interest of transparency.
- The administrators seem unconcerned with their inability to account for a $0.68 contribution to the CFA. This suggests that some lower limit exists for there to be a concern. This lower limit is clearly some number above $0.68. Is it $1.00, $10.00, or $1000.00? The Diocese characterizes the problem as one raised by focusing on “very immaterial topics such as rounding of cents.” Of course, “rounding of cents” in this case would be $1.00 which is not accounted for. Thus, the question stands: How large must a donation to the Church be before it is not an immaterial contribution?
- During the summer when the business manager was away from the St. Isabel Parish office, the weekly reports of the contributions to the CFA published in the Parish bulletin differed from numbers published by the Diocese of Venice in a range from $0 to more than $2000. The question was raised about why these reported numbers differed so greatly. The only action that might be considered a response to this question seems to be that the weekly amount collected for the CFA, as determined by the Parish, has not been published in the bulletin for the past two weeks. Thus, the question stands: Why are there large discrepancies between St. Isabel CFA weekly collection reports prepared by the Parish and those prepared by the Diocese of Venice during the summer months of 2018?
- In the financial statement from St. Isabel for fiscal year 2016-2017, the Offertory collection total is stated as $609,443.48. For 2017-2018, the amount is listed as $559,656.02. The 2017-2018 report also states that the Diocesan assessment for the CFA is 26% of the weekly collection. Despite the decrease in collection over the last two years, the Diocesan assessment has remained unchanged at $192,000. Furthermore, an assessment of this size would be appropriate as a 26% assessment of an annual Offertory collection of $738,461.53. Thus, the question stands: How has the CFA assessment for St. Isabel been determined, and why do the numbers provided seem to show inconsistency with the stated Diocesan protocol?
- The most recent letter from the Diocese states that “the Parish issued a financial report which was mailed individually to registered Parishioners at their homes in the past year and the financial report was also recently distributed at Masses as an insert in the weekly bulletin.” In fact, the financial report was not mailed to all registered Parishioners but only to some selected subset. The statement that the report was sent to all registered Parishioners is incorrect. The insert in the bulletin appeared only a couple of weeks ago, presumably in response to one of the earlier inquiries cited above. Although the insert was a constructive step, this insert was not part of the bulletin, was not available in the bulletin for downloading from the website, and was thus not available to the many Parishioners of St. Isabel who are in Sanibel only part time. Furthermore, the Diocesan document, “Financial Policies and Procedures for Parishes and Schools” states specifically that the Finance Council is required to “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.” No such report appeared in the bulletin by September 30, 2018. The financial report that was mailed to some Parishioners in November did not include a listing of assets, net assets, information about Parish organizations, or information about the memorial garden. Thus, the question stands: Why is the Finance Council allowed to be delinquent in providing accurate, complete, and timely financial information to the Parishioners of St. Isabel in contradiction to the stated procedures and timelines mandated by the Diocese of Venice and will this be remedied?
It almost seems that for each unanswered question, a new question arises. For example, the bulletins of January 06 and January 13 provide the offertory collection data for the weeks of December 23 and December 30, 2018, respectively. One of these weeks includes Christmas, which typically yields a higher collection. However, remarkably, the reported amounts of the two collections are identical to the penny, both weeks being reported as $7,199.12. Is that really correct? Furthermore, this time of year is a time when the population of Sanibel is relatively high. Between this fact and the fact that it is the Christmas season, one would expect the collections for the weeks at the end of the year to be relatively high. However, if the reported collections were to be achieved each of the 52 weeks of the year, even in the low season, the total Offertory collection would be $374,375.04. This is considerably less than the annual amount reported in the two most recent financial reports of the Parish. Something seems amiss. It would be helpful if this situation were clarified.
The letters from the Finance Council and from the Diocesan Director of Finance both scolded that written inquiries about troublesome matters are inappropriate. They suggested a “simple phone call” or scheduling a meeting. We can comment that there was nothing preventing Diocesan personnel from calling any of the signers of the letters to talk or propose a meeting. They also chose to write. We continue to believe that a written record is best as it reduces the possibility of misinterpretation of what has been said or of misunderstanding. We think that those hired to work in the Diocese of Venice all have a first responsibility to be of service to the people of the Diocese. Rather than berating and insulting the people in their communications, Diocesan personnel would do well to foster responsible, accountable and transparent communication.
Let us pray and act for the well-being of our pastor and Parish each Tuesday morning and every day.