Letters

Comment on “St. Isabel Financial Summary 18/19”

Comment on “St. Isabel Financial Summary 18/19”

Background

In early December, 2018, a group of 12 concerned parishioners of St. Isabel Church sent an open letter to the administrators of St. Isabel Church. Among other things, this letter pointed out inconsistencies in the reporting of parish weekly collections and of numbers provided by the Diocese and the parish staff relating to the CFA. The letter received no direct response.  However, shortly after the letter was sent a document labeled “St. Isabel Parish Financial Report Fiscal Year 2017-2018” was mailed to some subset of the registered parishioners of St. Isabel.  The numbers in that report only raised further questions, as noted in a letter dated December 28, 2018, and posted on the PFJ web site.  It was also pointed out that the so-called financial statement did not satisfy the published policy of the Diocese of Venice for reporting to the parish community.  A letter dated December 27, 2018, but unavailable prior to the preparation of the December 28 letter, was sent from St. Isabel declaring that a written open letter of inquiry was inappropriate as an alternative to a phone call.  The letter also made declarations that the processes in place were appropriate but offered no substantive clarification to any of the financial peculiarities noted.  Subsequent letters, available on the PfJ site, led to a response from the Director of Finance of the Diocese who characterized the inquiries as “shocking in tone” and akin to “shouting fire in a crowded theater.” The Direcytor claimed that statements were not factually based, and vaguely suggested that the statements in the inquiries were slanderous.  Again, no hard data was provided, only a suggestion that discussion between individuals should replace formal response to the parish community.  The failure of the Diocese to provide an appropriate response led to a letter on January 22 posted on the PfJ site, which the Diocese monitors, asking specific questions concerning significant discrepancies. No response was received.

It is our view that, in essence, the Finance Council of St. Isabel Parish and the Diocese of Venice Finance Director have essentially stone-walled this process of inquiry and provided no solid answers to the parish community.  We do note some changes in reporting whose timing and implementation seem to correlate with issues raised.  It is not possible to know definitely if these are actions in response to the inquiries mentioned. These changes include:

  • Weekly contributions to the CFA are no longer listed in the bulletin. This makes it impossible to determine if discrepancies exist between the parish and diocesan records and makes the financial dealings in regard to the CFA less transparent.
  • Weekly Offertory collection amounts ceased to be published in the bulletin as of July 1, 2019, making consideration of possible financial irregularities in the current year even more difficult than in previous years. This action also diminishes the transparency of the parish administration and the Diocese of Venice in financial matters.
  • The so-called Financial Report of 2017-18 seemed to arise from noting that it was overdue. This year, a Financial Report 2018-19, with slightly more extensive data, as will be discussed below, was published in the bulletin prior to September 30 as required by Diocesan policy. Correcting the publication date and method of distribution are steps in the right direction.

Current Financial Report

The document labeled St. Isabel Annual Report 2018-2019 provides slightly more data than in the report of 2017-18; it appears in the bulletin of September 29, 2019, satisfying the timing required by Diocesan policy.  We are pleased that previous letters seem to have motivated this set of improvements.  Nevertheless, the new report is again incomplete and raises some serious questions about management of St. Isabel Parish.

As was mentioned previously, the systematic and continuing reduction of presentation of financial data in the St. Isabel Parish weekly bulletin makes monitoring of parish finances increasingly difficult.  This, along with the Diocese’ characterization of sincere requests for information as being equivalent to shouting fire in a crowded theater does nothing but increase concerns. One cannot help but wonder if the addition of a layer of opacity to the financial reporting is the chosen path of the Diocese and the Finance Council to reduce the possibility of informed questioning of its methods and its use of funds. At this time, we note the following:

  1. During the 2018-19 fiscal year, the parish bulletin provided weekly reports of the amounts collected through Sunday Offertory collections. If one sums the amounts contained in the bulletin attributed to weeks from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019, the total Offertory collection is $507,489.96.  However, the Financial Summary states this amount as $577,880.54.  The large discrepancy between these numbers is most certainly significant by itself.  Furthermore, the value of the correct number has implications for the assessment to the parish for the CFA.  The apparent decision of the parish administration to no longer provide amounts for the weekly Offertory collections will ensure that “discrepancies” can no longer be noted but will not ensure that reports in annual statements are correct or meaningful.
  2. The number of families registered in St. Isabel Parish seems to be unknown. In its CFA report of November 12, 2018, the Diocese indicated that there were 868 families registered in St. Isabel Parish.  The following week, the Diocese lowered this number to 634, where it has remained with fluctuations of only a couple of families.  The report from the parish prepared in December 2018, listed the number of families as 555 consisting of 1059 individuals, while the Financial Report issued at the end of September, 2019 list the parish as being composed of 523 families and 1062 individuals.  Of course, the discrepancy between the diocesan and parish numbers is troublesome.  Additionally, the parish report that the number of registered families decreased by 32 while the number of registered individuals increased by 3 is inconsistent with the demographics of Sanibel Island.  All these numbers cause one to question whether the parish and diocese have an awareness of whom they are serving.
  3. The parish indicated that there were 28 children in the parish from July, 2017 – July, 2018. For July, 2018 – July, 2019 this number increased to 30. Causing alarm is the fact that the number of children enrolled in religious education is listed as decreasing from 20 to 12.  No information is provided about this dramatic decrease.
  4. In its final statement for the CFA appeal on February 05, 2019, the Diocese of Venice reported that it had received $152,335.95 of the $153,335.95 of CFA money pledged from St. Isabel against its assessment of $192,000. The parish report states the CFA donations received at the Diocese of Venice as $162,234.44.  This discrepancy is unexplained; it also has implications as to how much the parish added from its resources to meet the diocesan assessment.  As was mentioned in the set of letters exchanged with the parish and diocese, the assessment of $192,000 was excessive by tens of thousands of dollars based on the Diocesan formula for assessment and the amounts of collections in previous years. This excessive assessment should have been reduced. The 2018-19 statement indicates that it was not.
  5. The names of the Finance Council members appear in the 2018-19 statement. The council membership has changed from the report of 9 months ago. Parishioners should have been informed of these changes at the time they occurred.  Also, the holder of the positions of Vice-Chair and Secretary, positions required by diocesan norms, should be indicated.  This information was previously requested, but no response was forthcoming.
  6. It was pointed out in December, 2018 that the Financial Policies and Procedures document of the Diocese of Venice states that the Finance Council has responsibility under canon law and the particular law of the diocese to include in its annual report published in the bulletin specific information about parish organizations. In the current report, no such information is provided concerning the Men’s Society, the Women’s Guild, or the Bread and Roses organization.  We note that such information is absent but needed, especially in light of, for example, the Men’s Society initial report of raising $12K and then a revised report of raising $17K at its BBQ. No actual accounting has ever been provided.  Besides this ambiguity, there is confusion in the parish as to who the beneficiaries of these funds were because the organizers made conflicting statements at the event.  A full accounting of this event is needed. Accounting for all parish organizations is important, necessary, and required.
  7. No financial report at all was included for the Casino night which was advertized as a parish fundraiser.

One could continue successfully to mine the recent Financial Report for data that cannot be reconciled on its own or in comparison with previous financial statements from the parish.  However, we will not do that here.  The preceding is more than adequate to make the case that the 2018-19 Financial Summary for St. Isabel Parish does not reliably portray parish finances and other quantitative aspects of the parish.  The Finance Council has failed in its obligations under canon law and diocesan law.  The unwillingness of the Diocese to respond in a spirit of cooperation to sincere inquiries designed to ensure accuracy of financial statements does not bode well for efforts to obtain accurate and reliable data.  Nevertheless, it is important to note that the gross inaccuracies identified here cast doubt on all the data reported and, once again, indicate the need for a genuinely independent review and audit.

 

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