This week I read an interesting article by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York. You can read the full version here.
Dolan is a prominent figure in the American Church and a rising star in the universal Church, having made a big impression at the recent conclave (a journalist pointed out that if the cardinal-electors had elected Dolan as pope the other 5,000 bishops of the world might as well have taken the next 15 years off, because they’d never be seen or heard from again. In short, Dolan is incredibly articulate and he also doesn’t have an “off” switch).
Dolan’s article stood out because it provides a helpful insight into the complex issues involved in administering a diocese. Among other things, he underscores the need for parishes to support themselves financially (i.e. pay the bills) and to plan responsibly for their future life.
It makes for good reading. Whether you’re an ordained or lay minister, pastoral life coordinator, finance committee or pastoral council it provides a ‘bigger’ picture of Church than is often kept in view. While all dioceses and parishes differ in their financial resources and arrangements, there are a few points worth noting in Dolan’s article for all Catholic communities.
1. As a general rule, dioceses cannot be expected to carry parishes that cannot carry themselves.
It’s simply unsustainable. Think of your typical (if there is one) American, European or even Australian diocese. There are probably more churches than needed (perhaps stemming from an earlier ‘one village, one parish’ approach) and attendance is likely declining which diminishes financial contributions as well (unless those who remain pick up the slack). Meanwhile the costs of church maintenance continue to increase as historic buildings and facilities degrade. Obviously dioceses do not enjoy an endless supply of funds and risk the patrimony and viability of other ministries if it were to prop up every parish in need. Most dioceses expect their parishes to be largely self-sufficient for these reasons; religious orders usually expect their regional communities to do the same.
It was interesting to read in Dolan’s piece that the Archdiocese of New York has established Inter-Parish Financing (IPF) which enables stronger parishes to aid those in need. This seems like a good idea in principle, a form of distributive justice, just as the Vatican itself redistributes finance from established churches to developing ones. However, it appears from Dolan’s remarks that the IPF has not proven sustainable over the long term and needs reform in their context. Keep in mind that the NY Archdiocese also carries the costs of the upkeep of a great number of schools which is not the scenario for all dioceses. The upshot for Dolan’s archdiocese has been an operating deficit which he intends to address through the measures he outlines in the article (NB: the operating budget of the NY Archdiocese is $87 million which is far beyond the reality of most Australian dioceses!).
2. Dioceses balance significant demands which are not always recognised.
What do dioceses do with the financial contributions of parishes and its investment income? Dolan’s archdiocese is typical in providing pastoral services and resources that parishes cannot provide for themselves, at considerable cost.
There are the expenses of training seminarians and deacons for pastoral ministry, the employment of chancery staff, the financing of social support services not only for Catholics but for the wider community as well (think of our own CatholicCare closer to home), the need to support adult faith education, family and liturgical support, human resources and legal advice for parishes, the support of schools and the need to provide adequate housing for retired priests as well as healthcare, marriage tribunals, evangelisation initiatives, and loan facilities for the establishment of new parishes and the maintenance and upgrade of existing ones. The list goes on. Again, this makes it all the more important for parishes to fund their own activities to the extent that they can so that all can benefit from the greater resources that a diocese holds in trust.
3. Church revenue is a function of the quality of community life
While not addressed in Dolan’s article, it is a well-established fact that dynamic and missionary parishes attract larger and more consistent financial contributions than staid or listless ones. People contribute their time and money to communities that are life-giving, intentional in their mission and that value their belonging in explicit and tangible ways. People also contribute to communities that have transparent, credible and accountable leaders. It is no surprise that the crisis of legitimation experienced by the Church in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis in particular and poor pastoral practice in general has resulted in a weakened sense of belonging and, with that, a decline in the financial resources available to the Church to exercise its Gospel mission. Want to increase your parish revenue? Become a community that people value.
I’ll be keeping an eye on developments in Dolan’s archdiocese as it is a communicative and dynamic one and will share further news as it comes to light. Dolan’s article underlines sound financial governance as a must for every community of faith.