French Catholics are calling for an independent audit and a Church investigation into their archbishop’s allegedly “disastrous” financial management.
– Local Church “spending more than income would allow”: official archdiocesan report
Last week a working group assembled by Archbishop of Avignon Jean-Pierre Cattenoz reported on the state of the archdiocese’s finances.
Among other findings, the group concluded that the archdiocese has been hampered for the past fifteen years by a structural deficit of 2 million euros annually, due to the fact that the archdiocese and its parishes are “spending more than [their] income would allow”.
To finally tackle the consistent deficit – and to avoid the archdiocese going into bankruptcy – the working group recommended that individual parishes shoulder the shortfall proportionally.
It warned parishes that if they did not voluntarily share the burden collectively, civil administrators would have no problem drawing on their parish assets and reserves to plug the archdiocesan deficit.
– After 18 years at the helm, archbishop trying to solve problems seven months out from likely retirement: local laypeople
But the association ‘Chrétiens en Vaucluse’ came out swinging against the working group’s report, and forcefully criticised the proposal to reorganise Avignon archdiocesan finances.
In an October 8 press release, the association first of all noted that Archbishop Cattenoz convened the working group to tackle the widely-known and 15-year long archdiocesan deficit only in May of this year.
That was just seven months out from when he must offer his resignation to the Pope upon turning the mandatory retirement age for bishops of 75, and after a tenure of 18 years as Avignon archbishop.
‘Chrétiens en Vaucluse’ also pointed out that Cattenoz had proposed the idea of parishes financing the archdiocesan deficit even before he set up the working group to investigate the state of Church finances, leading them to suspect the working group was pressured to come to that proposal.
On top of that, the association also denounced that the working group report blamed a fall in legacies and donations as a principal reason behind the dire state of the local Church’s finances, while making only a “very brief” allusion to the “seminary” Cattenoz had built in Sorgues, in the archdiocese, for the Neocatechumenal Way, at the cost of 4 million euros.
In fact, that building is only a 20-room residence for candidates for ordination studying nearly 40km away at the Studium Notre-Dame de Vie in Venasque, leading the association to ask ironically: “At €4m or €200,000 per room… how many stars for this hotel?”
The ‘Chrétiens en Vaucluse’ also recalled that Cattenoz’s seminary project saddled the archdiocese with a 2.5 million euro loan to be paid back in 200,000 euro yearly installments over a period of 15 years.
– “We are in an extremely serious situation”
The ‘Chrétiens en Vaucluse’ association concluded their press release by wondering, with respect to the proposals to reorganise archdiocesan finances:
“Why take decisions mortgaging the years 2021 and 2022, as foreseen in the report, if not to save face by escaping at the last moment the effects of 18 years of disastrous management?”
“We are in an extremely serious situation; we are asking for an independent financial audit right now to take real action”, ‘Chrétiens en Vaucluse’ spokesman Miguel Couralet told France Bleu.
The representative denounced that Cattenoz “created new expenses by bringing in new communities [and] African priests who had to be paid. Nevertheless, he built a seminary in Sorgues for 4 million euros”.
He added that “we have known for years that there are financial difficulties because of the mismanagement” of the archbishop.
But Jean Paul Paret, the head of the working group on archdiocesan finances, fired back against the criticisms, explaining that “we have identified a certain number of guidelines and we have put in place an action plan that has resulted today in savings that are not far from one million, so we have reduced the deficit to almost half”.
“The next archbishop will have the choice of whether to keep a large number of priests or to look at things differently. But if the deficit is not solved by reducing expenses, it may be necessary to make an effort in terms of parish donations to finance pastoral work”, Paret insisted.