Irish laypeople deplore bishops' financial opacity, clericalism in managing diocesan accounts

Irish laypeople deplore bishops’ financial opacity, clericalism in managing diocesan accounts

Irish laypeople have deplored their bishops’ financial opacity and clericalism in managing diocesan accounts.

The complaint came in the latest edition of the transparency tables of We Are Church Ireland.

The importance of financial accountability

Taking a leaf from counterparts Voice of the Faithful in the US, the Irish Church reform group publishes periodic reports of diocesan online financial reporting.

As Voice of the Faithful explained in its 2019 audit of US dioceses, “financial transparency can help address an array of problems that emerged within the Church in recent centuries”, one of which being clergy sex abuse and cover-ups.

“If the extent of the financial settlements made by bishops to hide clerical sexual abuse had become known through transparent financial reporting when the abuse reports started breaking long before 2002, lay Catholics would have been aware that the abuse was not a rare exception, but widespread”, Voice of the Faithful recalled.

Voice of the Faithful continued:

“Transparency also guards against fraudulent diversion of donated funds by clergy or by laity. The absence of clear and accessible financial reports, certified by audits, and of properly implemented collection and reporting protocols, makes it much easier to divert the funds donated by the members of a diocese.

“Every Catholic shares in the responsibility to ensure that funds donated for Church work actually go toward those purposes. Without access to financial reports and information on diocesan finance councils, budgets, and the overall financial health of a diocese, ordinary Catholics cannot exercise their full responsibility of stewardship or verify where their donations to the diocese go”.

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Only 38% of Irish dioceses include audited accounts on websites

Colm Holmes, a spokesperson for We Are Church Ireland, wrote on the group’s website:

Congratulations to the diocese of Ossory who have retaken the top spot from the diocese of Ferns at the top of the Transparency Table!

The two largest dioceses (Dublin and Down & Connor) are near the top of the table. Smaller dioceses like Ferns and Elphin have performed well and are keeping their websites updated.

Most disappointing of all is the fact that 2 dioceses make no financial information available on their websites or on the Charity Regulator websites (Kerry and Killaloe).

Despite legislation requiring charities to report to the Charity Regulator being a legal requirement since 2014 only 10 of our 26 Dioceses include their Annual Accounts on their Diocesan websites.

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Of course they are not required by law to include their Accounts on their websites. But today most people seek information online and expect it to be provided in an open and transparent manner.

While lay men and women are increasingly involved on diocesan Finance Committees, sadly this is not reflected in the numbers of diocesan trustees.

Only 6% of the 148 trustees of the 26 Diocese in Ireland are lay persons, with clerics making up 94% of the trustees.

The Transparency Scores are calculated based on 10 criteria developed by Voice of the Faithful in the USA. The criteria include the availability on websites of Annual Accounts; details of the Finance Committee; Search functions to quickly find information; financial guidelines.

In the USA 65% of Catholic dioceses include their Audited Accounts on their websites. In Ireland only 38% of our Catholic dioceses include their Audited Accounts on their websites.

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More on Novena on We Are Church Ireland’s push for full accountability from their bishops:

Irish laypeople denounce bishops’ refusal to publish reports on state of dioceses: “The clericalist culture of secrecy must end”

We Are Church Ireland warns bishops: “Women will no longer put up with second class status”

“No Women, No Church”: We Are Church Ireland organises peaceful protest outside Dublin nunciature for International Women’s Day

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.