Thursday, March 19, 2009

By now I'm sure everyone has heard of the move by certain members of the legislature of Connecticut to take control of Church finances away from the Hierarchy and place it in the hands of lay members of each parish, who would be appointed by the state. The massive response of the Catholic faithful of Connecticut, along with the support of the members of some other faiths (who realized they could be next) has pretty much stopped that effort for now.
Laying aside the unconstitutionality of such a move, and even the intrusion of the state into the affairs of the parish, why shouldn't members of the parish control parish finances. Don't they donate the money? Why shouldn't they control how its spent?
Such a method of parish governance has a name. It's call congregational governance, and is the method used by many of the separated Protestant Christian sects. Such a method is not in accordance with Catholic Tradition. Tradition which has as it's heart Scriptural roots.
Now most Catholics realize that the Connecticut law, which would take control of Church assets away from the bishop, is onerous and a thinly veiled plan to suppress Church teaching. There are other, good Catholics, who come at this, that is congregational governance, from a different angle.
In much of the United States there is a priest crisis. Many diocese are being force to close or cluster parishes. In some of these diocese deacons are stepping in to manage parishes while priests become less involved with each parish because they may be responsible for as many as four. I've heard it said that having a deacon in such a position is a waste. "Why not just hire a business manager to run the parish, and let the priests and deacons do the stuff only they can do?" is sometimes said.
Such a statement shows a real lack of understanding of the traditional role of the deacon in the Church. From the earliest times the deacon was charged with the handling of Church finances. As the member of the clergy most involved with the care of the widows and orphans the deacon was often deeply involved in collection and administration of the Church's money. It is said that St. Lawrence, a deacon of the third century, was martyred for failing to turn the wealth of the Church, collected for the care of widows and orphans, over to the Roman Government during the persecutions of Valerian.
The position of the clergy in managing the wealth of the Church can perhaps best be seen in Acts. Ananias and Sapphira decide to make a donation to the Church. They sell a piece of land and claim to donate the entire amount to the Church, while actually donating only a portion. To whom do they make this donation? Peter. It seems that from the beginning the Apostles were the ones who administered those monies donated to the Church for its work. Further Peter called Ananias on his lie, where upon the man died.
The point here? Ananias was not struck down because he failed to donate all his profits to the Church. He was not required to donate anything. He was attempting to garner public credit for his fraudulent act.
In Connecticut the agenda was to place persons in boards to control the finances of the diocese with an eye to pressuring the bishop and his priests from talking out against gay marriage. If the bishop does not control the finances of the diocese what does he do when those who do refuse to fund his Seminary because they don't like his defense of Church teaching? The parish priest even more so. What does father do when the parish finance board refuses to pay his rent because he won't marry Joe and Bob? Or speaks out against Contraception, or Abortion?
There is a reason that Christ did not found the Church as a democracy. In the secular realm, as Churchill said, democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all of the others. Still a democracy is no better than its citizens. We already know that spiritually we are very poor indeed. Marked with the stain of Original Sin, even after baptism we seem unable to avoid the falls of actual sin. Christ was not willing to place his Church in the hands of a democratic mob. He instead trusted it to the Holy Spirit, working through Peter and the Apostles, and their successors.
Not that democracy has no place in the Church. Many religious orders elect their leaders. The pope himself, the successor of Peter, is elected by the college of Cardinals. But a process of discernment is injected into these elections, a process likely to be lacking in elections centered primarily around the control of finances.
Certainly transparency has its place in parish finances. One of the excuses for the Connecticut actions was actions of a prominent Darien priest, Michael Jude Fay, who walked off with $1.4 million to bankroll a luxurious lifestyle of New York trips and Florida vacations with a male friend. No doubt there was a lot of bad stuff happening in Darien. The answer to that was fiscal responsibility on the part of the bishop, that is the requirement that parish finances be handled in a transparent way such that no single person, clergy or laity, can withdraw that kind of money without getting caught, caught before the luxury vacation makes the money vanish.

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