Parish Finance Council – Part IV

This is the fourth column on parish finance councils and will focus on how a parish finance council may be of assistance to a pastor.

When a pastor has a parish finance council, he has a potential valuable resource. He has parishioners who love their Church so much that they want to volunteer their time to make it better. Most of them would do most anything the pastor asks them to do.

One of the reasons parishioners do not volunteer more is that often, when they volunteer to assist, they are not asked to perform any service or the service they are asked to perform is of minimal value. Once a pastor loses a volunteer, it is very difficult to recruit that same volunteer for other service. Therefore, it is important for a pastor to make good use of finance council volunteers.

Some of the common duties performed by a parish finance council include assisting the pastor in:

– the preparation of the parish budget,

– the preparation of the annual report to the faithful,

– developing ongoing and long-term financial plans to respond to needs identified by the parish pastoral council,

– analyzing the need for facilities and equipment,

– developing a plan to finance the capital needs of the parish,

– reviewing the system of collection and recording of revenues to ensure that the system has adequate safeguards against errors, omissions and irregularities,

– reviewing the timely payment of financial obligations including diocesan assessments,

– analyzing the actual operating results compared to the budget,

– the preparation of the annual report to the diocese.

While a pastor may benefit from the expertise offered by the members of his parish finance council, it is important to remember two considerations. First, the common duties listed above all represent assistance to the pastor. The pastor may not abjure his responsibilities to the parish finance council for the administration of the temporal goods of the parish. If the finance council recommends a course of action to the pastor, and the pastor does not agree with it, the pastor should reject the recommendation and explain his reasons to the finance council. If the pastor follows erroneous advice of the finance council, it is he, not the finance council members, who is accountable for the decision. If something goes wrong and the pastor must explain it to his bishop, an appropriate response is not “I was merely following the advice of my finance council.”

Second, the pastor must inform the members of the parish finance council that they operate as a council rather than as individuals. A parish finance council member should not take action outside of the council unless specifically authorized. For example: a well-meaning member begins to supervise the activities of the parish bookkeeper without the express permission of the pastor or any prior notice to the bookkeeper. One day this council member goes to the parish office, demands that the bookkeeper produce various documents and begins directing the bookkeeper. This type of action will usually result in confusion and perhaps resentment by the bookkeeper. Further, a finance council member must not represent the parish in matters of purchasing goods or services for the parish unless specifically authorized by the pastor.

Without the consent of the pastor, authority for individual actions of finance council members does not extend beyond the official meetings of the parish finance council.

MR. LENELL, C.P.A., Ph.D., is the director for financial and administrative services for the Diocese of Rockford, Ill. Dr. Lenell’s book Income Taxes for Priests Only is published by “Fathers Guide.” He lectures and conducts workshops and does consulting to several dioceses on priests’ taxes, compensation, and retirement planning. Write to Dr. Lenell, c/o The Priest magazine with questions, or e-mail him at WayneLenell@fathersguide.org