Parish Finance Council - Part VI

This sixth column in a multi-column series on parish finance councils will focus on the USCCB guidelines for parish reporting.

The USCCB Accounting Practices Committee (APC) is composed of diocesan finance officers, certified public accountants from large public accounting firms, and representatives from the USCCB, Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

In 2007, the Accounting Practices Committee made several recommendations regarding parish finance councils recognizing the importance of a properly functioning parish finance council as it relates to proper parish governance and internal controls and the important link a finance council provides between a bishop and his parishes.

The APC recommends that each parish send a letter to the diocesan bishop containing the names and professional titles of the members of the parish finance council, the dates on which the parish finance council has met during the preceding fiscal year and since the end of the fiscal year, the dates on which the approved parish financial statements/budgets were made available to the parishioners during the preceding fiscal year and since the end of the fiscal year (a copy of said published financial statements/budgets should be provided to the bishop), and a statement signed by the parish priest and the finance council members that they have met, developed, and discussed the financial statements and budget of the parish.

The APC also recommends that thorough diocesan training be provided to parish finance council members relative to their roles and responsibilities. Each parish should complete an annual internal control questionnaire, and a proper review and follow up should be made by qualified diocesan personnel.

We may conclude from these recommendations that the Accounting Practices Committee encourages communication between the pastors and the diocesan central offices, giving assignments to both. It is the expectation that if the pastor must submit names of parish finance council and meeting dates, such a requirement will provide accountability on the part of the pastor; that he is complying with Canon Law pursuant to parish finance councils. The requirement that the pastor provide the dates of publication of parish financial reports and provide copies to the bishop of those reports establishes not only accountability, but also transparency between the parish and the faithful.

It is not enough, however, that the parish finance council meets and develops and discusses the financial statements and budget. The Accounting Practices Committee wants to ensure that the parish finance council members have the expertise and are properly trained to carry out their duties. To this end, the Accounting Practices Committee recommends that, in addition to the names of the parish finance council members, the pastor also lists the professional titles of the members. This serves as a check for the pastor preparing the listing and for the bishop’s delegate who may review the listing. Further, the Accounting Practices Committee places the onus on the diocese to provide training to finance council members. If the diocese does not provide this training, the responsibility falls back to the pastor.

Whether a bishop requires his pastors to comply with the recommendations of the Accounting Practices Committee, the spirit of the recommendations is to foster greater accountability and transparency between the parish and the faithful and between the parish and its bishop.  

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