Parish Finance Council - Part III

This third column in a multi-column series on parish finance councils will focus on the advisory nature of parish finance councils.

There is an old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. This expression is meant to emphasize the ineffectiveness of incorporating too many conflicting opinions into a single project. It also serves as a caution to pastors to not let a good concept to become compromised by allowing individuals excessive influence concerning the details of the concept.

Canon 537 states that the purpose of the parish finance council is to “aid the pastor in the administration of parish goods.” Aiding the pastor does not mean deciding for the pastor. The role of the parish finance council is advisory, not authoritative. To maintain the advisory nature of the parish finance council, the pastor may consider implementing the following suggestions.

When appointing new members to the parish finance council, the pastor should orient the new members to their role and duties. The pastor should explain that the main reason he is appointing a particular parishioner to the finance council is to benefit from that person’s counsel and that he will not expect the new member to make decisions.

If a pastor has not had this discussion with existing members, he may consider formally adding the discussion to the agenda of an upcoming meeting. He should have this discussion at a meeting in which there are no controversial items so that the parish finance council members do not conclude that the pastor has a hidden agenda to influence a particular decision.

A pastor should avoid asking for the parish council members to vote on issues. Voting on issues may cause two problems for the pastor. First, it is implicit that, if a pastor asks for a vote, he would follow the result of that vote which further implies that the members have the authority to decide parish issues. This is especially true when the vote is unanimous and contrary to the preference of the pastor. If a pastor calls for a vote on a matter and the result is unanimous in favor, and he does not follow the results of the vote, the members may become frustrated with their participation on the parish finance council.

Asking the parish council members to vote on issues may also cause divisiveness among the members. If a member is particularly passionate about an issue and his fellow council members vote contrary his opinion, it could damage the relationship among the members. Such occurrences, or even the perception of such occurrences, could result in parish finance council members voting with the majority rather than voicing an opinion through a negative vote.

An alternate method to voting is to solicit individual comments from the members. Perhaps, for example, the pastor is considering a capital campaign to build a parish hall. Instead of saying, “All those in favor of hiring ABC company to conduct a capital campaign signify by saying ‘aye,’” a pastor could, instead, ask each finance council member to state his or her opinion of the pros and cons of the project. This allows each member to avoid any group hostility by taking a differing opinion. For example, a finance council member who is adamantly against the concept could say, “The current parish hall in the basement accommodates nearly all of our parish functions. If the parishioners perceive this, they may not participate in the capital campaign.” This allows the member to voice his or her opinion without the stigma of negatively voting against the majority opinion. TP 

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