Parish Finance Council – Part II

This is the second column in a multi-column series on parish finance councils.

Last month’s column introduced the discussion of parish finance councils and concluded that, while canon law requires each parish to have a parish finance council, it does not provide an abundance of specifics in establishing the council or in how it is to operate. Therefore, pastors must often rely on diocesan norms, and absent them, the pastor must rely on universal law for guidance. The focus of this month’s column is on the selection of parish finance council members.

Canon 537 requires that “in this council the Christian faithful, selected according to the same norms [referring to universal law as well as by norms issued by the diocesan bishop], aid the pastor. . . .” The only requirement for membership, according to this canon, is that the finance council members be among the Christian faithful. Though not specifically required in the canon, as a practical matter membership on the parish finance council is limited to parishioners.

The canon relating to diocesan finance councils provides some guidance into the qualifications for potential members by stating in Canon 492 that diocesan finance council members should be “truly skilled in financial affairs as well as in civil law, [and] of outstanding integrity.” This would indicate that a pastor should select finance council members who are accountants, bankers, financial planners, lawyers, etc. It also implies that the finance council candidates are known to the pastor sufficiently to vouch for that person’s integrity. While these are helpful qualifications, a pastor may need a more diversified parish finance council membership to assist him with the administration of the temporal goods of the parish.

A major consideration in selecting parish finance council members is the needs of the pastor. If, for example, a pastor knows that he has very limited accounting skills, he may want an accountant on the finance council to help him understand the reports generated by the parish bookkeeper. If the parish has a large and aging physical plant, the pastor may want a parish finance council member who possesses knowledge of the building trades.

Oftentimes a pastor prefers not to know the individual giving history of his parishioners. In selecting finance council members, however, it is important to consider the financial commitment a parishioner makes to his or her parish. When parishioners have a vested interest in the finances of the parish demonstrated by their own sacrificial giving, they will likely participate more enthusiastically in discussions regarding parish finances. At a minimum, the potential finance council member should be a regular user of parish envelopes.

Finally, the pastor should consider the personalities of potential finance council members before appointing them. Sometimes, for example, if the pastor needs a strong personality type to stimulate others to participate, he would like to have a “take charge” type of personality for a finance council member. Conversely, a strong personality type may insert his or her opinions in such a manner as to intimidate other council members into silence, in which case the pastor loses the benefit of their counsel. A new pastor may not know the personalities of his parishioners well enough to make an informed opinion regarding the effectiveness of a potential council member. It is better for the pastor to take his time and meet with candidates several times rather than appointing members who will be a hindrance to the work of the parish finance council. 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