Parish Finance Council — Part I

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

Canon 537 — Each parish is to have a finance council which is regulated by universal law as well as by norms issued by the diocesan bishop; in this council the Christian faithful, selected according to the same norms, aid the pastor in the administration of parish goods with due regard for the prescription of Canon 532.  

This 54-word canon provides the basis by which all parish finance councils should operate. This article, and the consecutive articles in the following months, will examine the practical application of the canon to modern parish finance councils.  

The first part of the canon establishes the requirement that each parish have a finance council. The canon does not provide any exceptions to having a finance council. Therefore, reasons such as that the parish is too small to have a formal finance council, or that the pastor is unable to find volunteer members, are not valid justifications for the absence of a parish finance council.  

The next part of the canon states that the finance council is regulated by universal law as well as norms issued by the diocesan bishop. From a practical perspective, if the diocesan bishop issues norms for parish finance councils, the pastor may rely upon those norms as they apply to his local parish. Thus, the diocesan bishop may issue norms regarding the number of members for parish finance councils; and typically they do. If the diocesan bishop does not specify the number of members, then the pastor reverts to the universal law for guidance. In this case, the universal law is guided by Canon 1280 which states that each juridic person is to have its own finance council or at least two advisors. This canon does not apply specifically to parish finance councils and has a broader application. Absent any other direction, however, we must infer that two advisors are a minimum for any advisory body to the pastor.  

As a practical matter, most pastors will prefer an odd number of finance council members. In small parishes where it is difficult to recruit qualified parish finance council volunteers, a pastor may be inclined to appoint only two members provided the diocesan norms do not specify a higher number. Having only two members, however, could pose challenges for the pastor. If, for example, the two members typically express opposing views on matters brought before the finance council, the advice provided to the pastor would be of limited value. The same phenomena could occur with an even number of finance council members, but is less likely than with only two members.  

Most diocesan norms recognize the issues involved with the number of parish finance council members and also realize that one finance council size may not fit well for all parishes. Consequently, diocesan norms often set a minimum number of finance council members of three and will either suggest no particular maximum or a relatively manageable number such as nine members.  

Generally, smaller parishes will have smaller finance councils, but in some small parishes with a significant level of parishioner involvement, pastors have found it relatively easy to constitute the finance council with several members.  

While the number of finance council members must comply with the diocesan norms, or in their absence, universal norms, the quality of the members’ participation is more important than the absolute number of members. In next month’s column we will discuss the membership selection process and terms. 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 WayneLenell@fathersguide.org