Monday, January 30, 2012

To the Best of Them

In our first parish, there were some financial shenanigans being played by the people who held the money. It ranged from a family that routinely reimbursed itself for gifts directly from the donation plate to an endowment treasurer who decided that he wasn't going to make reports anymore. Most of the congregation's leaders grumbled, but refused to take any action.

The upshot was that Father A. made it his policy to personally open every single piece of mail that came onto the property, no matter to whom it may have been addressed, and to record in a priate account book every account statement and remittance that he could find. This never provided a complete picture, mind you. The general-account treasurer was also chair of a committee that handled significant amounts of cash, for which she refused on principle to give any account.

Oh, yeah. Good times.

But by the time he left, Fr. A. was the only one -- the only one -- who could say with any certainty how much money the church had in its various accounts. He took a grim pride in this, but also bitterly regretted the time spent playing a combination of accountant and detective. None of it was much good for his spiritual life, or that of the congregation.

So he resolved that, in the future, he would let lay people do the work for which they are elected and appointed -- which most certainly includes taking care of the money -- and concentrate his own energy on preaching, praying, and teaching the faith. For a couple of years, it worked okay, too.

But after leaving one parish -- we will leave the details vague here -- Fr. A. learned of a pattern of fraud and deception, perpetrated by people who had been trusted with significant responsibility, which had cost quite a bit of money in a very short time.

On one hand, the system ultimately worked. It was an astute council president who had uncovered the deception; laypeople came though. On the other hand, Fr. A. has been tortured by the experience. Had he returned to the role of accountant/detective, he could probably have stopped it all much earlier and less expensively. Upon his eventual return to conventional parish ministry, he will --- not without some regret -- take more responsibility for small-scale financial oversight.

We confess all this as a way of extending our sympathy to Archbishop (and Cardinal-designate) Timothy Dolan, who is probably feeling some mixture of rage and shame tonight. He too has been cheated by somebody he trusted, to the tune of a cool million. Here's the Times lede:
The Manhattan district attorney’s office on Monday arrested a Bronx woman who is accused of stealing more than $1 million from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York when she worked in the archdiocese’s finance office, law enforcement officials and church leaders said.
Ooof. That's gotta hurt.

For what it's worth, we recall that the ELCA's New England Synod was victimized the same way a few years back, and for a similar sum. Which doesn't make it any less painful.


K said...

The earlier version of the NYTimes article, which was shorter and less fleshed out (no quotes from neighbors, etc), included a quote I wish they had included in this longer article. The gist of it was: when it comes to some people, they will always work to find the loophole and exploit it as far as they can. And my experience has shown that to be true. It doesn't matter if you put some rules in place to prevent it, it doesn't matter if they like you, it doesn't even matter if they've been caught before. They're going to play the game however they can for as long as they can. And in the end, that's not something you can take personally.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

We have to have more than one person counting the money at all times, together in the room. Not fool proof, but it should help. Its not like the church has any extra money anyway. Something like $157 in the black at the end of the year.