Show me the money
Our Diocesan Finance Council met today, as it does at least five times a year (and generally more often) this to make recommendations how the diocese should meet the same economic challenges which today are facing everyone. There are sixteen voting members of the Finance Council (one of two consultative groups mandated by both Canon or Church Law and good sense.) The women and men who advise me and the diocese are all practicing Catholics involved in the life of their own parishes and schools. There are business-people, a lawyer, CPA’s including this area’s best known expert on financial fraud, insurance, real estate, banking and investment professionals as well as two pastors. From the very beginning I have sought, treasured and observed their advice and counsel. I put into place a promise which applies only to myself and does not bind my successor(s) that no expense more than $50,000 outside of the annual budget would be incurred without the consent of the Council.
Their work is not easy. The diocesan budget for the present year started at fifteen million dollars of which about a third is spent in salaries and benefits of employees. Most of the budget is spent on ministries like Catholic Charities, the education of our future priests, outreach to the Hispanics working the fields of the eastern parts of Hillsborough and Pasco counties, tuition assistance and subsidy for parishes and schools, etc. The diocese depends on investment performance to balance its budget and when the latter is drawn up, only an educated albeit conservative guess can be made how the market might do in a given year. Everything changed for us, and for many of you, in October. The value of our investment portfolio went down approximately twenty-four percent in October alone and as of this moment there are no signs of when it will bottom out.
We are implementing plans to reduce the present budget and next year’s budget by $750,000. There will be no increase in salaries for next year, no bonuses, no additional staff or employees, a reduced rate of subsidy to our seminary in Boynton Beach in which we share ownership with the other dioceses in the state. Unfilled staff positions will remain unfilled and diocesan staff may find themselves moved from one office to another. There will be no increase in assessment against the parishes for the next year (2009/2010) and we are doing what we can to control health care, pension and insurance costs. There is already beginning evidence of a decline in offertory in our parishes and each parish is likely to face the same pressures and decisions which are presently ours (and I hope, pray and trust that they have finance councils to assist them as well).
The women and men of the diocesan Finance Council take their responsibility seriously because they know that they are being held accountable for what you have entrusted to the care of the Church. I know this as well. The auditors have given us not only a clean opinion for FY 2007/2008 but what was essentially a healthy picture on June 30 of this year when the books closed. The audit is available in its entirety to anyone who wishes to come into the office and review it and will soon be available on our web site in a format that is more intelligible to most people for whom balance sheets read like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
With the Council of Priests, which is the other mandated consultative body in Canon Law, the Diocesan Finance Council assists me in making our financial transactions and life transparent and accountable somewhat like in marriage – in good times and in bad, I am so grateful for their presence as you should also be.
The Finance Council meeting was followed by a second meeting of the Diocesan Incardination Committee. What in the world does “incardination” mean? I will try to make this as understandable as I can. Assume for a moment there is a priest from let’s say Boston who wishes to come to our diocese to continue his ministry here rather than there because his aging parents are here and he wishes to be near them in their “third age.” First he must gain permission from Boston to leave his ministry in that diocese before gaining our permission to minister here (given “faculties” we call it, to confuse you even more). Of course, there is a serious “vetting” procedure to assure us that the priest’s character is above reproach, there has been no misconduct with minors and that he has a good reputation in his home diocese. At some point after arriving he approaches this diocese and says “I like it here and wish to remain.” We generally require five years of successful ministry in this diocese in at least two different assignments before we allow someone to formally join us. After the five years are up we signal to the priest that we will incardinate him if his own diocese will excardinate him. In other words, we’ll accept him permanently if his home diocese will let him go. They do, we do, and he becomes a priest of this diocese until he dies, receiving all the rights and benefits all of our priests are entitled to.
So today’s committee meeting is to look at the application of those priests who have begun the transition from their sending diocese or religious order to ours and involves reports of the applicant’s pastors/supervisors and a general discussion of his readiness. By now I am sure that is more than you ever wanted to know about this seemingly arcane word and the process which follows upon it.
But wait, I am not done for the day. The first two meetings were in St. Petersburg at the Bishop W. Thomas Larkin Pastoral Center and the final meeting of the day is in early evening at the Bethany Center off Van Dyke Road in northern Hillsborough. I will get home around 9pm tonight if I am lucky but please God it will have been a productive day for the local Church. There is so much talent on my staff and among the people of God of the diocese who serve on the consultative bodies.
Sometimes, though, I think if at the Gate of Heaven there is to be found a “meeting board” I may have second thoughts about entering.