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Now, a Church Fiscal Issue

November 08, 2002

Eight months late in publishing its financial report for the fiscal year ending June 2001, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles now says it has no plans to release the statement at all. What an unwise step by church leaders who have been promising a new era of openness.

Normally, the archdiocese discloses its finances each March in its weekly newspaper, the Tidings. But "rapidly changing financial conditions" and the sexual abuse crisis made the financial report "not relevant to current conditions," church officials said in a statement released Sunday. On the contrary, it has never been more important for the archdiocese to be frank with its parishioners -- the people who keep the money flowing into its treasury. Molestations and recent budget cutbacks have shaken people's confidence. Several priests confronted Cardinal Roger M. Mahony with allegations that expenses for cathedral luxuries were the reason behind the elimination and retrenchment of several ministries that serve the poor. Church officials deny it, but they're not coming out with the full numbers. Nor are they releasing information on their legal expenses for sex abuse claims.

The 5 million Catholics in the L.A. Archdiocese have a right to know what's happening with their donations. And everyone else has a right to be curious about how this huge, troubled, usually generous institution that just plopped a cathedral in downtown L.A. is doing on the money front.

The archdiocese says its staff has been so busy working on the cathedral opening and the molestation crisis that it had no time to publish the 2000-2001 figures. Yet church officials presented the report at five meetings of pastors in January and February. How much more work could it have been to write it up for public viewing?

Instead, church leaders plan to include some comparison figures from that year in their report for fiscal 2001-2002. It should be available in a few months, they say.

Contrast that with the Diocese of Orange, which has released the full figures for both years. Yes, the diocese is one-fifth the size and can move faster, but just like the archdiocese, it has been reeling from molestation suits and two years of stock market losses. The diocese is delaying a fund-raising campaign for its own cathedral in an attempt to avoid draconian cuts in programs. Some people disagree with how the diocese has used its money, but at least they've been given the figures to arrive at informed opinions.

Back in June, Francis J. Butler, president of a coalition of foundations that give to Catholic causes, called for "clear and transparent financial reporting" by the Roman Catholic Church nationwide. Otherwise, he said, donors will wonder whether their contributions are going toward the intended church work. The Los Angeles Archdiocese shouldn't give donors more reason to wonder.

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