While diocesan finances and bankruptcies are big news in the US, the problems apparently pale in comparison to what’s going on in England and Wales. The Vatican has demanded a full financial accounting for all the dioceses in those countries after a bishop was found to have let the diocese spend money that belonged to parishes.
The Vatican request came several months after Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster revealed that his diocese was deeply in debt. In a February 2006 statement, the bishop explained that he had realized that diocesan administrators were using funds that had been designated for parishes, leaving the diocese with nearly $19 million in debts. “What is even more frustrating,” the bishop had announced, “is that it is highly unlikely that the central diocesan administration will ever be able to pay them back in full.”
According to other sources, the money went toward out-of-the-ordinary projects like an interfaith center.
Canon law defines parishes as juridic persons, i.e. individuals under the law with rights and obligations and not merely subdivisions of dioceses. A diocese cannot simply seize and use the assets of the parish as it wishes.
What’s interesting is that the Vatican response has been to demand an accounting of every diocese. Why? What leads them to believe that the problem is not an isolated one?Is there something in the legal structuring of the dioceses under British law that makes them susceptible? Did the bishops’ conference issue erroneous guidance in this matter? This will be well worth keeping an eye on.