Transparency and accountability

Transparency and accountability

Speaking of transparency and accountability, I am sometimes amused by the calls for more of both in this “hidebound institution resistant to change,” as I realize how far we’ve actually come in this area.

Talking to some of my older priest-friends, who were in parish ministry before and during the period of Vatican II, I realize that things used to be much different. For one thing, becoming a pastor was the reception of a benefice, that is an endowed ecclesial office to which a revenue is attached. It was a feudal system in which all the money given to the parish was the pastor’s and he was tasked with the job of using that money as he saw fit, in order to run the parish. In some cases, pastors were absentee landlords, showing up on Sundays to take the collection and leaving the running of the parish to one of the senior curates. The curates were at the mercy of the pastor who doled out money to them like allowances and would sometimes cluck disapprovingly if he didn’t like how they spent their money.

Removing a pastor was exceedingly difficult, even for the bishop, and once received they often kept the position until retirement. It was very much a feudal system and pastors ruled their parishes like fiefdoms. I heard one story of a pastor in Weymouth, Mass., in the Sixties who used to patrol his neighborhoods in the summer, on the lookout for housewives out in their front yards in, horrors!, short pants. As soon as one of the women saw him out and about in his car, she’d start phoning all her friends and the word would soon spread that Father was on patrol. The pastor’s word was law and God help the one who defied him.

After Vatican II all that changed. For one thing, pastors are now accountable to both their parish and the diocese for the money entrusted to them. They’re supposed to make regular financial reports to them both, for one thing. The regular transferal of priests also prevents any one pastor from having too much control or getting the opportunity to do too much in any one place. Certainly, diocesan rules spell out salary and benefits for both pastor and associates, avoiding the mixing of parish and personal money.

In those cases today where financial misconduct occurs, it’s usually because somebody stopped following the rules, and the only reason they get caught is because of the safeguards put in place in recent decades.

Okay, financial accountability and transparency is not the same as accountability and transparency regarding sexual abusers, but those calling for more of it usually equate the two. Still, it is interesting to note how far we’ve come in a relatively short time to having it.

Update: Melanie alerted me to a big typo. I had mistakenly written that after Vatican II, “pastors are not accountable…” What it should have said, which I have fixed, is that after Vatican II “pastors are now accountable…” I’ve been trying to spell check, but even spell check won’t fix that.

  • Dom,

    I realize that you are lauding the new ways of accountability.

    However, I would like to relate a situation in my former parish on the Left Coast.

    We had a stuborn old Czech for a pastor of our Novus Ordo parish who refused to give Communion in the hand and said all of the Masses ad orientam.

    He always used to brag that “the bishop knows what I do but he permits it because he knows that I am hiding money, but I give him his dues.”  He told the bishop that the money would dry up if he left.  Sure enough, when the priest died, collections went into the toilet.  It did not help things that the modernist bishop appointed a lberal Jesuit as pastor to the parish either.

    I believe that much of this “financial accountability” for pastors has been put in just so “greedy bishops” can soak their parishes for bucks.

    Quite frankley, if I were in a situation where I had an orthodox priest, and the bishop were a liberal, I would personally give money to the priest and not put it into the collection.  The “tax” that most diocese charge parishes is ridiculous.  The money, in most cases go to most every modernist cause immaginable and supports bureaucracies of the dioceses that are staffed for ministries which are questionable at best.

    The Council of Trent said that we had to support our pastors……does this include the diocese?

  • I think it does. We have an obligation to support the work of the Church. In the real sense, the Church is our diocese, i.e. the local Church. The parish is an artificial division of the one Church we belong to which is the diocese.

    As for the “tax”, we don’t have that in Boston. Donations to the archdiocese are separate and distinct from the Sunday collection.

  • Dom,

    But the Council of Trent speaks of supporting our Pastors….not our bishops. It doesn’t mention the Church, just the pastors.

    By the way, what do you think of this old priest?

  • The bishop is your pastor. He is THE priest of the diocese. All other priestly ministries in the diocese are an extension of his. When the council speaks of pastors, it means your bishop.

    I don’t know what to think of the pastor because I’m not sure what it is you said he was doing. If he was bribing the bishop and skimming the collection for himself, then he was a criminal and a bad priest.

  • He spent, to my knowlege, every dime on the parish.  This parish was self sufficient.  He just pretty much told this bishop to stick it.  He would run the parish in an orthodox manner and he told the bishop that if he didn’t like it, the money would dry up.

  • Oh, it’s one of those dioceses where parishes are taxed. I don’t know what to think. On the one hand there’s an obligation to support the dioceseloat the following thoughts for evaluation:
    (1)  The laity cannot afford to be passive in evaluating its priests and bishops; their conduct is not beyond criticism any more than our own.  This extends all the way from major questions of liturgy, governance, and Church law to consideration of whether or not your pastor wears his collar often enough.

    (2)  Though there is strength in numbers, there is also a herd mentality and the potential for mob hysteria.  Such things breed lay organizations that, once the passion has been banked, soon become unwitting camouflage for heterodoxy and modernism.

    (3)  Therefore, the relationship between clergy and INDIVIDUAL lay men must not be deferential in all, or even in most, things.  After all, it is a matter of PERSONAL salvation:  if the priest or bishop is not helping me achieve that, even if it means slapping me upside my piggish head, what good is he to me, or to anyone?

    If these points have any validity, then everyone is to blame.  The idea of deference to clergy in all things allows individuals to go on auto-pilot—especially men, who have sloughed off their responsibilities as spiritual heads of their households to worship their Moloch lawn tractors, football teams and six packs instead.  It also allows clergymen to slip into a spiritual cruise control, while angrily denying it, and squelching those who dare question their stewardship.  Thus, everyone’s responsibilities in the matter of personal salvation gets lost in the creeping numbness of spiritual acedia.   

  • Ahhhhh…the Good Old Days…

    A close friend (RIP 20 years ago) was one of four curates at a local parish.  The Pastor of the parish owned a dog, and he expected the curates to feed and walk that dog on a regular rotation—that is, they would have to walk that dog regardless of rain, snow, sleet, dark of night, etc….

    For some reason, none of the curates thought that “walking the Pastor’s dog” was what they’d gone to Seminary for, and they grew to resent the pooch, with a predictable result—one morning the Pastor discovered that his pooch was dead.

    Yup—it had been poisoned—by one of the curates….

  • Not sure about Charles’ statement that it doesn’t cost much to run a parish.  If the average house is a money pit, the typical church building & other infrastructure must be a money abyss.  Problem gets worse when we’re talking about the older churches which, sad to say, are real energy & upkeep hogs.  Throwing loose change or at best a couple of bucks into the basket isn’t going to cut it.

    The Detroit archdiocese runs on the tax system.  I think it’s 10% of the regular collections.  For “appeals” like CSA, it gets very curious.  What they call a goal is really just a shake down racket – either the parish coughs up the money by voluntary contributions or the diocese raids the parish bank account.  I was aghast when I found out this is how it works and have balked at giving to anything coming from the diocese ever since.  If the people at the diocese level really want to behave like thugs on the make, let ‘em.

  • “It doesn’t cost much to run a parish.” 

    I mean on a per capita basis and compared to protestant churches.  I think my parish is 6000 people with a weekly collection of 12,000.  Much of that money subsidizes the school.

    Now I give much, much more than $2 per week because the parish deserves it.  If I were simply there to fulfill my Sunday obligation, $2 per week is what they would get.

    Who knows what the diocese takes?  Some of it they need.  Some of it is well spent.  Some of it is spent on frivolous things.  Some of it is spent on counter-productive “ministries.”  I just try not to think about it too much.