Thursday, April 20, 2006

The money pit

Now on to the U.S. bishops: An audit of the Boston archdiocese's books reveals a $46 million operating deficit, due primarily to reduced revenue. And why aren't the people of God in Boston giving? A combination of parish closings (about 80, almost a third of the Boston's parishes) and sex-abuse fallout. Definitely bad news for Boston.

There is a silver lining: Groups like Voice of the Faithful are happy that they're beginning to get some of the financial transparency they deserve. Whether they're going to get real structural change is another question, of course. I say don't hold your breath on that one.

One really bad sign for Boston, however, is the $135 million in liabilities it owes its own pension fund. Like so many corporations, Boston relied too much on the stock market and compounded that mistake by underfunding its pension plan for priests. Hope you guys have been saving.

Of course, the financial ruin of the institutional Catholic churches (the dioceses) are still only beginning. Earlier this week, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles lost in his attempt to keep the personnel files of priests accused of abuse sealed by citing "pastoral privilege" (which sounds disturbingly similar to the "executive privilege" that another large institution constantly invokes). The Supreme Court refused Mahony's appeal of a lower court decision ordering the files released, which is a big go-ahead for more than 500 sex-abuse lawsuits against the archdiocese. Liabilities could reach $1 billion. That's right, $1 billion. The sex-abuse scandal has already cost about $1.5 billion.

It took a lot to wake up the people of God in Boston; let's hope it takes less in places like L.A. Laypeople really need to organize around this by joining Voice of the Faithful or Call to Action or by in some other way to get some accountability out of these bishops. After all, the money they're spending the church's (that is, the people's) money. Sheep of Christ's flock, rise up!

OK, so they should probably find someone else to come up with a slogan.


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