Light of truth

Question: Johnson V.

These days we hear many things about the financial mismanagement in the Church. What is the position of the Church on the use of finance management and does the Church give any guidelines regarding it?

Answer: Saji Mathew Kanayankal CST

As money is one of the important elements in the life of humanity, we cannot negate its influence in the society and its need for the development, but the use and management of it is to be done with prudence and diligence. Even though Jesus has not owned any material goods, He has used it and one of His disciples was the ‘treasurer’ of His group (Jn 12:6; 13:29). The first Christian community had a common fund for the use of the entire group (Acts 4:32) and deacons were appointed for the administration of material goods (Acts 6:1-6). The approach of the Church to the temporal goods and its attitude towards money is derived basically from this biblical understanding.

The Purpose of Money
Being an organisation ‘in the world,’ that deals with both material and spiritual needs of the people, the Church is in need of material goods for the accomplishment of its mission. In the public sphere, the Church is grouped among the non-profitable organizations. As many of us are aware, the major source of its financial and material goods is made through donations and offerings. From the early days of the Christianity, the faithful have contributed to the needs of the community as well. Apart from it, the institutions of the Church get money through its activities. Because of all these reasons, the Church is accountable for its financial management and use of its resources. As per the norm, the goods received through the members of the Church is to be used “only toward ends which are licit according to the doctrine of Christ and the direction of the Church” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 17). The fidelity to charism and mission remains as the fundamental criterion to evaluate the works of a religious community (Economy, At the Service of the Charism and Mission,15).As Pope Francis underlines; “the temporal goods of the Church are intended to fulfil her aims, and these are divine worship, the just compensation of the clergy, the carrying out of apostolic works and works of charity, especially at the service of the poor” (I Bent Temoprali, 2014; CIC, 1254).

The Criteria in the Administration of the Temporal Goods
While emphasising the right of the Church to possess material goods, it gives clear guidelines and instructions for the use of it which can be summarised as follows: the temporal goods are to be administered with ‘maximum care,’ or ‘vigilance.’ The Pastoral Directory of the Bishops (Apostolorum Successores, 2004) provides five principles for the administration of temporal goods.

1. Pastoral and Technical Competence: It means that no bishop is personally allowed to handle material administration. They are directed to give it to the administrators, who should be competent. Moreover, the bishops, parish priests, “all should be pastorally competent to know what is good for evangelisation” (Oswald Cardinal Gracius, “General Principles for Administration of Temporal Goods of the Church,” in Canonical Studies, 13).

2. The Criteria of Participation: It means that the decisions, especially of the major financial matters should be participative in its nature. There should be enough consultations and proper evaluations before making a decision on the possession, administration and alienation of the temporal goods.

3. The Ascetic Criteria: It simply means that the dioceses or Catholic institutions should not act like profit motive corporates. It is not the aim of the Church to keep a big balance at the end of the tenure, nor to build huge corpus. As Cardinal Gracius observes, “the spirit of poverty/simplicity is the image the Church has to project to the world.” (Gracius, “General Principles for Administration,”13.)

4. Apostolic Criteria: It means that the Church should not forget its major task, for it is the fundamental basis of its existence, authenticity and mission. The Church exists to give gospel, to share the good news of Jesus to the entire world. The material goods/resources are to be used and the charitable works are to be focused in such a manner to execute our mission of evangelisation.

5. Being a Good Householder: In the Church, no official individual is the owner of the property, rather s/he is a mere householder, keeping the possessions of the Lord. The property we possess is given to us and it is of the Lord.

While making the guidelines to the religious on the use of temporal goods, the Holy See gives the following criteria: First is fidelity to God and the Gospel, which means every consecrated person should follow Jesus of the gospel in a radical way. Second is the fidelity to charism, which is a real choice in a living situation. Third is the life of poverty. Fourth is the respect for the ecclesial nature of goods and fifth is the sustainability of the workers. And finally, the need of reporting (Economy: At the Service of the Charism and Mission, 51).

Apart from these criteria, certain norms are also to be observed. First of all, while handling the material goods, the person concerned must observe the civil law. As the canon says, “the Church property should not suffer any loss, because of the non-observance of civil law” (CIC, 1726). Second, the bishop should have the responsibility to supervise the parish. The third criterion says of ‘just remuneration’ which means that the Church organisations should give just family wage to all employees. Finally, we are morally bound to respect the intention of the donor. If there be any difficulty to contact the donor or if he/she is died, his/her heirs should be contacted.

The Participatory Nature of the Church Administration
The different criteria given above underline the importance of the participatory naturein the use of the temporal goods of the Church. This concept is developed on the conviction that no one is the owner, but only ‘house-holders.’ In dioceses, the bishop is the chief administrator, not the owner of the goods. “It is his responsibility to make sure that they are used keeping the criteria which the Church has for the use of temporal goods” (General Principles for Administration, 17). Similarly, no religious own any material goods. If a major superior is elected or a superior is appointed it is his/her task to look upon the material goods with responsibility and diligence.

In dioceses, Eparchial bishop has the rightover the temporal goods, but he should get the consent of the presbyterial council and diocesan finance council for its extraordinary administration. CICinstructs to appoint two groups asconsultants in financial matters, i.e., the constitution of diocesan finance council and office of the diocesan finance administrator. In the financial council, there is provision of the participation of the lay persons. “The diocesan finance officer must administer the goods of the diocese according to the parameters approved by the finance council and according to the approved budget. At the end of each year, the finance officer must render an account of income and expenditure to the finance council” (Directory, 193).

As per the rule, “the diocesan bishop must hear the finance council and college of consultors to place acts of administration which are more important in the light of the economic condition of the diocese. In addition to the cases specially expressed in universal law or the charter of a foundation, however, he needs the consent of the finance council and of the college of consultors to place acts of extraordinary administration” (CIC 1277). For major transactions the consent of the concerned bodies is necessary. With regarding the use of material possessions of the diocese, the bishop must formally convoke the financial council, with proper agenda, as far as possible with a written agenda. The members should be well aware of what is going to be discussed. The matters should be clear and there should be enough freedom to express their opinion properly. If there be serious division, the bishop should not go for casting vote. He should either postpone or reconvenes it. It is important to keep clear records of the minutes of the meeting and how the voting went.

These criteria clearly manifest that the financial administration in the Church must be accountable and transparent. While handling the finance as well as the temporal goods, one should be prudent and vigilant. It is not because of the absence of system or of principles, but because of the irresponsibility and unwillingness of the persons who execute it, there is mismanagement in the financial administration in the Church. Many of the contemporary incidents are big scandal to the faithful too. Some office bearers in the Church are neither serious nor aware about the outcome of their acts. Sometimes, people also forget the role of ‘house-holders’ and act as if they are owners and use/abuse it for his/her self-accomplishment. One should not forget that he or she is mere steward of the goods of the Lord which is entrusted to him/her to keep, develop and use with utmost care and diligence and each one is accountable for it both ecclesiastically and civilly as well as spiritually and materially.

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