Church officials handle money the same way they handle predators—“it’s our business, you stay out of it.” Catholic bishops want the benefits of money from the government but refuse to be clear about or held accountable for how it is used.
It’s important to understand why “the finances of the Catholic church in America are an unholy mess,” according to the Economist. It’s because that’s what bishops want: they want parishioners and the public to know very little about the church’s vast wealth.
We agree with The Economist, which says evidence suggests that “maladministration in the Vatican goes beyond mere negligence.” And we’re grateful The Economist notes that the church’s “national charitable activities” are “just 2.7%“of its overall spending.
We’re troubled by the bishops’ “trend towards replacing dollars from the faithful with publicly raised debt as a way of financing church business.”
The Economist, however, mischaracterizes the motive for diocesan bankruptcies. It’s not about money. It’s about secrecy.
Bishops seek bankruptcy protection to safeguard their reputations, not their assets. Bishops know that bankruptcy effectively stops the disclosure of damaging documents obtained by victims in litigation. Bankruptcy halts the discovery process and shifts the debate from “how much did church officials conceal heinous crimes” to “how does everyone who was hurt by predator priests and complicit bishops get compensated.”
We should remember three things about church bankruptcies:
First, dozens of bishops have threatened bankruptcy over the past 15 years, often on the eve of a trial when shocking secrets about church cover ups would have been disclosed.
Second, essentially the same bishops who for years have claimed few priests molest and no cover ups occur are now asking us once again to believe that they’re strapped for funds.
(It's easy enough to find out whether bishops are honest about finances. They should open their books to independent third parties BEFORE even discussing the possibility of bankruptcy. Until this happens, we must view any threats and filings of bankruptcy as public relations maneuvers and defense posturing.)
Third, tens of thousands of innocent children's lives were shattered because people put blind faith in bishops, and took what bishops said purely at face value. Common sense and common decency demand that we not make the same gullible mistake again. We must insist on true openness.
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