New Ulm Diocese scores low on online financial transparency

NEW ULM — Financial transparency within the Catholic Church has become a major concern in recent years. A study conducted this summer by the Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) found the New Ulm Diocese scored low with online financial transparency.

According to a VOTF survey of 32 territorial archdioceses and 145 territorial dioceses, the average diocesan score for online transparency was 36 out of a possible 60. The New Ulm Diocese rated below this average with a score of 15 out of 60.

The VOTF organization was started in the wake of the Catholic abuse scandal. VOTF’s mission is to provide a voice through which the faithful can participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church. They work to support victims of abuse and correct institutional flaws in the church that led to a pattern of cover-ups.

VOTF began looking into diocesan financial information this summer in response to Pope Francis’ displeasure with the financial condition and practices in the church.

“We set out to determine the level of transparency and accountability Catholics could expect concerning their donations,” VOTF trustee and Finance Working Group chair Margaret Roylance said in news release. “Could they find and easily interpret their dioceses’ finances from information on diocesan websites, where most people these days would look?”

VOTF scored each diocese on 10 questions with a possibility of 5 or 15 points depending on the question. The New Ulm Diocese scored a zero on seven of the ten questions. No financial information or information concerning collection and counting procedures for parish collections was available on the New Ulm Diocese website.

VOTF acknowledges the study was only limited to website information. In each case financial information might be readily available to congregation members upon request.

The Journal asked the New Ulm Diocese if any the financial information sought by VOTF was available to the public in any form.

In an email, New Ulm Diocese Communication Specialist Christine Clancy confirmed the audited financial statement is not posted online, but the diocese does publish a financial summary in the diocesan newspaper, The Prairie Catholic. It has published the summary since 1985. The content of recent Prairie Catholic newspapers are posted online and can be viewed by the public.

In addition, the New Ulm Diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2017. As a result the diocese must file monthly financial reports with the bankruptcy court that are available to the public on the court’s docket.

Clancy also confirmed the New Ulm Dioceses has detailed procedure for collection and counting for parish collections in a 13-page manual provided to parishes.

The New Ulm Diocese is not required to post financial information on its website, but as many as 65 dioceses and 17 archdiocese have publicly posted the results of their financial audit. VOTF has expressed concern over a lack of uniformity in financial transparency.

None of the dioceses survey by VOTF received a perfect score. The Diocese of Sacramento received the best score with 59 in online transparency. The Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama; Diocese of Brownsville, Texas; Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi; and Diocese of Camben, New Jersey each scored 10 in the survey, the lowest scores reported.

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