Saturday, June 26, 2010

BostonCatholicInsider Blog and the Stewardship of Money at the Archdiocese of Boston

The Boston Catholic Insider Blog has raised quite a few eyebrows on how the Chancery wizards are spending their cash reserves.  The salaries of the employees at the top of the archdiocescan empire are shocking.  (And, by all accounts, this is not a comprehensive list of the highly-paid support staff being added to the top of the empire.)

It was previously reported that the Cardinal has been "underfunding" the pensions of lay employees by 25% and the clergy retirement fund by a whopping 104 million.

Let us  think this through this for a minute:

This is an oversimplification, but generally speaking, as a public charity, the archdiocese has two pots of money.    One pot holds donations that have come in with restrictions on the use of the money for a specific purpose.  In the other pot is the unrestricted money where the Cardinal and his men are free to make judgments about how to spend the money and what bills to pay.

The diocese brought in 334 million and some change in unrestricted cash in 2009.   I have not yet pursued looking at the audited financials and spreadsheets, but I am a little underwhelmed by the transparency of a report that says they spent 182 million on "parish life and leadership" and 25 million in "management and general".   Hopefully, there's more details forthcoming on that 200 million as I'm willing to wager that tens of millions of what was spent was of less urgency than paying into pension funds - but for the moment, let us move forward.

Doesn't an employer have the fiduciary duty to pay their employees pension fund before they spend, let us say, 2 million in public relations?

The judgments on how they spend their unrestricted cash are not gelling for me.

For instance, the archdiocese spent roughly 286 million on Catholic education, faith formation and evangelization in 2008 and 2009.

Even as a Catholic with knowledge that the diocese is spending 286 million on teachers perverting the Catholic religion - evangelizing and educating the next generation "is" a critical ministry.

Still, 286 million?  Couldn't you spent 200 million and put the 86 million into the pensions of people who have earned them?

Wouldn't that be reasonable under the circumstances?

In any event, I have a few questions on why judgments were made to spend so much unrestricted cash on this instead of reserving money to fund employee retirements (as they are legally required to do) and squirreling some cash away for our priests (whose care they should at least feel morally obligated to fund).

On page 16 of the financial report, we have a closer look at the stewardship of the 286 million that looks to me to be throwing money into a big black hole.

In 2004, the Cardinal gave away legal and financial control of archdiocesan Catholic education entities to Peter Meade and a group of lay people. 

If I understand the narrative correctly, in FYE 2009, the archdiocese gave 26 million to the "Fund for Catholic Schools" of which 1.5 million was paid back.  They claim to have six loans that all mature in 2014 they are expected to collect to pay back "the majority" of the 26 million.

Far be it from me to question the financial wizardary of Chancellor Jim McDonough and his colleagues Jack Connors, Peter Meade and company, but in reviewing the history that precedes the paragraph on their expectations of pay back, I'm beginning to wonder if these expectations weren't formed in the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac School of Bad Debt.

"In previous years", the paragraph says, the archdiocese gave 67 million to fund archdiocesan schools when archdiocese transferred "governance and personal property" to lay people (with a long history of dissent) and charged them "nominal rent" on the lease on the land and buildings.

They did not pay back a wooden nickel on these loans.

The archdiocese has written off the 67 million dollars as bad debt.

On top of this bad debt, the report tells us that they charged a million dollars for writing off this debt.  You take a pile of promissory notes out of the draw, you stamp them discharged/canceled, you forward them to the accountants.

A million dollars.

Thank you, come again, 286 million dollars later in 2008 and 2009, bought and paid for out of the priest and lay pensions that are being 'underfunded'. 

(n.b. Apparently, we missed the announcement that lay experiment to take over the stewardship of Catholic education was merged back into the archdiocese in June of 2009?)

Catholic lay people should take note of BostonCatholicInsider before they drop money into the Cardinal's Appeal and the baskets going around on Sundays at Mass.

For what it's worth, here's some free advice for Chancery luminaries:   If people with no verifiable incomes (and crack pipes in their pants pockets) come along to purchase these now empty school buildings, resist the urge to "loan" them the money to buy the buildings.

1 comment:

TheLastCatholciinBoston said...

Jesus knocking over the money changers tables in the temple has always been my favorite passage.