Archdiocese completes IFRM phase-in

BRAINTREE -- With a decree issued this week by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, the archdiocese is implementing the fourth and final stage of the implementation of its Improved Financial Relationship Model (IFRM) designed to simplify the way parishes contribute to supporting the central ministries of the archdiocese.

Since 2010, the IFRM has already been phased in at more than half the parishes of the archdiocese on a voluntary basis. The decree issued by Cardinal O'Malley requires the remaining 141 parishes to participate as of July 1.

The IFRM eliminates a complex system of payments, fees, and taxes charged to parishes, in favor of a more streamlined model. Under the new system, parishes will be required to contribute 10 percent tithe on the three-year average of their total offertory, grand annual, and rental income. Parishes with schools will pay a reduced tithe of 5.3 percent, to account for expenses related to the school.

"Even though there are fewer components, it has more to offer to both the parishes and the archdiocese," said director of parish services Denise McKinnon-Biernat.

Based on results from prior phases, archdiocesan financial officials said the model is more equitable and fair than the previous system because it adds accountability by simplifying the amounts and means by which parishes contribute financially to central ministries and services. The amount contributed to the archdiocese under IFRM is also anticipated to be more predictable and easily budgeted for.

"Everybody was accountable to the same number, or the same percentage. So it started, not only to put everybody kind of on a level playing field, but it also added the accountability factor too. So, there wasn't that disparity between some parishes supporting at two percent, or some supporting at a much higher level," Biernat said.

In addition to the tithe, each parish will be expected to raise an amount equal to 8 percent of its annual income in contributions from parishioners to the annual Catholic Appeal.

Parishes that surpass the assessment for the appeal will receive at least 50 percent of the overage directly back to the parish, with the remaining 50 percent of the overage available to fund abatements, according to IFRM project manager Patricia Fraser.

Parishes that are facing financial difficulty or unable to meet the appeal goal may apply for an abatement from either the tithe or Appeal assessment. Requests for abatements will be reviewed by an abatement committee to be established by the cardinal.

In 2008, the archdiocese established the Improved Financial Relationship Committee (IFRC) to review the system in place at the time for parish financial support of the ministries and offices of the archdiocese, and for making recommendations for improvements to the system.

"The committee was charged with finding a way to simplify a pre-existing reality, which was really this hodgepodge of taxes, assessments, fees and goals," said Father Bryan Parrish, an IFRC member who co-chaired the committee representing pastors from 2008 until 2011.

The IFRC included representatives of the Archdiocesan Finance Council, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, the Presbyteral Council, pastors of the Archdiocese, and staff of various offices of the archdiocese with expertise in law, pastoral care, fundraising, and finances.

At the time, the IFRC began its work as it surveyed all of the pastors of the archdiocese and requested feedback on the system in place at that time. It also surveyed other archdioceses and dioceses across the United States, where it found that 23 of 30 archdioceses and dioceses surveyed had some form of a broad-based financial model to coordinate financial support of the ministries and offices of the archdiocese or diocese.

"All of that really shaped how the model ended up being finalized and presented," Father Parrish said.

In 2009 Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley accepted the IFRM as a viable financial blueprint. The IFRM went into effect over time, in phases and through a series of consultative efforts. The first phase of 33 parishes adopted the model in 2010, followed by the second phase of 45 parishes in 2011. After Cardinal O'Malley consulted with the Presbyteral Council and the Finance Council, he approved the IFRM for final implementation in two remaining phases.

The third phase would see 68 parishes enter in 2012, with remaining parishes scheduled to join in July of 2013, based on the recommendation of the committee formed to review the prior system.

Father David Michael, currently pastor at St. Joseph in Needham, experienced the first phase of the IFRM as a pastor at St. John Chrysostom in West Roxbury and a Presbyteral Council member at the time. He was so impressed with how the IFRM worked at his previous parish that he proposed it to the finance council shortly after becoming the pastor at St. Joseph.

"It replaced a whole set of sort of jerry-rigged fees with a proportionally equally system for everybody, for every parish," he said.