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BRIGHTON — The Archdiocese of Boston is circulating a proposal for a new parish manual that will give pastors better tools for running their parishes and increase the involvement of parish finance councils and all parishioners, said Chancellor David Smith.
“The intention is to provide changes in process that work at parishes and make parishes better,”he said. “To the average person in the pew, you’re going to know more about what’s going on in your parish than you ever knew before. The average pastor will know more than he ever knew before.”
The changes will include requiring all parishes to use the same computer programs to compile budget data and other information so that the data will be more consistent and gathered more quickly. Parishes will need to have a payroll service for all staff, including pastors, to ensure proper withholding and compliance with tax reporting. Finance councils, which have always been mandatory, will now be required to meet at least four times a year, he said.
“We’re not so much trying to create a new world but to make sure that what is supposed to be there, is there,”Smith added. “The standards that we have now are spread out over 18 different manuals.”
The manual “allows for transparency and uniform financial reporting. It clarifies roles and responsibilities for pastors, for employees, for volunteers,”he said. “The big picture is that to get to true financial transparency we have to have consistency across the parishes.”
Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley has promised financial transparency down to the parish level as well as mandated in June of last year that all parishes must pay their bills on time.
In the past, many parishes in the archdiocese simply did not pay their bills if they were short of funds, especially for services that are provided by trusts, such as pension, health insurance, life insurance and workers compensation plans, Smith said.
“The trustees are no longer able or willing to allow parishes not to pay,”he said. “It is no longer possible to continue to provide those services to parishes without parishes paying.”
Parishes will be required to pay their bills electronically, including those services —property, casualty and liability insurance — that are provided directly by the archdiocese. They will be billed monthly instead of being billed for one lump sum each year, and the money will be automatically deducted from their accounts. The process will also allow parishes to cut out costs for lock boxes and check clearing. An initial group of parishes have already made the change, and all the parishes will be on the new system by the end of next year, he said.
“The overall response has been very positive,”he said. “The business managers love it.”
Business managers will not need to write as many checks and will be better able to balance the budget, he added.
Parishes that have difficulty paying their bills will then be required to come to the archdiocese so that the archdiocese can help come up with ways to raise money or approve subsidizing certain programs, said Smith.
“We continue to subsidize parishes, and the Archdiocese of Boston will always subsidize certain parish operations. There are parts of the diocese where people are in need of ministry where the cash is not available,”he said.
“We get to understand why they don’t have the money to pay,”Smith added. “Where there are issues, the finance council needs to address those at the parish level, the archdiocesan Finance Council needs to address them, our budget needs to address them, and we need a viable plan for ministry in this diocese going forward. You don’t get that way by not surfacing the problems and not talking about the problems.”
Full financial disclosure will also uncover good work being done on the part of parishes and hopefully lead to more donations from parishioners who will better understand how their money is being spent, he said.
Pastors will also be required to inform the archdiocese before hiring or firing any employees. This will prevent those who are fired for improprieties at one parish obtaining a job at another. The archdiocese will also offer assistance to pastors so that they can avoid litigation associated with improper termination, he said.
The third draft of the manual, which has been reviewed by business managers and pastors, is now before the Presbyteral Council for their consultation.
The manual will give continuity to the parishes in the archdiocese as well as creating healthier parishes, Smith said.
“It doesn’t make the parishes healthy by itself, but the communication, the financial reporting, the openness about what the parish is doing—all of those things wind up being very helpful, very good, very healthy for the whole archdiocese,”he said.