This is an article to help increase the understanding of co-responsibility in the Church.
With help from his advisors, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight has put new safeguards into place for ensuring greater transparency and accountability in Church finances throughout the diocese.
These include uniform accounting standards for every parish, an increased focus on openness and transparency through the work of the Diocesan Finance Council, and the creation of a confidential hotline for anyone to report suspected financial misconduct in their parish.
“People can share that information in a confidential manner to make sure they know the gifts they’re giving are being put to the best use,” stated Gary Wilbers, newly appointed Diocesan Finance Council chairman.
“To truly have transparency and co-responsibility, we need to have systems in place that people can report if they see something that doesn’t add up,” Mr. Wilbers noted.
Similarly, ensuring that uniform financial policies are being followed in every parish will lead to transparency and accountability at every level.
“These policies and expectations are laid out very clearly, with proper checks and balances,” said Mr. Wilbers.
“They’re actually no different from good standard operating procedures in a business,” he added. “Everybody knows what’s expected and required.”
The uniform procedures will help all parishes carry out their financial responsibilities, whether the finances are overseen by volunteers or by full- or part-time professionals.
The purpose isn’t just to have better policies and procedures, but to have everybody know how good those procedures are, said Benjamin Roodhouse, diocesan chancellor and director of canonical services.
“We have good finance policies in place,” he stated. “We run things well. We’re good stewards of people’s money.
“So, what we’re doing now is not just making it better but also making it obviously and undeniably so,” he said. “By that, we mean both effective and transparent. We could have the best system in the world, but if it’s too opaque, people won’t trust us.”
Mr. Roodhouse explained how the hotline for reporting suspected financial misconduct will work.
“We’ll have a telephone number people can call to leave a voicemail regarding anything suspicious — finances, human resources, anything,” he said.
When someone leaves a voicemail, it will immediately be sent by email to three people — one Chancery employee and two laypeople who are not employees of the diocese.
The three will confer and route the message to the correct people.
For a financial issue, it will be sent to an internal Chancery official and a member of the Diocesan Finance Council.
“Together, they will listen to the message and decide whether we need to gather more information or forward it to the full Diocesan Finance Council,” said Mr. Roodhouse.
The Finance Council will review the contents of every call and make a recommendation to the bishop about whether a full investigation should be conducted.
The bishop would make the final decision on how to proceed.
Similarly, for an issue regarding human resources, the voicemail will be forwarded to one Chancery official and a lay volunteer, who will forward it to Bishop McKnight’s cabinet, who will listen to it and make a recommendation to him.
Again, the bishop will have the final say.
“In either case, there’s no way that anything that gets reported can get buried or willfully ignored by one person alone,” said Mr. Roodhouse.
Mr. Roodhouse said these are concrete examples of the bishop’s commitment to promoting co-responsibility in the Church.
“This is an opportunity for the lay faithful to share in the oversight provided by our bishop,” he said. “These are things he is responsible for. He’s asking us to share in this process by ensuring that the process is fair and effective.”
He emphasized that the financial and human resources hotline is distinct and separate from the phone number for reporting abuse or inappropriate conduct with a minor (573-694-3199).
Mr. Wilbers said having these safeguards in place gives everybody clearer vision.
“We’re not relying on blind trust,” he stated. “We’re relying on what we’re truly seeing and hearing.”
Church law requires the diocese and every parish to have a finance council.
The finance council’s purpose is to give the pastor solid advice, based on their professional experience and expertise, on how to safeguard and make the best use of the money people contribute to support the ministries of that parish.
The Diocesan Finance Council, made up of appointed lay professionals from throughout the diocese, serves the same purpose for the bishop.
“A key role of the finance council members is to help the faithful understand that their gifts are being put to use to serve the ministries in our diocese,” said Mr. Wilbers, a member of St. Stanislaus Parish in Wardsville.
Mike Kelly, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia, is the council’s newly appointed vice chair.
The council also provides guidance and oversight to the diocese’s chief financial officer, a paid professional whose services are required in every diocese under Church law.
Diocesan CFO Phil W. Macias, CPA, recently succeeded Deacon Joseph Braddock, CPA, who had been CFO since 2004 and now serves as diocesan financial ombudsman.
Mr. Wilbers noted that the Diocesan Finance Council meets quarterly, providing general support and oversight, rather than day-to-day supervision of the diocese’s finances.
“In simple terms, our job is to provide outside oversight for the finances of the diocese, to help ensure that the financial picture is a true and accurate representation of what’s happening here,” he stated.
Crucial to understanding the work of the Finance Office and the Diocesan Finance Council is the fact that every parish and Catholic entity in the diocese, rather than being self-contained, is part of the global, universal Church.
“We have a hierarchy, and we have it for a good reason,” said Mr. Wilbers. “It’s part of what makes us a universal Church, with ties to local Churches all over the world.”
He said it’s important for people to understand the essential services parishes receive from the bishop, his advisors, and the various diocesan ministries in the Chancery.
“The diocese and its ministries are truly the supporting arm for all of our parishes and our whole Church in these 38 counties,” he said.
Mr. Wilbers is the founder and president of Ascend Business Strategies in Jefferson City, and has extensive experience running businesses and advising nonprofit organizations.
He has been serving on the Diocesan Finance Council since 2014.
“Basically, I was asked to serve because of running a business, running financials for my own companies and knowing how to understand the financial needs and challenges people have,” he stated.
Mr. Wilbers said Bishop McKnight makes good use of the expertise at his disposal among the Diocesan Finance Council’s members.
“He generally wants feedback, he asks for input, he is very active in involving the council,” said Mr. Wilbers. “For him, it’s not just about seeing the numbers but also getting our input and insight on how money is being spent.”
Mr. Wilbers said he’s happy to serve the Church in this way, because God has given him a skill set and expects him to share it joyfully with other people for the good of the whole.
He referred to a phrase from one of his books: “Finding your purpose is a gift from God. Sharing your purpose is your gift to God.”
“The more we all share what God has given us, the better job we’ll all do of leading people to him,” he added.
He mentioned a bracelet he wears containing the word “DOGWA” an abbreviation for, “Doing Only God’s Will Always.”
“That’s the important thing to keep in mind at all times,” he said. “The problem is, we’re human, so it’s too easy to want to do OUR will always!”
He said the key to submitting to God’s will is to make time every day to spend with God in prayer and reflection.
“We need to find that time each day to center ourselves,” he said. “It could be prayer, just thinking, just talking to the Lord.”