Transparency in economic allocation and responsibility in the selection of projects deserving targeted funding are the priorities of the Italian Church in the management of funds devolved through 8×1000 tax deductions. An innovation introduced in accounting procedures: starting next summer Italian dioceses will devolve economic resources to projects that best respond to the priorities established by the Bishop. “It’s fundamental to plan the initiatives. They must not be mere repetitions of the previous years”, said Mauro Salvatore, CEI treasurer appointed at the end of January.
How are accounting procedures going to change?
We intend to involve the recipients of the dioceses’ funds. As in the case of foundations, the allocation of funds will occur on the basis of the project. But there is more: the economic assignment will be followed by a detailed report on the results obtained.
We don’t stop at the use of the funds within the budget. We also want to know whether the achievements are satisfactory.
This requires establishing a set of priorities.
Have the dioceses welcomed the new guidelines positively?
There is great enthusiasm among diocesan treasurers, which is coupled by a request for help. In fact some dioceses experience greater difficulties with respect to the planning process.
The Church is often accused of not providing a full picture of her accounts…
All dioceses publish their balance sheet on the official news bulletin. The next step will be to publish the details of funded projects also on the website and on the weekly. The funds are not confidential, they are a result of citizens’ free choices. Thus the Church has a specific responsibility in spreading information on their use. Nonetheless, some requests are paroxysmal.
In what way?
In the case of private companies, for examples, only some are required to publish a balance sheet, such as joint stock companies, Limited companies and cooperatives. All non-profit bodies and associations are not subject to constraints. And most importantly:
The Italian Church is not required to publish her balance sheet, although she wishes to do so.
However, there are those who demand the abolishment of the 8×1000 tax devolution as a whole to prevent it from being allocated to the Church.
Taking stock of the dimension of the works carried out thanks to the eight per thousand contributions is a difficult job even for us. The Church doesn’t want to boast what she does, but she wishes to share good practices. Rather than saying whether it’s right or wrong we wish to make it clear that the decision to devolve a specific amount of income taxes gives rise to a plethora of beneficial initiatives. We feel that responsibility:
The funds devolved by Italian citizens to the Church – not all of whom are Catholic – enable the implementation of a high number of initiatives with social utility.
Are many dioceses experiencing financial difficulties?
We have reached the tenth year of the economic crisis. The situation is difficult; offerings have decreased and so have bequests. Nonetheless, on a total of 220 dioceses, only a dozen experience economic difficulties. There is no question about the fact that the routine lines of action need to be reconsidered. In this moment in time it is equally important to make the effort of identifying priorities. Not everything can be done: it’s necessary to make a selection.
Solidarity between parishes is increasing day after day …
This is a positive fact. But sometimes the experiences are not regulated. It would be best if the bishop were tasked with the formal establishment of a solidarity fund among parishes, to be supported by the same diocese or by economically sounder parishes. Naturally the solidarity fund should not include those parishes that mismanaged the money. It should be limited to those experiencing a veritable economic crisis.
Hence also parish priests are called to have a greater sense of responsibility? The bishop and the treasurer have the legal responsibilities. But ethical responsibilities involve all those with a role inside the diocese and who carry out activities at territorial level, starting with parish priests.
We cannot be self-referential. It is unimaginable that there is a Church that continues her activities simply because that’s the way things have always been done.
Do parish priests have the administrative and legal responsibility of the parish? Certainly. But the situation whereby the parish priest leads his community, acting as a guide with the support of lay professionals, is different from the case of a priest who performs his responsibilities as if he were a king, in full, utter loneliness. This cannot happen. Moreover, on many occasions lay professionals have taken advantage of the priests’ naiveness. Our wish is that just as there are ecclesial mandates for catechists there may also be specific mandates for those carrying out activities within the economic affairs committee of the parish. The presence of a lawyer, an engineer or an accountant is equally welcome, but it should not occur behind the scenes. The mandate must be conferred by the community during a public gathering.