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Independent group lauds Archdiocese of Baltimore’s financial transparency

Voice of the Faithful, an independent group of lay faithful, released its fourth annual survey of financial transparency by dioceses in the U.S., with the Archdiocese of Baltimore one of only five in the country to earn a perfect score of 100 in the 2020 review.

Dioceses with a perfect score range from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia with 1.3 million Catholics to the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, with less than 45,000 Catholics. Baltimore was the second largest of this group with 517,000 Catholics. Other dioceses in the top group were Rochester, N.Y., and Erie, Pa.

“The Archdiocese of Baltimore gained its perfect score in 2020 by adding five points to its Question 3 score when it posted an audited current financial report and by adding one point on Question 8 when it posted the appointment dates of the members of its Diocesan Finance Council,” the VOTF report said. 

Since 2017, when the organization first began its review of diocesan financial transparency, Baltimore has consistently ranked among the top dioceses. In that first year, the archdiocese scored 55 of 60 points (92 percent).

The report notes that VOTF “focuses on diocesan websites because the public face of any major corporation or organization is its website. Information not posted and accessible at an organization’s website can reasonably be assumed to be not intended for public viewing.”

VOTF said access to financial reports and information on finance councils and budgets helps Catholics understand where their donations go.

“Some bishops have clearly made a public commitment to financial transparency, even during the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges associated with it. Others reveal almost nothing,” the report said. “This 2020 report, and the three that preceded it, provide tools that faithful Catholics can use to understand how their diocese uses their donations and to help them exercise good stewardship of the gifts God has given them.”

John Matera, archdiocesan chief financial officer, said, “We are very pleased to receive a perfect score in the report and proud of the measures the Archdiocese of Baltimore has taken to achieve financial transparency and integrity.

“We remain committed to this goal and are grateful to the members of our Board of Financial Administration and to all those who work hard every day to ensure that the resources entrusted to the archdiocese are appropriately and effectively channeled to serving the people of God and those in greatest need,” Matera, who also serves as executive director of management services, said.

The VOTF review, conducted each summer, includes 10 weighted questions, with points awarded based on the importance of the topic, as perceived by the lay organization. 

Questions look at the accessibility of financial information on the diocesan website, the availability of audit reports, financial policies and collection and counting procedures at parishes and the diocese. 

For example, in the question about diocesan finance councils, points are awarded if the membership is posted, if the terms of service for each member are listed, if at least three of the members are lay people, and whether the member’s credentials are listed. 

The archdiocesan finance council, the Board of Financial Administration (BOFA), meets regularly to oversee budgets, audits and fiscal policy. It includes 25 members, 19 of whom are lay people, with experience in financial affairs and civil law.

Mercy Sister Helen Amos, executive chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of Mercy Health Services and vice chairwoman of BOFA, told the Catholic Review in a 2019 interview, “For the most part, the council’s role is consultative, but there are specific matters where the size of a proposed transaction requires the archbishop to have the consent of BOFA in order to act.” 

VOTF said the overall average transparency score for U.S. dioceses dropped slightly, from 65.11 percent to 64.76 percent in 2020, although the average score in the key area of audited financial reporting increased from a score of 15.73 to 16.19 (out of a possible 25).

Only 59 percent of the 177 dioceses and archdioceses posted a current audited financial report; 6 percent posted only a summary and 24 percent posted no financial report.

Two dioceses improved scores by more than 50 points – the Diocese of Greensburg, Pa., going from 37 points to 92 and the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul, going from 45 to 96.

For more information about financial accountability in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, visit https://www.archbalt.org/the-archdiocese/fiscal-accountability

Email Christopher Gunty at editor@CatholicReview.org

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