This is similar to what has been happening in the Archdiocese of Bombay. Transparency in Financial Dealings at Parishes as well as at Archdiocese level is a far cry.
Pope Francis has expressed his apprehensions in various ways and began to act. Reshuffle of Vatican Bank is one of his prominent act.
Will the Archbishop Cardinal Oswald Gracias take cue from the Pope and follow his foot steps to cleanse his home of corrupt practices?
In his Editorial “From ‘Receiving’ to ‘Giving’ Church” (The Herald July 11-17, 2014) the Editor has presented a picture of Church Finance, rather the drying up of Church Coffers! He writes “Gone are the days when financial help was given by foreign donor agencies in order to educate and empower the developing India; but the donor agencies have seen that India is no more poor and its resources are adequate to educate all the children, feed every hungry stomach of the nation, and have withdrawn their support.”
The main reason for stoppage of donations from abroad is continued economic slowdown in Europe and the US which try to thrive on the Economics of War as Pope Francis has said so aptly. Without big wars, their arms & ammunition and warplane manufacture facilities have virtually closed down. No war, no reconstruction, no money, no donation to India!
Another reason is the Vatican Bank Scandal. The Bank reported on 8th July 2014 a huge drop of 97 per cent in its profit in 2013 after it took €28.5 million ($38.7 million) in write-downs on investments made during 2012 and early 2013. The losses stem, in part, from a €15 million loan to a company owned by a friend of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who served until last year as the Vatican’s Secretary of State. Because of this donors do not take churches on face value anymore. In case of India, they first want to see a Church which is uniformly transparent and accountable in finance and administration of its temporal goods. Unabashed loot of Church (Laity’s) money by some priests without any accountability (Fr K.K. Sebastian alias Sebastian Kuzhipala who with the full knowledge of his Provincial Thomas Ellicherail vanished from Auxilium Parish Kolkata in June 2014 without any formal handover of cash, bank and assets to the new incumbent) is a clear case in point. Foreign donors have come to know of this and therefore without a transparent system in place, donations from bona fide sources will be hard to come by. Also international banking norms and consequently Reserve Bank of India norms are changing. One of the new stipulations say that all charitable associations including Church bodies will from now on be allowed to operate only Current Accounts and no more Savings Bank Accounts.
The editor has written “in the absence of any external help, the Church in India is going through a crucial phase of trying to make both ends meet.” Does this mean churches have closed their FCRA Bank Accounts which require them to maintain separate account book listing all overseas donations received, get it audited by a Chartered Accountant and submit it to Home Ministry every year? How is it that all on a sudden the Indian Church is finding it quite hard to “make both ends meet?” This means when the foreign donation was in full flow, it was making merry without any accountability or perspective plan. During the Laity Sunday Seminar at Seva Kendra Kolkata on 29th June 2014, one well-known Priest speaker said on the theme “Laity’s involvement in the decision making” that the Laity should be always alert and question the clergy. He narrated an anecdote where a powerful priest was handling a very big project and siphoned out good sums of money to buy a four-wheeler for his brother and also to fund house-building for a newly married relative. He came to know of this case from his priest students whom he had taught! Quoting from the Exhortations of Pope Francis he said that the Laity should be “Bold and Creative” to keep the clergy on its toes.
Regarding being a ‘giving’ Church, the one which would take care of the needs of pastors and pastoral initiatives, first each parish priest has to come clean on all receipts and payments. Receipts would include overseas and local donations and not only “meagre Pastoral Support collection” which the Editor has written. Let the parishioners see for themselves and through Parish Finance Committee decide how to deal with shortfall / surplus (in case of rich parishes). The Parish Priest has to be very Transparent armed with Audited Accounts before he appeals to parishioners for donations. The more transparent he is, the more fervent and fruitful his appeal will be.
The editor has stated that those who have benefited from the Church and are now well-off should support the initiatives of their respective parishes. For this also transparency in parish finance is a must. Creation of a computerized family database in each parish will generate data on parishioners’ financial health and will give a clear picture of how equipped a parish is to meet its pastoral needs. Rich parishes may set up a Corpus Fund to help poor parishes particularly in Education and Health.
Talking of transparency in church, the President of the oldest Laity Association of Bengal is yet to settle huge cash account for last financial year, though he represents the Laity on various Commissions of Calcutta Archdiocese including the newly formed Archdiocesan Pastoral Council! With the Archbishop as Ex-Officio Chairman of the Association being fully aware of this and keeping mum, one can imagine what will happen to transparency and accountability in Indian Church with such complementary collusion!
The Editor is playing with words by stating that “All the parishes have been urged to form Parish Finance Committees.” No such Circular from the Archbishop has been received by the parishes under Calcutta Archdiocese nor has it been published in the Herald, the official mouthpiece of Calcutta Archdiocese.
The Editor’s remark “Building the Church is a Corporate Venture” is interesting. Corporate Venture will give the Church access to funds earmarked for Corporate Social Responsibility which has come into effect from 1st April 2014 as per the Indian Companies Act, 2013 (the “New Act”). Under this act, every company with a net worth of at least Rs 500 crore, or a minimum turnover of Rs 1,000 crore, or a minimum net profit of Rs 5 crore, is obligated to spend two per cent of its net profits for undertaking and promoting socially beneficial activities and projects in India such as promoting education, gender equality, women’s empowerment, improving maternal health, or ensuring environmental sustainability. As reported in the Economic Times dated 11 July 2014, India’s second largest IT firm Infosys said it will contribute Rs 240 crore this fiscal to its philanthropic arm, Infosys Foundation, for funding corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. The Bangalore-based firm has already contributed USD 8 million (Rs 48 crore) in the first quarter ended June 30, 2014, to Infosys Foundation.
So without looking out for foreign funds, the Indian Church can tap huge funds within India only provided it puts in place proper system with appropriate checks and balances. Is the clergy ready to go make a clean breast and go the extra mile to convert begging into an art?
PS: A shortened version of the above article was given to the Herald. But it has not been published as the Editor relishes choking the voice of the Laity, with the support of the Archbishop.
Isaac Harold Gomes