Finance councils help parishes thrive

Bishop John Noonan and Father Richard Walsh, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Winter Park, break ground on a church renovation project. Construction is expected to be completed in October 2015. (JACQUE BRUND | FC)

By Elizabeth Wilson of the Florida Catholic – August 3, 2017

ORLANDO | When a man discerns a call to the priesthood he typically spends nine years at the seminary, receiving spiritual formation and studying philosophy and theology. He may look forward to celebrating the Sacraments, visiting the sick, and guiding his parishioners to a relationship with Christ. Yet when a priest is assigned as a pastor of a parish, his responsibility extends beyond the spiritual needs of his community to the financial administration that includes finance, accounting, budgets, payroll, daily operation, building maintenance, and construction projects. With little training in these areas, experienced members of the laity are vital resource for pastors to ensure good stewardship of resources that allow the ministerial mission of the parish to flourish.

“Generally, pastors aren’t trained to be accountants and CFO’s,” said Father Ramon Bolatete, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Lakeland. “The finance committee of experienced volunteers in collaboration with the pastor can provide sound, stewardship opportunities for the parish community. A well-chosen council membership, duly commissioned and collaborative to the pastor, should be a great help in the latter’s shepherding the parish.”

A parish finance council is not only helpful to a parish, it is canonically required. “Every parish is to have a parish finance council to assist with the responsible stewardship of resources (Canon 537).” Additionally, finance councils are to be made up of at minimum of three members of the parish and a maximum of nine with the majority of members qualified in financial administration (such as small business owners, accountants, and bankers). The councils are advisory only, sharing their expertise to provide advice so the pastor can make sound financial decisions. The members volunteer their time and talent in service to the church.

Finance councils should meet at least quarterly and among their duties are: budget preparation and monitoring, assistance in reporting of parish and school financial results, assisting in monitoring all payment obligations as well as the ongoing review of internal controls and ensuring compliance with Diocesan policies and parish business practices. One major responsibility of the parish finance council is involvement in the Parish Financial Review Program in which every parish is reviewed every three years.  The current review cycle kicked off in June.

“The goal of the review program is to guide the parishes to stronger financial operations,” said Michael Zirkle, senior director of parish finance and accounting operations for the Diocese of Orlando. “Our whole focus is the stewardship of administration, and how to improve the financial information to the pastors so they have the correct information to make a well informed financial decision for the livelihood and longevity of the parish.”

During the Parish Financial Review Program an independent CPA Firm is enlisted to examine the parish with a scope of work that includes the review of financial committee involvement, cash handling, and other internal controls. The review begins with an initial meeting with finance councils prior to the start of fieldwork.  After fieldwork is complete, a final meeting is conducted again with the pastor and finance council to review the results of their fieldwork that includes a review of prior and current issues as well as recommended corrective solutions to strengthen parish operations. The review program is wrapped up by November when the five firms in the program come together to debrief and offer suggestions for focus areas and how to continue improvement next year.

Zirkle explained that the review program has evolved over the years to become more consultative in nature to help parishes improve financial operations so pastors are supported in the area of financial administration.

“The Parish Financial Review Program is another tool at the disposal of pastors and parochial administrators to improve parish operations.  Well organized operations should free up a pastor’s time to focus on the important work of the parish which is the Sacraments and ministering to the people of the parish.”