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Spotlight Report

Church to post details of its budget

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 5/7/2003

The Archdiocese of Boston, saying local Catholics remain skeptical of how the church is spending their money, has decided to post its detailed budget on the Internet, the archdiocesan chancellor said yesterday.

The archdiocese will post line items from its $20.5 million budget for fiscal 2003, which ends June 30, within the next two weeks and will post the details of its $16.2 million budget for fiscal 2004, which begins July 1, within 45 days, Chancellor David W. Smith said. The details will also be released to the news media and published in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot, he said.

''There have been people uncertain -- or unconvinced -- about where we're spending the money that's sent in,'' Smith said. ''It's fair to say that we don't enjoy the same level of trust with the community that we did years ago. That needs to be rebuilt.''

Smith said he also plans to disclose the identities of real estate sold by the archdiocese as it is purchased, and said he is open to divulging how much money the church has spent on sex abuse cases.

But he will not disclose the salaries paid to individual employees, and the budget to be posted on the Internet covers only the 80 ministries run by the archdiocese, and not the church's separately incorporated affiliates, such as Catholic Charities, Caritas Christi Health Care, or the hundreds of Catholic schools and parishes.

In a wide-ranging interview, Smith said the archdiocese has been making a number of changes aimed at restoring its financial health, which has been wounded by a downturn in giving caused by the clergy sexual abuse crisis and a recession.

Smith said the church plans to eliminate subsidies to the eight remaining central high schools, with the expectation that they will become self-sufficient. Divisions such as The Pilot, the Catholic Cemetery Association, and the Archdiocesan Institute for Ministry, which offers enrichment programs for Catholics, will be expected to raise their operating costs through fees.

Smith said that, despite cuts in subsidies to Catholic parishes and schools, the church remains committed to serving the poor. Over the last four months, since the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, Bishop Richard G. Lennon has closed one parish, in Salem, and four schools, all in Boston.

Smith said there may be additional closings of schools and parishes. But he said he expects the total number of children educated by the school system to rise and any decision to close a large number of parishes to be left to the next archbishop.

''We are not going to stop ministering to people who can't pay for it,'' he said.

The Rev. Walter J. Waldron, pastor of Saint Patrick Church in Roxbury, said he is reducing spending and increasing fund-raising. ''Once the church was poor here, and it's still very poor throughout much of the world, but somehow or other it keeps going,'' he said.

Smith said disclosing the budget will help show people that the church is not using its operating funds to pay for sex abuse-related costs. Those costs are to be paid through insurance, separate fund-raising, and the sale of real estate. Smith said he is attempting to raise $15 million toward an eventual settlement by selling church buildings. He confirmed that those buildings include former bishops' residences in Peabody and Lowell. Smith said the church is also selling the Roslindale building formerly occupied by St. Clare High School to help other archdiocesan high schools.

The church's disclosure plans drew tempered praise yesterday from Francis J. Butler, president of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, a national association of Catholic foundations. The organization has been pushing dioceses to disclose their budgets more fully.

''This is definitely a step in the right direction,'' Butler said.

But Butler said dioceses should disclose the budgets of all their affiliates.

''They shouldn't spoon-feed their people,'' he said.

Voice of the Faithful, a national lay organization headquartered in Newton, welcomed Smith's pledge.

''We can be a lot more supportive with real financial transparency, with disclosure that's real, substantial, and timely,'' said James E. Post, group president.

The church's operating budget is financed primarily through an annual fund drive. Last year, the church raised $8.6 million, down from $16 million in 2001. This year, the church is hoping to raise $9 million.

Spending cuts in next year's budget have resulted in layoffs and some program cuts, but the church has limited the damage by borrowing $17 million from the Knights of Columbus, Smith said.

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 5/7/2003.
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