New parish financial relationship model ready for roll out

December 11, 2009

IFRC, The Pilot

by Jim Lockwood

The archdiocese is seeking volunteer parishes for its new system that it says will provide a simpler and more equitable way for parishes to contribute funds to the central ministries of the archdiocese.

On Dec. 4 Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley sent a letter to all pastors and administrators asking if their respective parishes would like to be part of the launching of a first phase of a “proposed model of financial relationship” — a relationship which archdiocesan officials are hopeful could produce more collaboration between the archdiocese and the parishes, as well as between parishes.

The cardinal is requesting the participation of 30 parishes in this leading phase which is set to launch in the fiscal year beginning July 2010.

“The present model presents a real disparity of parishes’ financial support of central ministries,” said Father Bryan Parrish, co-chairman of the archdiocesan Improved Financial Relationship Committee (IFRC) and pastor of Holy Family Parish in Duxbury.

Stephen Barrett, who co-chairs the committee with Father Parrish, referred to the present model as “an Irish breakfast of fees, taxes, and charges.”

Under the new system most of those fees and taxes will be eliminated and instead parishes will be expected to contribute 18 percent of their total offertory, grand annual, and rental income to support archdiocesan central ministries. Ten percent of that amount would come in the form of a parish tithe and 8 percent would come through a Catholic Appeal assessment.

Parishes facing “extraordinary circumstances” may ask for abatements, according to Cardinal O’Malley’s letter. The new model also stipulates that the archdiocese will offer fundraising assistance to parishes to increase their collections.

Secretary for Institutional Advancement for the archdiocese Scot Landry said that the level of 18-percent was set because, on average, parishes contributed 18 percent of their income to central ministries for fiscal years 2006-08.

“The new model is simpler and fairer than the one we are currently using,” Cardinal O’Malley said in his letter. “This new model also provides a better system for helping parishes improve their financial well being and establishes a mutually beneficial relationship between the budgets of the parishes and the budget of central ministries. If parish revenue decreases, so will central ministry revenue.”

Under the current system, parishes financially support the archdiocese through a series of payments, most of which are voluntary, according to Landry.

The new model, in contrast, is broad-based and includes an assessed goal, more closely resembling arrangements in many of the 195 dioceses across the United States.

“We don’t have a broad-based tax and tithe and our appeal is not an assessed goal, which means if the parishes don’t make it, there’s no recourse to ask the parishes to make it up. We have six or seven things that are either fees, voluntary contributions, or appeals, but there’s no recourse if someone decides not to participate,” Landry said.

He added, “That sort of model has led to big inequity. We’ve got about one-third of our parishes that are doing very little to support the central ministries of the archdiocese, about one-third doing what would normally be expected of a parish, and about one-third going far beyond.”

Barrett and Landry said that current parish contributions to the central ministries of the archdiocese range from less than 2-percent to over 35-percent.

“It’s not proportionate at all,” Landry said. “Some are doing their best at those collections and some are not participating at all.”

“We do need something that is fairer and more equitable, and there needs to for mutual accountability between the parishes,” Barrett said.

Part of the plan also states that parishes with schools will not have to pay the portion of the tithe that supports Catholic schools.

Father Parrish added that parishes will be able to pay their assessment in monthly installments under the new system, as opposed to paying entire fees at once as in the current system.

As an example, he said his parish paid the school tax, which amounted to $37,000 in one lump sum.

“You have to plan for that,” he said. “In the new system, this new model, in terms of cash flow, it just makes more sense.”

Father Parrish said that pastors will be able to still specify where their portion of the school tax will be sent.

The proposed model raises the percentage of funds that get returned to parishes that exceed their Catholic Appeal goals. Under the current system, such parishes receive 25-percent of the excess; but the new system stipulates that such parishes will see 50-percent of the excess returned to them.

Barrett said the new model provides incentives for collaboration between archdiocesan central ministries and parishes, and between parishes as well. Under the new model, the central ministries budget would be tied to the success of parish fundraising.

“You’ll have a reward system that incentivizes fundraising and stewardship initiatives,” Barrett said.

“This initiative has the potential to be truly transformative, not just from a financial standpoint, but from the culture and the way in which the entire Church of Boston works together, more collaboratively, for the good of the common Church,” Barrett said.

The new relationship is being welcomed by pastors in the archdiocese.

Landry said that 10 parishes have already expressed interest in participating.

“I think it’s going to be more equitable,” said Father Joseph Raeke, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Bridgewater. “Some parishes have been giving more than the 18-percent. It’s going to help the archdiocese, but the archdiocese is going to work hard to help parishes meet and exceed their goals. They are helping each parish to financially increase their own revenue so as to provide as many service projects and programs for each parish as they can.”

“It’s good that they are going to do a pilot program first to see if it will succeed,” Father Raeke added.

Landry said that following the first phase, Cardinal O’Malley will consult with the archdiocesan Presbyteral Council to evaluate the program.

“It’s likely something that will be recommended for fiscal year 2012,” Landry said.

This article appeared in The Pilot on December 11, 2009.

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