Answers about the Parish Budget & Protecting Religious Liberty

This post is reprinted from the Oct. 21 Parish Bulletin

I enjoyed being able to speak to all of you at Mass last week about the important days that lie ahead, as we launch our debt reduction campaign. In early September, at the four presentation/dialogue meetings we held, the planning committee invited questions to be asked and answered publicly, for all to hear. We also invited written questions and comments. We mailed the lengthy presentation document to those who did not attend and invited written questions from all of those parishioners, too. Then we created a document that describes what the reaction of the parish was to the proposed plan. In it, we address the seven most commonly asked questions that emerged from the presentations. I do hope you enjoyed reading that document, and that the answers we provided were helpful. It turns out at least one more topic has not been clarified in a satisfactory way, and I would like to do that now.

The topic involves the budget summary on page 22 of the 32-page presentation document. I have been asked why the operating budget does not include our mortgage payments. At the presentation/dialogue meeting at which this was brought up in the question-and-answer time, I explained that it was standard practice for churches to keep operations separate from the capital fund. I said I knew of only one parish that attempts to pay capital expenses (the mortgage payments) out of the operating budget (Sunday collections and other regular income), and that it created a very difficult situation for that parish. Now I have heard of a second parish that does the same thing, and the strain on the budget is enormous. That is why most parishes cleanly separate capital debt service from regular parish operations. As a matter of fact, as our planning committee sat discussing this matter, one member pointed out that at the level of county government the same practice is used: capital expenses are separated from operating expenses.

I am told that standard accounting procedures (fund accounting) call for separate funds to be maintained. At our parish we actually have three funds: the operating fund, the capital fund, and the cemetery fund. The income the parish receives when someone buys a cemetery plot is kept within the cemetery fund. It cannot be used to buy altar wine or photocopier toner or pay the telephone bill. Within the capital fund is kept all of the income from the capital pledges (or debt reduction pledges) that are offered by the people of the parish. The mortgage payments are made using that fund, not using people’s regular Sunday contributions.

Were we to decide to eliminate the capital fund and pay the mortgage out of the operating fund, we would also add to the operating fund the income we get from people’s capital pledges (or debt reduction pledges). That way we would have enough money in that single fund to pay $440,352 in mortgage payments every year. Without people’s generous contributions through capital campaigns (or debt reduction campaigns), we would not be able to pay the mortgage at all. To anyone who fears that the parish’s debt is growing each year, please be assured that our debt is not growing. We are making our mortgage payments. Our finances are monitored by our Finance Council, our parish trustees, Catholic Finance Corporation, and the Archdiocesan Office of Administration and Financial Services. And we will continue to keep a strict separation among our three funds: operating, capital, and cemetery.

One of the debates in this election season might have left Catholics scratching their heads and wondering whether concerns about the Health and Human Services requirement had been eased. Catholic hospitals and universities that also serve non-Catholics are indeed still required to violate Church teaching. Please read the following from an October 12 statement by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

 Last night, the following statement was made during the Vice Presidential debate regarding the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force virtually all employers to include sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees:

“With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”

This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain “religious employers.” That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to “Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,” or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.

HHS has proposed an additional “accommodation” for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as “non-exempt.” That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation “to pay for contraception” and “to be a vehicle to get contraception.” They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.

 So we do still need to be concerned about what the federal government is requiring of Catholic institutions and any other institution or company that does not want to provide sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients to its employees.


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