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Updated 7:51 AM on Saturday, October 21, 2006

Faith and finances

BOSTON - Sister Julianne Hau became a nun 20 years ago because she felt a call to bring God's word to anyone who needed it.

But these days, that's not the only requirement when running aconvent, parish or diocese. Managing finances and personnel well areenormously important skills, and now - prodded by a group of prominentlay leaders - a handful of Roman Catholic universities are offeringmanagement courses to lay church workers and clergy.

Villanova University has a new summer training course, which Haucompleted so she could better serve her Baltimore-area religiouscommunity. "The religious feel the call from God," she said. "Theydon't necessarily feel the money part."

Boston College is creating a graduate church management degreeprogram and the University of Notre Dame has long trained students towork for nonprofits, though not necessarily church-run organizations.

Lay leaders say using best management practices in administration and finances will mean more efficient use of resources.

Some claim it also strikes at the arcane bureaucracy and secrecy that nurtured the clergy sex abuse scandal.

"It's an area that needs an awful a lot of sunlight," said FrancesButler of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities(FADICA), an organization of Catholic philanthropists and charities.FADICA helped create the National Leadership Roundtable on ChurchManagement, a group of 225 prominent Catholics that is pushing thechurch to adopt best management practices.

David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of thoseAbused by Priests, said he welcomes better church management, but hedoubts it can touch the problems that led to rampant molestation.

New management practices won't change church leaders' inclination to try to keep abuse cases quiet, he said.

"One can't overestimate the shrewdness of and determination ofabusive priests and complicit bishops," Clohessy said. "Where there's awill, there's a way."

Butler believes better management can make a big difference, andsaid that became obvious to FADICA's membership as the scandal brokeand revealed the church's shaky financial picture, including big,unpaid retirement costs.

Though many dioceses already have strict accounting and personnelrules in place, and most parishes have business managers, there's norequirement for uniformity in human resources or financial practices.

Some churches and dioceses rely on clergy who learn on the job.Others tap retirees with business backgrounds or volunteers withvarying levels of expertise. That can lead to wasted money.

Boston College professor Thomas Groome, who came up with the BCgraduate program, recalled the example of a small Southern diocese thatbadly overpaid for insurance because it didn't know it could save moneyby banding with other local dioceses.

"The U.S. Catholic community does an estimated $100 billion inbusiness a year," said Groome, who directs the Institute of ReligiousEducation and Pastoral Ministry. "Is this being managed according tothe best practices of good management? I don't think anybody would saythe answer to that is, 'Yes.'"

Problems can arise when lay leaders don't understand the church'slaws - and an ethic that emphasizes a spiritual mission over profits -or when clergy and volunteers are ignorant of civil law.

Religious institutions also don't have the same financial reportingrequirements as private businesses, and local diocesan leaders orpastors can disclose what they choose. The Boston Archdiocese, forexample, released a major financial audit in April, but it wasvoluntary.

Villanova professor Chuck Zech said open financial records wouldhave exposed irregular expenses incurred prior to and during thescandal that broke in 2002, such as payouts for abuse victims andextended counseling retreats for abusive priests.

"It wouldn't have exploded into the major scandal it was had thechurch been better at this management early on, especially thisreporting, being transparent in finances," Zech said.

Zech, a member of the national roundtable, heads the Center for the Study of Church Management.

Besides the summer training institute, which was attended by churchworkers ranging from chancellors to nuns, Villanova plans to debut anonline business course for church workers starting next summer.

Boston College's new management program, which begins in January,aims to create a professional class of lay church managers - therebyfreeing a strained clergy to minister more, Groome said.

The BC program includes a master's degree in pastoral ministry witha concentration in church management or a joint MBA/master's degree inpastoral ministry.

Groome, also a member of the national roundtable, said adopting bestmanagement practices would merely bring Catholic parishes in line withtheir Protestant and Jewish equivalents, which are run by their owncongregations and have long ago adopted best practices.

Said Groome: "It's a maturing, rather than a loss, to the Catholiclaity, where we basically grow up and accept responsibility that we arethe church."


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia