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  Home :: 2007 January :: The embezzlement plate
http://www.palmbeachpost.com/opinion/content/opinion/epaper/2007/01/16/a14a_diocese_edit_0116.html

The embezzlement plate

 Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Itis counterintuitive for faith-based organizations to need safeguardsagainst breaches of faith. That's probably part of the reason religiousleaders of all denominations still are looking for ways to ensure thatthe donations of the faithful go where they're intended.

Villanova University researchers just surveyed the nation's 174Roman Catholic dioceses and found that 85 percent of the 78 thatresponded had discovered embezzlement of church funds during the pastfive years. In 93 percent of those cases, church officials filed policereports, 11 percent of which involved more than $500,000 missing.

Embezzlement isn't exclusively a Catholicproblem, but the Diocese of Palm Beach had three cases surface lastyear. The most egregious scandal was in Delray Beach, where policeaccused two former priests, Francis Guinan and John Skehan, ofmisappropriating $8.6 million and spending much of it on trips to LasVegas, vacations and personal investments. Bishop Gerald Barbaritoresponded with a plan to strengthen financial accountability and giveparishioners more oversight.

All parishes in the five-county diocese now must have a financecouncil, each parish and school is subject to an independent biennialaudit, and each must submit quarterly and annual financial reports. Thediocese also has a finance council - the bishop, clergy members and laypeople - with access to forensic accountants. The more people who knowhow much money comes in and where it ends up, the less likely mischiefbecomes. Irregularities need to be reported to the police, not handledinternally.

The diocese has helped restore credibility by working with Voice ofthe Faithful, a Boston-based reform group that advocates financialtransparency and accountability on other church problems such as sexualabuse by priests. Peter Amann of Palm Beach Gardens, chairman of Voiceof the Faithful in Palm Beach County, wants to open lines ofcommunication: "Our goal is to establish a collaborative dialogue amongthe faithful and the hierarchy."

The faithful place great trust in their clergy. But as recent eventshave shown, no church can take everything from its clergy on faith.

 


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia