Applying best practice standards to Catholic parishes

Too often the Catholic Church learns the value of accountability and transparency the hard way. In Philadelphia, for example, a senior member of the archdiocesan staff walked off with more than $900,000 in church proceeds before the theft was uncovered in the summer of 2011. The newly arrived archbishop, Charles Chaput, was outraged at the theft.

- Michael Healey, America

He proclaimed: “this only makes the need for tight financial controls and accounting procedures more urgent.”In a letter to parishioners he vowed that “every aspect of our shared life as a church will be subject in the years ahead to the kind of clarity, greater accountability and careful stewardship our people deserve.” And the Vatican, which has historically kept its business under the tightest of wraps, is edging toward greater openness in response to scandals and revelations of wrongdoing that have plagued the church worldwide. Clearly, change is in the air.

Once the province of a handful of church outliers, the notion of operating by the kinds of “best practices” that define top businesses in the United States is gaining traction among a growing universe of dioceses, parishes and Catholic charities. More than 450 parishes in 58 dioceses, as well as 54 Catholic nonprofit organizations nationwide, are implementing a comprehensive tool called Catholic Standards for Excellence, which commits them to best practice policies and procedures in fiscal management, governance, human resources and fundraising.

Furthermore, an increasing number of Catholic colleges and universities are offering courses in church management. Catholic Standards for Excellence, for its part, has provided content for such courses at Fordham University, Villanova University, Loyola University in New Orleans, Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota and St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. Catholic Standards for Excellence has also figured prominently in a training program called Toolbox for Pastoral Management, which has given scores of new pastors nationwide the skills and know-how they need to handle the complexities of church management in the 21st century.

“Transparency is more important than ever given the public scrutiny we face today,” observes Patrick O’Donnell, director of mission advancement for Dear Neighbor Ministries, a Catholic nonprofit sponsored by the Congregation of St. Joseph in Wichita, Kan. “We want to be able to say to any donor, whether it’s someone with $10 or a large foundation or government grant, ‘Hey, we meet all these standards and our board of directors has signed off on them.’”

Dear Neighbour Mi-istries, which in the course of a year serves some 10,000 disadvantaged people within the community, is implementing Catholic Standards for Excellence with the help of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, which developed the program and is actively promoting it nationally. By partnering with the Leadership Roundtable, the Wichita nonprofit commits itself to the program’s 55 best practice standards, which range from accurate financial reporting and record-keeping to meaningful performance evaluations for all board and staff (paid as well as volunteers) to openness with the faithful and the community about its mission, finances and activities.

FULL STORY Applying best practice to Catholic parishes and non-profits (America)

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