As a former Catholic Church altar boy, I well remember the drama that was the high holy mass every Sunday. In addition to the incense, pomp and circumstance, there was also the collection of money from the parishioners. As a matter of fact, I even remember the competition between school kids to see who would put the most money in the collection baskets.
I also remember our parish priests tooling around the ‘hood in state-of-the-art Cadillac convertibles, and wondering how they could afford such status symbols.
Now comes confirmation from a Villanova University study that parish priests are looting the collection boxes. In fact, 85 percent, yes 85 percent, of U.S. Roman Catholic parishes discovered embezzlement of Church money in the past five years, with 11 percent reporting more than $500,000 being stolen. In one Del Ray Beach, Florida, case, two priests spent $8.6 million on trips to Las Vegas, dental work, property taxes, and other expenses over four decades. Nice.
This is yet another example of the Church’s basic infrastructure being badly broken. And, no matter what sort of smart public relations program the Church enacts, it needs to address underlying structural faults first (i.e. celibacy, women’s roles and, in this case, fiscal responsibility).
In my book, the Catholic Church’s image and reputation is right up there (or down there, as the case may be) with those of Jeff Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and other ‘bad boys and girls.’
The Church’s only response to this latest farce came from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which said they had seen the study and were considering ways that parishes could tighten their financial controls. Give me a break! It’s time for the Church to admit fault, admit the system is broken and invite impartial, respected experts from the private sector to come in and help them sweep house.
As my partner Ed likes to say, "Where there’s smoke, there’s fire." And, my seeing those St. Francis Church priests cruising through Ridgefield Park in luxury wheels way back when was the smoke. Now, it’s time for the Church to admit "Rome’s burning" and find someone or some group to help them put out the fire.
Thanks to Tom Powers for this idea.