In a recent post, I discussed the lack of financial transparency in the Roman Catholic Church. A reader commented in response to that post about the lack of financial transparency within The Episcopal Church (TEC). I fully agree with her lament.
No good reason exists to keep TEC shrouded in mystery. Shadows invite, even encourage, wrongdoing. Dioceses should publish a full accounting of their income and expenses – with three exceptions. First, assistance provided to individuals is rightly aggregated into a single line item. Identifying the individual recipients of such aid demeans the recipients’ dignity and provides no essential information to donors or other interested parties. Annual audits can ensure that the funds do not benefit the wrong people.
Second, staff salaries and benefits are rightly aggregated – except for key employees. Donors and other interested parties do not have any legitimate need to know how much an office assistant or receptionist earns. Budget committees, managers, and auditors appropriately exercise oversight over such matters. Organizations with salary scales or wage guidelines will usefully publish that information.
However, financial reports should specify salaries and benefits for key employees, e.g., bishops, canons to the ordinary, etc. Making this information public helps to ensure that leaders do not manage the institution for personal benefit. I have served in key leadership positions where donors knew my pay. Although I’m an intensely private person, I knew of no other way to establish appropriate accountability and transparency. Conversely, religious organizations that have not followed this policy have too often experienced shattering scandals.
Finally, the diocese should report aggregated unrestricted gifts from individual persons without identifying the individual donors or the amount each gave. The diocese should identify donors and amounts of restricted gifts because the donor’s restrictions, when the diocese accepts the gift, impose a form of control on the diocese and its operations. Similarly, a diocese should identify any grants, loans, or other funds received from foundations, corporations, or other entities because acceptance of these funds almost always entails an obligation to spend the funds in a particular way or use them for a particular program.
These same principles apply to TEC, its provinces, and all of its congregations. Most people will ignore the financial reports. Some will read the reports and find the reports uninteresting or too difficult to understand. But making a full public reporting of ecclesiastical is an unavoidable essential step in establishing the transparency and accountability that God's people deserve. TEC and its constituent components have no “proprietary” or “trade” secrets to hide from the competition. We do have an obligation of full disclosure to our various stakeholders.