Philly Archbishop: Church Finances Are Improving

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    Troubling financial data being released next week about the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia does not reflect recent improvements in the church's monetary health, according to the archbishop.

    The results of the 2012 audit “are serious - and that's an understatement,” Archbishop Charles Chaput said Friday. But, he noted, “we've taken big steps toward raising new resources and eventually eliminating our annual budget deficit.”

    Chaput's comments came in his weekly column and apparently aim to soften the blow of figures that will be published online Wednesday. The data will reflect the fiscal year that ran from July 2011 - two months before Chaput came to Philadelphia - through June 2012.

    Most of the church's financial problems stem from bad spending habits, not fraud or the priest sex-abuse scandal, the archbishop said. The church had a $6 million deficit as of August 2012; an updated figure was not immediately available.

    Previous officials had “a crippling habit of trying to hang on to the past and keep unsustainable ministries, schools and parishes afloat,” Chaput said, “despite great changes in our demographic and financial realities.”

    “(I)t flows out of well-intentioned but poor management decisions made over a period of nearly two decades at every level of archdiocesan and parish leadership,” he said.

    However, the priest scandal and fraud did take their tolls. By August 2012, the archdiocese had spent $10 million on legal fees related to clergy-abuse cases over the previous two fiscal years. That figure did not include many bills from the landmark criminal trial of Monsignor William Lynn, who was convicted that summer of felony child endangerment.

    In July 2011, the archdiocese fired its chief financial officer. She was later convicted of embezzling $900,000, though the losses were covered by insurance.

    Chaput said the church has gradually started to regain its monetary footing with a new chief financial officer, who started in April 2012, and with what he called a “reinvigorated” finance council.

    The bottom line has also been boosted by the sales of a home known as the cardinal's residence, which Saint Joseph's University bought last year for $10 million, and a vacation house for priests in Ventnor, N.J. Chaput did not mention how much the beach property sold for, though it had been assessed at about $6.3 million.

    Next month, eight more church properties will be put on the auction block. The parcels up for sale on July 24 include two former schools and three former convents in Philadelphia, plus three large lots in Bucks and Montgomery counties.

    Chaput said results for the current fiscal year, which ends Sunday, will be more upbeat. He did not say when those figures would be released.

    The archdiocese serves about 1.5 million Catholics in Philadelphia and four surrounding counties.
     

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