Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

October 4, 2006


            “Thou shalt not steal.” It’s one of the Ten Commandments. Short. Pithy. Easy to remember. But seemingly it is hard to obey if you are around too much temptation, even in the church.

            In late September, 2006, wire services reported that two Catholic priests were arrested for “misappropriating” $8.6 million from St. Vincent Ferrer parish in Delray Beach, Florida. One of them, the retired monsignor, was arrested as he stepped off a plane from Ireland, where he owns a cottage on the scenic Cliffs of Moher and a pub in his hometown of Kilkenny. The other priest, his successor at the same parish, was reported to be on a cruise to Australia when his arrest warrant was issued. He had a reputation for loving gambling in Las Vegas and the Bahamas.

In May, 2006, the pastor in St. John’s parish in Darien, Connecticut, was removed for taking $1.4 million from his parish. He owned condos in Philadelphia and Florida. He charged the cable bill at his Florida condo to the parish. He liked to throw lavish parties at places like the swanky Pierre Hotel in New York.

These men will get their day in court and a presumption of innocence. But it is obvious that they could not have sustained their life styles on a diocesan priest’s salary.

            Human nature has always been tempted by wealth.

Judas kept the purse and sold Jesus for money.

            In the early church, St. Paul cautioned Timothy against choosing bishops who were “greedy for sordid gain” or “lovers of money.” (1 Tim 3:2, 8). Paul also warned Timothy that, “The love of money is the root of all evils.” (1 Tim 6:10).               

Priests are not given any training in money management. This is not wise since running even a modest parish is like running a small business. I rely by my experience from 10 years of work before ordination as a lawyer and a government worker.

            Like most dioceses, we have accounting procedures. Our parish has an internal diocesan audit every three years.

But, in twelve years as a pastor, I’ve developed a few rules of my own, to keep me a faithful steward of the people of God.

First, run an open shop. Transparency and accountability are the keys to trust. If anyone wants to know anything, they have only to ask. We publish our receipts and expenditures, our budget and our weekly collections. The finance council has the right to see everything.

Second, never be alone with money, it will seduce you. We have at least two people handle the money. Two ushers carry the collection to the safe. Two people open the safe. Two sets of eyes review every transaction.  Our secretary writes the checks. Our accountant reviews all expenditures and balances all accounts. In twelve years as pastor I have never counted a collection. Four unrelated people do that. We occasionally rotate who counts. They check on each other. All sign a “count sheet” every week. The deposit slips are then compared to the count sheets.

Third, stay away from cash. Cash is a temptation. Cash is hard to keep track of.  In this era of credit cards and charge accounts it is not necessary even to keep petty cash. If someone buys something for the parish they bring in a receipt for reimbursement.

 Fourth, as St. Paul says, live temperately. Don’t develop a taste for luxury.  Priests should live like ordinary people. A taste for the high life will bring you trouble.

Fifth, remember the poor. If we are mindful of the poor, and their needs, we will be less likely to want to imitate the rich and their life styles.