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Fund maneuvers common in clergy-abuse stories

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A Catholic Church in Cedar Lake Township: Will members of local Catholic parishes change their giving?
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Among the questions facing the Twin Cities archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church is this one: What's going to happen to the church's ability to raise money?

Reporter Tom Scheck recently chronicled some of the financial elements of the story as part of the MPR News investigative series, Betrayed by Silence. One of his sources was Charles Zech, who studies church management questions at Villanova University.

Scheck and Zech joined The Daily Circuit on Tuesday to talk about the issues raised by the MPR series. Highlights from that conversation:

Charles Zech, on the church's lack of basic controls:
"The Catholic Church is notorious for its lack of transparency and accountability in its finances. They've always been very secretive. And they've always failed in most cases to implement basic internal controls that are common in the business world. It's relatively easy for someone in the church to get away with hiding money because the checks and balances you would see in the business world are not in place."

Tom Scheck, on the small circle who knew about the spending: 
"When my story ran last week, a couple of priests contacted me and said we've been trying to get this information for years. There's almost this barrier sometimes, where the priests are trying to get the information from the archdiocese as well, and they can't get it, for whatever reason. Now, to be fair to those individual priests, a lot of this stuff — even the high-level folks in the chancery didn't know that this money was being spent. We found it was only five or six individuals — it was the archbishop; his top deputy, the vicar general; the head of accounting, Scott Domeier, who is now in jail for stealing more than $650,000 from the archdiocese — and so a lot of folks even within the chancery didn't know about some of these payments that were going on." 

Zech on whether financial irregularities are unusual in the church: 
"It's universal. There have been stories ever since the clergy-abuse scandal broke of slush funds that have been set aside to pay for victims, pay for priests and so on. One of my personal favorites, [former] Archbishop [Rembert G.] Weakland of Milwaukee, for example, got caught up in this. This is very common. My surprise is that it's still occurring. I would have thought by now, with all the bad publicity that dioceses have received from this kind of behavior, that no archbishop would be doing this anymore. But obviously I was wrong."

Scheck on how individual Catholics are responding: 
  "A lot of them say, I'm not going to give to the Catholic Services Appeal or to the archdiocese. Instead I'm going to give to Catholic Charities. Instead I'm going to give to St. Stephen's. Instead I'm going to give to my local parish, but I'm going to do it in a way that I'm going to make sure that it's going to be restricted. So I can give it to maybe build the roof; if they're building a roof, that fund is dedicated and it can't get to the archdiocese. Some guy said to me a couple of months ago, 'I'm going to try and buy Target gift cards and give those to the parish, because then they can buy toilet paper and towels and those types of things.' Because ... if you give $10 to the [parish], up to 9 percent of that goes to the archdiocese. It's called an assessment. A lot of people don't want that assessment. They want to support their local parish, but at the same time they don't want to support the archdiocese."

READ THE ENTIRE MPR NEWS SERIES, BETRAYED BY SILENCE