Should our $205,000 altar railing fund been better used by giving it to the poor? I report you decide! And should we sell this ornate church building and move into a warehouse and give what is left over to the poor? I report; you decide!
I know that the Catholic Church's consultative processes have not always been that great around the world when it comes to income and expenditures of money given to the Church by the faithful and other sources.
In our parish we have tried best as we can, to be very transparent. Everyone knows what our weekly income is and every six months there is a detailed report of that income and the expenditures. We try to be good stewards of the financial gifts given to the parish.
But when is too much too much to spend? For example, what about salaries? What is too much for a church employee and will we get good employees if we can't offer a good living wage?
What about dedicated or restricted funds given by individuals or bequests for specific projects, like building projects? Recently I had a parishioner who said we shouldn't spend anymore money on our historic church building. He doesn't like that we are restoring the altar railing. He says the money should be given to the poor and that I should have put the entire project up to a vote parish wide, like some (not all) Protestant denominations do. Of course I could have told him to go and sell all he has and give it to the poor and then come and be a parishioner, but I didn't think of that at the time!
So, should a pastor, like me, throw out canon law when it comes to the way the Church promotes consultation and seeks advice for pastors? Our pastoral council approved of the project unanimously based upon monies coming in from donors who specifically give to it. The Finance Council subsequently approved that the project could only be funded by a special fund raiser specifically for it, that it had to be funded in full and no normal Sunday offertory monies or other monies used.
Ultimately the conclusion of this consultative process was the bishop's approval with some caveats. All of these were met. He signed the contract to begin the work, not me.
About 75 parishioners donated specifically to the altar railing fund. We collected about $50,000 from these parishioners with one giving $10,000! At the time I was under the impression the project would cost about $100,000. But after we had a contractor study the project and propose a cost, we discovered it would be about $205,000!
Thinking that I would never be able to raise that amount of money in the fashion in which we were requesting it, I wrote all the donors who had given thus far that we had miscalculated the cost and that it would take much longer to raise the money, perhaps years. I stated that we could put their restricted funds into a long term altar railing fund or I would return their gift if they so requested. I think only one person asked that the gift be returned.
But then one of our elderly parishioner died. About two months afterwards a representative of her lawyer came to see me. She had left a restricted bequest of a sizable about to be used only for sanctuary improvements. In addition to that, about 30 percent of that bequest was to be give specifically to our Catholic Charities program for poor families, "Family Advancement Ministries."
And then I was given two checks, one for the altar railing and the other for our Family Advancement Ministries. That gave us exactly what we need and even a little more to repair a leak high up in the church building by one of our rose windows which will require scaffolding to repair.
It would not be legal (canonically or civilly) for the parish to use restricted funds and give it to the poor. Should we not have projects like these and let parishioiners keep their money and spend it on their own material fluff?
Also, how much of a parish's yearly income should be dedicated to the poor? All of it; a part of it?
Here at St. Joseph, we give about 20% of our total offertory to collections that go elsewhere. Is that too much or is that too little? On top of that I subscribe to the truth that all the monies that our parishioners have belong to the Church. Individual Catholics may give to charities of their choice without going through the institutional parish. So I am sure that of all the money of our parishioners that we are giving far more than 20% percent to the poor!