Diocese pledges financial transparency

Lori announces new auditor, spending controls


WHEELING — Following findings of excessive spending and other financial irregularities in a report sent to the Vatican, Archbishop William E. Lori on Wednesday announced the appointment of a new independent auditor for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston — a decision made in coordination with the Diocesan Finance Council.

Lori said the firm, CliftonLarsonAllen LLP — a national financial auditing firm that serves more than 30 dioceses across the country — has been engaged to be the auditing firm of record for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. Among the firm’s first priorities will be to conduct a thorough audit of all Diocesan accounts, the results of which will be published in their entirety.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is audited annually with portions of the audit being published in the Diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit.

“I am grateful to the members of the Finance Council who are working to identify best practices nationally that will help strengthen our financial protocols and procedures and ensure the trust and confidence of all,” Lori said. “A commitment to responsible financial stewardship must be a non-negotiable as we deploy Diocesan resources to advance the work of the Gospel across the state of West Virginia and to serve critical needs.”

The financial matter came to light earlier this year when it was revealed that former bishop Michael Bransfield spent millions in diocesan funds on his own personal travel, his home in Wheeling and for gifts to other high-ranking bishops and cardinals.

Lori had been tasked by Pope Francis to investigate Bransfield’s 13 years in West Virginia after allegations of sexual harassment of younger priests and seminarians were made prior to his retirement in September 2018.

The Finance Council is also implementing a policy review to ensure that proper checks and balances are enforced, as well as strengthening internal controls and spending practices.

Lori has expanded the Finance Council, which will continue to strengthen policies following the revelations against Bransfield, which took place after he and his closest aides bypassed controls and procedures already in place. The publication of audited financial statements for the diocese will serve to ensure adherence to rigorous financial controls.

A number of changes have already been made to the assessment model of the diocese, used to fund parishes and missions throughout the state which cannot sufficiently provide for their own support. The new model benefits parishes, particularly those that support Catholic schools as well as smaller parishes in debt. The assessment model is the formula used to calculate the 3 percent assessment on all parishes in the diocese, which is combined with more than $5 million in diocesan funds annually. Under the new model, diocesan assessments will be lower than roughly 90 percent of other dioceses across the country.

Additional measures currently being implemented in the diocese to enhance accountability and transparency include the introduction of an independent third-party reporting system that will allow any person to report concerns about — or actual instances of — financial mismanagement, sexual harassment or abuse by members of the clergy, the local bishop, lay employee or volunteer of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

Also, on July 2, the board of the Bishop’s Fund voted to dissolve this entity, established in 2014 as a discretionary fund to support various capital and programmatic projects across the diocese. The remaining assets are being transferred to the general account of the diocese. Finally, the official bishop’s residence, ordered to be listed for sale by Archbishop Lori last month, is currently under contract and is expected to be finalized in the coming days.