Transparency is the responsible policy

Last week, Roman Catholic Bishop Mark Brennan and other officials of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston did something unprecedented. They released a detailed report on diocesan finances. Brennan said it was the first time such action had been taken.

As most of us know from our own personal lives, a close, objective examination of where we stand financially can be unpleasant. So it may be for the diocese’s faithful.

One aspect of the report, prepared by a national auditing firm, stands out like a sore thumb: During fiscal 2019, diocesan expenditures were $4.7 million in excess of revenue. Some assets had to be sold to cover the spending.

That is no cause for immediate worry. At the end of the fiscal year, the diocese’s assets totaled $291.6 million. Roughly 80% of that was in securities subject to the volatility of financial markets, however, meaning the amount probably will fluctuate in the future.

As Brennan and diocesan Chief Financial Officer Alex Nagem emphasized, however, continuing down the current path of selling off assets to cover expenses is unsustainable in the long run.

Difficult decisions may — and probably will — have to be made to ensure that the diocese is managed responsibly.

Since former Bishop Michael Bransfield left after a scandalous 12 years heading the diocese, Brennan and others have pledged to embark on a new policy of transparency. They are absolutely correct in pursuing that — in effect enlisting every Roman Catholic in the diocese in helping to make the tough choices.


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