The Code of Canon law of the Church directs that the proper purposes of the temporal (physical) goods of the Church are principally “to order divine worship, to care for the decent support of the clergy and other ministers, and to exercise works of the sacred apostolate and of charity, especially toward the needy” (Book V; Canon 1254; §2). It is in this area that the Finance Office assists the bishop in the governance of the Diocese and its parishes, schools and institutions.
The functions of the Finance Office are guided by several sources of authority — Code of Canon Law of the Church, generally accepted accounting principles, federal, state and local laws and regulations as well as sound business practices.
Basically, the functions of the Finance Office are covered in the fifth book of the Code of Canon Law: “The Temporal Goods of the Church.” This book, the shortest of the seven books, contains the principals of acquisition and administration of the assets and resources of the diocese. Additionally Book V governs contract administration and pious wills (bequests) and foundations (endowments).
There are, however, other canons that the Finance Office is required to follow. The first pertains to the appointment of a finance officer, which is one of the few positions that a diocese is required to have by the canons. Canon 494; §1 says “In every diocese, after having heard the college of consultors and the finance council, the bishop is to appoint a finance officer who is truly expert in financial affairs” This demonstrates the importance that Church law places on the administration of the temporal goods of the Church. Please note that it is the “administration” of the goods for their “intended purpose,” and not the goods themselves, where the importance is placed.
Two other canons outside of Book V are also directly related to the Finance Office — Sections 3 and 4 of Canon 494. Section 3 directs that “It is for the finance officer to administer the goods of the diocese under the authority of the bishop…” (emphasis added). Note that the finance officer’s authority comes directly from the bishop.
Section 4 continues and directs that “At the end of the year, the finance officer must render an account of receipts and expenditures to the finance council.” This reflects the absolute need for transparency of the diocese’s financial operations.
From a practical and secular standpoint, the primary function of the Finance Office is the protection and safeguarding of the assets and resources of the diocese and its parishes, schools and institutions. This is accomplished through proper accounting, management and reporting of those assets and resources. This includes accounting for the various offices/funds of the diocese, internal financial statement preparation, coordinating the external audit process, vendor payments, cash flow management, managing the financial investments of the diocese, and risk management.
Additionally, the Finance Office assists the parishes, schools and institutions in the areas of payroll processing, employee benefits administration, human resource assistance, and risk management (insurance) oversight. The Finance Office has developed policies and procedures that are designed to ensure compliance with all Church, federal, state and local laws and regulations.
The Finance Office is somewhat unique from other offices of the curia in that they do not typically come in direct contact with the people that the diocese serves. Rather, they exist to assist and enable the other offices, parishes, schools and institutions to fulfill their ministries to others. In effect, they “serve those who serve.”
Dale Henson, C.P.A., has been the Chief Financial Officer for the Diocese of Covington since 2008. “One of the more fulfilling aspects of the Finance Office’s work is assisting parishes and schools when they have issues or problems. This can include putting together a financing deal that saves the parish money or helping a school setup or create a budget that allows for better resource deployment,” Mr. Henson said.
On the other hand, “One of the more challenging aspects of the Finance Office’s work is the decentralized structure of our organization. In addition to the geographical separation of our 55 parishes, 29 elementary schools and 9 high schools in 14 counties, each parish and school is a separate entity that has a certain amount of autonomy. Each parish and school, however, must still comply with all diocesan rules and regulations in addition to the municipal laws and regulations of its city and county — hence, the challenge,” Mr. Henson said. “Good communication is essential in dealing with this challenge — both to and from the parishes and schools. All diocesan policies and procedures are located on the diocesan website to make finding them easier for the parishes and schools.”
It is reasonably safe to assume that the Finance Office has existed in some form or another since the inception of the Diocese in 1853. In all likelihood, it was more informal in structure and operation in the early days of the Diocese as opposed to today’s structured organization.
The Finance Office oversees and is responsible for:
+ Accounting/recording of approximately 6,300 vendor/parish checks each year
+ Accounting/recording of approximately 1,300 bank deposits each year
+ Payroll administration for approximately 2,000 diocesan employees
+ Benefits administration for approximately 1,200 diocesan employees
+ Pension administration for approximately 1,100 diocesan employees