Archbishop John Nienstedt is expected to discuss church finances and a proposed $165 million capital campaign at a meeting with priests on Monday, and a group of Catholics calling for greater financial transparency from church leaders thinks they should be allowed in, too.
Members of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform asked to attend the Priest Finance Day at Pax Christi church in Eden Prairie but were told by Nienstedt in a letter dated Aug. 21 that the meeting is “intended to be a professional gathering for those who have been duly ordained to the Catholic priesthood.”
Robert Beutel, a St. Paul attorney and co-chair of the board of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, said the group of lay Catholics argues that issues dealing with parish and archdiocesan finances should be open to Catholics in the pews, not just clergy.
“It’s our money,” Beutel said. “It’s like taxation without representation. … We want the lay people to be a part of all of this, the budgeting, decisionmaking, the oversight.”
During the meeting, Nienstedt is expected to address the capital campaign, proposed to be shared with parishes and other partners to raise money for Catholic schools, charities, seminarian education and preservation of the St. Paul Cathedral and the Basilica of St. Mary.
The annual Catholic Services Appeal, another major fundraiser, is also expected to be discussed, as well as lay and priest pension plans, Beutel said.
The archdiocese previously announced changes to its assessment formula, with close to one-fourth of the nearly 190 parishes seeing assessments on the collection plate and other income increase from 8 percent to up to 9 percent, while parishes with schools would see a break on payments.
Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said that the meeting is private and declined to comment about it.
Formed nearly four years ago, the coalition seeks increased lay participation in the church on financial and other key matters, such as allowing for women priests and selecting bishops. Beutel says the group has no formal membership but close to 3,000 followers in Minnesota who have requested the group’s newsletters and other materials.
Beutel said Catholics are seeking greater financial transparency and accountability particularly in light of the church’s failed campaign to ban gay marriage in Minnesota. He said many Catholics are still upset with church leaders for contributing nearly $650,000 to the campaign for a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, which failed Nov. 6. Legislators went on to legalize same-sex marriage.
Transparency in churches
Charles Zech, director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University, noted that Protestant churches tend to be more open and transparent with people in the pews, compared to the Catholic Church.
“There should be some venue for him [Nienstedt] to meet with the laity to discuss these very issues,” Zech said. “If I was the archbishop and I was hoping to raise some millions of dollars, I’m not going to do it through my priests, I’m going to do it through my laity.”
The group is expected to hold a Synod of the Baptized assembly to discuss changes they’d like to see in the church on Sept. 28 at the Mall of America Ramada in Bloomington. Previous assemblies have attracted close to 500 people.
In 2010 the archdiocese issued a statement that said it “wishes to lovingly caution those members of the faithful participating in the ‘work/study groups’ and intending to attend the synod of the potential that the issues on which CCCR will seek reform are magisterial teachings of the Church, and are therefore to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.”