Parish finance reporting / Confession by telephone?

By Father Kenneth Doyle

Question: I belong to a Catholic community in Florida that has been in existence for 32 years. For all that time, we have had only one pastor. The problem is that we have never seen a parish financial report, and I have been told that our parish’s weekly income averages $30,000. I approached the pastor last year about this (at the request of several parishioners), and he told me that the finance committee would present a quarterly report — but we have yet to see that. What recourse do we have? (City of origin withheld)

Answer: The Church’s Code of Canon Law requires that each Catholic parish establish a finance council “to help the pastor in the administration of the goods of the parish” (Canon 537). So essentially, the church does mandate that lay parishioners be involved in overseeing budgets, contributions and expenditures on the parish level. Additionally, Canon 1287.2 stipulates that parish administrators “are to render accounts to the faithful concerning the goods they have given to the church.” Many parishes — I would say most— fulfill that requirement by publishing an annual financial statement in the parish bulletin, and in 2007, the Accounting Practices Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recommended that parishes report to the bishop the date on which such information was made available to parishioners. Your desire, then, for regular and public financial disclosure is clearly the preferred course. I would suggest that you recruit the several like-minded parishioners and pay a visit to your diocesan chancellor, asking him to “lean” a bit on your pastor.

Question: Can a person request confession from a priest by telephone — in a circumstance, for example, when someone lives in a remote village and seldom has access to a priest or when a penitent has fallen into sin but is stranded in a distant land? What is the church’s teaching — can technology be applied positively in this regard? (Abuja, Nigeria)

Answer: No, a penitent cannot confess and receive absolution by telephone. The teaching of the church is that the sacrament requires the physical presence of a priest. Among the practical reasons for this is that the seal of confession requires and guarantees absolute and strict confidentiality. Among the “philosophical” reasons is that confession brings the penitent into personal closeness with Christ in the person of the priest. In 2011, an Indiana company developed an app that provided an examination of conscience, together with step-by-step instructions for what to do inside the confessional. At the time, asked by reporters to comment, then-Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said, “It is essential to understand well the sacrament of penance requires the personal dialogue between the penitent and the confessor, and the absolution by the confessor.” “This is something that cannot,” he added, “be replaced by any application.” Father Lombardi did suggest, though, that it could be helpful, in preparation for confession, to “reflect on confession preparation using digital instruments as aids, as was done in the past with texts and questions written on paper.” This restriction against sacramental confession by phone or online seems to me to be a matter of church discipline rather than a divine mandate that could never be changed (provided the privacy of the sacrament could be guaranteed). But I would add that the situation your question presents — the physical unavailability of a confessor — already has a solution: an act of perfect contrition until the opportunity arrives for the sacrament itself.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, NY 12203.