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Frankly I’m tired of reading stories like this one, about people who have stolen money from Catholic dioceses, parishes, and schools. It’s time—it’s long past time, actually—for some tighter financial controls.

For years I served on the board of an ecumenical initiative: a pregnancy-help organization. Thanks mostly to the Protestant members, and with the help of eagle-eyed auditors, we established very rigorous procedures for handling money. The controls were often tedious, but they served two important purposes. First, no one stole the organization’s funds. Second, no one was ever suspected of stealing. The controls protected the organization; they also protected the reputations of employees. They even protected the employees from temptation.

Contrast that belt-and-suspenders approach with the way donations are collected and processed in a typical Catholic parish. The ushers take up the collection, the cash and envelopes go into a sack, and then--- who knows? We rely on the honesty and goodwill of everyone who handles the funds. Usually that’s a good enough guarantee. But as the headlines occasionally remind us, not always.

No accounting system is perfect. Even the best auditors can be tricked by clever crooks. We can’t devise a foolproof system. But we can, at least, put systems in place that recognize the reality of Original Sin.
In the 1790s the bishop required an accounting of his parishes. Here is one example;
1797 May 30

Gradenigo, (Juan) Jean
Opelousas, (Louisiana)

to Bishop (Luis Penalver y Cardenas)
(New Orleans), Louisiana

Complying with the orders given by Penalver when in Opelousas, Gradenigo sends by his son Joseph (Gradenigo), copies of all the accounts of this parish since he has been majordomo up to the present, as follows:
1. Payments made up to August 11, 1791
2. Receipts to the above date
3. Payments made to Zamora for the period above
4. Burial fees from the above time to the end of December 1795, white and colored
5. Goods bought from August 11, 1791 to December, 1795
6. Money received from August 11, 1791 to date
7. Goods bought up to the present
8. Gradenigo's patent as majordomo from Father Antonio de (Sedella) Sedelle, (O.M.Cap.).
All the payments made were by order of the pastors. He begs Penalver to observe that in the list of goods bought by Zamora, delivered in the presence of Duralde and two witnesses, there are several articles overcharged, (the articles are listed). In the list of burials Penalver will notice some blanks but at present most have been received. Zamora has not yet turned over all account of the fees received since the last of December 1795 up to the present so that Gradenigo does not know the total. Since last year Zamora has told Commandant ( ) Duralde that there was not enough money for the necessary expenses of the fabrique and the commandant gave some public funds for several articles. In lists 6 and 7, Penalver will observe that Gradenigo received $76 from the estate of the late (Antonio) Boisdore; Zamora insisted that this sum be turned over saying that he will buy necessities for the fabrique so that charge is unnecessary.

A.L.S. (French)