By Benjamin Mylliem
I would like to raise a few thoughts regarding the accountability and transparency in the Catholic Church. This in no way reflects the Church as a whole but rather the Church in Jaintia Hills and I will cite what is happening in Jowai Parish which is the cathedral parish of the Jowai Diocese in order to put forward my thoughts. To put things in perspective let me first explain everything in brief. In Jowai parish there are many villages and the church in these villages are known as “balang shnong” e.g. Mihmyntdu, Sohmynting, etc and Jowai town is just a ‘Balang Shnong’ within the Jowai Parish. In each Balang Shnong there is what is called a “Committee Balang” (church Committee) which looks after the spiritual and temporal welfare of the church in that particular village only. All these Committees work under the guidance of the Parish Pastoral Council. The works of these Committees mostly are to choose workers like Rangbah Balang, Bei Balang (male and female leaders of the church), make liturgical programs, take care of the temporal goods of the church, etc. Jowai town also has a Committee Balang and since this article is about accountability and transparency, I will point out its handling of the temporal goods of the church only.
The Committee Balang Jowai was formed with the authority of the parish priest and after years of functioning it has then been able to work in ways as laid down by the Church in the Code of Canon Law. For example, it use to have a budget session every year (can. 1284 §3). After proper audit is done, it gives accounts to the faithful regarding the goods offered by the lay faithful (can. 1287 §2). In this way it has been able to save funds which sustain the needs of the Balang Jowai. But when the present parish priest came in 2015, he surprisingly dissolved this Committee Balang of Jowai without having a proper discussion with the office bearers of the Committee. He convened a meeting with some of the faithful of Jowai town and in that meeting they decided to dissolve the Committee Balang Jowai and later on the April 2, 2016 he wrote a letter to the General Secretary of the Committee telling him that the Committee has been dissolved and that the amount 46 lakh which the Committee had is to be returned to the parish for church construction!
Now the financial administration in the parish is like this: the priests decides to buy things or to go for some construction work; then he asks for donations from the faithful. After that how the money is spent, only God knows! There are no more budget sessions, no more audits and no more accounting. Account is given only verbally during Mass and it’s simply like this, “I have used the money in building this or that” or “in buying this or that”. Is this what the Church teaches? If this is happening in the Cathedral Parish then what about other parishes in the diocese? Canon 537 says that in each parish there is to be a “Parish Finance Council.” It is a universal law to have that but all we hear is about the Parish Pastoral Council. Why is the Church here silent on this? It seems that every priest is on his own when it comes to financial administration in the parish. I have heard stories of priests building houses for their relatives and loved ones and right now a story is circulating that a priest is building a house for a girl who used to be a cook in the parish house! The people from the girl’s village said that they saw the priest carrying cement, bricks, etc between 8:30 – 9 pm to her village. Are these stories true? Without hard evidence it’s difficult to say but if there are priests who really do these sort of things, then the question is, ‘whose money are they spending’? Is it from their own pockets or from the Church’s treasury? How do we know that a donation given by the lay faithful is used for its stated purpose? I believe this is exactly the reason why ACCOUNTABILITY and TRANSPARENCY is needed in the Church. Once the Church achieves this then the kind of stories floating around can be warded off. I’m not an expert on Canon Law but what does the Church mean by saying, “According to norms to be determined by particular law, administrators are to render an account to the faithful concerning the goods offered by the faithful to the Church” (can. 1287 §2)? Where are these norms? Should we the lay faithful simply trust the priest’s words and donate directly to him whenever the priest asks for anything?
The higher authorities of the Church need to clarify on these matters and set up a systematic procedure in financial administration in the parish level according to norms laid down by the Church so as to avoid any kind of abuses both from the clerics and the faithful.