The bizarre incident of abducting and assaulting Bishop Prasad Gallela of Cuddapah diocese in Andhra Pradesh has shocked many people in the country. More shocking is the story unfolded through police investigation. The police have revealed that three priests of the diocese had masterminded the whole drama. Cuddapah town’s police superintendent Navin Gulati told that Father Raja Reddy engineered the kidnapping and attack on the bishop, motivated by “greed for money and power”.
What happened in Cuddapah could only be a symptom of a disease that is gripping many church-run institutions and points to the need for putting in place transparent and participatory financial management systems in the dioceses and religious congregations. The 32nd Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) held in Bangalore in the first half of March 2016 had identified a set of internal and external challenges. Unfortunately, the list did not include introducing professionalism in the financial management of the dioceses and the church-run institutions. Many priests who are appointed as the heads of institutions and organizations within the church do not have experience or professional training. As a result these institutions are not able to cope with the legal compliances and effective management.
Bishop Prasad Gallela of Cuddapah Diocese
The author had the opportunity to function as a consultant to CARITAS India for a few dioceses in India in view of introducing professionalism in the Diocesan Social Work organizations. The long term objective of CARITAS India’s experiment was to introduce professional management systems and processes in the administration of the dioceses through the Diocesan Social Work organizations. The project could achieve its objectives only to a limited extent. One of the achievements of the project was that many Diocesan Social Work organizations started publishing their audited statement of account along with their annual report.
At the same time it is very doubtful whether any diocese in India has started the practice of making pubic its audited statement of account. Similarly a good number of Diocesan Social Work organizations adopted
Financial Policy and Human Resource Management (HRM) policy. It is not yet known how many dioceses in India have made known to the public their Financial and HRM policies.
Financial accountability is an essential dimension of spirituality. The dioceses and religious congregations are dealing with public money. Hence they are accountable to the public and the government. They have to put in place systems and processes that make them accountable and transparent primarily to its members and to the general public. The following proposals are made to make the diocesan administration participatory, transparent and accountable.
A diocesan General Body, consisting of representatives of the laity, both women and men, Religious women and men and priests shall be formed to function as a policy-making body of the diocese. All the members of this body shall be elected by the constituents concerned. There could be a few members, not exceeding 10 %, to be appointed by the bishop. This body shall meet at least once a year to pass the annual budget, to approve annual report and the audited statement of account of the diocese and to elect 11 members of an Executive Committee (Governing Body) for a period of three years and to adopt policies needed from time to time. The external auditors shall be appointed by the General Body. The bishop shall be the exofficio President of the Executive Committee. The bishop along with the Executive Committee shall be accountable to the General Body. Special meeting of the General Body could be convened as per the requirement.
The diocese shall have various policies adopted by the General Body: 1) Finance Policy 2) Human Resource Management Policy 3) Gender Policy 4) Education Policy and 5) Environment Policy. It will be the responsibility of the Executive Committee to implement the policies and report to the General Body the status of implementation. All documents approved by the General Body like annual report, annual budget and audited statement of account shall be made available to the public on the website of the diocese. The annual report in local language and the audited statement shall be printed and copies made available to all parishes and institutions within the diocese.
All decisions concerning appointments, purchase of property, starting new institutions, major expansion of existing institutions, appointment of various committees and financial decisions shall be taken by the Executive Committee which will be meeting at least once in two months. Experts shall be invited to the meetings of the Executive Committee for eliciting their opinion as per the requirement. The commissions/departments at the diocesan level shall be rationalized and each department will have norms for functioning approved by the General Body. The departments will have autonomy of functioning with the required systems of accountability. All departments/ commissions will have annual budget, report and audited statement of account. The budgets, reports andaudited statement of accounts of the commissions or departments shall be integrated with the consolidated budget, report and audited statement of the diocese which is to be approved by the General Body.
The government of India has put in place an elaborate computerized system to collect data from the NGOs and charitable organizations within the country and analyse the data for the purpose of monitoring the finances of the voluntary sector. Hence it is urgent for the dioceses and religious congregations to adopt professional and transparent systems of financial management.
The very nature of the Church as People of God demands from the persons in authority accountability and transparency. Putting in place transparent and participatory systems and processes will prevent Cuddapah type of scandals.