Good stewardship in challenging times

“The next archbishop is going to have to be up to the task of guiding the Archdiocese through its financial challenges.” “He’s going to have to be a great administrator who knows how to take advantage of the considerable lay expertise in this area.” “He’s going to have to put a premium on transparency.” These are all responses that I heard repeatedly during the 10 listening sessions held around the archdiocese in recent weeks.

In listing the qualities that he looks for in a bishop, Pope Francis has repeatedly indicated that he’s hoping to name bishops who are joyful and prayerful witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, men with pastoral hearts who are “neighbors and servants” who will be “gentle, patient and merciful” shepherds for Christ’s flock. At the same time, he has recognized that it is “certainly helpful” that those shepherds “have the shrewdness of an administrator.” Being a good steward is part of being a good shepherd.

The 2015 Annual Financial Report of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis published in [the November 19 issue of The Catholic Spirit] would surely confirm the common perception that the next archbishop is going to be confronted with some pressing financial challenges as he begins his ministry of service to this local Church. At the same time, the annual report illustrates that much is already being done to address those considerable challenges and to lay the groundwork for a return to long-term stability.

I recognize that those positive developments are unfortunately overshadowed by the magnitude of the extraordinary costs, outside our normal operating budget, that are indicated in this year’s annual report. While our financial report refers to them as “Special Issues expenses,” they are more easily understood as the expenses associated with the bankruptcy process and the resolution of the civil and criminal claims that have been made against the archdiocese. The good news is that they are not annual costs that would be recurring in the future; the bad news, however, is that they are substantial.

In any bankruptcy, the party petitioning for Reorganization bears the costs not only of its own attorneys, but also those of the creditors. I can assure you that those costs are carefully scrutinized by the bankruptcy court as well as by our creditors. I can attest, moreover, that the archdiocese monitors those costs closely and is working with attorneys on all sides to try to minimize costs where we can. While the expenses associated with reorganization are great, the experience in other dioceses and similar situations suggests that these expenditures should best be seen as a solid investment not only in an efficient and equitable resolution of claims, but also in a Church that is better positioned to fulfill her mission.

In the five months that I have been serving here as apostolic administrator “sede vacante,” I have been consistently impressed by the Archdiocese’s commitment to good stewardship. The members of the Corporate Board of Directors, the Archdiocesan Finance Council and the College of Consultors have all generously recognized that extraordinary times require extraordinary efforts.

Their openness to new opportunities for collaboration has already brought about a fruitful exchange of ideas and experience that is proving to be invaluable in addressing head-on the serious challenges before us. They ask tough questions, set high standards, and are relentless in making sure that in the midst of all the numbers and financial analysis we’re never losing sight of the moral imperative.

As I have become acquainted with the community leaders serving in those roles, it is obvious to me that the archdiocese is benefiting from real expertise as well as good will.

I am confident that a perusal of the annual report will highlight for you, as it did for me, the strides that are already being taken by the archdiocesan staff to help restore financial health to our operations. Our department managers attend monthly budget meetings to carefully review their expenditures in an effort to be as efficient and responsible as possible. While the current financial realities have necessitated a significant reduction in the size of the staff, the various archdiocesan offices have somehow managed to respond professionally to the needs of this local Church. Their joy and commitment to the Church have been great motivators for me.

I realize that the archdiocese is only able to continue its good work because of your generosity. I thank you for that support and encourage you to read the annual report and to continue your prayers that the Lord will bless this local Church with a wise and prudent shepherd after his own heart.