I was surprised, and honored, to receive an email yesterday morning from a former professor of mine who says that she reads this blog and hopes that I will address the question of donations to parishes in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Specifically, she wrote:

'I am troubled regarding contributions to my local parish. Because of the percentage that is automatically taken by the archdiocese, I don't feel comfortable contributing, though I am sad not to be able to support my local parish.

Reputable nonprofits with which I am familiar will allow you to stipulate restrictions on your donations. For example, the ALS ice-bucket challenge allowed you to stipulate that your donation was not to be used to support the embryonic stem cell research that the ALS Association funds. Why are we not allowed to restrict our contributions to our local parishes?'

The short answer is, you are. Canon law is very clear that donations given for a specific purpose may only be used for that purpose:

Canon 1267, 3- Offerings given by the faithful for a specified purpose may be used only for that purpose.

However, if you make this offering by means of the weekly collection plate or collection envelopes, the parish will have to count that donation when figuring the amount it must pay to the Archdiocese, per the assessment formula (see the Clergy Bulletin posted below). Your dollars may not be used to pay the assessment per se, but since your contribution will be tabulated along with other monies received, the effect will be the same. 

But, there is nothing that says that you must contribute in this way. Instead, it is possible to send cash or a check to the parish office with a letter noting that your contribution is to be used exclusively for a particular ministry or purpose, and not towards the parish assessment or any other tax levied by the Archdiocese. Or, you can contribute to specific fundraising efforts, noting that a lesser tax (2%) is applied to contributions to building projects or debt reduction funds.

Better yet, there is nothing to prevent you from supporting your parish by paying third party vendors or service providers directly, or providing required goods. You see this often in rural parishes where, for instance, a family might pay for the supply of heating oil for the winter months. You should speak with your pastor or parish business administrator regarding how best to make such a contribution, but I would be surprised if contributions towards heating or electric bills, snow plowing, cable/phone/internet services, software licenses, postage, liturgical wine and communion wafers, flowers for the church, printing costs, and for contracted services such as musicians and sign language interpreters are refused. You may also find that some pastors (especially those of a certain age) have become incredibly adept at receiving donations that are not counted towards the Archdiocesan assessment. 

If you choose to contribute in this way, you should speak with your accountant prior to claiming such contributions as tax deductible. I would also suggest avoiding contributions to things like insurance or pension funds, which are administered by the Archdiocese. Also note that the Archdiocese intends to tax 'other income' received by parishes. 

However you choose to donate, pastors of parishes, along with business administrators and finance council members, are obliged to ensure that the stipulations of donors are honored (canon 1284, 3). If you contribute monies for a specific purpose, you should expect to receive confirmation that your contribution was used accordingly. 

The same solemn responsibility binds the diocesan bishop, who is given the authority to resolve any questions regarding the application of donations. However, a donor who feels his or her intention was disregarded does have the opportunity to challenge the decision of the bishop through hierarchical recourse.

[N.B. Parishes in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and elsewhere, are audited. Some are audited yearly because of debt repayments plans or loan financing requirements. Otherwise the frequency of audits, as well as whether a certified audit is conducted as opposed to a uncertified review with accompanying management letter, is based on the size of the parish's annual budget. All parishes should undergo a full audit when there is a change in pastor.]


Isabel Sinton
01/10/2015 2:32pm

Sure, Parishioners can specify that money be used for a particular purpose, and receive a letter that that has happened. But the parishes are not audited and do not publish an audit . Do you trust the hierarchy? With their track record? ? ?

01/10/2015 3:07pm

Thanks. I suspect as a NY lawyer, as well, that if a parish were to accept donations subject to express conditions, and then to spend the donations contrary to the conditions, it would violate provisions of Minnesota civil and possibly even criminal laws.
Accepting donations under false pretenses is a crime in many jurisdictions.

01/11/2015 9:46am

I, too, want to withhold and 'send a message'. And whereas paying overhead bills (or, I've even heard suggested donating VISA cash cards) is a creative idea, what about the salaries and benefits for the staff?

Is not withholding going to inevitably result in pay freezes or cut staff and programs? Then, our withholding will be as uncaring of people's lives and livelihoods as was the Archdiocese when they cut lay staff positions.

There needs to be a solution which does not hurt our innocent brothers and sisters.

Randy Schreiner
01/13/2015 4:26pm

As a member of the Finance Council at the Cathedral of St. Paul, if donors are going to designate for a specific purpose, this needs to be reasonable AND material. Donations that are small will create more accounting time and given the number of staff and how much they are paid, this may be an unreasonable expectation that is placed on them. Can we balance this drive for justice with respect for those who are doing the day to day work to keep our parishes going?

Comments are closed.


    Jennifer Haselberger is a canon lawyer who served as the Chancellor for Canonical Affairs in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis until April of 2013, when she resigned in protest of the Archdiocese's handling of sexual misconduct by clergy.

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