Bishop’s Lenten Appeal does not fund clergy abuse settlements

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This is the first of a two-part series on the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal.

In recent weeks, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge spoke at gatherings of clergy and lay leaders about the importance of the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal and the clergy abuse crisis.  Additionally, he asked the diocesan finance officer to speak and explain details about the Diocese of Arlington finances and issues tied to the clergy abuse crisis. 

By church law, every diocese is required to appoint a diocesan finance officer as well as a finance council. Diocesan Financial Officer Tim Cotnoir, a parishioner of Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria, oversees the finances of the diocese, the churches and the schools.  The diocesan accounting and finance offices not only manage diocesan finances, but also provide oversight and assistance to parishes and schools. Diocesan staff sometimes assisted by outside accounting firms audit parishes about once every three years, and when the pastor changes.

“Parishes and the diocese are called to high standards with respect to fiscal management,” said Cotnoir during a recent reception promoting the 2019 Bishop’s Lenten Appeal. Every year, diocesan financial statements are audited by a national certified public accounting firm. “In all areas we seek to manage the resources as good and faithful stewards,” he said. “Consideration is given to each and every expense as we try to be as efficient and effective as possible.”

The Diocese of Arlington is not legally or financially connected with any other archdiocese or diocese, so its assets could never be used toward another’s debts or legal claims. As with many large organizations, the Diocese of Arlington manages a self-insurance program covering property, general liability, automobile and employment practices that includes sexual misconduct insurance. “Everything falls into one of these categories,” said Cotnoir.

“Since the inception of the diocese in 1974, no funds from parishes or the diocese have been used toward a settlement of sexual misconduct involving minors other than regular insurance premium fees,” he said. “In the past 45 years, since our diocese was established, $110,000 has been paid out of the insurance program to cover sexual misconduct by clergy involving minors.”

The Office of Child Protection and Victims’ Assistance was established in 2002, and approximately $3 million has been directed toward healing and assisting victims of sexual abuse since then.  Cotnoir said, “These victims are people who happen to reside in the Diocese of Arlington and are suffering the deep wounds of sexual abuse to whom we reach out to in love and support.”  This office assists all victims of abuse from any individual, not just clergy. 

As with parish second collections, funds collected for the annual Bishop’s Lenten Appeal are earmarked for specific uses, primarily pastoral programs. Approximately 50 percent of the diocesan budget comes from the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal. The theme of this year’s Bishop’s Lenten Appeal is “Together in the Light of Christ.” The announcement weekend for the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal is Feb. 23-24, when priests will be explaining the importance of the Bishop’s Lenten Apppeal at all Masses. 

Next week’s article will focus on the programs funded by the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal and an explanation of its importance.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019