Protecting the widow’s mite
Protecting the widow's mite
Since the recent revelation that millions of dollars were kept off the balance sheet of The Vatican, several questions have been raised about how local churches account for the thousands of dollars they collect each week in offerings and tithes.
But senior churches leaders across the island last week argued that systems are in place to account for any money collected, and it is unlikely that any properly run church in Jamaica will be in the position of The Holy See, where millions of dollars went unnoticed.
According to the clergymen, in most cases locally, the pastor or minister does not have direct access to the church's money, and all decisions on spending are made collectively.
According Bancroft Barwise, treasurer of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, different groups monitor and manage the church's income, and at all levels, accountability is key.
"We have a system of checks and balances, so the different levels of the organisation and all our organisations - from local church, conference, union and division of the world church - are audited annually," said Barwise.
"There is auditing at every level. We use the SunSystems, which is one of the best accounting software in the world. It is used by all the major Fortune 500 companies," added Barwise.
He said the different committees that are set to manage the church finances provide reports for each entity, region, division and union to prevent any form of fraud and theft.
"The pastors don't handle the church's money at all. Somebody has to be accountable," noted Barwise.
Pastor Errol Bolt, leader at the Kencot Christian Fellowship, said his church also has systems to ensure accountability.
"Our treasurer heads the finance ministry and the treasurer and the finance ministry are accountable to the elders and deacons," said Bolt.
"The board, including the pastor, handles no funds. The only money I handle is my salary."
According to Bolt, the members of the church are presented with monthly and yearly reports on the allocation of money, and if there are concerns, these have to be resolved.
Bolt, who agrees that churches found to be misappropriating frauds need to be exposed, said tight monitoring is needed to maintain the church's integrity and to prevent problems.
The Reverend Al Miller, head of the Fellowship Tabernacle, agreed that most churches have established ways to monitor and manage their income and expenditure.
"Most churches are from a certain denomination, and so there will be a similar system of monitoring the finances," said Miller.
"And even independent churches adopt the same system, so monitoring of church finances is done in a strict manner," added Miller.
Late last month, The Vatican's economy czar disclosed that The Holy See's finances are in better shape than he thought, revealing that hundreds of millions of euros were kept off the balance sheet.
In a frank essay published in Britain's The Catholic Herald, Cardinal George Pell outlined his vision for a Vatican that follows international accounting standards, is transparent and audited externally, and uses its proceeds to help the poor.
In the essay, Pell disparaged the Vatican's past practices of financial secrecy, defending fiefdoms and dragging its feet in implementing international anti-money-laundering norms.