The Chancery: There when needed
This column is perhaps more informative than inspiring, but it results from my ministry as a liaison between the Chancery (which is the bishop’s offices and staff) and the good Catholic priests and parishioners across our diocese. In my contact with them, they often ask the same types of questions: What does the Chancery and its staff do for us? Why do parishes pay an assessment to Chancery? Don’t they already have enough money? To provide a good answer, it is helpful to note that three kinds of revenue provide for Chancery operations.
First, income from investments: the use of this income is often restricted. For example, the seminarian fund can only be used to help prepare our future priests. To do otherwise would be unethical and illegal. Therefore, the diocese always respects the donor intention and uses the funds as promised.
Second, income from the Catholic Appeal (formerly the Bishop’s Appeal): like many organizations (i.e., the United Way, private colleges and hospitals, etc.), our annual appeal asks Catholic donors, like you, to support particular ministry-related costs. For example, the Catholic Appeal pays for the chaplains who minister in our major medical centers throughout Maine (Bangor, Augusta-Waterville, Lewiston and Portland); funds campus ministry so that college students have the presence of the Church while away from home; provides a retirement fund for the teachers in our Catholic schools; funds the Harvest magazine you are reading; underwrites certain faith formation programs like youth and young adult ministry; contributes to the good works of Catholic Charities Maine; and supports many other ministries.
Third, income from the parish assessment: as citizens, we pay taxes to the state; in return, the state provides specialized services to municipalities in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. Likewise, local parishes are assessed by the diocese; in return, the diocese provides certain services for all 56 parishes in Maine. The assessment rate is based upon the recommendation of the Diocesan Finance Council (an advisory board made up of laypeople with expertise in various areas of business like insurance, property, investments, accounting, etc.) and the College of Consultors (another advisory board comprised of priests). In the Diocese of Portland, the assessment rate is 12.75%.
Did you know that more than half of the total diocesan assessment (6.75%) is allocated to cover a portion of the cost of the salary, health and pension premiums of the priests who serve in our parishes and hospitals? In other words, this portion of the assessment does not stay with the Chancery. In fact, it directly benefits parishes.
This means that less than half of the total diocesan assessment (6%) is used to operate the diocese itself. Yet, even this portion of the assessment also benefits parishes because it pays all legal costs incurred by parishes (for example, when parishes buy, sell or lease property, enter into legal contracts, or are involved in any variety of legal disputes). It also provides pastors with professional advice related to personnel matters and operates both our diocesan-wide computer and video-conferencing systems.
So does the diocese have enough resources? Not really. Along with the services mentioned in this article, the diocese also provides many other supports for and ministries to our Catholic people and parishes. But like most families, many businesses, and certainly like all of our parishes/clusters in recent years, the diocese has had to improve its already prudent stewardship of its limited resources. In fact, since 2008, the diocese has had to eliminate the equivalent of at least 10 full-time positions in order to maintain a balanced budget. This fact means that the remaining Chancery staff, who work on behalf of all of us and our parishes, are constantly striving to do more with less. And for that they are to be admired, respected and thanked!
And thank you for your generosity to your parish and to the diocese! Together, we are the Body of Christ — the Church entrusted to the apostles and the first Christians, then to our ancestors down through the centuries, and now to us and our children! May we all be conscientious and prudent stewards of the many blessings and graces that the Lord has given us through His Church.
Dubois Moderator of the Curia