The Catholic Church on Long Island is one of the least transparent Roman Catholic dioceses nationwide on financial matters, tied for 166th out of 177 dioceses, according to a report by an advocacy group.
Voice of the Faithful, a Massachusetts-based group of lay people aimed at reforming the Catholic Church, said the Diocese of Rockville Centre is heading in the opposite direction of most dioceses, which are becoming more transparent.
“They’re doing very poorly. And even more concerning to me is they’re going down,” said Margaret Roylance, vice president of VOTF, which has linked a lack of financial transparency to the clergy sex abuse scandal.
“The trend is for scores to go up," Roylance said.
What to know
- The Catholic Church on Long Island is one of the least transparent Roman Catholic dioceses in the nation on financial matters, an advocacy group says.
- The Diocese of Rockville Centre tied for 166th out of 177 dioceses in a study, according to the Voice of the Faithful.
- The diocese scored 30 out of 100 possible points.
She added of the Diocese of Rockville Centre: "They’re obviously not making any effort to share. They’re going in the wrong direction.”
The diocese, which declared bankruptcy in October 2020 because of lawsuits from the sex abuse scandal, declined to comment on the VOTF survey.
As part of its analysis, VOTF looked at whether a diocese’s financial information was easily accessible on its website and whether it provided details about annual "appeals," or fundraising campaigns.
It also looked at whether dioceses listed contacts for their financial and accounting officials as well as the names of members of the diocesan financial council.
How dioceses and parishes conducted their weekly collections and processed them was also examined. VOTF has conducted the annual survey since 2017.
Each diocese received anywhere from 0 to 25 points on each question, though most had a maximum score of 10. The top possible total score was 100.
Rockville Centre scored 30 points this year, according to the report, down from 40 points in 2021. The diocese scored lower this year because unlike in 2021, it failed to share information on the “cathedraticum," a tax that the diocese levies on parishes to keep ministries and other functions going, Roylance said. It also took a hit of 25 points on the scoring for failing to post audited financial statements.
In the past, diocesan officials have said they declared bankruptcy as an attempt to preserve the ministries of the church. Rockville Centre, with 1.4 million Catholics, is one of the largest dioceses in the country.
VOTF, which formed after the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal broke in 2002, initially in Boston, said that if dioceses had been more open about their finances — including payments to clergy sex abuse survivors — much of the abuse could have been prevented because of public awareness.
“Financial transparency can help address an array of problems that emerged within the Church in recent centuries,” the group wrote in the report, released last week.
“One is the horror of clergy sexual abuse," the report said. "If Catholics had known and had demanded change decades ago, and if the bishops had implemented it, many children could have been spared the devastation that comes in the wake of such abuse.”
Rockville Centre was tied for 166th place with dioceses in Alexandria, Louisiana; Helena, Montana; and Steubenville, Ohio. Five dioceses in the country including in Orlando, Florida, Scranton, Pennsylvania, and upstate Rochester, landed perfect scores of 100.
Seven dioceses, including Brownsville and El Paso in Texas, scored below Rockville Centre, landing in the 20s. St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands ranked last with 7 points.
John Salvseson, who alleges he was abused by a priest in Oyster Bay's St. Dominic's parish for several years starting in 1969, said it is "astonishing that in this day and age … the laity in the Diocese of Rockville Centre allows that kind of secrecy to continue."
"Who's holding them accountable?" he said, referring to church leaders. “I guess the answer is: It seems to be no one."
The diocese has said in the past that it condemns sexual abuse by clergy and tried to reach out to survivors with financial assistance and counseling.
Roylance said Rockville Centre has "a history of bishops very zealously guarding their authority."
Most dioceses, she said, “have moved on past that and realized that communicating with the members of their diocese about finances does enhance trust … Rockville Centre is not one of them."