Stoppage of overseas donations to India!

In his Editorial “From ‘Receiving’ to ‘Giving’ Church” (Page 4 – The Herald July 11-17, 2014) the Editor has written: “Gone are the days when financial help was given by foreign donor agencies in order to educate and empower the developing India; but the donor agencies have seen that India is no more poor and its resources are adequate to educate all the children, feed every hungry stomach of the nation, and have withdrawn their support.”Isaac Harold Gomes (Kolkotta)

The actual reason for stoppage of overseas donations is continued economic slowdown in Europe and the US – which try to thrive on the Economics of Waras Pope Francis has said so aptly. Without big wars, their arms & ammunition and warplane manufacture facilities have virtually closed down. No war, no planned destruction, no reconstruction contracts, no money and therefore no donation to India! 

Another reason is the Vatican Bank Scandal. The Vatican Bank reported on 8th July 2014 a huge drop of 97 per cent in its profit in 2013 after it took €28.5 million ($38.7 million) in write-downs on investments made during 2012 and early 2013. The losses stem, in part, from a €15 million loan to a company owned by a friend of Cardinal TarcisioBertone, who served until last year as the Vatican’s Secretary of State. Because of this unexplained and unabated evacuation of finance in the Church, donors do not take theChurch on face value anymore. In case of India, they first want to see a Church which is transparent and accountable in finance and administration of its temporal goods. Unabashed playing with the Church (Laity’s) money by some priests without any accountability (Fr Sebastian Kuzhipala who with the full knowledge of his Provincial Thomas Ellicherail vanished from Auxilium Parish Kolkata in June 2014 without any formal handover of cash, bank and assets to the new incumbent who too is only eager to wear the crown without any accountability is a clear case in point). There may be similar cases in other dioceses with the concerned authorities looking the other way. The way most priests flaunt the latest smart phones, tabs with the latest apps, cars and motorbikes, all in the name of “necessity” tells the story.  Since this lifestyle has not escaped the eyes of donors, donations from bona fide sources will be hard to come bywithout a transparent system in place. Also international banking norms and consequently Reserve Bank of India norms are changing. One of the new stipulations has made it compulsory for all charitable associations including Church bodies to operate only Current Accounts.  

The editor has remarked “in the absence of any external help, the Church in India is going through a crucial phase of trying to make both ends meet.” Does this mean churches have closed their FCRA Bank Accounts which require them to maintain separate account book listing all overseas donations received, get it audited by a Chartered Accountant and submit it to Home Ministry every year? How is it that suddenly the Indian Church is finding it quite hard to “make both ends meet?” This means when the foreign donation was in full flow, it was making merry without any accountability or thoughts for the rainy day. During the Laity Sunday Seminar at Seva Kendra Kolkata on 29th June 2014, on the theme “Laity’s involvement in the decision making”, one well-known Priest speaker said that the Laity should be always alert and question the clergy. He narrated an anecdote where a powerful priest was handling a very big project and siphoned out good sums of money to buy a four-wheeler for his brother and also to fund house-building for a newly married relative. He came to know of this case from his priest students whom he had taught! Quoting from the Exhortations of Pope Francis he said that the Laity should be “Bold and Creative” to keep the clergy on its toes.

Regarding being a ‘giving’ Church, one which would take care of the needs of pastors and pastoral initiatives, first each parish priest has to come clean on all receipts and payments. Receipts would include overseas and local donations and not only “meagre Pastoral Support collection” as the Editor has written. The Parish Priest has to be very transparent in all his dealings and must place Audited Accounts before the parishioners and Parish Finance Committee before he appeals to parishioners for donations. The more candid and accountable he is, the more fruitful the result of his appeal will be. 

The editor has stated that those who have benefited from the Church and are now well-off should support the initiatives of their respective parishes. He is correct but for this also transparency in parish finance is a must. Creation of a computerized family database in each parish will generate data on parishioners’ financial health and give a clear picture of how equipped a parish is to meet its pastoral needs in a scientific and transparent manner. Rich parishes may set up a Corpus Fund to help poor parishes particularly in Education and Health. Access to a consolidated database of all parishes in an archdiocese / diocese will give the Archbishop /Bishopa panoramic view of the Family Health under his jurisdiction.  This database on an all India basis, will give CBCI, the apex body of India’s Catholic Church a sector-wise picture (population, education, age group, health, economic health, profession, need for aid, etc.) of the Familyin India. Experts in various professional fields can be culled from this database and their help solicited to solve various Church issues including identification of talent and their training.

The Editor is playing with words by stating that “All the parishes have been urged to form Parish Finance Committees” because the ground reality is many parish priests are dragging their feet on the matter.  These priests are extremely allergic to transparency, accountability, checks and balances.  The deadline set by the Archbishop was 1st October 2014. It is clear even his mandate has fallen on deaf ears.

The Editor’s remark “Building the Church is a Corporate Venture” is interesting. Does he mean funds for the Church will come from Indian Corporates? Corporate Venture will give the Church access to funds earmarked for Corporate Social Responsibility which has come into effect from 1st April 2014 as per the Indian Companies Act, 2013 (the “New Act”). Under this act, every company with a net worth of at least Rs 500 crore, or a minimum turnover of Rs 1,000 crore, or a minimum net profit of Rs 5 crore, is obligated to spend two per cent of its net profits for undertaking and promoting socially beneficial activities and projects in India such as promoting education, gender equality, women’s empowerment, improving maternal health, or ensuring environmental sustainability. As reported in the Economic Times dated 11 July 2014, India’s second largest IT firm Infosys said it will contribute Rs 240 crore this fiscal to its philanthropic arm, Infosys Foundation, for funding corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. The Bangalore-based firm has already contributed USD 8 million (Rs 48 crore) in the first quarter ended June 30, 2014, to Infosys Foundation.

So without looking out for foreign funds, the Indian Church can tap huge funds within India only provided it is transparent in its dealings and in accounts. Is the clergy ready to meet the test of truthfulness which it always preaches from the pulpit? 

Recently (7-10th January 2015) CBCI Office for Social Communications conducted a Workshop for Diocesan Directors of Social Communications at Nitika Don Bosco Kolkata.  I represented Calcutta Archdiocese.  All along Fr George Plathottam, Secretary CBCI, stressed on two key words : Transparency and Accountability for the Church.

PS: A shortened version of the above article was given to the Herald. But it has not been published as the Editor relishes in choking the voice of the Laity. Herald now-a-days is full of cut and paste news mainly from Ucanews and without any letters to the editor and original articles from the laity.  

Isaac Harold Gomes

Member ICPA


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