By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
At the first Parish Corporate Board meetings since Bishop Thomas Zinkula’s installation in June, discussion topics included Safe Environment compliance, taxation and evangelization.
“Nothing much has happened this year, except for going from A to Z,” Vicar General Father Tony Herald said with a laugh, referring to the transition from Bishop Emeritus Martin Amos to Bishop Zinkula. The Parish Corporate Board met for its annual meetings Oct. 8 and Oct. 12 at the St. Vincent Center in Davenport. Parish leaders were also able attend the meetings remotely at various sites in the diocese.
Bishop Zinkula noted that the Diocese of Davenport once again passed its U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Safe Environment audit, conducted in August. The USCCB Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People requires churches, schools and youth organizations to ensure that youths and vulnerable adults who worship, study or participate in activities sponsored by a parish can do so in the safest and most secure setting possible. The charter requires all dioceses to have a program in place, but does not dictate which program to use.
Although the Diocese of Davenport’s program passed the national audit, local compliance has dropped for the third straight year. “This concerns me a little,” Bishop Zinkula said. The diocesan Safe Environment policy states that anyone working with children in the Diocese of Davenport, whether paid or unpaid, must fulfill certain requirements, based on position. Anyone who has the potential to be alone with children or vulnerable adults must pass an initial background check, receive initial training and renew requirements at designated intervals, for example. Parish and school leaders are responsible for making sure requirements are being met.
Bishop Zinkula urged the group to “step up” and make sure no one falls through the cracks as it relates to background checks, VIRTUS training and other diocesan Safe Environment requirements. “If there is anything we can do to avoid the sexual abuse of a minor, we should do it. I think it’s worth it, even if it’s just one kid.”
Virginia Trujillo, diocesan Safe Environment coordinator, later told The Catholic Messenger that the noncompliance Bishop Zinkula spoke of comes as a result of people not receiving initial background checks or training, or not renewing on time. She is working with entities struggling to comply with the requirements and noted that she and other diocesan officials have been brainstorming ways to increase compliance.
Additionally, Bishop Zinkula addressed the importance of filing corporate resolutions prior to signing contracts. “Sometimes contracts are signed before filing corporate resolutions, and that can come back to bite us. The purpose of (corporate resolutions) is to protect parishes and schools.” Fr. Herold added that it’s important to have the diocesan finance department go through contracts with a “fine-toothed comb,” calling corporate resolutions “safety nets.”
Fr. Herold briefly spoke about the role of a parish lay director, noting that a general description of the role can be found online. Some parishes have their own bylaws regarding the position, but they generally don’t differ much from the description found online.
Speaking off-the-cuff, Fr. Herold shared some recent statistics out of the Pittsburgh Diocese, which reveal a sharp decline in the number of self-identified Catholics there. “I don’t think that’s an anomaly,” he said. While clergy and lay directors need to be concerned about fiduciary and temporal aspects of their jobs, “we have no choice but to be concerned about evangelization and discipleship,” as well.
He then handed the microphone to Nikki Gartner, the diocese’s Chief Financial Officer. She offered insight and examples of instances in which parishes and schools, as nonprofit organizations, may be subject to Unrelated Business Income Taxes (UBITs).
Things such as envelope offerings, tuition fees, dividends, interest, gains bingo, real property and occasional craft or food fundraisers are not subject to taxation, she said. However, any aspect of a church or school that has the appearance of running as a regularly carried on, for-profit business – even if the money is going back to the non-profit entity – could be subject to taxation. UBITs also extend to the leasing and rental of land and property in some instances.
Gartner urged parishes and schools to “keep good records” of their activities and be aware of instances in which they might be subject to taxation.
Following Gartner’s presentation, Bishop Zinkula told the group that that he didn’t expect them to be experts on the subject of UBITs. He urged anyone with questions to consult with the diocesan finance department, a Certified Finance Officer or a lawyer. When it doubt, ask, echoed Gartner.