Sunday, 10 February 2013

Parishioner Donations Thrown Away

Burning Parishioner's Money

A reader recently wrote to me about his concern that his parish was wasting parishioner’s donations to the Church in order to pay for copies of The Southern Cross newspaper even though they had not actually been sold to anyone. 

The concerns raised in my readers email did not come as a surprise to me.  It is not the first time that one of my readers has raised this concern with me and my personal experience, at my own parish, confirms this concern to be a reality.

The sale of The Southern Cross newspaper is theoretically supposed to work something along these lines.  A parish advises the newspaper how many copies of the newspaper they require each week.  These are delivered to the parish every week.  The following week, when that new week’s copies of the newspaper are delivered, any unsold copies of the newspaper, from the previous week, are supposed to be returned.  The parish is then charged for the unreturned copies of the newspaper, which the newspaper, rightly I might add, assumes was sold because they were not returned.

This is a very good practical system.  The problem in this system lies only with the failure of each parish to take the trouble to return the unsold copies of the newspaper every week.  As chairman of the Parish Finance Committee I soon discovered that unsold copies of The Southern Cross simply lay around the back of the church until eventually they were thrown away.  All because no one in the parish bothered to make the effort to hand back these unsold copies, when the new batch of newspapers was delivered, or informed the newspaper to deliver fewer copies of the newspaper each week based on average real sales in the parish.  

In the case of my parish it was not a lot of newspapers being thrown away.  Let’s call it 10 a week at a cost of R6 per newspaper.  (R240 per month)  So we are not speaking about a significant sum of money.  However, assume this problem is taking place in every parish in South Africa.  The size of the payments being made to the newspaper every week from parishioner’s donations to the Church, just for the privilege of throwing a pile of newspaper into the dustbin every week, begins to add up.  Let’s not even go down the road of considering the effect all this wasted unnecessary paper is having on our environment.

Parishes simply cannot afford to waste parishioner’s donations in this way.  It is money hard earned by parishioners, which was donated in good faith to the Church so that it can be used wisely for the common good of the Church.  Our parish would have used the money far more wisely if, instead of paying for the unsold newspapers, we bought 24 loaves of bread each month and gave them away to those who needed food.

I don't need to explain the other obvious problem with not returning unsold copies of The Southern Cross.  Running a newspaper is an expensive operation.  Printing copies of the newspaper that are not needed simply increases the costs of the newspaper unnecessarily.  Costs that they could have used more productively for the benefit of South African Catholics by another means.  

In addition, the bishops and the board of the newspaper obtain a skewed impression of the state of health of our South African Catholic media because of this practice of not returning newspapers. Unaware that readers are not actually buying the South African national Catholic newspaper leads to an inability by the board and the South African Catholic Bishops Conference to identify problems and adapt the newspaper accordingly.

Parish Finance Committees need to pay attention to the details of what is happening in practice to the money donated to their parish by parishioners.  Every cent must not only be accounted for, but the Parish Finance Committee should ask itself if it would be comfortable to stand up in front of the parish and personally explain what they did with it.  I do not know many people who would be comfortable standing in front of the parish and telling them that each month they throw R320 into the dustbin, just because they couldn't be bothered returning the unsold newspapers.