— Archpriest Andrew Jarmus, OCA Director of Ministries and Communications
One of the hot topics of discussion in the OCA as we approach our 15th All-American Council is the proposed resolution submitted by the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania that would “fix the fair share amount of each of the participating dioceses at an amount not to exceed $50.00 per capita of the 2009 census of the participating dioceses for the next triennium.” The principle that motivates this proposed assessment reduction is a simple one: “less central Church and more diocesan Church.” At least the first part of this principle would certainly be fulfilled if the resolution passes since a reduction in diocesan assessments this radical would effectively shut down the OCA chancery, leaving a skeleton staff working on only the most basic of tasks required of a Church’s central administrative office.
“Less central Church and more diocesan Church.” After one of the Town Hall meetings this past summer a priest said to me, “Think of how much more our diocese could do if our financial obligation to the central administration was not so high.” Reduce the amount you fund the central Church so that you can better fund the diocese. Sounds good so far, but there is an important implication here that we need to recognize as we consider the above resolution.
The other day, I asked a priest this hypothetical question: “If the AAC reduced the assessment to the central Church by $30.00 what would the result be on the assessment invoice that your parish received from the diocese in 2009?” His response was that the invoice would be $30.00 less than 2008. I pointed out to him that this is not necessarily correct.
Remember, the premise behind the $50.00 assessment resolution is to support the central Church less so that you can support the diocese more: “less central Church and more diocesan Church.” Yes, a reduction in the fair share assessment to the central Church would mean that the dioceses would have more income for their own initiatives. However, it would still be up to the parishes in the dioceses to provide that income. When you take work away from the central Church so that the dioceses can do it you are also handing the diocese the expenses associated with getting that work done. Regardless of who is paying those expenses, the central administration or the dioceses, the source of the money to cover them is the same — the parishes.
To cut the assessment to the central administration to $50.00 per person would mean a reduction of about $52.00 from its current level. I wonder what the reaction of parishes would be when they discovered that their central Church assessment had been reduced by $52.00… and their diocesan assessment had increased by $52.00. A diocese could opt not to ask for the full $52.00 from its parishes. But the less income that the diocese has, the less work it can get done. If a diocese were to choose to leave the full $52.00 with the parishes, the premise that drives the resolution, “less central Church and more diocesan Church” is lost — if the diocese does not have the resources to do the work that the central Church can no longer do you are left with less central Church and no more diocesan Church than you started off with.
Another issue would be whether or not a diocesan chancery had the authority to ask for more money in the first place. Have any diocesan assemblies this year passed a 2009 diocesan assessment with a provision allowing the diocese’s administration to raise it if the above resolution passes, in order to cover the extra costs that would result? If not, I wonder how long it would be before a parish informed its diocesan chancery that it refused to pay anything extra because this increase had not been approved by a diocesan assembly.
The question of reducing assessments to the OCA chancery is not about parishes paying out less money; it is about reallocating where that money would go: “less central church and more diocesan church.” This has to be made clear. With this proposed assessment reduction there is no change in the parish’s “bottom line” and if there is it would be at the expense of ministry and support services. This is a very important point to consider because it has a bearing on how this resolution would play out if it passed. And it is better to understand possible outcomes and implications now than to get blind-sided later.
Obviously I am not impartial in this discussion, but that does not mean that what I am saying isn’t worthy of consideration. It is easy to come up with an idea to change something. But with the proposed change we also have to ask the question, “And then what?” To make an informed decision, one needs to understand as many aspects of that decision as possible… especially potential consequences. That’s the difference between looking back and recognizing that we have chosen a well-thought-out course of action, and looking back only to find that we’ve painted ourselves into a corner.