Massachusetts’ church finance bill moves ahead

.- A bill that would force the Archdiocese of Boston and other religious groups to disclose its finances moved another step forward this week.

State Representative and chairman of the Judiciary Committee Eugene O'Flaherty sent a bill to the House, reported the Boston Globe. While O’Flaherty’s decision moves the bill forward, it is being considered an unusual move since he did not return it to the bill’s chief sponsor in the Senate, Senator Mary Walsh.

The Catholic Church and other religious groups have voiced their strong opposition to the bill, which they say represents a serious government encroachment on religion.

It would require all religious organizations to file annual financial reports and a list of real-estate holdings with the attorney general's charities division. The bill emerged in the wake of the abuse scandals and financial problems that ensued.

Terrence Donilon, communications director for the archdiocese, said the passage of the bill and its implementation would cost the archdiocese more than $3 million, reported the Globe. Donilon said it would force the archdiocese to make further cutbacks.

The bill’s opponents have told legislators to hold off on the bill since the Archdiocese of Boston has developed a voluntary disclosure plan, which it released Oct. 21.

The archdiocese’s voluntary plan would require an audit and annual financial report of the archdiocesan accounts and an audit and financial report from all parishes every three years.

But advocates of the bill are not convinced that the archdiocese’s plan will guarantee full transparency, reported the Globe. As well, they say the plan does not guarantee that Archbishop Sean O'Malley—or a future archbishop—would not end the plan. The legislation, on the other hand, they argue, would be permanent.

They also argue that the voluntary plan does not include the three other dioceses in Massachusetts.

Some Catholics have shown support for the bill. According to the Globe, more than 300 people attended a hearing in August at the State House, with a large majority in favor of the legislation.

There is no guarantee that the bill will pass before the end of the legislative session, Nov. 16.

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