The Church must not be privileged, we want reports

Zagreb, 10.02.2019 - Središnje euharistijsko slavlje u èast blaženog Alojzija Stepinca, na Blaženikov spomendan, predvodio je zagrebaèki nadbiskup kardinal Josip Bozaniæ. Na fotografiji Josip Bozaniæ. foto HINA/ Admir BULJUBAŠIÆ/ abu

As an organisation that advocates transparency, Gong calls on the Catholic Church, the biggest religious group in the Republic of Croatia, to publicly issue its annual financial reports.

Gong wrote to the Cardinal Josip Bozanić and the president of the Croatian Conference of Bishops Želimir Puljić and invited them to issue the financial reports to the public.

“Contrary to other non-profit organisations that have to issue their financial reports in the register governed by the Ministry of Finance and is accessible to the public, religious groups do not have to do that.

We feel that that exclusion is unjust and detrimental to the society. Transparency and openness are the basic principles of good management and good governance that is promoted by international organisations, including the European Union.

The benefits of transparency are seen in higher levels of accountability, lower discretion and arbitrariness, lower levels of corruption, informed citizenship and therefore a better quality of democracy and the rule of law.

In the Church itself there are individuals that care about transparency, for example, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dubrovnik publishes annual financial reports. According to the research that the organisation CESI conducted in 2013, 83% of the citizens that declare themselves as religious think that the Catholic Church should issue financial reports on how they spend money, including donations.

Seeing that the Vatican issues annual financial reports, we invite the Church to follow that good example and make an important step towards transparency by issuing financial reports that will show all the incomes, the ones from the national budget, local authorities, contributions from the church-goers, as well as the overall assets in the balance sheets.

We invite The Church to issue annual financial reports, even thought it is not a legal requirement, and in that way show its commitment to a more just society for everyone,” the Gong’s open letter states.

We also addressed the Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and the Minister of Finance Zdravko Marić, asking that they change the law and equate the Catholic Church in Croatia with other non-profit organisation that are required to issue their financial reports to the public.

“We ask that religious groups issue the financial reports on all their incomes to the public and that all the provisions of the law pertaining to all the other non-profit organisations also pertain to them.

As users of the national budget, even smaller organisations than Gong have to have procedures for planning and financial reporting that resemble controlling – which is usually an obligation of the large companies, banks and corporations. Big religious organisations like the Catholic Church, which obviously have access to much more capital than organisations, do not answer to the public for transparent management of the public money, although they are financed from the national budget.

The laws have to be the same for everyone, the rich and the powerful must not be privileged. Croatia is a country in which the organisations of paraplegics and bird lovers have to issue financial reports, and the Church, which annually gets more than 600 million Kuna and owns a lot of real estate, does not have to do that. The public has the right to know how the Church is being financed and how that money is spent,” the letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance states.

Gong is a Centre of Knowledge in the area of Civil Activism and the Building of Democratic Institutions within the framework of Development Cooperation with the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.