an investigation of financial transparency
and accountability

on the websites of Catholic parishes and dioceses
in the UK and way beyond

by HRH Gibbons
September 2019

  Welcome, wherever you're reading this


OpenBooks is a short report organised as a set of single topic pages about issues relevant to the required financial transparency and accountability in Roman Catholic parishes and dioceses across the UK - but applicable far and wide.

It should make a practical and informative contribution to discussion – in part by raising awareness of anomalies that may put at risk the reputation of and support for the Church. 

The pages cite many examples and quotes – to give an easy read with lots of surprises and smiles.

The core of OpenBooks is a review of finance-related content gathered over the past year or so from the websites of hundreds of Catholic parishes and dioceses – mainly in the UK but ranging worldwide.  In addition, the project looked at nearly all episcopal conferences, UK national charity regulators, and other denominations’ practices. 


OpenBooks complements but reaches far beyond other recent studies - such as the Voice of the Faithful surveys of all US dioceses.  Perhaps for the first-time, it explores on-line evidence of awareness and appreciation of – and compliance with - Canon 1287.2.  (NB The study didn’t include other forms of communication about parish finances – such as oral announcements, handouts, copies left in porches or on noticeboards.)

OpenBooks opens up areas for attention by dioceses.  On-line, many UK dioceses show blind spots in posting up-to-date annual reports, and do not provide information on the qualifications of the members of their finance councils.  Only a few make publicly available the procedures or guidelines relating to parish finances.  None show how Trustees know that Canon 1287.2 and its ethos are being fully respected.

In any UK diocese, all but a handful of parishes exhibit what might be called Webful Blindness. This is a failure to appreciate and use websites as a good way to store and share key documents about finances and decision-making.  Few websites show any evidence of annual meetings, reviews, accounts or minutes.  Most post weekly newsletters.

OpenBooks points to some simple actions that might help remedy matters - in a few days or weeks in dioceses; a little longer in parishes. Most of what's needed is already around – often as documents that just need putting in place.

OpenBooks explores other topics arising from the surveys.  These include the reliability of Mass attendance counts, alternative statistics, the range of parish funders, Gift Aid letters, and the cost of poor optics when dioceses close churches.

One topic is better appreciation of the public funding of the Church through Gift Aid - perhaps over half a billion pounds since the introduction of the scheme. For most Catholic parishes, HMRC is probably the biggest single source of income (maybe up to £30 million a year). So OpenBooks examines how parishes might choose to use their websites voluntarily to move towards something more akin to those which are charitable organisations in their own right, such as in the Church of England.


OpenBooks findings suggested some simple ideas that dioceses and parishes might appreciate and enjoy exploring. One is a quality assurance mark that confirms financial transparency, involving all parishioners and local schools.  Another is OpenHands, about showing off good outreach works.  And there's also an approach in appeals for increasing the offertory using fun with its sleeves rolled up.