Monika Scott is the chief financial officer for the Anchorage Archdiocese — a post that brings the born-and-raised Alaskan face-to-face with the challenge of funding one of the largest geographical dioceses in the nation.
“We’re trying to support every part of the body,” Scott told the Catholic Anchor last month. “We do our best to try to support our rural and local parishes.”
But with 29 parishes and missions spread across 138,000 square miles, the task of keeping the support ministries of the broader archdiocese afloat isn’t easy. This is especially true when it comes to assisting the most remote areas which are only accessible by plane.
For the past 15 years, Scott has crunched numbers in an ongoing quest to help a relatively young and financially challenged mission archdiocese carry out the work of the Catholic Church in Southcentral Alaska.
Now in the midst of the One Bread, One Body Annual Catholic Appeal, Scott said this yearly fundraiser accounts for more than a quarter of the annual budget for the archdiocese. The appeal, which brings in money from parishes across the archdiocese, goes to fund a wide range of services.
“It’s a huge part of our operating budget, and the income from the appeal goes a long way toward funding much of our outward ministries as well as some fundamental services,” Scott said.
She emphasized that the archdiocese is a key structural component of the Catholic Church. She used the scriptural analogy of a body with many parts. If parishes make up the limbs and organs, the archdiocese, under the direction of Archbishop Paul Etienne is like the larger overall body.
“We’re trying to support every part of the body,” Scott said.
What does that support entail?
While most area parishes fund their own priests and local parish-based ministries, the archdiocese focuses on areas of broader, common concern for all parishes. The archdiocese supports priest coverage across all parishes. This includes subsidizing priest salaries and benefits at the parish level, which costs about $300,000 a year, and recruiting and training priests and deacons for ministry — another $250,000 a year.
The archdiocese also uses the annual appeal to fund Hispanic, Alaska Native and multicultural ministries; youth evangelization; support for Catholic schools; rural and family life ministries; faith formation; accounting and software implementation — all of which costs about $550,000 annually.
Additionally the appeal funds operations that are mandated by universal church law. These include the office of the tribunal, the chancery and the finance officer (see related article on page 16). These offices deal with marriages, annulments, official documents and archives, and the financial workings and practices of the entire archdiocese.
“The finance and business administration department of the archdiocese administrates all the insurances and benefits for all the parishes, agencies, their employees and families,” Scott explained. “We work hard to negotiate better rates and keep good plans for the whole body. We are also tasked with all the required reporting on behalf of all agencies, like the Affordable Health Care reporting.”
To fund these multi-layered operations, the archdiocese relies on parishes to contribute to the annual appeal. Parishes are assessed a certain amount each year, determined by their gross income, minus any exemptions such as building projects, investment income and school support, if parishes provide support to a Catholic school.
Last year the annual appeal raised more than $1 million of the nearly $3.6 million overall budget for the archdiocese. Of the funds raised, roughly $175,000 was returned as parish rebates. The remaining funds for last year’s budget came from parish support, grants, donations, contributions, fees and rental properties.
While the challenge of keeping the archdiocesan offices and outreaches running on a lean budget means putting in some long days, Scott said working for the church has its rewards too.
Before homeschooling her two daughters for the better part of a decade, she worked for various for-profit companies in the field of accounting and software, including an insurance company where she managed the payroll for nearly 200 employees. Working for the church isn’t the same, she observed.
“Working here has a totally different feel — the goal is mission driven,” Scott said. “I’ve just always enjoyed being part of the family here within the archdiocese. I’ve always loved the people here. I really enjoy when I’m able to help a parish get on board with their accounting and build a depth of parish management. Since the day I came here, it felt like home.”
Her work on the annual appeal began 11 years ago with its initial launch. Each year the appeal kicks off at the end of April and accepts pledges through December 31. Most dioceses do something similar.
But unlike larger, more established dioceses with centuries of history and extensive financial support and investments, the annual appeal for the Anchorage Archdiocese carries with it a certain sense of urgency.
In past years the archdiocese did not generally reach its financial goals and was not able to count on a budgeted income. To address this, the archdiocese changed the approach to the annual appeal. Now each parish goal is a guaranteed number. If a parish does not reach the full amount of its goal, the remainder becomes an assessment to be paid to the archdiocese.
This new approach provides a measure of financial security for the archdiocese, but Scott said it also highlights the need to better explain to parishioners why the annual appeal is necessary.
“I empathize with parishes, but here in Alaska we just don’t have the population to really build deep pockets and have the money to provide the ministries and administration we need to do,” she said.
One such ministry is assisting parishes that simply don’t have the resources to afford a priest, like remote communities and small villages where a priest must fly in to celebrate Mass.
In those cases, the archdiocese provides subsidies and covers the cost of flying priests to and from the far-flung communities.
While older dioceses might rely on large endowments and deep financial reserves for such ministries, that’s not an option in Alaska, Scott said.
“We don’t live in a place that has centuries of presence and old money,” she observed. “We are still a young, baby diocese and we don’t have the depths of reserves. Without an annual appeal the whole ministry section of the archdiocese could not survive.”
Scott emphasized that the archdiocese is not “stacking away money,” but runs on a lean budget. “We don’t have rich stores or art museums down in the basement,” she said. “We are operating on this money and sending so much back out.”