By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — The U.S. bishops, nearly two months after the issue was presented to them at their fall general meeting in Baltimore, approved a 3% increase in their diocesan assessment for 2021.
“Yes” votes were recorded by 130 bishops — exactly the number of votes needed to pass the measure.
On Nov. 11, the first day of their Baltimore meeting, the bishops had given their OK to a budget nearing $22.69 million for 2020. That vote, 211-11 with one abstention, required a majority of bishops present and voting.
But the diocesan assessment increase required instead a “yes” vote from two-thirds of diocesan and eparchial bishops for it to pass. With 195 such bishops, two-thirds represents 130 bishops.
The final vote was 130 bishops voting yes, 62 voting no and three abstentions.
Chieko Noguchi, director of public affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, confirmed the results in a Jan. 10 email to Catholic News Service, adding the bishops have been notified of the results.
The original vote Nov. 11 was inconclusive, 111-55 with three abstentions. Under USCCB statutes, bishops not present are mailed ballots to help generate a final tally.
The bishops had voted for 3% assessment increases to take effect in 2017 and 2019, representing revenues of $339,000 and $349,000, respectively. The 2021 increase is expected to generate close to $480,000.
“For the majority (62%) of dioceses, this will mean an average monthly increase of less than $150,” Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati, USCCB treasurer, told the bishops in a message prior to the November meeting. The last time a special assessment was approved, he added, was for the 2007 budget.
During the meeting, Archbishop Schnurr dispelled the notion that dioceses are required to contribute as much to the Vatican’s upkeep as they do to the USCCB’s operations.
He characterized it as “a misunderstanding,” adding this had its origins during an address to the USCCB in the early 1990s from U.S. Cardinal Edmund Szoka, who at the time was president of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs of the Holy See, the Vatican’s budget management office.
In the cardinal’s remarks, “he said one interpretation of Canon 1271” was to pay equivalent amounts both to the national bishops’ conference and the Vatican, said Archbishop Schnurr, who was working at USCCB headquarters at the time. But such a policy “was never voted on,” he added.
“That was only Cardinal Szoka’s suggestion. It never went any further than that.” The amount contributed to the Vatican, he added, is “really left up to the individual diocese.”