Mississippi Diocese Fires Staff Who Uncovered Financial Irregularities

News: US News
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by Anita Carey  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  October 17, 2019   

Catholic Charities implicated

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JACKSON, Miss. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A former financial director is suing the diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, for wrongful termination after he was fired for trying to shield the diocese's assets from being raided by Catholic Charities.

The Clarion-Ledger reported that on Oct. 2, Arie de Lange, the former chief financial officer for the Catholic diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, filed a lawsuit with Hinds County Circuit Court against the diocese and its ordinary, Bp. Joseph Kopacz, alleging he was fired in retaliation for his warnings about the budgetary practices of the diocese. 

De Lange worked for the diocese for almost a decade and during that time, he was also a board member of Catholic Charities of Jackson, Mississippi. 

De Lange alleges in his suit that he was fired in 2018 after he warned that the diocese's finances were too closely linked to Catholic Charities of Jackson, Mississippi. Identified by an independent auditing firm, Catholic Charities has a sweep account that is directly linked to the checking account of the diocese. 

If Catholic Charities was lacking funds at any time, they could take money directly out of the diocese's account without a formal request or permission.

This is shown in the audits of Catholic Charities. In the 2015 report, it notes: "The Organization receives advances from the Catholic Diocese of Jackson ... Deposit and Loan Fund to provide working capital for operations when needed." 

In June 2015, Catholic Charities received an "unsecured" advance of $85,930. In 2015 and 2016, the latest financials available, Catholic Charities, Inc. had assets averaging just over $2 million.

In 2018, de Lange objected to Catholic Charities' proposed budget that in effect made the diocese the guarantor of Catholic Charities.


The lawsuit alleges Bp. Kopacz began looking for ways to fire him in 2016 after de Lange refused to support a resolution naming Bp. Kopacz as the interim executive director of the diocese. De Lange opposed the resolution because it created a potential conflict. 

The conflict was that board members have the authority to fire the executive director, but in this case, since they were also employees of Bp. Kopacz, they couldn't. 

De Lange noted that the financial administrator of the diocese doesn't serve the whim of the bishop and may have to make recommendations that are contrary to what the bishop wants.

According to canons 492 through 494 in the Code of Canon Law, which describes the role of the finance council and finance officer, a diocese must have a financial administrator. According to the Canon Law Society of America, their role is "not merely advisory." 

There are instances where the bishop is not mandated to follow the finance council's vote; in the matter of the diocesan budget, he is.

"The final responsibility for preparing the budget to be submitted to the diocesan bishop rests with the finance council," it notes.  

De Lange's discharge was retaliatory in nature based on his objection to the unrealistic budget proposed for Catholic Charities.

Around that same time, Catholic Charities was developing their five-year strategic plan that involved a major advertising campaign and "the addition of a COO working with Bp. Kopacz, who acts as the CEO for the agency, along with a move into a new headquarters near downtown Jackson in 2017."  

This was coupled with the diocese's launch of a new mission, vision and set of "Pastoral Priorities."

For several years, Catholic Charities all over the country have been losing donations. In Boston, donations dropped from nearly $10 million to $7.1 million in one year. Some have speculated this is a result of the clerical sex abuse scandals.

Others believe this is the result of the work of The Lepanto Institute and other Catholic media have done exposing their actions as contrary to the teachings of the Faith. 

Michael Hichborn, president of The Lepanto Institute, told Church Militant the heart of the problem is that organizations have "transformed charity into a profitable industry."

He added:

Such work used to be done by mendicant orders who put the salvation of souls first, assistance to the poor second and themselves very last. Saints like Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, Vincent de Paul, Mother Theresa and many others practiced the most severe forms of penance and mortification, living off mere scraps of food, clothing and shelter. But the CEOs and highest paid employees of Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services all make well over $150,000 a year ... in the name of helping the poor.

The suit claims that "Bp. Kopacz decided he would no longer tolerate any dissenting viewpoints and immediately implemented a plan to terminate him," The Clarion-Ledger reported. 

De Lange was initially fired on Oct. 3, 2018, but Bp. Kopacz rescinded it and placed him on administrative leave. In May, de Lange was notified by mail that his employment was terminated.

De Lange is asking for damages for his alleged wrongful termination, defamation and the emotional distress that was negligently and intentionally inflicted on him.

"The reasons proffered for de Lange's termination were false, pretextual, and did not rise to the level of grave reason," the lawsuit notes. "De Lange's discharge was retaliatory in nature based upon his reasonable objection to the unrealistic budget proposed for Catholic Charities and the potential adverse impact it posed to the diocese."

The archdiocese of Jackson released a statement on Wednesday noting their general policy is "not to comment on pending litigation and personnel matters." 

They added that the lawsuit noted their reasons for firing de Lange were that the diocese was in a "weakened financial and administrative condition," internal problems, an "unexpected large deficit" and difficulties in the working relationship between de Lange and the bishop. 

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