Whistleblower Policy: Progress and Problems

As long-time readers know by now, one of the recurring themes on the blog has been that the archdiocese does not have a whistleblower policy and program in-place whereby anyone can report some sort of wrongdoing anonymously and have the concern investigated and acted upon without fear or risk of retaliation.  We raised this in detail in our posts Whistleblower Policy and Whistleblower Policy: Part 2 last September.  We are pleased to report there has been progress!  At the same time, there are still a few significant problems to be worked out.

Just to refresh your memory, archdiocesan auditors for years have been recommending such a policy.  Here is their recommendation:

“We recommend the implementation of an anonymous submission process where employee or donor concerns can be voiced directly to the [Finance Council/Archbishop/Board of Directors].”

The Finance Council has had oversight for this area in their charter since 2006 and nothing much happened until recent months.  Not long after BCI raised the issue of the whistleblower policy in our August 23 Open Letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Archdiocesan Leaders, coincidentally, the Chancellor suddenly started moving the project along at a somewhat faster pace.  A Code of Conduct policy is making the rounds at vicariate meetings and is being discussed by the Presbyteral Council, and implementation using a third-party service, EthicsPoint, is well underway.  It is still under construction, but you can get a preview of what the EthicsPoint implementation looks like here.  In case for some reason the page is deactivated after this post goes live, click on the image below to enlarge a snapshot of the page.

Someone has drafted a nice opening message from Cardinal O’Malley that reads, in part:

The Archdiocese of Boston has a firm commitment to financial transparency and fiscal responsibility…We also have provided numerous policies, procedures and trainings to assist our clergy and parish staffs to be better financial stewards.

Another important way that we can remain good stewards of the financial resources entrusted to us is to provide a confidential method of reporting suspected ethics violations, financial improprieties or other such matters to an independent third party for evaluation. EthicsPoint will assist the Archdiocese by providing that support, allowing our employees to report their concerns in a confidential manner.

There are categories of misconduct and sub-categories, including:
  • Financial, Auditing, Accounting and Stewardship Misconduct
  • Abuse of or Fraud with Benefits
  • Accounting, Auditing and Internal Financial Controls
  • Donor Stewardship
  • Embezzlement
  • Falsification of Contracts, Reports or Records
  • Theft (Larceny, Burglary, Robbery)
  • Time Abuse
  • Archdiocesan Employee Code of Conduct Violation or Misconduct
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Unsafe working conditions
  • Office of Professional Standards and Oversight

The description for “Donor Stewardship” is interesting: “

Funds directed to the organization have not been handled with the utmost truthfulness or not used in accordance with the donor’s intentions and wishes. Failure to provide due care with respect to the donor, and/or donation. Injury to the public trust.

This is all a good start and the effort to agree on a Code of Conduct policy is also positive.  But no one seems to realize the fatal flaws with the current path.

1) History of weak leadership and no decisive action when problems are known

When problems are known by the Finance Council, Cardinal, Vicar General and/or Chancellor today, often years pass with no action.  Why was the $20 million debacle with St. Cecilia allowed to happen and why does it continue with weak oversight?  Why were so many excessive six-figure salaries approved by the Chancellor, Cardinal and Finance Council, and why is it taking so long to rectify that situation? Is this situation not sufficiently clear as an injury to donor trust already?  Who owns fixing that? Why have vigils that cost millions of dollars to the archdicoese not been shut down by now–especially since many are frequently unoccupied?  These are all multi-million problems that represent a breach of fiduciary responsibility to donors and that are already well-known and understood, yet no one is doing anything about them.  How will EthicsPoint change that?

2) Routing of claims to people responsible for the problems, or to no one?

The whistleblower policy reporting process right now says that claims can be submitted anonymously, which is good.  But read this draft of the Reporting Process to see where the claims are sent:

Whether made through the Archdiocesan website or via the dedicated toll-free telephone hotline, all reports submitted through the Archdiocesan Hotline will be given careful attention by the appropriate Archdiocesan Vicar or Director. All reports submitted will be supervised by the Audit Committee of the Archdiocese of Boston Finance Council. If a submitted report references the Vicar or Director who is responsible for investigating in the area of concern of your report then they will be omitted from the reporting process.

Anyone else wondering what really will happen to the reports if the Vicar or Director responsible for that area is the Vicar General or Chancellor?  We know those people will be omitted from the reporting process, but then what happens to the report so it is investigated and acted upon?  Does it go into the black hole that represents Cardinal O’Malley’s “in-box”?  We know reports go to the Audit Committee of the Finance Council, but these are people with full-time jobs who do not meet often and are not charged with investigating claims–just supervising the process.  Who will do the impartial investigating?  And what if it is not a claim of financial wrong-doing, but a claim of a different nature?

Back in September, an insider commented:

“In my opinion, who is to say that you submit the claim, and those in high leadership positions will not continue to squash the claim. The problem really relies on top leadership and how they continue to deal with complaints that have facts to support it. Let’s wake up for once and see what is really going on in the Archdiocese of Boston. Let’s pray together and hopefully the Cardinal can get the Archdiocese back on track. This will require his own separate investigation away from the fluff that he is surrounded by every day, and that reflects the Truth about what continues to go on in the Archdiocese of Boston.”

We have held out high hopes that this new Code of Conduct policy and whistleblower policy could bring stronger ethics and a sense of stewardship and fiduciary responsibility to the Boston Archdiocese for the greater good of the Catholic Church in Boston.  (Selfishly, we also hoped it would be an effective mechanism for people to report wrongdoing and get those ethical breaches acted upon, and therefore might reduce the need for this blog down the road).

While we do commend the Archdiocese of Boston for the tremendous progress made to date on the policy and infrastructure, we feel compelled to share that the current implementation falls short. It allows anonymous submission and protects against retaliation, but does not seem to have a vehicle that ensures all claims will be fully investigated, reported, and acted upon–with independent authority at the highest level above the Chancellor, Vicar General, Jack Connors and others to expunge wrong-doing and corruption.

If the breaches of fiduciary responsibility BCI has reported for the past seven months have not been addressed yet, what will change with the new Code of Conduct and Whistleblower policy?

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6 Responses to Whistleblower Policy: Progress and Problems

  1. v.Stuart says:

    I hope you are subjected to the same procedures in your
    professional life.

    • Stuart,
      Thanks for your comment. Such policies are common in other dioceses, non-profit organizations, and private sector businesses. If you look at our prior posts, you can see examples from other dioceses. Without going into specifics, yes, this blogger needs to uphold certain professional standards of conduct.

      If an individual or organization is carrying out their duties in an ethical manner that is upholding fiduciary responsibilities, then why would they have any issue with an effective whistleblower policy?

  2. Former Employee says:

    Let’s hope this happens.

    I recall one incident when I was there when one of my coworkers expressed concern that massive amounts of donor information was being downloaded and taken by a outside consulting agency.

    The Cabinet Secretary stood and berrated her from the hall way so everyone could hear…..while doing nothing about her concerns.

  3. Molly says:

    I think this is a big step in the right direction. My company just implemented an EthicsPoint hotline which has a similar reporting policy. The key to ensuring it has the proper oversight is the Audit Committee. There should be a requirement that a summary of the hotline reports is presented at each Audit Committee meeting and an action plan to address the issues when applicable. It depends on the commitment of the Audit Committee members to see this through. The Audit Committee Chair should at least have regular involvement on the program.

  4. Dave says:

    It was not that many years ago when there was no need for all of this whistleblower policy window dressing. Can’t we just go back to staffing the place with ethical hard working people who took jobs at sub market pay in service to the Church. It seems that the price of all of the new brain children on the bridge is a lot more than the six figure salaries being paid?

  5. Michael says:

    Yes whenever you lower standards and bring in cronies there are additional costs.

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