The American Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy and it is not a fund-raising organization, the head of the nation’s bishops felt it necessary to remind newsmen at the close of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ semiannual meeting last month. The two non-definitions are not unrelated.

The newsmen had been pressing the NCCB to open at least a portion of its meetings (at which decisions are made affecting the nation’s 47 million Catholics), and a vote last spring came within a hair of passing. But this time the bishops firmly clanked the doors shut for the foreseeable future by a three-to-one vote, thus keeping deliberations secret except for daily news briefings.

And a small but vocal liberal lay group had been pressuring the bishops for full and open uniform financial reports at all levels of the church. Although some headway is being made in this area, dioceses are still autonomous—and some are superclandestine on financial matters.

The finance squeeze was a dominant theme throughout the five-day conclave in Washington, D. C. The National Association of Laymen (NAL) upstaged the bishops in gaining the attention of the media the day the NCCB convened. Announcing that reluctance to fully disclose diocesan finances “verges on becoming a major scandal,” the NAL issued its own study of the recalcitrant dioceses’ finances and asserted that the Catholic Church hoards vast assets that could be liquidated to “strengthen the church’s credibility” and meet “the spiritual and material needs of the human family.”

Not so, retorted Archbishop Philip Hannan, chairman of the bishops’ press panel, and others, who said NAL “asset properties” were really “deficit-producing liabilities.” And NCCB president John Cardinal Dearden of ...

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