The Baltimore Sun last week found that at least 115 Maryland churches have illegally contributed to political campaigns since 2000. The same day, The Washington Post reported on allegations of misappropriated funds in the Orthodox Church in America. Meanwhile, Roman Catholics in Boston, already outraged over charges of clergy sexual abuse, are still seething over the local archdiocese's decision to close and consolidate several parishes.

With such news stories and other perennial questions about the use of congregational funds, observers say the debate over requiring the disclosure of church finances isn't going away.

It has, however, suffered a major setback. The Massachusetts House rejected legislation January 25 that would have required religious organizations to file financial reports with the state. The bill was overwhelmingly defeated in the House by a 147-3 vote after passing in the Senate last fall.

The legislation would have required churches, synagogues, and mosques to file the same financial disclosure forms with the state that are required of other nonprofit organizations. Any organization with annual revenues of more than $500,000 would have needed to hire an independent auditor to file detailed financial reports every year.

Though the bill would have applied to all religious groups, the chief sponsor of the bill, Sen. Marian Walsh said frustration with the Massachusetts archdiocese sparked the creation of the bill. Lawmakers and lay Catholics have demanded more information from the archdiocese as it settled civil suits from the clergy sexual abuse crisis and closed several parishes.

"The incredible irresponsible events of one of the largest public charities were the genesis of this bill," said Walsh, a Democrat. ...

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