Clergy, Religious Bowing to Family Pressure to Misuse Church Funds: South African Prelate

South Africans protesting against the high rate of corruption in their country.
Credit: Public Domain

Priests and religious who are misappropriating funds meant for Church projects are doing so because of pressure from their families and friends who want financial support from the Clergy and Religious men and women, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of South Africa’s Umtata Diocese has said in his new month reflection shared with ACI Africa.

In the Tuesday, October 1 statement, Bishop Sipuka condemns corruption in the Church and urges family members to understand that a call to Religious Life is a sacrifice, cautioning them against expecting material gain from their sons and daughters who chose to serve God as Clergy and Religious.

He says that one of the cultural elements contributing to mismanagement of funds is the pressure to support family members “as if a Priest is earning a market related salary.”

“There is a temptation to forget on the side of the relatives that Priesthood is a sacrifice, and that family members and friends should not expect to be supported by their Priest son or Priest uncle as if he is working,” the South African Bishop says.

According to the President of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC), it is not fair for a Priest or a Religious person to spend Church money for his family and time and energy on family matters when he had voluntarily given himself or herself fully to God’s service.

He calls on Priests to avoid giving the impression to their families that they have access to “lots” of money and that they are 24 hours available to family matters.

“They (Priests and Religious) belong to the Church as a married person belongs to his/her family,” Bishop Sipuka says, and adds, “If this situation persists, one must think of making a choice and find a salaried job to meet one’s family.”

Bowing to family pressure to provide financial support, Bishop Sipuka says, is a form of “Culture and Clericalism” as contributing factors to the growing misappropriation of Church funds, which he has equated to corruption within the Church.

The culture of materialism, according to the South African Prelate who doubles as the Vice President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), is a temptation for some Priests and Religious who joined knowing that Priesthood is an invitation to a frugal way of life with the intention to serve and not to be served.

But as they progress towards the Priesthood and eventually become Priests, they begin to see opportunities for a lucrative lifestyle, Bishop Sipuka says in his new month reflection shared with ACI Africa October 1.

“The remedy is to go back to the original motive for becoming a Priest and to reignite the appreciation of evangelical counsels. It is to find again satisfaction in God who is ‘better than life,’ and who makes us indifferent to material things,” he further says, and asserts, “Corruption among Clergy and Religious has a lot to do with the declining spiritual life which is then compensated for by scrambling for more material things.”

Bishop Sipuka says that the Church has a bigger role to play in the fight against corruption in society, and one way of doing this is to first ensure that the Church institution is free of the vice.

“As the saying that ‘when you point a finger, there are three fingers pointing back to you’ reminds us however, it is only realistic and honest to examine what these three fingers are pointing to us as Church in relation to corruption,” he says.

He further poses, “In clear conscience can we say that we as Church are free of what we are condemning in others?”

In his considered view, the opportunity to dutifully point out corruption in government and business is also an opportunity for the Church leadership “to introspect about attitudes and practices in her life and work that smack of corruption.”

“As the Church seeks to remove the splinter of corruption in government, business and society, she also needs to reckon with the possible log in her own eye that would make it hypocritical to point out the splinter in others as the good Lord humorously put it.”

According to the South African Bishop who has been vocal against corruption in his country, the Church worldwide is seen as a moral authority and hence, when she is also corrupt, her role as light house of goodness is discredited and the hope of people on the role of the Church “to overcome the cancer of corruption is destroyed.”

He says that corruption within the Church takes different forms including misappropriation of funds, sexual abuse, and lack of work ethic.

The Bishop explains that misappropriation of Church funds is facilitated by lack of proper management of resources, which leads to individuals benefiting from funds that were not meant for their benefit.

In his reflection, he makes a distinction between “ignorant misappropriation” and “fraudulent misappropriation.”

Ignorant misappropriation of Church funds, Bishop Sipuka says, mostly happens with the innocence of filling in for a “need that suddenly presented itself” with the money that was not meant for it.

This type of misappropriation of funds, the SACBC President says, is often accompanied by lack of recording.

“When the time comes for accounting for the money, the person does not know what he has done with the money,” he says, and adds, “Lack of accounting mechanisms like reports and financial quarterly returns also feed this type of misappropriation of funds.”

As a way forward, those in charge of Church funds need to learn and practice financial management and stick to the rules of accounting, Bishop Sipuka says in his new month reflection.

Fraudulent misappropriation, on the other hand, happens out of sheer greed for money, where a person knowingly diverts funds meant for something else, most of the time for himself or herself, for his family or for friends, he explains.

“The remedy for this form of misappropriation is to fire the person and have him, or her charged,” the 60-year-old Prelate recommends.

Punishment for corrupt individuals should be equal, whether they are in Church, government or in business, the Local Ordinary of South Africa’s Umtata Diocese says, adding that Priests and Religious who “push corruption” should never be allowed to get away with it.

“Any suggestion for a different treatment would be nothing less than clericalism which unconsciously promotes use of clerical status or power for selfish reasons and getting away with it,” Bishop Sipuka says.

He underscores, “Corruption is the same regardless of who pushes it and logically the consequences must be the same.”


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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
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