Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Congregations should
scrutinize church finances


Members of two Honolulu churches are complaining about financial management of church funds by their pastors.

TWO Honolulu churches are immersed in internal financial disputes that threaten to tear them apart. The state attorney general's office has intervened in one of the disputes and has been asked to become involved in the other one. The state has a responsibility to respond to such imbroglios but should do so carefully.

A group of Way of Salvation Church members maintain in a federal lawsuit that church funds have been misspent or unaccounted for, with nearly $500,000 ending up in the hands of eight members of the Rev. Mariano Caneso's family. At the Apostolic Faith Church, members have been denied access to financial records to explain why maintenance of the church was left wanting while the chief pastor, the Rev. William Han Jr., bought a new Cadillac.

We questioned the attorney general's intervention in the Way of Salvation Church two months ago. Attorney General Mark Bennett reminded us that his office has a duty to intervene because a church is not only a religious organization, but a nonprofit corporation that must abide by laws pertaining to charitable contributions.

That is true in other states as well, and such interventions are handled with care so as not to infringe on religious rights. For example, Thomas Reilly, the Massachusetts attorney general, recently became involved in a dispute over handling of a Protestant church's assets and negotiated an agreement that church leaders submit to a three-year period of oversight by his office.

Reilly has hesitated in becoming involved in several other disputes at Catholic parishes planned for closure by the Archdiocese of Boston. A spokesman for Reilly said he would "continue to monitor the situation while acknowledging the limits on government intervention in church affairs." The spokesman said Reilly's "authority over charities is specifically limited in the case of religious institutions. That limitation is mandated by the First Amendment's recognition of a separation of church and state."

Financial issues are more common than sexual misconduct issues in churches, according to John Knapp, president of the Georgia-based Southern Institute for Business and Professional Ethics. "Indeed," he said, "ethical issues involving money are a growing problem in the church, undermining congregational life and effective pastoral ministry. It is likely that financial disputes cause more churches to split than theological disputes."

Financial disputes occur more often at churches not affiliated with major religious denominations than at prominent Protestant and Catholic churches, experts on church finances told the Star-Bulletin's Rob Perez. Finances at nondenominational churches, especially small ones, are more likely to be handled by the head pastor than by lay people.

Congregations at such churches should heed the problems that now burden the Way of Salvation and Apostolic Faith churches and insist on responsible accounting. That is the best way to avoid legal challenges and visits by the attorney general.




Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

David Black, Dan Case, Dennis Francis,
Larry Johnson, Duane Kurisu, Warren Luke,
Colbert Matsumoto, Jeffrey Watanabe,

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