As Buffalo Catholic Diocese faces potential bankruptcy, CFO resigning

Dec 6, 2018

Steven Timmel, the Buffalo Catholic Diocese’s chief financial officer, is resigning. The move becomes effective at the end of this upcoming January. It’s another one of Bishop Richard Malone’s staff members to step down over the past year as the diocese continues to handle the clergy abuse scandal.

Credit Buffalo Catholic Diocese

Timmel has held the position since 2004, where he’s overlooked over $47 million in investments as well as dozens of facilities. It’s a key position to fill in a critical time for the diocese.

Villanova Professor Emeritus of Church Management Charles Zech said you would typically hope the staff is more loyal to the bishop.

“At the same time, staff members know better than anybody else the situation of what’s happening at the diocese and what’s going to happen in the near future. Some of them might be leaving because their positions might be reduced in role. They’ll certainly have less budget to work with. So it would be a more difficult job going forward whatever the position is,” Zech said.

Whoever replaces Timmel will need to understand the culture surrounding the diocese.

“It helps to have someone understand the nitty gritty of the budget. The intricacies of the budget. Understand where the investments are that are going to be used to support any settlements. What’s the availability for selling them,” Zech said. “Just understanding the whole basic financial arrangement of the diocese.”

Zech said few diocese CFO’s have faced a situation like this.  If the Child Victims Act were to pass, it could ease current statutes of limitations for criminal and civil sex abuse cases. It could take a year for victims to step forward in the legal battle. That could lead to the diocese declaring bankruptcy, another process that would take additional time.

Unless settlements were reached separately, Zech said it could take five years before the dust settled.

“I know the diocese have set up a special fund to pay the victims. But I doubt many victims will go see that fund until they learn about what’s going to happen with the statute of limitations and the possible losses that will emanate from that,” he said. “So I won’t expect much to happen right away with that fund until it becomes clear to the victims what’s going to happen to the statute of limitations.”

How settlements could be reached from there would largely be up in to the diocese.

“It depends on how quickly or how much the diocese takes a pastoral approach to the victims rather than a legalistic approach,” said Zech.

Zech recommends the Buffalo Diocese hire from within and make them the acting CFO.

“You wouldn’t want to necessarily appoint a permanent CFO right away, but make that surrogate an acting CFO. Someone from inside would be the best move. It’s going to be difficult to attract a qualified CFO stepping in to a situation like this when there’s so much unknown,” he said.

Timmel released this statement:

“After 31 years of service to the Catholic Church in Western New York, I look forward to new professional challenges, effective February 1, 2019.  I am grateful to the staff of the Diocese of Buffalo, past and present, for their dedication in support of the mission of the Diocese.”