Another plus for background checks

There's much to leave you gobsmacked in the news about the bookkeeper accused of defrauding the Archdiocese of New York to the tune of $1 million. She had done it twice before! She was still on probation from the last arrest when she was hired by the archdiocese to work in accounts payable! She spent it on designer dolls! From Sharon Otterman and Russ Buettner's story in the New York Times:

When Ms. Collins was hired by the archdiocese in June 2003, it did not perform criminal background checks on prospective employees, as it does now, Mr. Zwilling said. So church officials were unaware until recently that she had been convicted of grand larceny in one case and had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in another.

Those criminal background checks pay off in more than one area, apparently.

[Archdiocesan spokesperson Joseph] Zwilling said the scheme diverted money designated for the purpose of helping to provide Catholic education. The archdiocese has been closing churches and schools for lack of money, and asking for more than $15 million in an annual charity appeal.We are continually reviewing how money is handled, our financial controls, Mr. Zwilling said, because we want to be good stewards of the money entrusted to us.

That is the part that lingers, at least for me, when I get past the sensationalistic, sad details of the crime. I've trusted the archdiocese with my donations -- more so since Cardinal-designate Dolan started releasing an annual account of how those donations are used. And, of course, like any other Catholic, I depend on services those funds support. This revelation has to give a prospective donor pause. Imagine the possibilities for promoting next year's Stewardship Appeal: "Give! We are no longer employing convicted embezzlers in our business office."Honestly, the official statement from Joseph Zwilling doesn't do a whole lot better. No "We deeply regret..." or anything like it, and it ends, "Sadly, there will always be individuals who seek to exploit and circumvent whatever system is established, but we will remain vigilant in our oversight." Yes, fraudsters we will always have with us -- but while we can't prepare for every thief that comes in the night, maybe vigilance requires doing a better job of not hiring those who've already got a rap sheet?

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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