21 Feb 2017
The Transparency Law does not only affect Public Administrations. There are also other “obligated subjects”. Today we analyze the websites of one of them: the Catholic Church
On December 10, 2013 it was published in the Official Gazette Law 19/2013, of December 9, of Transparency, Access to Public Information and Good Governance, On December 10, 2013, Law 19/2013, of December 9, on Transparency, Access to Public Information and Good Governance was published in the Official State Gazette, whose purpose is to broaden and strengthen the transparency of public activity, regulate and guarantee the right of access to information related to that activity and establish the obligations of good governance that must be met by public officials and private entities that receive public funds and that meet a series of requirements (described in Art. 3b).
The application of the law is gradually taking effect, responding “to a society that is critical, demanding and that demands participation of public powers. Countries with higher levels of transparency and good governance standards have stronger institutions that promote economic growth and social development “(art. 1 of the preamble of the Act). It is not only the law that in certain cases compels, but fundamentally the growing demand for a mature and demanding citizenship.
Both public and private administrations are responding to this request from Spanish society, perhaps not with the desired pace, but increasingly.
On 31 May last year, the Spanish Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church (EEC) and Transparency International Spain met to sign an agreement in which 10 specific commitments are determined, in order to
“To increase the level of transparency and informative openness of the Conference itself and of the organs and institutions dependent on it”. Point 6 of these commitments was to “Promote in all dioceses (70 dioceses) the portal of transparency”.
For the study, the directory published on the website of the Episcopal Conference, which contains 70 dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Castile of Spain, has been used as a reference. In addition, we found it interesting to add to the study the website of the Office of Information of the Bishops of the South (ODISUR), and that of the EEC itself as a reference of the study, which has analyzed a total of 72 websites. The collection of information was carried out in the last week of January 2017.
Transparency indicators of religious entities
There are principles of internationally agreed transparency for governments, public administrations, foundations, companies, NGOs, etc. Such as those that can be found in the Transparency International Spain website but we have not been able to find particular principles for religious entities.
That is why the indicators that have been used for the analysis were chosen among other entities, trying to adapt them to the uniqueness of these entities.
The selected indicators were:
- Transparency Portal. Whether it has or not, although it has a meager content.
- Governing Bodies
- Purpose and objectives of the entity
- Report on activities and works
- Application regulations
- Donations and subsidies
- Financial structure and distribution of expenditure
- Economic balance
- Contracts and tenders
- Access to information request channel
- Contact Information
- Navigability. Published information is easily accessible. Information is found intuitively and/or fast, with a clear and understandable content or menu structure
- Updating the data. The information is published periodically (indicating the base periodicity), maintaining a historical file and with reference to the date of update or revision of the information.
- Additional descriptions. The information is published with the support of additional descriptions (in text, or with tables, graphs or interactive) that facilitate their visualization and comprehension
- Reuse of data. The structured information is published or can be downloaded in reusable formats, that would allow to show the information in an interactive table, where it could be ordered by the column that was wanted, filter according to certain criteria or group by some of them. From there it could even make graphs that would allow for a better interpretation the data exposed.
For the assessment of each indicator, we have used the following criteria:
- 1 POINT: Complete or satisfactory. The indicator information is published on the diocesan web.
- 0’5 POINTS: Partial. The information is partially published on the web.
- 0 POINTS: No evidence of compliance. If the information is not published in the cited Web.
Of the 72 analyzed websites, 26 (36%) have a page with specific contents of transparency, of which 4 are practically empty, so the actual percentage is 30%. Of these, only 6, Bilbao, Seville, Tenerife, Astorga, Gerona and the Episcopal Conference itself, exceeded the bar of “approved” (8.5 out of 17), bordering on Malaga, Cordoba and Orense. If we consider only the quality of the information (seaworthiness, data updates, additional descriptions or reusable formats), those that equal or exceed the score of 2 out of 4, are only 5: repeat Bilbao, Sevilla, Astorga and CEE, sums Orense (with the highest score, 3.5 / 4) and again touch the approved Malaga and Cordoba, in addition to Getafe.
Regarding to information on contracts and tenders, no website gets a score, that is, no information is shown about it.
As for the requests channel for access to information, only the CEE has partially developed it in its section “Office of Transparency”.
In the “Contact data” indicator, 0.5 points have been scored which, apart from the Transparency section, provide partial contact data and with 1 point the portals that provide electronic mail, posl address and telephone. Almost 58% (15 of the 26 websites with Transparency section), get 1 point and the rest 0.5 (42%).
Results of Interpretation
The indicators evaluation that we have used offers a very unequal result. They are still an vast majority (two thirds) of the Spanish Catholic dioceses that do not reflect this aspect of transparency in their websites. It is also true that the structure of information and maintenance of many of them leaves much to be desired, there are still obsolete patterns designs, etc. And although this would be the subject of another study, it is still indicative of the distance that may remain for some webs of the Catholic Church. Perhaps this deficiency could become an opportunity for those responsible for communication of these institutions, to take into account the aspects of transparency when it comes to the necessary renewal of their presence on the Internet.
In the remaining third that has begun to “put the stacks” on the issue of Transparency, the differences between the first and last of the list are also huge. Many of the last ones have merely put this section in the menu, but then have hardly populated it with content, when it is not completely empty.
In some places this section is denominated like “Transparency Portal”, a little grandiloquent taking into account that it is about in most of the occasions of a page with links to a few documents. We have also found the denomination “Transparency”, which seems more correct to us. It is singular the coincidence of many Catalan dioceses that name this page as “Law of Transparency”, and have a very similar structure, which seems to have as a single objective to try to show that they fulfill the obligations imposed by Article 3b of the Spanish law of Transparency.
It is also necessary to say that not only the Episcopal Conference shows in its website a section of Transparency that reasonably fulfills the chosen basic indicators, as we said before, there are 5 other diocesan webs, Bilbao, Seville, Tenerife, Astorga and Gerona that have made an outstanding in this respect, highlighting that of the Bilbao Diocese and that of Seville that surpass (Bilbao) or equal (Seville) the score of the CEE. However, there is room for improvement, as the maximum percentage of adequacy is 70% (Bilbao with 12 points out of 17), with an average of 46.15%.
It is necessary to reiterate that an indicator as important as the one of contracts and tenders has not been satisfied by any of the dioceses nor by the CEE and is a clear insufficiency of these pages / portals.
One of the public commitments to which the CEE came with Transparency International Spain was to “develop manuals of good practices for the Episcopal Conference that can be applied in the diocesan sphere.” We think that this would be the first step, indispensable for guiding the work of the diocesan leaders of communication.
It would be necessary, for example, to influence that it is not enough to publish the information, taking into account the quantitative criteria, which is already an important step. Attention must also be paid to the qualitative criteria of the information. It is observed that almost all the information that is published is offered in unstructured or reusable formats (PDF and HTML), by the way, deficiency that they share with many transparency portals of Public Administration.
Article 5 of the law states:
“The information subject to transparency obligations will be published in the corresponding electronic headquarters or web pages and in a clear, structured and understandable way for those interested and preferably in reusable formats.”
That is the true transparency, as it guides the user and facilitates its accessibility, use, compression and reuse. You have to enrich it, structure it, update it conveniently, save a history, provide reusable formats, etc.
We stop to finish in an aspect that seems essential to us. Article 17 of the Transparency Law refers to the request for access to information:
“The procedure for the exercise of the right of access will begin with the presentation of the corresponding request, which should be addressed to the owner of the administrative body or entity that possesses the information …”
At this moment, only the Episcopal Conference website has enabled a basic communication channel, with its “Office of Transparency”, which partially follows the indications of the law. To improve it, it would be necessary instead of a generic form to explicitly enable a field to describe the requested information and another to choose by which channel the applicant prefers the answer. A simple initiative but one that would greatly facilitate the request for information of any citizen.