Saturday’s opening General Conference sessions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived at a time of heightened scrutiny of the global religion’s wealth.
Observers were waiting to see if the faith’s yearly auditing report would offer any real numbers about the church’s multibillion-dollar holdings as more insiders and outsiders called for increased financial transparency, especially in the wake of the high-profile $5 million settlement the faith paid in February to the U.S. government for failing to properly disclose past stock holdings.
Regulators had determined that the church went to “great lengths” to “obscure” the size and scope of its investments in violation of reporting requirements.
But the brief report delivered Saturday afternoon by Jared B. Larson, managing director of the church’s Auditing Department, followed the same pattern as previous statements. It was — as tradition has held for six decades — devoid of any dollar figures, and, in fact, followed the same wording as Larson’s declaration last April, save for changing 2021 to 2022.
The over-the-pulpit presentation simply concluded that “in all material respects, contributions received, expenditures made, and assets of the church for the year 2022 have been recorded and administered in accordance with church-approved budgets, accounting practices and policies.”
That language became of interest after an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission discovered that two internal audits (one in 2014 and one in 2017) from the church’s Auditing Department had warned the faith’s top leaders that the reporting approach to the federal agency from Ensign Peak Advisors, the church’s investment arm, might run afoul of SEC rules — which turned out to be the case.
Ensign Peak’s publicly reported portfolio was valued at $44.4 billion at the end of last year.
Larson also reported Saturday, as has been the practice in the past, that church auditing “consists of credentialed professionals and is independent of all other church departments and entities,” noting that it has the “responsibility to perform audits for the purpose of providing reasonable assurance regarding contributions received, expenditures made, and safeguarding of church assets.”
He pointed out that the Utah-based faith “follows the practices taught to its members of living within a budget, avoiding debt, and saving against a time of need.”