Boston Catholic Insider Error, More Caritas Questions

August 31, 2010

We usually try to stick to one topic per post, but just wanted to acknowledge a mistake and also get some Caritas news out to you quickly.

First, 8 days have passed since the Archdiocese said they had reached out to bloggers (other bloggers that is, not us) seeking a conversation, and we still have received no response to our Open Letter.  (The Open Letter just lists a few topics for discussion and consideration to help the archdiocese improve how they operate).  Also, 38 days have now passed since our first email to the archdiocese of July 23 asking for an explanation of the conflicts of interest that led to the hiring of the Secretary of Communications and the Chancellor, and we still await a response.

Second, alert reader “John” pointed out an error in our Open Letter that we have since corrected.  We said we were unable to find another schools superintendent in the country paid $325,000/year, as Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill is paid by the Boston Archdiocese.  We really had not found any higher-paid public or parochial school superintendents, but John did better than us.  He found that the Boston public schools superintendent makes a healthy bonus on top of her base salary of $280,000, putting her at total compensation of $335,000 for administering 56,000 students.  Since the archdiocese serves 43,000 students (about 24% fewer students than Boston), John suggested “on this very generous City of Boston basis, Mary Grassa O’Neill should be getting only $257,876 per year. O’Neill’s earnings should be reduced NOW by $67,124 per year . This would buy quite a bit of school supplies, don’t you think?”  (John’s proposed correction would put Dr. Grassa O’Neill closer to the compensation of the New York Public Schools superintendent, Joel Klein, who makes $250,000/year for managing 1.1 million students in 1600 schools with an annual budget of $17 billion, as well as Ramon Cortines in Los Angeles who also makes $250K/year for directing the second-largest public school system in the country with 694,288 students, 45,473 teachers, 38,494 other employees, 1044 schools, and a total school district budget for 2009-10 of $7.3 billion).  We apologize for the inaccuracy in our previous statement.  As always, if you find something incorrect or any claim you feel is “unfounded,” just let us know and we will adjust accordingly with a public correction.

In followup of the announcement Friday that Caritas Christi is planning to acquire Landmark Hospital in Rhode Island, we wanted to quickly share a couple more Caritas Christi questions for you.

1. If Caritas is in danger of folding w/o Cerberus’ cash infusion, where exactly is the money coming from to buy Landmark?

2. If Caritas Christi is planning to abide by Catholic religious and ethical directives after the acquisition by Cerberus, how do they explain the plan to keep Landmark secular (see Providence Journal report), which includes allowing them to continue doing sterilizations and performing family planning services that violate such directives (see Boston Globe report)?  How does that gibe with Cardinal O’Malley’s March 2009 statement that “Caritas Christi will never…in any way participate in actions that are contrary to Catholic moral teaching…and no arrangement will be entered into unless it is completely in accord with Church teaching.” Are we who question this still “doing a great disservice to the Catholic Church”?

3. Going back a few years, can someone explain how we should reconcile Fr. Bryan Hehir’s emphatic statement in October  2007 that Caritas would never be sold to a for-profit when their financial condition was weak (“The idea that the archdiocese would sell Caritas to a for-profit system – it’s not going to happen,” and now with their financial condition stronger, they are being sold and converted to a for-profit?

4. Since Caritas explored a sale or merger with other Catholic healthcare chains several years ago (including Ascension Health, Catholic Health East, and Catholic Health Initiatives) that would have preserved the Catholic identity and mission, have similar discussions been re-opened and re-explored at this time as an alternative to the Cerberus deal?

5. Has anyone yet explained what the Boston Globe called an “unusual move” by 3 insurance carriers (Blue Cross Blue Shield, Harvard Pilgrim, and Tufts Health Plan) to  fund the Caritas study commissioned by Attorney General Martha Coakley in November 2007 that led to her “roadmap” of recommended changes in governance, which now have set the stage for the Caritas sale and conversion to a for-profit hospital?

6. Was it just a pure coincidence that the Hauser Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (where Fr. Bryan Hehir works) issued a working paper on “Attorney General Oversight of Charities” in October 2007, and shortly thereafter on November 3, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced she was commissioning a study of Caritas’ governance in order to issue a roadmap for their future?

7. Who from the Archdiocese with solid  business skills and a track record of adherence to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church is ultimately in charge of decision-making over Caritas Christi today?

You can read more questions about the sale of Caritas in our posts:
Caritas Christi: Is Catholic Healthcare in Boston Being Sold-off for a Few Silver Coins?
Caritas Coincidences? 
Caritas Coincidences: Part 2, and
Trust

Have a blessed day!


Welcome: Boston Pilot Readers

August 27, 2010

UPDATE: New information was added to this post at 7pm on Friday, Aug. 27. 
This weekend’s edition of The Boston Pilot covered the situation of the archdiocese blocking access to our blog, and we would like to extend a hearty welcome to all Pilot readers!   Since many visitors may be new to the site, we would like to briefly share the purpose of this blog, correct part of the archdiocese’s version of the story, and also give you a quick summary of what we have been covering over recent weeks that led up to the blog being blocked.  (Regular readers, sorry if some of this is repetitious, but you’ll still find something new today!)

Purpose of Boston Catholic Insider Blog

As we stated in our Open Letter to Cardinal O’Malley and Archdiocesan Leaders on Monday [Note: 4 days have passed with no response yet], our purpose with the blog in putting certain topics out in the light of day is simply to expose verifiable facts and matters that most people objectively feel should be addressed or corrected so that we can build a stronger Catholic Church in Boston and continue the good works of the Church. We are not looking to “change the Church” or anything like that.  Our hope with the blog is to give a voice to laity, donors, and the many outstanding priests and people faithfully serving the Archdiocese who are frustrated and fed up with the corruption, cronyism, and general direction of the Archdiocese. More than 20,000 people have visited the blog already from around the world–including many U.S. dioceses and the Holy See–and one third come back regularly, so we must be doing something right.  [If you share our goal of continuing the good works of the Church and would like to receive email updates from the blog, just fill in your email address in the subscription box to the right].

All posts are carefully researched, fact-checked, and verified with multiple sources.  As The Pilot correctly reported, the writers are people with close ties to the Archdiocese of Boston who are not identified by name on the blog so they can avoid possible repercussions and threats to their livelihoods. The writers are faithful to the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

Corrections to Archdiocese Version of Blocking of Blog Story
The Pilot cites statements by Terry Donilon and the archdiocese saying the following:

“The anonymous authors of this site were actively spamming the employees of the Archdiocese with links to the site, interfering with their work day, so we did block access to it from work computers. 

Cardinal O’Malley and his staff are dedicated to building unity in Christ and Christian community within the Archdiocese.  Toward that end, we have reached out to bloggers on numerous occasions to ask them to enter into a professional and  Christ-centered conversation with us.  We are concerned about the harm caused to individuals and to the community by anonymous and unfounded claims on blogs.

If the Cardinal and his staff wish to build unity in Christ and Christian community within the Archdiocese, we are totally on-board with that aspirational goal!  As for the rest of the statement, we mostly differ.  The archdiocese accused the blog of “spamming” employees with unsolicited emails, when in fact just 2 email announcements about the blog were sent only in late June and early July, and no subsequent emails were sent in the 4+ weeks prior to the blocking of the blog.  The statement says the archdiocese has reached out to bloggers, but the fact is that we have sent Cardinal O’Malley and members of his staff 5 emails since July 23 asking for answers to simple questions of concern to Boston-area Catholics, and the archdiocese has not responded.  (One email regarding the hiring of Terry Donilon and James McDonough is re-published here).  No one has asked to enter a conversation with this blog. If the archdiocese felt any claims were “unfounded,” they clearly knew how to reach us, and we still encourage the archdiocese to inform us of any inadvertent errors so that we can make necessary corrections.  In the past two months, we have received no such notices from the archdiocese, so their statement that we “do harm” by publishing “unfounded claims” is itself unsubstantiated.  Furthermore, if the content of the blog about cronyism and corruption in the archdiocese is so compelling that it distracts employees from their work, wouldn’t a better response strategy be for the archdiocese to immediately implement a credible “whistleblower policy” and engage employees towards addressing the documented problems for the good of the Church, and as a result, simply leave the blog with nothing to continue writing about?

What We Have Been Covering
The Pilot correctly reported that the blog posts are “critical of certain high-ranking Church officials,” saying:

the blog alleges cronyism and conflict of interest in the hiring of certain Pastoral Center employees and vendors and questions some of the salaries of archdiocesan officials. Boston Catholic Insider also criticizes the sale of the archdiocese’s Caritas Christi hospital network to a private-equity investment firm and questions the financial transparency of the archdiocese. 

If you read our posts, that is absolutely what you will find on the blog.  The conflicts of interest and/or appearances of unethical practices seem to be typically exhibited by people who work for the Church and/or serve on its various boards and committees.  Coincidentally, you will see names such as Jack Connors, Jim McDonough, Fr. Bryan Hehir, Terry Donilon, and John Kaneb appear more than once on the blog.  Here’s a quick summary:

Cronyism and conflicts of interest in hiring: As we have reported on this blog, a number of key positions in the archdiocese have been filled in recent years by search committees or search processes tainted by some controversy, such as an inherent conflict of interest, cronyism, excessive compensation relative to comparable positions elsewhere, public questions raised about the search, or prior relationship that gives the appearance of bias.  These include:

This is not stating that everyone above is unqualified for their job–it is just stating the objective fact that the filling of these roles and certain other less visible positions have seen similar controversies.  We document on the blog how people were hired at six-figure salaries with no prior church experience (including a former associate of the Chancellor who worked with him at Abington Bank), and how a number of employees had some connection to a person with significant insider influence. Beyond those named above, other people with significant influence into these controversial hires or who themselves had a conflict of interest with their involvement in the hiring process include  Jack Connors, John Kaneb, and Fr. Bryan Hehir.  The HR director, Carol G., who had no prior Catholic Church experience and is not Catholic, has also played a role in many recent hiring decisions.  

Below is an organizational chart drawn to show how we have come to understand the top level of the archdiocesan hierarchy actually works today.  Please note the following:

  •   Many subordinates of top-level people are not in the chart, as we include just the direct reports of the top-level cabinet secretaries where there was a publicly verifiable controvery such as described above. 
  • Those depicted in red represent people tainted by some controversy in their own hiring, or via their involvement in the hiring of other people.

 

The pink box in the upper right of the chart includes those people we are told–and publicly available information validates–comprise the primary base of power and decision-making influence in the archdiocese today.   By coincidence, McDonough, Hehir, Donilon, and Carol G have their offices in the central area of the 4th floor, segregated from the rest of the staff. As just one example, our Caritas Coincidences post explains why Jack Connors is in that box:

Connors introduced Ralph de la Torre to the search committee that hired him as CEO of Caritas. Connors is on the Boston archdiocesan finance council that approves deals like the sale of Caritas; he helped secure the archdiocese’s former Brighton property for his alma mater, Boston College; he is running the Catholic Schools fund-raising campaign, he is leading the search for the new Secretary for Development, he drove a cabinet reorganization; he was on the Meade-Eisner reconfiguration commission that reviewed and reversed parish closing decisions a few years ago; and he is friends with Ann Carter of Rasky Baerlein, who played a key role hiring Terry Donilon as well as Jim Mcdonough, who also plays a key role approving the sale of Caritas. 

To be fair, the lines on an official org chart would look slightly different from the above, but sources confirm that this does represent a fair depiction of how things functionally work today.

Sale of Caritas Christi to Cerberus Capital
Our blog has shared publicly available information that shows conflicts of interest by Jack Connors and John Kaneb (both on the board of Partners) in the hiring of Caritas CEO Ralph de la Torre and in that Partners would be a likely acquirer of select Caritas hospitals when Cerberus wants to sell Caritas for a profit in the future.  We have also noted political contributions by Dr. de la Torre and another Caritas official to Attorney General Martha Coakley (who will approve the deal) just days after the deal to sell Caritas was set in motion, a public endorsement of Coakley by Connors and political donations by Connors and his family to Coakley, removal of symbols of Catholic identity from St. Elizabeth hospital even before the deal is signed, and a host of other questions about why the deal is even happening in view of Caritas recent turn to profitability and increased financial stability.

What we never yet reported previously was Fr. Bryan Hehir’s rather emphatic public statement in the Boston Globe on October 27, 2007 when Caritas Christi was financially struggling, that Caritas would never be sold to a for-profit hospital.   

The idea that the archdiocese would sell Caritas to a for-profit system – it’s not going to happen,” said Father Bryan Hehir, cabinet secretary for social service ministry for the archdiocese. “The position of the archdiocese is that we do not intend to sell either the Caritas system as a whole or any of its parts to a for-profit entity,” he added.

Two years later, in November 2009, after Caritas had new management and had just announced turning a $30 million profit, the CEO of Caritas met with Cerberus Capital to set in motion the deal to sell Caritas and make it for-profit.  By coincidence, shortly after we posted about that meeting–and the coincidental donations by Caritas’ CEO’s to Attorney General Coakley days after the 2009 meeting–access to this blog was shut off.

Spending Money

Just yesterday our “Spending Money” post started what we expect will be a series of posts on how the archdiocese spends, lends, and moves around money contributed by parishes and individual donors. Yesterday we dealt with the more than $2 million in cost to the archdiocese for purchasing and implementing a complex accounting and financial management software package  from Lawson Software that has been described by those close to the multi-year project as “disastrous.” 

Videos

Amidst the serious topics we cover, the bloggers and our readers try to maintain a little levity when we can.  In keeping with the spirit of new media, we invite you to check out two humorous 2-minute-long videos submitted by a blog reader.  One is a spoof of a job interview and the other is a satirical portrayal of an unnamed diocese trying to stop anonymous bloggers who are critical of the church hierarchy.

We hope you find the blog to be a worthwhile read and will share word of it with your friends and family members.  If you are a parish employee, pastoral center employee, priest, or lay person in the pews and would would like to submit story ideas in confidence, please visit the Contact Us page.  All submissions are confidential and sources are never identified publicly.

As was stated earlier, our purpose with the blog is just to expose  things that should be addressed or corrected so that we can help strengthen the Catholic Church in Boston and continue the good works of the Church. We hope and pray that God might use this blog and our contributions in some small way to help the Archdiocese of Boston better carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ today and for generations to come.

(Comments on posts are welcome, and we simply ask that they remain focused on the topic of the blog.  See the conclusion of the Spending Money post for comment guidelines”


Spending Money

August 26, 2010

What  has $2-3 million dollars spent by the archdiocese on a piece of software for accounting, finance, and HR gotten us?  We explore that 3 paragraphs down.  But first a quick blog update.

We have been inundated with emails and input towards future blog posts since Monday and apologize for not being able to get back to everyone quickly.  Since we  cannot verify, write-up and post every story immediately, please be patient if it takes us a little while to get to the story you submitted.

No response yet to our Open Letter to the Cardinal from Monday, or to the resending of our July 23 email (found in “Bloggers Response to Boston Archdiocese”) asking for an explanation of the conflicts of interest in the hiring of Terry Donilon and Chancellor Jim McDonough.  We also have not received a response to our request that the archdiocese substantiate their unfounded claim that there are “unfounded claims” on this blog.  You may recall, the archdiocese said they reached out to “bloggers” to enter conversation with them, yet coincidentally, they haven’t responded to any of the 5 emails from this blog.

Back to the question we opened with.  Today we take a short break from cronyism, conflicts of interest, and the Caritas Christi sale to talk about how the archdiocese spends your money.  That means mostly funds the parishes give to the archdiocese for services provided by central administration and money donated directly to the archdiocese (ie from the Annual Appeal), but there are additional sources we will talk about soon as well.  The annual report helps us understand this just a little bit, so we turn to the 2009 report and look at the top vendors.

Page 73 of the 2009 annual report shows the ten highest paid vendors for the year ending June 30,2009, including Lawson Software, which was paid $1,548,072. Their website says Lawson sells software for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) which means the software is apparently is supposed to help streamline functions like inventory and shipping for manufacturers and financial management/accounting. (If you are reading this and are knowledgable about Lawson or this kind of software, please fill in any gaps or let us know if we have gotten something wrong).  In principle, your business is supposed to become more efficient and save a lot more money than the software costs.  In principle, at least. 

As announced by Lawson in their financial report dated July 26, 2007, the archdiocese actually bought Lawson’s S3 financial management software in Lawson’s fiscal quarter that ended June 30, 2007. The report says Lawson’s average selling price at the time for a new customer purchase was $228,000 . So the archdiocese bought the software 3 years ago (in the archdiocese’s 2007 fiscal year) for a price that was probably at least a quarter of a million dollars (perhaps more, but not disclosed) and hired an outside firm, Velocity to help implement it (which they say is almost always required for complex projects like this), then paid more money for software and services in the 2008 fiscal year, and then paid enough additional money in the 2009 fiscal year on top of that–$1.5 million–that it finally pushed the expense to the top 10 vendors. 

We only learned about the 2009 fiscal year expense of $1.5 million to Lawson in June of 2010, three years after the initial purchase. By the way, Lawson’s average selling price for repeat purchases by existing customers in Lawson’s Q2 2009 was only $83,000.  Is anyone starting to wonder about this yet?  That is not all.  Based on what is disclosed alone, we estimate the cost of the software alone to be in excess of $2 million dollars, and that is not counting the implementation services and hardware on top of that, which Lawson’s own cost of ownership study estimates to be 1.2X the cost of the software Then there are post-implementation costs of 20%/year on top of the initial cost.  Did we mention the full-time Lawson technical manager now employed by the archdiocese since March of 2009?  That means the archdiocese’s total cost could be $2-4 million. This is for accounting software that sources tell us is not even appropriate for the archdiocese. 

Does the expression “boat anchor” seem relevant to this purchase?

On top of this, the archdiocese bought software from Image Now to integrate with Lawson.  That will “enable users to create reports for all invoices, allowing financial directors throughout the organization to quickly review financial information without the hassle and costs associated with duplicating and distributing large paper files…”ImageNow will assist the Archdiocese of Boston in centralizing more than a million pieces of paper a year… The Archdiocese of Boston has plans to expand ImageNow into its human resources department.”

Is that the same HR department where the director is not Catholic and where the benefits staff has been gutted and left with no one who knows about benefits?

Did the Lawson project save money?  We do not know.  We do know that from the 2009 annual report,  Management and General Expenses increased by $6.3 million vs 2008, so if it saved money, it was not very much.   And believe it or not, the $1.5 million expense for the software project was not listed as one of the key contributors to the expense increase.  One can only wonder how much it cost in the 2008 budget if $1.5 million in cost did not add much additional cost year-to-year.

We said $2-3 million in our opening statement, but it could be up to $3-4 million dollars spent in total to make it easier to handle a million pieces a paper/year, for an archdiocese where Mass attendance is 294,000 people/week.   How many tables would that buy at the upcoming Clergy Appreciation Dinner to help close the deficit in the Clergy Retirement Fund?  Better yet, skip the dinner and just put the money toward the fund.

By total coincidence, we Googled Lawson and archdiocese of Boston and found that the account manager for Lawson Software in Boston is named, Jim McDonough.  We are not saying or suggesting there is any relationship to the Chancellor or this purchase.  We are just saying it is a coincidence.

We think there are some questions to be asked and answered:

Who approved this purchase?
What have the total costs been? What have the savings been? 
If the system has failed to deliver the expected savings, who is being held accountable for this, and in what way?
Was consideration given of purchasing a more modest system and putting even $1-2 million in “savings” from a smaller-scale, less complex system to the underfunded Clergy Retirement Fund or  employee pension fund?
What was the total Lawson-related expense for the 2010 fiscal year? What is the projected expense for this system in the 2011 fiscal year?
Is the oversight and management of this project suggestive of the sort of management we would want to continue in the future for this function?

If the archdiocese would like to give us exact amounts for amounts above where we have made assumptions, or if we have gotten anything incorrect in this post or if there is a claim considered to be “unfounded,” we would be very pleased to hear from the archdiocese and make any required corrections.

Lastly, for those commenting on our posts, we would very much appreciate you sticking just to the topic of the post and focus of the blog.   The means comments about topics such as corruption, fiscal mismanagement, conflicts of interest, cronyism or rigged hiring process, Caritas Christi, mistreatment of priests, cutting of medical or pension benefits, excessive compensation, overcharging of parishes,  lack of oversight, retaliation by the Chancellor, incompetence, ill-advised termination of long-term employees, or years of getting no response to your complaints are fine.  If it is not related to one of these, please either send us an email about it (vs commenting publicly) or feel free to post it to another blog focused on that areas.  We prefer to keep this an open forum and not have to moderate comments, but will moderate  comments that are way off-topic if needed.


Catholic Bloggers Respond to Archdiocese

August 24, 2010

The current news  about how the Archdiocese of Boston has blocked access to the blog is not at all about the blog distracting workers from doing their jobs–rather it is about the governance issues such as cronyism, conflicts of interest, and corruption that the Boston Archdiocese continues to conveniently ignore.  If you have a few minutes, do listen to radio station WBUR’s program on this topic yesterday.  We feel compelled to respond to the misleading aspects of the archdiocese’s statement about the blog:

Cardinal O’Malley and his staff are dedicated to building unity in Christ and Christian community within the Archdiocese.  Toward that end, we have reached out to bloggers on numerous occasions to ask them to enter into a professional and  Christ-centered conversation with us.  We are concerned about the harm caused to individuals and to the community by anonymous and unfounded claims on blogs.

The reality is that we have sent Cardinal O’Malley and members of his cabinet 4 emails since July 23 asking for answers to simple questions, and the archdiocese has not responded to a single one of these.  (One is published below).  Nor have they once asked to enter a conversation with us. All claims on our blog are thoroughly researched and well-documented (as much so as is practical on a blog), and if the archdiocese feels any claims are “unfounded” we encourage the archdiocese to send us an email and let us know of any indavertent errors so that we can make any necessary corrections.  In the past two months, we have received no such notices from the archdiocese, so their statement that we do harm by publishing “unfounded claims” is itself unsubstantiated.

Just for comparison, we thought you might like to see how the archdiocese commented about meeting with Voice of the Faithful back in 2006.  VOTF, as many may recall, had as one of its three goals “to shape structural change within the church.”  Here is what Terry Donilon said in this July 29, 2006 Boston Globe report about the upcoming meeting between the Cardinal and VOTF:

By way of the request, the VOTF representatives expressed a desire to be helpful to the Archdiocese. Cardinal Sean continues to demonstrate a willingness and openness to dialogue, and is committed to vibrant parish life throughout the church of Boston. We welcome the participation of all people who wish to assist with this work.”

After the meeting, here is what Mr. Donilon said in this August 25, 2006, National Catholic Reporter article, “Cardinal meets with reform group leaders

It was “helpful conversation about important issues and the continued renewal of parish life in the archdiocese,” Terrence Donilon, archdiocesan director of communications

We are not looking to structurally change the Catholic Church.  Since we have now heard the archdiocese is concerned that the blog has distracted Pastoral Center employees from their jobs, we would not want to consume the valuable time of archdiocesan cabinet members in a meeting.   At this point, their reaction to the blog and unfounded claim about “unfound claims” suggests that would be fruitless. 

As a first step, we ask that our Open Letter from yesterday be shared and discussed with the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, the Presbyteral Council, and the Finance Council. Meanwhile, we invite Terry Donilon or another archdiocesan official to begin the “professional conversation” with us if that is desired by publicly responding to the email below, sent July 23, 2010.  We will publish their response.

To: Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson, Fr. Bryan Hehir, Mr. James JcDonough, Mr. Terrence Donilon, and Mrs. Ann Carter

Date: Fri, Jul 23, 2010 at 7:40 AM
 
From: Boston Catholic Insider
 
We have become aware of a significant financial and ethical conflict of interest at the Archdiocese of Boston in the employment of Ann Carter of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications and in the retention of her services to hire two Cabinet secretaries who have decision-making authority over her firm’s current compensation by the Archdiocese.  We have described this situation in two blog posts at bostoncatholicinsider.wordpress.com.  The most recently updated post is below:
 
http://bostoncatholicinsider.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/conflicts-of-interest-part-ii/
http://bostoncatholicinsider.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/conflicts-of-interest-part-i/
 
We request that the Archdiocese and Ms. Carter respond to the following questions in writing:
 
-Why was this clear conflict of interest permitted for not one, but two key cabinet positions?
-Who approved Ms Carter, a vendor, serving on the search committees for two positions that would have decision-making authority over her firm’s compensation and employment?  On what basis were archdiocesean staffers who raised concerns overruled?
-How did Mr. McDonough come to apply for the Chancellor position in early 2006?
-When it became known that Mr. McDonough was applying for the Chancellor position and Ms. Carter, a key member of the search committee for the position, had a prior business relationships with him and an additional conflict of interest with having profited from the sale of McDonough’s Abington Bank while she was a board member, who determined that it was appropriate for Ms. Carter to remain on the search committee, rather than resign immediately so as to avoid this additional level of conflict of interest?
-Given Ms. Carter’s long-term business relationship with Mr. McDonough and her having profited significantly from the sale of Abington Bank and her having played a key role in his hiring as well as that of Mr. Donilon, does the Archdiocese belive that Mr. McDonough and Mr. Donilon can be perceived today as able to make non-biased decisions about current or future use of Rasky’s services? 
-Given Ms. Carter’s role in the hiring of Mr. McDonough and Mr. Donilon, can either person be perceived as able to make non-biased decisions to cut fees, engage competitive PR vendors, or terminate Rasky services?
-What are the collective billings of Rasky across the Archdiocese communications office, Office of the Delegate, Caritas Christi, and Catholic Charities?  Do these collective billings qualify Rasky as a “top vendor” for annual financial disclosures?
–What steps are being taken to immediately address these conflicts for the common good of the archdiocese and to restore trust with priests, chancery workers, donors, and laity.?
 
Thank you for your prompt response to the questions.
 
Jim Franklin, for Boston Catholic Insider


Open Letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Archdiocesan Leaders

August 23, 2010

The Boston Globe covered the blog today in their report: “Archdiocese limits access to critics’ blogs.”  If you have not yet read our original post on this topic from late last week, please take a moment to read it for the relevant background.

The Globe story is balanced and accurately portrays the current situation—except for the archdiocese’s spin about their response to this blog.  The archdiocese may have invited a conversation with other blogs, but no one from the archdiocese has responded to a single one of our emails.  And we do not know what Terry Donilon means by his unsubstantiated comment, “We are concerned about the harm caused…by unfounded claims on the blogs.’’ Our blog has carefully documented everything we have published and have not heard anyone complain that a post here was “unfounded” in two months. (Terry, are these posts about the conflicts of interest in how you and the Chancellor were hired examples of “unfounded claims”?)  We will send a message to ask specifically which claims on this blog the archdiocese feels are “unfounded.”

Towards that end, since the Archdiocese may be unclear about the purpose of this blog, we have decided to publish an open letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley and leaders of the Archdiocesan Presbyteral, Pastoral, and Finance councils.  We welcome their responses.

OPEN LETTER TO CARDINAL SEAN P. O’MALLEY AND ARCHDIOCESAN LEADERS

To: Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley
Rev. Richard M Erikson, Vicar General
Rev. Mark O’Connell, Judicial Vicar
Members of the Archdiocesan Presbyteral Council
Members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council
Members of the Archdiocesan Finance Council

From: The “Boston Catholic Insider” team

Subject: Achieving Real Transparency and Accountability

We write to you on behalf of thousands of people in the Archdiocese of Boston asking that you take steps to address concerns which undermine the mission of the Catholic Church in Boston.

Since we launched the Boston Catholic Insider blog (http://bostoncatholicinsider.wordpress.com) on June 23, 2010, over 20,000 people have visited the blog—including 5,000 just in the past week—and we have received hundreds of comments and suggestions from priests, laity, and Pastoral Center employees.   Our driving purpose with the blog in putting certain topics out in the light of day is simply to expose verifiable facts and matters that most people objectively feel should be addressed or corrected so that we can build a stronger Catholic Church in Boston and continue the good works of the Church. We do not seek a “seat at the table” or “feel good” meetings to discuss these long-standing concerns with no commitment by the archdiocese to taking action.  Our hope with the blog was to give a voice to laity, donors, and the many outstanding priests and people faithfully serving the Archdiocese who are frustrated and fed up with the corruption, cronyism, and general direction of the Archdiocese.

Based on  the overwhelming number of comments and suggestions we have received from lay people in the pews as well as people “inside” the Church (priests, archdiocesan employees, parish staff, and others close to the workings of the archdiocese), we feel these concerns should be addressed in an open, transparent way.  We hope that the Church that we love has learned something from the secrecy, corruption, and protection of “bad apples” leading to the sexual abuse crisis that has wounded the Church deeply.  Let us not make the same mistakes all over again.

We are sending you this Open Letter in the hope that you will take up the discussion of the below questions as part of the deliberations and consultations of the three main advisory councils in the Archdiocese: the Archdiocesan Presbyteral, Pastoral and Finance Councils.

1. What does “transparency” really mean to the Boston Archdiocese?

In 2006, the Archdiocese proudly communicated that it was acting transparently to rebuild trust.  The Archdiocese published an extensive financial report and was recognized nationally for revealing vastly more than any diocese ever had.  Most of the praise included the hope that this level of transparency was only the beginning to a new way for a diocesan church to operate.  However, the Archdiocese appears to have regressed into really just publishing a limited-perspective financial report—now later and later each year, and with less information.  The fiscal 2009 report was published in June 2010–a full year after the end of the diocese’s 2009 fiscal year, and it lacks even basic information disclosed previously such as the current membership of the Finance Council, Real Estate Committee and other committees that provide important guidance and checks-and-balances for the operation of the diocese.  Longstanding employees and others report that far less transparency exists under the current Chancellor in Braintree than there was previously in Brighton.  We have published many documented instances of cronyism and conflicts of interest in hiring, including situations where valid internal complaints were ignored or overruled.  Employees tell us they are uncomfortable speaking up due to fear of retaliation, by the Chancellor in particular, and some are even concerned now about possible threats to their jobs for posting anonymously on our blog.  Is the principle of transparency “to rebuild trust and achieve shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities” intended just for the annual financial report, or is it intended as a way of conducting all operations?  If it is the latter, our hope is that you will discuss and answer these questions.

2. Why doesn’t the Archdiocese have a “whistleblower” policy to protect employees who come forward with information about corruption, conflicts of interest, or excessive expenditures?

As per Archdiocesan audits and various management letters, we understand this has been a concern of the auditors for several years.  Why hasn’t this been addressed yet?  We have been informed about a number of “connected” consultants helping out in the insurance area, IT, and benefits over the objections of the staff leads.  We are told by clergy that payments towards mandatory audits by parishes, Catholic schools, and cemeteries reportedly total nearly $500,000/year to a firm people believe was engaged due to chancery connections.  Conflicts of interest in hiring have been overruled.  In a number of cases, we are informed that various initiatives of the Chancellor have apparently been undertaken with the effect of paying associates of influential insiders such as Jack Connors, John Kaneb, and others.  Since we have heard this from many individuals, we assume that it is either a widely-held false perception or it is true.  We respectively request that you determine the truth and address it.  Numerous examples of conflicts of interest regarding the sale of Caritas Christi to Cerberus have been documented as well.  Laity, parish and pastoral center employees and priests have told us that it is a relief they can confidentially “blow the whistle” on corruption through our blog.  What is the timeframe for implementing an official whistleblower policy, and how will the archdiocese ensure that complaints will be handled in an prompt, objective , and effective manner with no fear of retaliation, especially given the history of the opposite occurring?

3. Why is this blog being blocked by the archdiocese, which of our reports are considered “unfounded” and what steps can be taken to stop any investigative efforts that might be underway to determine the information sources and/or identities of the bloggers?

We are aware that access to the blog has been blocked at the direction of Chancellor McDonough. The Boston Globe article of August 23, 2010 quotes the archdiocese as saying we were “spamming” employees (not true prior to the blocking of the blog) and because the site was distracting to employees doing their job.  Terry Donilon refers to “unfounded claims on the blogs.”  Is there something about the blog content that has been deemed objectionable for employees to see during daytime hours? We have emailed much of the same information to Cardinal O’Malley and other archdiocesan officials with no responses, so it would seem no one has objections or has voiced them to us.  However, we request that the blog undergo a review by the Archdiocesan Pastoral, Finance, and Presbyteral Councils with an eye toward identifying “unfounded claims,” making actionable recommendations to the Cardinal,  and also giving feedback on the blog contents.  If any of those three organizations have feedback for us, or if the archdiocese has input not yet provided, we would be glad to take that feedback under consideration and correct any posts the archdiocese proves are inaccurate.  In addition, we have received various unconfirmed reports that the Chancellor has ordered a computer forensics investigation into the blog to try and determine sources of information and the identities of the bloggers.  Can you confirm if those reports are true or false?  If true, we request that the investigation be immediately halted and those resources be redirected towards more important pastoral works of the Church.

In the Boston Globe’s article, blogger “Jim Franklin” was quoted saying, “My greatest joy would be if they would just fix all this stuff, and there was no need for the blog.’’  Since many of us support the archdiocese financially, instead of the diocese spending even a small amount of time or donor money on lawyers and IT staff to determine who is blogging and where they get information—much of which is in the public domain or available from outside the Pastoral Center—we request that the archdiocese instead simply focus on addressing the issues we have documented.

4. How many employees at the Pastoral Center make $100,000 or more?

Based on information from multiple sources, it appears that more than 10% of the Pastoral Center employees (more than 20 of about 200 employees) are paid greater than $100,000/year in salary.  This seems financially irresponsible and scandalously high for a Catholic archdiocese.  Even more troubling are salaries at or greater than $300,000. For example, we have not found another U.S. archdiocese paying a superintendent of schools at Boston’s level, New York City and Los Angeles public schools–the largest in the country with 15-20X the number of students as Boston’s archdiocese–pay their superintendents $250,000/year, and if the Boston archdiocese (with 43,252 students) prorated our salary paid against that paid to the superintendent of Boston public schools (with 56,000 students) based on number of students overseen, the archdiocesean superintendent’s salary would be reduced by nearly 25% or $67,000/year.   What sort of process leads to the decisions to direct more and more of the Archdiocese’s scarce resources to so few in number?  Who approved such compensation?  What sort of process leads to firing many lower-paid, lifelong employees to keep new employees at these very high salaries? We have learned from publicly available information and other sources that many of these higher-salaried individuals were hired by the Chancellor without any previous Catholic Church experience, and in some cases, without prior experience in this type of job function.  Sources tell us that across seven people in the Chancellor’s office and finance department, the total compensation including the Chancellor is about $1.1 million, or an average of  $157K/employee.  At the most recent pastoral center staff meeting, a question was raised about whether certain lower-level employees were really “laid off” due to elimination of their position for cost savings purposes, because staffers have now seen more senior, higher-paid employees introduced as the “replacement” for someone just “laid off.”   The 2008 annual report said, “We are committed to operating with the fiscal discipline that our parishes follow and our supporters and benefactors expect from us.”  Is this really true?   We ask that the archdiocese publish a listing of all employees whose salaries are greater than $100,000, and also review with the consultative councils a description of where these employees worked previously, their relevant experience to their present role, and how those employees came to obtain their jobs.

5. Is the search for a new Secretary of Institutional Advancement truly an “open” search, or was a top candidate already identified before the search committee convened?

As we have reported on this blog, a number of key positions in the archdiocese have been filled in recent years by search committees or search processes tainted by some controversy, such as an inherent conflict of interest, cronyism, excessive compensation relative to comparable positions elsewhere, or prior relationship that gives the appearance of bias.  These include the Secretary for Communications, Chancellor, Superintendent of Schools, Office Manager for the Cardinal, Director of Real Estate, CEO of Caritas Christi, Mass Catholic Conference Executive Director, as well as other less visible positions.  How has the search for this open Cabinet secretary position been advertised?  How many candidates have applied?  What kinds of backgrounds do the candidates bring?  Who is interviewing/screening candidates?  What steps will be taken to ensure that the person hired understands Church moral and doctrinal teachings, and proudly accepts and agrees with them?  What discussions, if any, took place amongst Jack Connors, Fr. Bryan Hehir, and/or the Cardinal prior to the opening of this position (or prior to the start of the search) about an internal candidate or colleague of a search committee member taking the role?  Is this a legitimate worldwide search seeking the best candidate, or has a candidate already been selected and the “search committee” process is just to give the appearance that it is open to any qualified candidate?

6. Will the Archdiocese have an “open” and “transparent” process to provide information to Cardinal O’Malley before he decides whether to renew Mr. McDonough for another five-year term as financial administrator in June of 2011 (Canon 494)?

Although Canon Law suggests that the Ordinary only needs to “consult” with the Finance Committee and the College of Consultors, this blog has received comments from dozens of priests over recent weeks, and the vast majority rate their confidence in how the Chancellor is doing his job as low or very low.  In addition, many employees and priests have concerns that Mr. McDonough may have “stacked” the Finance Council with friends and prior business acquaintances. (As noted previously, a list of current Finance Council members is no longer even available in the annual report, as it had been for several years).

Would the Cardinal also be willing to engage in an open assessment process of the Chancellor before renewing his term? That process would include confidential  input from Pastoral Center employees in a way that ensures they can give honest feedback without risk to their employment.   Would the Cardinal also be willing to hear from the Presbyteral Council (or a representative cross-section of priests directly), as well as the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council regarding their feedback from the first four years of Chancellor McDonough’s administrative leadership?  The feedback obtained from these sources could then be shared if deemed appropriate with the College of Consultors and the Finance Council for their consideration before consultations with them and prior to a final decision being made by the Cardinal.

Might the Presbyteral Council request this?   The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council?  The Archdiocesan Finance Council?  If transparency is the goal and there is nothing to hide, why not? The relevant canon is below.

Can. 494 §1 In each diocese a financial administrator is to be appointed by the Bishop, after consulting the college of consultors and the finance committee. The financial administrator is to be expert in financial matters and of truly outstanding integrity.  §2 The financial administrator is to be appointed for five years, but when this period has expired, may be appointed for further terms of five years. While in office he or she is not to be removed except for a grave reason, to be estimated by the Bishop after consulting the college of consultors and the finance committee. §3 It is the responsibility of the financial administrator, under the authority of the Bishop, to administer the goods of the diocese in accordance with the plan of the finance committee, and to make those payments from diocesan funds which the Bishop or his delegates have lawfully authorised. §4 At the end of the year the financial administrator must give the finance committee an account of income and expenditure.

In 2006, Cardinal O’Malley said, “Our commitment to financial transparency and accountability is an important step in the process of healing the Church of Boston and rebuilding the trust of the people of this Archdiocese…We hope to achieve a shared understanding of both the challenges and the opportunities we share as a faith community. Together, we can work together to solve our problems and strengthen the Archdiocese’s ability to continue the good works it performs each and every day of the year.”

We support the Cardinal and Archdiocese in these admirable goals of transparency and accountability to help build a stronger Catholic Church in Boston and continue the good works of the Church today and for the future.  We hope and pray that the efforts of this blog and the representative input from thousands of people who deeply love and care about the Church will manifest itself in a response to the concerns shared above.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Boston Catholic Insider

(on behalf of many concerned laity, parish employees, priests and Pastoral Center employees)


Video: Undercover Diocese vs Catholic Bloggers

August 21, 2010

If you have not yet read it, please check out our most recent post, Boston Archdiocese Blocks Catholic Blog.  We appreciated the headline coverage of the story by Deal Hudson at InsideCatholic.com  (“Boston Archdiocese Blocks Access to Web Site“) and by Pewsitter, the Catholic online news portal.  Visits to the blog hit a record high this week and we have received a lot of feedback over this situation.  By coincidence, one reader just emailed us a link to a new 2-minute YouTube video that seems to depict a Church official discussing an apparent undercover strategy to investigate, stop or silence a Catholic blog publishing information about improprieties.  Here it is–we hope you enjoy it.

(Credit: LastCatholicinBoston)


Boston Archdiocese Blocks Catholic Blog

August 18, 2010

Something seems to be going on in the Boston Archdiocese that ought to be concerning to all Catholics (Boston-area and beyond), anyone who values freedom of speech, and Catholic bloggers across the country.  Maybe it is all coincidence.  You can decide for yourself.

Things have been pretty predictable on this Catholic blog since we started it in June. Traffic has grown by leaps and bounds, but we started noticing something unusual for the first time late last week.  Daytime traffic to the blog and visits from the Archdiocese of Boston in Braintree suddenly plummeted, and evening traffic from random ISPs suddenly picked up.  It happened shortly after we published “Caritas Coincidences”  which revealed an array of additional conflicts of interest and coincidental political contributions–all publicly available information–that would cause even more people to start questioning the deal to sell Caritas Christi to Cerberus. (That transaction is undergoing review by the Attorney General, and public participation–including offering input–has been invited by the state and is a protected right).  By coincidence, at about the same time, we started getting reports from multiple sources and channels that the Archdiocese had blocked access to the Boston Catholic Insider blog from within the Pastoral Center.  We published Caritas Coincidences: Part 2–with more information readily available to the general public–and got more confirmations that the site was being blocked.  What exactly is going on?  Here is what we can tell you beyond those reports.

A  number of local people go to 12:05pm Mass at the Pastoral Center, and coincidentally, the other day a faithful Catholic was there in Braintree for Mass and went on one of the public Internet terminals in the lobby to catch-up on the latest from Boston Catholic Insider.  (We are flattered that the blog is daily reading for many people around the Archdiocese and beyond).  They got back a message from an Internet content filter saying the following:  “Content blocked by your organization.  Reason: This Websense category is filtered.” They brought a friend back for Mass yesterday and by coincidence, when they were trying to get their daily fix of Boston Catholic Insider, they got the same message. Click on the picture to the right to see the message.

We do not understand this.  This archdiocese has made public commitments to unprecedented levels of financial transparency:

October 21, 2005 – Financial Transparency Letter From Archbishop O’Malley

“Last year, I shared with you an overview of the Archdiocese’s financial challenges and made a commitment to financial transparency. This commitment was motivated out of respect for people of the Archdiocese as donors and members of our Church and to demonstrate to the general public that the Archdiocese is fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities.” Archbishop Sean O’Malley

April 19, 2006 – Archdiocese of Boston Launches Financial Transparency Initiative

“Our commitment to financial transparency and accountability is an important step in the process of healing the Church of Boston and rebuilding the trust of the people of this Archdiocese” said Cardinal Sean “In releasing this financial information, we hope to achieve a shared understanding of both the challenges and the opportunities we share as a faith community. Together, we can work together to solve our problems and strengthen the Archdiocese’s ability to continue the good works it performs each and every day of the year.”

We are just trying to help the Archdiocese achieve those same admirable goals.  Our driving purpose with the blog in putting certain topics out in the light of day is simply to expose verifiable facts and matters that most people objectively feel should be addressed or corrected, so that we can build a stronger Catholic Church in Boston and continue the good works of the Church today and for the future.  First and foremost, we hope this will make the difficult job and vocation of a Boston priest easier and more satisfying. (Several of them recently told us that the archdiocese is operating more like a poorly-run business with a church attached to it in recent years, rather than being the Catholic Church with salvation of souls, ministry and evangelization as the focus).  We also hope this will make things better for loyal hard-working dedicated Pastoral Center employees who love the Church and are committed to the mission of the Church.  We hope it will give donors more confidence and trust that the archdiocese is using their contributions most efficiently and effectively.  More than 15,000 unique visitors have come to the site in the past two months from Boston, across North America, Europe, the Holy See and other parts of the world. About a third are repeat visitors. Surely there is something we are doing here that brings value in building the kingdom of God and has people coming back.

The Holy Father has embraced blogging and use of new media to proclaim the Gospel.  Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley was the first blogging cardinal and has responded to the Holy Father’s call with the new Catholic Media secretariat.  Boston just hosted a Catholic new media conference that attracted 200 people according to the Pilot report.  Annual financial reports are published for the archdiocese and various entities of the Corporation Sole to advance the goal of transparency.  The Vicar General leads regular staff meetings at the Pastoral Center with public Q&A.  (Even if the Chancellor is conspicuously absent from these meetings and the HR director avoids answering some of the pointed questions, it is still a positive sign of openness and transparency that the meetings take place).

We would hope that the Archdiocese would encourage readership of the Boston Catholic Insider blog as a complement to Cardinal Sean’s blog, since we can cover topics perhaps the Cardinal does not find fit conveniently with his own blog strategy and coverage.  We are not looking for a “seat at the table” as others have asked for in the past. We would hope that Chancellor McDonough, his staff and the Pastoral Center staff, and the archdiocesan finance council would welcome the blog as a source of information and insights that improve transparency and help identify sources of cost savings and conflicts of interest that risk breaching the public trust in the archdiocese and should be addressed.  In the absence of an established whistleblower policy that protects priests and employees (recommended by many organizations these days, including archdiocesan auditors), it seems we have proven a useful outlet and vehicle for people who care about the future of the Catholic Church and Boston archdiocese.

Coincidentally, the archdiocese never blocked and does not block access to the website of “Voice of the Faithful.”  Nor does the archdiocese block access to the website of the Council of Parishes, whose vigil protests and occupancy of closed parishes is costing the archdiocese in the range of approximately $1 million/year or more in maintenance/heating bills and local municipal taxes. (we will add up those figures and correct that estimate if necessary)

The only recent example we can find of Internet censorship such as this comes, by coincidence, from Communist China, where the government censors Google, censors a range of websites and information about topics such as Dalai Lama and the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters, and even has blocked access to the BBC and NY Times on occasion.   Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized China for their internet censorship, saying,

“any country which restricted free access to information risked “walling themselves off from the progress of the next century… A new information curtain is descending across much of the world,” she said, calling growing Internet curbs the modern equivalent of the Berlin Wall.

This article about China’s growing economic juggernaut warns near the end of the article about China’s authoritarian system “But of late the leadership has been exhibiting increasing signs of paranoia…deepening internet censorship…”

We do not know what exactly is going on at 66 Brooks Drive.  Is the publicly accessible information we have posted about the Caritas deal a problem for anyone? (We have emailed the same information with no responses so it would seem no one has objections, and the Attorney General has specifically invited input to a matter under consideration by a governing body in the state).  Are the conflicts of interest we have documented in hiring key people–also publicly accessible to anyone–a problem?  Are they worried not about the blog itself documenting publicly available information about excessive spending (e.g. six-figure salaries) but the comments that readers are posting?  Is the mere prospect of archdiocesan employees reading this blog concerning to Boston’s archdiocesan leadership in a similar way that leaders of Communist China are concerned about Chinese citizens reading about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests?

Perhaps there is just some inadvertent IT error in the Internet filters at the archdiocese that got our blog in the same category as pornographic sites that would be legitimately blocked from archdiocesan filters–and this happened coincidentally right after the latest Caritas posts. Whether it was a directive from Chancellor Jim McDonough to block our site or it is an unintentional IT problem with the filter, we humbly request that the IT folks and Chancellor McDonough fix the problem and stop blocking the blog.  It would be helpful if you could also assure workers in the archdiocese that “Big Brother” is not monitoring their web activity (or visits to this blog). Frankly, it seems word is spreading about the blog being blocked from Braintree, as our evening traffic, weekend traffic, and word-of-mouth referrals have gone through the roof.  So, if the intent was to have fewer people read the blog, the opposite is happening.

And please do not worry about trying to find and stop information “leaks” springing from 66 Brooks Drive.  If you are looking for our primary sources of information, they are not there.  Besides that, since many of us give our hard-earned money to support the archdiocese financially, instead of spending time and thousands of dollars in donor money on lawyers and IT people worrying about who is blogging and where they are getting information—a lot of which is just out there in the public domain or available from sources outside of the Pastoral Center—how about the archdiocese instead try welcoming the additional help with transparency we have been providing and focus on addressing the issues we have documented?   In the absence of an established whistleblower policy, we could be one of best vehicles available to you to help strengthen the archdiocese, clean-up corruption and cronyism, identify ways to save money, improve morale across  priests and other church/parish employees, and lay the foundation for being better able to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people in Boston.

After we are unblocked, would it be too much to ask for a Boston Catholic Insider plug on the Cardinal’s blog and mention in an upcoming weekly archdiocean email blast?


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