Open Letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Archdiocesan Leaders

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)

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3 Responses to Open Letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Archdiocesan Leaders

  1. [...] The Pilot.  The blog publishes an Open Letter to Cardinal O’Malley and archdicoesan leaders on August 23 (and updated September 15) asking for action on a number of issues.  Perhaps coincidentally, or [...]

  2. [...] recent months.  Not long after BCI raised the issue of the whistleblower policy in our August 23 Open Letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Archdiocesan Leaders, coincidentally, the Chancellor suddenly started moving the project along at a somewhat faster [...]

  3. [...] reason for BCI is as we said in our Open Letter to Cardinal O’Malley and archdiocesan leaders last August: We write to you on behalf of thousands of people in the Archdiocese of Boston asking [...]

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