Vicar General Letter to Bloggers

Readers, today we are sharing with you a short letter from Vicar General, Fr. Richard Erikson we received Tuesday, Sept 7 via email from his aide, Fr. Bryan Parrish. The text immediately follows, and our proposed response is found below for your review and input.

TO: The “Boston Catholic Insider” team

RE: “Open Letter”

In response to your “Open Letter” posted on your blog on August 23, and the specific questions you detail, I restate that Cardinal O’Malley and his staff are dedicated to building unity in Christ and Christian community within the Archdiocese. To that end, I reach out to you and your team, with the hope that you will accept my invitation to engage in respectful, fruitful and face-to face dialogue. I am not willing to engage in conversation or correspondence with emails or blog postings from anonymous individuals. If you would like to discuss your concerns in person, please contact my assistant, Mary Jo Kriz, at 617-746-5619 to schedule an appointment.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Very Rev. Richard Erikson, Ph.D. V.G.

We appreciate the amount of thought and consideration that must have been invested by the archdiocese over the past two weeks reviewing all of the points outlined in our Open Letter and determining this was the appropriate response.  We have prayed over this offer of a meeting with the Vicar General since Tuesday (which is why we haven’t posted since Monday) and have decided to decline at this time.  Below is a draft of our planned response.  If anyone feels we have missed something important, please let us know via comments relevant to this topic, or via the Contact Us form.

To: Very Rev. Richard Erikson, Ph.d. V.G.

From: Boston Catholic Insider team

We are in receipt of your letter of September 7 and appreciate your offer to meet for a face-to-face dialogue.  We share in the aspiration of building unity in Christ and Christian community in the Archdiocese–which is undermined and contaminated by the presence of deceit, ethical corruption, and what Pope Benedict XVI described in his June 29 homily as “negative attitudes that belong to the world” including “selfishness, vanity, pride, and the attachment to money.”  Unfortunately, for reasons we have stated previously on this blog and will restate in this response, we are respectfully declining the meeting at this time. The reasons are as follows:

1) Lack of transparency. A private meeting would be contrary to the archdiocese’s own goals of transparency and to the purpose of this blog.   The issues we have documented are important enough to tens of thousands of Boston Catholics and to the future of the Catholic Church in Boston that we feel they are best addressed in an open, broadly-participatory forum such as the Web and a blog provide.  How would a closed-door session advance transparency?

2) Minimized disruption of valuable archdiocesan staff time. As we stated in our August 22 post, Catholic Bloggers Respond to Archdiocese “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.”  We also realize that since the blog is not viewable in the Pastoral Center, perhaps you were restricted from seeing this post.  If the Vicar General has even one hour to spend in a meeting with us, we feel that time would be better spent addressing some of the issues we have raised for the good of the future of the Catholic Church in Boston.   We would be glad to then publicize that progress on the blog.

3) Fear of retaliation. As we have stated from day one, we write anonymously in order to protect ourselves against possible retaliation and threats to our livelihoods.  We know of many instances–and some Catholic bloggers have experienced them personally–where those who speak out or have spoken the Truth have been the victims of retaliation, and this continues today for priests, lay employees, and laity.  Because senior cabinet officials have met with outside attorneys to discuss possible legal action against the bloggers and because of the retaliatory nature of the current Boston archdiocesan administration, we simply cannot risk our livelihoods by identifying ourselves and meeting with you.

4) Archdiocese’s public deception and avoidance of the core issues. The public statements by the archdiocese issued during the week of August 23 in response to the blocking of the Boston Catholic Insider blog that “we have reached out to bloggers on numerous occasions” falsely implied that the archdiocese had reached out to this blog, when the archdiocese knew full well they had never done so, and in fact had ignored 4 emails to archdiocesean officials with simple questions about matters of good governance.  The statement “We are concerned about the harm caused to individuals and to the community by anonymous and unfounded claims on blogs” neglected to mention that no unfounded claims had been documented on this blog or ever shared with us. More importantly, the archdiocese has expressed no concern whatsoever over the harm done to the individuals or the Christian community by the well-documented climate and instances of deceit, cronyism, ethical and financial conflicts of interest, excessive spending, and unanswered questions over management of donor funds. These are the sorts of “negative attitudes of the world” that the Holy Father describes as the “greatest danger” to the Church. Why meet if the archdiocese is unconcerned about the core issues and is only concerned about our publicly documenting them?

5) Double-standard with respect to anonymity. With all due respect, we find your statement about not wanting to engage in communications with anonymous individuals to be disingenuous for two reasons. First, the failure of the archdiocese to implement a whistleblower policy as recommended for several years by your own auditors makes anonymity necessary to avoid fear of reprisals. (We will publish the recommendation passed on to us by anonymous archdiocesan auditors who fear reprisal in a separate post).  Secondly, in view of the degree of anonymity the archdiocese maintains day-to-day and expects priests, employees, and laity to accept–for decisions that are very significant towards the future of the Catholic Church in Boston and the Church’s stakeholders–the concerns about interacting with anonymous bloggers are difficult to take seriously.  How can an archdiocese that touts “transparency” be unwilling to engage in a public discourse over issues important to Catholics because the conduit for airing those issues is an anonymously written blog when the archdiocese maintains anonymity or a lack of disclosure of the following?:

  • Current Archdiocese Finance Council members (publicly-accessible via Web) : anonymous
  • Names of people who nominated new Finance Council members in the past 1-2 years: anonymous
  • Sub-committee membership of the Finance Council including Real Estate, Investment, Institutional Advancement, Legal, Steering Committees: anonymous
  • Trustees of the Clergy Retirement Fund: anonymous
  • Compensation for people managing the Clergy Retirement Fund: undisclosed
  • Trustees of the Employee Benefits Fund: anonymous
  • Current voting Board members at Caritas Christi: anonymous
  • Selection criteria and selection process for vendors servicing the Clergy Retirement Fund and Employee Benefits Fund: undisclosed
  • Members of the search committee that selected Cabinet Secretary for Communications: anonymous
  • Person who overruled staff members and approved the conflict of interest of allowing PR firm of Rasky Baerlein to lead the search for the person who would manage them and decide on their compensation and continued engagement: anonymous
  • Person who approved the conflict of interest of allowing Ann Carter of Rasky Baerlein on search committee to select Chancellor, who would ultimately approve all expenses paid to the firm: anonymous.  (This conflict of interest was maintained and allowed even considering that the final candidate  for the job, Jim McDonough, was the former CEO of Abington Bank where Carter profited from having served on the Board with McDonough)
  • Membership of search committee that selected Secretary for Education, Mary Grassa O’Neill and names of people who approved $325,000 salary: anonymous
  • Total cost over multiple years (in millions of $) of  deploying Lawson Software for financial management; listing of important pastoral programs cut as a result of decision to buy overly complex software that is a mismatch for archdiocesan needs: undisclosed
  • Person who approved using as audit firm,  Parent, McLaughlin & Nagle for mandated triennial parish audits, costing parishes in aggregate about $500K/year, and nature of relationship/friendship with  someone in the Finance department that led to their exclusive engagement mandated on parishes: anonymous/undisclosed
  • Name of person who may have already been selected as new Secretary of Development before search committee was convened to give the appearance of a open “worldwide search”: undisclosed
  • Person who has failed to implement a credible whistleblower policy in the archdiocese despite years of recommendations for such a policy by archdiocesan auditors and related entities, hereby necessitating anonymous blog: anonymous

We reiterate, since the archdiocese seems perfectly comfortable practicing and maintaining anonymity on these areas and others that relate to fiduciary responsibility over hundreds of millions of dollars in donor funds and that affect the ability to execute the mission of the Catholic Church for decades into the future, it seems hypocritical to dismiss people blogging anonymously about ethical concerns and mismanagement in these same areas just because the bloggers legitimately fear reprisals and threats to their livelihoods.

If the archdiocese is looking for a model for addressing most of the above, the approach used on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council website for disclosing this information seems like it would be simple to adapt and deploy on the various archdiocesan websites. (But it should have a means of contacting members that  actually works, instead of just pretending to be functional).

5) Apparent reversal from public commitments to transparency. This archdiocese has made public commitments to unprecedented levels of financial transparency which seem to have been largely abandoned at the highest levels:

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

This commitment [to financial transparency] 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.

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.”

As we have said before, we are just trying to help the Archdiocese achieve those same admirable goals.  The archdiocese’s criticism of this blog and ignoring of the  issues raised on the blog–which existed well before this blog started publicly documenting them—suggests the transparency initiative has been largely abandoned and make a closed-door meeting pointless.

6) Leadership voids and lack of accountability. On an operational basis, we are well aware that the main power-base of influence and decision-making at the Cabinet level is comprised of Chancellor Jim McDonough, Secretary for Healthcare and Social Services Fr. Bryan Hehir, and Communications Secretary Terry Donilon (whose offices are all in a sequestered area), but it also includes HR Exec Director Carol Gustavson (same office area), powerbroker Jack Connors, and John Kaneb. Though the formal org chart shows lines with those employed full-time by the archdiocese reporting to the Vicar General, is it well known that none of these individuals see themselves as accountable to the Vicar General, and many key decisions are made by them without the involvement of the Vicar General. Though we appreciate the Vicar General’s outreach to us, it seems that to practically address the concerns we have raised would require the active involvement of someone in a role operationally above these individuals–and in position to either require changes in behavior or to affect changes in the organization.

Once again, we reiterate our purpose with the blog in putting certain topics out in the light of day is simply to expose verifiable facts and matters that should be addressed or corrected so we can build a stronger Catholic Church in Boston and continue the good works of the Church today and for the future.  We hope this will make the difficult job and vocation of a Boston priest easier and more satisfying, we hope this will make things better for loyal hard-working Pastoral Center employees who love the Church and are committed to the mission of the Church, and we hope this will give donors more confidence and trust that the archdiocese is upholding its fiduciary responsibilities and using their contributions most efficiently and effectively.

We close by citing the words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI on the Feast of the Solemnity of Peter and Paul, June 29 2010:

Indeed if we think of the two millenniums of the Church’s history, we may note as the Lord Jesus had foretold (cf. Mt 10:16-33) that trials for Christians have never been lacking and in certain periods and places have assumed the character of true and proper persecution. Yet, despite the suffering they cause, they do not constitute the gravest danger for the Church. Indeed she is subjected to the greatest danger by what pollutes the faith and Christian life of her members and communities, corroding the integrity of the Mystical Body, weakening her capacity for prophecy and witness, and marring the beauty of her face. The Pauline Letters already testified to this reality. The First Letter to the Corinthians, for example, responds precisely to certain problems of division, inconsistence and infidelity to the Gospel that seriously threaten the Church. However, the Second Letter to Timothy a passage to which we listened also speaks of the perils of the “last days”, identifying them with negative attitudes that belong to the world and can contaminate the Christian community: selfishness, vanity, pride, the attachment to money, etc. (cf. 3:1-5). The Apostle’s conclusion is reassuring: men who do evil, he writes, “will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all” (3:9). Therefore a guarantee exists of the freedom that God assures the Church, freedom both from material ties that seek to prevent or to coerce her mission and from spiritual and moral evils that can tarnish her authenticity and credibility.

We would ask that this response be shared with the members of the Archdiocesan Finance Council, the Archdiocesan Presbyteral Council, and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, and we continue to welcome a response to the specific points in our August 23 Open Letter.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

The Boston Catholic Insider blog, on behalf of faithful Catholics in Boston

[To our readers, feel free to offer your feedback on this proposed response through Friday, September 10]

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One Response to Vicar General Letter to Bloggers

  1. [...] BCI said on September 9, 2010, “the archdiocese has expressed no concern whatsoever over the harm done to the individuals or [...]

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