Open Letter: Update for Presbyteral Council

One day is left before the Priest Appreciation dinner, and there is still time to shout out your appreciation for a Boston-area priest. Please see “Priest Appreciation” and post a compliment today!

We understand from several priests that the Presbyteral Council is meeting Thursday of this week.  22 days have passed since we published our original Open Letter to Cardinal O’Malley and the Archdiocesan Presbyteral, Pastoral, and Finance Councils.  We assume the lack of a response from the archdiocese to the points in the letter means it is slotted for discussion, and since a few things have changed in the past few weeks, we submit here an update to that Open Letter. If you know a priest on the Presbyteral Council, please email this letter to them today.

To: Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley
cc:  Members of the Archdiocesan Presbyteral Council
Members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council
Members of the Archdiocesan Finance Council

From: The “Boston Catholic Insider” blog 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 30,000 people have visited the blog 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. We also hope to serve as a temporary stop-gap while the Archdiocese works on implementing a credible whistleblower policy.

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. Transparency

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.  Clergy and employees alike 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, and quickly put a process in place to make known the following:

  • Current Archdiocese Finance Council members (publicly-accessible via Web)
  • Names of people who nominated new Finance Council members in the past 1-2 years and any prior relationship/connection to those members
  • Sub-committee membership of the Finance Council including Real Estate, Investment, Institutional Advancement, Legal, Steering Committee
  • Trustees of the Clergy Retirement Fund
  • Compensation for people managing the Clergy Retirement Fund
  • Trustees of the Employee Benefits Fund
  • Current voting Board members at Caritas Christi
  • Selection criteria and selection process for vendors servicing the Clergy Retirement Fund and Employee Benefits Fund
  • Membership of search committee that selected Secretary for Education, Mary Grassa O’Neill and names of people who approved $325,000 salary
  • 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 that may have existed with Finance department employee that led to their exclusive engagement mandated on parishes

2. Whistleblower Policy

Why does the Archdiocese still not have a “whistleblower” policy in place to protect clergy and employees who come forward with information about corruption, conflicts of interest, or excessive expenditures?  When will it be implemented, communicated, and operational?

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 with an implemented working policy yet?  The recommendation from auditors was as follows:

Anonymous Submission Process Recommended by Auditors to Boston Archdiocese

  • Currently, the [Archdiocese] does not have an anonymous submission process where employee or donor concerns are able to be communicated to the [Finance Council/Archbishop/Boards of Directors].
  • We recommend the implementation of an anonymous submission process where employee or donor concerns can be voiced directly to the [Finance Council/Archbishop/Board of Directors].

This is not just a 1-800 number that then routes complaints to the same people who are the subject of the claims so they can kill the claims and retaliate.  Rather this must be a policy that empowers an independent individual or ethics panel to investigate claims and take action to address those found valid.

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 repeatedly tell us that it is a relief they can confidentially “blow the whistle” on corruption through our blog.

Does whatever policy under consideration include provision for an individual or ethics panel with high integrity and no conflicts of interest themselves, who is authorized, empowered, and personally motivated to drive this program with authority to investigate and take action against any member of the Finance Council, any Cabinet official, and any employee?  Those programs implemented in other dioceses appear to presume that the person in the role of the Vicar General or the Chancellor has the combination of i) high integrity, ii) values consistent with those in their whistleblower policies, iii) a non-retaliatory nature that encourages openness and wants to root out corruption, and iv) the authority level over all administration and operations to “own” and drive such a program and effect the needed changes.  From what we have documented on the Boston Catholic Insider blog, been told by clergy and employees, and have personally experienced in the response to the blog, we do not see either person in those roles in Boston today as having that combination of traits.  Nor do we see evidence of a culture that encourages openness and wants to root out corruption today.

In particular, the Boston Catholic Insider blog has already documented what can objectively be seen as ethical concerns, cronyism, and conflicts of interest associated with those in the pink box below (click to enlarge).

How will the  whistleblower policy in Boston provide for someone with impeccable ethical credentials (or some independent ethics panel) to be granted substantial investigative and corrective authority over all of the people whose pictures appear in the pink box, their subordinates, the Vicar General, and the administrative cabinet that reports into the Vicar General? Will that person or panel have authority to make policy changes and be able to terminate any employee for ethical or financial corruption?

How will clergy be protected in a whistleblower policy if the people who they are making claims against should potentially include either the Chancellor or Vicar General, but  the Cardinal has delegated decision-making authority to those two roles? What is the timeframe for implementing an official whistleblower policy that meets the principles described above, and how will the archdiocese ensure that all complaints will be handled, investigated, and reported on in a prompt, objective, and effective manner with no fear of retaliation, especially given the history of the opposite occurring?

3. Clergy Retirement Fund and Employee Benefits Funds

Why is the Archdiocese failing to disclose key information about the Clergy Retirement Fund and Employee Benefits Funds, and when will the spirit of transparency and openness extend to management of these critical funds?

Clergy have been asking simple questions about the names of the lay trustees of the Clergy Retirement Fund for some time and this information has not been publicly disclosed.  A recent letter sent to employees of the archdiocese about changes to pension benefits was signed anonymously by “The Board of Trustees of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Pension Plan.”   We are aware that Ms. Carol Gustavson, the proudly ex-Catholic Executive Director of Human Resources, is head of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Benefits Trust entity, but management of that fund is cloaked in anonymity.  When can we expect questions such as the following to be answered?

  • Who are the trustees of the Clergy Retirement Fund?  How were they selected?
  • How much is the management of the Clergy Retirement Fund currently being paid?  How many days a week are they working?
  • What are the goals for the management of the Clergy Retirement Fund and its stabilization?
  • Are the managers and trustees barred from receiving any benefit from the vendors who service the fund?
  • Who is the leadership of “Benefits Trust” trust besides Ms. Carol Gustavson?  Why are the names of those people currently kept anonymous? What are their backgrounds?  How were they chosen?  When exactly will the names be disclosed?
  • Does the trust benefit both lay and ordained?
  • How is Ms. Gustavson discharging her fiduciary duty exclusively for the good of the beneficiaries of the trust?
  • Who else’s salary besides Ms. G’s is paid in whole or in part?  What is she paid?  What is the total cost of the salaries paid by the trust?
  • Is she paid by both the trust and RCAB?  What is her total compensation?
  • Who are the vendors of the trust, namely investment and program managers?  How are they chosen? How are they compensated?
  • When do the vendors of the trust meet with the trust leadership?
  • What goals is the trust given?  Who sets those goals, tracks progress, and maintains accountability for achieving those goals?
  • Is Ms. Carol G. forbidden from receiving any benefit from the vendors of the trust?  Is she foresworn from later being employed by one of them or a related entity?
  • Is there any impediment to making all agreements entered into by or on behalf of the Trust public?
  • Is there any impediment to making the periodic earnings reports submitted to the Trust public?  If there is an impediment, what is it?  If there is not, why not publish them?
  • Where is the much-touted transparency?

4. Pastoral Center Six-Figure Salaries

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. Searches to fill key positions

Are the searches for a new Secretary of Institutional Advancement and new Executive Director of the Mass Catholic Conference truly “open” searches?  Was a top candidate already identified before the Secretary of Advancement search committee convened? Why does every major “worldwide search’ conducted by the archdiocese end up being tainted by controversy?

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, anonymity of search committee members, excessive compensation relative to comparable positions elsewhere, or prior relationship that gives the appearance of bias.  These “sham searches” 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 the open Cabinet secretary of Institutional advancement 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 (eg. perhaps the former Hill Holliday executive close to Jack Connors who is coincidentally co-chairing the Priest Appreciation dinner) and the “search committee” process is just to give the appearance that it is open to any qualified candidate?

Who is on the search committee for the new head of the Mass Catholic Conference?  Why has the membership not been disclosed?   How has the search for the MCC position been advertised?  How many candidates have applied?  What kinds of backgrounds do the candidates bring?

Who overruled staff objections and approved the conflicts of interest which occurred with both the Chancellor and Communications secretary positions whereby a vendor paid by the archdiocese (Rasky Baerlein) played a key role on the search committees to pick the officials who would later have decision-making authority over those payments, and where that vendor just coincidentally had prior connections to both people selected for those positions?  Why has the ongoing existence of this conflict of interest still not been addressed?

6. Renewal of Financial Officer term of employment

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.

What consequences are there to the Chancellor and those ultimately accountable for the ill-conceived Lawson Software project,  whose estimated costs have hit $5.5 million to the archdiocese already, and which is costing approximately $500,000/year in software, hosting, and personnel costs for the five-year contract running through 2012?   What programs are not being funded that should receive money due to what this blog and other sources have characterized as a “boat anchor”?

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.

7. Financial outlook for Archdiocese of Boston

What is the true financial outlook in the short-term and long-term for the Boston Archdiocese, and how is the archdiocese going to handle significant expenses in the near-term not covered by revenue?

One third of parishes in the archdiocese are currently in the red, yet the archdiocese appears to be counting on an 18% tax on their contributions that these parishes simply cannot afford.

The Catholic Schools Campaign’s 2010 initiative has raised $48.5 million of the $70 million needed to complete the Pope John Paul II academy in Dorchester—an impressive accomplishment, but still well short of the goal. What was the process that led to the grant of some $20 million to one Catholic School in Dorchester, when sources indicate that the archdiocese had decided a year prior to sell its campus to BC because it needed the cash? Has the construction expense already been incurred against the projected $70 million cost, thereby leaving a $22 million shortfall and thereby meaning the schools cannot repay some significant portion of the $20+ million loan documented on pages 16 and 45 of the 2009 annual report?   What is the guarantee that the Archdiocese will be 100% paid back for this initiative? Should the Archdiocese not be paid back by the schools, where will the money come from?

In the 2009 annual report (p.75), we were also informed that the self-insurance program of Corporation Sole provided the $2.6 million of funding to cover expenses associated with administering abuse prevention efforts and outreach to promote healing and reconciliation. This funding came from drawing down assets of the self-insurance program.  Does the archdiocese plan to continue drawing profits from and/or depleting the remaining assets of the self-insurance program for this purpose?  If so, then what source of revenue will fund these efforts in a few years after the self-insurance assets are depleted?

With parish collections down and 1/3 of parishes facing deficits , sources of funds to support the central administration budget dropping, and a Clergy Retirement Plan deficit estimated at $100 million not long ago, what is the archdiocese’s plan for achieving short and long-term financial stability?

8. Response by archdiocese to Boston Catholic Insider blog

Why did the archdiocese state that claims on the Boston Catholic Insider blog are considered “unfounded” without identifying any specific inaccuracies and asking for a correction? Which claims are thought to be “unfounded?  Which are acknowledged as accurate, and what is being done to investigate them as a precursor to having a whistleblower policy in place?   If openness and transparency to rebuild trust are important for the archdiocese, 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 referred 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 on claims that should immediately be acted upon, 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 while the archdiocese acts on everything they agree is accurate.  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 and/or to stop the blog from continuing to publish.  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 August 23 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—most 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.

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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8 Responses to Open Letter: Update for Presbyteral Council

  1. JJ says:

    I sure hope you bring this letter to the attention of the Globe. You’ve spent an incredible amount of time and effort on this and we – other archdiocesan Catholics who support the Church – all deserve to see these problems cleaned up.

  2. Michael says:

    Does anyone care?
    Anyone in the archdiocese?
    Any priests?
    Anyone?

    What does the Cardinal think? Does he even know about this information? Does he even care?

    This is completely OUT OF CONTROL.

    I am praying for your team. Thanks again.

  3. Anonymous Blogger says:

    Thanks Michael.

    I think you would be surprised about the number of priests and lay people in the archdiocese who care. The number of people is actually very edifying.

    There is gross disatisfaction with the operation at 66 Brooks Drive across a very wide spectrum of people. We have many behind us.

  4. PriestsForTransparency.com says:

    To the Priests on the Presbyteral Council:
    To the Priests attending the Priest Appreciation Dinner:

    If you support the efforts of Boston Catholic Insider and hope that the Archdiocese answers the questions posed in the Open Letter, please wear black to the Presbyteral Council meeting and/or the Priest Appreciation Dinner.

    If you don’t support these efforts, please wear something rainbow, lavender, pink or avoid wearing clerics all together.

    Sincerely,
    PriestsForTransparency.com

  5. Michael says:

    Is the Boston Catholic Insider having an exhibitor table at the Presbyteral Council meeting or dinner? Because I for one (and I know a lot of other people) would really like to meet your team!

  6. [...] the Cardinal when they meet on Wednesday evening, along with the other issues in our most recent Open Letter.  Anyone reading this post, please drop an email to Sr. Marian Batho and ask her to put all of the [...]

  7. [...] 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 perhaps not so [...]

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