Seminary Squeezola: BC Brighton Campus plans

October 28, 2010

In today’s episode of the “Seminary Squeezola” (about how both the Boston Archdiocesean leadership and Boston College have been inhibiting the ability of St. Johns Seminary from being more prosperous), we discuss the expansion plans BC has for their new “Brighton Campus” and we share via pictures what the squeezola actually looks like.

For new readers, in our first exciting episode, St Johns Seminary “Squeezola, we reported on how Boston College is encroaching on the limited space left for St. John’s Seminary. In our second episode, The 2007 Sale of Property to BC, we gave some of the history of the 2004 and 2007 sales, and how the archdiocese–and specifically Cardinal O’Malley, Chancellor McDonough, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson who serve on the seminary board–disregarded the recommendations of the Vatican’s apostolic visitation committee that no more property from SJS be sold. In our third episode, Chancellor Conflict of Interest and Money Grab we reported on the money grab for the seminary assets and conflicts of interest by Archdiocesan Chancellor Jim McDonough and other archdiocesan leaders.

For posterity sake, we invite you to briefly take a look at some of the history of the St. Johns Seminary campus.  According to the SJS website, in March of 1880, Archbishop Williams acquired the 50 acre Stanwood estate, near the present day Lake Street in Brighton, for around $18,500.  As you know, all of that land was sold to Boston College in 2004 and 2007. If you want to learn more about the development of the buildings on the property and architecture, the Brighton Allston Historical Society has an interesting overview. 

Here is what the St. Johns Seminary map used to look like before the Archdicoese sold off all of their land:

Walk about the former seminary grounds today and it all looks basically like it did a few years ago before it was sold, except for the addition of some emergency phones, signage, and the young coeds now walking around. But this belies the plans ahead. 

First off, here is what the BC “Brighton Campus”  map looks like today.

  

The black building in the top part of the picture is St. Johns Hall.  That is all that remains of the former St. Johns Seminary property for the seminary, and even that building sits on land now owned by Boston College.  The building itself is legally considered a “condominium.”  St. Johns Hall is attached to the former Bishop Peterson Hall (blue-colored building), and only hallway doors separate the building occupied by BC (former Peterson Hall) and the St. Johns Hall building.

The initial plans for the Brighton Campus were announced in December 2007 by BC, as part of their  $800M 10-Year Master Plan (later $1B), which also included plans for the main campus.  The Brighton Campus plan got pared back a fair amount after review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority by the time it was approved in early 2009.

Here are highlights  from their original 2007 plan for the Brighton Campus:

  • Addition of 600 beds on the Brighton Campus
  • Develop the Brighton Athletics Center, which will include a 1,500-seat baseball and 500-seat softball field, as well as a multi-purpose field for intramural sports, and a 200,000 square field house for track and tennis on the Brighton Campus.
  • Build a fine arts district on the Brighton Campus that will include the relocated McMullen Museum of Art, an auditorium and academic space.
  • Build Jesuit housing on Foster Street in Brighton for Jesuit faculty and graduate students from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, which re-affiliates with Boston College in 2008.
  • Build a 500-space parking facility to serve the Brighton Campus.
  • Develop the former Cardinal’s Residence on the Brighton Campus into a Conference Center for Boston College.
  • Develop St. William’s Hall on the Brighton Campus into the new School of Theology and Ministry.
  • Utilize the remaining properties acquired from the Archdiocese of Boston as administrative offices.

 In January of 2009, the plan was approved, with a number of modifications.  Here are the highlights of the changes:

  • Number of dorm rooms to be added was scaled back dramatically from the original 600 beds, down to 150 beds, and the 150 bed proposal was not approved and was to be taken under further advisement.
  • Athletics facilities: Seating capacity of the baseball facility reduced from 2,000 to 1,000 seats, with the possibility of a future increase if management and impact standards are met.  Seating capacity of the softball facility reduced the from 500 to 300 seats.  The planned 200,000 square foot field house was reduced to a 60,000 square foot support facility. 
  • Fine arts center, museum and auditorium relocated from the corner of Lake Street and Commonwealth Avenue to a more central location along Commonwealth Avenue (near the former Cardinal’s Residence).
  • BC agreed to establish for 25 years a “no-build” zone 50 feet wide extending from the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Lake Street to the driveway entrance to St. John’s Seminary.

Here’s a 2006 rendition of what the proposed athletic fields would look like (though in the 2009 revisions, the orientation was changed)

 

Brighton Fields | A view to the southwest from above property adjoining Brighton Campus. A set of playing fields stretches from the near left to the near right, ending at Lake Street. The new building in the middle distance is a combination racquet center and parking garage. The campus of St. John’s Seminary is in the middle distance at center.

Work has now begun. Walk past the former Bishop Peterson Hall and you will see scaffolding outside. The building used to have classrooms, administrative offices and dorm rooms for the seminarians.

What is BC planning to use the former Peterson Hall for?   According to this September 10, 2010 Boston Globe article, “Once the Lake Street renovations are complete, the college’s human resource employees from More Hall will move there.”

There are more than a few things that we do not understand.  The biggest one is why BC is saying they need to use the St Johns Seminary Chapel are part of the negotition over the dorm rooms SJS would like to acquire back.  There is a perfectly fine spacious chapel BC owns in the former Peterson Hall building and they are apparently planning to gut (or are already gutting) so they can use the space for some other purpose.  How demanding could the office requirements for HR employees who are right now comfortably working in another building possibly be?  BC also got a chapel in the former St. Clements Hall building and another smaller one in the former St. Williams Hall building.  They bought 3 buildings with chapels, and need to further encroach on our seminary to use their chapel?  Does anyone else think this is preposterous? 

Beyond the matter of the chapel, although it is “water over the dam” at this point, just out of curiosity, was the property sold to BC in 2004 and 2007 ever even put up for sale by the archdiocese via an open request for proposal (RFP) and open bidding process?  Could anyone who wanted to submit a proposal for consideration, or was BC the only bidder allowed?

Why is BC’s further encroachment on the seminary tolerated?  Don’t the growing numbers of seminarians and expansion of the SJS programs speak volumes?  Why isn’t Cardinal O’Malley trying to “buy back” the former Peterson Hall so the seminary’s growth has someplace to go?  Whose advice is he listening to regarding the future of the seminary?

So many questions.  So few answers.  Stay tuned for more in our next exciting episode of Seminary Squeezola.

ps. Odds now favor the announcement of Kathleen Driscoll as the new secretary for institutional advancement next Tuesday, Election Day, so it will get the least amount of press coverage possible.


St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: Chancellor Conflict of Interest and Money Grab

October 27, 2010

We are continuing our exclusive series “Seminary Squeezola” about how both the Boston Archdiocesean leadership and Boston College have been inhibiting the ability of St. Johns Seminary to be more prosperous.  Today we discuss the money grab for those seminary assets and conflicts of interest by Archdiocesan Chancellor Jim McDonough and other archdiocesan leaders.

For new readers, in our first exciting episode, St Johns Seminary “Squeezola, we reported on how Boston College is encroaching on the limited space left for St. John’s Seminary. In our second episode, St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: The 2007 Sale of Property to BC, we gave some of the history of the 2004 and 2007 sales, and how the archdiocese–and specifically Cardinal O’Malley, Chancellor McDonough, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson who serve on the seminary board–disregarded the recommendations of the Vatican’s apostolic visitation committee that no more property from SJS be sold.

In 2007, against the recommendation of the then-rector and the Vatican’s apostolic visitation committee, the Seminary trustees voted to sell the remaining property of the seminary to BC so the archdiocese could raise needed cash.  The rector’s letter opposing this sale can be found here at Boston.com and has been posted there available to the public since 2007.

Here is his letter of resignation filed shortly after the trustees 2007 vote (it’s part of the same Boston.com document–just the last 2 pages).  Note the passage that says, “The Chancellor stated emphatically last night that the seminary will not be recompensed according to the value of the assets conveyed, but the $65 million to be derived from this sale will be applied “where it is needed.”  Anyone else besides Boston Catholic Insider wondering why the Chancellor is even on the Board of Trustees of the seminary when his interests are directly in conflict with those of forming seminarians?  Read on:

Eminence and Trustees:

24 May 2007

The morning after yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Trustees finds me still uncomprehending and deeply distressed.

The way in which a $65 million project was presented with no advance specific information that would allow study and consultation, and then be voted favorably is incomprehensible to me. The fact that no one in the Seminary was consulted, or even informed about the proposal is incomprehensible to me. The fact that public events to announce the news were scheduled even before our meeting was held last night and are being carried out this morning is incomprehensible to me. Finally the fact that announcements are being made to the public with no vote taken at all by the Corporate Members is not only incomprehensible to me, but is contrary to law. Last night’s meeting was a burlesque of the Board of Trustees and of the ways of proceeding of any serious board.

Even more distressing to me is the substance of last night’s “deliberations.” Exaggerated statements about a projected budgetary deficit for FY08 served as the point of departure for the presentation, the explicit recommendations of the Congregation for Catholic Education were dismissed peremptorally, a proposal was made to remedy a problem that we do not have, the remedy proposed is that the seminary alienate assets that are needed to assure its future fiscal viability and all this was done in the name of assuring our financial stability and viability. In my judgment, all of this is utterly preposterous.

For the second time in three years, RCAB plunders the assets of St. John’s Seminary. In 2004, the seminary conveyed to RCAB assets worth about $56 million and received in recompense $21 million and a promissory note for $4.8 million. If the seminary were in possession of even the cash represented by the note, our financial “problems” would be greatly eased. Instead the seminary is presented as “not able to make it financially.” Now, assets of the seminary will be taken and combined again with assets of RCAB, who will in turn sell them to BC. The Chancellor stated emphatically last night that the seminary will not be recompensed according to the value of the assets conveyed, but the $65 million to be derived from this sale will be applied “where it is “needed.” Clearly, in this disposition the seminary is considered as not one of the “needs” of the archdiocese – even as a beneficiary of its own assets.

I do not wish to be associated with an organization that shows so little respect for people who have been charged with responsibility for it and so little respect for truth. After prayerful consideration and with the support of Fr. Dominic Izzo, O.P., my Prior Provincial, I hereby resign as Rector of St. John’s Seminary, effective immediately….

I ask for your prayers and promise you mine.

Sincerely in Christ,

Fr. John A. Farren, O.P.

Rector

Interesting, eh?  Does any of this way of operating sound familiar?

Here is the listing of the Board of Trustees of SJS.  (Note, this is slightly out of date in that not all of the lay people listed are still on the board–we know of at least one person who resigned after the “burlesque” since all Corporate members were not included).

The key players in this 2007 vote who had an inherent conflict of interest are Cardinal O’Malley, Chancellor Jim McDonough, and Vicar General Fr. Erikson (despite his having previously served on the SJS faculty).  They needed cash, and that need was in direct conflict with the needs of the seminary and the recommendations of the Vatican’s own apostolic visitation committee.  (Coincidentally, the USCCB chair of the secretariat for the clergy, consecrated life, and vocations who announced the visitation report summary was Cardinal O’Malley).  How does he reconcile the conflict of needing to push vocations for the U.S. bishops and for his own diocese, but then disregarding the visitation committee’s own recommendation for SJS that “in order to ensure the integrity of the seminary… no more property [on the campus] should be sold”?

How did the Cardinal, Vicar General, and the Chancellor justify grabbing the seminary land and buildings while at the same time, the Chancellor admitted that the seminary would not even be fairly compensated in return?

As part of this sale, we hear from sources that without consulting the prior rector, the Chancellor also included in the sale transaction to BC the dorm rooms that are located over the refectory, leasing them under a 99-year lease, which is effectively considered a sale.  We also are told that Chancellor McDonough bends over backward to accommodate BC in all things, and that he is one of its strongest allies.

The conflicts of interest start at the top.  We give the Cardinal due respect and credit to serve as the chairman of the board of the diocesan seminary, but it should be noted that the seminary is not Corporation Sole.  It predates Corp Sole by 15 years, and was chartered by an act of the Legislature, as was Corp Sole.  They are distinct in every way (seminary is a university technically, Corp Sole is a religion) with the exception of interlocking boards with profound conflicts of interest.  The Cardinal, McDonough and Fr. Erikson have voted according to documents online, in direct conflict with the best interest of the seminary, in order to benefit Corp Sole.  By coincidence, archdiocesan Beirne Lovely attends some of the seminar board meetings, where he states that he is not the seminary’s lawyer.  So one might ask, why is he even there?

Why are these conflicts of interest tolerated?  How do we get these people with inherent conflicts of interest off the board of the seminary?  Are any priests safe and secure enough in their role and relationship with the Cardinal that they are willing to stand up and tell the Cardinal he needs to start making some governance changes? Why do people–even those supportive of the seminary and posting to this blog supportive of the seminary–allow themselves to conclude that the final takeover of St. John’s Hall by BC is a foregone conclusion, when the seminary is prospering?  Should not the first move be to remove people from the Board of Trustees who have clear conflicts of interest with agendas other than the prosperity of the seminary and the formation of priests for the future of the Catholic Church?

ps. Speaking of burlesque, we hear through the rumor mill that the archdiocese is putting final touches on how they will spin the “sham search” for the secretary of development.  Supposedly, the curtain rises on the show with the announcement next week.  Would anyone like to place bets on which “busy news” day next week they will choose for the announcement, when it’s least likely to get a lot of attention?


St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: The 2007 Sale of Property to BC

October 26, 2010

As you may recall, in Seminary Squeezola, we reported on how Boston College is encroaching on the limited space left for St. John’s Seminary.  BC has just taken back several rooms (a music room and faculty dining room) they had let the seminary use, a largely symbolic move of BC flexing muscles which provides no significant space benefits to BC but which causes a hassle for St Johns Seminary.

 It is representative of what many see as the final phase of BC taking over the rest of the seminary space; BUT, with the seminary prospering and the Vatican’s own 2006 apostolic visit to the seminary having recommended it stay open and no more property be sold, a lot of people do not wish to just accept that fate and let the proverbial BC “bulldozer” roll over them. 

The seminary post generated some of the most passionate comments we have seen to date on the blog.  Today we update you with a little of the historical context that helps ground the discussion.  

As many readers know, the sale of St. John’s Seminary land and buildings by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2004 and 2007 when the archdiocese needed money  is what started this whole problem, and it was massively compounded by the decision from the archdiocese to reject recommendations made by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education after their Apostolic Visitation of U.S. Seminaries that “in order to ensure the integrity of the seminary… no more property [on the campus] should be sold.”   How do we know the Apostolic Visitation said this?  It’s right out there in the public domain at Boston.com.  Just read a summary of the 2007 story at Whispers in the Loggia, read this article in the Boston Globe with paid subscription (“Critic slames archdiocese land sale as betrayal“), or simply click here for the letter by the then-rector of St. Johns Seminary posted at Boston.com. (For those readers who like shorter posts, apologies in advance that today is not one of them).

The sale of the remaining seminary land in 2007 so upset the then-outgoing rector that he resigned immediately.  Here are excerpts of his lengthy letter to the Board of Trustees before they voted on the move to sell the land and property.

Several days ago, Cardinal Sean met with me to explain the broad lines of the proposal that is now offered to the Board of Trustees. He explained its overall motivation thus: “‘It is is designed to assure the financial stability and viability of the seminary and of the archdiocese.”

I do not consider myself competent to speak about the financial stability and viability of the archdiocese, but I do consider myself competent to speak about those of St. John’s Seminary, and that is my intention today.

There are three points to be considered in voting for this proposal.

• The proposal is mistaken in judging that the seminary is not fiscally stable and viable and it is mistaken in judging that the seminary needs financial assistance.

• It is mistaken in its expectation that the terms of the proposal will assist the seminary. On the contrary, and this is the third point:

• The terms of the proposal will, in my judgment, bring about the demise of the seminary.

I. The fiscal stability and viability of the seminary

In the first place, the proposal assumes that the seminary is not fiscally stable and viable. I would point out, however, that for two years now, since the end of FY05, the seminary has received no appropriation from RCAB, yet is alive and well. During the 8 March 2005 trustee meeting, one member of the Budget and Finance committee observed that” these are the strongest financials in the history of the seminary.” 

Unlike Blessed John XXIII Seminary, St. John’s was not allowed to conduct its own advancement program and plans to hire a Director of Advancement were sacrificed in order to ”balance the budget.”

Recalling several items from recent history will help clarify our understanding of the current fiscal status of the seminary.

In 2004, RCAB was under heavy pressure to pay additional sex abuse claims, and was without the resources to do so. RCAB approached both John XXIII Seminary in Weston and St. John’s Seminary for assistance. The approach was totally rebuffed by the trustees of John XXIII. As the trustees will recall, the corporate members of the Board of St. John’s, following the favorable vote of the trustees, responded benevolently and ceded title to several seminary assets to RCAB who subsequently added some of its own assets, and these were sold to BC for $85 million. Of the 48 acre package of land and buildings sold to Be, about two thirds were assets from the seminary. Thus assets of approximately $56 million were transferred from the seminary to RCAB so that it could pay its claimants. At that time, the Cardinal pledged that $30 million would be given to the seminary so that an endowment could be begun. As it happened, RCAB received a smaller payment from its insurance companies than it expected, such that it could give the seminary only $21 million and a promissory note for $4.8 million (that will come due in 2011).

Thus, $56 million was transferred from the seminary to RCAB, and $21 million with a promissory note for $4.8 million were returned to the seminary. This represents a net loss to the seminary of $30.2 million, and this in favor of RCAB. Thus the question must be asked whether the financial instability is that of the seminary or of RCAB.

II. The proposal will not assist, but impede, the functioning and growth of the seminary

That the authors of the proposal know little about a seminary, whether its intrinsic nature, or its role within the particular Church, or its governance is an inescapable conclusion. Nor have they ever solicited the recommendations or judgment about the proposal from those who do, including trustees (who are responsible for the seminary) and sending bishops (who should be included in policy decisions). The proposal argues that in order to assure the “financial stability and viability of the seminary” further alienation of property is necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the expert evaluation of the Apostolic Visitation team which visited us as part of the nationwide evaluation of seminaries, their report clearly states: “Neighboring Boston College has purchased large tracts of former archdiocesan land near St. John’s. Tn order to insure the integrity of the seminary, the Visitors recommended that no more property should be sold.” Their report refers specifically to “the Seminary’s excellent library.” …

What is clear to me is that if the authors knew the nature of a seminary and its relation to the life of the particular Church, they would know that the seminary is often referred to as the heart of the particular Church – numerous times in this way by Pope John Paul II. If they realized the impact and difference made by sound theological and pastoral formation, they would begin to understand something of the difference between St. John’s Seminary and the neighboring WJST and BC.

It strikes me as extremely ironic that the proposal should come at this point in time. As the current rector concludes his term of office and a new rector assumes that role in governance, the leadership will be at a grave disadvantage to deal with changes to the seminary as it has developed over the past four years. It is even more ironic in that the Cardinal has recently received a draft of the post-Apostolic Visitation letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education. From the Visitation carried out in St. John’s in February 2006, its findings are singularly positive and laudatory. Its opening paragraph speaks of St. John’s as an “excellent seminary.” The trustees will recall that I read significant portions of that draft at our March meeting. …

Collaboration with WJST or BC is not in the interest of St. John’s. We exist to form in the faith candidates for the priesthood who will be good shepherds and fathers of the flock entrusted to their care and we have done that well. The Visitation report has determined that “the doctrine on the priesthood presented by the seminary is solidly based on the Church’s Magisterium; this is evident in all course syllabi. The pastoral and spiritual programs, too, reflect a sound doctrine of the priesthood. Faculty and staff readily accept this teaching.” In contrast, WJST exists in the model of a research university where opinions of every kind are propagated without adequate identification of the binding articles of faith…If we are urged to reduce expenses by mutual collaboration, this would induce asphyxiation, with the remedy worse than the affliction (if there were an affliction that needed to be remedied)…

The Visitation team also reported that “The prayerful atmosphere of St. John’s Seminary is one of its most outstanding and noticeable qualities … there is a strong emphasis on fostering an authentic priesty spirituality in all areas of formation.” Already, as a result of the sale of seminary assets to BC in 2004, the negative impact on the environment of the seminary has been observed. Based on the increase of vehicular and pedestrian traffic outside chapel, residences, and classrooms, of people entering the seminary to use its facilities and using its remaining grounds as a public park, based on these already intrusive changes, it is evident that the impact of further sale of property would be more detrimental and burdensome to long established practices necessary for maintaining an atmosphere of prayer. For SJS to continue its path of development and growth, it must also be able to accommodate guests attending events such as the lectures of Cardinals Dulles and Stafford and the annual Lessons and Carols which introduce the public and potential benefactors to SJS, gatherings of presbyteral alumni which the Cardinal has applauded and encouraged, or the many retreats and meetings of Vocation Directors and potential vocations whose increasing numbers have also been reported to the Board in the past two years.

To sell Peterson Hall and the library with their contiguous land would destroy the value of what that property has meant in the history of the archdiocese. It would simply become Boston College.  The sale of the kitchen and heating plant will leave St. John’s in perpetual dependence on BC. But more than a building, there needs to be a relationship with the archdiocese. That relationship has been cultivated in increased use for archdiocesan functions and its office of Vocations. In recent months, the Seminary capacity was exceeded when Vocation Directors sponsored a “come and see” weekend, necessitating the use of additional rooms in Peterson Hall.

Harm to the credibility and stability of the archdiocese and the seminary will result from further sale of property and buildings. In fact, the Visitation Report states that “The seminary, therefore, needs to be supported, so that its mission continue to flourish.” St. John’s Seminary is about to be been granted affiliation with the Pontifical Lateran University of Rome and would become the only seminary in New England to offer ecclesiastical degrees which will be recognized as representing a high and integral standard both in North America and throughout Europe. ..

To quote the report again: “The Visitors unanimously recommended that St. John’s Seminary be kept open, despite the financial pressure to sell it. They hoped that Your Eminence would make a strong, clear statement that its future is secure.” The fatal flawof the proposal before you is that it fails to consider that a seminary is more than property. The distinction between the financial state of the seminary and that of RCAB is blurred. The board’s vote on the proposal cannot be made without knowing whether there is a more comprehensive, future plan. Is there another property? Are we thinking of a new, better location for St. John’s Seminary? Unless there is such a plan already in the developmental stage for Boston’s Archdiocesan and the region’s seminary, approving this proposal counters everything that is stated in our mission. Acceptance of this defective proposal represents an outright rejection not only of the advice of the Holy See and the support of regional bishops, but also the expressed intentions of our Cardinal Archbishop which we have all been privileged to share over the past several years.

The critical question is not to sell or not sell property. The question is: will we project a whole new archdiocesan seminary? Unless we have a suitable structure on which we can rely, even if it means having to leave this historically significant setting, unless there is a suitable alternative so that St. John’s can continue to provide priestly formation in line with the teaching of the Church, we are giving up on SJS and this becomes an ill-fated project. As the archdiocese prepares for its bicentennial there could be nothing but shame and embarrassment if we appear to forsake our own mandate, mission, and values for 30 pieces of silver.

Taking our lead from the archdiocesan pledge for transparency in finances and from the archdiocesan presbyterate, we would do well to ask that any plan for the future of SJS be proposed in a way that engenders “trust … with transparency, consultation, communication, integrity, follow-through, and many other desirable qualities … ” all of which are found lacking here (A Church Continually Being Reborn, Archdiocese of Boston Pastoral Planning Report, Spring 2007).http://www.sjs.edu/history/

 

Sorry for the length folks.  It seemed to us that pieces of this are relevant to the situation faced today with the latest moves from BC, and we could not do justice to the message via more extensive edits. 

The building sale went through, despite the admonitions of the former rector.  Today, St. John’s Seminary is prospering as the seminary trains and forms seminarians, offers religious education for adults, trains catechists, hosts many conferences and liturgies, gathers priests for reunions, provides a strong pro-life presence for the archdiocese and builds up the faith.  There is a huge amount of greatness there–excellent faculty, strong leadership, a solid group of seminarians and much promise ahead. Why not keep a pretty good thing going despite the existing limitations and continue supporting the seminary for the greater good of the archdiocese and Catholic Church in Boston?  Let us know what you think.

In the meantime, if someone reading this has the ears of Cardinal O’Malley and/or Fr. Leahy and can tell them that they should both protect St. John’s from further BC encroachment, this blog thinks that would be a really good thing.  More next time.


AP Report on Catholic Bloggers, Boston Catholic Insider

October 25, 2010

First, for those who have not yet read our Sunday post,  St. John Seminary Squeezola, we suggest you make that your first stop today. Boston College has just taken back small rooms (a music room and faculty dining room) they had “graciously” let the seminary use, which means little to BC space-wise and is more about their symbolically flexing their muscles, while the loss of that needed space means a lot to the seminary. Pay special attention to the passionate comments by readers about the future of St. Johns Seminary. Anyone from the archdiocese reading this, we suggest you forward a copy of the post and comments on up to Cardinal O’Malley. We will post more on the seminary situation tomorrow, and are glad to also post any response from the archdiocese here as well if anyone would like to offer one.

For today, we wanted to call your attention to an excellent article by AP religion reporter, Rachel Zoll on the phenomenon of Catholic bloggers.  The article prominently features Boston Catholic blogs.  It is entitled “Catholic Bloggers Aim To Purge Dissenters” and has been picked up by papers and other media outlets across the country and in Europe (See Washington Post, San Diego Union-Tribune, San Francisco Examiner, UK Guardian)    For those at 66 Brooks Drive who still have their heads in the sand about this and are hoping if you keep ignoring us we will just quietly go away, perhaps you might want to come up for air, look around, and realize that you are rapidly becoming the laughing stock of the country and may just want to pay closer attention to the concerns we have been raising. Here is the version posted at CBS News, which we liked for the sub-headline, “Catholic and FedUp.”

Here are a few excerpts:

Pressure is on to change the Roman Catholic Church in America, but it’s not coming from the usual liberal suspects. A new breed of theological conservatives has taken to blogs and YouTube to say the church isn’t Catholic enough.

Enraged by dissent that they believe has gone unchecked for decades, and unafraid to say so in the starkest language, these activists are naming names and unsettling the church.

– In the Archdiocese of Boston, parishioners are dissecting the work of a top adviser to the cardinal for any hint of Marxist influence.

RealCatholicTV.com, working from studios in suburban Detroit, is hunting for “traitorous” nuns, priests or bishops throughout the American church.

“We’re no more engaged in a witch hunt than a doctor excising a cancer is engaged in a witch hunt,” said Michael Voris of RealCatholicTV.com and St. Michael’s Media. “We’re just shining a spotlight on people who are Catholics who do not live the faith.”

Among Voris’ many media ventures is the CIA — the Catholic Investigative Agency — a program from RealCatholicTV to “bring to light the dark deeds of evil Catholics-in-name-only, who are hijacking the Church for their own ends, not the ends of Christ.”

In an episode called “Catholic Tea Party,” Voris said: “Catholics need to be aware and studied and knowledgeable enough about the faith to recognize a heretical nun or a traitorous priest or bishop when they see one — not so they can vote them out of office, but so they can pray for them, one, and alert as many other Catholics as possible to their treachery, two.”

The blog “Bryan Hehir Exposed” is aimed at a top adviser to Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, who is the former head of national Catholic Charities and a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Among the bloggers’ claims is that Hehir is a Marxist sympathizer who undermines Catholic teaching on abortion and marriage.

Hehir, who has advised church leaders for four decades, hasn’t responded to any accusations and neither has O’Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan friar known for his humility. However, O’Malley said in April on his own blog that Hehir “inspires us with his compassion, vision and fidelity to the work of the Church.” In August, O’Malley blocked access from archdiocesan headquarters to one of the critical blogs, the anonymously penned Boston Catholic Insider.

“The lack of civility is very disturbing,” said Terrence C. Donilon, the archdiocesan spokesman.

Catholic officials are struggling to come to terms with the bloggers and have organized several recent media conferences on the topic, the latest at the Vatican this month. The U.S. bishops’ conference issued social media guidelines in July calling for Christian charity online.

Still, no one expects the Catholic blogosphere to change tone anytime soon. Many of the conservatives most active online had spent years raising the alarm about dissent on their own in their local dioceses without much effect. Now, they feel they are finally being heard online.

Voris said. “I think enough Catholics are saying, ‘That’s it. I’ve had it.'”

Terry, is the deceit and corruption at 66 Brooks Drive not “very disturbing”?  We are hearing from more and more donors that they find it “disturbing” how their money is being squandered, including $300K+ salaries for some people who never earned those amounts in comparable private sector jobs.  We are hearing from pastors who find it “disturbing” that their parishes are being taxed by the archdiocese at 18% of their donations to pay for six-figure salaries in Braintree while 1/3 of parishes are in the red.  Is the $5M+ in donor funds spent on Lawson financial and accounting software when it was a mismatch for our needs not “very disturbing”? Is it not “disturbing”  that sham searches block good people from being considered for open positions?  How about the conflicts of interest—are they not ‘disturbing”?  Is knowingly deceiving lay people, priests and pastors, church employees, donors, and even members of key advisory committees like the Archdiocesan Presbyteral Council and Pastoral Council not “very disturbing”? Is the leadership vacuum at 66 Brooks Drive that threatens the ability of the Church to continue doing her good works not “disturbing”?

To Cardinal O’Malley, Vicar General Fr. Erikson, Chancellor Jim McDonough, Fr. Bryan Hehir, and Terry Donilon, we do not speak for other bloggers, but in case it was unclear up to now, allow this blog to clarify ourselves. With all due respect,  it is your actions or lack of actions and unresponsiveness to long-standing concerns by faithful Catholics that have led to the sort of criticism by the local Catholic blogs that Mr. Donilon apparently now finds “very disturbing.” 

Let’s make a deal.  You publicly, or at least internally acknowledge the problems we have highlighted on the blog and clean up your acts.  Stop justifying the current situation by saying that you offered to meet with us and we declined, and instead implement a credible whistleblower policy that gives all people who care about the Church a way to alert an independent ethics team to problems and ensures a process for addressing the problems  while protecting the person who complains from retaliation.  Operate with integrity like the Catholic Church should operate.  Pastors and laity, we invite you to contact Cardinal O’Malley and urge him to get rid of the corruption, deceit, and cronyism–along with cabinet secretaries and/or advisors who have brought that into the standard operating procedures of this archdiocese. In exchange, we will work on using more civil language. Better still, we might even eventually go away completely. A blog like this one would not be considered necessary in the Archdiocese of Denver, which is under the leadership of Cardinal Sean’s classmate and fellow Capuchin Archbishop Chaput.  We hope some day we will be unnecessary in Boston as well, but that seems a long ways off based on how 66 Brooks Drive is operating today.

In the meantime, sorry guys, we are here to stay along with the thousands of readers  who are all saying, “That’s it. I’ve had enough.”


St Johns Seminary “Squeezola”

October 24, 2010

We were going to hold this story a little longer to give you all of the historical context first, but feel like it is urgent to get this one out for you all.  It concerns how Boston College is squeezing the property of St. John Seminary at the same point when the seminary is prospering and needs more space.

We hear that tensions are increasing, with BC taking back space the seminary was previously using.  Several reports–now confirmed–indicate that BC has recently pushed St. Johns out of their music room, and is booting St. Johns faculty from their dining room as well.  Normally we would wait to verify this from multiple sources, but it aligns with a pattern we have been seeing already.  So, this blog feels compelled to come out and say it appears no one at the top of the archdiocesan food-chain is pushing the seminary needs over BC’s encroachment.  That is why we are calling this a “Seminary Squeezola.”

As most people know, back in 2007 the Archdiocese sold off the huge majority of the land and buildings owned by St. John Seminary to Boston College when the archdiocese needed to raise cash.  We will go into the details of the transaction at another time.  The archdiocese took the cash and according to St. John’s Annual report, the archdiocese owes St. Johns  $4.8 million (plus interest) as of January 2011 from the 2004 sale of seminary land, and another $36 million in 2017.

How the cash-poor archdiocese will pay back those debts from the land they forced the seminary to sell is a story for another time.  So is the question of why Chancellor Jim McDonough is on the board of the seminary, when his main business is consuming money for the archdiocese–which presents a humongous conflict of interest vs advancing the formation of seminarians. More on that another time… 

So, the great news about St. Johns is that it is prospering and needs more space!   We heard glimpses of the good news back in 2008 when the Boston Globe reported on the “Stunning Turnaround for St Johns Seminary.”

Today there are about 100 students studying at St. Johns.  We get numbers from different sources, but this breaks down to about 80-84 residents, and 17 day students.  27-30 of those are from Boston, maybe around 10 are Neo-Catechumenates, and the rest come from other dioceses.  We hear great things about rector, Bishop Kennedy, the overall program, and quality of seminarians and staff at the seminary.  The seminary has run out of residential space in St. Johns Hall.  They are out of classroom space, because Bishop Peterson Hall was sold to BC, and may need to bus seminarians to the Masters of Arts in Ministry (MAM) building in Brighton for classes. 

To help solve the residential space problem, the seminary has been negotiating with BC to purchase back about 62 rooms over the refrectory (dining hall).  These were leased to BC in an arrangement which was a 99-year lease for $1, which is effectively a sale for legal purposes.  Now BC wants somewhere north of $1.5M to sell the rooms back to St. Johns and is apparently driving a hard bargain.  BC fired a shot across the bow letting them know “who is in charge” by trying to use the St. Johns chapel and pipe organ without asking permission back in September.  Now we hear they are taking back the small music room and faculty dining room they had legally acquired but were letting St. John’s use.

We wonder which side of all this Jack Connors is on?  Where is he when you need him to push for the seminary and archdiocesan needs for a change and tell his alma mater they should back off?  Cardinal O’Malley has stated his unequivocal support for the seminary in the past (“My commitment to St. John’s Seminary and its work of preparing men for the priesthood remains as strong as it has always been.”)  Where is he in this picture?   Besides Bishop Kennedy, who above him is standing up for the needs of the seminary and our future priests?

Apologies for the incomplete information today and tone of anger and frustration.  We are miffed. 

If anyone from the seminary would like to comment, please feel free to in comments or via email (bostoncatholicinsider(at)gmail.com).


Terry Donilon Sham Search: Part 2

October 21, 2010

In follow-up of our last post about the sham search that selected Terry Donilon as secretary of communications, we received a lot of emails and comments from readers.

Some people were even more troubled about how things really work in the Boston Archdiocese.  Some said it proved things they suspected.  And some asked how they can be sure what we wrote about it being a “sham search” was true. Today we give you some more details to explain how we know it was a “sham search.” 

For clarification, when we say “sham search” we are not referring to one where several qualified candidates were interviewed by all members of a committee, the best person from a pool of candidates was selected, and somebody who was interviewed and beaten out for the job with an axe to grind is using this blog to air their gripes.  We are talking of situations such as where resumes of qualified candidates never made it to committee members, committees never met, qualified candidates could not get an interview, the candidate was chosen before the search committee ever convened, and/or search committee members had known conflicts of interest but still were allowed to play a key role in the selection process.

Though we cannot publicly identify the individuals by name, we know of several people who applied for the Communications job when it was open in early 2005. Among the people who applied when Terry Donilon was hired was a person who was head of public relations for a Boston-area organization with a national reputation. This person was also a devout Catholic, served on their local parish council and genuinely wanted to be in a setting where their considerable skills could be used in a Catholic organization. They also were excited about the chance to support an archbishop who seemed at the time like he could turn things around after the meltdown of 2002. The person knew this would require a pay cut and was OK with that.

When the person was not able to get an interview for the job and learned their resume had not made it to the search committee, they called the Chancery to find out why, and were told they would get a call back. Of course they never did get that call back.  (As an aside, we were roaming past the HR department in the Pastoral Center recently and snapped this photo of someone in HR while their phone was ringing with calls from qualified applicants for positions).  Anyway, this person applying for the communications job later learned their resume had never even made it to the search committee. Why? Look at the title of the blog post for the two words that start with “S.” How many people were never considered? We do not know.

The #2 position, Director of Communications, was created later in 2005 in order to get someone articulate, knowledgeable about the Church, with good spelling and communications skills, and who could travel with the Cardinal to deal with news media at bishops conferences, in Rome, and elsewhere. In other words, to do a lot of what the first person hired was probably supposed to do, but was not capable of. This search was a legitimate one.

That same person applied again, and after someone ensured their resume got to the archbishop’s office (with a message it was a shame they were never given a chance in the first round) , the person was interviewed. The job went to a very qualified person, Kevin Shea, who had previously worked in PR for the Boston Red Sox for 14 years. So at least the person we referred to earlier was passed over for a legitimate reason. And their resume was later passed along to other Catholic agencies affiliated with the archdiocese with a positive recommendation.

As best as we can tell, Kevin Shea, was a “rock star” when it came to PR. Here’s the October 15, 2005 announcement, Kevin Shea Joins Archdiocese Communications Team. We are told by sources that he applied the first time and been spurned by Ann Carter in favor of Donilon, who came via the Larry Rasky/Donilon family connection. Kevin was young (under 40) and was very affable and articulate. He traveled to Rome with the archbishop when he was elevated to Cardinal in March 2006, and as you can see evidenced from this article, he set up the Cardinal’s tour of the Bridge of the Angels for reporters, and opened up access to reporters so Michael Paulson at the Boston Globe no longer had the exclusives. (Does anyone think it was just a coincidence that the cardinal made a point of showing off his “Red Sox” when he first met reporters after the consistory when his PR guy just so happened to have previously worked for the team?). Shea also played a key role starting the Cardinal’s blog coincident with Cardinal O’Malley’s October 2006 trip to Rome to take possession of his titular church. By the objective measures against which these bloggers can measure him, overall he did a very good job.

He also lasted only a little more than a year.

Here is the December 2006 announcement of him joining Boston College to become special assistant to BC President, Fr. Leahy, which means chief-of-staff and Fr. Leahy’s liaison within the University and to the larger community. Some of the best former assets of the Boston Archdiocese have gone to Boston College, courtesy of Jack Connors. In this case, we are told that the former Catholic Charities VP of external affairs, Jack Dunn, who had been at director of PR at BC since 1998, scooped-up Shea for BC at the request of Jack Connors.  It is a very important job, and makes Shea perhaps among the most influential lay employees at Boston College.

Why did he leave the Archdiocese of Boston?  Did it have anything to do with him perhaps being frustrated or frequently at odds with his less qualified boss, Mr. Donilon, who came in via a “sham search”?  How many other talented people like him have come and gone?  (For the record, we do not know Shea, nor have we ever met or communicated with him.  There is no bias or agenda here.  We are just recognizing that the guy was highly competent).

How many people have never been considered by Archdiocesan so-called “search” committees for jobs like his because it was “sham search”? How many qualified people were not considered this summer for the Secretary of Institutional Advancement role, or the Mass Catholic Conference Exec. Director position when Ed Saunders was hired by Fr. Bryan Hehir in 2005? How exactly did Mary Grassa O’Neill come to be hired at the $325,000 salary by a search committee whose full membership has never been disclosed publicly? We recently heard from a very qualified faithful Catholic who has applied for 3 positions at the archdiocese this year, been told they would be interviewed for at least one, and then rejected without the interview. (Here are several more photos we snapped in the HR department and Chancellor’s suite at 66 Brooks Drive when we told them we were from Boston Catholic Insider and wanted to talk to them about sham searches). 

 

How many extremely qualified lay people are serving today on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council or have served in the past, and whose tremendous talents could benefit this archdiocese in a full-time role with great positive impact to the Catholic Church, but who are never considered or asked to apply? How many qualified people refuse to even apply for a position because they know that most, if not all of the searches, are rigged by the time they begin? How many highly competent people have been employed by the archdiocese but were allowed to slip away? How many capable, experienced people who wanted to serve the Catholic Church were pushed out by the Connors/Hehir/McDonough regime and the cronies they have brought in since 2005 and replaced by 6-figure salaried people who did not care one whit about serving the Church and advancing her saving mission?

So here we sit. The Boston Archdiocese still has Terry. And the sham searches continue.


Sham Search: Terry Donilon

October 19, 2010

For the benefit of newer readers who think “sham searches” is something new for the Boston Archdiocese with the soon-to-be-publicly-announced appointment of the new Secretary for Institutional Advancment, Kathleen Driscoll, we thought we would mention that the Boston Archdiocese has gotten this down to practically a science over the years (or down to an art form, depending on how you look at it).

Terry Donilon, Secretary for Communications, was the first such “sham search’ under Cardinal O’Malley.  Ann Carter, of PR firm Rasky Baerlein, led the search.  Note the immediate conflict of interest of a vendor paid by the archdiocese hiring the person who would manage their services and decide on their continuing employment.  But that is not what makes it a “sham search”–here at Boston Catholic Insider, we hold the standards for a “sham search” much higher than that.

What makes this one a sham search is that Ann Carter is CEO of Rasky Baerlein, where the founder and Chairman is Larry Rasky, who coincidentally has known the Donilon family for years from his political work starting with the Joe Biden campaign back in 1988.  Here’s a blurb from the Boston Globe giving the history.

The two older brothers and a sister-in-law of archdiocesan spokesman Terrence C. Donilon (right) are all expected to land high-ranking posts in the Obama administration. Terry is the youngest of four Donilon siblings; his brother Mike has been named counselor to the vice president, his brother Tom is expected to become deputy national security adviser, and Tom’s wife, Cathy Russell, has been named chief of staff to Biden’s wife Jill. Interestingly, the Donilons are not the cardinal’s only connection to Biden — the archdiocese retains as public relations consultants the firm of Rasky Baerlein, headed by Larry Rasky, who served as Biden’s campaign spokesman in 2007 and in 1988. (Biden will be the first Catholic vice president, but is also viewed warily by some bishops because he, like Obama, supports abortion rights.)

In Politico Friday, Alexander Burns wrote about Tom and Mike Donilon and Cathy Russell. An excerpt:

“How has this trio ended up so close to the center of an administration promising an infusion of new blood? There are a number of reasons, but the most important is Joe Biden. ‘Cathy goes back 20 years with Joe Biden, and Mike goes back even longer on campaigns; Tom goes back more than 20 years,’ said a friend of the Donilon family who asked not to be named. ‘They stayed very close over the years with the Bidens, so that’s part of it.’ In a news release, the transition team noted that Mike Donilon had advised the Delaware senator since the early 1980s, and both Tom Donilon and Cathy Russell worked on Biden’s 1988 presidential run.”

Tom Donilon was recently named National Security Advisor to President Obama, who coincidentally was in town this past weekend for a fund-raiser at the Newton home of Caritas Christi CEO Ralph de la Torre.  Everyone is asking us if we attended the event, but unfortunately we were not invited.  (Just for kicks, compare the background of Tom Donilon as National Security Advisor vs that of his predecessor, Gen. James L. Jones. But we digress…)

As we reported in Conflicts of Interest: Part I, back in 2005 Ms. Carter was on the search committee that selected Communications Secretary, Terry Donilon–the position that would determine when she was retained, how often and for how many hours she was retained, and what she and her firm would be paid. She was quoted in the Boston Globe on April 15, 2005 in their announcement of Donilon’s appointment saying, “Terry Donilon is an experienced communicator who loves the church.”   The person quoted in such announcements is usually the person who led the search.  We are told that resumes of far superior candidates interested in the job never made it to the full search committee.  People inside the archdiocese familiar with Terry’s work indicate that he is spelling-challenged and writing-challenged, and just about every press release or statement requires the attention and spin of Fr. Bryan Hehir and Ann Carter. 

In the absence of a graphic, just to recap, here is how it worked for the search.  Ann Carter worked with Larry Rasky, who knew the Donilon brothers from politics.  Donilon brother, Terry, coincidentally was looking for a job after doing PR for Shaws Supermarkets, and by coincidence, Ann Carter was leading the search for the Communications role at the archdiocese at the same time.  Other more experienced superior candidates were just never considered.  We call this a “sham search.”   See how it works?  Usually the press release announcing the result of the sham search says something about the person chosen being “an experienced blah-blah-blah…who loves the Church.”

This has been repeated and refined a number of times now. The people involved in these are the same names you have heard over and over–Fr. Bryan Hehir, Chancellor Jim McDonough, Jack Connors, and Cardinal O’Malley who is ultimately responsible and accountable over these people on his senior team.   Does this give you confidence in the direction of the Boston archdiocese?

We are interested to see how it will be spun any day now for the Secretary of Institutional Advancement with a quote from Jack Connors and the Cardinal.


Reader Comments: Vicar General and Reconfiguration Consternation

October 18, 2010

Sometimes the comments we get from readers are so interesting and insightful that we feel they are worth highlighting as they say things better than we could have ourselves.  Several from the past few days merit greater visibility:

In Vicar General, Moderator of the Furious, we gave some background on Fr. Richard Erikson, who has parish pastoral planning and some administrative management under his limited scope of responsibility and who is rumored to want to head back to the Air Force full-time.  Here are excerpts from what one reader, “Objective Observer” said:

[Fr. Erikson] seemingly a priest with no RCAB baggage, with a Ph.D. in social Work/Counseling, and with some administrative experience in the military looked good [in 2006 as a candidate for Vicar General]. But the cardinal succumbed to the classic mistake many schools make when they make their best teacher principal. The school ends up losing a very good teacher, and picking up an inexperienced, even mediocre principal. When he tapped Erikson, the cardinal took a really good member of the presbyterate and put him in a job for which he had no preparation and, frankly, no specific competence.

Father Richard Erikson, no question, is a good and holy priest. A great big parish full of kids, working class people and elderly are missing out on a man who would be a superb pastor. So, point one is, can we afford to have him caged up on this little running wheel where he is not free to care for the people of God, as diocesan priests are called to do, and not free to manage the diocese?

My prayer for Father Erikson is that he be called back to the Military diocese as an auxiliary bishop…

Boston needs a VG who understands how the Church must work, and who cannot be hoodwinked or disabled by ridiculous pretenders like McDonough. As the months and years pass by, Boston suffers and Father Erikson suffers. An orderly transition is not possible in an upside-down diocese, so better to limit the duration of the suffering. No matter how carefully planned the transition, it cannot yield benefit under these circumstances.

Unsolicited advice to Father Erikson: Discern in prayer, attain clarity, and act on that clarity with courage in order to do God’s will. Surely then the chaos that thrives at 66 Brooks will slip into your past, and you can greet the future of your priesthood with joyful tears of consolation. AMDG

In Reconfiguration Consternation, we talked about plans to combine multiple “church” buildings into a smaller number of city/regional “parishes,” with one pastor and shared parish staff. Here is what one reader, “Larry” offered:

O’Malley recently reported to a meeting of the regional vicars that in ten years there will be 150 parishes in the archdiocese. Multiple current parishes will be rearranged to fit into the 150 final parishes. What happens to buildings will be determined locally (you can have one future parish that includes the churches and buildings of many current parishes). This is a done deal. This model of reconfiguration has been successful in many dioceses. What is key to those successes, though, is that they have had bishops who have offered strong direction, have been willing to make difficult choices, and have accepted personal responsibility for their decisions. O’Malley notably lacks any of those qualities. He’s most likely to observe the process from Ireland or perhaps the palace of his noble friends in Portugal. No doubt Bryan Hehir and Jim McDonough will be able to take masterful care of things on the home front.

This target number of parishes is consistent with what Chancellor McDonough blabbed at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which was published in the Boston Globe and Boston Herald.

So, look for an alignment of multiple “church” buildings in a city or region to be organized around one “parish” with one pastor, several priests in a rectory and shared staff. No one wants to say anything right now about any church buildings closing, lest the hysteria and protests of “Reconfiguration Round 1″ begin anew.  No one wants to say how many rectories there will be, and it is not clear if the plan has gotten that far.  Look for the episcopal leadership concerns in Boston and associated ramifications to dominate the discussions and process.

Oddly and importantly, no one will want to talk about process at getting to this “150” parish number and the tradeoffs for the future health of the archdiocese.  No one is yet sharing the fact that the ratio of priests to weekly church-goers  has actually remained relatively constant over decades as the number of priests and Catholic Church-goers in Boston decline proportionally. That means that the # of “parishes” could be much lower, and probably will need to be much lower in the future.  At one time, about 70-80% of 2 million Catholics in this archdiocese were going to Mass regularly.  Now we have 1/8 that number–about 250,000 Catholics attend Mass weekly.  We will report more on those statistics later this week.


Reconfiguration Consternation

October 16, 2010

Today we continue our exclusive Boston Catholic Insider series on the next phase of parish reconfiguration in the Boston archdiocese.  Just to get new readers up-to-speed, we started with Chancellor Spills Beans to vigilers at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Boston regarding future plans to consolidate parishes, we then talked in Vigil Vigilance about the ongoing church occupancies and a proven way to end them  (which no one is acting on still) that would also dramatically lower the cost to the Archdiocese of maintaining those shuttered churches, and yesterday in Vicar General, Moderator of the Furious, we gave some background on Fr. Richard Erikson, who has parish pastoral planning under his limited scope of responsibility and will apparently be a spokesperson on the plans going forward.

We offer you today two areas to ponder: Fr. Erikson’s most recent comments, and a sense for the hodge-podge of planning efforts he attempts to rationalize in his Pilot column.

Vicar General’s Most Recent Comments

Here are excerpts from Fr. Erikson’s email to priests and column in The Pilot, called “Inspired by a Man on a Mission”:

He [St. Paul] would go to the ends of the earth, and lay down his life, so that people would come to know, love and serve Jesus Christ and so that vibrant communities of faith would be established.  Two thousand years later, we are carrying on St. Paul’s zeal and mission through evangelization and mission-centered planning for our future….Accompanying these efforts, and being driven by the same mission, is a renewed comprehensive effort at pastoral planning…

The more recent planning initiatives find their roots in the 1988 Synod that established the Office of Planning and Research and the formation of clusters of parishes to begin working together to find common goals in 1994.  Our archdiocese is indebted to Fr. Robert MacMillan, SJ, Mr. Harry Foden and Sr. Mary Anne Doyle, CSJ for their generous efforts…

Continuing in the spirit of St. Paul, and with the dedicated guidance and leadership of Fr. George Evans, the 2007 Pastoral Planning Report (available at www.bostoncatholic.org, click on pastoral planning) captured various voices and perspectives and called for a “culture of planning” throughout the Archdiocese, along with an “infrastructure that can sustain effective pastoral planning at all levels.”  The work of Fr. Evans and his committee demonstrated the fact that we are at a critical juncture, a turning point in the history of our archdiocese, as our parishes are challenged by a smaller pool of available clergy, changing demographics, tighter finances, and a secularized culture.   Sr. Marian Batho, CSJ, brought the challenges and perspectives of the Pastoral Planning Report to the people of our archdiocese through a year-long process of consultations on the report.

In 2009, motivated by the recommendations of the Pastoral Planning Report and by the feedback from the consultations, Cardinal Seán hired Director, Fr. David Couturier, OFM. Cap., and Associate Director, Mr. Joshua Phelps for our Office of Pastoral Planning.  Fr. Couturier and Mr. Phelps have been tireless in assisting the archdiocese in mission-centered planning for our future.

Hodge-Podge of Planning Efforts

Readers should immediately notice the variety of people, approaches, and ecclesiologies referenced in this message. We have a hired Jesuit, a hired Capuchian, members of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and a diocesan priest known for wanting “priestless parishes” among the players.  Not mentioned was another Capuchian, Br. James Peterson OFM, Assistant to the Moderator of the Curia for Canonical Affairs, who was also briefly involved in this effort until his input was ignored.  One can only imagine the starts and stops, as well as the conflicting agendas and theological viewpoints of the participants over time.

For example, the Fr. Evans group included a very diverse group of people, some of whom have controversial histories and have been described by our sources as holding “radical” views.  They asked for comments and suggestions from just about everybody.  Aa number of people with experience in this area submitted plans or solid ideas, yet we are told that Fr. Evans either refused to share all of these ideas with the committee or failed to include all good ideas shared with the committee in the final report.  Several sources report that Fr. Evans’ goal was driving toward “priestless parishes”—an idea also backed by people he consulted with such as Fr. Bryan Hehir and Msgr. Dennis Sheehan.  Here is the Evans’ report.   You will note that it includes a potpourri of ideas for consideration but basically no real recommendations.  That is because the committee could not get to consensus on anything other than “Cardinal Sean should look into X, Y, and Z and then decide what he wants to do.”

We hear that several people submitted their disregarded suggestions to the Cardinal, and though he liked many of them and wanted to combine elements of them into one plan, that new “plan” was not the Evans report. So when the Evans report came out, it received faint, half-hearted praise. After the Evans report came out and the dust settled, in May of 2009 Cardinal O’Malley sent for his Capuchin colleague, Fr. David Couturier, and they were off to the races with yet another “plan.”

Who is Fr. Couturier?  Here is the press release announcing his appointment. As a Capuchian, he wears the same kind of brown robe as Cardinal O’Malley, and we are told he and Chancellor McDonough are not exactly drinking buddies.  Could be because Couturier comes across as having more backbone than the average Pastoral Center staffer that the Chancellor can manipulate, and he  also seems to have nothing to gain or lose from the McDonough/Connors/Hehir regime.  (Perhaps Jack Connors has had his fill of mundane parish closings after previously meddling on the Meade-Eisner commission, and he has now turned his sights toward bigger and better things, like controlling the money flow into the archdiocese and getting more property assets for BC and Partners?)  Couturier has the benefit of also being a Capuchin, and the reality is that Cardinal O’Malley tends to listen to other Capuchins, even if their ecclesiological bent is different than his own.

We know little about the other person mentioned, Associate Director of Planning, Joshua Phelps, except that he has a B.A. (2005) and M.A. in Philosophy (2007) from Boston College, has research experience, and was a pastoral associate for the archdiocese before this job.  He also somehow made it through an interview/selection process in which some combination of Fr. Erikson and/or Chancellor McDonough managed to frighten off other well-qualified candidates for the job.

Anyway, this 2009 document, “Developing a Pastoral Plan for Parish Staffing” is basically Fr. Couturier’s plan for a plan.  It says that a plan was to be submitted by March of 2010.  Such a plan has not been released publicly yet.  We do know that it was tough to arrive at a plan that satisfied his boss, Fr. Thomas Foley (the Cabinet Secretary for the Parish Life and Leadership Secretariat) and Cardinal Sean.  Even if no “churches” were to close–and some probably will–a key issue was the number of “parishes” to group individual “churches” into.  Will the magic number be in the neighborhood of 50 parishes?  Will it be more like 150 parishes?  The archdiocese wants to start rolling this out in January of 2011, and though nothing has been publicly confirmed, we have some sense for the number of “parishes” they are aiming for.  Anyone wishing to weigh-in on what you think can do so via email or comments.

Something important to note in this process–and what no one is mentioning publicly–is the demographic reality of the priest-to-Church-going Catholic ratio.  We will talk about that next time, as well as what you might expect to see going forward in the Boston Archdiocesan pastoral plans.

In the meantime, the vigils at shuttered parishes apparently continue. At $4,100/day in cost and 93 days since the Archdiocese learned the Vatican had denied the final appeal, that has cost the archdiocese an additional $380,000.  What ministry is suffering for lack of these funds because the Archdiocese lacks the will to simply do what they have proven works already?  Who is in charge of decision-making in this area?

ps. Note to Chancellor McDonough: primary sources for this post are NOT at 66 Brooks Drive


Vicar General, Moderator of the Furious

October 15, 2010

Fr. Richard Erikson’s column in this weekend’s edition of The Pilot on the process of planning parish “re-reconfiguration” is the topic of the next few posts.  But we would be remiss to not add a few words about what we are seeing and hearing of Fr. Erikson before we get into the details. And you should check out our latest post on sham searches before reading further if you have not read it already.

Fr. Erikson, who holds the roles of Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, is rapidly adding “Moderator of the Furious” to his portfolio based on the emails we are getting from lay people and clergy.  That is  simply the reality of the many messages we are receiving, and since he is probably a well-intentioned person, he needs to know this in order to improve things.

Based on everything we hear, things at 66 Brooks Drive are careening out of control, morale is very low, and the Vicar General –who has at least partially contributed to the sad situation—is reported to want out, so he can go back to his chaplaincy work doing grief counseling in the Air Force on active duty, full-time.

On paper (and in his Air Force biography), he is supposed to be the primary administrator of the Archdiocese, but as we have documented, that is not the case in reality.  The archdiocese is in fact being administered and run primarily by the Chancellor, Fr. Bryan Hehir, and Jack Connors.   Add in Carol Gustavson and Terry Donilon for execution on the Connors/Hehir/McDonough regime’s vision and that is the primary administrative leadership.  If you look at his biography, aside from his degree in politics, you will see that Fr. Erikson had never been pastor in a parish previously or been in any kind of major operational role that would effectively prepare him for the political hornets nest of the Boston chancery.  How could one coming into this role be prepared for, hypothetically speaking, a situation like perhaps returning from time out of the office to find the Chancellor has maneuvered to now report directly to the Cardinal instead of to the Vicar General?  Or hypothetically speaking, perhaps being among the last people in the “inner circle” to learn the chancery was moving from Brighton to Braintree?

Anyway, administration is a bit of a mess today as best as we have come to understand. People cannot get responses from the archdiocese on basic questions.  Clergy cannot get time with the Cardinal when he is in town, and he heads to Dublin shortly.  People writing to Fr. Erikson in the past 1-2 days asking about four things—names of current members of the Archdiocesan Finance Council, the status of the whistleblower policy, status of the search for Secretary of Institutional Advancement, and the appropriate protocol for filing a complaint and getting a response—got an email back from Fr. Erikson with the Mass Catholic Conference search press release about that search, and nothing about the 4 points they had asked about. Is that representative of how his office responds to other requests?  If so, is anyone else wondering what the path ahead looks like between now and when he heads back to full-time active duty with the Air Force?  That timeframe is rumored to be around mid 2011.

Beyond the above objectively verifiable observations, Fr. Erikson also was the spokesman/mouthpiece for major changes like the downgraded clergy retirement & benefits plan that he will never need to fully live off of, as he gets a pension from 28+ years of service in the Air Force Reserves.

Assuming rumors flying around are true, then any day now he will also likely have to “spin” how people at the highest levels of the Archdiocese deceived us all about an open worldwide search for the  new Secretary of Institutional Advancement–a role that on paper actually reports to the Vicar General.  See yesterday’s post on “Sham Searches” and the associated comments. Questions will be asked about what he, Cardinal O’Malley, and Jim McDonough knew–and when they knew it.

When Fr. Erikson first started, priests and chancery staff had high hopes for him because he had everything the previous strong-willed Vicar General, Bishop Richard Lennon, had lacked — a counseling approach, readiness to use email, no baggage from time in archdiocesan parishes or the chancery, and a willingness to listen.  But as soon as Chancellor McDonough began his reign and power-grabbing moves in 2006, it became clear that Fr. Erikson was completely disabled and had little authority over key decisions or personnel decisions, so Fr. Erikson has become somewhat marginalized.  We are told by several pastoral center staffers that Fr. Erikson has also apparently confused military-style rank with true leadership.  Whether people liked the previous Vicar General or not on a personal basis and whether he was necessarily right or wrong on an issue, at least with Bishop Lennon  things were black-and-white, and you knew his main agenda was keeping the train on the tracks.  In the interest of full disclosure, this writer was not a Bishop Lennon fan based on his communications style in brief personal interactions with him.  But that does not change the impression this writer and many other people had that he was acting from a unwavering sense of what was best for the Church and best for the salvation of souls.

This is not the case any more in this archdiocese–as evidenced by what this blog has been documenting in recent months.

Cardinal O’Malley is ultimately reponsible for the current state of affairs and allowing the Connors/Hehir/McDonough regime to rule. Fr. Erikson, by virtue of his role as Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, is one of several people who still must shoulder some responsibility for contributing to the current situation. We give you this post as background to the “re-reconfiguration process,” so you know you will have to carefully pull-back the layers of spin or deceptive jargon in much of what you will hear from Fr. Erikson and/or others.  This will take us several posts to explain, and for the benefit of those who like shorter posts, we are saving more detailed commentary for our next exciting episode on Saturday.

Meanwhile, we urge those readers who have written to the Vicar General  as we suggested two days ago and got a lame irrelevant response to send him an email back [Vicar_General(at)rcab.org], and cc: his special assistant, Fr. Bryan Parrish [ReverendBryan_Parrish(at)rcab.org].  If you have not yet written to him, copy and paste the text from this post, and let us know how you make out.


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