More Diocesan Deception

For those who saw the official response yesterday by the official spokesman of the Boston Archdiocese, Terry Donilon, about the diocese now taking Holy Trinity off the real estate market, there is one image that comes to mind. The image is the cartoon character, Pinocchio, found to the right.

Coincidentally, a visit to Wikipedia reveals this explanation of the word “Pinocchio“: “Pinocchio is often a term used to describe an individual who is prone to telling lies, fabricating stories and exaggerating or creating tall tales for various reasons.”

As we know, former parishioners at Holy Trinity Church in the South End asked the Vatican on Monday to stop any sale of the building, after it was listed for sale  at $2.3 million on Sothebys, a residential real estate site. They argued that the archdiocese had not completed the relegation to profane use process to convert it to secular use, which is required before sale to a secular buyer.

According to an Associated Press news story, here is Terry’s explanation after the archdiocese pulled the listing:

Yesterday, spokesman Terry Donilon said the listing was meant to gauge the market or attract a buyer from a Catholic organization. He said the archdiocese never intended to prematurely sell the property to a secular buyer.

To paraphrase another commenter yesterday, they must be spiking the incense at the Bethany Chapel in the Pastoral Center with something these days, because that explanation just defies believability.  Our only question is whether Terry and the archdiocese truly believe it, or to what extent they are willfully and intentionally engaging in a Pinocchio-like behavior so as to deceive the Catholic faithful. Assuming it is the latter, then a strong case must be made that the Cardinal has to fire multiple people–and soon.

The last BCI and Catholic faithful heard a month ago, the Archdiocese had a process for soliciting input from Catholic faithful before selling properties. That was not followed here.

Terry obviously knew about the process when the archdiocese was quoted on Tuesday saying the following: “A spokesman said the archdiocese knows it can’t sell the property until that process is completed.”  Then how do you go and sign an agreement with Sothebys to sell a property when they know the process has not been completed?

If you want to gauge the market for a property, you get a professional appraisal, and you can solicit proposals via an open request for proposal (RFP) process that does not immediately bind you to sell the building, but simply solicits proposals.

If you want to find a Catholic buyer, what in the world makes Terry Donilon, as spokesperson for Cardinal O’Malley, think anyone would believe that you would list the property for sale with Sothebys, a residential real estate broker, who has no reach whatsoever with a Catholic audience?  Where is the listing in a Catholic newspaper, like, say our own Pilot, “America’s oldest Catholic newspaper”?  Did anyone place listings to find a Catholic buyer in Our Sunday Visitor or the National Catholic Register, or other publications that reach Catholic audiences like Commonweal, America and the National Catholic Reporter.

And what ever happened to the “process” announced in 2007 after the St. Mary Star of the Sea fiasco?:

Before selling properties closed in reconfiguration, the archdiocese announced a process that would be followed when marketing those properties. Offers would be solicited over a 90-day period and evaluated based on many factors including financial terms, contingencies, proposed property use and social considerations connected with the offers. The archdiocese also said that it sought to maximize the financial consideration consistent with the needs of the communities served.

Lastly, lest new readers think the controversy over Holy Trinity is just a matter of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s in the canonical process to sell the building, you should know that long-standing questions remain over the original decision to close Holy Trinity back in 2004.   A 2005 archdiocesan audit found that the former administrator of Holy Trinity had illicitly transferred $176,000 in Holy Trinity parish funds to St. James the Greater, the other parish he was administering at the same time as Holy Trinity. Those this is water that has long-since flowed over the dam, persistent questions have remained for years that the decision to shutter HT rather than St. James was based on flawed information about the financial health of HT vs St. James.

anyway, this whole thing smells of corruption and deception at high levels in the archdiocese.  As a reminder from what we reported last July in “Cronyism”, the head of real estate for RCAB, Deb Dillon, worked for Jim McDonough at the Abington Bank. A commenter yesterday asked:

Do you really think Deb Dillon listed a $2.3M property with Sotheby’s in bad faith?  “Just kiddin’ guys!”  Do you really think Sotheby’s is in the habit of signing contracts and spending money on marketing for Deb Dillon because she’s a nice person?  Or is it because they sell real estate for a living?

Do you really think Deb Dillon thought this up on her own?  That Jim McDonough broke with the prior RCAB stated practice of listing all churches for sale in the Pilot and on the RCAB website, as a coincidence? And that Trinity slipped off the radar when the great survey went out on the re-use of closed church properties?

“This starts to smell worse than Saturday’s trash after Friday’s fish dinner.”

Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson said when the “great survey” went out

“To those skeptical” that their input will be considered, Erikson said, “I ask them to put their confidence in this process, which may be unprecedented, which is designed to be thorough, thoughtful and efficient, and which was developed with sincere intent.”

Objectively, the words of this archdiocese do not match actions and it is getting worse, not better.

  • Multiple promises on the process for selling church properties have been broken. It is difficult to not conclude that the archdiocese, through Terry Donilon, just lied to the Catholic faithful about what has been happening with the sale of Holy Trinity.
  • The canonical responsibility that the archdiocese be a good steward of assets and donor funds  has been not been upheld by the ongoing practice of paying excessive 6-figure salaries.
  • The entire archdiocese was deceived by Jack Connors and Jim McDonough regarding the process for finding a new head of development.
  • A promise by the Cardinal to fund employee pension obligations from closed parishes was broken.

The list goes on and on.  Why does our Cardinal Archbishop go along with this deception and violations of trust?  How much lower must the donations to the Catholic Appeal drop before he gets the message that a dramatic change is required?

A wholesale changing of the guard in the area of financial and administrative leadership is needed sooner rather than later.

What do you think?

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23 Responses to More Diocesan Deception

  1. Pension Pete says:

    Again, BCI owes an apology to Pinocchio, a cute little cartoon character who was created to teach proper conduct. I never saw anything in Pinocchio that would lead me to believe that he would try to steal money from a group of retired church workers.

  2. Mary says:

    How about the sale of St. Andrew the Apostle Church, convent, rectory, school and community building in Forest Hills? Was that done properly? The parish was annexed by Sacred Heart in Roslindale even though at inception it was a satellite of St. Thomas Aquinas in Jamaica Plain.

    • Former Employee says:

      The relics are still in the side altar too. Good job of removing everything sacred.

  3. H.O.T. says:

    What do I think? I think this has been another unnecessarily tendentious controversy, in the strain of “nothing the Archdiocese can possible in difficult circumstances is ever good enough”.

    First: “Then how do you go and sign an agreement with Sothebys to sell a property when they know the process has not been completed?”

    Listing a property with an agent isn’t an agreement to sell it. To say it is, is a lie on your part.

    In general, in the context of trying to realize real cash in order to pay off real liabilities, it seems eminently reasonable to find out what the market actually is for such a property, in addition to doing the rest of the work. I fail to see why they can’t go hand in hand.

    All of the ideas of professional appraisals and RPFs that have to happen before listing are just your inexpert opinion, nothing precludes multiple things happening at the same time.

    Under other circumstances, wouldn’t you _expect_ the Archdiocese to have done this? Let’s say some poor religious institute comes in and wants to buy it for 1 Million. Wouldn’t you be crying bloody murder since it could have gone for 2 or more, and the poor diocesan pension fund lost a million dollars.

    And God help the poor institute if Jack Connor’s third cousin twice removed once caddied for the nephew of the superior. We’d never hear the end of it.

    • H.O.T.,

      We looked back at other comments from “H.O.T.” and noticed a trend–you have consistently disagreed with us, and your logic has baffled BCI. Today is no exception.

      In the last comment of yours we found on Dec. 2, 2010, on our post: Finance Council Top Ethical Concerns: #4: Compensation–Six Figure Salaries you wrote in your comment: “I find almost all of these salaries are less than but also reasonably near secular positions of equivalent responsibility in a for-profit of the size of the Archdiocese.”

      Then you said you felt Mary Grassa O’Neill was “legitimately overpaid for all her real responsibility” even after we posted the actual data for months showing how she is paid substantially more than the Boston, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles public school superintendents, who in contrast to the mere advisory/oversight role MGO’N has, are DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE for orders of magnitude larger numbers of students, employees, and budgets, and WHO HAVE DIRECT MANAGERIAL RESPONSIBILITY for hiring/firing, labor negotiations, budgets and P&L, curriculum, transportation, and more.

      Objectively, the data does not support your opinion for MGO’N as well as a number of the other salaries, so unfortunately, this discredits any other opinions you might voice in this forum.

      As for the Holy Trinity matter, you said “listing a property with an agent isn’t an agreement to sell it.” Where exactly do you get this interpretation of real estate sales from? Is that the same rationale that led you to conclude Mary Grassa O’Neill is not excessively paid given her light responsibilities when the objective data shows otherwise?

      Are you saying you believe the agent is spending their time on Mondays and Thursday from 11am to 1pm showing the building in an ‘open house’ out of the goodness of his heart, posting a listing on their website, and spending other time or monetary resources advertising the property and showing it for a purpose other than selling the building and with no agreement that Sothebys is engaged to sell the building?

      The archdiocese has announced on two occasions a process they say they are following before church buildings are sold. Objectively, neither was followed in this case.

      It is not even worth our time to respond to your other points.

    • TheLastCatholicinBoston says:

      Hey HOT dude,
      In MA if you list a property for sale and receive a valid offer, the party making the offer has some recourse if the seller does not respond to the offer. If Southby received a full price offer from a qualified purchaser the RCAB would not likely have to sell in the end, but they may need legal counsel depending on how aggressive the purchaser wanted to get. …I guess it would only be an “ethical” breech anyway, not a big deal around here, that’s for sure.
      And speaking of Ethics.
      Let’s no forget Mr. HOT why the RCAB is selling landmarks. It is a bit more than “in the context of trying to realize real cash in order to pay off real liabilities” Some estimate the legal liability cause by the weird in most cases queer activities of Priests has cost the diocese. $100,000,000. That’s 100 million dollars. I don’t think even Barney Frank and ‘fanny may’ could get you a loan for that much. Its called extortion.
      So before this issue gets dismissed as complaints by some fuddy-duddy no fun conservative stick-in-the-muds we should all keep reality in mind.

  4. I'm A Believer says:

    I hate to say this,but I believe them. Why would they lie? They don’t have to lie for the following reasons.(1) They are immune to bad publicity (2) They are not subject to any civil regulations and (3) They know that The Vatican is not going to rule against them.

  5. anonymous says:

    If Donilon is Pinocchio, who is Geppetto?

  6. teddyballgame says:

    Just wanted to share a tidbit on Donilon.

    Shortly after I started working at RCAB someone introduced me to Terry Donilon and we had lunch together in the cafeteria. He seemed like a nice enough guy and we talked about the usual stuff ( sports, politics, hometowns etc.) for probably 40 minutes. We finished lunch, and both went back to work. The next time I saw him I greeted him by name and he had forgotten mine so I reminded him. We laughed and forgot about it. I saw him the very next day, greeted him by name and again he had forgotten mine.

    No harm, no foul, however it got so that I would see him daily in the halls and I would always greet him by name. His response was a smile and a hello. Not a smile and “hello Mike” as you would expect. Then it got to be a game with me. Every time I saw him I gave him a “hi Terry”, and his response was a smile and a hello. I knew he couldn’t remember my name so I kept hammering him with “Hi Terry” and his response was the same lame smile. If he was walking down the hall with Bierne Lovely I would shout out a “hi Terry and hi Bierne” and he would smile and keep walking. Bierne would respond with “hello Mike”.

    Once or twice I was in meetings with him and I kept it up. Everytime I addressed him I called him by name, and I knew he still didn’t know mine. I was at RCAB for 18 months which is around 360 work days. I probably greeted him 150 times and the little putz never responded in kind. How hard would it be for him to ask someone my name so he could respond in kind. He never took the time to ask, or look me up in the directory.

    I really don’t care if he ever recognized me, but it sure tells me a lot about the guy, and his leadership

  7. DBP says:

    Dear H.O.T. – your own inexpert opinion seems even more inexpert than BCI’s.

    You say, “it seems eminently reasonable to find out what the market actually is for such a property, in addition to doing the rest of the work. I fail to see why they can’t go hand in hand.”

    The reason that they can’t go hand in hand is that Canon Law does not allow it. The fact that they need the money right away doesn’t excuse them from following the law. Period. Full stop.

    It has not been an “unnecessarily tendentious controversy” as you suggest; even those of us who are not overly attached to that building (myself included) are offended by the stink that comes from yet another fast one pulled by a Finance Department and leader thereof who thinks that he is above the law.

    Here’s what grinds my gears: we are members of a Church that has, for two millenia, prided herself on being faithful to the Truth: no abortions, no artificial contraception, no women priests because we don’t just “go with the flow,” we’re attached to the Truth. Yet we see example after example that the leaders of our local Church have no such attachment to even small-t ‘truth.’ Whatever happened to “let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no’?”

    By the way, the next original sentence to flow from the pen of Terry Donilon will be his first; the “we were just attempting to gauge the market” line is what he was told to put out there by one of those to whom he reports. The lies just keep on coming.

    So I ask you, how does such constant mendacity – even though most likely, in the minds of its perpetrators, utilized for “greater goods” – square with Scripture?

    “Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:1-2)

  8. Lapsed and Loving It says:

    Is His Eminence really that clueless? Does he actually let these guys run the show?

  9. TheLastCatholicinBoston says:

    …and BCI is Jiminy Cricket. “Give a little whistle… and always let your conscience be your guide…”

  10. anna says:

    LCIB – that is priceless!

  11. K&JSR says:

    An interesting development. Over the weekend of the 20th, the Archdiocese changed it’s Real Estate Information page, and the list of Properties for sale, and backdated them both to before their snafu.
    The front page now says they ALWAYS meant to list first, sell, then run it past the Cardinal, and the Properties for sale no longer lists a price ($2.3m) for Holy Trinity. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

    Real Estate Information
    Process for Marketing Parish Properties
    Updated March 8, 2011

    Offers, solicited over a 90-day period, will be evaluated at the conclusion of that process. At the conclusion of the process the Archdiocesan Real Estate office and the Real Estate Advisory committee will review the offers. They will make their recommendations to the Chancellor. The Chancellor will review the financial terms and social considerations connected with the offers and forward his recommendations to the Archbishop through the Vicar General. If the Archbishop is inclined to accept offers, permissions will be sought from the College of Consultors, the Finance Council and, where needed, from the Holy See.

    For information regarding any Archdiocesan property on the market for sale, please contact the Real Estate department at 617-746-5986.
    The properties currently being marketed and the corresponding listing brokers are available by clicking here.

    • DBP says:

      “We have always been at war with Eastasia.”

      Priceless. 2011 is 1984.

      I hope K&JSR (or somebody!) has a (Google) cache of the page before it was redacted. I mean, why backdate the update (!) unless you are trying to make it appear that it was so when it wasn’t?

      Again, the archdiocesan policy wonks clearly demonstrate that they hold fast to the “Truth” only when it is convenient for them to do so. What a scandal – Harvard’s motto is “veritas,” while ours appears to be “subjectio.”

      • K&JSR says:

        Yes, many do. So do all the relevant Vatican Cardinals, who printed it out last week, and the Canon lawyers working on the case. Imagine their surprise when they go back to the website and see the Archdiocese declare “no, that never happened”. Who are you going to believe, ME (Chancellor McDonough) or your lying eyes.

  12. [...] the deception used to explain the “for sale” listing on Sothebys of Holy Trinity Church also qualify for “highest Christian ethical standards and personal [...]

  13. [...] Holy Trinity Trickery We leave the subject of pensions for now to return to a topic we covered about two weeks ago, the efforts by the archdiocese to sell Holy Trinity in Boston.  As you may recall, former parishioners at Holy Trinity Church in the South End asked the Vatican to stop any sale of the building after it was listed for sale  at $2.3 million on Sothebys, a residential real estate site. They argued that the archdiocese had not completed the required  relegation to profane use process to convert it to secular use, and the archdiocese responded by pulling the listing. The explanation given at the time raised eyebrows for its failure to make logical sense, as we discussed in More Diocesan Deception. [...]

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