Tensions are escalating over the employee pension fund, and if you did not notice from the statement by the former Chancellor, David Smith and subsequent response by the archdiocese, there was a bit of a war of words going on yesterday. As one might expect , the Archdiocese still fails to answer pointed questions and apparently has started their characteristic “smear campaign” in retaliation when someone raises public criticism they do not like. Here are a few highlights from the fireworks:
Article in today’s Boston Globe: “Church is faulted on handling of pensions.” There are not really any new insights here.
“My concern is that there are 10,000 people out here who have worked their whole lives for the church for submarket wages, and those people are being put at risk,’’ Smith said.
He also said the archdiocese is overstating the value of the lump sum payments.
Smith also said that the archdiocese is taking advantage of the fact that church plans are not held to strict federal standards, which apply to most pension plans and which prohibit pension funds from asking employees to accept a reduced benefit.
Even if the church does not have a legal obligation to follow federal guidelines, he said, it has a moral responsibility to do so.
O’Malley should “simply stand up and publicly say on television that this is the full faith and credit of the diocese and every single person will get every dollar they’re due,’’ Smith said.
Before yesterday’s press conference, Smith met with a group of about 15 current and former employees of the archdiocese whom he provocatively dubbed “Boston Pension Abuse Victims.’’
Most of the employees declined to speak to the press. But one former administrator for the archdiocese who would give only her first name, Karen, said she had worked for the archdiocese for 22 years. Her lump sum payment would amount to about half of her former annual salary, but she is nervous about leaving it on the table. “They’re making a threat that it may not be there,’’ she said.
In an interview yesterday, the current archdiocesan chancellor, James P. McDonough, said it is “the cardinal’s goal and the pension trustees’ goal to fully fund the pensions, but neither the cardinal nor the trustees can predict what will happen over the next 30 years.’’
Carol Gustavson, director of benefit trusts and plan administrator for the archdiocese, said the plan has been carefully reviewed by lawyers and actuaries to make sure it complies with the law.
Yes, Jim and Carol, it may comply with the law (because the law does not govern church plans), but does what you are doing comply with past promises made by the Archdiocese of Boston to employees and the Catholic faithful? Is it correct on an ethical and moral basis to have the Catholic Church reneg on a promise made to the Catholic faithful like this? Why will no one from the archdiocese acknowledge the promise made by Cardinal O’Malley in 2004 to repay $5 million still owed to the pension plan by closed parishes and to be repaid from reconfiguration funds? Why won’t the Chancellor at least add that $5 million to the pool of funds and recalculate all of the lump-sum payouts? Why is no one explaining why $2.5 million of reconfiguration funds that was promised to first repay pension obligations was instead diverted to Jack Connors’ Trinity Academy project in Brockton? The next time a reporter talks to Terry, could you ask him that question? Terry, Jim, and Carol, next time you make a statement, could you comment on that?
Then there is the smear campaign.
Terry Donilon, criticized the former chancellor for there not being balanced budgets during his tenure, with no context for the financial freefall that followed the clergy sexual abuse crisis which Terry, of course, never had to deal with because he was doing PR at Shaws Supermarkets at the time. Terry’s predecessor, who made somewhere in the range of $50-65K less/year than Terry is paid today, walked into her job thinking she was doing proactive PR for the good works of the archdiocese and Catholic Church in Boston, and instead found the sexual abuse crisis hitting weeks later.
In a WBUR interview, Terry continued the smear campaign. The WBUR reporter discussed the objective downsides of the offer to retirees (listen at 2:35):
“I’ve talked to tax experts who say this is a problem because it could open the person receiving this lump sum up for a large tax bill, in addition, they’re reducing the amount that they get because they’re taking it earlier in their retirement, and in addition, they’re absorbing the losses for the plan suffered. One tax expert said, ‘It’s a surprising idea to come from a Church.’ “
The response by Terry Donilon from the archdiocese (listen at 2:48):
“I don’t know what planet David Smith is living on. What we’re doing is a very responsible transparent, and fair way of trying to protect the beneficiaries. We are living in extreme and extraordinary times.”
The reporter went on to say (3:30) that “Terry, really just attacked David Smith’s track record as chancellor of the archdiocese.”
Nice job, Terry, of upholding the “highest Christian ethical standards and personal integrity.”By the way, if you are being transparent, how’s about explaining what happened to the $5M owed by closed parishes the Cardinal promised would be repaid from reconfiguration funds?
We are waiting now to see what Attorney General Martha Coakley and Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin are going to do. Do not all hold your breath at once waiting for their response. In the meantime, we think the failure to repay this $5M as promised and the redirection of reconfiguration funds to Brockton’s Trinity Academy constitutes “Abuse of, or Fraud with Benefits”, which would be a violation of the new Code of Conduct Policy. Anyone who cares about this issue and wants to do something about it immediately can submit an Ethicspoint claim here and see what happens. All the information you need to reference is here. Former employees, current employees, priests, religious, or any concerned Catholic can file a claim, and is set-up so you can file the claim anonymously.
Lastly, as reported in the media, the Daughters of St Paul and the Archdiocese sit with a mediator today to see if the issues that motivated their lawsuit against the archdiocese can be resolved. Comedian and talk show host, Conan O’Brien mentioned the lawsuit by the Daughters in one of his monologues last week. Here is a link to the video. (fast forward to 4:00 for the 20-second part about the Daughters).
Even if what they are doing is technically “legal,” does anyone believe it is correct ethically and morally for the Catholic archdiocese to summarily abandon their promises made to long-time dedicated Catholic employees and publicly position it as though they are somehow doing the right thing?