MA Bishops Issue Statement on Controversial State Website

April 30, 2011

In follow-up of our posts from earlier this week–Mass Bishops, Catholic Conference Silent on Abortion-Promoting Site and Mass Catholic Conference Alert on Abortion-Promoting Websitewe are pleased to inform you that the 4 Massachusetts bishops publicly commented yesterday on the controversial state-funded “MariaTalks.com” website that advises teenage girls how to get abortions and is run by the AIDS Action Committee. See below for a screen capture from the site and the bishops’ statement:

The following statement has been issued today by the Board of Governors of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM Cap., of the Archdiocese of Boston, Bishop George W. Coleman of the Diocese of Fall River, Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell of the Diocese of Springfield, and  Bishop Robert J. McManus of the Diocese of Worcester in response to the controversy surrounding the government-funded website MariaTalks.com:

The critical social issue of teen pregnancy warrants the attention of the entire community.  However, not all means proposed for solving this challenge conform to the dignity of the human person.  A great number of elected state officials and concerned citizens have objected to a government-funded website intended to respond to teen pregnancy rates in  Massachusetts .  This website employs demeaning and sexually explicit terminology, an approach that rightly deserves the criticism it is receiving.  This tactic only succeeds in talking down to minors under the mistaken assumption that the young are incapable of responding positively to challenging and uplifting appeals to their better nature.

The problems at stake here go much deeper than word choice and phrasing; a simple re-editing cannot resolve them.  Those defending the website argue that it simply conveys medically accurate information, but this view is contested.  As observed by those who seek the well-being of children and yet oppose the website, it promotes an overall message that sexual conduct for unmarried minors is acceptable whenever it “feels right.” Additionally, the website describes abortion in misleadingly opaque terms, touting the procedure as “easier than you think,” and emphasizes ways to obtain an abortion without parental knowledge.  The website fails to acknowledge that many women, especially those undergoing an abortion in their teenage years, suffer long-term negative consequences.  Furthermore, the website limits the list of available resources to organizations that advocate for or provide abortion and contraception.

For these reasons, we strongly support and join with those in the public policy arena who urge the state to eliminate funding for the website and who are asking the state to assist in its removal.  We do not agree that the only choices available are limited to keeping the website running with tax dollars or doing nothing at all to address the problem of teen pregnancy.  The state should work together with all sectors of the community, not just those with a vested interest in offering teens contraception and abortion, to find solutions that respect the dignity of young people and their capacity to make good and wholesome choices.

BCI commends the Massachusetts bishops for making this statement, which was reported in this Associated Press article and on local radio.

We also happened to hear new Mass Catholic Conference Executive Director, James Driscoll, effectively put forward the bishops’ perspective in a short radio interview aired as part of a news report on WBZ 1030 last evening. In the same news report, WBZ aired comments from a woman who was in some way involved with “Maria Talks”, and we thought her defense of the site was flawed. It seems that she was justifying the content by claiming the same thing the Maria Talks website says: “In preparation for the launch of the hotline and website, the AIDS Action Committee conducted key informant interviews with those working in the fields of family planning, HIV/STI prevention, domestic violence, sexual assault and youth services.”  But as the bishops said in their statement, that includes mostly people or entities with a vested interest in offering contraception and abortions to teens.

Here are a few opinion pieces from other publications critical of “Maria Talks.”

Flawed attempt at sex education cannot stand

MA Undermines Parental Authority on Abortion

BCI feels that the site should come down, state funding should be eliminated, and as the bishops articulated, “the state should work together with all sectors of the community…to find solutions that respect the dignity of young people and their capacity to make good and wholesome choices.


Mass Catholic Conference Alert on Abortion-Promoting Website

April 29, 2011

In follow-up of our post from Wednesday, “Mass Bishops, Catholic Conference Silent on Abortion-Promoting Site,” we are pleased to inform you that the Mass Catholic Conference has now commented on the controversy over the state-funded “Maria Talks” website that advises teenage girls how to get abortions.

Alert reader, “Mike,” forwarded us an email sent yesterday afternoon by Daniel Avila of the Mass Catholic Conference entitled, “MCC-Net Alert April 28, 2011 Legislators Oppose MariaTalks.com website–Action Needed.”  We understand Dan has announced he is leaving the Mass Catholic Conference shortly to take a job with the USCCB in Washington, so we hope MCC has someone lined up to perform this same function in the future.

We commend MCC for finally acting on this appalling situation and asking Catholics to contact the Governor’s office. All readers should call the Governor’s Office at 1-888-870-7770 and ask that the “Maria Talks” website be taken down and defunded.  Here is the MCC alert:

MCC-Net Alert

April 28, 2011

MariaTalks.com Update: Legislators Need to be Thanked for Taking Action and the Governor Needs to Hear from You

Sixty-three (63) state legislators signed onto a letter circulated among members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives that was sent to Governor Deval Patrick today urging his administration to defund and remove a sexually-explicit website targeting teenagers. Funded by your tax dollars and promoted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, MariaTalks.com tells unmarried minors that engaging in sex is good whenever it “feels right,” assures them that abortion access for teens is “easier than you think” and is “done all the time”, coaches minor girls on how to get abortions without telling their parents, and employs graphic sexual content marked by consistently crude and offensive terminology.

The letter emphasizes that the legislators opposing the website represent a bipartisan group with a spectrum of viewpoints—yet all who signed the letter agree that the website “crosses the line.” They write that in these economically difficult times “we find it disturbing that some must endure cuts to basic services in favor of funding a grant that is being used in such a controversial manner.”

Action on your part is critical.

First, please read the list below of legislators who signed onto this letter and then call your state representative during business hours as soon as possible. Your state representative can be reached by calling the State House switchboard at 617-722-2000; ask to be forwarded to the appropriate office. If you do not know who your legislators are, go online to http://www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/myelectioninfo.php and enter your home address to find out.

If your representative added his or her name to the letter, thank him or her for this courageous action when you contact the office. You should convey your message of gratitude to the staff if you cannot reach the legislators directly. The officials who signed the letter are standing strong in the face of tremendous pressure. This pressure is generated by the very same government-subsidized groups and their private allies that the website directs teenagers to contact for abortions, contraception or related support. These legislators need to know that they have your backing in their districts.

If your state representative’s name is not on the letter, ask if he or she opposes the website and whether they have taken any steps on their own in response. If he or she opposes the website, thank him or her and ask that he or she contact the Governor. Let those legislators who do not oppose the website know that you as a constituent object to this egregious misuse of your tax dollars. It should be noted that at least one Senator, Senator Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge), sent an individual letter to the Administration expressing opposition. The group letter sent to the Governor today focused on state representatives because the House was in session this week to debate the budget.

Second, call Governor Patrick’s office at 1-888-870-7770 and urge the Governor 1) to take down the website, 2) to order an investigation into how such a misuse of our tax dollars occurred, and 3) to report back to us the taxpayers with his findings. Our children deserve better from their state government. Forward this email to your friends and urge them to act as well.

Text of Letter and List of Legislators Who Signed On In Opposition to the Website

April 28, 2011

His Excellency Deval L. Patrick
Massachusetts State House
Office of the Governor
Boston, MA 02133

Dear Governor Patrick,

We are writing to you to ask for your assistance in addressing a matter of profound concern to us relative to the website http://www.mariatalks.com, which was highlighted in a recent Boston Herald story.

It is our understanding that the website was created and maintained by the AIDS Action Committee through an annual grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The website, targeted at teenagers, uses graphic and inappropriate language to describe various sexual activities. Further, the website describes abortion in an insensitive manner and advises how to circumvent parental notification requirements.

A review of the Facebook fan page for this website raises serious questions regarding the use of tax dollars to advocate for or against public policy. In a fiscal climate where the Executive Office of Health and Human Services has faced many cuts over the past few years, we find it disturbing that some must endure cuts to basic services in favor of funding a grant that is being used in such a controversial manner.

We would emphasize that this is not a debate over the pro-choice and pro-life position on the topic of abortion, as we represent a spectrum of viewpoints on that issue, but rather the necessity of funding this website in a time of scarce resources as well as the manner in which the website is constructed.

While we understand that teenagers may have questions about sexual education, we believe the Commonwealth should uphold a level of appropriateness in the way we interact with our youth. This website uses language that crosses the line.

As a bipartisan group of members of the House of Representatives, we strongly urge you to make immediate, substantive content changes to the website or to eliminate funding and assist in the removal of http://www.mariatalks.com from the internet.

We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this issue in greater detail and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Signed April 28, 2011 Letter to Governor Opposing

MariaTalks.com Website

 

Signed April 28, 2011 Letter to Governor Opposing

MariaTalks.com Website

Title

First

Last

Party

Home City

Rep. Paul Adams

R

Andover
Rep. James Arciero

D

Westford
Rep. Brian M. Ashe

D

Longmeadow
Rep. Demetrius Atsalis

D

W. Hyannis
Rep. Bruce J. Ayers

D

Quincy
Rep. Jay Barrows

R

Mansfield
Rep. Carlo Basile

D

East Boston
Rep. Richard Bastien

R

Gardner
Rep. Matthew Beaton

R

Shrewsbury
Rep. Nicholas Boldyga

R

Southwick
Rep. Michael D. Brady

D

Brockton
Rep. Thomas Calter

D

Kingston
Rep. Nick Collins

D

South Boston
Rep. Edward Coppinger

D

West Roxbury
Rep. Geraldine Creedon

D

Brockton
Rep. Mark Cusack

D

Braintree
Rep. Linda Dean-Campbell

D

Methuen
Rep. Vinny M. deMacedo

R

Plymouth
Rep. Angelo D’Emilia

R

Bridgewater
Rep. Marcos Devers

D

Lawrence
Rep. Geoff Diehl

R

Whitman
Rep. Stephen DiNatale

D

Fitchburg
Rep. James J. Dwyer

D

Woburn
Rep. Ryan Fattman

R

Sutton
Rep. Kimberly Ferguson

R

Holden
Rep. John Fernandes

D

Milford
Rep. Michael Finn

D

West Springfield
Rep. John P. Fresolo

D

Worcester
Rep. Paul K. Frost

R

Auburn
Rep. Colleen M. Garry

D

Lowell
Rep. Susan W. Gifford

R

Wareham
Rep. Thomas A. Golden Jr.

D

Lowell
Rep. Sheila Harrington

R

Groton
Rep. Carlos Henriquez

D

Boston
Rep. Bradford R. Hill

R

Ipswich
Rep. Russell Holmes

D

Mattapan
Rep. Steven Howitt

R

Seekonk
Rep. Donald F. Humason

R

Westfield
Rep. Randy Hunt

R

East Sandwich
Rep. Bradley H. Jones

R

North Reading
Rep. Kevin Kuros

R

Uxbridge
Rep. Steven Levy

R

Marlborough
Rep. Marc Lombardo

R

Billerica
Rep. James Lyons, Jr.

R

Andover
Rep. James R. Miceli

D

Wilmington
Rep. David M. Nangle

D

Lowell
Rep. Harold P. Naughton Jr.

D

Clinton
Rep. Shaunna O’Connell

R

Taunton
Rep. George N. Peterson Jr.

R

Grafton
Rep. William J. Pignatelli

D

Lenox
Rep. Elizabeth A. Poirier

R

North Attleboro
Rep. Angelo Puppolo

D

Springfield
Rep. John H. Rogers

D

Norwood
Rep. Dennis Rosa

D

Leominster
Rep. George Ross

R

Attleboro
Rep. Angelo M. Scaccia

D

Boston
Rep. Todd M. Smola

R

Three Rivers
Rep. Joyce A. Spiliotis

D

Peabody
Rep. Walter F. Timilty

D

Milton
Rep. James E. Vallee

D

Franklin
Rep. David Vieira

R

E. Falmouth
Rep. Daniel K. Webster

R

Pembroke
Rep. Donald Wong

R

Saugus

#   #   #   #

Now a few final comments from BCI.  Please share this message with your friends and family members and ask them to also call the Governor’s office.

Additional note to MCC: Is there a reason why MCC was not present at the hearings for the Governor’s controversial nominee to the Supreme Judicial Court, Barbara A. Lenk, to offer testimony regarding the nomination or ask the judge questions? Here are a few articles that explain the controversy over her nomination.

SJC nominee’s record is hotly disputed at hearing

Lenk misses link to common sense

People are wondering why MCC was conspicuously absent, so we encourage MCC to make it a higher priority to participate in such hearings in the future.


Lay Pension: Case for Removal of Trustees

April 28, 2011

Those of you following the flap over the lay pension plan may have read our post from Tuesday, “Pension Communication,” where we published a copy of the letter sent from the archdiocese to former employees explaining the changes to the plan that reduce payments to beneficiaries.

Yesterday we received a copy of this statement dated April 27, 2011 from David Smith, former Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Boston and former Pension Administrator and Pension Trustee.  It offers additional insights and perspectives not yet aired in the press or here at BCI, so here is the statement:

Former Archdiocese of Boston Chancellor speaks out on needed Pension Trust reforms and the case for removal of control
of the Trust from Cardinal O’Malley and his conflicted appointees .

Remove control of the Trust from those who have consistently breached their fiduciary obligations (or not). There are
some things that just need to happen to protect those due benefits from the Trust and the 79 public charities that use the Trust to deliver their contractually obligated pension benefits.

What must be done and when:

To protect the tax status of the accrued benefits and stop the Trustees from further violating the terms of the Trust by their acting to protect the interests of the participating employers rather than those owed benefits from the Trust, the “voluntary’ benefit forfeiture scheme must be withdrawn before the first payout now scheduled for May of this year.

In addition, to facilitate planning for eventual full funding of the Trust, reasonable actuarial assumptions must be adopted promptly and the
2010 actuary’s report and June 30, 2010 financial statements must be reissued using those assumptions within 90 days.

As soon as corrected statements are prepared, the Trust must issue the required reports to each Participating Employer showing their
portion of the true unfunded position, which I estimate at roughly $125 million vs. the roughly $75 million reported by the Trustees.  These amounts need to be billed to the participating employers as soon as they are known.

By not collecting contributions from all participating employers, the trustees have de facto made loans—in the amount of the underfunded benefits–to the 79 Participating Employers, in violation of the terms of the Trust.  These loans must be repaid promptly.  To protect the
interests of those due benefits from the Trust and the other participating employers, the loans need to be documented in loan agreements with appropriate covenants and interest rates consistent with the Trust’s adjusted earnings assumptions.  They need to be secured with at least 150% collateral coverage.  All of these loans need level payment schedules at sufficient amounts to fully amortize the debt within 10 years.

If control of the Trust does not change, consideration must be given to the fact that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston, a corporation
sole, is roughly 62% of the Trust.  This means it needs to come up with about $75 million to fund its share of the accrued benefits.  It has also closed and up-streamed assets from some of the 79 charities.  Given the past misconduct on the part of the Archbishop and the Trustees, the Archbishop and his appointees cannot be allowed to control the determination of what Corporation Sole owes to the Trust. Nor can they be allowed to determine the terms of the necessary loan and collateral agreements.

The Trust must bill the Archdiocese of Boston for the true outstanding shortfall from closed parishes which I estimate will be about $7.5 million and require immediate payment of that amount since the Archbishop of Boston (a trustee) used funds from the sale of the assets of those parishes for other purposes instead of “acting solely for the benefit of the Participants and their beneficiaries” as required he is required to do by the Trust document.

Those due benefits from the Trust and the 79 public charities need protection against continuing and future breaches of fiduciary responsibility on the part of the Archbishop and the Trustees as a group.

Case for removal of control of the Trust:

The Trust began in 1963 as a multi-employer defined benefit church Trust allowing Catholic employers the benefit of sharing administration, legal costs, investment expenses and returns.  The assets were comingled for management purposes but tracked separately for each employer as required by the Trust documents.  Liabilities were also separately tracked so that contributions could be adjusted for each employer based on their respective demographics and experience.  In essence, we had many Trusts sharing administrative services and backstopping each others’ credit solely in the interest of the Participants and their beneficiaries.

Trustees are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the Archbishop of Boston.  The Trust document sets out a standard of conduct for the Trustees (paragraph 18.10) says:

Standard of Conduct:  Notwithstanding the Trust’s status as a non-electing church Trust exempt from ERISA, the Trustees and any
Investment Manager will discharge their respective duties with respect to the Trust and Trust solely in the interest of the Participants and their beneficiaries
and 

(a)   For the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to Participants and their beneficiaries……

(b)   With the care, skill, prudence and diligence under the circumstances the prevailing that a prudent person acting in a like capacity and familiar with such matters would use in the conduct of an enterprise of a like character and with like aims….

That Standard was carefully observed while I was involved in the management of the Trust and abandoned when it became clear that significant additional funding would be needed at a time when: (1) The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston was running massive operating
losses and bleeding cash.  (Notwithstanding the recent financial announcements, these conditions continue)  (2) Other participating employers were finding difficult financial times and asking for relief. 

For the reasons stated above, and long before the Trustees came up with the most recent scheme to abuse those due benefits from the Trust for the benefit of the Participating Employers, breaches of fiduciary duties were prevalent by the trustees in general and importantly by the Archbishop of Boston in his personal capacity as a trustee.

Breaches of fiduciary responsibility on the part of the Archbishop of Boston include:

Absence by Cardinal Sean O’Malley from pension fund trustee meetings. Although the Trust Administrator refuses to confirm specifics, Cardinal Sean O’Malley has rarely, if ever, attended trustee meetings during the period while the Trust has been in a downward spiral.  (Note: he is not the only absentee trustee).

Failure on the Cardinal’s part to pay over to the Trust amounts needed to cover the benefits of parishes that he closed.  Not only would a prudent trustee “acting solely in the interest of the Participants..” as required by the trust have insisted that Corporation Sole pay over these sums from the liquidation proceeds of its partial shut-down, Sean Cardinal O’Malley breached his public promise (made seven years ago) to do so.  He is now plotting with his advisors to use the balance in that reconfiguration account for other purposes before he can be ordered to fund Trust benefits.

Breaches of fiduciary responsibility on the part of the Trustees as a group include:

  1. Placing the interest of the Participating Employers above those due benefits from the Trust by failing to adjust actuarial assumptions to reflect market realities, thereby keeping pension contributions at levels insufficient to ever fully fund the obligations of the Trust.
  2. Serving the interest of the Archdiocese of Boston over those due benefits from the Trust and the other 78 public Charities by not billing Associated Catholic High Schools, Inc. (it owes the Archdiocese millions) for its unfunded pension liability.  ACHS is now a real estate holding company, leasing out its properties to new Catholic high schools.  We cannot see how, or if, the funds it earns have been up-streamed to the Archdiocese because the Archdiocese does not disclose its financial statements. What we do know is that ACHS has millions of dollars in real estate holdings and could be made to pay if the trustees acted in accordance with the standard of care required of them. According to the June 30, 2010 actuary’s report ACHS’ obligations to Trust are underfunded by $5,116,000 (with realistic actuarial assumptions about $7.5 million) because of this negligence on the part of the trustees.
  3. Serving the interest of the Archdiocese of Boston over those due benefits from the Trust and the other 78 employers by negligently
    allowing it to liquidate parishes with related pension obligations but without insisting on payment in full for those past obligations.  In fact, no payment was made or sought with respect to these obligations in FY 2009 or FY 2010.  According to the June 2010 Actuary’s report, $5,059,000 is due the Trust—with realistic actuarial assumptions, about $7.5 million—for accrued benefits by these parishes.
  4. Failure to collect $1.5 million owed by one of the contributing employers. This is describe in Footnote 4 of the Trust’s June
    30, 2009 statements, which says “At June 30, 2008 the funding status was 89%, which would result in the employer (unidentified but believed to be Catholic Charities) owing an additional $1.5 million to the Trust and additional funding to the escrow account.  The Trust did not book a receivable of $1.5 million as the employer and the Trust have agreed that the funds will not be remitted and there will be no additional funding to the escrow account……”
  5. Failure by the Trustees to articulate a credible plan for funding the Trust.  The Trust Administrator says that it will take well over ten years depending on investment results.   Her statement is based on grossly inflated actuarial assumptions.  The reality is that based on her understanding of the Trust’s future revenue prospects the Trust would never be funded.
  6. Reduced funding plans by the Archdiocese in the coming year. The Chancellor has announced that next year the Archdiocese
    will cut its funding of the Trust by 28.5%.  By the Trustees allowing the Archdiocese to do this, the reality is
    that the Trust would never be funded.
  7. In April 2008 the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston, a corporation sole, granted enhanced retirement benefits to certain
    employees in order to induce early retirements.  Not only would prudent trustees have insisted on advance payment given
    the funded status of the Trust, the Trust’s provision 7.3(c)(ii) says “prior to the date of commencement of the early retirement program, the Participating employer shall have deposited with the Trust an amount determined by the Administrator to fund.  By not requiring
    funding, the trustees both violated the terms of the Trust and also favored the interests of the Archdiocese of Boston over those due benefits from the Trust and the other 78 participating employers.
  8. The trustees are de facto in violation of the Trust documents which specifically prohibits making loans to employers.  By ignoring their Section 11.1 obligation to determine the immediate and long term financial requirements of the Trust …, these trustees are making undocumented loans in undeclared amounts to the participating employers.
  9. Failing to produce reports required by section 18.11 of the Trust document. The Daughters of St. Paul have filed suit against
    the trustees because they either will not or cannot produce these reports.
  10. Last fall the trustees announced a scheme to cut the funding deficit.  The trustees amended the Trust to allow for “benefit forfeiture by consent” and used coercion and deceit about the true value of the offer in an attempt to get participants to accept lower benefits.  The offer is also discriminatory among Trust Participants because it was made only to employees of certain employers.

Responsible parties acting “solely in the interest of the Participants and their beneficiaries” don’t act as these trustees have acted.  One way or the other, adult supervision needs to be put in place.

#   #   #   #

The statement makes what sounds to BCI like a strong case for removal of the current trustees.  What do you think?


Mass Bishops, Catholic Conference Silent on Abortion-Promoting Site

April 27, 2011

The headline in an AP article published in the Boston Globe reads, “Mass. lawmakers say sex ed website ‘disgusting’“. 

The Boston Herald reported “Pols call for end to sex ed Web site.”

Appalled lawmakers yesterday demanded Gov. Deval Patrick take down the controversial state-funded “Maria Talks” sex education Web site, which critics say steers teens toward secret abortions.

“This is a blatant agenda by the liberal part of our society to introduce children to sex and give them the opportunity to have an abortion without their parents’ involvement,” said state Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut). “It’s a slant in one way. There’s not much said about adoption on it.”

What have the Massachusetts Bishops and Mass Catholic Conference said about this?  Nothing.

Not a word by the Massachusetts Bishops or Mass Catholic Conference in the last week since news broke about the contoversial state-funded “Maria Talks” sex education Web site that tells teenage girls it is “cool” to get an abortion.

We realize this is a little off the mainstream governance issues for BCI, but it is so egregiously bad that we felt we needed to say something. 

Here is a note of advice to new Mass Catholic Conference executive director, James Driscoll. When $100,000 in taxpayer money is shelled out to promote abortion to teenage girls, this IS the kind of issue that the Catholic Bishops and MCC should be speaking out on.  Fr. Bryan Hehir may think this is yet another “complicated multi-dimensional problem” and the Catholic Church should just be silent and coexist nicely with our “complex, pluralistic society,” but we urge you to disregard that input if given.

In case Mr. Driscoll is not reading BCI, we would ask someone in the Pastoral Center to notify fund-raising chief, Kathleen Driscoll–whose press release announcing her appointment mentioned her membership in Women Affirming Life–and ask her to tell her husband, Kevin, about this situation and pass word to Kevin’s cousin, Jim, that the clock is ticking. If that does not work, someone should tell Jim Brett, who was on the search committee that hired Jim Driscoll for the MCC role, since Brett knows the Driscolls from serving with them on the Catholic Charities Board, and maybe he can reach out to the new guy.

The Herald reported last week that Mariatalks.com, funded by $100,000 in annual grants from the Department of Public Health, describes abortion as “much easier than it sounds.”  A Herald columnist called for defunding the effort last week:

What kind of person pays for a Web site that makes abortion seem cool? Who would use the Internet to target teen girls with the message that abortions are “easy,” “common” and no big deal? What sicko would spend money showing underage girls how to secretly get an abortion behind their parents’ backs?

That “sicko” would be you.

As the Herald reported yesterday, the Patrick administration is using your money to promote abortion. Not merely to educate or inform, but to push the abortion “choice” itself — in particular, abortions without parental knowledge or consent.

Maria apparently studied writing in the Obama White House. In the spirit of “spending reductions in the tax code,” she describes an abortion as a procedure “when the contents of the uterus are removed.”

Hey, Mom — remember all those times when you were expecting, rubbing your belly and talking to the “contents of your uterus?” It’s a beautiful thing . . .

As for the contents of this Web site, how the heck could anyone in the Patrick administration sign off on this? MariaTalks.com doesn’t just explain abortion, it encourages teens to make this life-and-death moral decision. It downplays the emotional aspects, ignores research on possible long-term negative effects, and as for going off to get an abortion without telling your parents, MariaTalks.com says:

“I know it sounds crazy . . . this really can be done and young women do this all the time here in Massachusetts.”

The AP report says the following:

“Gov. Patrick, take down this website,” demanded state Rep. Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica, one of about 20 members of a bipartisan group that held a Statehouse news conference.

In response to the question “Can I get an abortion if I am under 18?” the character says that while the information can be confusing and intimidating, “I promise you the reality of getting an abortion is much easier than it sounds here.”

The site tells girls who are seeking an abortion that they can call a Planned Parenthood hotline and speak to counselors who could help them discuss the issue with their parents, or refer them to a free lawyer who will help them go through the courts.

“This website describes abortion in an extremely insensitive manner, downplays the medical and psychological damages and advises teenage girls on how to circumvent parental notification requirements,” Lombardo said.

In the meantime, as we wait for the Mass Catholic Conference and Massachusetts Bishops to get their act in gear, here is a message from Catholic Citizenship telling you how to take action. Kudos to them for pouncing on this while the Massachusetts Bishops and MCC apparently twiddle their thumbs.

Tell Governor Deval Patrick to Defund “Maria Talks”.

There has been a lot of discussion about the controversial Maria Talks after the Boston Herald did an article about the tax-payer funded website.

The website not only tells teenage girls how to obtain an abortion, but it also counsels them on how to keep it a secret from their parents. This site provides pornographic instructions on how to perform certain sex acts. It is paid for by the state Department of Public Health.

Call Governor Patrick’s office at 617-725-4005 and ask that the site be defunded.

You can e-mail the Governor and your State Representative and ask that the site be defunded. Please click on the following link: http://www.votervoice.net/Groups/Catholic/Advocacy/?IssueID=24845&SiteID=-1

The Church reminds everyone that parents are the primary educators of their children. While government can be a resource, it should never undermine parents’ rights.

BCI feels the site is an appalling use of taxpayer dollars and should be shut down. We urge everyone reading this to call Gov. Patrick’s office today at 617-725-4005 and ask that the site be defunded immediately.


Pension Communication

April 26, 2011

BCI hopes you all had a blessed Holy Week and Easter!   About 2 weeks ago, the archdiocese sent letters out to a number of former employees to address any questions or concerns they might have about the pension plan.  Apparently, those darned “recent media reports” might have sparked some concerns.

We think it is a step in the right direction that the archdiocese sent such a detailed communication, but the letter still leaves a number of issues unaddressed.  Here is the letter.  Our commentary will follow the letter.

April 2011

ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON
BENEFIT TRUSTS
66 BROOKS DRIVE, BRAINTREE, MASSACHUSETTS 02184

Dear Archdiocese of 80ston Pension Plan Participant:

You may be aware of recent media reports regarding the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Pension Plan. It is possible that these reports raised questions or concerns for you as a former employee, or a retiree or beneficiary, of the Plan that you feel have not been answered. The purpose  of this letter is to provide additional background information that the Trustees of the Plan hope will address any concerns you may have. This letter will also provide details about the timing of the changes to the Pension Plan. These changes were outlined in a letter sent to you in the Fall 0f 20 10.

Recent Financial Performance of the RCAB Pension Plan and Goals for the Future

As you may know, the Plan, like most pension plans, is funded through two sources. One source is employer contributions from parishes, schools, the Pastoral Center, and other Catholic entities in the Boston area, on behalf of approximately 10,000 current and former employees of these locations. Historically, employers have contributed a percentage of each eligible employee’s salary on a monthly basis. In recent years, these contributions bave totaled approximat ly $ 10 million per year. Some media reports have suggested that parishes and schools failed to make necessary payments into the Plan over an unspecified period of time. In fact, in 2006, recognizing that some parishes had old debt to the Plan that had not been paid, the Archdiocese transferred $ 12.7 million into the Plan from the Reconfiguration fund, created to receive assets of closed parishes and intended to be  used, in part, to cover unpaid debts incurred by parishes. This additional contribution brought the parish portion of the Plan to over 90% funded. A year later, in 2007, all funding locations were at least 97% funded.

The second means of funding the Plan is through investment returns on employcr contributions. Because pension plan funding is tied to investment returns, it is norma l for the funded status of pension plans to go up and down over time. While cmployer contributions have continued  throughout the life of the Plan, the extraordinarily difficult financial market performance beginning in 2007 caused the Plan to become significanlly underfunded by 2009, with only 74.6% of assets available to cover the plan’s obligations, and a deficit of over $81 million. With the recovery of the investment markets, the average funding ratio of the Plan for 2010 improved to approximat ly 83%.  Open parishes continue to have a deficit of$39 million, and closed parishes have a deficit of$5 million. The remaining $24 million deficit is spread across all other locations based on their allocated assets and liabilities. The Plan’s funding level is comparable to Fortune 1000 company pension plans, which were funded at an average of 82% at the end of2010. This funding level also compares favorably to state and local government pension plans, many of which were less than 80% funded, on average, at the end 0f 2010.

Since the inception of the Plan almost 50 years ago, benefits under the Archdiocese Pension Plan have not been guaranteed or insured, a fact that has not been emphasized in the past but one that the Trustees feel must be noted as the Plan undergoes significant changes. However, it is the goal of the Trustees to achieve full funding for the Plan through a combination of the changes described below, continued employer contributions, and a prudent investment strategy. We have worked closely with legal counsel, actuaries and pension consultants, all of whom have been outside consultants to the Plan for many years, to determine how best to achieve this goal. In a recent statement published in The Pilot, Cardinal O’Malley reaffirmed the Archdiocese’s commitment to continued payment of its portion of the Pension Plan’s obligations. This commitment will be essential as the Trustees work with all employers in the coming years to improve the Plan’s financial position.

Decisions and Communication of Plan Changes
In the Fall of 2009, the Trustees began to review and analyze the information summarized above, adding projections for future employer contributions and investment returns to the historical information available. In mid-2010, pastors. business managers, school principals and other Catholic employer representatives were asked for their feedback on various options for stabilizing the Plan. In July 2010, the Trustees voted to cease or “freeze” accruals for active employees at the end 0f 2011. This freeze will dramatically slow the growth of future Plan liabilities, which will allow employer contributions and investment returns to bring the Plan to full funding more quickly.

The freeze will not reduce the benefits accrued through 2011. The Trustees also voted to offer two new voluntary options to eligible individuals: an early monthly annuity payment or a lump sum payment, each reduced to reflect the Plan’s underfunded status (83% as of 2010). The decision was made to offer less than full v lue for the two new voluntary options in order to reflect the Plan’s approximate funded status at the time of the election, rather than the funded status that might be attained at some point in the future. The v luntary lump sum option reduces both the Plan’s deficit and overall liability. In addition, it prescrves the Plan’s current funded percentage and does not disadvantage participants who elect to wait to receive their benefits as a monthly annuity in the f ture. The Trustees fclt strongly that thc lump sum option be entirely voluntary and that there be no reduction or change in thc monthly annuity benefit paid upon retirement.

In late February 2011, a detailed package of information was sent to approximately 1,800 former employees who are not already receiving a monthly pension payment. This information was voluntar ly shared with the Public Charities Division of lhe Massachusetts Anorney General’s Office a few weeks later. The package emphasized that the choice to take a lump sum payment or keep vested benefits in the Plan was a voluntary one based on each individual’s own lifc circumstances. To emphasize the voluntary nature of the election, each former employee who has or will elect a lump sum will be sent a letter from Cardinal O’Malley offe ing him/her the opportunity to revoke this election prior to April 30, 2011.
Some media reports have suggested that the v lue of lump sums is being overstated by the Plan to attempt to mislead former employees about their options. This statement is not accurate. Each ,individual’s life circumstances, including age, number of years before retirement, estimated life  expectancy, and how and when the funds are invcsted, will result in a different detennination of the value of a lump sum to that person. All individuals offered a lump sum have been encouraged to consult with a financial planner, and meetings have been held in March and April 20 1 1 with financial educators present, who have provided information to attendees about how to evaluate these options. If you are a former employee who would like additional information about your lump sum or annuity offer, please contact me as soon as possible at (6 17) 746·5830 or  cgustavson@rcab.org. I will make myself available to you to answer any of your questions.

Beginning in September 2011, current employees who will be vested and at least age 55 as of December 2011 will be offered a lump sum or in·service annuity, both reduced to reflect the 83%  funding of the Plan from 2010.

If you are a retiree or beneficiary of the Plan, you will recall receiving a request for an anonymous response t0 a survey sent to you in the Summer 0f 2010 asking whether a lump sum option should be made available to you. At a Trustees’ meeting in the Fall 0f 2010, the responses (approximately 1,000) were reviewed. A slight majority of the respondents indicated that they would not be interested in a lump sum. The remaining responses were divided between defmite interest in a lump sum and a request for more information before an opinion was offered. The Trustees will continue to review a lump sum option in the coming months and will communicate a decision when it is made.

Additional Information
In January 2011, the Plan document was filed with the IRS for routine review based on a schedule set by the IRS in 2005. Notice of the filing was posted on the Archdiocese website (www.bostoncatholic.org) and tbe Archdiocese’s benefits website (www.catholicbenefits.org). We have again reviewed the legal status of the Plan with counsel and believe that the Plan meets the requirements for a qualified church plan. Information about the Plan, including audited fmancia! statements back to FY2005, is available on the Archdiocese website and the Archdiocese’s benefits website. Benefits Office staff members knowledgeable about the Plan can be reached by phone at (6 17) 746-5640 or by email at cgustavson@rcab.org for specific questions.

Opportunities for additional information for former employees currently eligible for a lump sum or early annuity are noted above. If you are a retiree or a former employee who decides not to elect a lump sum or early annuity before April 30, 2011, so that you have an additional venue to ask questions or convey concerns, we will host meetings at the Pastoral Center at 66 Brooks Drive in Braintree in May 2011 as noted below. Plan Trustees will attend these meetings, along with representatives from the Plan’s legal counsel (Wilmer Hale), pension consultant (Towers Watson),  and actuarial services (October Three). We would encourage you to attend a meeting or webinar in May to leam more about the reasons behind the changes to the Plan or to answer any questions you may have about your benefits.

7:00 pm, Thursday, May 12,2011
7:00 pm, Wednesday, May 18, 2011
1 :00 pm, Saturday, May 2 1, 20 11
7:00 pm, Tuesday, May 24,2011 (webinar – please RSVP to pension@rcab.org)

We appreciate your consideration of the information described above and hope that you avail  yourself of one of the many opportunities to learn more about your benefits under the Plan.

Sincerely,

Carol Gustavson, Plan Administrator
on behalf of the Trustees, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Pension Plan

Most Rev. Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap. [BCI note: yes, the letter listed the Cardinal as "Most Rev."]
Very Rev. Richard Erikson, Ph.D., V.G.
James P. McDonough
Very Rev. Joseph K. Raeke, VF
David Woontan
Rev. Robert Kickham
Paul Sandman
Jonathan Mellin
Jane Walsh
Michael Ryan
Very Rev. Bryan Parrish

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

First the positive.  As we said before, we think it is good that the archdiocese sent a letter explaining some things that were previously not explained. And for the first time in nearly a year, the letter lists the actual names of the trustees, rather than leaving them anonymous by just saying “The Trustees” or “Carol Gustavson, on behalf of the Trustees.”

Now the key concern and area for improvement. The biggest issue is that the letter and approach being taken still neglect to address the trust agreement’s promise that the plan would be fully funded by employer contributions.  Part 19.3 of the trust agreement says “Each employer shall periodically make contributions which … are sufficient on an actuarial basis approved by the plan’s actuary to fund the costs of the plan arising with respect to the participants…”   Does that commitment not sound like a “guarantee”?  Even if the plan was not insured, this part of the trust agreement says that the Trustees effectively have an obligation to invoice the participating institutions as needed to meet Plan liabilities. How can the Trustees be trusted to be acting solely in the interests of the plan participants–to provide benefits to the participants and their beneficiaries–if they are not working to collect what is due from each employer?

Here is the crux of the problem as BCI sees it. The archdiocesean lay pension plan that is the subject of this controversy is a “defined benefit” plan.  Like it or not, good or bad, in this type of plan, the employer promises a specified monthly benefit on retirement that is predetermined by a formula based on the employee’s earnings history, tenure of service and age, rather than depending on investment returns.  This means the employer–the archdiocese in this case–committed to bear the investment risk.  The plan was fully funded, or nearly fully funded at times, but then the investments dropped. By definition of the plan and defined terms of the trust, it would be the employer who is responsible for re-funding the plan.

In a defined contribution plan, which the archdiocese is moving to, contributions are paid into an individual account for each member. As described in wikipedia, “The contributions are invested (e.g. in the stock market), and the returns on the investment (which may be positive or negative) are credited to the individual’s account. On retirement, the member’s account is used to provide retirement benefits.”

Apparently defined contribution plans are now the dominant form of plan in the private sector in many countries. The number of defined benefit plans in the US has been steadily declining over years–this report says that 49 percent of 200 of  the largest U.S. companies had ongoing defined benefit plans in 2009,  down from 61 percent in 2006, according to Mercer’s Retirement.  Wikipedia and other sources say that more and more employers see pension contributions as a large expense avoidable by disbanding the defined benefit plan and instead offering a defined contribution plan.

The move to a “defined contribution” plan for the plan going forward makes sense to BCI.  But what should happen to the “defined benefit” commitments made by the current plan to former employees who relied on those promised benefits for their retirement? Even if it is legal to cut the benefits, is it ethically and morally the right move, given the plan itself by definition promised those benefits, and still does today? Are the Trustees in a conflict of interest trying to balance the needs of the archdiocese and those of the beneficiaries?

Many questions.  No simple answers.  What do you think?


Happy Easter

April 24, 2011

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Here are excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI’s Easter Vigil homily and Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi message. We are giving you just the beginning and last paragraphs of the messages here.

Have a blessed day!

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI

Easter Vigil, April 23, 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The liturgical celebration of the Easter Vigil makes use of two eloquent signs. First there is the fire that becomes light. As the procession makes its way through the church, shrouded in the darkness of the night, the light of the Paschal Candle becomes a wave of lights, and it speaks to us of Christ as the true morning star that never sets – the Risen Lord in whom light has conquered darkness. The second sign is water. On the one hand, it recalls the waters of the Red Sea, decline and death, the mystery of the Cross. But now it is presented to us as spring water, a life-giving element amid the dryness. Thus it becomes the image of the sacrament of baptism, through which we become sharers in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

(More…)

Yes, we believe in God, the Creator of heaven and earth. And we celebrate the God who was made man, who suffered, died, was buried and rose again. We celebrate the definitive victory of the Creator and of his creation. We celebrate this day as the origin and the goal of our existence. We celebrate it because now, thanks to the risen Lord, it is definitively established that reason is stronger than unreason, truth stronger than lies, love stronger than death. We celebrate the first day because we know that the black line drawn across creation does not last for ever. We celebrate it because we know that those words from the end of the creation account have now been definitively fulfilled: “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Amen

URBI ET ORBI MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI

Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and across the world,

Easter morning brings us news that is ancient yet ever new: Christ is risen! The echo of this event, which issued forth from Jerusalem twenty centuries ago, continues to resound in the Church, deep in whose heart lives the vibrant faith of Mary, Mother of Jesus, the faith of Mary Magdalene and the other women who first discovered the empty tomb, and the faith of Peter and the other Apostles.

Right down to our own time – even in these days of advanced communications technology – the faith of Christians is based on that same news, on the testimony of those sisters and brothers who saw firstly the stone that had been rolled away from the empty tomb and then the mysterious messengers who testified that Jesus, the Crucified, was risen. And then Jesus himself, the Lord and Master, living and tangible, appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and finally to all eleven, gathered in the Upper Room (cf. Mk 16:9-14).

(More…)

Dear brothers and sisters! The risen Christ is journeying ahead of us towards the new heavens and the new earth (cf. Rev 21:1), in which we shall all finally live as one family, as sons of the same Father. He is with us until the end of time. Let us walk behind him, in this wounded world, singing Alleluia. In our hearts there is joy and sorrow, on our faces there are smiles and tears. Such is our earthly reality. But Christ is risen, he is alive and he walks with us. For this reason we sing and we walk, faithfully carrying out our task in this world with our gaze fixed on heaven.

Happy Easter to all of you!


Holy Thursday Message

April 21, 2011

We have quite a backlog of topics to cover, but are taking a break from blogging during the Easter Triduum.  Just so you know, we have noted the following topics we plan to get to shortly after Easter:

  • Latest lay pension updates, including letter to former lay employees from Carol Gustavson–finally signed with the names of the trustees–which responds, in part, to “media reports” about the lay pension plan
  • More information about the diocesan deception over the so-called “balanced budget”
  • Job search for new Vice President of Development, reporting to Kathleen Driscoll
  • New executive director for MCC, Jim Driscoll, his family relation to Kathleen Driscoll, and questions about whether this was yet another “sham search”
  • Latest “sham search” completed for Director of IT, this time hiring done by new guy, John Straub
  • New pastor named for St. Catherine of Siena in Norwood, with very different style and ecclesiology from outgoing pastor Msgr. McRae
  • Early reports of ethical corruption in the new Ethicspoint process intended to root out ethical corruption
  • Dispelling the 10 Myths about BCI
  • Correcting several recent BCI errors: we erred on which luxury box Jim McDonough occupied on Opening Day at Fenway Park, and we also erred on one of the priests attending a February conference in New Orleans.

In the meantime, for Holy Thursday we offer readers the Gospel reading from this evening’s Mass for the Lord’s Supper:

Gospel: John 13:1-15

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him,
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him,
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus said to him,
“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all.”
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

We hope BCI readers experience many graces during Triduum and have a blessed Easter.


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