Top 10 Myths About BCI: #1-5

May 2, 2011

A few weeks ago, we said we would discuss the Top 10 Myths About BCI” since our readers and many critics often ask questions about BCI or advance their own theories regarding the motives of those behind the blog.  We only covered #1 at the time and apologize we failed to finish.

We just saw a published comment elsewhere indicating Cardinal Sean O’Malley criticized “the blogs” as being “Un-Christian” and “inappropriate” (or perhaps “unfair”) during last Tuesday’s Pastoral Center staff meeting.  In the event he was referring to BCI, we disagree in the strongest words with this characterization.  We will come back to his criticism in a separate post, but in the meantime, we thought it would be appropriate for us to recap Myth #1, and offer #2-5 today.

Just to recap on Myth #1, it was :  “BCI is out to destroy the Church.”

As we said before, this is simply not true.  Cardinal Sean and others have said that transparency and accountability are important for rebuilding trust and strengthening the Church. So, we fail to understand why anyone might believe maintaining accountability could be hurting the Church, unless perhaps it is the public forum that is troubling to some people or the open reader comments without heavy moderation.  We also do not agree this blog could be seen as  “Un-Christian” and find it more than ironic that deception, breaches of fiduciary responsibility, and possible breaches of canon or civil law that never would have been tolerated when Bishop Lennon was here are apparently tolerated today, while bloggers who expose these practices are labeled as the bad guys.  As we all know, in Mark 11: 15, Jesus Christ, on entering the temple area in Jerusalem, “began to drive out those selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.”

Our hope is to make the Catholic Church in Boston stronger by holding archdiocesan officials accountable for the promises and commitments they have made, for the good of the Church. We wish the blog was not needed at all and hope at some point we can give this up.  We had hoped the anonymous whistleblower policy, if implemented well, would eliminate any need for BCI to exist; however, unfortunately, early reports from readers who have submitted Ethicspoint claims and received responses suggest the new program intended to root out corruption and ethical breaches is itself corrupted and ineffective.

The sooner that various archdiocesan officials operate in a manner consistent with the mission of the archdiocese and policies already set forth, the sooner the blog will have nothing to write about. The easiest way to make the blog go away is for the archdiocese to operate with integrity, and BCI is simply trying to encourage the archdiocese get to a place where operating with integrity is the norm.

Myth #2. . BCI’s readers and commenters represent the “fanatical fringe”

Not true–unless, the “fanatical fringe” includes 167,314 unique visitors and 60,535 returning visitors who have viewed 262,489 pages since last June when we launched.  We do not have the readership statistics for The Boston Pilot and Cardinal Sean’s blog, but believe more people have probably read BCI than have read the Pilot and the Cardinal’s blog. See below for a chart showing readership for the three calendar quarters from July 1, 2010 through March 31, 2011, and total page downloads through today.

Who reads BCI?  As best as we can tell from emails and various comments we receive, the readership includes priests and religious, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, parish staff, lectors, Eucharistic ministers, parish council members, administrators, current or past Catholic school teachers, CCD instructors,  archdiocesan employees (but not from the Pastoral Center because the blog is blocked there), former Chancery employees, government officials, youth ministers, volunteers, parents, college students, other bloggers, and a lot of ordinary Catholics in the pews who attend Mass every week and care about the good of the Church.  About 80% of our visitors come from Massachusetts, but we also get visitors from every state, other dioceses, many countries around the world, and the Holy See.  Are all of these people “extremists” who are part of some “fanatical fringe” that is occasionally or regularly interested in reading a “fanatical fringe” blog?

Myth #3:  BCI is written by a Pastoral Center staff member

Not true.  For some reason, apparently anyone who is known to not personally admire Chancellor Jim McDonough or who has publicly voiced criticism of him and the current regime is suspected of being a bitter, evil blogger. That is simply not correct.  A more accurate view is that the critics of certain archdiocesan leaders–whether they be Pastoral Center staff members or not–are solid Catholics who care about the future of the Church.

Myth #4: If BCI is not written by a current Pastoral Center staff member, then BCI must be written by an angry, bitter former Pastoral Center employee who was fired, laid off, pushed out, or encouraged to take early retirement and who wants to collect more money in their own pension

Not true either.  BCI is brought to you by a lead writer and other people with decades of service to the Church who care deeply about the future of the Catholic Church and Archdiocese of Boston. For those who feel we are overly focused on the pension situation, you will see that only a small number of our 178 posts deal with pension-related issues. And in case some people do not recall, BCI started in late June of 2010, well before it was announced that the lay employee pension fund was being scaled back.

Myth #5:  BCI sources are current pastoral center staff members who “leak” information

Not true.  We have said this many times before and will say it again–BCI’s primary sources of information are outside of 66 Brooks Drive.  A significant amount of information is publicly disclosed in diocesan reports, statements and on various websites, and the lawsuit by the Daughters of St. Paul is just one example. With 2,300 public comments posted and 167,000 people having read the blog at least once from across all walks of life–parish staff, former chancery employees, teachers, priests, parish council members, parish lay ministers, friends and family members of the aforementioned people, and Catholics in the pews–why is it still not clear to the folks at 66 Brooks Drive that BCI primarily gets our tips from people who are not amongst the 200 staff at the Pastoral Center?  Is it still a surprise to the Cabinet leadership team that many people outside of the Pastoral Center see and experience the deception and corruption for what it is first-hand and provide plenty of helpful information?

We will get to the final 5 myths later this week.


Vicar General Letter to Bloggers

September 9, 2010

Readers, today we are sharing with you a short letter from Vicar General, Fr. Richard Erikson we received Tuesday, Sept 7 via email from his aide, Fr. Bryan Parrish. The text immediately follows, and our proposed response is found below for your review and input.

TO: The “Boston Catholic Insider” team

RE: “Open Letter”

In response to your “Open Letter” posted on your blog on August 23, and the specific questions you detail, I restate that Cardinal O’Malley and his staff are dedicated to building unity in Christ and Christian community within the Archdiocese. To that end, I reach out to you and your team, with the hope that you will accept my invitation to engage in respectful, fruitful and face-to face dialogue. I am not willing to engage in conversation or correspondence with emails or blog postings from anonymous individuals. If you would like to discuss your concerns in person, please contact my assistant, Mary Jo Kriz, at 617-746-5619 to schedule an appointment.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Very Rev. Richard Erikson, Ph.D. V.G.

We appreciate the amount of thought and consideration that must have been invested by the archdiocese over the past two weeks reviewing all of the points outlined in our Open Letter and determining this was the appropriate response.  We have prayed over this offer of a meeting with the Vicar General since Tuesday (which is why we haven’t posted since Monday) and have decided to decline at this time.  Below is a draft of our planned response.  If anyone feels we have missed something important, please let us know via comments relevant to this topic, or via the Contact Us form.

To: Very Rev. Richard Erikson, Ph.d. V.G.

From: Boston Catholic Insider team

We are in receipt of your letter of September 7 and appreciate your offer to meet for a face-to-face dialogue.  We share in the aspiration of building unity in Christ and Christian community in the Archdiocese–which is undermined and contaminated by the presence of deceit, ethical corruption, and what Pope Benedict XVI described in his June 29 homily as “negative attitudes that belong to the world” including “selfishness, vanity, pride, and the attachment to money.”  Unfortunately, for reasons we have stated previously on this blog and will restate in this response, we are respectfully declining the meeting at this time. The reasons are as follows:

1) Lack of transparency. A private meeting would be contrary to the archdiocese’s own goals of transparency and to the purpose of this blog.   The issues we have documented are important enough to tens of thousands of Boston Catholics and to the future of the Catholic Church in Boston that we feel they are best addressed in an open, broadly-participatory forum such as the Web and a blog provide.  How would a closed-door session advance transparency?

2) Minimized disruption of valuable archdiocesan staff time. As we stated in our August 22 post, Catholic Bloggers Respond to Archdiocese “since we have now heard the archdiocese is concerned that the blog has distracted Pastoral Center employees from their jobs, we would not want to consume the valuable time of archdiocesan cabinet members in a meeting.”  We also realize that since the blog is not viewable in the Pastoral Center, perhaps you were restricted from seeing this post.  If the Vicar General has even one hour to spend in a meeting with us, we feel that time would be better spent addressing some of the issues we have raised for the good of the future of the Catholic Church in Boston.   We would be glad to then publicize that progress on the blog.

3) Fear of retaliation. As we have stated from day one, we write anonymously in order to protect ourselves against possible retaliation and threats to our livelihoods.  We know of many instances–and some Catholic bloggers have experienced them personally–where those who speak out or have spoken the Truth have been the victims of retaliation, and this continues today for priests, lay employees, and laity.  Because senior cabinet officials have met with outside attorneys to discuss possible legal action against the bloggers and because of the retaliatory nature of the current Boston archdiocesan administration, we simply cannot risk our livelihoods by identifying ourselves and meeting with you.

4) Archdiocese’s public deception and avoidance of the core issues. The public statements by the archdiocese issued during the week of August 23 in response to the blocking of the Boston Catholic Insider blog that “we have reached out to bloggers on numerous occasions” falsely implied that the archdiocese had reached out to this blog, when the archdiocese knew full well they had never done so, and in fact had ignored 4 emails to archdiocesean officials with simple questions about matters of good governance.  The statement “We are concerned about the harm caused to individuals and to the community by anonymous and unfounded claims on blogs” neglected to mention that no unfounded claims had been documented on this blog or ever shared with us. More importantly, the archdiocese has expressed no concern whatsoever over the harm done to the individuals or the Christian community by the well-documented climate and instances of deceit, cronyism, ethical and financial conflicts of interest, excessive spending, and unanswered questions over management of donor funds. These are the sorts of “negative attitudes of the world” that the Holy Father describes as the “greatest danger” to the Church. Why meet if the archdiocese is unconcerned about the core issues and is only concerned about our publicly documenting them?

5) Double-standard with respect to anonymity. With all due respect, we find your statement about not wanting to engage in communications with anonymous individuals to be disingenuous for two reasons. First, the failure of the archdiocese to implement a whistleblower policy as recommended for several years by your own auditors makes anonymity necessary to avoid fear of reprisals. (We will publish the recommendation passed on to us by anonymous archdiocesan auditors who fear reprisal in a separate post).  Secondly, in view of the degree of anonymity the archdiocese maintains day-to-day and expects priests, employees, and laity to accept–for decisions that are very significant towards the future of the Catholic Church in Boston and the Church’s stakeholders–the concerns about interacting with anonymous bloggers are difficult to take seriously.  How can an archdiocese that touts “transparency” be unwilling to engage in a public discourse over issues important to Catholics because the conduit for airing those issues is an anonymously written blog when the archdiocese maintains anonymity or a lack of disclosure of the following?:

  • Current Archdiocese Finance Council members (publicly-accessible via Web) : anonymous
  • Names of people who nominated new Finance Council members in the past 1-2 years: anonymous
  • Sub-committee membership of the Finance Council including Real Estate, Investment, Institutional Advancement, Legal, Steering Committees: anonymous
  • Trustees of the Clergy Retirement Fund: anonymous
  • Compensation for people managing the Clergy Retirement Fund: undisclosed
  • Trustees of the Employee Benefits Fund: anonymous
  • Current voting Board members at Caritas Christi: anonymous
  • Selection criteria and selection process for vendors servicing the Clergy Retirement Fund and Employee Benefits Fund: undisclosed
  • Members of the search committee that selected Cabinet Secretary for Communications: anonymous
  • Person who overruled staff members and approved the conflict of interest of allowing PR firm of Rasky Baerlein to lead the search for the person who would manage them and decide on their compensation and continued engagement: anonymous
  • Person who approved the conflict of interest of allowing Ann Carter of Rasky Baerlein on search committee to select Chancellor, who would ultimately approve all expenses paid to the firm: anonymous.  (This conflict of interest was maintained and allowed even considering that the final candidate  for the job, Jim McDonough, was the former CEO of Abington Bank where Carter profited from having served on the Board with McDonough)
  • Membership of search committee that selected Secretary for Education, Mary Grassa O’Neill and names of people who approved $325,000 salary: anonymous
  • Total cost over multiple years (in millions of $) of  deploying Lawson Software for financial management; listing of important pastoral programs cut as a result of decision to buy overly complex software that is a mismatch for archdiocesan needs: undisclosed
  • Person who approved using as audit firm,  Parent, McLaughlin & Nagle for mandated triennial parish audits, costing parishes in aggregate about $500K/year, and nature of relationship/friendship with  someone in the Finance department that led to their exclusive engagement mandated on parishes: anonymous/undisclosed
  • Name of person who may have already been selected as new Secretary of Development before search committee was convened to give the appearance of a open “worldwide search”: undisclosed
  • Person who has failed to implement a credible whistleblower policy in the archdiocese despite years of recommendations for such a policy by archdiocesan auditors and related entities, hereby necessitating anonymous blog: anonymous

We reiterate, since the archdiocese seems perfectly comfortable practicing and maintaining anonymity on these areas and others that relate to fiduciary responsibility over hundreds of millions of dollars in donor funds and that affect the ability to execute the mission of the Catholic Church for decades into the future, it seems hypocritical to dismiss people blogging anonymously about ethical concerns and mismanagement in these same areas just because the bloggers legitimately fear reprisals and threats to their livelihoods.

If the archdiocese is looking for a model for addressing most of the above, the approach used on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council website for disclosing this information seems like it would be simple to adapt and deploy on the various archdiocesan websites. (But it should have a means of contacting members that  actually works, instead of just pretending to be functional).

5) Apparent reversal from public commitments to transparency. This archdiocese has made public commitments to unprecedented levels of financial transparency which seem to have been largely abandoned at the highest levels:

October 21, 2005 – Financial Transparency Letter From Archbishop O’Malley

This commitment [to financial transparency] was motivated out of respect for people of the Archdiocese as donors and members of our Church and to demonstrate to the general public that the Archdiocese is fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities.

April 19, 2006 – Archdiocese of Boston Launches Financial Transparency Initiative

“Our commitment to financial transparency and accountability is an important step in the process of healing the Church of Boston and rebuilding the trust of the people of this Archdiocese” said Cardinal Sean “In releasing this financial information, we hope to achieve a shared understanding of both the challenges and the opportunities we share as a faith community. Together, we can work together to solve our problems and strengthen the Archdiocese’s ability to continue the good works it performs each and every day of the year.”

As we have said before, we are just trying to help the Archdiocese achieve those same admirable goals.  The archdiocese’s criticism of this blog and ignoring of the  issues raised on the blog–which existed well before this blog started publicly documenting them—suggests the transparency initiative has been largely abandoned and make a closed-door meeting pointless.

6) Leadership voids and lack of accountability. On an operational basis, we are well aware that the main power-base of influence and decision-making at the Cabinet level is comprised of Chancellor Jim McDonough, Secretary for Healthcare and Social Services Fr. Bryan Hehir, and Communications Secretary Terry Donilon (whose offices are all in a sequestered area), but it also includes HR Exec Director Carol Gustavson (same office area), powerbroker Jack Connors, and John Kaneb. Though the formal org chart shows lines with those employed full-time by the archdiocese reporting to the Vicar General, is it well known that none of these individuals see themselves as accountable to the Vicar General, and many key decisions are made by them without the involvement of the Vicar General. Though we appreciate the Vicar General’s outreach to us, it seems that to practically address the concerns we have raised would require the active involvement of someone in a role operationally above these individuals–and in position to either require changes in behavior or to affect changes in the organization.

Once again, we reiterate our purpose with the blog in putting certain topics out in the light of day is simply to expose verifiable facts and matters that should be addressed or corrected so we can build a stronger Catholic Church in Boston and continue the good works of the Church today and for the future.  We hope this will make the difficult job and vocation of a Boston priest easier and more satisfying, we hope this will make things better for loyal hard-working Pastoral Center employees who love the Church and are committed to the mission of the Church, and we hope this will give donors more confidence and trust that the archdiocese is upholding its fiduciary responsibilities and using their contributions most efficiently and effectively.

We close by citing the words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI on the Feast of the Solemnity of Peter and Paul, June 29 2010:

Indeed if we think of the two millenniums of the Church’s history, we may note as the Lord Jesus had foretold (cf. Mt 10:16-33) that trials for Christians have never been lacking and in certain periods and places have assumed the character of true and proper persecution. Yet, despite the suffering they cause, they do not constitute the gravest danger for the Church. Indeed she is subjected to the greatest danger by what pollutes the faith and Christian life of her members and communities, corroding the integrity of the Mystical Body, weakening her capacity for prophecy and witness, and marring the beauty of her face. The Pauline Letters already testified to this reality. The First Letter to the Corinthians, for example, responds precisely to certain problems of division, inconsistence and infidelity to the Gospel that seriously threaten the Church. However, the Second Letter to Timothy a passage to which we listened also speaks of the perils of the “last days”, identifying them with negative attitudes that belong to the world and can contaminate the Christian community: selfishness, vanity, pride, the attachment to money, etc. (cf. 3:1-5). The Apostle’s conclusion is reassuring: men who do evil, he writes, “will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all” (3:9). Therefore a guarantee exists of the freedom that God assures the Church, freedom both from material ties that seek to prevent or to coerce her mission and from spiritual and moral evils that can tarnish her authenticity and credibility.

We would ask that this response be shared with the members of the Archdiocesan Finance Council, the Archdiocesan Presbyteral Council, and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, and we continue to welcome a response to the specific points in our August 23 Open Letter.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

The Boston Catholic Insider blog, on behalf of faithful Catholics in Boston

[To our readers, feel free to offer your feedback on this proposed response through Friday, September 10]


Archdiocesan Anonymity

September 1, 2010

Welcome to the first episode of an occasional series called, “Archdiocesan Anonymity.”  For every 100 compliments and supportive emails we get, every so often we get 1 complaint about the bloggers being anonymous, hence we cannot be taken seriously.  The archdiocese tried to discredit us with the same argument last week. (By coincidence, those complaining invariably ignore the credible content of the blog).  Beyond the reasons we have already stated for our maintaining anonymity—to avoid retaliation and threats to our livelihoods—we think this graphic is an appropriate response to the archdiocese. (Hint: think of the expression “pot calling the kettle black.”)

Even though we are just blogging information you can almost always objectively verify, the archdiocesean concern over the bloggers is great enough that senior cabinet officials met with outside lawyers some weeks ago to discuss possible legal options to stop the anonymous bloggers, so we feel the threats are real. What we find most ironic is how the same archdiocese that just complained about the anonymity of a bunch of lowly bloggers (with no influence over anything), itself practices anonymity and deception in matters of great importance to priests, employees, laity, and the future of the Catholic Church in Boston. (See graphic once again).  We share just three examples today.

Example 1: Last week, the archdiocese sent a letter to all employees with “important information about upcoming changes” to the employee pension plan, to address the minor matter of the plan’s financial condition being “unsustainable.”   Here is a copy of the Aug 31 memo  passed on to us by several concerned readers.  Notice how it is signed: “The Board of Trustees of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Pension Plan.”   Is it just us here at Boston Catholic Insider, or is anyone else wondering why such an important memo is not signed with the actual name of anyone?  A lot of employees are affected by these changes to pension benefits and are wondering who exactly authored this important memo, who are the anonymous trustees of the pension plan, and how each anonymous trustee came to be appointed.  When someone finds this information, do send it our way and the anonymous bloggers will post it here to help answer the questions for everyone concerned.

Example 2: Current membership on the Archdiocese Finance Council, as well as the Finance Council’s standing committees (Steering Committee, Investment, Real Estate, Audit, Institutional Advancement, Legal Affairs, Financial Services) is not available.  These committees are defined in the Finance Council charter:

The last update to the membership list was published with the annual report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008.  Why is the current membership on these important committees as of September 2010 now anonymous?  Who has anonymously been added to the Finance Council in the past two years, exactly which anonymous member of the Finance Council or which pastor invited them to join, and what are the backgrounds of the anonymous new members?   Why are the names of the people currently reviewing the sale of real estate, disposition of Church properties, and developing guidelines for construction projects kept anonymous?

Example 3:  As announced by the Coalition to Save Catholic Healthcare and reported on this blog, the spokesman for Caritas Christi, Chris Murphy, sneaked into a recent Coalition event at the Omni Parker House in Boston under false pretenses using a pseudonym, asked no questions during the event, and then told the Boston Globe afterwards using his real identity that most of the group’s complaints were “unfounded”.  

We bring all of this up because on April 29, 2006, the Archdiocese launched an unprecedented Financial Transparency Initiative saying the following:

“Our commitment to financial transparency and accountability is an important step in the process of healing the Church of Boston and rebuilding the trust of the people of this Archdiocese” said Cardinal Sean “In releasing this financial information, we hope to achieve a shared understanding of both the challenges and the opportunities we share as a faith community. Together, we can work together to solve our problems and strengthen the Archdiocese’s ability to continue the good works it performs each and every day of the year.”

In view of the three examples listed above, we feel compelled to ask: How’s that transparency initiative going these days?  Tune in again for more examples in a future episode of “Archdiocesan Anonymity,” and feel free to share other ones you want to see published.

ps. Silence Meter Update:

  • 9 days passed since archdiocese said they are seeking a conversation with bloggers; no response to Open Letter.
  • 39 days passed since July 23 email to archdiocese asking for explanation of conflicts of interest that led to hiring Communications Secretary and Chancellor; no response.

Welcome: Boston Pilot Readers

August 27, 2010

UPDATE: New information was added to this post at 7pm on Friday, Aug. 27. 
This weekend’s edition of The Boston Pilot covered the situation of the archdiocese blocking access to our blog, and we would like to extend a hearty welcome to all Pilot readers!   Since many visitors may be new to the site, we would like to briefly share the purpose of this blog, correct part of the archdiocese’s version of the story, and also give you a quick summary of what we have been covering over recent weeks that led up to the blog being blocked.  (Regular readers, sorry if some of this is repetitious, but you’ll still find something new today!)

Purpose of Boston Catholic Insider Blog

As we stated in our Open Letter to Cardinal O’Malley and Archdiocesan Leaders on Monday [Note: 4 days have passed with no response yet], our purpose with the blog in putting certain topics out in the light of day is simply to expose verifiable facts and matters that most people objectively feel should be addressed or corrected so that we can build a stronger Catholic Church in Boston and continue the good works of the Church. We are not looking to “change the Church” or anything like that.  Our hope with the blog is to give a voice to laity, donors, and the many outstanding priests and people faithfully serving the Archdiocese who are frustrated and fed up with the corruption, cronyism, and general direction of the Archdiocese. More than 20,000 people have visited the blog already from around the world–including many U.S. dioceses and the Holy See–and one third come back regularly, so we must be doing something right.  [If you share our goal of continuing the good works of the Church and would like to receive email updates from the blog, just fill in your email address in the subscription box to the right].

All posts are carefully researched, fact-checked, and verified with multiple sources.  As The Pilot correctly reported, the writers are people with close ties to the Archdiocese of Boston who are not identified by name on the blog so they can avoid possible repercussions and threats to their livelihoods. The writers are faithful to the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

Corrections to Archdiocese Version of Blocking of Blog Story
The Pilot cites statements by Terry Donilon and the archdiocese saying the following:

“The anonymous authors of this site were actively spamming the employees of the Archdiocese with links to the site, interfering with their work day, so we did block access to it from work computers. 

Cardinal O’Malley and his staff are dedicated to building unity in Christ and Christian community within the Archdiocese.  Toward that end, we have reached out to bloggers on numerous occasions to ask them to enter into a professional and  Christ-centered conversation with us.  We are concerned about the harm caused to individuals and to the community by anonymous and unfounded claims on blogs.

If the Cardinal and his staff wish to build unity in Christ and Christian community within the Archdiocese, we are totally on-board with that aspirational goal!  As for the rest of the statement, we mostly differ.  The archdiocese accused the blog of “spamming” employees with unsolicited emails, when in fact just 2 email announcements about the blog were sent only in late June and early July, and no subsequent emails were sent in the 4+ weeks prior to the blocking of the blog.  The statement says the archdiocese has reached out to bloggers, but the fact is that we have sent Cardinal O’Malley and members of his staff 5 emails since July 23 asking for answers to simple questions of concern to Boston-area Catholics, and the archdiocese has not responded.  (One email regarding the hiring of Terry Donilon and James McDonough is re-published here).  No one has asked to enter a conversation with this blog. If the archdiocese felt any claims were “unfounded,” they clearly knew how to reach us, and we still encourage the archdiocese to inform us of any inadvertent errors so that we can make necessary corrections.  In the past two months, we have received no such notices from the archdiocese, so their statement that we “do harm” by publishing “unfounded claims” is itself unsubstantiated.  Furthermore, if the content of the blog about cronyism and corruption in the archdiocese is so compelling that it distracts employees from their work, wouldn’t a better response strategy be for the archdiocese to immediately implement a credible “whistleblower policy” and engage employees towards addressing the documented problems for the good of the Church, and as a result, simply leave the blog with nothing to continue writing about?

What We Have Been Covering
The Pilot correctly reported that the blog posts are “critical of certain high-ranking Church officials,” saying:

the blog alleges cronyism and conflict of interest in the hiring of certain Pastoral Center employees and vendors and questions some of the salaries of archdiocesan officials. Boston Catholic Insider also criticizes the sale of the archdiocese’s Caritas Christi hospital network to a private-equity investment firm and questions the financial transparency of the archdiocese. 

If you read our posts, that is absolutely what you will find on the blog.  The conflicts of interest and/or appearances of unethical practices seem to be typically exhibited by people who work for the Church and/or serve on its various boards and committees.  Coincidentally, you will see names such as Jack Connors, Jim McDonough, Fr. Bryan Hehir, Terry Donilon, and John Kaneb appear more than once on the blog.  Here’s a quick summary:

Cronyism and conflicts of interest in hiring: As we have reported on this blog, a number of key positions in the archdiocese have been filled in recent years by search committees or search processes tainted by some controversy, such as an inherent conflict of interest, cronyism, excessive compensation relative to comparable positions elsewhere, public questions raised about the search, or prior relationship that gives the appearance of bias.  These include:

This is not stating that everyone above is unqualified for their job–it is just stating the objective fact that the filling of these roles and certain other less visible positions have seen similar controversies.  We document on the blog how people were hired at six-figure salaries with no prior church experience (including a former associate of the Chancellor who worked with him at Abington Bank), and how a number of employees had some connection to a person with significant insider influence. Beyond those named above, other people with significant influence into these controversial hires or who themselves had a conflict of interest with their involvement in the hiring process include  Jack Connors, John Kaneb, and Fr. Bryan Hehir.  The HR director, Carol G., who had no prior Catholic Church experience and is not Catholic, has also played a role in many recent hiring decisions.  

Below is an organizational chart drawn to show how we have come to understand the top level of the archdiocesan hierarchy actually works today.  Please note the following:

  •   Many subordinates of top-level people are not in the chart, as we include just the direct reports of the top-level cabinet secretaries where there was a publicly verifiable controvery such as described above. 
  • Those depicted in red represent people tainted by some controversy in their own hiring, or via their involvement in the hiring of other people.

 

The pink box in the upper right of the chart includes those people we are told–and publicly available information validates–comprise the primary base of power and decision-making influence in the archdiocese today.   By coincidence, McDonough, Hehir, Donilon, and Carol G have their offices in the central area of the 4th floor, segregated from the rest of the staff. As just one example, our Caritas Coincidences post explains why Jack Connors is in that box:

Connors introduced Ralph de la Torre to the search committee that hired him as CEO of Caritas. Connors is on the Boston archdiocesan finance council that approves deals like the sale of Caritas; he helped secure the archdiocese’s former Brighton property for his alma mater, Boston College; he is running the Catholic Schools fund-raising campaign, he is leading the search for the new Secretary for Development, he drove a cabinet reorganization; he was on the Meade-Eisner reconfiguration commission that reviewed and reversed parish closing decisions a few years ago; and he is friends with Ann Carter of Rasky Baerlein, who played a key role hiring Terry Donilon as well as Jim Mcdonough, who also plays a key role approving the sale of Caritas. 

To be fair, the lines on an official org chart would look slightly different from the above, but sources confirm that this does represent a fair depiction of how things functionally work today.

Sale of Caritas Christi to Cerberus Capital
Our blog has shared publicly available information that shows conflicts of interest by Jack Connors and John Kaneb (both on the board of Partners) in the hiring of Caritas CEO Ralph de la Torre and in that Partners would be a likely acquirer of select Caritas hospitals when Cerberus wants to sell Caritas for a profit in the future.  We have also noted political contributions by Dr. de la Torre and another Caritas official to Attorney General Martha Coakley (who will approve the deal) just days after the deal to sell Caritas was set in motion, a public endorsement of Coakley by Connors and political donations by Connors and his family to Coakley, removal of symbols of Catholic identity from St. Elizabeth hospital even before the deal is signed, and a host of other questions about why the deal is even happening in view of Caritas recent turn to profitability and increased financial stability.

What we never yet reported previously was Fr. Bryan Hehir’s rather emphatic public statement in the Boston Globe on October 27, 2007 when Caritas Christi was financially struggling, that Caritas would never be sold to a for-profit hospital.   

The idea that the archdiocese would sell Caritas to a for-profit system – it’s not going to happen,” said Father Bryan Hehir, cabinet secretary for social service ministry for the archdiocese. “The position of the archdiocese is that we do not intend to sell either the Caritas system as a whole or any of its parts to a for-profit entity,” he added.

Two years later, in November 2009, after Caritas had new management and had just announced turning a $30 million profit, the CEO of Caritas met with Cerberus Capital to set in motion the deal to sell Caritas and make it for-profit.  By coincidence, shortly after we posted about that meeting–and the coincidental donations by Caritas’ CEO’s to Attorney General Coakley days after the 2009 meeting–access to this blog was shut off.

Spending Money

Just yesterday our “Spending Money” post started what we expect will be a series of posts on how the archdiocese spends, lends, and moves around money contributed by parishes and individual donors. Yesterday we dealt with the more than $2 million in cost to the archdiocese for purchasing and implementing a complex accounting and financial management software package  from Lawson Software that has been described by those close to the multi-year project as “disastrous.” 

Videos

Amidst the serious topics we cover, the bloggers and our readers try to maintain a little levity when we can.  In keeping with the spirit of new media, we invite you to check out two humorous 2-minute-long videos submitted by a blog reader.  One is a spoof of a job interview and the other is a satirical portrayal of an unnamed diocese trying to stop anonymous bloggers who are critical of the church hierarchy.

We hope you find the blog to be a worthwhile read and will share word of it with your friends and family members.  If you are a parish employee, pastoral center employee, priest, or lay person in the pews and would would like to submit story ideas in confidence, please visit the Contact Us page.  All submissions are confidential and sources are never identified publicly.

As was stated earlier, our purpose with the blog is just to expose  things that should be addressed or corrected so that we can help strengthen the Catholic Church in Boston and continue the good works of the Church. We hope and pray that God might use this blog and our contributions in some small way to help the Archdiocese of Boston better carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ today and for generations to come.

(Comments on posts are welcome, and we simply ask that they remain focused on the topic of the blog.  See the conclusion of the Spending Money post for comment guidelines”


Catholic Bloggers Respond to Archdiocese

August 24, 2010

The current news  about how the Archdiocese of Boston has blocked access to the blog is not at all about the blog distracting workers from doing their jobs–rather it is about the governance issues such as cronyism, conflicts of interest, and corruption that the Boston Archdiocese continues to conveniently ignore.  If you have a few minutes, do listen to radio station WBUR’s program on this topic yesterday.  We feel compelled to respond to the misleading aspects of the archdiocese’s statement about the blog:

Cardinal O’Malley and his staff are dedicated to building unity in Christ and Christian community within the Archdiocese.  Toward that end, we have reached out to bloggers on numerous occasions to ask them to enter into a professional and  Christ-centered conversation with us.  We are concerned about the harm caused to individuals and to the community by anonymous and unfounded claims on blogs.

The reality is that we have sent Cardinal O’Malley and members of his cabinet 4 emails since July 23 asking for answers to simple questions, and the archdiocese has not responded to a single one of these.  (One is published below).  Nor have they once asked to enter a conversation with us. All claims on our blog are thoroughly researched and well-documented (as much so as is practical on a blog), and if the archdiocese feels any claims are “unfounded” we encourage the archdiocese to send us an email and let us know of any indavertent errors so that we can make any necessary corrections.  In the past two months, we have received no such notices from the archdiocese, so their statement that we do harm by publishing “unfounded claims” is itself unsubstantiated.

Just for comparison, we thought you might like to see how the archdiocese commented about meeting with Voice of the Faithful back in 2006.  VOTF, as many may recall, had as one of its three goals “to shape structural change within the church.”  Here is what Terry Donilon said in this July 29, 2006 Boston Globe report about the upcoming meeting between the Cardinal and VOTF:

By way of the request, the VOTF representatives expressed a desire to be helpful to the Archdiocese. Cardinal Sean continues to demonstrate a willingness and openness to dialogue, and is committed to vibrant parish life throughout the church of Boston. We welcome the participation of all people who wish to assist with this work.”

After the meeting, here is what Mr. Donilon said in this August 25, 2006, National Catholic Reporter article, “Cardinal meets with reform group leaders

It was “helpful conversation about important issues and the continued renewal of parish life in the archdiocese,” Terrence Donilon, archdiocesan director of communications

We are not looking to structurally change the Catholic Church.  Since we have now heard the archdiocese is concerned that the blog has distracted Pastoral Center employees from their jobs, we would not want to consume the valuable time of archdiocesan cabinet members in a meeting.   At this point, their reaction to the blog and unfounded claim about “unfound claims” suggests that would be fruitless. 

As a first step, we ask that our Open Letter from yesterday be shared and discussed with the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, the Presbyteral Council, and the Finance Council. Meanwhile, we invite Terry Donilon or another archdiocesan official to begin the “professional conversation” with us if that is desired by publicly responding to the email below, sent July 23, 2010.  We will publish their response.

To: Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson, Fr. Bryan Hehir, Mr. James JcDonough, Mr. Terrence Donilon, and Mrs. Ann Carter

Date: Fri, Jul 23, 2010 at 7:40 AM
 
From: Boston Catholic Insider
 
We have become aware of a significant financial and ethical conflict of interest at the Archdiocese of Boston in the employment of Ann Carter of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications and in the retention of her services to hire two Cabinet secretaries who have decision-making authority over her firm’s current compensation by the Archdiocese.  We have described this situation in two blog posts at bostoncatholicinsider.wordpress.com.  The most recently updated post is below:
 
http://bostoncatholicinsider.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/conflicts-of-interest-part-ii/
http://bostoncatholicinsider.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/conflicts-of-interest-part-i/
 
We request that the Archdiocese and Ms. Carter respond to the following questions in writing:
 
-Why was this clear conflict of interest permitted for not one, but two key cabinet positions?
-Who approved Ms Carter, a vendor, serving on the search committees for two positions that would have decision-making authority over her firm’s compensation and employment?  On what basis were archdiocesean staffers who raised concerns overruled?
-How did Mr. McDonough come to apply for the Chancellor position in early 2006?
-When it became known that Mr. McDonough was applying for the Chancellor position and Ms. Carter, a key member of the search committee for the position, had a prior business relationships with him and an additional conflict of interest with having profited from the sale of McDonough’s Abington Bank while she was a board member, who determined that it was appropriate for Ms. Carter to remain on the search committee, rather than resign immediately so as to avoid this additional level of conflict of interest?
-Given Ms. Carter’s long-term business relationship with Mr. McDonough and her having profited significantly from the sale of Abington Bank and her having played a key role in his hiring as well as that of Mr. Donilon, does the Archdiocese belive that Mr. McDonough and Mr. Donilon can be perceived today as able to make non-biased decisions about current or future use of Rasky’s services? 
-Given Ms. Carter’s role in the hiring of Mr. McDonough and Mr. Donilon, can either person be perceived as able to make non-biased decisions to cut fees, engage competitive PR vendors, or terminate Rasky services?
-What are the collective billings of Rasky across the Archdiocese communications office, Office of the Delegate, Caritas Christi, and Catholic Charities?  Do these collective billings qualify Rasky as a “top vendor” for annual financial disclosures?
–What steps are being taken to immediately address these conflicts for the common good of the archdiocese and to restore trust with priests, chancery workers, donors, and laity.?
 
Thank you for your prompt response to the questions.
 
Jim Franklin, for Boston Catholic Insider


Video: Undercover Diocese vs Catholic Bloggers

August 21, 2010

If you have not yet read it, please check out our most recent post, Boston Archdiocese Blocks Catholic Blog.  We appreciated the headline coverage of the story by Deal Hudson at InsideCatholic.com  (“Boston Archdiocese Blocks Access to Web Site“) and by Pewsitter, the Catholic online news portal.  Visits to the blog hit a record high this week and we have received a lot of feedback over this situation.  By coincidence, one reader just emailed us a link to a new 2-minute YouTube video that seems to depict a Church official discussing an apparent undercover strategy to investigate, stop or silence a Catholic blog publishing information about improprieties.  Here it is–we hope you enjoy it.

(Credit: LastCatholicinBoston)


Boston Archdiocese Blocks Catholic Blog

August 18, 2010

Something seems to be going on in the Boston Archdiocese that ought to be concerning to all Catholics (Boston-area and beyond), anyone who values freedom of speech, and Catholic bloggers across the country.  Maybe it is all coincidence.  You can decide for yourself.

Things have been pretty predictable on this Catholic blog since we started it in June. Traffic has grown by leaps and bounds, but we started noticing something unusual for the first time late last week.  Daytime traffic to the blog and visits from the Archdiocese of Boston in Braintree suddenly plummeted, and evening traffic from random ISPs suddenly picked up.  It happened shortly after we published “Caritas Coincidences”  which revealed an array of additional conflicts of interest and coincidental political contributions–all publicly available information–that would cause even more people to start questioning the deal to sell Caritas Christi to Cerberus. (That transaction is undergoing review by the Attorney General, and public participation–including offering input–has been invited by the state and is a protected right).  By coincidence, at about the same time, we started getting reports from multiple sources and channels that the Archdiocese had blocked access to the Boston Catholic Insider blog from within the Pastoral Center.  We published Caritas Coincidences: Part 2–with more information readily available to the general public–and got more confirmations that the site was being blocked.  What exactly is going on?  Here is what we can tell you beyond those reports.

A  number of local people go to 12:05pm Mass at the Pastoral Center, and coincidentally, the other day a faithful Catholic was there in Braintree for Mass and went on one of the public Internet terminals in the lobby to catch-up on the latest from Boston Catholic Insider.  (We are flattered that the blog is daily reading for many people around the Archdiocese and beyond).  They got back a message from an Internet content filter saying the following:  “Content blocked by your organization.  Reason: This Websense category is filtered.” They brought a friend back for Mass yesterday and by coincidence, when they were trying to get their daily fix of Boston Catholic Insider, they got the same message. Click on the picture to the right to see the message.

We do not understand this.  This archdiocese has made public commitments to unprecedented levels of financial transparency:

October 21, 2005 – Financial Transparency Letter From Archbishop O’Malley

“Last year, I shared with you an overview of the Archdiocese’s financial challenges and made a commitment to financial transparency. This commitment was motivated out of respect for people of the Archdiocese as donors and members of our Church and to demonstrate to the general public that the Archdiocese is fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities.” Archbishop Sean O’Malley

April 19, 2006 – Archdiocese of Boston Launches Financial Transparency Initiative

“Our commitment to financial transparency and accountability is an important step in the process of healing the Church of Boston and rebuilding the trust of the people of this Archdiocese” said Cardinal Sean “In releasing this financial information, we hope to achieve a shared understanding of both the challenges and the opportunities we share as a faith community. Together, we can work together to solve our problems and strengthen the Archdiocese’s ability to continue the good works it performs each and every day of the year.”

We are just trying to help the Archdiocese achieve those same admirable goals.  Our driving purpose with the blog in putting certain topics out in the light of day is simply to expose verifiable facts and matters that most people objectively feel should be addressed or corrected, so that we can build a stronger Catholic Church in Boston and continue the good works of the Church today and for the future.  First and foremost, we hope this will make the difficult job and vocation of a Boston priest easier and more satisfying. (Several of them recently told us that the archdiocese is operating more like a poorly-run business with a church attached to it in recent years, rather than being the Catholic Church with salvation of souls, ministry and evangelization as the focus).  We also hope this will make things better for loyal hard-working dedicated Pastoral Center employees who love the Church and are committed to the mission of the Church.  We hope it will give donors more confidence and trust that the archdiocese is using their contributions most efficiently and effectively.  More than 15,000 unique visitors have come to the site in the past two months from Boston, across North America, Europe, the Holy See and other parts of the world. About a third are repeat visitors. Surely there is something we are doing here that brings value in building the kingdom of God and has people coming back.

The Holy Father has embraced blogging and use of new media to proclaim the Gospel.  Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley was the first blogging cardinal and has responded to the Holy Father’s call with the new Catholic Media secretariat.  Boston just hosted a Catholic new media conference that attracted 200 people according to the Pilot report.  Annual financial reports are published for the archdiocese and various entities of the Corporation Sole to advance the goal of transparency.  The Vicar General leads regular staff meetings at the Pastoral Center with public Q&A.  (Even if the Chancellor is conspicuously absent from these meetings and the HR director avoids answering some of the pointed questions, it is still a positive sign of openness and transparency that the meetings take place).

We would hope that the Archdiocese would encourage readership of the Boston Catholic Insider blog as a complement to Cardinal Sean’s blog, since we can cover topics perhaps the Cardinal does not find fit conveniently with his own blog strategy and coverage.  We are not looking for a “seat at the table” as others have asked for in the past. We would hope that Chancellor McDonough, his staff and the Pastoral Center staff, and the archdiocesan finance council would welcome the blog as a source of information and insights that improve transparency and help identify sources of cost savings and conflicts of interest that risk breaching the public trust in the archdiocese and should be addressed.  In the absence of an established whistleblower policy that protects priests and employees (recommended by many organizations these days, including archdiocesan auditors), it seems we have proven a useful outlet and vehicle for people who care about the future of the Catholic Church and Boston archdiocese.

Coincidentally, the archdiocese never blocked and does not block access to the website of “Voice of the Faithful.”  Nor does the archdiocese block access to the website of the Council of Parishes, whose vigil protests and occupancy of closed parishes is costing the archdiocese in the range of approximately $1 million/year or more in maintenance/heating bills and local municipal taxes. (we will add up those figures and correct that estimate if necessary)

The only recent example we can find of Internet censorship such as this comes, by coincidence, from Communist China, where the government censors Google, censors a range of websites and information about topics such as Dalai Lama and the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters, and even has blocked access to the BBC and NY Times on occasion.   Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized China for their internet censorship, saying,

“any country which restricted free access to information risked “walling themselves off from the progress of the next century… A new information curtain is descending across much of the world,” she said, calling growing Internet curbs the modern equivalent of the Berlin Wall.

This article about China’s growing economic juggernaut warns near the end of the article about China’s authoritarian system “But of late the leadership has been exhibiting increasing signs of paranoia…deepening internet censorship…”

We do not know what exactly is going on at 66 Brooks Drive.  Is the publicly accessible information we have posted about the Caritas deal a problem for anyone? (We have emailed the same information with no responses so it would seem no one has objections, and the Attorney General has specifically invited input to a matter under consideration by a governing body in the state).  Are the conflicts of interest we have documented in hiring key people–also publicly accessible to anyone–a problem?  Are they worried not about the blog itself documenting publicly available information about excessive spending (e.g. six-figure salaries) but the comments that readers are posting?  Is the mere prospect of archdiocesan employees reading this blog concerning to Boston’s archdiocesan leadership in a similar way that leaders of Communist China are concerned about Chinese citizens reading about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests?

Perhaps there is just some inadvertent IT error in the Internet filters at the archdiocese that got our blog in the same category as pornographic sites that would be legitimately blocked from archdiocesan filters–and this happened coincidentally right after the latest Caritas posts. Whether it was a directive from Chancellor Jim McDonough to block our site or it is an unintentional IT problem with the filter, we humbly request that the IT folks and Chancellor McDonough fix the problem and stop blocking the blog.  It would be helpful if you could also assure workers in the archdiocese that “Big Brother” is not monitoring their web activity (or visits to this blog). Frankly, it seems word is spreading about the blog being blocked from Braintree, as our evening traffic, weekend traffic, and word-of-mouth referrals have gone through the roof.  So, if the intent was to have fewer people read the blog, the opposite is happening.

And please do not worry about trying to find and stop information “leaks” springing from 66 Brooks Drive.  If you are looking for our primary sources of information, they are not there.  Besides that, since many of us give our hard-earned money to support the archdiocese financially, instead of spending time and thousands of dollars in donor money on lawyers and IT people worrying about who is blogging and where they are getting information—a lot of which is just out there in the public domain or available from sources outside of the Pastoral Center—how about the archdiocese instead try welcoming the additional help with transparency we have been providing and focus on addressing the issues we have documented?   In the absence of an established whistleblower policy, we could be one of best vehicles available to you to help strengthen the archdiocese, clean-up corruption and cronyism, identify ways to save money, improve morale across  priests and other church/parish employees, and lay the foundation for being better able to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people in Boston.

After we are unblocked, would it be too much to ask for a Boston Catholic Insider plug on the Cardinal’s blog and mention in an upcoming weekly archdiocean email blast?


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