Free Snow Removal and Invisible Vigils

January 30, 2011

With all of the snow we have had here in Boston during the month of January, across the archdiocese hundreds of active parishes are facing much higher than expected bills for snow removal they must pay from their own bank accounts with parishioner donations.

At the same time, 5 closed parishes who exhausted all civil and canonical appeals as of July 2010 still get their snow removed for free.  Well, it is free to the people protesting the closure of the parish who claim to be occupying the churches in so-called “vigils.” These bills, and others to the tune of millions of dollars over recent years, are actually paid by the archdiocese.

How many pastors would not accept the archdiocese paying their January snow removal bills?

Until recently, a lot of people were under the mistaken impression that these “vigils” were staffed a sufficient number of hours day and night that breaking them up would  present some massive public relations problem so confrontational and embarrassing that the folks at 66 Brooks Drive needed to avoid the PR issue at all costs.  After all, “vigil” means some “purposeful or watchful staying awake during the usual hours of sleep.”

Not exactly true.  A recent visit by an alert reader to one “vigil” site at St. James the Great in Wellesley found the parking lot plowed, the doors locked, and absolutely no one there.

So, from the archdiocese that has brought us “Sham Searches”  and raised the sophistication level of their deception around these searches to nearly a science, we now have “Invisible Vigils.”

An “Invisible Vigil” is a “vigil” that is not really a vigil at all. It is a shell of whatever the initial protest may have been.  Today, an “Invisible Vigil” is infrequently staffed and may give some outward appearance of being backed by a number of parishioners, yet is not.  And yes folks, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are being spent unnecessarily by the archdiocese in snow removal costs, insurance, utilities, and maintenance/repair to support these “Invisible Vigils” and maintain properties to residential standards which are much higher than would be required if the property were unoccupied.



Though each closed parish with so-called “vigils” is different, let us look at St. James in Wellesley as one example.  In October of 2004, parishioners began a “round the clock” vigil to protest the closure of the church.  In October of 2008, they told the Boston Globe that “At all times one of their members is in residence in the building, eating, working, and sleeping in a small office off the cavernous sanctuary.”  But even if that was really true in 2008–and we are not sure if it was the case then–by September 2010, the public comments had changed, when the Globe reported, “In Wellesley, there are sometimes blank spots in the vigil schedule; on a beautiful summer Saturday last month, the church was deserted most of the day.”

That is how alert reader, “Mike B” found St. James the Great in Wellesley over a recent weekend and described it to us in an email:


I was driving past St. James in Wellesley this weekend and stopped by to see what was going on.  I expected to find a few people inside church. I thought maybe there’d be some confrontation when I walked in if they thought I was one of the ‘heavies’ from the archdiocese trying to lock the place up on them. I thought maybe they’d be dialing-up reporters at the local cable news station and Boston Globe to come out and film the scene if people were prevented from entering the church like you guys suggested they should do. It was actually completely dead. Doors all locked. No one was there but the entrances were shoveled and parking lot was plowed with enough room for maybe about 25 cars. It was even plowed around the back where no one would be driving. Shoot, I’d like to have that kind of service at my home! Do they get free snow removal courtesy of the archdiocese?  Our parish is asking for special donations since it’s costing more than we budgeted already.  If my kids and I do a sleepover in the church on Saturday night, can we get the archdiocese to pay for snow plowing?…Here are some pics I snapped…”

In the style of Cardinal Sean’s blog we now offer you a photographic view of the grounds at the site of the “Invisible Vigil” at St. James the Great in Wellesley.

St. James the Great as seen from Route 9

Front entrance cleared of snow

Plowed area of main parking lot

Back entrance cleared of snow

Driveway behind church and rectory is well plowed and cleared. Why?

Path to nowhere. Parking area on east side of church cleared, but piles of snow prevent access to church from here and it's clear the other entrances are the only ones used. Why is this even plowed?

Special thanks to Mike B for passing on the information and photos.

As of 2008, the archdiocese said they had spent $2.2 million on utilities, insurance, and other costs at the five so-called “vigil” churches for the prior four years, or an average of more than $500K/year. We hear the cost may actually be closer to $800K/year now. Even the archdiocesan spokesman said in that 2008 article, “”These vigils have to end at some point. It’s an issue of fairness to the parishes that are open and struggling to serve people.”  So, why is it that the archdiocese does not just change the locks and padlock the doors of these facilities to end the vigils and stop spending quite so much money on maintenance that could be used elsewhere?

In the beginning, as we have shared previously, Cardinal Sean’s own instructions to the property management company were that if a building was found unoccupied it should be locked, and the locksmith called to change the locks.  Then Fr. Bryan Hehir and the PR wizards at Rasky Baerlein said no, that would be a breach of trust, so even those found empty were left alone.  That has gone on for more than six years.

BCI has located a locksmith willing to change the locks on parishes on very short notice. BCI and our supporters will foot the bill and we are glad to hand the keys for the new locks over to the archdiocese–provided the archdiocese simply makes clear that the vigil is over, takes steps to keep the doors locked, reduces the wasteful spending associated with keeping them open and applies those savings to the clergy or lay retirement funds.  If anyone at 66 Brooks Drive would like to take advantage of this offer, please drop us a line.

In November of 2004, Cardinal O’Malley said the following in a letter to the archdiocese:

Many parishes are unable to pay their bills. The pension plans for laity and clergy are in danger..I am appealing to all Catholics to be Catholics first. I know that we all have a great love for our parish and parish church, but our first love must be for Christ and the Body of Christ which is the Church…If difficult decisions are not made now, the mission of the Church will be seriously compromised in the future.

Your Eminence, it is more than six years later.  Many parishes are still unable to pay their bills, and the pension plans for laity and clergy are still in danger. You have allowed this to drag on for six years.  How much longer are you waiting in order to make this difficult decision?


Whistleblower Policy: Progress and Problems

January 27, 2011

As long-time readers know by now, one of the recurring themes on the blog has been that the archdiocese does not have a whistleblower policy and program in-place whereby anyone can report some sort of wrongdoing anonymously and have the concern investigated and acted upon without fear or risk of retaliation.  We raised this in detail in our posts Whistleblower Policy and Whistleblower Policy: Part 2 last September.  We are pleased to report there has been progress!  At the same time, there are still a few significant problems to be worked out.

Just to refresh your memory, archdiocesan auditors for years have been recommending such a policy.  Here is their recommendation:

“We recommend the implementation of an anonymous submission process where employee or donor concerns can be voiced directly to the [Finance Council/Archbishop/Board of Directors].”

The Finance Council has had oversight for this area in their charter since 2006 and nothing much happened until recent months.  Not long after BCI raised the issue of the whistleblower policy in our August 23 Open Letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Archdiocesan Leaders, coincidentally, the Chancellor suddenly started moving the project along at a somewhat faster pace.  A Code of Conduct policy is making the rounds at vicariate meetings and is being discussed by the Presbyteral Council, and implementation using a third-party service, EthicsPoint, is well underway.  It is still under construction, but you can get a preview of what the EthicsPoint implementation looks like here.  In case for some reason the page is deactivated after this post goes live, click on the image below to enlarge a snapshot of the page.

Someone has drafted a nice opening message from Cardinal O’Malley that reads, in part:

The Archdiocese of Boston has a firm commitment to financial transparency and fiscal responsibility…We also have provided numerous policies, procedures and trainings to assist our clergy and parish staffs to be better financial stewards.

Another important way that we can remain good stewards of the financial resources entrusted to us is to provide a confidential method of reporting suspected ethics violations, financial improprieties or other such matters to an independent third party for evaluation. EthicsPoint will assist the Archdiocese by providing that support, allowing our employees to report their concerns in a confidential manner.

There are categories of misconduct and sub-categories, including:
  • Financial, Auditing, Accounting and Stewardship Misconduct
  • Abuse of or Fraud with Benefits
  • Accounting, Auditing and Internal Financial Controls
  • Donor Stewardship
  • Embezzlement
  • Falsification of Contracts, Reports or Records
  • Theft (Larceny, Burglary, Robbery)
  • Time Abuse
  • Archdiocesan Employee Code of Conduct Violation or Misconduct
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Unsafe working conditions
  • Office of Professional Standards and Oversight

The description for “Donor Stewardship” is interesting: ”

Funds directed to the organization have not been handled with the utmost truthfulness or not used in accordance with the donor’s intentions and wishes. Failure to provide due care with respect to the donor, and/or donation. Injury to the public trust.

This is all a good start and the effort to agree on a Code of Conduct policy is also positive.  But no one seems to realize the fatal flaws with the current path.

1) History of weak leadership and no decisive action when problems are known

When problems are known by the Finance Council, Cardinal, Vicar General and/or Chancellor today, often years pass with no action.  Why was the $20 million debacle with St. Cecilia allowed to happen and why does it continue with weak oversight?  Why were so many excessive six-figure salaries approved by the Chancellor, Cardinal and Finance Council, and why is it taking so long to rectify that situation? Is this situation not sufficiently clear as an injury to donor trust already?  Who owns fixing that? Why have vigils that cost millions of dollars to the archdicoese not been shut down by now–especially since many are frequently unoccupied?  These are all multi-million problems that represent a breach of fiduciary responsibility to donors and that are already well-known and understood, yet no one is doing anything about them.  How will EthicsPoint change that?

2) Routing of claims to people responsible for the problems, or to no one?

The whistleblower policy reporting process right now says that claims can be submitted anonymously, which is good.  But read this draft of the Reporting Process to see where the claims are sent:

Whether made through the Archdiocesan website or via the dedicated toll-free telephone hotline, all reports submitted through the Archdiocesan Hotline will be given careful attention by the appropriate Archdiocesan Vicar or Director. All reports submitted will be supervised by the Audit Committee of the Archdiocese of Boston Finance Council. If a submitted report references the Vicar or Director who is responsible for investigating in the area of concern of your report then they will be omitted from the reporting process.

Anyone else wondering what really will happen to the reports if the Vicar or Director responsible for that area is the Vicar General or Chancellor?  We know those people will be omitted from the reporting process, but then what happens to the report so it is investigated and acted upon?  Does it go into the black hole that represents Cardinal O’Malley’s “in-box”?  We know reports go to the Audit Committee of the Finance Council, but these are people with full-time jobs who do not meet often and are not charged with investigating claims–just supervising the process.  Who will do the impartial investigating?  And what if it is not a claim of financial wrong-doing, but a claim of a different nature?

Back in September, an insider commented:

“In my opinion, who is to say that you submit the claim, and those in high leadership positions will not continue to squash the claim. The problem really relies on top leadership and how they continue to deal with complaints that have facts to support it. Let’s wake up for once and see what is really going on in the Archdiocese of Boston. Let’s pray together and hopefully the Cardinal can get the Archdiocese back on track. This will require his own separate investigation away from the fluff that he is surrounded by every day, and that reflects the Truth about what continues to go on in the Archdiocese of Boston.”

We have held out high hopes that this new Code of Conduct policy and whistleblower policy could bring stronger ethics and a sense of stewardship and fiduciary responsibility to the Boston Archdiocese for the greater good of the Catholic Church in Boston.  (Selfishly, we also hoped it would be an effective mechanism for people to report wrongdoing and get those ethical breaches acted upon, and therefore might reduce the need for this blog down the road).

While we do commend the Archdiocese of Boston for the tremendous progress made to date on the policy and infrastructure, we feel compelled to share that the current implementation falls short. It allows anonymous submission and protects against retaliation, but does not seem to have a vehicle that ensures all claims will be fully investigated, reported, and acted upon–with independent authority at the highest level above the Chancellor, Vicar General, Jack Connors and others to expunge wrong-doing and corruption.

If the breaches of fiduciary responsibility BCI has reported for the past seven months have not been addressed yet, what will change with the new Code of Conduct and Whistleblower policy?

Cold Weather, Property Mismanagement and Corruption

January 25, 2011

The extreme cold in Boston in recent days and situation of the$20 million debacle at St. Cecilia in Boston made BCI think about a few things relevant to all Catholics in Boston–especially pastors–as relates to property management or mismanagement, waste, and corruption. We also wonder how the archdiocese plans to deal with what is rumored to be about $500 million or more in deferred maintenance needs on 800-1000 buildings across the archdiocese.

Waste/Neglect in Heating and Utilities

As we look at our own heating oil bill and hear the old oil burner running nearly around the clock, it occurs to us that the archdiocese is not very proactive about helping parishes and schools make their heating operations more efficient.  Better said, the archdiocese is bordering on negligent in many cases. 

At one time, there used to be around 4 property management people working for the archdicoese–one for each region–who helped parishes and schools more effectively and efficiently manage property-related issues.  By and large, these were people who knew something about heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC), maybe through service in the Navy or other branch of the military, or training in some type of engineering program or at the likes of a maritime academy. With some 800-1000 aging buildings, such a resource is almost a necessity. But under the current Chancellor, most of those people were pushed out–some upon reaching retirement age, some for other reasons–and never replaced. Today we have two people. And it is not clear if the current team is of the skillset and inclination to get their hands dirty and go into dark, dirty, boiler rooms to help diagnose and fix issues.

A mother was recently in the classroom of her child at a Boston archdiocesan Catholic school and noticed a window open near her child in the dead of winter. Why?  Turns out that the school cannot sufficiently regulate the heat in the entire school, so when the room gets too hot, the teacher opens a window.  How many other Catholic schools and parishes face this problem of heat pouring out windows due to older systems?  Anyone wondering why BCI keeps talking about wasteful spending?

A look at parish annual reports shows that  several spent in the range of about $67,000 on “heat and utilities” in their last fiscal year on $1.04-1.07M in total parish expenses, or about 6.7% of revenues.  What if that $67,000 could be reduced by just 5% in that parish?  What if that same savings could apply across 290 parishes?   Who is thinking about this besides BCI?

How do parishes and schools know whether a 60-80 year-old oil burner has become so inefficient that it would be a worthwhile investment to replace it with a high-efficiency oil burner or convert to gas heat?  How long would the payback time be for such a capital investment?

Does the Chancellor’s property management team understand the difference between inspecting a boiler for safety (done annually) vs inspecting/evaluating a boiler and heating system for energy efficiency?

Delayed Maintenance of Properties

Back in the parish reconfiguration efforts of 2004-2006, we are told that the topic came up at least a few times of how to deal with approximately $500 million in deferred maintenance needed for church buildings and schools that would remain open after reconfiguration.  At one time, there was even discussion of a fund being established to help handle emergency repairs for remaining facilities.  Was any of that deferred maintenance ever done or planned for? Was a proper department created and funded to proactively handle these issues?  Or has the deferred maintenance just been deferred further into the future, left for each parish to individually cope with when the roof starts leaking water into the sanctuary, someone falls on the crumbling concrete steps, or the boiler breaks down and breathes its last?


We are still wondering how prices in general for parish work get so high between when the project is first conceived and priced locally and when it comes back with a preferred vendor from the archdiocese. 

As we asked previously, why are only a small number of contractors allowed to bid on significant construction in parishes?  And why are parishes not allowed more freedom to determine which firms they wish to use if the firm is established, competent and reputable?  Why are some vendors “in the Rolodex” and other vendors and contractors with solid credentials and references kept “off the Rolodex”?

Did anyone ever ask a contractor to reward someone who awarded the contract, or expect such a reward? Has there ever been a time when the personal gain of anyone in the central administration was tied to who they approved to receive large contracts?  This is not just for construction, but also for other large ticket items like network installation in schools, and other such deals.

Did anyone in past years, or has anyone recently taken some percentage back on real estate deals?  How about on maintenance deals or construction projects? 

Who is auditing the St. Cecilia project?  Has no one–absolutely no one–benefited personally by the $20M in contracting costs? 

Have contractors ever been expected to do work for free (eg. at someone’s home) for anyone who works at 66 Brooks Drive as an incentive or reward for a significant contract for hire?

Just questions to ask and things to consider as we brave the cold weather and try to learn from the $20M debacle at St. Cecilia’s. 

Stay warm.

Evangelization Sunday

January 23, 2011

Cardinal Sean has designated today “Evangelization Sunday,” when Catholics throughout the archdiocese are hearing about the launch of the “Catholics Come Home” program.  

The Boston Globe covered it in their article, “Archdiocese campaign targets once-faithful,” where they quoted Cardinal Sean saying, “Every Catholic can be a minister of welcome, reconciliation, and understanding to those who have stopped coming to Church.”

According to this article in The Pilot, “The first ever Evangelization Sunday will be celebrated in the archdiocese Jan. 23 as an effort to introduce churchgoers to Catholics Come Home, a nationwide program the archdiocese is launching over the coming months to bring lapsed Catholics back to Mass and the practice of the faith.”

Here is a video of Cardinal Sean’s homily, which he asked to have played in all parishes in the archdiocese today.

Here are some excerpts from The Pilot article:

Archdiocese of Boston Secretary for Faith Formation and Evangelization Janet Benestad said Evangelization Sunday is a chance for Cardinal O’Malley to “invite Catholics in the archdiocese to reflect on people they know who have fallen away from the Church and invite them back.”

Nationally, the Catholics Come Home program has been running in eight dioceses and resulted in an increase in weekly Mass attendance. The Diocese of Phoenix saw a 12 percent increase (about 92,000 people) as a result of the program, and in the same span, the area had a roughly zero population growth. The Diocese of Corpus Christi saw a nearly 18 percent increase.”

Catholic officials will be launching the Boston version in an archdiocese where weekly Mass attendance is at 17 percent. New England is the most unchurched region in the United States, according to a Gallup poll released in February 2010. The poll revealed that only 29 percent of Massachusetts residents attend a church or synagogue weekly.

Benestad did not give a quantifiable goal that the archdiocese would like to reach to label the initiative as a success.

“For us, a success would be that people return to our parishes,” she said. “In the Northeast, so many people are Catholic.” .

Though we wish the archdiocese would do a better job of practicing what they are supposed to be preaching and take more dramatic steps to model a Christ-like evangelical culture starting at 66 Brooks Drive, it is still very good to see that the archdiocese is taking at least some steps to promote evangelization and reverse the steady decline in Mass attendance.  We also think it is a good idea for faithful Catholics to always be inviting friends or family members back to the Catholic Church.

The initiative relies heavily on television and radio ads, which are not inexpensive, and apparently the initiative has only a few hundred thousand dollars to support those ads, which gets burned through very quickly in a major metropolitan area like Boston. The sooner they tackle the program we outlined to save $2 million annually by chopping back the excessive six-figure salaries and ending the so-called “vigils” at closed churches, the more funds they will available to fund evangelization and advancing the mission of the Catholic Church in Boston. (How is that new Compensation Committee doing anyway?)

All cynicism aside–if you can believe that is possible from BCI–bringing people back to the Catholic Church is about salvation of souls and helping people get to heaven.  So do not do it just because Cardinal Sean asks you to. Rather, if each person reading this blog invites just two people they know back to Church, you could be a catalyst for them to turn from darkness and come to see the light of Christ.  Who knows, maybe you will play a role in God’s plan for the salvation of their soul, and yours as well!

Fiscal Mismanagement: $20 Million Debacle Part 2

January 21, 2011

Our post from yesterday, “Fiscal Mismanagement: $20 Million Debacle” about the out-of-control renovation project at St. Cecilia’s in Boston has sparked a lot of emails and comments.  Do take a moment to read the comments, especially some heartfelt comments from several priests. We had a few weather-related issues today that kept us from blogging, and are just now getting to share Part 2.

Just to be sure everyone is on the same page, as we wrote yesterday, St. Cecilia in Boston had $14 million in the bank from a previous land sale, embarked on what was supposed to be a $13-14 million renovation project but never raised money for the project beforehand, and hit construction cost overruns that have put the total project costs at as much as $20 million by the time the project is finished (leaving them as much as $6 million in debt). They are just now launching a capital campaign to hopefully raise $2 million, while at the same time the parish is running a $250,000 operating deficit from 2009-2011 .  Oh, we forgot to mention, the project had oversight from the Office of the Chancellor in the Archdiocese of Boston and his staff experts, and the pastor of St. Cecilia, Fr. John Unni, is good friends with Chancellor, Jim McDonough.

If Ricky Ricardo of “I Love Lucy” were witnessing this, one can just imagine him saying in a loud angry voice, “Jim, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!”

Lest all of the details about the debacle at St. Cecilia’s distract from the main issues, allow us for a moment to remind you of the key things that make this noteworthy–not just for this particular project, but also for any parish council member and pastor who has a project to undertake elsewhere in the archdiocese:

  1. Cost: Why has the cost run over by as much as $2 million to $6 million?  How did the price for the project get so high?  Who provided oversight and who is accountable? What are the consequences for those who let this happen and approved it?
  2. Decision to approve spending $20 million on this project: Why was this project deemed a good use of $20 million (besides the fact that the parish had $14 million in the bank from a recent land sale)? Demographically, is this a location with a strong Catholic population or the potential to attract a strong Catholic population?  What other alternatives are nearby to serve Catholics?  Was this church  ever on a list of possible parish closures, or should it have been? At a time when every dollar matters–and certainly every $1 million matters–why exactly was this project approved by the Chancellor and the Cardinal? Who approved it–the Chancellor?  The Finance Council?  The Cardinal?
  3. Contractors and Vendors: Who were the contractors used? Who chose them? Are any of them friends of Jack or Jim? Why are only a tiny number of contractors allowed to bid on significant construction in parishes? And why are parishes not allowed more freedom in determining who they use if a firm they wish to use is established, competent and reputable?

The project was originally described in May of 2009 as follows: Phase 1: Rebuild the Rectory, to code; Phase 2: Renovation of Lower Church; and Phase 3: Improvements to Upper Church (not to exceed $800,000). In 2009, the costs were estimated by the Renovation Committee for all 3 phases at $13 million. A figure of $10 million was published in the Boston Courant when they went out to get appropriate city and neighborhood approvals.

Here is what the church and adjacent parish hall looked like before the project (note: the rectory being renovated is actually in the left tower, as evidenced by the windows, which are unusual for a church tower):

The adjacent parish hall on the right side of the church, built in 1917, was in poor interior condition yet was generating $80,000 annually in rent to local organizations.  It was demolished to allow for a handicapped-accessible entrance, and that source of rental income is now gone.  Here is an artist’s rendition of what it is to look like.

Fast forward to fall of 2010.  Even though the archdiocese has provided oversight for dozens upon dozens of school and parish renovation projects (including everything from building demolitions to pointing of bricks to church renovations and restorations), and even though they should know how to get 3 independent bids for every major job, and even though there should be skilled people who know very well by now what kinds of surprises to anticipate in construction projects and how to plan for overages, and even though there are skilled people who know you raise money if needed before such a project, not afterwards, this project proceeded–and ran over, by A LOT.

Here is the detailed assessment of the cost overruns shared in the parish council minutes of September 2010:

“As has been the case during the whole project, there have been unforeseen conditions to be dealt with:  the tower was in much worse condition than originally anticipated, and the rectory basement fix, city code, issues, etc.”

How were the contractors chosen, and by whom? Surely a capable contractor with appropriate oversight from the Archdiocese, including the experts on the Chancellor’s director-level staff (who now are paid in sum total about $1.3 million) should have anticipated city code issues.  Did the long-standing Boston city codes abruptly change mid-stream in the project or something? What controls were written into the agreement to protect and limit the church’s exposure to cost overruns? And when a project runs over by millions of dollars, are people not entitled to a somewhat more detailed listing of reasons than whatever is meant by “issues, etc.”?

We are told, but have not confirmed, that once the restoration of the church ran over budget, they removed the new HVAC system to save costs.  Then other “unforeseen” issues arose, like the pointing turned out to be more extensive than originally thought.

Despite a staff including the Chancellor and his directors now costing $1.3 million, plus their direct reports who are supposed to be able to provide oversight for such projects, here we sit nearly 5 years after the Chancellor arrived with aging buildings across the archdiocese and no credible, active building or property management commission (e.g. one with priests/pastors and non-pastors,  lay experts in heating/ventilation/air-conditioning systems, and staff with specialization in buildings and parish finance) overseeing such initiatives from initial proposals to completion. The person responsible for real estate on the Chancellor’s staff was a former loan officer with him at the Abington Savings Bank and objectively knows nothing about property management. Several of the staff skilled in building/facilities management were laid off in recent years (as part of the Chancellor’s supposed magnanimous efforts to cut heads in his department to free budget for more six-figure salaries) and never replaced.

Coincidentally, someone recently emailed us these pictures of what the new entrance looks like now from the front and rear.

(Anyone else wondering what they will do with all that valuable open space behind the entrance that was generating $80K/year in rent before?)

We are told the project is about 75% completed and running around $16-$17 million.  When Phase 3 is finished we hear it could cost $20 million, but we have not confirmed that number. (If we are mistaken, we encourage someone from St. Cecelia’s to contact us and we will correct the numbers).  The parish started out with $14 million in the bank, and could be in debt as much as $6 million when finished.

This is WITH oversight by the Chancellor’s office.

The whole thing reeks of mismanagement and corruption from end to end.  Whoever is responsible for this fiasco needs to be held accountable for this.

As you can see from the comments, priests and laity are disgusted when they hear news like this.  Here is what one pastor wrote:

The donors are not putting money in the collection baskets to assist the fat cats of Brooks Drive.As a pastor, I am at wits end to keep my parish in the black, I am very much doubting that I will be a pastor next year as the stress and demands which this administration has placed upon the position is really not worth the time and energy I am putting into it. I fear that slowly the Cardinal and his staff are eroding my love and dedication to the priesthood in Boston as a parish priest. I love the Eucharist and celebrating the Sacraments, but am sick and tired of all the red tape now placed upon the position. Sadly, I am getting to the point of just wanting out of it all.

Cardinal O’Malley, Fr. Erikson, and Jim McDonough–are you all happy that this is what you are bringing about in the Boston presbyterate?

If this is not heart-breaking enough, the corruption and mismanagement remain in contracting. At least when Gov. Deval Patrick saw the corruption in the state Parole Board, he fired the whole board.  But here in the Boston Archdiocese, the leadership carries on with business as usual as though everything is going just fine at 66 Brooks Drive. Ongoing mismanagement in contracting is the topic for yet another post shortly.

Anyone reading this is still planning a donation to the Catholic Appeal?  If so, allow us to offer a few words of advice.  Ready for this?  Grab a pen and a piece of paper.  Here is the advice:

Do not give to the Catholic Appeal at this time.  Redirect whatever you may have considered giving for now to your local parish or another good Catholic cause like any of these. We do not have a perfect answer for how you can earmark a contribution to your local parish and ensure it is not “taxed” by the archdiocese this year, but talk to your pastor.  Ask him if you can earmark the donation and have it used to pay a specific bill, like the heating/utility bill, or a youth group expense, or musician stipends.  Giving to a “Grand Annual” parish collection might also shelter the money from the voracious spending appetites at 66 Brooks Drive.

ps. By the way, if any pastors are reading this, drop us a line at bostoncatholicinsider(at) or fill out our Contact Us form (anonymously if you like) and let us know if you have had limitations placed on you by the archdiocese in hiring your choice of contractors. How often has a particular contractor been forced on you (eg. Parent, McLaughlin & Nagle for audits, Nolan Waterproofing, others) by the archdiocese?

Fiscal Mismanagement: $20 Million Debacle?

January 20, 2011

Q. How does a parish go from having $14 million in the bank to being millions of dollars in debt within 12 months?

A. With the oversight of the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Boston.

According to the 12/24/2010 edition of The Pilot,

“St. Cecilia Church in the Back Bay reopened Dec. 12 after recently completing a major interior renovation. The church closed after Easter for a major overhaul that included new flooring, pews, painting and a redesigned sanctuary and entrance… The renovation continues with restoration of the attached rectory and redesign of the lower church into a parish center complex.”

What The Pilot did not report was the following:

  • The parish had $14 million in the bank from a previous land sale (11,000 square-foot adjacent parcel) before starting the renovation project
  • The pastor and parish council discussed raising money via a capital campaign in 2009 for what was then estimated at a $13 million project, but never did anything at the time
  • They hit construction cost overruns that have put the total project costs at the 75% completion point today at around $16-17 million, and it could hit $20 million by the time they are done
  • The parish is only now launching a capital campaign to hopefully raise $2 million
  • The parish is now borrowing money from the archdiocese to cover the cost overruns
  • The parish is running a $250,000 operating deficit from 2009-2011 ($120,000 in the red in 2009-2010 and $130,000 in the red for 2010-2011)
  • The project had oversight from the Office of the Chancellor in the Archdiocese of Boston and his staff “experts” in real estate and property management
  • The pastor, Fr. John Unni, is good friends with Chancellor Jim McDonough

The above are the objective facts. A parish goes from $14M in the bank to being as much as $6M in debt.  That is WITH the oversight of the Chancellor and his team (who collectively at the director-level or above are paid $1.3 million annually). The whole thing reminds BCI of the Beatles song, “With a Little Help From My Friends”

The project was originally described in May of 2009 as follows:

Phase 1: Rebuild the Rectory, to code; Rebuild roof; Perform necessary construction to make entire building envelope safe and secure (including, upgrade of all plumbing, energy and mechanical systems.).

Phase 2: Renovation of Lower Church.

Phase 3: Improvements to Upper Church (not to exceed $800,000).

It is estimated by the Renovation Committee that the cost of completing Phases 1 – 3 would be $13 million.

 For the record, in the Boston Courant, a Back Bay newspaper, the project was estimated at $10 million in late 2009.

Here is a comment from a reader on this same topic from January 1:

from the pews says:

January 1, 2011 at 11:23 pm

One must conclude there has been precious little oversight from the Archdiocese regarding the renovation at St. Cecilia Parish (Boston). With a pastor who openly proclaims he’s not a “rules and regs kind of guy” and who plays fast and loose with the Sacramental Rites of the Church as well as with Church doctrine, it is of no surprise there exists the inexplicable situation in which fund raising has been long delayed hoping to recoup millions in cost overruns. Where is there ANY oversight?

Meanwhile, St. Cecilia’s annual operating budget is reported to be over $250K in the RED at the end of FYE 2011! This is as reported on their very own website:

Yet the pastor takes frequent and extravagant vacations to tropical Islands and Europe.

I for one, am sick of average parishioners bearing the financial burdens of born of impropriety and ineptitude. We who sit in the pews are more than happy to give our hard earned money and precious time to further the wonderful ministries of the Church. However, it appears that no one at the Archdiocese asked simple questions in a timely fashion—questions rooted in everyday common sense: Why was no money raised before the project began? Why is the project now suddenly millions of dollars over budget?

No one is made accountable, yet it is the faithful parishioners who are saddled with millions in debt.

With the history of sex abuse scandals, the Church does not need to shoot itself in the foot with more financial impropriety and incompetence. It pains those of us who try to stay faithful to the Church and faithful to our local parishes, where our faith truly takes root.

NOTE: We acknowledge that the renovated upper church looks beautiful, at least from what we can see of the photos, we acknowledge the interior of the church hall was in bad condition, and we acknowledge the rectory in the left tower was also in bad condition. This post is not about whether there were physical needs at the church that merited work.  This post is highlighting that the project has been mismanaged and improperly overseen from start to finish.

The current Chancellor has been in his job nearly 5 years.  Does he have a team of skilled experts capable of providing oversight and guidance for projects like this, and able to support the facility needs of hundreds of aging buildings in need of HVAC system upgrades, maintenance and renovation? Or is neglect of this area and layoffs of skilled staff without adequate replacements costing the archdiocese and parishes tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year needlessly, or even up to millions?

We will have more details to share about the project tomorrow, including before and after photos, reported reasons for the cost overruns, and what could have been done to prevent them. Readers familiar with the project can feel free to post comments or send email to us using the Contact Us tab.

In the meantime, the underlying question remains: When will pastors and advisors all start telling Cardinal O’Malley the time has come to replace the current Chancellor and initiate a search for a new one using someone independent and objective who cares just about the mission of the Catholic Church in Boston?

New Vicar General? New Chancellor?

January 18, 2011

In follow-up of our most recent post, Musings on the Future of the Archdicoese of Boston: Episcopal Leadership, while we are on the topic of leadership, we thought we would take the discussion a step further today.

First, if you have not yet read the episcopal leadership post, that would be a good foundation before reading this post.

As mentioned previously, rumors have been making the rounds for a while that the Vicar General plans to go back to full-time service in the Air Force this spring.  And if the current Chancellor does not continue on after his 5-year term expires expires in June, that key position will also be filled with someone new. The combination of two open positions in such key roles presents an opportunity to either fix some significant problems and “right the ship” by filling the positions with outstanding Catholic leaders well-suited to these roles, or to send the proverbial archdiocesan cruise ship at an even faster speed ahead into an iceberg quicker than you can say the word, “Titanic.”

There is much to say about the topic of how to fill these key roles and how to fix the current dysfunctional management.  Apparently unique in large archdioceses as best as we can tell, Cardinal O’Malley allowed what has been in Boston a combined Chancellor/CFO role (most are separate roles) to also maneuver a reporting relationship direct to the Cardinal and become more like a COO or CEO.  That, combined with a Vicar General today whose expertise is in grief counseling and who is better suited to pastoral ministry than strong-willed leadership amidst the Boston political hornets-net, leaves us with a leadership vacuum where the Vicar General who should be the #2 in command is largely a figurehead–or even worse, at times more like puppet manipulated by other power-hungry cabinet members and advisors.

How should the Cardinal go about fixing the broken and dysfunctional organizational structure he has allowed to exist in Boston that plays to his own weaknesses and is contributing to our current problems and trajectory?   We offer brief thoughts on both the structural issues and the key issue of how to conduct the searches.

Organizational Structure Issues

This merits a post or two alone, so this is just dipping a toe in the water.  As one example, should the Chancellor be a priest or a lay-person?  In the Code of Canon Law, here is the high-level overview of the job:

Can. 482 §1. In every curia a chancellor is to be appointed whose principal function, unless particular law establishes otherwise, is to take care that acts of the curia are gathered, arranged, and safeguarded in the archive of the curia.

The Chancellor role is often filled by a priest or religious with knowledge and expertise in both Canon Law and in organizational management.  But it is also often filled by a layperson.  Should the position of “Chancellor” be combined with the equivalent of a “Chief Financial Officer” role as has been the case here in Boston, with broad responsibilities over budget, financial reporting, cash management, investments, risk management, MIS, benefits, human resources, cemeteries, real estate and facilities?  Or should they be separate roles, as is the organizational model in other large archdioceses (e.g. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit) where there is a Chancellor with organizational management responsibilities reporting to the Vicar General, and often a separate CFO or Director of Finance who also reports to the Vicar General?  This is just food for thought.

But, before anyone even attempts to tackle those questions, we think the question of how to conduct a search needs to be asked.

How to Conduct a Search

BCI has covered, perhaps ad nauseum, the “sham searches” that have become literally an art and science here in the Boston archdiocese–starting with the Secretary for Communications, through the Chancellor, Superintendent of Schools, Cardinal’s office manager, and the new Secretary for Institutional Advancement–the “mother of all sham searches.”  There are even more, but we will leave it with these for now.

Can Boston construct a truly competent search committee for any key job, free of blatant conflicts of interest? Sufficient concerns about the current Chancellor lead us to offer guidance towards what we believe should be an open, independent search for a successor to him. Assuming such a search is undertaken, who should lead it?  Is there anyone within the Archdiocese who can articulate what the Chancellor’s job really is, and also guide the search?  Are the halls, offices, and cubicles of 66 Brooks Drive devoid of good minds with clear thought and a moral compass?  Who might have a reputation for independence and integrity?  Who has not been called-out for deception, excessive compensation, or conflicts of interest on this blog?  BCI challenges Cardinal O’Malley to think of just one person who is wise and above reproach.  We invite the Cardinal to think of one person who could direct a conversation and search process to yield a truly independent chancellor…one who seeks only the long-term best interest of the Catholic Church in Boston–and no other individual or institution.  Who can help put Boston on the straight and narrow path canonically, ethically and legally, and keep us there?

Besides the possible search for a new chancellor, what will the profile of the next Vicar General look like? Will the Cardinal appoint a strong Vicar General with backbone, like Bishop Lennon, who would simply not tolerate the nonsense, corruption, political scheming and breaches of fiduciary responsibility that have transpired under the reign of certain people in the Chancellor’s Suite on the 4th floor, as well as those who advise and influence them? Given that neither the Cardinal nor the current Vicar General had any experience as a pastor or had substantial training or experience in financial or business management, will previous experience as a pastor or experience in a significant leadership/management role be important to look for in a new Vicar General?

Those expert in studying and understanding traits of outstanding leaders say the common attributes include Integrity, Dedication, Magnanimity, Humility, Openness, and Creativity.  How will Cardinal O’Malley find these attributes in the right combination–and others such as skill in dealing with confrontation and conflict to make up for his weaknesses–for what could be the two most critical roles he fills in the next few months?  Getting the right person(s) on the ship–and the wrong people off the ship–could make a huge difference in the next stage of the voyage and the future of the Archdiocese of Boston.

The Archdiocese of Boston is in desperate need of strong leadership. Priests and laity of this archdiocese need the Cardinal to aim for a better fit with Boston’s current requirements  in filling these crucial roles than the individuals we have today in those positions.  We pray that when the Cardinal enlists assistance in the search(es), he turns to someone to lead either or both searches who is smart, a clear thinker, is known for integrity, is free from conflicts of interest, is faithful to the teachings of the Church, and who seeks only the long-term best interest of the Catholic Church in Boston.

This is the time to think “outside the box.”  Can Cardinal O’Malley do this?  Will he at long last right the ship with at least the filling of these key leadership roles, or will we keep heading towards an iceberg with more of the same for the next five years?

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