With it still being New Years weekend, we would like to take this final opportunity to look back on the year that just closed. Our frame of reference is mostly through the lens of the blog, mostly from after the blog started (AB), though we will share a few things from before the blog (BB).
The main events and themes revealed this past year were deception by the highest levels in the archdiocesan leadership, a reorganization of the Cardinal’s cabinet, continued dismantling of the archdiocese (exemplified by the selloff of Caritas Christi), more Pastoral Center layoffs, major financial difficulties for 40% of parishes that are running a deficit, increased spending by the Pastoral Center on six-figure salaries, fiscal mismanagement, and a continued decline in weekly Mass attendance. In the face of these problems, we saw an even more visible display of the episcopal leadership vacuum filled by powerbroker Jack Connors, Fr. Bryan Hehir, and Chancellor Jim McDonough, some attempts at evangelization, and the emergence of this blog, Boston Catholic Insider, dedicated to sharing the goings-on and exposing corruption in the archdiocese.
Below is a list of our top events of 2010. (If we missed any big ones, please let us know). There is no priority order—they are just events we think are reflective of the past year and suggestive of what is to come in the future.
- Boston Archdiocese sells off the Caritas Christi hospital system to Cerberus, a private equity firm whose name is the same name as the 3-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades. (click on picture to zoom/enlarge). External spin was that the sale was necessary to maintain long-term financial health of the hospitals, even though Caritas had announced a financial turn-around months before the deal was brokered which supposedly marked a foundation for long-term fiscal health with no acquisition. Cardinal O’Malley, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson, and Fr. Bryan Hehir all publicly deceive the archdiocese with statements that the Catholic identity of the hospitals would be maintained forever, when in fact, the agreement allows Cerberus to drop the Catholic identity for a $25 million payment after 3 years if deemed “burdensome” by them. (Themes: deception, influence by Jack Connors and Fr. Bryan Hehir, conflicts of interest, dismantling the diocese, episcopal leadership vacuum).
- Archdiocese reduces staff by 10% in June 2010, mostly by laying off low-level, long-time dedicated employees. No people making six-figure salaries were affected. Six-figure salaried employees who had previously taken a 5-10% pay cut to help balance the budget had their salaries increased back to previous levels. (Themes: fiscal mismanagement, poor get poorer while rich get richer, leadership vacuum)
- Pastor of St. Pauls in Hingham (Fr. James Rafferty) rejects admission to the parish school for a child of lesbian parents. He is thrown under the bus for his decision by Jack Connors, the Catholic Schools Foundation, and schools superintendent Mary Grassa O’Neill (click on picture to enlarge). An admissions policy is drafted and advanced in approval processes amongst school principals and clergy which deceptively uses words of Pope Benedict XVI out of context as basis for the policy and rejects canonical principles of subsidiarity that would allow pastors/parishes to make such decisions themselves. (Theme: deception, influence by Jack Connors and Fr. Bryan Hehir, episcopal leadership vacuum)
- 40% of Boston archdiocesan parishes are in the red and cannot pay their bills. Publicly disclosed figures put weekly Mass attendance at about 17%, and we hear the number has actually dropped to more like around 12%. Pastoral planning process advances to combine multiple church buildings into parishes. (Theme: continued decline of the diocese)
- 5 closed parishes maintain protest vigils, after final canonical appeals were exhausted in 2010, and in some cases more than six years after they were ordered closed. For vigil parishes, no one has the guts to simply block people from entering the churches and thereby end the vigils. Cost to the archdiocese to maintain all closed parishes is more than $1.5 million per year. (Themes: fiscal mismanagement, episcopal leadership vacuum)
- Powerbroker Jack Connors and Chancellor Jim McDonough reorganized the Cardinal’s cabinet (starting in the winter of 2010 through summer and fall) pushing out the previous Secretary for Institutional Advancement, Scot Landry, from that role. Their vision was, and is, to forsake the “widows mite” in fund-raising and instead go after primarily deep-pocketed donors. (Themes: influence and consolidation of power by Jack Connors and Jim McDonough, episcopal leadership vacuum)
- New Development Chief, Kathleen Driscoll, was named after a “sham search” where the Cardinal, Jack Connors, and Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson formed a search committee and told everyone in the archdiocese a real search was underway, when in reality, Ms. Driscoll had been identified as the choice before the search was ever announced. The new fund-raising entity puts all fund-raising under the control of Jack Connors’ former Hill Holliday exec, Driscoll, leaving the Cardinal and archdiocese further beholden to Connors’ agenda. In sports, one might call the sham search analagous to a “head fake”—namely where a player moves their head one way to fake a change in direction. Outside of sports, one might call the explanation given internally by the Vicar General—that there were two parallel tracks to the search, one a public search that never took place and the other an internal search—either a “deception” or an outright “lie.” (Themes: deception, influence and consolidation of power by Jack Connors, conflict of interest, cronyism, dismantling the diocese, episcopal leadership vacuum)
- Boston Catholic Insider blog launches June 23, 2010. Chancellor’s decision to block archdiocesan access to the blog resulted in greatly increased public visibility for the blog, including articles in the Boston Globe and by the Associated Press. Communications chief, Terry Donilon, complained about “unfounded claims” on the blog, but never identified even one such claim. By the end of 2010, the blog had 100 posts, 1,330 comments, and 150,000 pages viewed by 91,000 unique visitors from around the world. With 80+% of traffic coming from the greater Boston area, we estimate that about 3X more Boston-area people have read the Boston Catholic Insider blog than regularly read the archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot. The blog publishes an Open Letter to Cardinal O’Malley and archdicoesan leaders on August 23 (and updated September 15) asking for action on a number of issues. Perhaps coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, the following have happened in follow-up of that open letter regarding issues in the letter.
- Excessive Compensation in Six-Figure Salaries: Compensation Committee formed by Archdiocesan Finance Council
- Whistleblower Policy: About 4 years after auditors recommended the archdiocese create an anonymous whistleblower policy, the Chancellor finally did something. He has hired Ethicspoint to host the system and the policy is nearing implementation, albeit with flawed processes around it that would make the policy ineffective if implemented as planned. (Stay tuned for more on that).
- Names of Finance Council and Committee Members: Were anonymous for past 2 years, but now posted publicly.
- Names of Trustees for Clergy Retirement Fund: Were finally disclosed to the clergy. We are still awaiting the names of the trustees for the lay retirement fund six months after we asked.
- Search for New Development Chief: No change in direction was made after the blog started reporting on the “sham search.” After we reported for months on the sham search, the Archdiocese confirmed it with the announcement of Kathleen Driscoll, further hurting their own credibility
- Search for Mass Catholic Conference executive director: at least a head of the search committee, Bishop Coleman, of Fall River, was beyond criticism when the search was announced. However, other members of the search committee have raised concerns about ties to Fr. Bryan Hehir, Jack Connors, and an agenda other than the advancement of Catholic teachings in public policy, thus the search is considered tainted.
- Priest Appreciation: In conjunction with the Priest Appreciation Dinner, the blog launched a priest “shout out” where writers thanked more than 75 archdiocesan and religious order priests for their ministry.
- U.S.C.C.B President Election: On a national level, Boston Catholic Insider took a short-lived detour from matters of Boston governance and corruption and contributed in at least some way to the public dialogue and derailing of the candidacy of Tucson bishop Gerald Kicanas for USCCB President. Our “Red Alert” campaign enabled Catholics to voice objections to his candidacy directly to bishops based on past handling of allegations of sexual improprieties . The AP, USA Today, America Magazine, Commonweal, and other national publications all reported on how Catholic bloggers had urged readers to send protest faxes and leave messages for bishops at the hotel where they are meeting. America Magazine said, “e-mails and faxes to the bishops were apparently piling up in the bishop’s Baltimore hotel rooms.” We cannot claim anything about BCI’s impact on the election beyond merely saying we contributed to the dialogue and played some role in enabling people to communicate their concerns with their bishops. This last point being said, the Kicanas effort does show the demand on the part of Catholics for some vehicle to communicate with their bishops, and the impact which is possible when such vehicles exist. This is not the last campaign you will see from BCI!
- Cardinal O’Malley went to Dublin to serve on an apostolic visitation to Ireland in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in that country. He told people “I am here to listen.” (We hope we hear the same words expressed from him in Boston soon). Cardinal Seans’ blog, by the “first blogging Cardinal” evolves almost entirely into a photojournal of the Cardinal’s travels and meetings with friends and family members, portraying a bishop increasingly removed from teaching, sanctifying, and governing in Boston. (Theme: episcopal leadership vacuum)
- Lay pension plan frozen: for about 10,000 church secretaries, parochial school teachers, and other lay employees. Chancellor tells Boston Globe that archdiocesan employees had not had pay raises for 4 years, a statement contradicted by the reality of diocesan annual reports and many employees who indeed received cost of living increases as recently as the 2007-2008 fiscal year. (Themes: deception, fiscal mismanagement)
- On the evangelistic front, the archdiocese launched “The Light is On For You” to make confession available to Catholics on Wednesday evenings in Lent and most recently in Advent. Feedback has been positive. In addition, a new effort to reach out to fallen-away Catholics, “Catholics Come Home” will be coming to Boston in 2011. (Theme: evangelization)
- On the vocations front, St. Johns Seminary is prospering despite the other problems in the archdiocese. In fact, they are reaching capacity to accommodate full-time students and need more space—space the seminary once owned and which a Vatican visitation committee had recommended not be sold or given away, but which was sold anyway by the Cardinal and Chancellor James McDonough to raise money for the archdiocese. (theme: episcopal leadership vacuum)
The Boston Catholic Insider blog has enjoyed some very proud moments and also weathered our share of criticism. Amidst ups and downs, we are told that we have finally given a voice to those whose complaints were going unheard and who viewed there as being little hope of recovering the Catholic Church that many people have known and loved in Boston. One person recently wrote and said the following:
“The blog has brought to reality my longtime desire to enable this particular Church to know the truth…without being traumatized into still another heartache. The blog has pulled back the curtain with good will, good humor and, most importantly, superb documentation. No hearts were broken to produce this blog! (OK, maybe a couple of frowns cracked around #66, but that was to be expected.)
The abuse crisis, and to a lesser extent the parish closings and the pension mess (both lay and clergy) have resulted in some people punishing themselves by separation from their sacraments. They wanted to slam the door on the people who broke their hearts, but instead they slammed themselves out. The blog is allowing a difficult truth to be understood, and most importantly, allowing people to think how to go about addressing it. They aren’t storming out of the Church — they are storming into the conversation.
Congratulations on six remarkably strong months, with few hiccups!
We feel very good about what the blog has accomplished in the past six months. Now, onward and upwards to the challenges and opportunities of 2011!