How to Save $2 Million Without Really Trying: Part 2

In our last post, How to Save $2 Million Annually Without Really Trying: Part 1, we shared how the Archdiocese of Boston could readily save in the range of  $1,150,000 to $1,250,000 a year–starting immediately–by reducing excessive salaries of the top 10 employees to $150,000.  This would also avoid possible state or federal penalties for breach of fiduciary responsibility, and a possible $250,000 IRS penalty.

Today we share how the archdiocese could save as much as another $850,000 per year by ending the 5 vigils at closed parishes that have exhausted all of their canonical and legal appeals.

Step 2: End Vigils at Occupied Churches

The second part of our waste reduction program calls for ending the vigils at the still-occupied parishes who have exhausted all of their appeals.  This can be done very simply by allowing people to exit the buildings but refusing to allow new people to enter the buildings. As we reported more than 3 months ago (on October 9) in Vigil Vigilance, we know from the annual report by the archdiocese that the cost to maintain all closed church buildings in 2009 was $1.5 million. Our sources indicate that maintaining approximately 45 closed and unoccupied churches to police/emergency standards is costing about 45% of that total, or around $700K/year.  But maintaining 5 occupied buildings to residential standards—for which church buildings were never intended—has been much more costly, as these buildings need to be heated, insured, and plowed in the winter, with maintenance people often on-call to respond to any reported problems. That is estimated to still be costing around $850,000 per year of that $1,500,000.

As we explained in “Vigil Vigilance”, the vigils have gone on for six years! By our estimate the vigils have cost somewhere around $5 million in donor funds, and they have gone on so long largely because of one reason: Cardinal O’Malley accepted the flawed advice of Fr. Bryan Hehir back in the 2004-05 timeframe instead of listening to financial, insurance, legal and property management experts. As we reported in October, back in 2004-05, Cardinal O’Malley was advised by pastors, lawyers, insurance people, real estate and property management people and canon lawyers to end the vigils through a structured conflict resolution process that included requiring protesters to leave immediately. That is how the archdiocese prevented all the attempted vigils after St. Jeremiah in Framingham started in 2005, and it is a civilized, non-confrontational, responsible way to deal with them.  But Fr. Hehir and Ann Carter of Rasky Baerlein wanted to avoid a possible PR fiasco (which would have lasted only a few days) and undid the unanimous recommendation of those experts.  The Cardinal accepted their flawed  advice, and  the result has now lasted six years–and continues to cost the archdiocese millions of dollars.

(Note to Cardinal O’Malley, Fr. Hehir opened a talk last October at BC High with the self-deprecating comment, “I can write an article, but can’t run a 3-car funeral.”  Catholic Charities of Boston under his leadership also saw annual operating deficits totaling $5 million between 2005-2007  causing Tiziana Dearing in 2008 to publicly say when she took over for Fr. Hehir, “I am trying to do a financial turnaround.”  Fr. Hehir was also the one who advised in favor of the salaries for Terry Donilon, Jim McDonough, and Mary Grassa O’Neill as well.  Here is an idea to consider: Maybe you just might want to find a different adviser to listen to?  Or, when you get advice from Fr. Hehir, do exactly the opposite of what he advises.  We digress…)

Regarding the vigils, we will repeat what we said in October, if anyone is still deluded by Fr. Hehir into thinking that this is a time for dialogue, we reiterate that this is the wrong approach. It is time to simply say anyone inside is free to stay, but no one and nothing may enter the building now. Maybe if the  archdiocese starts charging Fr. Hehir and Rasky Baerlein the cost of maintaining the church properties where the vigils continue, we can all see how long it takes before their advice finally changes and the vigils abruptly end.

Bottom line: end the vigils and start saving an estimated $850,000 per year

So there it is–two steps to saving $2 million annually.  First, reduce excessive salaries to $150K/year and save $1.15-1.25M.  Second, end the vigils and save $850K.  That $2 million could otherwise be used to shore-up the lay or clergy pension funds and/or other critical ministry needs.  On top of that, as one commenter observed from a recent parish meeting, “When they [Archdiocesan Cabinet leaders] are paid more like we’re paid, people will start giving again.”

If the Chancellor would publish the 2011 central ministries budget as part of the Improved Financial Relationship Model (IFRM) effort–given that we are more than half-way through the fiscal year– we can probably find another $1+ million to save on top of this, but we will just start with this $2M for now.

Nearly five months have passed since this blog started raising the issue of excessive six-figure salaries and more than two months have passed since the Finance Council agreed on Nov. 4 to create a Compensation Committee.  But nothing has actually happened to address the problem of wasteful spending in this area and there are no results. Apparently no one views saving millions of dollars/year in donor contributions from being almost literally poured down the drain today as nearly as pressing an issue to discuss compared to, say, other issues like reducing the cost of the monthly mailing to priests by a few hundred dollars a month (or discussing how to stop the BCI blog from blowing the whistle on the waste 4-5 years after auditors recommended the RCAB implement an anonymous whistleblower policy).

Will the Presbyteral Council take up the matters of excessive spending and how to save $2 million a year with great urgency at their meeting this Thursday–and take decisive action?  If and when the topic of “the blog” comes up at the Presbyteral Council meeting, will the Vicar General hand-wave and once again say, “We tried reaching out to them (once)”? Will the main concern be how to prevent the Boston Catholic Insider blog from publishing and maintaining an open form for discussing the truth (whose publication will help the archdiocese continue the good works of the Catholic Church in Boston), instead of how to simply operate the business of the archdiocese with integrity and fiscal prudence (which will in turn, cut off the “air supply” of content to the blog)?  Will the Presbyteral Council finally discuss the underlying fiscal mismanagement issues and the growing trust and management concerns about the current Chancellor?  Will pastors boldly stand up and declare they will stop sending money to feed Corporation Sole’s excessive salary and wasteful spending appetite until these concerns are addressed? Will the Council discuss the flawed whistleblower policy under consideration that would send anonymous claims right back to the senior cabinet officials (such as the Chancellor) under whom the infractions may have been committed, instead of ensuring the claim are investigated independently?  When he is back from his latest trip to Dublin, will the Cardinal exercise episcopal leadership and order that cabinet-level salaries be slashed instead of waiting six months for yet another “committee” to weigh in?  Will the Cardinal at some point soon also share some sort of meaningful vision for the Archdiocese of Boston, as well as separately for the Catholic schools?  Or, as we asked yesterday,  will the powers-that-be continue “fiddling while Rome burns” as Chancellor McDonough keeps twiddling his Blackberry?

We have described in two blog posts how an estimated $2 million a year in donor funds is being wasted today. This would objectively represent a breach of fiduciary responsibility.  Does anyone in the Boston archdiocesan leadership care enough about this matter to respond?

Hello?  Hello?

11 Responses to How to Save $2 Million Without Really Trying: Part 2

  1. Angry Parish Council Member says:

    It’s absurd that the archdiocese is not responding to these issues. At my parish, it costs about $10,000 every winter for snow-removal, so for 5 vigiling churchs, that’s got to be $50,000 a year dumped down the drain. I’m asking my parish council to take up the wasteful archdiocesan spending at our next meeting, and would suggest other people ask the same thing. The leadership problems in this archdiocese are beyond ridiculous! I think lay people have to stop giving to the archdiocese and let them know why plus complain to their pastors, and we need pastors to tell the archdiocese the nonsense needs to stop!!

  2. Fr. D says:

    I have posted it before, but it remains true. Unless the money (aka the “mother’s milk”)is cut off, nothing will ever change in the archdiocese.

  3. A. J. Constantino says:

    Good Wednesday Afternoon!

    There are several issues here:

    I think there is a subtle reality to consider. These properties still need to be insured (liability, fire, theft), maintained (sidewalks shoveled, grass cut, repairs,), heated (to protect water pipes) etc. The physical plants are assets of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and the monetary value of these properties needs to be protected.

    Six years is long enough! All possible avenues of “reconciliation” have been exhausted and the time has come to close these buildings.

    The Archdiocese has been patient, allowed the process to be worked through – Rome has spoken. The RCAB has been fair and should have no regrets!

    Will there be adverse PR – YES! There will be lots of critics, who will say the RCAB has no authority – has been unfair etc. TOUGH IT OUT!

    With these buildings closed, the protesters gone – the healing can begin!

    • Carolyn says:

      Amen, AJ.

      But the rest of us have to be willing to speak up when the protesters start their chants again. My parish closed (without an occupation) and for the most part people have landed on their feet. I know people from three of the “vigiling” parishes who are annoyed no end by the occupations, and their hyperbole.

      So every time the statement is made that the place in Scituate had a full church on Christmas (no such thing), or that there are people occupying in Framingham 24/7 (not at all), there has to be someone who knows better (and there are plenty of us) who can say that those statements are not verifiable because they simply are not true.

      Two days of adverse PR and it’s done. The adverse PR from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to heat, plow, repair, etc., these places has yet to surface. But ask folks at Saint Mary’s in Scituate if they couldn’t have used some of those thousands for their own heat, plowing and repairs since 2004, and you’ll get an ear full.

      Game over, period.

  4. George Williams says:

    Does anyone remember the parishes that were just closed? For that matter how many people recall the financial blackeye from Star of the Sea in East Boston? The time has come to just close the vigil parishes especially since all of the appeals have been exhausted and the financial support of RCAB has also been exhausted.

  5. Dave says:

    I think the $2 Million is a good start but they need to spend it and more to fund the lay pension plan.

    No sense we have a Catholic education system to teach moral values if our teaching is that its ok not to pay what we owe to the thousands who gave their lives in low paid service to the Church. Pay those who have already worked and dump the expensive new hires.

  6. Jim says:

    Well done on both pieces Love the practical, common sense solutions for an archdiocese badly in need of fiscal restraint. Not that they ever ask a parishioner in the pew anything, but if anyone from RCAB ever calls me on why my donations have gone down, I will refer them to this blog.

  7. MT says:

    I was vacationing in Scituate last summer. One day as I walked down the street, a woman in a car stopped me to ask where St Frances Cabrini church was. I think she was going to be part of the vigil, so she obviously wasn’t from the parish.

    A couple miles away in one direction is St Mary’s, and about 5 miles in the other is St Anthony in Cohasset–both great, functioning parishes. No one in the Cabrini parish is being put at great hardship to go to Mass at the other churches. Besides, at Cabrini they have a Communion service every Sunday–no Mass. They are not even fulfilling their basic Sunday Mass obligation. To allow it to go on is hurting them spiritually. A Communion service is no substitute for the Mass. The money issue is very true, but the spiritual damage being done is even greater.

  8. Scituate Mom says:

    I live in Scituate and was a parishioner at St. Frances Cabrini before they parish closed. None of the former parishioners I know remember seeing the vigil leaders in any kind of active role in the parish before the vigil started, like lectors, eucharistic ministers, CCD teachers, etc. No one in the press mentions the disrespect and abuses of the Blessed Sacrament present in the closed church during the pizza parties around the altar and sleepovers for teenage children of the protesters. The last article in the Boston Globe portrayed the vigileres like they were some kind of heros. Everyone close to this knows they are squatters who want the property for themselves and who basically fabricated a sob-story they got the press and others to buy. I won’t give this archdiocese a penny as long as they squander donor contributions like they are doing here and elsewhere and on six-figure salaries, and I hope BCI urges people to send their money elsewhere for the foreseeable future. Whoever is making the decisions in Braintree should be replaced by people who make less money and have a lot more common sense.

  9. […] 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 […]

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