Assessment of Catholic Schools Admission Policy: Part 1

In response to emails asking when we will weigh-in on the new Catholic Schools admission policy, we have been collecting our thoughts and are going to do so in two parts.

Warning #1: if you approve of the policy itself or the manner in which this policy has come about, you will probably not like either Part 1 or Part 2 of our assessment, so you might want to just skip this post. Warning #2: if you want to see BCI go into the doctrinal issues or whether there should or should not be such a policy, you will also be disappointed. There are plenty of other blogs already going there.  Frankly, we are so troubled by the deception that underlies the policy, the process behind its creation, and the fast-tracking of this initiative while other archdiocesan priorities languish unattended, that it will take us two posts just to cover that.

We already pointed out some of the deceptive aspects of the draft policy in our November 10, 2010 post, Diocesan Deception in Catholic Schools Admission Policy? If you did not read that post, do check it out.  We were hoping maybe the archdiocese would fix the problems with deception once we published them, but instead, they have gotten even worse since then. If a policy or initiative like this clearly relies on deception out the gate, then one cannot help but question the whole thing.

We expressed our initial reaction to the policy in an email that we sent Thursday morning to Cardinal O’Malley, members of the Presbyteral Council, and Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.  This was in response to an email we received from a BCI reader. We checked our regular email and spam filter a few times Thursday looking for the response, and for some reason, whatever substantive response we are sure they have written did not make it to us yet.  Must be an Internet delay due to the residual effects of the Boston snowstorm. Below is the main substance of our email, with a few edits and additions.

Cardinal O’Malley, Presbyteral Council, and Archbishop Sambi,

As you know, the Boston Catholic Insider blog exists to promote integrity, good governance, and transparency.  When the archdiocese starts operating that way, the purpose for the blog and content for the blog will simply go away.

Can someone explain to Catholics why they should accept this policy when it opens with a deception?  Why does the policy open by saying, “In creating the Catholic Schools Admission Policy, we are guided by the words of the Holy Father,” when the words used were actually expressed by the Holy Father in the context of his request that ON A FINANCIAL BASIS, all children would have access to Catholic education?  How can you expect anyone to trust this archdiocese when the opening line of the policy is deceptive and misleading?  Did anyone actually ask the Holy Father and the Vatican for their guidance on this specific issue? See here for more details, where we give you the exact quote by the Holy Father:

“This sacrifice continues today. It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over three million children and students. It also provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”
How is the principle of subsidiarity maintained when the policy says pastors, principals, advisory and/or governing boards may develop specific admission policies for their school, but only provided they conform with the Archdiocesan policy? Are pastors not trusted to create their own policies to suit their local needs, as subsidiarity would actually call for?  Why is the spin explaining the policy in the Globe and The Pilot different than the actual wording in the policy? If the spin in the newspapers was really intended to be a part of the policy, why is the wording not in the policy? This is deceptive and disingenuous.


How can Mary Grassa O’Neill feel OK making the disingenuous statement, “We sought a process that would allow us to reach consensus on a policy” when she knows such a process was not attained, nor was consensus on a policy?  Sources familiar with the process say no consensus was reached, and that a great deal of input received from people who felt strongly about their positions was ignored.  Making this statement when in fact no such process was used or consensus reached is misleading and deceptive.  It is like saying, “We hoped to operate with integrity” when in fact they did not.  How much of the input from clergy and laity that you received in the “consultation” process was summarily ignored?  Why not at least try to be even a little more honest and say, “Initially we thought it might be nice to  have a process that would let us reach consensus, but could not in the end come up with such a process or reach consensus.”


Why was the policy announced to the Boston Globe before being announced to Catholic faithful via The Pilot and other archdiocesan communications? Was the intent of the policy to please the Globe rather than to preserve and enhance Catholic education for Catholics?


Why was this rushed through in about six months, when you are letting efforts to cut $2 million in wasteful spending of donor funds languish with no attention, setting the Church up for more layoffs of dedicated employees, cutting of important ministries–again–as well as possible state or federal sanctions? Why has this policy gotten significantly more attention by the Cardinal, his cabinet, the Presbyteral Council, and Archdiocesan Pastoral Council than cutting $1M+ in excessive six-figure salaries that could otherwise be used to fund the lay pension or clergy retirement funds?   The archdiocese continues to breach its fiduciary responsibility to faithful Catholics with no public statements or actions to address this grave problem.  Is appeasing Jack Connors a higher priority for the Cardinal and archdiocesan leadership team than sound governance of the archdiocese, prudent use of donor funds, and satisfying legal commitments to the pension and retirement funds?


Why did work on this schools admission policy evidently take higher priority for the Cardinal, Vicar General, and archdiocesan leadership than fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility to fund the estimated $200M+ shortfall in the lay pension and clergy retirement funds, which represent ethical and legal commitments to thousands of lay employees and priests?  Aside from the once/year priest appreciation dinner to raise $1M for the clergy funds, what is being done to raise $100-200M or more to fully fund the plan?  What is Fr. Bryan Hehir doing from his tony residence in Wellesley, 4th floor office in the Pastoral Center, office in Harvard yard, and with his six-figure salary and guaranteed cushy Harvard pension to solve this problem?  What is Jack Connors doing about the underfunding in pension and retirement funds?  Who decided, and why was it decided that this policy was a higher priority for the time and energies of our archdiocesan leadership, at the expense of time spent working on the retirement security of thousands of priests and lay employees? 

 Why did work on this schools admission policy apparently take priority for the Cardinal, Vicar General, and archdiocesan leadership rather than ending vigils at 5 closed parishes and saving $850,000 per year in wasted money?  The final canonical appeals for the vigil parishes were denied on July 15, 2010, nearly six months ago. As we wrote about in our last post, the vigils at these closed parishes are costing the archdiocese and donors approximately $850,000/year.   When will the archdiocese take the decisive action to end the protest vigils at these 5 parishes that have been going on for the past 6 years?  On what exact date will the archdiocese block access to the buildings, with no people allowed to enter those closed churches so as to end the vigils?


Why did the archdiocesan leadership have time to work on this policy, but no time to publish the budget of how you are spending $15M+ in donations by the people and another $16M+ in fees from parishes and other Corporation Sole entities? As part of the archdiocesan-touted Improved Financial Relationship Model, a 2010 Central Ministries budget was published, but we are now more than half-way through the 2010-2011 fiscal year, and no budget for the current fiscal year has been published. When will the 2010-2011 budget be published publicly?


In 2005, the Cardinal said that a policy to deal with banning Catholic speakers who publicly dissented from Church teaching from archdiocesan events should be developed, shortly after Fr. Bryan Hehir created a public scandal for his plans to honor Mayor Tom Menino at a Catholic Charities fundraiser.  More than five years have passed since then, but no policy is done yet.  Why has the policy to ensure that Catholics who publicly dissent from the faith not lead Catholic faithful astray by speaking at archdiocesan events been slow-tracked since 2005, yet this policy was fast-tracked?


Why was this policy a higher priority for the Cardinal, the Vicar General, and the archdiocesan leadership team, than writing letters to dozens or hundreds of pastors in the archdiocese who are still waiting to receive an official reappointment to their pastoral assignment.  When will the Cardinal and Vicar General stop treating pastors like itinerants or employees at will and leaving them hanging in limbo, and issue a letter that canonically renews their term?


Why was this policy a high priority for the Cardinal, the Vicar General, and the archdiocesan leadership team, when Cardinal O’Malley does not take time to respond to confidential letters he receives from priests and laity?  Will he ever take the time to respond to letters?


Why was this policy a higher priority for the Cardinal, the Vicar General, and the archdiocesan leadership team than communicating the goals for the Catholic Appeal, which needs to raise at least $15M to keep the lights on in the Pastoral Center and fund critical ministries.  When will those goals be shared–before or after the Appeal year ends in two weeks?


Why was this policy a higher priority for the Cardinal, the Vicar General, and the archdiocesan leadership team than implementing the anonymous whistleblower policy, recommended 4-5 years ago by archdiocesan auditors to help save money and avoid corruption. Why has the whistleblower policy languished for 4-5 years?  Why does the whistleblower policy finally now being implemented send claims of questionable behavior or ethical breaches right back to the same person, Chancellor Jim McDonough, under whom many of the infractions may have occurred?  Why has more time been spent on this Catholic Schools policy than has been spent on protecting the integrity of fiscal operations?


Why has this particular schools policy been fast-tracked with a lot of attention in the press, Presbyteral Coucil and Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, when teaching, sanctifying, and governance for the archdiocese is being so clearly neglected by the Archbishop of Boston?


That is what we have to say for Part 1, but there is more coming in Part 2.  Comments are welcome, but please do us a favor and do not comment on the doctrinal issues concerning the policy, as we will be moderating such comments.  There are other forums already deep into the debate over whether children of gay parents should or should not be admitted to Catholic schools.


ps. You may have heard that the director of the Catholics Come Home initiative, David Thorp, died on Sunday.  The wake will be held at St Edward the Confessor Church, 133 Spring Street (Rt 27) in Medfield from 3–8 pm on Friday, January 14. The funeral Mass will be held at St Edward’s on Saturday, January 15 at 11:00 am. The obituary can be found here.  We pray for the repose of his soul and that he rest in peace.

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