How the Boston Archdiocese Responds to Your Complaints

As some readers may know, a lay advisory group, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, meets with Cardinal O’Malley and the Vicar General every few months to discuss issues of importance to the members and the archdiocese.  BCI thought readers might find it interesting to see a few issues discussed at a recent meeting, and how the archdiocese responded to complaints.

The APC is described here as follows:

A lay advisory group seeking to represent the parishes to the Archbishop of Boston, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council is comprised of members appointed by Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley.

APC members are nominated by their pastor, and a lot of the APC members are members of their local parish councils. From this 2005 article when the APC was re-formed following the resignation of Cardinal Law, then-archbishop O’Malley said he saw the APC as a “vital” group and he was looking forward to “hearing the truth and to hearing all the council’s ideas.”

During the meeting, the typical format is that someone from the archdiocese presents some topic, and at the end of the meeting, there is a time for “What Do I Need to Hear?” when each member can share their feedback, questions, or concerns to the Archbishop of Boston.  Though this is now a little dated, here are a few items that came up during the “What Do I Need to Hear?” portion of the March 30, 2011 meeting, exactly as they are worded in the minutes:

“A commenter expressed dismay at the reappointment of chancellor Pastoral Center Cabinet member, his perception of “nepotism” at the Pastoral Center and the lack of a clear public accounting of the circumstances leading to the suit filed by the Daughters of St. Paul.

Someone recommended that the Archdiocese respond swiftly and honestly to the recent threats from the a former prominent Chancery employee about the lay pension plan.”

According to the minutes, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson responded as follows:

“He also informed the council that Fr. Foley was criticized in one of the blogs for spending money on a trip to New Orleans for a priests’ conference. Actually, Fr. Foley did not go the conference.”

If BCI understands the original question from the APC member, they were expressing dismay about the reappointment of Chancellor Jim McDonough to another 5-year term and about what appeared to be nepotism at the Pastoral Center. Perhaps it was perceived by the Vicar General that the person picked some of this up from BCI. So, instead of responding to the two legitimate issues, the Vicar General used a diversionary tactic–he discredited BCI by saying said the blog made a mistake on the reason why Fr. Foley was on a trip to New Orleans (a minor error which we acknowledged) and he ignored the actual issues conveyed by the APC member in “What Do I Need to Hear?”

There is more.  Here is how the minutes describe the subsequent response by Cardinal O’Malley:

“The Cardinal is puzzled by the attitude of chancellor former prominent Chancery employee with respect to his remarks about the pension plan. He was also disappointed that the attorney for the Daughters of St. Paul did not approach him about leaving the pension plan before filing suit. Both parties are now in mediation.”

The first part of the response by the Cardinal would no doubt relate to criticism by former Chancellor David Smith published in the Boston Globe over the changes in the lay pension plan that froze the previous pension plan and asked present and former employees “to choose to forfeit their pension benefits in exchange for a grossly inadequate one-time payout.”

BCI is puzzled that the Cardinal was puzzled by the criticism over the pension plan. Previous promises were broken and retirement benefits to former employees were cut. Why is it puzzling that former employees would vocipherously complain about this?  When people complain privately to the archdiocese and get no reasonable response, eventually they feel there is no other option but to go public with their criticism.

As for the Daughters of St. Paul situation, as BCI posted in “Diocesan Deception with Daughters” and “Daughters Lawsuit Settled, But…” , the claim by the Cardinal suggesting he was unaware of the prospect of a lawsuit and deflecting responsibility back to the Daughters’ attorney does not really hold water:

  • Trustees of the lay pension fund include Cardinal O’Malley, Chancellor Jim McDonough, (outgoing) Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson, priest-secretary to Cardinal O’Malley Fr. Robert Kickham, Fr. Bryan Parrish and Fr. Joseph K. Raeke. Are all of these people willing to go on the record and say that there was never any advance word at trustee meetings and they never saw anything in writing to them as Trustees that informed them legal action was a next step if this dispute was resolved? It is reasonable to assuume that correspondence to the Plan Administrator that potentially affected the fund in a substantial way–such as a potential lawsuit if the 5-year dispute was not resolved–would be brought to the attention of the trustees. Correspondence from the Pension Plan office was copied to all trustees, and the Cardinal is one of the trustees. Was he notified and did not read his mail? Did he not insist his staff keep him informed? Either way, whose fault was it–the attorney for the Daughters, or the archdiocese itself?
  • Furthermore, if the Trustees had acted effectively to resolve the situation after 5 years and preclude the legal complaint, then there would have been no lawsuit. In response to the question from the APC member about the “lack of a clear public accounting of the circumstances leading to the suit,” why is there no acknowledgment that the archdiocese may have messed up in their overall handling of the Daughters’ situation?
  • Lastly, as we know, the Daughters’ legal complaint was quietly filed on December 20, 2010 and the archdiocese did little to resolve it before word got out. We wrote about it in our March 9 post, citing publicly available information on the archdiocesan benefits website. The general public beyond BCI readers did not even know about the complaint until March 21 when the Boston Globe published their article–3 months after the legal action was filed. If the Cardinal was really troubled by the lawsuit, why did he not work double-time to settle it in the days and weeks right after it was filed, before it became public knowledge and a source of public embarrassment?

Since rebuilding trust seems to still be a priority for the archdiocese, BCI would recommend to the incoming Vicar General that the archdiocese find some way of taking more seriously the input and concerns raised by faithful Catholics. If the Cardinal and the archdiocese really want to hear the truth, it would be a good idea to respond to legitimate concerns by faithful Catholics in a way that i) acknowledges the validity of the concern, ii) acknowledges responsibility when the archdiocese bears some responsibility, and iii) shows some sense that meaningful action is being taken to do things differently in the future.

ps. There is still time to vote in the Catholic New Media Awards. BCI has been nominated in several categories. To vote, click here, then click on the link to register, give a valid email address, go to your email account and click on the confirmation link, and you will then be able to vote. It will take you only a minute to vote on your favorite Catholic blog(s)!

11 Responses to How the Boston Archdiocese Responds to Your Complaints

  1. Presbyter says:

    The problem as I see it is this; if you complain about stuff to the Archbishop or chancery staff, you are seen as somehow disloyal or anti-Church. I disagree with this premise as I am sure most who read this blog do as well. Until we can somehow break this thought process you are going to get responses like the VG gave at the meeting. They never want to hear that things are going badly and the Cardinal absolutely NEVER wants to hear anything negative or any kind of criticism, he physically withdraws from you if you have any criticism at all, it’s happened to me and I’m sure others can attest to this as well. It’s never going to change until those around the Cardinal change and are replaced by people who will force him to lead by the way they talk with him and present to him the needs of the people of God. Until the cycle is broken, of putting people close to the Cardinal who are just “yes” men, we will never see change. I like some of the people close to the Cardinal but in my opinion those closest to him are not doing him or us any favors by trying to shield him from critics…leaders do not back away from criticism, they deal with it because perhaps, it’s true and therefore it needs dealing with. Sorry for the rant.

  2. doubting pastor says:

    Have to agree with the above. The cardinal withdraws totally if confronted with any type of disagreement. I will never waste my time again. It seems as if he is sorely war-worn from all the fire-puttting-out that he has been asked to do and simply decompensates when hit with anything else.

    I have to commend BCI — this type of article is what I have come to look for in your reporting — it is one in which liberals and conservatives — old church and new church — those in the mix and those on the fray can wrpa their heads around. You don’t necessarily need any ideologoy except that the truth will set us free to get what you are speaking of.

    Thank you.

  3. jbq2 says:

    It is obvious that BCI is a big problem for the good Cardinal and becoming bigger. When this happens to people in authority, they retaliate. They do not dialogue.

  4. David W. Smith says:

    For the record, retired Chancellor David Smith (ME) sought a conversation with the Cardinal before making any public statement about the pension abuse by the Archdiocese. My request for a meeting or phone conversation was denied.

  5. Pastoral Center Staff Member says:

    Thank you David for trying to reach out directly.

    How can the Cardinal then also be upset that the Daughters didn’t apparently talk to him directly? His closest staff doesn’t allow priests and former chancellors from seeing him.

    • Mack says:

      Please don’t assume that the Daughters didn’t talk to him directly. From sources I can’t reveal publicly they tried to get his help but he delegated it to his “trusted staff.”

    • Michael says:

      I sure hope the truth is that he is being manipulated by Fr Hehir, Fr. Kickham, McDonough and Connors because it is hard to believe he is this incompetent.

  6. Liam says:

    Can anyone think of an archbishop of Boston who didn’t in some way resist being told what he didn’t want to be told?

    O’Connell? You gotta be kidding; the man behaved as if he were pope!
    Cushing: Perhaps
    Madeiros: Like O’Malley
    Law: On many issues, was like O’Connell.

    The red hat does not help. Boston Catholics should beg Rome to avoid giving out another one here for at least 100 years.

  7. bostonmwm says:

    Imagine what would happen if the Globe did some investigative reporting on non-celibate clergy. Not child abuse, but clergy who are sexually active – gay, straight, consenting adults in sexual relationships, in violation of their vow of celibacy. These numbers would dwarf the current child abuse crisis.

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