Boston Herald: Up in alms over salaries

The Boston Herald has an article today reporting on the high executive salaries in the Pastoral Center that is worth reading.  We excerpt from it below, and offer brief BCI commentary after the article.

Up in alms over salaries
Church asks for more as top Catholic administrators see pay spike

By Erin Smith
Wednesday, March 21, 2012

With the Archdiocese of Boston in the middle of its 2012 Catholic Appeal fundraiser, the number of church employees earning upward of $150,000 has skyrocketed by more than threefold even as the church has been shuttering parishes, a Herald review found.

In 2006, the archdiocese listed only five employees earning more than $150,000, but its latest annual report shows 17 “senior lay executives” topped $150,000 last year. Among the latest eye-popping salaries and fiscal details the review found:

•     Total compensation for Mary Grassa O’Neill, superintendent of the archdiocese’s Catholic schools, last year topped $351,000, surpassing the $323,222 earnings of Boston Superintendent of Schools Carol R. Johnson. 

•    The top archdiocesan lawyer totaled $326,169.

•    The recently departed chancellor, the archdiocese’s top financial officer, grossed $276,486.

•    Since 2006, the archdiocese has cut 50 staff members but payroll costs increased by nearly $1 million.

“To focus on salaries and not look at the broader picture is vastly unfair,” archdiocesan spokesman Terrence Donilon said about the high-priced laymen. “These folks are immensely talented people who are helping one of the largest archdioceses in the country repair itself. The church is in a much better position than it was 10 years ago and that’s in no small part due to the talented people the cardinal has brought around him.”

Donilon, whose compensation topped $193,000 last year, said that even though the payroll went from $8.3 million in 2006 to $9.2 million this year despite dramatic job cuts, the church has actually saved $250,000 in payroll costs over the past five years when taking into account inflation.

Council of Parishes chairman Peter Borre, whose group fights church closures, said the hefty payroll runs counter to “the basic spiritual mission of the Catholic Church.”

“The crushing overhead weight at headquarters is becoming an intolerable burden for many parishes, and if the archdiocese wants to cut costs, it should start with Braintree, not in the churches,” Borre said.

Donilon credited school superintendent O’Neill with increasing Catholic school enrollment in Boston and Lowell while slowing an overall decline.

“Mary had a great job at Harvard,” he said. “She didn’t need to take on this assignment, which is one of the toughest Catholic school assignments in the country.”

Just weeks ago, the archdiocese launched its annual Catholic Appeal — which raised about $13.7 million last year — only months after proposing a parish reorganization plan. Donilon said it’s too soon to say whether it will result in more church closures.

“The Catholics throughout Boston are expecting a major round of church closings regardless of what the archdiocese says and that’s going to make people hang onto their wallets,” Borre said. “What’s the point of throwing good money after bad if the overhead of the archdiocese is eating up the cash of the diocese?”

The Herald got most of the story correct, but there are a few details they missed.

  • The Herald’s look at the number of $150K+ employees in the 2006 fiscal year incorrectly assumed there were 5 employees making $150K+, when in fact, two of those employees left that year (David Smith and Ken Hokensen) and were replaced (by Jim McDonough and Scot Landry), so the positions were double-counted by the Herald .(See 2006 Annual Report).  In reality, the number of people making $150K or more per year increased from 3 in 2006 to 17 in 2011, for an increase of almost six-fold.
  • If you add up the salaries for the 3 people (Smith, Hokensen, and Donilon) making more than $150K in 2005, the year before the former Chancellor arrived, they total $553K. Add up the $150K+ salaries from 17 people for the 2011 fiscal year and you get nearly $3.5M, also a more than six-fold increase.
  • The compensation for Barbara Johnson, Boston Schools Superintendent may have been misreported in the Herald article.   See this April 2011 press release announcing the renewal of the contract for Barbara Johnson, which puts her salary at $266,750.: “At Superintendent Johnson’s request, her annual salary will hold steady at $266,750 – a voluntary decrease from the original salary of $275,000 when she first arrived in 2007. Dr. Johnson has also requested the removal of a provision in the contract that entitles her to a $600 per month car allowance.  Superintendent Johnson has never accepted the stipend since beginning her tenure with BPS. She uses her own private vehicle for all work purposes. Superintendent Johnson has also never elected to accept a performance-based compensation of up to $20,000 annually that the contract entitles her to receive.”  [Update: in a private email exchange with the Herald, they maintain from this source, that her compensation is $323,222)

    By the way, Johnson has direct operational responsibility and authority over hiring, budgets, teacher contract negotiation, busing, curriculum, etc for all Boston Public Schools, while Mary Grassa O’Neill, does not have similar operational responsibility and authority over Boston Catholic schools–they are managed locally. New York and Los Angeles pay their school superintendents $250K/year to directly manage school systems that are 15-20X bigger.

  • Not mentioned in the Herald Report about compensation for Terry Donilon is the fact that he is paid about $50K more per year than the previous lay Communications Secretary–an increase of nearly 45%, for no apparent reason. The former Chancellor, Jim McDonough was paid 30% more than his precedessor. Mary Grassa O’Neill is paid 12X more than her predecessor, a religious sister.  Three fund-raising VPs today are paid in aggregate about 3X what one fund-raising secretary was paid in 2005.
  • The comment by Terry Donilon that the church has saved $250,000 in payroll costs over the past five years when taking inflation into account merits more scrutiny.  First, we know that some salary expenses have been shifted off Central Operations to other related entities (e.g. sexual abuse victim counseling, clergy funds).  It is impossible from publicly disclosed reports to determine how much of the claimed “savings” is real, or how much has simply been shifted to other entities. Second, to whatever extent the total payroll-related expenses might have remained flat, it is largely due to the headcount reductions of lower-level people and freezing of lower-level salaries, while the $150K+ salaries grew.  Long-time BCI readers will recall how former Chancellor McDonough said in December 2010, “employees have not had a raise in four years,” which really meant that lower-level employees were not getting raises, while certain higher-paid employees did get raises.
  • If everything is just fine with the $150K+ salaries, then why did the Finance Council form a “Compensation Committee” to review executive compensation, and why did the Compensation Committee hire an expensive consultant to work on the problem? (see “Boston Archdiocese Bloated Payroll Inaction).
  • Administrative expenses have apparently grown from 26% of the total budget in 2005 to 36% in 2011. Many of these expenses are indeed loaded onto the backs of parishes who are struggling to pay their bills.  As we reported in “How Your Money is Spent, ” in the 2012 fiscal year, 36% of the budget ($9.95M out of $27.8M) is consumed by Administrative Services. By means of comparison, in 2010, Administrative Services expenses were 30% of the total budget (see “Easy Come, Easy Go“).  As a further comparison, if you look at the 2005 operating results in the annual report here, you will see that Management and General expenses (equivalent to Administrative Services, as best as we can tell) in 2005 were $10.1M out of total expenses of $37.9M, or 26% of the total.

BCI is also aware of the spin in the Terry Donilon email sent around last night. It will require a separate post to go into that.

For the ability of the archdiocese to continue her saving mission in the future and not be encumbered by high executive salaries and administrative expenses, we hope and pray that Vicar General Msgr. Deeley makes it a high priority to address the $150K+ salary and administrative expense problems in the very near future.

32 Responses to Boston Herald: Up in alms over salaries

  1. qclou says:

    not much hope for making the target this year !!

  2. OCCUPY says:

    Occupy Wall Street….. time to start Occupy Brooks Drive?

  3. Jack O'Malley says:

    BCI: we hope and pray that the Vicar General Msgr. Deeley makes it a high priority to address the $150K+ salary and administrative expense problems.

    I agree. Hope and prayer are all the recourse that is available to the fleeced sheep of the archdiocese.

    For the love of Lord Krishna, why do they not stop funding this shakedown?

    Om. Om. Om. Ooomm. Ooooooommmmmm.. (Sanskrit: ॐ).

    OK, enough hope and prayer. I have to go to my “stretching” class. Mmm. I’m learning techniques to “stretch” my salary to help Mary Grassa O’Neill afford her yoga classes.

    Namaste. (Sanskrit: नमस्ते).

  4. I’m still working on that letter to the Pope!

  5. Stephen says:

    She must be wicked wicked smaaht.

    “Mary had a great job at Harvard,” he said. “She didn’t need to take on this assignment, which is one of the toughest Catholic school assignments in the country.”

    And for this she appears to be the highest paid school administrator on planet earth?

    Is anybody buying this?
    It is an intentional poke in the eye to the faithful who are dialed in enough grasp the heresy at hand. Harvard indeed. Didn’t Cardinal Law attend the Crimson? Follow the handshakes.

    • DBP says:

      Things the Herald didn’t ask:

      – Why does the archdiocese need a Superintendent of Schools when there is no school system? Don’t principals control individual schools (and isn’t that what the parish-based school is, after all)?
      – How many six-figure “assistant” or “associate” or “deputy” superintendents do we have, and why do we need any of them (see above)?
      – Even if there were a school system (of if the archdiocese were planning to implement one some day), why would we pay a superintendent more on a per student basis than is paid to the superintendent of really difficult and problematic school systems (like Boston, New York, Chicago or LA)?
      – Regarding the other questionable big-money hires, who was the agent of such policy – was it McDonough? If so, why was he given such latitude?

      There’s a whole lot more here than the Herald revealed in this brief little article. We owe it to their readers to get their editors to dig for the real story.

      • Jack O'Malley says:

        Good point, DBP. I will do the job for $80K. That’s a reduction in my current salary. But at my age I don’t care. I will make sure that Traditional Catholic Doctrine is taught in every parish school and if any teacher, principal or cardinal or lesbian loudmouth gets in my way I will anathematize him or her in the blogosphere.

        But of course, that is an ideal scarcely to be hoped for. The Monk of the Sweet Brown Robe will prescind from any orthodox expression of the Faith. It’s in his precious personality.

        The Church is dead. At least in Boston. If not, where’s the evidence of Her vitality?

  6. BobofNewtn says:

    That was a great Herald article followed an equally great one by BCI! Kudos to both! The comments about the article from The Herald’s readers are quite interesting as well and are worth a read. What would be interesting indeed would be an investigation by the Attorney General’s Public Charities Division or the filing of legislation to deny the RCAB the tax free ride they get for the vast properties they own. Paying a school head that amount of money is moronic given the fact that there is no way to measure staff competence because the teachers there are not State certified! State certification of staff would allow families to compare staff competence with the Public or other private schools (like Winsor, Beaver, BBN, etc.).

  7. parishoner says:


    The simple answer is to have faith filled individuals
    who have mastered their subject area. Period.

    Give me a bright eighth grader who is smart, talented and
    willing to share knowledge over someone with a
    “Masters Degree in Education”——which are given out more freely
    than cupcakes —because they are peanut free, I assume!!!!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Terry D.

    They are not immensely talented. They are a bunch of leftover Jim McDonough cronies who would not make it in corporate America.

  9. Michael says:

    They are immensely talented … at taking people’s hard earned money that was donated to the Church for the benefit of the Church’s charitable work. Each of these bloated egos with their bloated salaries ought to be ashamed of themselves. Where I went to Catholic school we were taught that when you take more than your fair share, you are stealing.

    Mary Grassa O’Neill it is time for you to step down. Go back to Harvard and bring your liberal, anti-Catholic positions with you.

    And no, we don’t need STATE certification, we need CATECHITICAL certification. Do we really want the STATE jamming its liberal ideas into the Catholic School system anymore than it already has. That is all we need, the state to require Catholic schools to be tolerant of anti-Catholic positions.

  10. Michael says:

    And by the way, Mary, we would appreciate it if you would please return the money you stole.

  11. DisappointedontheSouthShore says:

    We have had a systematic removal of all actual Catholic doctrine in our local parochial schools here on the South Shore. It started when the Christmas shows started mentioning Kwanzaa, Chanukah, and reindeer, but no reference to the birth of Christ. Then, the following semester, it was the Global Warming play. Then it involved the removal of any “old school” Catholic teachers (who, BTW, were leading the Rosary – this doesn’t occur in our Catholic elementary school at all now). We ultimately home schooled our daughter for a couple grades, which included the Baltimore Catechism as its core. Now, she is in Catholic high school where they watch movies in Religion class (secular movies with a “Christian” – not Catholic – theme, generally with bad language, etc). There is next to nothing truly Catholic going on in even the “best Catholic” schools. There are gay, bi, and lesbian culture clubs. If I had it to do over again, we would home school all 12 years through Seton, and it is what I would advise any young Catholic family to consider. There is little to NO faith being taught in these schools, it has been re-branded by higher-ups into a “kinder, gentler Catholicism” which embraces and indulges one’s sin as opposed to trying to help one lean on Christ to get through troubled times. That is what these salaries and “national searches” have accomplished.

  12. Mack says:

    The cardinal won’t do anything about this unless the Catholic people of the Archdiocese withhold their contributions to the Catholic Appeal, and write to him to tell him why. I’m sorry to say that it seems unless the RCAB is hit in the pocketbook, they won’t fix this mess.

    • Michael says:

      I have not given for the past several years for that exact reason. I wish more people, especially the wealthy would help in this effort.

  13. Francois Tee says:

    I agree with Mack – the only recourse the people have is their pocketbook. The Church is not a democracy, the magisterium rules. Unfortunately withholding funds is the only thing that seems to work

    • Dan B says:

      Instead of just withholding funds from the Catholic Appeal, give it to some specific individual who is doing something directly related to being a Catholic.That person could be a priest, nun, brother, deacon, or layperson who can and is making a difference.

  14. Lazarus' Table says:

    Bl John Paul II liked to say that the Church does not have a mission; rather, the Church IS a mission. It is sent forth by Christ…

    It would be easy to get the impression the Church exists only to give people enough “religion” to provide comfort; or to employ the unemployable; or allow the impotent to exert power; or.. or.. everything but do what Christ commanded.

    Laypeople aren’t much better than clergy. Look at the number of comments on the various posts on this blog. Seems people get more riled and are more willing to speak up over yoga than some far more serious and basic issues.

    It’s not without reason that the laity is uninspired by their clergy, and not without reason the clergy are non-inspirational– where is their faith? Where is their bold witness? Episcopal leadership? Ha! Most just want to stay out of harm’s (legal) way and keep their local Catholic franchise going.

    Cardinals promise not to do anything to embarras the Church. I’d rather they promise not to do anything to embarras the Gospel– and keep that promise. But we see the sad truth that loyalty to the institution of the Church has replaced loyalty to Jesus.

    HHS mandates can get the bishops up in arms. Accused priests who have been vindicated are still left abandoned by their bishops. The sex lives of the laity are of more concern to them than their own faith lives and that of their priests and people.

    • DBP says:

      I’m a priest, and I think I have some standing to say what I’m about to say: there is very little FAITH left in the contemporary Church in the United States, and Boston is no exception.

      What is faith? Paul says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) Faith is directed toward the world we cannot see, the eternal Kingdom. Faith is not about things of this world – that’s “ethics” or “morals,” and these things have a huge role to play in what it means to be a Christian, but the preeminent characteristic of a Christian is faith.

      Why do I bring this up? Because we’ve lost sight of what it means to be a Church, an ekklesia, a people called out of this world to live in service to and to prepare themselves and others for the world yet to come.

      Ask anyone whether they’re going to Heaven, and the answer will be a definitive “yes” about 95% of the time. Really? Go to any funeral and listen to the eulogy (and, sadly, often the homily as well) to hear what people think Heaven will be like, and you’ll hear that the deceased and God are “kickin’ it,” or that God is obeying the deceased’s directions, or that the deceased is now and “angel” looking out for all of us….and much more. Really? Is that what Heaven is?

      You can’t blame people for such banal and simplistic views of the hereafter because (ta da!) a substantial number of priests ordained from 1970 to 1997 were never taught the faith and consequently never passed it on. Oh, sure, there were plenty of angry and “judgmental” words from the pulpit over temporal woes such as “social justice” and “tolerance” and….well, you’ve heard them all. But who’s listened to a homily on Revelation’s description of the liturgy of Heaven? Or on the consequence of mortal sin (i.e. living for this world instead of the next)? Or on the particular and final judgements? That is, listened to such a homily without becoming angry and denouncing the preacher as “pre-Vatican I” or “judgmental” (the only remaining sin, apparently).

      If “faith” is our goal, our aim should be on Heaven – first, last and always. If anything less than Heaven is our goal, it doesn’t matter where we aim.

      • parishoner says:


        Why not offer a retreat for the priests? Maybe they would like
        to understand more.

      • Stephen says:

        Thank you father. You are preaching to the choir.
        This may be a surprising response;
        Stop the use of Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers immediately.
        The faithful do not mind waiting for your consecrated hands.

      • Michael says:

        Father DBP,
        1. “loyalty to the institution of the Church has replaced loyalty to Jesus” – ABSOLUTELY CORRECT – as well as

        fear of the Globe over fear of God,

        political correctness over truth (Fr. Rafferty’s St. Paul’s in Hingham fiasco), and

        cowardess over courage (e.g.., closing Catholic Charities instead of fighting for religious freedom, hiding Mitt Romney’s institution of same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth while claiming to fight for traditional family values, and surrendering Catholic Hospitals).

        2. “HHS mandates can get the bishops up in arms” – But Mitt Romney’s precedent setting “Healthcare” legislation — a mandate in Massachusetts — got not one Bishop up in arms. Duplicity and utter lack of integrity on the part of the US Bishops.

        Thanks for the explanation on Faith.

  15. Stephen says:

    The broken record continues…
    Relativism is part of the heresy of Modernism.
    They ascend to “their own personal truth” which sounds
    innocuous enough, it is however NOT Catholic.
    What is truly frightening is that there are players in
    positions of power in the diocese who clearly know
    this is an evil inspired deception. Some call this the
    new church, as if Jesus needed an update of some
    sort. “Yoga used to be bad in the old days but we know
    better today” Out with the old, is really out with the Truth.
    Consider the rejection of the True Presence, can anybody deny
    that this heresy in our midst is the cause?
    Do you think that the disciples discussed Judas’s 30 pieces of Silver?
    Was it 30 or 29.50? Would you have done it for 300? Would Judas
    have done it for 20?
    If the hacks in Braintree get a 50% cut in pay will it cure the root
    I contend that the $325,000 figure was very specifically designed as a distraction by the “Brilliant strategist”. Do you really think the figure was pulled out of thin air?

  16. JUST WONDERING says:

    “JUST WONDERING” is still “wondering” why all that money is being paid for the “super” and her “superettes”? What are they “supervising?”

    If you want to experience a GREAT CATHOLIC SCHOOL, just visit EBCCS (East Boston Central Catholic School) and you will see Catholic in action. From a Faith Filled Principal to an extraordinary staff of teachers and aides. That’s “Catholic” education! Let’s fund them and give them a deserving raise. Why must all the “big money” to to the deep inner-city schools? There are some great ones “holding on by the skin of their teeth” but teaching religion and all the subjects that make up great education.

    A fantastic Principal (who is a former student of the school!!!!!) is one the Archdioces should be proud of and give a little extra help. I’m not denying help to the deep inner-city school, but EBCCS is deeply catholic and on target.

    I am so proud of each and every one of them. God Bless you all for the great work you are doing.

    • JUST WONDERING says:


  17. qclou says:

    leaders of a school are usually called ‘PRINCIPALS’ , and it appears that there is an appalling lack of principles around recent actions in Boston

    • JUST WONDERING says:

      “JUST WONDERING” qciou so sorry incorectly spelled PRINCIPAL in the above posting, but if your read my entire missive the PRINCIPAL I spoke of has tremendous “principles’
      which are passed on through her and her teachers. So if you or others want a place to send your money, make it
      “EBCCSchool, 69 London Street, East Boston 02128

  18. Martina says:

    So your complaints about Ms. O’Neill and Mr. Donillon are personal. You just “don’t like them” and your criticism does not seems to be based on their performance, that is “they are not doing their job.” Maybe you’re just a glass is mostly empty type of gal. I look back on the past decade and see a hecka of alot of prayers and leadership that saved this local Church from the brink.

    I find it ironical that you reach for a time where no one would dare question the decisions of the bishop and yet your criticism of the management is a direct criticism of the bishops decisions. You impugn his management integrity. And that is not right.

    • bostoncatholicinsider says:

      You showed up here about a week ago to start commenting on the yoga issue and criticized us with no context for this blog or any of the Boston history, making accusations that were totally unfounded. You obviously have no idea of the history of complaints about certain individuals or what we have documented for nearly the past 2 years, but you keep showing up anyway to criticize us. BCI and other readers have asked you several times to respond to specific questions, and you have refused to do so.

      On March 16, we said, “BCI suggests you probably should find another blog to read if you do not like this one.” We are asking you once again to find another blog to read and comment on.

      All are welcome to follow BCI. But some people show up and throw bombs without bothering to understand the history or context or without willingness to respond to questions posed to them. Those people wear out their welcome, and you are one of them. Any future comments from you will be moderated. You would be well served to find another venue for your comments.

    • Mack says:

      Martina, the issue is the absurdly large salaries that are being paid. Regardless of how well O’Neill does her job, the salary is way out of line for a non-profit institution to be paying. That’s the issue, which BCI has documented well.
      As for the bishop’s managerial acumen, that’s certainly open to criticism. The role of the bishop is to teach the Catholic faith. If the diocese is paying too much in salaries, the faithful have an obligation to tell the bishop he’s on the right track–especially when the bishop is asking them to fund this kind of excess!

  19. […] the wake of mainstream media coverage of how the Pastoral Center is paying 17 people more than $150K per year each (up six-fold since 2006) and how the payroll went from $8.3 million in 2006 to $9.2 million […]

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