How is Boston Archdiocese Caring for Clergy?

In the wake of the situation with Msgr. Arthur Coyle having been arrested for paying a prostitute, a number of BCI readers–including priests–are asking again about the episcopal leadership in Boston, and also about how Boston cares for their clergy.  This falls under the responsibility of Cabinet Secretary Fr. Kevin M. Sepe, Episcopal Vicar and Secretary for Parish Life and Leadership, and ultimately, to Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

One might want to assume the situation with Msgr. Coyle is a “one-off.”  Still, with the position of Director of Pastoral Care of Priests vacant for two years and the Director of the Office of Senior Priests also vacant (the diocesan website for the Office of Senior Priests currently listing as its director a priest who died in 2011), there is reason to question the archdiocesan commitment to care of clergy in need–whether those be spiritual or psychological problems, or being elderly or ill. Here are several of the reader comments that jumped out at BCI:

Lazarus’ Table says:
August 9, 2013 at 7:48 am

Anyone who points a finger at Msgr Coyle and shouts “Sinner!” is in dangerous waters himself. Only God can judge, only He knows the degree of Msgr Coyle’s culpability, all the circumstances that led him to act as he did.

There are, however, some things we can know:
1) There is no agent of the archdiocese in whom a troubled priest can confide in confidence (outside Confession). A priest who needs help will not seek it out of fear he will be “reported”, “sent away”, etc.

2) The Cardinal is not only the priest’s ‘spiritual father’, he is also responsible for the good of the entire archdiocese, i.e., the institution. The good of the institution will always trump the good of the individual. Over are the days when the shepherd will leave the 99 to go in search of the lost 1.

3) In the opinion of many in the hierarchy, Msgr Coyle’s greatest fault was not soliciting a prostitute but getting caught. His story is not unique. Priests “in a relationship” –with females or males– are an accepted fact. Just be discreet.

4) Priests are not “their brothers’ keeper”. Except for whatever friendship group a priest might be part of, priests are not solicitous for each other’s true well-being– spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical. A priest is on his own. His fellow priests will not confront him, correct him, reach out to him, embrace him, accept him.

5) Many priests are living lives of quiet desperation, they are hurting. They feel used and abused by the archdiocese, they fear abandonment in their incapacity, old age, sickness. Their legitimate human needs for affirmation, affection, security are absent from their life. If they do not find it in legitimate ways from the archdiocese, in their desperation they will go looking for it elsewhere.

6) Sometimes lay people, too, are too quick to judge and condemn. They don’t look upon priests as their brothers, and a priest who falls is denied the compassion and understanding that might have prevented his fall in the first place.

7) The current “pastoral plan” is sowing among priests additional seeds of isolation, non-accountability, loneliness, excessive stress, insecurity. The feeling of the need for self-preservation will grow. Spiritual desolation is replacing the experience of priestly fraternity and ecclesial encouragement and support.

8) Tragically, and worst of all, the Church has given ample witness that the Gospel is too impractical, if not impossible, to be truly and fully lived in the modern world.

Objective Observer says:

August 8, 2013 at 9:09 am

Three realities hit me when this story first broke:

1. Art Coyle’s fall from grace may be tough on him, but it’s tougher on the faithful. Whether people (priests and laity alike) cooperated with his edicts out of respect for the Church, or turned their backs on him out of disdain for his imperiousness, they now have no reason to hold RCAB leadership in high regard. None at all.

2. Boston Catholics deserve better episcopal leadership. Sean O’Malley has been here ten years, and the morale of diocesan priests has declined steadily since his arrival. This happened on his watch, literally. He has never done the job of archbishop right, and so far the only groups that have uniformly benefitted from his tenure are Rasky Baerlein, and the people he’s paid over $160,000 per year. We need an archbishop who takes personal responsibility to lead the souls in this Archdiocese. We need an archbishop who does not need to be surrounded by enablers.

3. The one who needs the most prayer here is the 38-year old woman arrested with Art Coyle. She is someone’s daughter, sister, mother and this is how she makes her living? Christ’s advice to a woman in similar circumstances was, “Go and sin no more.” Why aren’t we on our knees begging the Holy Spirit to open her heart and help her out of this hideous existence? And why aren’t we, collectively as the Church, begging forgiveness for fostering a landscape in Lowell where her profession is the best option for her? The Church’s top dog in the region was dragging her down further! Why aren’t we building an outreach to offer prostitutes a legitimate, humane way to make a living?

We will pass these comments along to Cardinal O’Malley, Fr. Sepe, and Vicar General Bishop Deeley and invite a response from them, but we will not hold our breath waiting.  In the meantime, we will remind folks of a few points we made two years ago in “Farewell Fr. Flavin.”

With the shortage of priests, many diocesan priests face excessive workloads and live alone or work in relative isolation from other priests. Psychologists agree that the problem of loneliness can be prompted or exacerbated by a stressful, hectic schedule that is not conducive to adequate self-care.Pope John Paul II (1992) addressed the issue of loneliness in the priesthood in Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds):

There is a loneliness which all priests experience and which is completely normal. But there is another loneliness which is the product of various difficulties and which in turn creates further difficulties. With regard to the latter, “active participation in the diocesan presbyterate, regular contact with the Bishop and with the other priests, mutual cooperation, common life or fraternal dealings between priests, as also friendship and good relations with the lay faithful who are active in parish life, are very useful means to overcome the negative effects of loneliness which the priest can sometimes experience”. [227]

Also, when Fr. James Flavin (then-Director of Pastoral Care of Priests) left Boston, then-Vicar General Erikson said:

With Fr. Flavin’s new assignment this summer, our priest services group is already working on a plan to continue Fr. Flavin’s work.  Father Foley, Episcopal Vicar and Secretary for Parish Life and Leadership, is assisted by Father Michael Medas, who serves as Director of Clergy Personnel. Fathers Foley and Medas are dedicated full-time to the care of the clergy. Fathers James McCune, Edwin Condon and Brian Clary assist with clergy services.

No one ever filled the role of Director of Pastoral Care of Priests.  Fr. Foley has moved on, and was replaced by Fr. Kevin Sepe.  Fr. Medas has moved on from being Director of Clergy Personnel and was replaced by Fr. Bob Blaney.  Fr. James McCune died in 2011 and no one ever filled the role of Director of the Office of Senior Priests. Fr. Edwin Condon is a Senior Priest his mid to late 70s (ordained in 1961). Meanwhile, the Clergy Funds are underfunded by $100M to $200M to pay for future benefits, with no plan to replenish them–just dinners and collections to try and keep the annual cash flow from bleeding red ink.

Feels to BCI like the Boston Archdiocese could do a better job caring for their clergy.  What do you think?

23 Responses to How is Boston Archdiocese Caring for Clergy?

  1. Well, we do know that wolf in sheep’s clothing Cardinal O’Malley never goes without his manicures, lives, vacations, eats and drinks like a billionaire, and has an expensive wardrobe, the Franciscan garb is only for when he pretends to care. He awards 6 figure salaries to leftist perverts, he bleeds parishes dry, all in the name of destroying the Catholic church in the state.

    • tryingtofigurethisout says:

      BCI why would you allow such a ridiculous posting by lolvincitonmia?……manicures?…..come on man

  2. 509jrb2301 says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Fr. Coyle, poor wretch, is a Judas priest. He needs our prayers. But he is far from unique. In our neck of the woods we have priests who feel they can change the liturgy as they like. Just a few examples: one priest insists on using “for all” instead of “for many” for consecration. Another breaks the host at consecration instead of later at communion time. These too are wretched betrayers of the Lord. And again, they break the law knowing that Cardinal O’Malley won’t discipline them no matter how outrageous the sacrilege.

    There’s a lot of talk about the new evangelization from the Cardinal, from our priests. Could it be the enthusiasm stems from the hope it will lead to larger collections? This layman remains skeptical of any of this talk until the new evangelization focuses on the renewal of the clergy. Nothing serious about the new evangelization will happen unless we start with the clergy. Nothing the Cardinal does means much until he faces this problem squarely,

  3. Robert Frank says:

    This problem goes much deeper. Great pressure is put on clergy and religious to be more than who they are in God’s eyes. At a young age they are set apart with funny clothes and titles. They think they have to have all the answers and lead people instead of sharing their journeys with other members of the faith community. Unfortunately, the religious and clergy begin to believe they are “set apart”. Thus, the loneliness and addictions. The most affective members of the clergy and religious life minister from their weakness.

  4. DBP says:

    Fr. Erikson’s comment about Fr. Flavin was disingenuous, at best. Fr. Flavin didn’t take a “new assignment;” Fr. Flavin “got out of Dodge” because he was being forced to act as the hatchet man for a group of priests who wanted to re-make the Archdiocese of Boston in their own image. Fr. Erikson, Fr. Foley and Fr. Connolly took advantage of the vacuum of leadership to purge the diocese of those they perceived to be “problem” priests. Rather than a moment of the possibility of grace, an occasion of sin became a terminus in the priestly lives of many good men. Fr. Flavin confided to more than one of us that he was heartbroken at the direction this troika was taking and, worse, at the errand-boy complicity he was being forced into. He jumped at the chance to do real pastoral work with brother priests.

    • Lazarus' Table says:

      DBP, I guess this troika is now gone (Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod??) but is this troika self-perpetuating? I mean, are the men currently in those positions any more honorable? Or are they more of the same? How to break the cycle?
      I’ve heard more than once that his ‘handlers’ keep the Cardinal and his priests isolated from one another, that the Cardinal doesn’t really get to know his priests first-hand, and that he himself is quite misled. Or has he willingly surrendered his authority to priests who have their own dea of what it means to be church? Hasn’t every recent archbishop had to deal with his share of self-appointed messiahs who want to re-make the archdiocese of their own image?
      In another post I grieved that troubled priests will not seek out help out of fear. Can you blame them? What happens to an accused priest? He’s put on leave, ostracized and abandoned by his bishop and diocese. And even if he is fully exonerated, he has scars that will remain, financial burdens that will bury him, and still a restriction on his priestly ministry. Why? Is the church bowing to pressure from the State and Attorneys General? If this were the first century I’m afraid our bishops would be burning incense to Caesar and offering an occassional priest in sacrifice.
      DBP, you referred to the possibility of a moment of grace; how wonderfult that would be. Why/how do we keep missing those moments? Is grace, i.e., the favor of sharing in divine life, even a concern any more? Have we divinized the institution and, in effect, become idolators who have forgotten Jesus?
      In October that special group of Cardinals, including our own, will meet with Pope Francis to advise regarding some reformation in the church. What will they tell him? How will they portray what they have accomplished in their own dioceses? How will they affect Francis’ thinking and discernment? Will Francis be given a “true picture”? This could be a moment of grace. Or it could become, once again, a terminus in the health and life of the Church.
      What can we do?

      • DBP says:

        Yes, the troika is no longer in power, but that doesn’t mean their effect is not still being felt. The cardinal’s total abdication of responsibility for running the archdiocese continues, and newer models of the troika have been installed. The newer models in charge of the pastoral welfare of the clergy may not have the same determination to drive out those they perceive as miscreants, but then they don’t have to. The older models (now, thankfully, in other positions within the archdiocese) hired a permanent “hit man” to continue their legacy. He’s a former prosecuting attorney, from a legal background quite foreign to the Church’s own canonical legal system, and he’s ensconced in an office dedicated to protecting the Church from her priests. He doesn’t understand the Church, he doesn’t understand the priesthood, and he’s not going away.

        Clearly, the treasure of the Church (in Boston, at least) is no longer her poor and her sinners. Unlike the archdeacon St. Lawrence, the administrator(s) of this archdiocese believe that her treasure is made of gold and silver, not flesh and blood.

  5. Justyn Tyme says:

    October is coming and O’Malley will be off to Rome. I suspect a plan has already been in place for a while that this trip will begin the first phase of his permanent transfer to Rome where he will head a Congregation/Department. He has compromised his Episcopal Ministry in so many ways e.g.abdication. Also plans have probably been in place for a while as to who his successor in Boston will be.
    Remember, Bishops come and go, its the priests that remain. Also a Bishop has as much power as his priests allow. Priests of Boston:
    Pray, Unite, Organize and take back your priesthood after the Heart of Christ the Good Shepherd. It has to begin with you. Remember what Jesus said: “Fear is useless, it is Trust that is needed.”

    • Liam says:

      O’Malley is not going to run any congregation. Not his strong-suit. He’s mostly likely going to stay in Boston for 6-8-ish years, and will probably initiate a process for a coadjutor after he turns 75.

  6. South Sjore Catholic says:

    I, as a retired employee of RCAB, I am very happy to see that BCI has returned to its roots. It was marvelous, in the beginning, to see that the machinations of the diocesan machine were being exposed.

    Then, the blog began to lean very heavily to the right. The commenters went on the attack and I began to be embarasesd by what I was reading. I am not a theologian. However, I do know enough scripture to know that…
    “judge not, lest ye shall be judged”…”the measure with which you shall be measured shall be measured unto you”, etc. It is my opinion that BCI has tolerated many more judgmental posts than wisdom should allow.

    I personally know a troubled priest who was counceled by Fr. Flavin and then, that councelling was undermined by one of the tri-umverate whom you identify…the result, the loss of a wonderful priest who, while troubled, had much to give to the Archdiocese.

    Please, BCI, decide on your mission!

  7. Fr Jim Smith says:

    I just found your blog. Unfortunately, the situation in Boston is far from unique. Bishops have become managers and not very enlightened managers at that. The comments about priests not trusting their managers is common in most dioceses. The lay people need to stress to the bishops that without priests there will be no Church. We should remember that it takes six (6) years from the time a man first contacts a bishop until he is ordained, and there seem to be very few replacements in the pipeline (can you blame any sane man for not wanting to subject himself to this extraordinary level of managerial imbecility that we see in most dioceses today?).
    While I do not support the Monsignor’s alleged activities, I can understand them. The Church must improve the living conditions of its priests. A good start might be to pay a living wage, then they must have a spiritual, compassionate, HOLY, vicar for clergy to shepherd the priests. I could go on, but I think you get my point. People need to help their priests.
    Please pardon my use of a pen name, but I do not wish to be sent for “treatment” as some type of unreasonable malcontent. Like many priests, I am rather malcontented, but the solution is to correct the institution (it really would not be that difficult, not should it involve drastic changes).

  8. RONALD GOMES says:

    Is not a bishop to be both a brother and a father to his priests? It is not happening in Boston, shamefully. Before entering the seminary I served for over twenty years in the military. In one month of that career I experienced more fraternity, a sense of belonging and bring valued, than I have in over twenty years in the priesthood.
    The cardinal’s two predecessors at least knew who we were and
    cared for us. If you are Opus Dei, Neocatechumenate, or Communion and Liberation you are fine, Diocesan priests step to the rear of the line. I have not and will not encourage anyone to study for the priesthood in this diocese. I recommend they study for a religious order. They take the vows of poverty and the diocesan clergy live them. Now, the diocese will not cover nursing home fees. How sweet. They tell us to go on Medicaid. The state should sue the Archdiocese if any priest goes on medicaid. According to Canon Law a bishop is responsible for the care of his priests . Never again will I ask the people to support the Clergy Funds. Than the people deserve better this.

  9. Inquiring Minds Want to Know says:

    Boston priests have seen their benefits shrink faster than a wool sweater in the dryer. Dental bills and medical bills are often “not covered.” What’s a Boston priest whose 75 years old supposed to do? Get a job so he can make the money to pay the bills he was told the Archdiocese would ALWAYS pay?

    Boston priests, active and retired, would love to have the same funding and benefits as the Neo-cat “seminarians” I think. Per people I talked to in East Boston:

    There have been over 25 Neo-Cats who have had everything from haircuts to airplane tickets paid for by RCAB or the seminary, and only two have been ordained in the ten years of this charade. All their healthcare is paid for. Their books, vehicles and insurance are paid for by RCAB, or one of the real seminaries in the diocese. And on top of everything being bankrolled for them, they hold an annual fundraiser and keep all the money! To fund what, exactly?

    How many neo-cat “seminarians” are actually studying full time at the real seminaries in Boston? In East Boston I was told that the majority of them spend several years traveling on “itinerancy,” which delays their ordination. Then once they are (if they are) ordained, they don’t have to continue as Boston priests — they can be sent anywhere by someone named Kiki or Kiko. Sounds like a plot from Monty Python.

    If this is true, someone should trot out the word e-m-b-e-z-z-l-e and see if it fits. If donations to the seminaries and the Archdiocese intended to fund the studies of future Boston priests, are used to pay for these neo-cat guys to study, eat, drink, travel, travel and travel, why aren’t more of them ordained by now? Isn’t that why we give our donations to the seminary and RCAB? Why can’t a guy from Quincy or Stoneham get this same deal? And why when they are ordained, are they not a Boston priest forever? Why don’t we take care of our own priests (active and retired) as well as we do the neo-cat “seminarians?” Why is the neo-cat boarding house called a seminary when it is a house with no academic program?

  10. MikeMike says:

    I have to agree with Gomes, I am also a priest in this Archdiocese who after many years of faithful service feels totally abandoned by the Archdiocese. The lack of leadership by this diocese is astounding…they continually ask more and more of us and refuse to take into account the human being. No one care about how we feel, what is going on in our lives, how they can help, paying us a fair and just wage, or meet our spiritual needs. Yet, the cardinal can lavish his cronies with 6 figure salaries, have his travel budget raised by an additional 100k to the tune of 250K a year, and lavish benefits on the neo-cats. Shame on you ! Say what you want about Cardinal Law but at least he attended priest’s wakes/funerals and their families, and cared about us. All we have now is a depressed leader who doesn’t care about his priests….thanks a lot !

  11. Concerned Parent says:

    This is horrible. I (and probably the majority of the laity here in the AoB) had no idea that this has been going on. Our elderly and retired priests deserve better after devoting their lives to serving us. Perhaps the laity needs to create an independent foundation to raise money to care for our elderly priests, since their financial support is apparently not a high priority allocation for the AoB.

    Thanks, BCI for helping to inform us in regard to the injustices occurring here. I appreciate the posts here, which I find informative rather than “judgemental”. As St. Paul tells us, we need to “reprove, entreat, and rebuke in all patience and doctrine”, but we can’t do so if we have no idea what is going on.

    • mikemike says:

      Thanks for the support CP…did you also know that each priest has to file taxes as being self-employed ? That’s just another gift from the diocese to each one of us…but heaven forbid we don’t collect a second collection that they impose on the parish and suddenly we are not self-employed but belong to them !

  12. Lazarus' Table says:

    Ronald Gomes, I’m afraid you are correct. I would say Boston’s archdiocesan priests are being slowly “euthanized” to make room for the “real” priests ( Opus Dei, Neocatechumenate, or Communion and Liberation) but euthanasia is supposed to be a painless form of death. And a Boston priest’s life is anything but painless. I overheard one priest saying to another who was going to attend a clergy cookout: “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid”.
    Concerned Parent and other laity, if you can help priests, PLEASE! Priests are not sissies, they don’t need to be coddled; but they are human beings who cannot be treated as objects, nor denied basic human respect and dignity without consequence. Advocate for justice for your priests. Stand up and speak out for those too beaten down to speak for themselves. Most priests are willing to make tremendous sacrifices but when they themselves are hurting and in need, their strength and spirit is sucked right out of them. Their religious superiors are quite willing to entrust them to “God’s care” and will step over their fallen bodies. (These superiors don’t rely on “God’s care” during Appeal time; priests are pushed to make sure YOU respond.) Please, laity, you take the initiative. And for the love of God, keep the hands of the AoB off of your efforts.

  13. sarah says:

    The AOB is not caring for their priests. Have they checked in on the 12 disciples who have taken over the collaboratives? Double, triple the work and that is just the beginning. They are expecting these men to take care of the neglected properties with little to no money, cut staff and layoff people, and most importantly, if they have any energy left, to evangelize and bring people back to the faith. This is taking a serious toll on our limited number of priests that we have. As laity, we need to stand up for our priests and tell the AOB to ease up on the expectations of these individuals before they run them into the ground.

    • Lazarus' Table says:

      Sarah, thank you for your caring. Definitely pray for priests but also, if you can, continue to publicly voice your concerns for their well-being and demand their needs be met. Maybe the laity can organize and methodically begin to do for priests what the AoB does not. Be shepherds to the sheperds– to the priests in your parish, to the retired and elderly priests, to falsely accused priests who have been abandoned. Offer them your friendship, hospitality and support. The AoB can treat their priests harshly but they are powerless to intimidate the laity. As much as they would like you to believe otherwise, the can’t keep you out of heaven. They’ll be lucky to make it there themselves.

    • Justyn Tyme says:

      Sarah, I applaud your desire that “we stand up for our priests..”
      but they are grown men and need to learn to stand up for themselves and if they don’t know how they need to learn.”
      They need to stop being victims/people pleasers and learn to say NO and not feel guilty. Get Healthy! They need to say NO to whomever it is that is making unrealistic demands/expectations on them e.g Cardinal, Vicars, Collaborative Pastors. There is so much they are doing on a daily basis that has nothing to do with Ordination. The laity can do those things. Share the Ministry, otherwise these good men will be “run into the ground.” How about all of us make T Shirts that say ” Support Our Priests” and actually wear them in public. Also send one to Cardinal Sean!

      • mikemike says:

        Justyn, I appreciate your comments however its more than just standing up for ourselves…especially when you are older and face the consequences of your comments. Many older priests were assured by the diocese that they would be taken care of after they retired and thus were told not to have social security taken out of their pay. that went on for years ! Now the diocese makes us (thank goodness) however when a priest speaks out and gets in trouble with the diocese they pull your faculties and at times suspend your pay…now what ? What do you do with yourself when you have been a priest for 30 or 40 years and find yourself with no support and no pay? We do stand up for ourselves and many of us stand up for our parish and parishoners and continue to do so…its not the latin- rite or neo cats or opus dei this diocese needs its leadership from good holy men…its not the exterior but the interior that makes a difference….so often I have been with conservative priests who dress the part/play the part but whose hearts are far from God. Its the heart that counts not the clerical garb.

  14. Mack says:

    I am concerned about the situation of the priests who are disheartened in their ministry. We all need to pray for them more and show them appreciation and gratitude for their priestly service and dedication.

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