2010 Year in Review

January 2, 2011

With it still being New Years weekend, we would like to take this final opportunity to look back on the year that just closed.  Our frame of reference is mostly through the lens of the blog, mostly from after the blog started (AB), though we will share a few things from before the blog (BB).

The main events and themes revealed this past year were deception by the highest levels in the archdiocesan leadership, a reorganization of the Cardinal’s cabinet, continued  dismantling of the archdiocese (exemplified by the selloff of Caritas Christi), more Pastoral Center layoffs, major financial difficulties for 40% of parishes that are running a deficit, increased spending by the Pastoral Center on six-figure salaries, fiscal mismanagement, and a continued decline in weekly Mass attendance.  In the face of these problems, we saw an even more visible display of the episcopal leadership vacuum filled by powerbroker Jack Connors, Fr. Bryan Hehir, and Chancellor Jim McDonough, some attempts at evangelization, and the emergence of this blog, Boston Catholic Insider, dedicated to sharing the goings-on and exposing corruption in the archdiocese.

Below is a list of our top events of 2010. (If we missed any big ones, please let us know).  There is no priority order—they are just events we think are reflective of the past year and suggestive of what is to come in the future.

  • Boston Archdiocese sells off the Caritas Christi hospital system to Cerberus, a private equity firm whose name is the same name as the 3-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades.  (click on picture to zoom/enlarge). External spin was that the sale was necessary to maintain long-term financial health of the hospitals, even though Caritas had announced a financial turn-around months before the deal was  brokered which supposedly marked a foundation for long-term fiscal health with no acquisition.  Cardinal O’Malley, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson, and Fr. Bryan Hehir all publicly deceive the archdiocese with statements that the Catholic identity of the hospitals would be maintained forever, when in fact, the agreement allows Cerberus to drop  the Catholic identity for a $25 million payment after 3 years if deemed “burdensome” by them.  (Themes: deception, influence by Jack Connors and Fr. Bryan Hehir, conflicts of interest, dismantling the diocese, episcopal leadership vacuum).
  • Archdiocese reduces staff by 10% in June 2010, mostly by laying off low-level, long-time dedicated employees.  No people making six-figure salaries were affected.  Six-figure salaried employees who had previously taken a 5-10% pay cut to help balance the budget had their salaries increased back to previous levels. (Themes: fiscal mismanagement, poor get poorer while rich get richer, leadership vacuum)
  • Pastor of St. Pauls in Hingham (Fr. James Rafferty) rejects admission to the parish school for a child of lesbian parents. He is thrown under the bus for his decision by Jack Connors, the Catholic Schools Foundation, and schools superintendent Mary Grassa O’Neill (click on picture to enlarge). An admissions policy is drafted and advanced in approval processes amongst school principals and clergy which deceptively uses words of Pope Benedict XVI out of context as basis for the policy and rejects canonical principles of subsidiarity that would allow pastors/parishes to make such decisions themselves. (Theme: deception, influence by Jack Connors and Fr. Bryan Hehir, episcopal leadership vacuum)
  • 40% of Boston archdiocesan parishes are in the red and cannot pay their bills. Publicly disclosed figures put weekly Mass attendance at about 17%, and we hear the number has actually dropped to more like around 12%.  Pastoral planning process advances to combine multiple church buildings into parishes.   (Theme: continued decline of the diocese)
  • 5 closed parishes maintain protest vigils, after final canonical appeals were exhausted in 2010, and in some cases more than six years after they were ordered closed.  For vigil parishes, no one has the guts to simply block people from entering the churches and thereby end the vigils. Cost to the archdiocese to maintain all closed parishes is more than $1.5 million per year.  (Themes: fiscal mismanagement, episcopal leadership vacuum)
  • Powerbroker Jack Connors and Chancellor Jim McDonough reorganized the Cardinal’s cabinet (starting in the winter of 2010 through summer and fall) pushing out the previous Secretary for Institutional Advancement, Scot Landry, from that role. Their vision was, and is, to forsake the “widows mite” in fund-raising and instead go after primarily deep-pocketed donors.  (Themes: influence and consolidation of power by Jack Connors and Jim McDonough, episcopal leadership vacuum)
  • New Development Chief, Kathleen Driscoll, was named after a “sham search” where the Cardinal, Jack Connors, and Vicar General  Fr. Richard Erikson formed a search committee and told everyone in the archdiocese a real search was underway, when in reality, Ms. Driscoll had been identified as the choice before the search was ever announced.  The new fund-raising entity puts all fund-raising under the control of Jack Connors’ former Hill Holliday exec,  Driscoll, leaving the Cardinal and archdiocese further beholden to Connors’ agenda.  In sports, one might call the sham search analagous to a “head fake”—namely where a player moves their head one way to fake a change in direction. Outside of sports, one might call the explanation given internally by the Vicar General—that there were two parallel tracks to the search, one a public search that never took place and the other an internal search—either a “deception” or an outright “lie.”  (Themes: deception, influence and consolidation of power by Jack Connors, conflict of interest, cronyism, dismantling the diocese, episcopal leadership vacuum)
  • Boston Catholic Insider blog launches June 23, 2010. Chancellor’s decision to block archdiocesan access to the blog resulted in greatly increased public visibility for the blog, including articles in the Boston Globe and by the Associated Press. Communications chief, Terry Donilon, complained about “unfounded claims” on the blog, but never identified even one such claim.  By the end of 2010, the blog had 100 posts, 1,330 comments, and 150,000 pages viewed by 91,000 unique visitors from around the world.  With 80+% of traffic coming from the greater Boston area,  we estimate that about 3X more Boston-area people have read the Boston Catholic Insider blog than regularly read the archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot.  The blog publishes an Open Letter to Cardinal O’Malley and archdicoesan leaders on August 23 (and updated September 15) asking for action on a number of issues.  Perhaps coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, the following have happened in follow-up of that open letter regarding issues in the letter.
  • Excessive Compensation in Six-Figure Salaries: Compensation Committee formed by Archdiocesan Finance Council
  • Whistleblower Policy:  About 4 years after auditors recommended the archdiocese create an anonymous whistleblower policy, the Chancellor finally did something.  He has hired Ethicspoint to host the system and the policy is nearing implementation, albeit with flawed processes around it that would make the policy ineffective if implemented as planned. (Stay tuned for more on that).
  • Names of Finance Council and Committee Members: Were anonymous for past 2 years, but now posted publicly.
  • Names of Trustees for Clergy Retirement Fund: Were finally disclosed to the clergy.  We are still awaiting the names of the trustees for the lay retirement fund six months after we asked.
  • Search for New Development Chief:  No change in direction was made after the blog started reporting on the “sham search.”  After we reported for months on the sham search, the Archdiocese confirmed it with the announcement of Kathleen Driscoll, further hurting their own credibility
  • Search for Mass Catholic Conference executive director: at least a head of the search committee, Bishop Coleman, of Fall River, was beyond criticism when the search was announced.  However, other members of the search committee have raised concerns about ties to Fr. Bryan Hehir, Jack Connors, and an agenda other than the advancement of Catholic teachings in public policy, thus the search is considered tainted.
  • Priest Appreciation: In conjunction with the Priest Appreciation Dinner, the blog launched a priest “shout out” where writers thanked more than 75 archdiocesan and religious order priests for their ministry.
  • U.S.C.C.B President Election: On a national level, Boston Catholic Insider took a short-lived detour from matters of Boston governance and corruption and contributed in at least some way to the public dialogue and derailing of the candidacy of Tucson bishop Gerald Kicanas for USCCB President.  Our “Red Alert” campaign enabled Catholics to voice objections to his candidacy directly to bishops based on past handling of allegations of sexual improprieties .  The AP, USA Today, America Magazine, Commonweal, and other national publications all reported on how Catholic bloggers had urged readers to send protest faxes and leave messages for bishops at the hotel where they are meeting.  America Magazine said, “e-mails and faxes to the bishops were apparently piling up in the bishop’s Baltimore hotel rooms.”  We cannot claim anything about BCI’s impact on the election beyond merely saying we contributed to the dialogue and played some role in enabling people to communicate their concerns with their bishops.   This last point being said, the Kicanas effort does show the demand on the part of Catholics for some vehicle to communicate with their bishops, and the impact which is possible when such vehicles exist.   This is not the last campaign you will see from BCI!
  • Cardinal O’Malley went to Dublin to serve on an apostolic visitation to Ireland in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in that country.  He told people “I am here to listen.”  (We hope we hear the same words expressed from him in Boston soon). Cardinal Seans’ blog, by the “first blogging Cardinal” evolves almost entirely into a photojournal of the Cardinal’s travels and meetings with friends and family members, portraying a bishop increasingly removed from teaching, sanctifying, and governing in Boston. (Theme: episcopal leadership vacuum)
  • Lay pension plan frozen: for about 10,000 church secretaries, parochial school teachers, and other lay employees.  Chancellor tells Boston Globe that archdiocesan employees had not had pay raises for 4 years, a statement contradicted by the reality of diocesan annual reports and many employees who indeed received cost of living increases as recently as the 2007-2008 fiscal year. (Themes: deception, fiscal mismanagement)
  • On the evangelistic  front, the archdiocese launched “The Light is On For You” to make confession available to Catholics on Wednesday evenings in Lent and most recently in Advent.  Feedback has been positive.  In addition, a new effort to reach out to fallen-away Catholics, “Catholics Come Home” will be coming to Boston in 2011. (Theme: evangelization)
  • On the vocations front, St. Johns Seminary is prospering despite the other problems in the archdiocese.  In fact, they are reaching capacity to accommodate full-time students and need more space—space the seminary once owned and which a Vatican visitation committee had recommended not be sold or given away, but which was sold anyway by the Cardinal and Chancellor James McDonough to raise money for the archdiocese.  (theme: episcopal leadership vacuum)

The Boston Catholic Insider blog has enjoyed some very proud moments and also weathered our share of criticism.  Amidst ups and downs, we are told that we have finally given a voice to those whose complaints were going unheard and who viewed there as being little hope of recovering the Catholic Church that many people have known and loved in Boston.  One person recently wrote and said the following:

“The blog has brought to reality my longtime desire to enable this particular Church to know the truth…without being traumatized into still another heartache.  The blog has pulled back the curtain with good will, good humor and, most importantly, superb documentation.  No hearts were broken to produce this blog!  (OK, maybe a couple of frowns cracked around #66, but that was to be expected.)

The abuse crisis, and to a lesser extent the parish closings and the pension mess (both lay and clergy) have resulted in some people punishing themselves by separation from their sacraments.  They wanted to slam the door on the people who broke their hearts, but instead they slammed themselves out.  The blog is allowing a difficult truth to be understood, and most importantly, allowing people to think how to go about addressing it. They aren’t storming out of the Church — they are storming into the conversation.

Congratulations on six remarkably strong months, with few hiccups!

We feel very good about what the blog has accomplished in the past six months.  Now, onward and upwards to the challenges and opportunities of 2011!

Top 10 Ways to Improve Cardinal Sean’s Blog

December 20, 2010

This week, we will hit our 6-month anniversary blog post.  Before we get to that milestone, in response to reader complaints and frustration with the content of Cardinal Sean’s Blog, today we weigh in with some thoughts on his latest post and his blog in general.

We respect the significant commitment the Cardinal has made to his blog as a means of communicating, and he obviously has been at it a bit longer than us.  Still, we have learned a few things over 90+ posts and felt he and the people who support him with writing, editing, and technically implementing the blog content might benefit by some feedback.

In the Cardinal’s most recent post it took digging through 53 pictures and photographs and 35 page-downs to learn what Cardinal Sean did in Paraguay: he stopped in Buenos Aires en route, celebrated a number of Masses, visited the nuncio and his menagerie of animals, received an honorary doctorate degree and medallion, gave a talk on Catholic education, met with some Paraguay bishops, had a service at a Capuchin church, flew on a small prop jet to the City of San Pedro, received a key to the city from the mayor (in appreciation for benefactors in Boston who supported initiatives to feed local-area poor families and children), and met with the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay and President of Paraguay. 

A lot of activity and photos in one trip, but one might ask, how did any of this help the Archdiocese of Boston, or even Paraguay for that matter?  We cannot tell from the post. 

We realize there are certain things one has to do as Cardinal.  But the question we keep asking ourselves every time we read his blog is whether Cardinal Sean’s blog reflects what he is actually spending most of his time doing, or does it just reflect the parts of his weekly schedule that he and his advisors feel are of interest to Boston Catholics?  Either of two situations must be going on:

Situation I
The blog does accurately reflect what the Cardinal spends most of his time doing—traveling outside of Boston, attending fund-raisers, performing ceremonial functions, and celebrating Masses in different locations.  If so, then what should the priests and laity of the archdiocese do to encourage the Cardinal to limit his travel and whatever even small amount of time is spent blogging, and instead spend more time on the responsibilities of the ordinary to teach, sanctify, and govern in Boston?


Situation II
The blog and other public communications do not accurately reflect what the Cardinal is doing to teach, sanctify and govern in Boston. If so, perhaps if the Cardinal and his team get some feedback that people want to see his teaching, sanctifying, and governing more strongly demonstrated publicly, then he might change the content of his blog, his public schedule and other public communications to address this need—all for the greater good of the archdiocese.

We do not have direct access to the daily schedule for the Cardinal so cannot tell you definitively how many days per month he spends in Boston vs elsewhere and whether we are dealing with Situation I or Situation II.  We will simply share thoughts on the blog in general that would apply in either case.

Why People Want to See More About Teaching, Sanctifying, and Governing

In Pope John Paul II’s general audience of October 28, 1992, he said the following:

As successors of the apostles, bishops are called to share in the mission which Jesus Christ himself entrusted to the Twelve and the Church. ..The mission of individual bishops is fulfilled within a strictly defined sphere…The individual bishops…exercise their pastoral government over the portion of the People of God committed to their care, and not over other churches nor over the universal Church” (LG 23).

The majority of bishops exercise their pastoral mission in dioceses…We read again in the [Second Vatican] Council: “Individual bishops who have been entrusted with the care of a particular church–under the authority of the Supreme Pontiff–feed their sheep in the name of the Lord as their own ordinary and immediate pastors, performing for them the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing” (CD 11)

Are we in Boston entitled to want to see these sorts of activities more visibly demonstrated and communicated by our bishop through venues that might include his blog?  Does Cardinal Sean’s blog reflect this exercising of his office?  We wish it did, but just do not see it in the blog. 

What Could Be Improved with Cardinal Sean’s Blog

The most typical complaints we hear about what is posted to his blog are the following: too many pictures, too many functions that seem to have nothing to do with Boston, too many parties and photo-opps with big-money donors and wealthy advisors, too much travel outside of Boston, too little use of the blog for teaching, and too little about governing in Boston. 

We also hear complaints about how the Cardinal (or his writer, Pilot editor Antonio Enrique) expresses his experiences amongst the rich and famous.  Here are a few examples:

  • Last September, in communicating his presence at the funeral of Sen. Ted Kennedy,  Cardinal Sean wrote:

 “the music was outstanding with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus enriching the liturgy along with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham who later sang an absolutely striking rendition of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”  Cellist Yo-Yo Ma graced us with his beautiful solo performance of Bach and later joined Placido Domingo, who sang the “Panis Angelicus.”  Placido has a superb voice.  I told him how much I like the Zarzuela, the Spanish classical musical theater productions.  His family had a troupe that presented Zarzuelas in Mexico and he promised to arrange a performance.”

On July 23  of this year, the Cardinal wrote about presiding over the wedding of billioniare philanthropist Peter Lynch’s daughter, Elizabeth, to a French count.

Peter Lynch’s daughter Elizabeth married a French count, Gonzague de Montrichard, a very fine Catholic gentleman. Peter Lynch, a Fidelity executive, has been involved in the Catholic Schools Foundation and is a promoter of Catholic philanthropy.

The wedding was very beautifully executed. The boys from our choir school at St. Paul’s in Cambridge sang. The reception was at the Lynch’s home. The dinner was preceded by spectacular fireworks — they could have been in Washington, D.C. at the mall for the Fourth of July! There was 40 minutes of music in the background, and the fireworks show was over the water. It was quite amazing.”

We recognize we are not exactly Shakespeare ourselves so are not exactly in a position to criticize the writing style of others. Still, in the wording of these posts and in others as well, it is no doubt unintentional on the part of the Cardinal or his writer, but the wording causes the Cardinal to come across sounding somewhat awestruck by the trappings of wealth and fame he is exposed to. That is not a personal attack—it is just the objective reality of the blog topics chosen and the wording in the posts.

Let us for purposes of this post give the benefit of the doubt that maybe the Cardinal or the people who photograph his every move and/or help him write the blog just do not realize how the blog is making him appear: increasingly detached from the day-to-day needs and governance of the Boston archdiocese and increasingly associated with the rich and famous. 

That being said, we offer what hopefully will be seen as helpful suggestions for consideration to help address the issues we have described in this post: #1-5 of our Top 10 Ways to Improve Cardinal Sean’s Blog

  1. Put an editorial calendar of topics in place and use that to drive content.  (We shared a list of topics on Nov. 8, and you will see we have slowly been picking through them).  Instead of just having the blog chronicle the Cardinal’s comings and goings somewhat randomly like a travel diary, create a list of important topics that help advance the mission of the Catholic Church in Boston (ie. prayer, the sacraments, evangelization, marriage and family, bringing God into every moment of your day, etc.), and follow it weekly.
  2. Filter out content not likely to be interest to the average Catholic in the pews or priests & religious. Limit photographs to no more than 5-7 per post, and cut out most of the details of the Cardinal’s travel and social schedule—especially when it involves the rich and famous–so the blog can instead focus on the important topics of #1.  The rest of our items #3-10 are related to topics we think people want to hear about.
  3. Cover some teaching from the lectionary’s scriptural readings of the Sunday Mass.  Maybe it is a written excerpt from the Cardinal’s homiletic preaching on the Sunday Mass readings.  He used to do this, but it seems to have been absent for at least the last 6 months. When there is occasionally a homily, it is via video, not text, so many people skip it. Better to write out the key points so people can read them and/or share them, even if a video accompanies it.
  4. Cover how the Cardinal is (hopefully) meeting with pastors of the 40% of parishes in the red to brainstorm, apply the best minds and resources from the Pastoral Center, cut archdiocesan fees, share best practices from other parishes, and figure out how to help as many as possible become financially solvent ASAP.
  5. Cover how the Cardinal is (hopefully) diving into the issue of the six-figure salaries of his top 10-15 lieutenants, and directing his team and the Finance Council to cut $1 million in unnecessary expense from those salaries, so those funds can be freed for ministries and advancing the main mission of the Church in Boston. Share the committed timeframe for implementing those cuts.

Seems to us, coincidentally, that the visibility of Cardinal Sean’s teaching, sanctifying and governing was much greater in his first few years in Boston–before his getting elevated to Cardinal, before his blog, and before the arrival of Jim McDonough, Jack Connors and some of the other senior leaders at 66 Brooks Drive we have been writing about on the blog. We just share that as an interesting coincidence.

We have more than 5 additional topics to suggest tomorrow and are still narrowing down the list, but if you would like to submit your suggestions, feel free to do so via comments.

Please, no personal attacks in the comments (and no comments about whether the Cardinal should or should not have presided over the Kennedy funeral). This post is about what people want to see and/or not see covered on the Cardinal’s blog.

%d bloggers like this: