Top 10 Myths About BCI: #1

April 3, 2011

Every few months we find people asking questions about BCI–why are we doing what we are doing, who exactly is behind BCI and what “agenda” does BCI have, where do we get information, why are certain archdiocesan officials frequently singled out for what they see as “personal attacks,” what sort of readership do we have, and more.  Since our critics–and there are many–will often float their own assumptions and answers to these questions, we thought we would share the “Top 10 Myths About BCI” over the course of a few different blog posts.

We start with just Myth #1 today: “BCI is out to destroy the Church.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Our hope is to make the Catholic Church in Boston stronger by holding archdiocesan officials accountable for the promises and commitments they have made, for the good of the Church.  We wish the blog was not needed at all. It is a big time commitment and BCI hopes at some point we can give this up.  If various archdiocesan officials operated in a manner consistent with the mission of the archdiocese and policies already set forth, the blog would have nothing to write about.  Unfortunately, that is not happening.  Instead, we have a situation more akin to that described in the 2nd reading today, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:

“Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;  rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.” (Eph: 5:8-14)

BCI did not make commitments such as the following to transparency and accountability. The archdiocese did.

October 21, 2005 – Financial Transparency Letter From Archbishop O’Malley

This commitment [to financial transparency] was motivated out of respect for people of the Archdiocese as donors and members of our Church and to demonstrate to the general public that the Archdiocese is fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities.

April 19, 2006 – Archdiocese of Boston Launches Financial Transparency Initiative

“Our commitment to financial transparency and accountability is an important step in the process of healing the Church of Boston and rebuilding the trust of the people of this Archdiocese” said Cardinal Sean “In releasing this financial information, we hope to achieve a shared understanding of both the challenges and the opportunities we share as a faith community. Together, we can work together to solve our problems and strengthen the Archdiocese’s ability to continue the good works it performs each and every day of the year.”

November 1, 2010 – Cardinal O’Malley Appoints Kathleen Driscoll Secretary for Institutional Advancement

“In order to strengthen and enhance the resources needed to fulfill the mission we received from Jesus Christ and His Church the Archdiocese is establishing a more effective, coordinated and strategic development approach.  The new entity…will ensure donors of independence and accountability.”

Since financial transparency and accountability are important to rebuild and maintain trust in the Church, why is the BCI attention on accountability not considered helpful?  For example:

  • 63 days have now passed since the 2010 Annual Appeal closed, and results have not been released to the Catholic faithful.  Here are the annual results dating back to 2002, and here is an article citing the 2001 figure.  This is the first time in a decade that results have not been disclosed. Why has the transparency and accountability disappeared in this area?
  • The archdiocese is claiming they have a plan for a “balanced budget”; however, as we wrote here, no provision has been made for the annual expenses needed to pay back the $41 million debt to St. Johns Seminary, the $70 million needed to re-fund the employee pension fund, or the roughly $95 million needed to re-fund the clergy retirement fund.

If the archdiocese came out and acknowledged these in the spirit of transparency and accountability and said exactly what they were doing about each situation, BCI would have had nothing to say.  But the archdiocese did not.  Instead, officials said one thing and did something entirely different, so we call out the individuals by name who are involved.

BCI is trying to keep people accountable for what has been promised by exposing deception, conflicts of interest, unfulfilled promises, poor stewardship of assets and temporal goods, and inconsistencies between words and actions.  We are also not perfect. When we make mistakes and learn about them, we issue a correction and apology, and we invite readers to let us know about any inaccuracies either via comments on any post or via email.  That being said, people from across the archdiocese tell us that our record of accuracy and credibility on key issues over the past 9 months is much better than the archdiocese on those same issues.

As BCI said on September 9, 2010:

“the archdiocese has expressed no concern whatsoever over the harm done to the individuals or the Christian community by the well-documented climate and instances of deceit, cronyism, ethical and financial conflicts of interest, excessive spending, and unanswered questions over management of donor funds. These are the sorts of “negative attitudes of the world” that the Holy Father describes as the “greatest danger” to the Church.”

In summary, to those who think BCI wants to hurt the Church or is hurting the Church, we strongly disagree. Archdiocesan officials promised to conduct business in the light and instead those works are being done in secret. That is what hurts the Church.  BCI is simply exposing these works to the light.

Jim M, Jack C, Terry D, Carol G, Cardinal Sean, Fr. Erikson, and Fr. Hehir: Are you willing to start conducting such business in the light as promised instead of in the dark?  The sooner you fulfill the promises made by the archdiocese, the sooner BCI can go away.

Welcome Home!

March 5, 2011

Today, we welcome several people back to the archdiocese after time away.

First, we welcome back Cardinal O’Malley. This weekend the Cardinal opens the 2011 Catholic Appeal with Mass at Blessed Mother Teresa Parish – St. Margaret Church in Dorchester on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. He is also celebrating Mass tomorrow, Sunday, March 6 at 9:00 am at St. Michael in North Andover, and then finally at St. Brigid in Framingham on Sunday as 12pm.  We think it is very good that the Cardinal is in town visiting parishes and we encourage him to spend more time in the Boston archdiocese visiting parishes and also engaging in governance of the diocese.

Much to our dismay, there is still no word about what was raised in the 2010 Catholic Appeal.  The Boston Herald reports “Like last year, archdiocesan officials didn’t set an official fundraising goal because of concerns that parishioners might feel stretched by several ongoing campaigns, including one for school improvements.”  School improvements?  Is that the Jack Connors’ Catholic Schools 2010 Initiative–the one that was supposed to end last year, where all of the  $70 million to be raised was supposedly coming from deep-pocketed friends of Jack?  Is that millstone now hanging around the necks of everyone in the archdiocese?

Can anyone get a straight story from this archdiocese about what goal the team of 15 people under Kathleen Driscoll is accountable for hitting?  BCI hears the top three people on her team are collectively paid somewhere in the range of about $700k in salaries alone.  How can they ask Catholics to give towards the 2011 campaign without ever telling us what they raised in the 2010 campaign?

We said it before and we will say it again about the hypocracy from 66 Brooks Drive. Last November, when Kathleen Driscoll was announced as the new Secretary for Institutional Advancement and the new Boston Catholic Development Services was formed to centralize fundraising, we were all told this new effort would “ensure donors of…accountability.”

For an archdiocese who publicly criticized this blog last August, for “unfounded claims,” it would seem to us that the real “unfounded claim” is that the new archdiocesan fundraising structure would ensure accountability.

If the new archdiocesan fundraising efforts are characterized by “accountability,” then why is it that no one is accounting for what they have raised for the Catholic Schools 2010 Initiative or the 2010 Catholic Appeal?  Exactly who is this fundraising group accountable to, and if they are not accounting to donors in the pews before they open their hands and ask for more money, who exactly are they accounting to?

Sorry, we got so wrapped up in the Catholic Appeal, we almost forgot the other welcome home.

Secondly, welcome back to Fr. James Flavin and Fr. Michael Medas, who just returned from a boondoggle conference in New Orleans.  They were attending the 2011 convention of the NOCERCC.  For those not familiar with the organization, it is the National Organization for the Continuing Education of Roman Catholic Clergy.

In case you do not know some of these names, here is who these people are:

  • Father Flavin has a degree in counseling who has been director of pastoral care of priests since 2008.  That means he primarily oversees treatment plans for priests with psychological problems including substance abuse, and as best as we can tell, he is liked and respected for his work in this area. However, the archdiocese also asked him since 2008 to oversee the Clergy Retirement Fund, even though he had no specific financial training or qualification for that function. To say the fund’s performance in recent years has not been good is an understatement. Then Carol Gustavson, who also had no skills in that area, got involved helping.  Now Joe D’Arrigo, a consultant who has been trying to stabilize the fund, has just been officially named Executive Director, Clergy Funds.  Fr. Flavin is no longer the fund facillitator, but maintains his role as director of pastoral care of priests–a very important role.  We wonder how the trustees of the fund would grade the fund performance since 2006.  Coincidentally, it may not matter anyway because the trustees have now changed, but that is a topic for a different post.
  • Fr. Medas is Director of the Office for Clergy Personnel.  According to this Pilot article, he was formerly director of the Apostolate for the Deaf and has lived in residence at parishes, including Our Lady Help of Christians, Newton, St. Mary, Ayer and at Holy Family Parish, Concord.

The NOCERCC and their convention are interesting when one digs a little deeper.  Here is a look at the 2011 NOCERCC convention schedule and here are the related links from the NOCERCC website to other websites.  We will leave it to you to reach your own conclusions after checking it out further.  Suffice to say, we need to pray for our priests.

The conference, coincidentally, took place just before Mardi Gras, when a number of pre-Mardi Gras parades take place. The Loews New Orleans Hotel is “within easy walking distance of…the French Quarter” and cost $149/night for a room. Conference registration cost for members was $500 per person.  Assuming the priests from Boston are NOCERCC members, the trip probably cost somewhere around $3,500 for 3 nights, 2 people, with airfares, conference registration and meals.  Last July, when the archdiocese cut 20 positions to save money and Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson said, “Nearly all travel and conference budgets have been reduced,” some of us thought the archdiocese was actually trying to save money.  Apparently we misunderstood the memo.

So, a hearty welcome back to Boston to Cardinal O’Malley.  We sincerely hope you will be in town for a little while now and can work on reducing spending on excessive six-figure salaries.  And welcome back to Fr. Flavin and Fr.  Medas. We hope and pray that the learnings from the convention and benefits to the Boston presbyterate will pay off the expense many times over.

Changing of the Guard

February 23, 2011

The story in the Boston Globe on Tuesday about how the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute is losing its leader, Peter Meade, brought to mind a number of questions.  The most important of them concerns leadership transitions here in the Boston archdiocese.

First, and foremost, what IS happening with the status of Chancellor Jim McDonough? He is just a few months away from the expiration of his 5-year term.  Morale on his team is low and turnover has been high. When the previous chancellor, David Smith was going to retire effective July 2006, the archdiocese announced his retirement January 10, 2006, six months in advance (“Chancellor David Smith to retire“).  A search committee had been formed in December 2005–seven months before he was going to leave.  It took about five months for the search committee to select Jim McDonough, who was announced as the new chancellor on June 5, 2006. (“New chancellor appointed.”).  With the current chancellor’s 5-year term up in June, if they are going to search for a new chancellor, that search needs to be underway already.  What exactly are they waiting for?

We brought up the issue of the Chancellor search more than a month ago, in our January 18 post, “New Vicar General? New Chancellor?” In that post, we said the following about the search process, which still holds true today:

Can Boston construct a truly competent search committee for any key job, free of blatant conflicts of interest? Sufficient concerns about the current Chancellor lead us to offer guidance towards what we believe should be an open, independent search for a successor to him. Assuming such a search is undertaken, who should lead it?  Is there anyone within the Archdiocese who can articulate what the Chancellor’s job really is, and also guide the search?  Are the halls, offices, and cubicles of 66 Brooks Drive devoid of good minds with clear thought and a moral compass?  Who might have a reputation for independence and integrity?  Who has not been called-out for deception, excessive compensation, or conflicts of interest on this blog?  BCI challenges Cardinal O’Malley to think of just one person who is wise and above reproach.  We invite the Cardinal to think of one person who could direct a conversation and search process to yield a truly independent chancellor–one who seeks only the long-term best interest of the Catholic Church in Boston–and no other individual or institution.  Who can help put Boston on the straight and narrow path canonically, ethically and legally, and keep us there?

We outlined our suggestion for how to conduct the search, and by means of contrast, let us look back five years ago to April 2006 at the last time they filled this position and see what Cardinal O’Malley told the Boston Globe he was looking for in a chancellor at that time:

Ann Carter, who’s here, is on the search committee for chancellor. I told them my preference for chancellor would be a religious woman. I don’t know whether they’ve been able to come up with someone. When I was a bishop before I had a religious woman as a chancellor. It was a wonderful fit, it was a way of holding up this vocation in the church, which, unfortunately is being greatly diminished. But we are a church of great diversity and we’d like to see that…

Well the first question I ask is, “Do you smoke?” (Laughter). It’s a whole range of things, certainly. Certainly their experience, their ability to work with people, their outlook, their energy, their capacity to work, their capacity to work with people, their love for the church. I don’t want people who see this simply as a job. I’m looking for people who have a sense of mission, that they really want to do this because they love the church and they want to further Christ’s mission.

Notwithstanding the inherent conflict of interest of having Ann Carter, CEO of the PR vendor paid by the archdiocese on the search committee, and  notwithstanding the fact that Ms. Carter was a Board member at Abington Bank when Jim McDonough was CEO of the bank and Ms. Carter made more than $400K in profit from her Abington Bank stock, and notwithstanding the “coincidence” that McDonough just so happened to have been chosen from among all other candidates, it is not clear to BCI and a lot of other people whether the current Chancellor even fits the bill of doing this job for the reason given by the Cardinal in the last sentence above.  Beyond the deception, corruption, ethical breaches, propagation of excessive six-figure salaries, sham searches, brain-drain, and conflicts of interest we have documented (which, coincidentally, have occurred over much of the past 5 years), objectively, McDonough is also a multi-millionaire who “didn’t need the job” or money, working for a church in desperate financial condition where every dollar matters.  So, if he really wanted to further Christ’s mission, why has he insisted on collecting $1.25M in salary over the past 5 years that could have better been used to advance the mission of the Church?

With even more long-time Pastoral Center staff dusting off their resumes and seeking jobs outside of the archdiocese because of the current regime , why are they waiting so long to let people know the status of the Chancellor?  Are they waiting for the 2010 annual report to be released some time in the next few weeks (Terry and Ann, how is the press release coming along?), and then, with a supposedly balanced budget they will share if he is staying or going?  Has the Presbyteral Council been consulted about whether his term should be renewed? Is the Cardinal first waiting to figure out who the new Vicar General will be? Or, are they hoping John Straub, the new Executive Director of Finance–who, coincidentally, came into his six-figure-salaried job without an open search–will take over?

We were in a similar place in 2006, when Cardinal O’Malley replaced a big chunk of his leadership team, bringing in a new Vicar General (replacing Bishop Lennon with Fr. Erikson), Chancellor (replacing David Smith with Jim McDonough), Secretary for Institutional Advancement (replacing Kenneth Hokenson with Scot Landry, and subsequently with Kathleen Driscoll),  and Secretary of Education (replacing Sr. Clare Bertero with Mary Grassa O’Neill). Readers of this blog know that the current occupants of these 4 roles have all been the subject of criticism by BCI.

We are already off to a controversial start with a “sham search” bringing in Ms. Driscoll as the new secretary for institutional advancement last November.  Mr. Straub did not arrive via an open search led by someone with a reputation for independence and integrity, who is wise and above reproach.  Will the Cardinal do a better job bringing in a new Vicar General and Chancellor this time around?  For once, can we get someone in the Chancellor role–or separated Chancellor and CFO roles–who came via a truly open, independent search and who seeks only the long-term best interest of the Catholic Church in Boston–and no other individual or institution?  Or are we going to hop out of the frying pan and into the fire–or worse yet, stay in the current frying pan?

Pastoral Planning Commission

February 4, 2011

From the archdiocese that lacks the leadership and fortitude to summarily shut-down a handful of “Invisible Vigils”–which continue to waste millions of dollars in scarce donor funds six years after they began and six months after their last canonical appeals were exhausted– now we have yet another committee to talk about the future parish and pastoral configuration of the archdiocese.

Before we dig into this new committee, how is that new Finance Council Compensation Committee coming along that is supposed to look  at the $1M+ in excessive six-figure salaries?  They approved it Nov. 4, but the names still are not even posted anywhere like, say, the Finance Council page of the RCAB website, so it sounds like there is stunning progress to report there.  So now we have a yet another new committee–at least this time with names publicly announced, rather than the anonymous committees the folks at 66 Brooks Drive seem to have favored in recent years, like the anonymous search committees that chose Mary Grassa O’Neill and Terry Donilon.

Here is the notice from Wednesday announcing the new committee:

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley today announced that he has formed an Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission.The work of the eighteen member commission is to present a final recommendation to the Cardinal for a pastoral plan for the Archdiocese of Boston that identifies the resources available for the foreseeable future and allocates these in a manner that will allow the mission of Christ and his Church to grow stronger in our Catholic community.

In case you are wondering what this means they will do, in principle, they are to come back with a plan to create a much smaller number of “parishes” and pastors of those newly-defined “parishes” comprised of mostly the same number of church buildings as we have today. The Boston Globe described is as follows:

Under a draft proposal, neighboring parishes would be merged into a single parish, with worship at multiple church buildings. Each clustered parish would be run by a pastor, with help from a team of priests, as well as a consolidated lay parish council, finance council, and parish staff.

BCI’s take on this as of now is that the commission will meet…and meet…and meet, and not really get any place. Last time around in 2004, there were recommendations made by clusters, there was a central committee, there was a review by the Cardinal and his advisors like Fr. Bryan Hehir, Jack Connors and a host of others weighed in behind the scenes, and a lot of “recommendations” never made it through the quicksand and political snares.  What did we learn from that effort, and what will make this one different to avoid the snares of the past?  Not clear.

There are some good people on the committee, and some that we do not see as adding meaningful value.  One person familiar with the composition of the group  described them in an email to BCI as a “circular firing squad.”  Lest BCI be accused of personal attacks, we will make observations about the committee without mentioning specific names.

  • Why so many money people?  (And when we say “money people,” we mean big money people)
  • Why the recycled cronies of Fr. Bryan Hehir and Sr. Janet Eisner–yet again?  Are these people the only ones considered qualified or sufficiently politically-connected to serve?
  • Why the person who led the “sham search” that placed the current Chancellor?  Are we so pleased with how that choice has turned out that we want this person’s wisdom and insights once again?
  • Why the person who led one of the previous planning committees which solicited input from everyone, included input from only a few while neglecting to include some of the best ideas in the report, and basically got nowhere fast? Do we really want a plan for  “priestless Sundays” in which hostesses distribute pre-consecrated hosts to those who show up for a “communion service”?
  • Why include someone on the committee from a particular religious order when one of that same order’s members instructing a Masters of Arts in Ministry (MAM) class on immigration not long ago asked Catholic students to role-play being a foreigner in a strange land by assuming the identity of a gay or lesbian on another planet?
  • Why soak up one of the limited spots with someone from a parish that moreso resembles a part of a college campus rather than a diocesan parish?
  • Why will the committee work not be transparent and public as it progresses?  What is the means of public comment and parish input before the merger plan is communicated?
  • What about the charter, composition and operating approach of this latest committee and effort is to instill such confidence by clergy and laity that a redo of any “recommendations”  will not occur this time around?

If the Cardinal and his leadership cannot make a decision to cut the salaries of overpaid bureaucrats to save $500K-$1M+/year when the supporting information is objective and clear, and if the Cardinal and his leadership cannot make a decision to end “Invisible Vigils” costing $500K-850K/year after all appeals are done, then who in the world thinks this new pastoral planning effort–operating behind closed doors under no deadlines–will reach a set of recommendations and decisions that are acted on?

We hear from multiple sources that the Cardinal is on-the-road for a good part of the next 3-4 months, perhaps in the diocese only 14-20 days between now and the end of May.  The Vicar General may be heading back to the military in the spring.  With an absentee archbishop, who is setting the future direction of the archdiocese?  Is that responsibility now abdicated to this new committee?

Boston Globe Gets it Wrong…Again

January 15, 2011

NOTE: The blog post originally published at 9:30am has been updated as of 12pm today.

We will have more for you on the new Catholic Schools policy in a separate post.  But in case you saw the headline in today’s Boston Globe about the appointment of Fr. Christopher Coyne to an episcopal position in Indianapolis, we wanted to let you know the Globe got the news wrong, yet again.  That is, they got it wrong until BCI corrected them.

First, let it be said that the blog thinks Fr. Chris Coyne is a fine priest, and we congratulate him on his appointment as auxiliary bishop of Indianapolis. He will also be Vicar General, which is effectively the #2 leadership/administrative position–at least it is in basically every other diocese in the country (except Boston today).  That he was appointed to be auxiliary bishop of Indianapolis seems rather clear from the Vatican announcement and the article in The Pilot, whose headline reads, Pope names Father Christopher Coyne auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.”  It also is extremely clear from this article published yesterday afternoon in the Indianapolis Star whose headline reads, Indianapolis archbishop introduces new second-in-command and says,

“Coyne’s main mission will simply be to help Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein carry out his duties. He will carry the load of the sacramental duties — like priest ordinations and confirmations — the archbishop typically performs in the large archdiocese that covers 14,000 square miles in 39 counties. Coyne also assumes the role of vicar general, which essentially is the No. 2 administrative post.  Buechlein, who turns 73 in April, has been on a reduced schedule since 2008, when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes. That cancer is now in remission, church spokesman Greg Otolski said Thursday.

Today’s appointment came with no guarantee that Coyne could become archbishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis…Buechlein said he asked the pope for a co-adjutor, or assistant, but he chose to designate an auxiliary bishop.”

Yet despite that clarity, the headline of today’s Boston Globe article in the print edition reads, “Coyne to lead Indianapolis Archdiocese.”  It read the same way online as of 9:30am when we put out our post criticizing their mistake.  Keep reading to see the before and after.

That is simply inaccurate.  The photo caption says, “The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne listened yesterday as Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein of Indianapolis announced his retirement.”  That is wrong–Archbishop Buechlein did not announce his retirement at all.  The title tag on the page (in the blue bar at the very top of the browser) says, “Spokesman for Cardinal Law to lead Indianapolis Catholics.”  That is wrong too.

Note the Indy Star headline for comparison:

Might auxiliary bishop-designate Coyne be well-positioned to become the bishop of Indianapolis in the future when the current archbishop of Indianapolis retires?  Sure.  But that is not assured, and he was simply appointed auxiliary bishop at this time.  Often times, the people who write the articles (e.g. Lisa Wangsness at the Globe, in this case) are not the same people who write the headlines, so we do not fault the reporter.  But we felt we should let you know about the error, because if we or our readers tell the Globe about the error, they are not likely to listen to us.

12pm UPDATE: Well, the Globe did listen to us in this case!  The headline of the article and photo caption are now changed as you can see below.

This shows that at least in this case, when the Globe sees something is objectively wrong, they are able to report the truth.

This brings us to three other related points.

First about the Boston Globe.  For some reason, the Globe seems to be totally ignoring the Boston Catholic Insider blog these past few months (except this morning!) and the breaches of fiscal responsibility and corruption we keep reporting on. In previous years and in other metropolitan areas, if there were serious allegations of corruption or breaches of fiscal responsibility like this, it would merit an investigation and probably be headline news, like the cronyism and misconduct in the Massachusetts Probation Department have been here lately.  Not the case with the corruption in the Archdiocese of Boston.  Seems as though the Globe must get exclusive rights or first access to the pablum handed out by Terry Donilon and Jack Connors–about the Catholic schools (fund-raising, increasing appeal to non-Catholics, the new Catholic Schools non-discrimination policy) or the personal good works of the Cardinal (e.g. visit to Pine Street Inn, visit to a prison), or the “dialogue” with the vigil parishes–and in exchange, the Globe simply will keep their heads in the sand and not write about the fiscal mismanagement, breaches of fiduciary responsibility, conflicts of interest, and other corruption that squander millions of dollars in donor contributions and could result in government sanctions some day.  If it makes Terry, Jack or the current leadership of the archdiocese look bad, the Globe is simply not likely to report on it today.

Secondly, this news about Fr. Chris Coyne being appointed auxiliary bishop/Vicar General/#2 in Indianapolis should cause everyone to ask about what is happening with the leadership in Boston.  Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson is rumored to be heading back to full-time duty with the Air Force within a few months.  What attributes should the Cardinal look for in his next Vicar General?  What is happening with the future of the Chancellor? That will be the topic for a different post.

Thirdly, it is noteworthy that when the Archbishop of Indianapolis felt that he could not lead effectively, he asked the pope for help.  And the pope responded.  Food for thought..

We will have more about the Catholic Schools policy in our next post.

In the meantime, we extend our heartiest congratulations to Fr. Chris Coyne on his elevation to auxiliary bishop.  Here is a 2-minute video clip of the introduction of Fr. Coyne in Indianapolis we thought you would find of interest. The loss for Boston is a gain for Indianapolis.  We hear he has been an outstanding pastor at St. Margaret Mary in Westwood and we wish him well in his new assignment.

Boston Catholic Insider Poll Results

November 7, 2010

Results of our 2-day poll from last Wednesday-Thursday about the hiring of Kathleen Driscoll as Secretary of Development and combination of all fundraising into a new “independent” 501(c)(3) entity are in.  If you have not already reviewed them, you can see a graphical depiction of the results in an easy to read form here. Today we give you some interpretation of the results.

First off, several readers commented that this could not be positioned as a “scientific poll.”  They are absolutely correct.  In the interest of full disclosure, we openly acknowledge that the Boston Catholic Insider bloggers do not see ourselves or this poll as being anywhere near the league of Rasmussen, Zogby, Gallup, or  another full-time professional polling organization.  You will see no “margin of error” listed in our results.  We gave response choices that allowed readers to choose whether they were in agreement, disagreement, or relatively neutral about the question, but indeed, you saw some sarcasm in the wording of the choices because we wanted to give readers a chance to voice how they really felt if they thought this situation was out-of-control.

Here are the five questions we asked, along with how you responded. (Note, if you are seeing this just via email notice, please click through to the blog to be sure you can see the graphics).

1. What do you think of the process that led to the hiring a new Secretary of Institutional Advancement with no candidates officially interviewed?

To the people who were in on this deception from the beginning–Jack Connors, Chancellor Jim McDonough, Fr. Bryan Hehir, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson, and Cardinal O’Malley–allow us to briefly interpret these statistics.  Thousands of Boston-area Catholics regularly read this blog, and 73% of respondents think what you have done is deceitful, shameful, and scandalous–in other words, they are saying they do not think much of your integrity in this situation.  By the way, the priests and pastoral center employees who have heard the explanation given over the past few days for the “sham search” are also not buying the “Monday morning quarterback” explanation that there are two “tracks” for a search, one “real” and one known to be window-dressing.  We will share more on this with readers tomorrow.

2. To what extent do you trust the information you get from the leaders of the Archdiocese of Boston lately?

Need we even interpret the significance of 77% of respondents saying they trust the anonymously-written Boston Catholic Insider blog more than they trust archdiocesan leaders, and another 17% saying they trust no one?  We did not name names in the question, but it is safe to say that  the archdiocesan leaders whose names are implicit in the question include those complicit in the Institutional Advancement search deception, including the Chancellor, Vicar General, Secretary for Healthcare and Social Services, and others this blog has frequently named.

Several commenters to a previous post kindly suggested that in view of these trust issues, perhaps the archdiocese should invite the Boston Catholic Insider bloggers to present at the next Pastoral Center staff meeting, or instead direct staff members to read this blog during that meeting time.  We are pretty sure that we will not get any invitations to a staff meeting; however, if  the Vicar General or Carol Gustavson can let us know in advance what topics are planned for the next meeting, we will be glad to prepare a blog post reflecting just the factual information they intended to cover.

3. How do you view Jack Connors’ involvement in the Archdiocese of Boston?

The results pretty much speak for themselves.  Since 60% of respondents said “it’s scandalous that Jack Connors…is involved in any capacity with archdiocesan decision-making” and another 20% said, “Jack is a big part of the problem…not the solution,” that means in figurative terms, 80% of the people watching the football game are booing the quarterback  and would like him sidelined, if not expelled from the game.

4. What do you think of the plan being implemented without consultation with the presbyterate to merge fundraising for four separate Catholic entities?

People think about as poorly of the plan to combine fund-raising as they think of Jack Connors and distrust archdiocesan leaders.  Although 78% of respondents said “Terrible idea, and terrible process. Whoever pushed it should be fired, and the whole thing should be completely rethought,” does anyone seriously think the person who pushed it will get fired?  Based on what we have seen at 66 Brooks Drive, we are not holding our breath waiting.

5. Will you change your financial donations to the archdiocese (Catholic Appeal, Clergy Retirement Fund, Catholic Schools, Catholic Charities) as a result of this?

Responses to this question offered the biggest surprise to the Boston Catholic Insider bloggers.  Nearly 1/3 of respondents said they “long ago stopped giving to the archdiocese” and what just happened with the search just validates that decision.  That we have attracted many people who were already cynical is not surprising, but the percentage was still noteworthy.  Also noteworthy was seeing about 54% of respondents say they would now either reduce or stop their donations to the archdiocese because of this.  Granted, some of that could be the poll/survey because it is easy to respond to a poll, but even if half of these people do what they said when it comes to writing that Catholic Appeal or other archdiocesan donation check, that would make a dent.  It is no wonder that many dedicated Pastoral Center employees are wondering if their ministry will survive in the future should the funds raised across all of these combined entities fail to meet previous levels raised by the entities when they were separate.

Finally, the question anyone would logically ask about a poll is how many people were surveyed and responded.  Rasmussen and Zogby we are not.  We simply set-up a poll using a freely available tool which offers limited reporting and analysis capabilities.  We set this up on the Boston Catholic Insider blog that has had 61,500 unique visitors and 102,000 hits since we started in mid-June.  As best as we can tell, somewhere between about 77-80% of the site visitors are in Massachusetts, so that means a significant number of Boston archdiocesan Catholics are reading the blog, and you are a part of that elite group of well-informed Catholics!

Over the past month, 16,000 unique visitors came to the site, including 4,100 to 4,520 unique visitors per week over each of the past two weeks.  A very substantial number of those visitors responded to the 2-day poll, and as sample sizes go, respondents to this survey would indeed be considered as highly representative of the readership of this blog.

Our conclusion from the survey is that the Archdiocese of Boston has destroyed some amount of hard-earned trust with Boston-area Catholics, and the leadership is not currently seen as trustworthy by 80% of our readers–namely thousands to tens of thousands of faithful Catholics.  80% of readers who responded would like to see Jack Connors removed from any capacity where he can impact decision-making, and a similar percentage do not like what they have seen of this new fund-raising plan and entity.  And on top of that, more than half of respondents say they will pull back on donations to the archdiocese.  Other than that, things in the archdiocese are going just fine.

We believe, as we have for a while now, that the big brains at 66 Brooks Drive need to quickly rethink a few things about how they operate.  In case certain Archdicoesan cabinet members still have not noticed yet, the flock is no longer just lying down in the field letting the shepherds pull the wool over our eyes. 

Dismantling the Diocese?

November 2, 2010

We normally try to focus on just presenting you with the factual information you cannot find elsewhere, but today is a bit of an exception. Please read our post from yesterday “Biggest Boston Archdiocesan Sham Search Yet Now Announced” to get the foundation for today’s post.

In Sean P. O’Malley’s first message to us after he was named Archbishop of Boston, he spoke in inspirational terms using the words of St. Francis about “rebuilding the Church” in Boston. In the opinion of these bloggers, yesterday’s news about the naming of Kathleen Driscoll as the new Secretary of Institutional Advancement feels not like a step forward in rebuilding the Church, but rather the next step in dismantling of what was once a great archdiocese. It also confirms a leadership vacuum, governance crisis and lack of integrity from archdiocesan leaders that should be troubling for everyone in Boston and across the country and world, as what is happening here could readily happen elsewhere and may be happening without people realizing it.

On the positive side of rebuilding the Church, the sexual abuse cases looming over us in 2003 have largely been settled, parish closings and “reconfiguration” were necessary and had been anticipated well before the sexual abuse crisis hit, we have faithful dedicated priests and religious, the central archdiocesan budget is balanced, the clergy retirement fund has at least been stabilized, the seminary (with what remains of their original space) is thriving, and we hear that vocation efforts are also doing well relative to recent years.

However, the news of yesterday confirms a troubling reality.  Behind the scenes in the “rebuilding of the Church” and now coming front-and-center have been a sell-off of the seminary property and buildings against a Vatican committee’s recommendations, the sell-off of Catholic healthcare, conflicts of interest, pushing-out of long-term employees committed to the mission of the Church in favor of paying 6-figure salaries to people not committed to the Church, deceit and deception, corruption, a culture of retaliation against people who speak out, squandering of donations, throwing the fine reputations of outstanding priests under the bus (along with their ministry), possible violations of canon law so the archdiocese can grab and move around money at will, undermining of Catholic education, reneging on previous promises of pension benefits to long-time  employees, and much more.  With yesterday’s news, you can add an abdication of episcopal authority to the list.

For every one step forward taken in rebuilding, the deceit from the highest levels and clear dismantling of the Church makes it feel to this writer like we take several steps backwards.

Please take some time to read both the post from yesterday “Biggest Boston Archdiocesan Sham Search Yet Now Announced”and especially the comments from our well-informed readers.  There are at least 5 things every Catholic should be concerned about.

1) Deception about the search.

In mid-June we were all publicly told there was a search committee formed to fill the role.  In reality, there never was a search.  The search committee members, priests and every Catholic in the diocese were deceived.  As best as we can determine, that deception has been known for months at minimum by Cardinal O’Malley, Vicar General Fr. Erikson, Fr. Bryan Hehir, Chancellor Jim McDonough, HR Director Carol Gustavson, and Jack Connors.  Why do we know that? Simple–they knew they were not interviewing any candidates.  There is more, but that is for a future post.  How can anyone believe a word that comes from these people about anyting in the future when they were all a part of the deception?  Catholics deserve an explanation and a public apology for this deception and violation of trust.

2) Why the choice of Kathleen Driscoll?

We do not know Kathleen Driscoll and are not judging or criticizing her on a personal basis.  She did fund-raising for the Campaign for Catholic Schools for about 3 years.  We hear in the PR that they raised $58 million.  We know that $15 million of that came in a one-time special grant from the Yawkey Foundation, so the net is she raised more like $43 million from donors.  That’s about $15 million/year.  The previous staff at the Catholic Foundation that met or exceeded their goals every year since 2003 was doing that amount.  What makes Kathleen any better than them?  By the way, the Catholic Schools campaign has failed to hit its goal of raising $70 million by the end of 2010.  The reward for failing to hit your goal is now putting the person who didn’t hit the goal in charge of raising vastly more than they have ever done before.  How’s that compute?

3) How does a newly established 501(c) (3) organization for fund-raising ensure donors of “independence” and “accountability”?

From the Vicar General’s email and press announcement we learned the following:

Kathleen will be responsible for leading, directing and managing a new independent development organization, Boston Catholic Development Services (BCDS)…The newly established 501(c) (3) organization will ensure donors of independence and accountability.”

Who approved this?  What exactly was the problem with accountability to the Archdiocese of Boston before which this now solves?  Who will this be accountable to going forward?  Jack Connors?  Whom else?  What is it independent of?  The Catholic Church?

Here is who they say they will be accountable to:

A newly established Board of Trustees will provide oversight and some of its members will include member(s) of, the Archdiocese, the Campaign for Catholic Schools and Catholic Charities (if they choose to join). BCDS will also be accountable to the respective boards representing the entities they serve such as the Archdiocese, the Clergy Fund and Campaign for Catholic Schools.

For any Catholic who supports the mission of the Church and for any donor, this sounds downright scary.  There are a host of canonical and governance  issues we are not prepared to go into today.  But here is who they might draw from if they tap the Catholic Charities board: James Brett, (buddy of Jack Connors and Fr. Bryan Hehir on the search committee for the new MCC head, and part of the Hanover crowd of cronies), Kevin Driscoll (familiar last name), Fr. Bryan Hehir, Jeff Kaneb (whose wealthy daddy helped him get on the CC board and whose daddy is also Vice Chair of the finance council and board of Partners), Vicar General Fr Richard Erikson,  and Michael Sheehan (CEO of Hill Holliday and another buddy of Jack Connors).

4) What is going to happen to the Catholic Foundation assets and Catholic Appeal contributions?

This most recent annual report for the Catholic Foundation shows net assets of about $36 million. This comes mostly from people having given to specific endowments (e.g. St. Johns Seminary, named high schools, trusts) and the funds are either permanently restricted ($15.3M) or temporarily restricted ($18.2M) for that purpose. About $15.5M is designated for “RCAB Corporation Sole.”  This writer does not yet understand to what extent the monies I gave to the annual appeal were spent in the year they were given (which typically happens with most of the donations to fund operations) and to what extent some of that money was put in the bank in previous years as part of this endowment asset.  I thought my contributions were going to specific causes I knew about and supported within the archdiocese.  I gave to Catholic schools separately when called upon and when I wanted to.  Now it is unclear how much of that $15.5M designated for Corporation Sole or how much of the other temporarily restricted funds upon expiration of the restriction will get glommed together in one big pool to go wherever they have red ink.  Who is to say that if the Campaign for Catholic Schools has to pay back the $20 million loan from the archdiocese to pay for Jack Connors’ $70 million school in Dorchester–where it was known from the get-go there was not enough of a Catholic population to sustain it–they will not now draw on some of the “Corporation Sole” assets? Every donor should be concerned over this. 

5) Who is really in charge of the Archdiocese of Boston?

Our readers have been asking this question for months.  In our second blog post, Inside the Archdiocese of Boston back on June 23, we said the following about Cardinal O’Malley:

Top of the organizational chart, at least on paper….Existing commitments to Vatican committees, his own blog posts, and increasing travel during the next year as apostolic visitor to Dublin all give a message that his role in Boston is apparently becoming more ceremonial in nature.

This announcement says it is much worse than what we wrote in June, and even worse than just the detached “float above it all” governance style and excessive hands-off delegation of key responsibilities we hear complaints about all the time.  With all fund-raising now turned over to Jack Connors’ designee, it is impossible not to conclude that the diocese is actually being run by the people pictured in the pink box. (click on the graphic to enlarge)

Based on what we have documented on this blog, do you think the agendas of the people pictured in that pink box are always the mission of the Catholic Church–salvation of souls and carrying forth the healing ministry of Jesus Christ–and advancing the better good of the Archdiocese of Boston? Does anyone else thing the diocese is moreso being dismantled rather than rebuilt?

There may be more than 5 areas for concern but that was our first pass.  Comments and reactions to our portrayal of the current situation are most welcome via comments to this post, confidential emails (bostoncatholicinsider(at) or via the Contact Us page.

AP Report on Catholic Bloggers, Boston Catholic Insider

October 25, 2010

First, for those who have not yet read our Sunday post,  St. John Seminary Squeezola, we suggest you make that your first stop today. Boston College has just taken back small rooms (a music room and faculty dining room) they had “graciously” let the seminary use, which means little to BC space-wise and is more about their symbolically flexing their muscles, while the loss of that needed space means a lot to the seminary. Pay special attention to the passionate comments by readers about the future of St. Johns Seminary. Anyone from the archdiocese reading this, we suggest you forward a copy of the post and comments on up to Cardinal O’Malley. We will post more on the seminary situation tomorrow, and are glad to also post any response from the archdiocese here as well if anyone would like to offer one.

For today, we wanted to call your attention to an excellent article by AP religion reporter, Rachel Zoll on the phenomenon of Catholic bloggers.  The article prominently features Boston Catholic blogs.  It is entitled “Catholic Bloggers Aim To Purge Dissenters” and has been picked up by papers and other media outlets across the country and in Europe (See Washington Post, San Diego Union-Tribune, San Francisco Examiner, UK Guardian)    For those at 66 Brooks Drive who still have their heads in the sand about this and are hoping if you keep ignoring us we will just quietly go away, perhaps you might want to come up for air, look around, and realize that you are rapidly becoming the laughing stock of the country and may just want to pay closer attention to the concerns we have been raising. Here is the version posted at CBS News, which we liked for the sub-headline, “Catholic and FedUp.”

Here are a few excerpts:

Pressure is on to change the Roman Catholic Church in America, but it’s not coming from the usual liberal suspects. A new breed of theological conservatives has taken to blogs and YouTube to say the church isn’t Catholic enough.

Enraged by dissent that they believe has gone unchecked for decades, and unafraid to say so in the starkest language, these activists are naming names and unsettling the church.

— In the Archdiocese of Boston, parishioners are dissecting the work of a top adviser to the cardinal for any hint of Marxist influence., working from studios in suburban Detroit, is hunting for “traitorous” nuns, priests or bishops throughout the American church.

“We’re no more engaged in a witch hunt than a doctor excising a cancer is engaged in a witch hunt,” said Michael Voris of and St. Michael’s Media. “We’re just shining a spotlight on people who are Catholics who do not live the faith.”

Among Voris’ many media ventures is the CIA — the Catholic Investigative Agency — a program from RealCatholicTV to “bring to light the dark deeds of evil Catholics-in-name-only, who are hijacking the Church for their own ends, not the ends of Christ.”

In an episode called “Catholic Tea Party,” Voris said: “Catholics need to be aware and studied and knowledgeable enough about the faith to recognize a heretical nun or a traitorous priest or bishop when they see one — not so they can vote them out of office, but so they can pray for them, one, and alert as many other Catholics as possible to their treachery, two.”

The blog “Bryan Hehir Exposed” is aimed at a top adviser to Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, who is the former head of national Catholic Charities and a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Among the bloggers’ claims is that Hehir is a Marxist sympathizer who undermines Catholic teaching on abortion and marriage.

Hehir, who has advised church leaders for four decades, hasn’t responded to any accusations and neither has O’Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan friar known for his humility. However, O’Malley said in April on his own blog that Hehir “inspires us with his compassion, vision and fidelity to the work of the Church.” In August, O’Malley blocked access from archdiocesan headquarters to one of the critical blogs, the anonymously penned Boston Catholic Insider.

“The lack of civility is very disturbing,” said Terrence C. Donilon, the archdiocesan spokesman.

Catholic officials are struggling to come to terms with the bloggers and have organized several recent media conferences on the topic, the latest at the Vatican this month. The U.S. bishops’ conference issued social media guidelines in July calling for Christian charity online.

Still, no one expects the Catholic blogosphere to change tone anytime soon. Many of the conservatives most active online had spent years raising the alarm about dissent on their own in their local dioceses without much effect. Now, they feel they are finally being heard online.

Voris said. “I think enough Catholics are saying, ‘That’s it. I’ve had it.'”

Terry, is the deceit and corruption at 66 Brooks Drive not “very disturbing”?  We are hearing from more and more donors that they find it “disturbing” how their money is being squandered, including $300K+ salaries for some people who never earned those amounts in comparable private sector jobs.  We are hearing from pastors who find it “disturbing” that their parishes are being taxed by the archdiocese at 18% of their donations to pay for six-figure salaries in Braintree while 1/3 of parishes are in the red.  Is the $5M+ in donor funds spent on Lawson financial and accounting software when it was a mismatch for our needs not “very disturbing”? Is it not “disturbing”  that sham searches block good people from being considered for open positions?  How about the conflicts of interest—are they not ‘disturbing”?  Is knowingly deceiving lay people, priests and pastors, church employees, donors, and even members of key advisory committees like the Archdiocesan Presbyteral Council and Pastoral Council not “very disturbing”? Is the leadership vacuum at 66 Brooks Drive that threatens the ability of the Church to continue doing her good works not “disturbing”?

To Cardinal O’Malley, Vicar General Fr. Erikson, Chancellor Jim McDonough, Fr. Bryan Hehir, and Terry Donilon, we do not speak for other bloggers, but in case it was unclear up to now, allow this blog to clarify ourselves. With all due respect,  it is your actions or lack of actions and unresponsiveness to long-standing concerns by faithful Catholics that have led to the sort of criticism by the local Catholic blogs that Mr. Donilon apparently now finds “very disturbing.” 

Let’s make a deal.  You publicly, or at least internally acknowledge the problems we have highlighted on the blog and clean up your acts.  Stop justifying the current situation by saying that you offered to meet with us and we declined, and instead implement a credible whistleblower policy that gives all people who care about the Church a way to alert an independent ethics team to problems and ensures a process for addressing the problems  while protecting the person who complains from retaliation.  Operate with integrity like the Catholic Church should operate.  Pastors and laity, we invite you to contact Cardinal O’Malley and urge him to get rid of the corruption, deceit, and cronyism–along with cabinet secretaries and/or advisors who have brought that into the standard operating procedures of this archdiocese. In exchange, we will work on using more civil language. Better still, we might even eventually go away completely. A blog like this one would not be considered necessary in the Archdiocese of Denver, which is under the leadership of Cardinal Sean’s classmate and fellow Capuchin Archbishop Chaput.  We hope some day we will be unnecessary in Boston as well, but that seems a long ways off based on how 66 Brooks Drive is operating today.

In the meantime, sorry guys, we are here to stay along with the thousands of readers  who are all saying, “That’s it. I’ve had enough.”

Reader Comments: Vicar General and Reconfiguration Consternation

October 18, 2010

Sometimes the comments we get from readers are so interesting and insightful that we feel they are worth highlighting as they say things better than we could have ourselves.  Several from the past few days merit greater visibility:

In Vicar General, Moderator of the Furious, we gave some background on Fr. Richard Erikson, who has parish pastoral planning and some administrative management under his limited scope of responsibility and who is rumored to want to head back to the Air Force full-time.  Here are excerpts from what one reader, “Objective Observer” said:

[Fr. Erikson] seemingly a priest with no RCAB baggage, with a Ph.D. in social Work/Counseling, and with some administrative experience in the military looked good [in 2006 as a candidate for Vicar General]. But the cardinal succumbed to the classic mistake many schools make when they make their best teacher principal. The school ends up losing a very good teacher, and picking up an inexperienced, even mediocre principal. When he tapped Erikson, the cardinal took a really good member of the presbyterate and put him in a job for which he had no preparation and, frankly, no specific competence.

Father Richard Erikson, no question, is a good and holy priest. A great big parish full of kids, working class people and elderly are missing out on a man who would be a superb pastor. So, point one is, can we afford to have him caged up on this little running wheel where he is not free to care for the people of God, as diocesan priests are called to do, and not free to manage the diocese?

My prayer for Father Erikson is that he be called back to the Military diocese as an auxiliary bishop…

Boston needs a VG who understands how the Church must work, and who cannot be hoodwinked or disabled by ridiculous pretenders like McDonough. As the months and years pass by, Boston suffers and Father Erikson suffers. An orderly transition is not possible in an upside-down diocese, so better to limit the duration of the suffering. No matter how carefully planned the transition, it cannot yield benefit under these circumstances.

Unsolicited advice to Father Erikson: Discern in prayer, attain clarity, and act on that clarity with courage in order to do God’s will. Surely then the chaos that thrives at 66 Brooks will slip into your past, and you can greet the future of your priesthood with joyful tears of consolation. AMDG

In Reconfiguration Consternation, we talked about plans to combine multiple “church” buildings into a smaller number of city/regional “parishes,” with one pastor and shared parish staff. Here is what one reader, “Larry” offered:

O’Malley recently reported to a meeting of the regional vicars that in ten years there will be 150 parishes in the archdiocese. Multiple current parishes will be rearranged to fit into the 150 final parishes. What happens to buildings will be determined locally (you can have one future parish that includes the churches and buildings of many current parishes). This is a done deal. This model of reconfiguration has been successful in many dioceses. What is key to those successes, though, is that they have had bishops who have offered strong direction, have been willing to make difficult choices, and have accepted personal responsibility for their decisions. O’Malley notably lacks any of those qualities. He’s most likely to observe the process from Ireland or perhaps the palace of his noble friends in Portugal. No doubt Bryan Hehir and Jim McDonough will be able to take masterful care of things on the home front.

This target number of parishes is consistent with what Chancellor McDonough blabbed at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which was published in the Boston Globe and Boston Herald.

So, look for an alignment of multiple “church” buildings in a city or region to be organized around one “parish” with one pastor, several priests in a rectory and shared staff. No one wants to say anything right now about any church buildings closing, lest the hysteria and protests of “Reconfiguration Round 1” begin anew.  No one wants to say how many rectories there will be, and it is not clear if the plan has gotten that far.  Look for the episcopal leadership concerns in Boston and associated ramifications to dominate the discussions and process.

Oddly and importantly, no one will want to talk about process at getting to this “150” parish number and the tradeoffs for the future health of the archdiocese.  No one is yet sharing the fact that the ratio of priests to weekly church-goers  has actually remained relatively constant over decades as the number of priests and Catholic Church-goers in Boston decline proportionally. That means that the # of “parishes” could be much lower, and probably will need to be much lower in the future.  At one time, about 70-80% of 2 million Catholics in this archdiocese were going to Mass regularly.  Now we have 1/8 that number–about 250,000 Catholics attend Mass weekly.  We will report more on those statistics later this week.

Reconfiguration Consternation

October 16, 2010

Today we continue our exclusive Boston Catholic Insider series on the next phase of parish reconfiguration in the Boston archdiocese.  Just to get new readers up-to-speed, we started with Chancellor Spills Beans to vigilers at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Boston regarding future plans to consolidate parishes, we then talked in Vigil Vigilance about the ongoing church occupancies and a proven way to end them  (which no one is acting on still) that would also dramatically lower the cost to the Archdiocese of maintaining those shuttered churches, and yesterday in Vicar General, Moderator of the Furious, we gave some background on Fr. Richard Erikson, who has parish pastoral planning under his limited scope of responsibility and will apparently be a spokesperson on the plans going forward.

We offer you today two areas to ponder: Fr. Erikson’s most recent comments, and a sense for the hodge-podge of planning efforts he attempts to rationalize in his Pilot column.

Vicar General’s Most Recent Comments

Here are excerpts from Fr. Erikson’s email to priests and column in The Pilot, called “Inspired by a Man on a Mission”:

He [St. Paul] would go to the ends of the earth, and lay down his life, so that people would come to know, love and serve Jesus Christ and so that vibrant communities of faith would be established.  Two thousand years later, we are carrying on St. Paul’s zeal and mission through evangelization and mission-centered planning for our future….Accompanying these efforts, and being driven by the same mission, is a renewed comprehensive effort at pastoral planning…

The more recent planning initiatives find their roots in the 1988 Synod that established the Office of Planning and Research and the formation of clusters of parishes to begin working together to find common goals in 1994.  Our archdiocese is indebted to Fr. Robert MacMillan, SJ, Mr. Harry Foden and Sr. Mary Anne Doyle, CSJ for their generous efforts…

Continuing in the spirit of St. Paul, and with the dedicated guidance and leadership of Fr. George Evans, the 2007 Pastoral Planning Report (available at, click on pastoral planning) captured various voices and perspectives and called for a “culture of planning” throughout the Archdiocese, along with an “infrastructure that can sustain effective pastoral planning at all levels.”  The work of Fr. Evans and his committee demonstrated the fact that we are at a critical juncture, a turning point in the history of our archdiocese, as our parishes are challenged by a smaller pool of available clergy, changing demographics, tighter finances, and a secularized culture.   Sr. Marian Batho, CSJ, brought the challenges and perspectives of the Pastoral Planning Report to the people of our archdiocese through a year-long process of consultations on the report.

In 2009, motivated by the recommendations of the Pastoral Planning Report and by the feedback from the consultations, Cardinal Seán hired Director, Fr. David Couturier, OFM. Cap., and Associate Director, Mr. Joshua Phelps for our Office of Pastoral Planning.  Fr. Couturier and Mr. Phelps have been tireless in assisting the archdiocese in mission-centered planning for our future.

Hodge-Podge of Planning Efforts

Readers should immediately notice the variety of people, approaches, and ecclesiologies referenced in this message. We have a hired Jesuit, a hired Capuchian, members of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and a diocesan priest known for wanting “priestless parishes” among the players.  Not mentioned was another Capuchian, Br. James Peterson OFM, Assistant to the Moderator of the Curia for Canonical Affairs, who was also briefly involved in this effort until his input was ignored.  One can only imagine the starts and stops, as well as the conflicting agendas and theological viewpoints of the participants over time.

For example, the Fr. Evans group included a very diverse group of people, some of whom have controversial histories and have been described by our sources as holding “radical” views.  They asked for comments and suggestions from just about everybody.  Aa number of people with experience in this area submitted plans or solid ideas, yet we are told that Fr. Evans either refused to share all of these ideas with the committee or failed to include all good ideas shared with the committee in the final report.  Several sources report that Fr. Evans’ goal was driving toward “priestless parishes”—an idea also backed by people he consulted with such as Fr. Bryan Hehir and Msgr. Dennis Sheehan.  Here is the Evans’ report.   You will note that it includes a potpourri of ideas for consideration but basically no real recommendations.  That is because the committee could not get to consensus on anything other than “Cardinal Sean should look into X, Y, and Z and then decide what he wants to do.”

We hear that several people submitted their disregarded suggestions to the Cardinal, and though he liked many of them and wanted to combine elements of them into one plan, that new “plan” was not the Evans report. So when the Evans report came out, it received faint, half-hearted praise. After the Evans report came out and the dust settled, in May of 2009 Cardinal O’Malley sent for his Capuchin colleague, Fr. David Couturier, and they were off to the races with yet another “plan.”

Who is Fr. Couturier?  Here is the press release announcing his appointment. As a Capuchian, he wears the same kind of brown robe as Cardinal O’Malley, and we are told he and Chancellor McDonough are not exactly drinking buddies.  Could be because Couturier comes across as having more backbone than the average Pastoral Center staffer that the Chancellor can manipulate, and he  also seems to have nothing to gain or lose from the McDonough/Connors/Hehir regime.  (Perhaps Jack Connors has had his fill of mundane parish closings after previously meddling on the Meade-Eisner commission, and he has now turned his sights toward bigger and better things, like controlling the money flow into the archdiocese and getting more property assets for BC and Partners?)  Couturier has the benefit of also being a Capuchin, and the reality is that Cardinal O’Malley tends to listen to other Capuchins, even if their ecclesiological bent is different than his own.

We know little about the other person mentioned, Associate Director of Planning, Joshua Phelps, except that he has a B.A. (2005) and M.A. in Philosophy (2007) from Boston College, has research experience, and was a pastoral associate for the archdiocese before this job.  He also somehow made it through an interview/selection process in which some combination of Fr. Erikson and/or Chancellor McDonough managed to frighten off other well-qualified candidates for the job.

Anyway, this 2009 document, “Developing a Pastoral Plan for Parish Staffing” is basically Fr. Couturier’s plan for a plan.  It says that a plan was to be submitted by March of 2010.  Such a plan has not been released publicly yet.  We do know that it was tough to arrive at a plan that satisfied his boss, Fr. Thomas Foley (the Cabinet Secretary for the Parish Life and Leadership Secretariat) and Cardinal Sean.  Even if no “churches” were to close–and some probably will–a key issue was the number of “parishes” to group individual “churches” into.  Will the magic number be in the neighborhood of 50 parishes?  Will it be more like 150 parishes?  The archdiocese wants to start rolling this out in January of 2011, and though nothing has been publicly confirmed, we have some sense for the number of “parishes” they are aiming for.  Anyone wishing to weigh-in on what you think can do so via email or comments.

Something important to note in this process–and what no one is mentioning publicly–is the demographic reality of the priest-to-Church-going Catholic ratio.  We will talk about that next time, as well as what you might expect to see going forward in the Boston Archdiocesan pastoral plans.

In the meantime, the vigils at shuttered parishes apparently continue. At $4,100/day in cost and 93 days since the Archdiocese learned the Vatican had denied the final appeal, that has cost the archdiocese an additional $380,000.  What ministry is suffering for lack of these funds because the Archdiocese lacks the will to simply do what they have proven works already?  Who is in charge of decision-making in this area?

ps. Note to Chancellor McDonough: primary sources for this post are NOT at 66 Brooks Drive

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