Archdiocese of Boston uses parish funds to repay sexual abuse settlement costs

August 5, 2014

The stories about St. Francis of Cabrini continuing to protest their closing and occupy the church  ten years after it was ordered closed and comments by Communications Secretary Terry Donilon merit a response.  In particular, the deception by Donilon about how the Archdiocese of Boston uses parish funds just cannot sit uncontested. Donilon said a fund of resources of parishes cannot be tapped by the archdiocese for any purpose the archdiocese chooses. Maybe that is true. But if so, then how exactly does Donilon explain how closed Brighton parish properties were recently transferred from the archdiocese to another related entity to help pay off sexual abuse claims?  Later in this post, we also show how little progress the Boston Archdiocese has made with these church squatters.

First, regarding the Scituate situation, here is an excerpt from one article with the Donilon quote:

Canon law consultant Peter Borre of the Council of Parishes, who’s been helping diehard parishioners of deconsecrated Mount Carmel Church in East Boston stave off a wrecking ball, told several dozen supporters — some openly weeping — “the whole rationale for turning this church into condos” is contradicted by the Archdiocese of Boston’s latest public annual report, which he said shows the nonprofit reaped $41 million in surplus revenues in Fiscal Year 2013.

Archdiocese spokesman Terrence Donilon responded, Mr. Borre is misleading people. The $41 million is mostly money raised by parishes for the parishes. So even though it shows up on the combined statements of the archdiocese’s books, it can not be tapped by the archdiocese for any purpose it chooses (i.e., their suggestion to reopen St. Frances). These are the resources of the parishes.

BCI agrees that Borre is misleading people–the Boston Archdiocese has no operating surplus. And we are not supporters of him or the Scituate squatters. But Terry Donilon is also apparently misleading people.  Terry, if what you said is really the case, then how do you explain the recent transfer of the closed Our Lady of Presentation and St Gabriel parish properties in Brighton to St. John’s Seminary to pay off $3.9M worth of a promissory note to the seminary–a note which is repaying money the Boston Archdiocese got from selling off St. John’s Seminary property in order to pay sexual abuse claims?

Loans that Funded Sexual Abuse Settlement Paid for with Parish Property

Most people know how the Archdiocese of Boston took out a number of loans between 2002-2003 to stay afloat and pay off sexual abuse claims, including $37M from the Knights of Columbus and $97M from a combination of commercial banks, the Clergy Fund and the Cemetery trust. The lion’s share of the funds to repay the archdiocesan debts came from the sale of the former Chancery property and St. John’s Seminary property. As we reported here at BCI in this 2010 post:

“… in 2004, the Boston Archdiocese was under heavy pressure to pay additional sex abuse claims, and was without the resources to do so….Assets of approximately $56 million were transferred from the seminary to RCAB so that it could pay its claimants, and at that time, the Cardinal pledged that $30 million would be given to the seminary so that an endowment could be begun. RCAB received a smaller payment from its insurance companies than it expected, such that it could give the seminary only $21 million and a promissory note for $4.8 million (that came due in 2011).”

In 2007, almost all of the remainder of the St. Johns Seminary property was sold to BC for $65 million, and the proceeds of the sale went not to the seminary but instead to the Boston Archdiocese to be applied “where it is needed.”   In the end after the two sales of Seminary property valued at a total of $111 million and repayment of $21 million, what was promised to St. Johns Seminary as future repayment were two notes: one for $4.8 million (due in 2011) and another for $36.4 million (due in 2017).

To repay the $4.8 million note, in 2013 the Boston Archdiocese transferred property from the closed Our Lady of Presentation and St. Gabriel’s parishes to the Seminary.  Here are the references in the 2013 Annual Report (p. 21):

Corporation Sole agreed to canonically transfer all of its rights, title and interest in Our Lady of Presentation
Church, Rectory and parking lots and the St. Gabriel rectory and school to the Seminary. The properties have a
collective appraised value of approximately $6,070,000 and a book value of $566,000.

During the year ended June 30, 2013, Corporation Sole transferred the Our Lady of Presentation property with an
appraised value of $2,850000 to the Seminary to discharge a portion of the note. In accordance with the MOU, the
Seminary agreed to forgive the remaining note balance of $1,038,000 which is included in gain on settlement of note
payable in the statement of activities.

So, despite Cardinal O’Malley’s comment in the National Catholic Register in a 2012 interview that the financial transparency implemented early in his tenure in Boston was intended to help “demonstrate that we were not using parish funds, parishes were not being closed to pay for the sex-abuse crisis,” in 2013, parish property was indeed used to pay for some costs of the sexual abuse crisis, by means of parish property repaying a sexual abuse settlement loan.  And there are precedents for the Archdiocese of Boston taking funds or property canonically intended for one purpose and using it for another purpose (e.g. St. Johns Seminary property sold to fund the RCAB and sexual abuse settlements; St. Gabriel and Our Lady of the Presentation property transferred to the Seminary to repay a loan, diocesan Revolving Loan funds used to finance construction of a Catholic school in Dorchester).

So, Terry, back to you.  How do you explain this apparent contradiction?  When exactly was it that the policy changed and it became OK to use parishes to pay off sexual abuse settlement costs, such as loans used to pay the claims? Why should anyone believe the $41M in parish funds referred to above is safe from being used for purposes other than the parishes, when the precedent is already set for that happening elsewhere?

The Insanity Over the Scituate Squatters

Beyond the matter above, both Terry Donilon and the Scituate squatters continue to propagate some level of insanity over the situation.  Donilon should look back on his previous quotes in the press over the past few years:

  • In December 2008, Terry Donilon was quoted in the Boston Globe saying: “These vigils have to end at some point. It’s an issue of fairness to the parishes that are open and struggling to serve people.”
  • In July 2011,  Donilon was quoted in the Globe saying: “We’re not looking for a confrontation, but at some point, the vigils are going to have to end.”
  • On August 2, 2014, Donilon was quoted in the Boston Herald saying, ““We’re going to work for a peaceful and prayerful resolution, but this is not going to go on forever. It can’t go on forever.”

Terry, the vigil has been going on for almost ten years, and you have been saying the same thing about the situation for nearly six years. When are you guys going to end it?

And as for the squatters, their having volunteers leading lay services, and the idea of operating St. Frances X. Cabrini as an “independent Catholic church” outside the archdiocese and the church hierarchy as a breakaway, progressive “American Catholic Church” are silly and just not Catholic. Are these folks attending their own lay services and committing a mortal sin every week by missing Sunday Mass? Terry Donilon and Cardinal O’Malley should remind these folks that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is where Catholics encounter our Eucharistic Lord. Here’s a passage from a great work by St. Leonard-Port Maurice, The Hidden Treasure of the Holy Mass:

The principal excellence of the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass consists in being essentially, and in the very highest degree, identical with that which was offered on the Cross of Calvary: with this sole difference, that the Sacrifice on the Cross was bloody, and made once for all, and did on that one occasion satisfy fully for all the sins of the world; while the Sacrifice of the Altar is an unbloody sacrifice, which can be repeated an infinite number of times, and was instituted in order to apply in detail that universal ransom which Jesus paid for us on Calvary.

We worship God at Mass. We receive graces from God by being nourished by the Word of God—God’s eternal truth revealed to us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We remember and profess our faith in the mystery of our salvation, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered, died, and rose for our salvation. The saving actions of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday come together in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says, “For it is the liturgy through which, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, ‘the work of our redemption is accomplished,’ and it is through the liturgy, especially that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true church”  If we we are in a state of grace, we can receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. As Catholics, we believe that our Lord is present in the Holy Eucharist, and that we receive His body, blood, soul, and divinity in Holy Communion. Not only does the Holy Eucharist unite us intimately with the Lord, but also unites us in communion with our brothers and sisters throughout the universal Church.

Do the squatters realize this is what they are missing?  Terry, do you realize this is what they are missing?

Furthermore, does anyone realize that the Rogers’ who lead this vigil/occupation and other occupation leaders are folks who were not regular Mass-goers at St. Francis before it was ordered to close?  The Mass-going couple who filed the original appeal in Scituate went to the receiving parish. They have had nothing to do with the Rogers’ and the occupation.  BCI is told that the Rogers’ are abutters and appear to want control over who was or is allowed to buy the property and how it would be developed.  BCI is also told that when the first appeal that was filed by the faithful parishioners failed, Peter Borre asked the Rogers’ to take it over.  Then there is the matter of abuses of the Blessed Sacrament that have taken place there: we are told that the Blessed Sacrament has been present during social gatherings and sleepovers on or around the altar; dinners have been held with pizza on the altar set out like a buffet.  But Terry, Fr. Bryan Hehir and the PR folks at Rasky Baerlein don’t know know how to talk about these topics either.

Bottom line: the Boston Archdiocese set a precedent in 2013 for using parishes to fund repayment of a sexual abuse settlement loan. This is clearly described in their 2013 Annual Report. If they will redirect funds in that manner and have done so in other situations, there is nothing to stop them from doing similar again. And the Scituate occupancy should be ended–for the sake of the souls of those occupying the church and because this thing has more than run its course through all canonical appeals.

This is what BCI thinks. What do you think?

 


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