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!


Seminary Squeezola: BC Brighton Campus plans

October 28, 2010

In today’s episode of the “Seminary Squeezola” (about how both the Boston Archdiocesean leadership and Boston College have been inhibiting the ability of St. Johns Seminary from being more prosperous), we discuss the expansion plans BC has for their new “Brighton Campus” and we share via pictures what the squeezola actually looks like.

For new readers, in our first exciting episode, St Johns Seminary “Squeezola, we reported on how Boston College is encroaching on the limited space left for St. John’s Seminary. In our second episode, The 2007 Sale of Property to BC, we gave some of the history of the 2004 and 2007 sales, and how the archdiocese–and specifically Cardinal O’Malley, Chancellor McDonough, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson who serve on the seminary board–disregarded the recommendations of the Vatican’s apostolic visitation committee that no more property from SJS be sold. In our third episode, Chancellor Conflict of Interest and Money Grab we reported on the money grab for the seminary assets and conflicts of interest by Archdiocesan Chancellor Jim McDonough and other archdiocesan leaders.

For posterity sake, we invite you to briefly take a look at some of the history of the St. Johns Seminary campus.  According to the SJS website, in March of 1880, Archbishop Williams acquired the 50 acre Stanwood estate, near the present day Lake Street in Brighton, for around $18,500.  As you know, all of that land was sold to Boston College in 2004 and 2007. If you want to learn more about the development of the buildings on the property and architecture, the Brighton Allston Historical Society has an interesting overview. 

Here is what the St. Johns Seminary map used to look like before the Archdicoese sold off all of their land:

Walk about the former seminary grounds today and it all looks basically like it did a few years ago before it was sold, except for the addition of some emergency phones, signage, and the young coeds now walking around. But this belies the plans ahead. 

First off, here is what the BC “Brighton Campus”  map looks like today.

  

The black building in the top part of the picture is St. Johns Hall.  That is all that remains of the former St. Johns Seminary property for the seminary, and even that building sits on land now owned by Boston College.  The building itself is legally considered a “condominium.”  St. Johns Hall is attached to the former Bishop Peterson Hall (blue-colored building), and only hallway doors separate the building occupied by BC (former Peterson Hall) and the St. Johns Hall building.

The initial plans for the Brighton Campus were announced in December 2007 by BC, as part of their  $800M 10-Year Master Plan (later $1B), which also included plans for the main campus.  The Brighton Campus plan got pared back a fair amount after review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority by the time it was approved in early 2009.

Here are highlights  from their original 2007 plan for the Brighton Campus:

  • Addition of 600 beds on the Brighton Campus
  • Develop the Brighton Athletics Center, which will include a 1,500-seat baseball and 500-seat softball field, as well as a multi-purpose field for intramural sports, and a 200,000 square field house for track and tennis on the Brighton Campus.
  • Build a fine arts district on the Brighton Campus that will include the relocated McMullen Museum of Art, an auditorium and academic space.
  • Build Jesuit housing on Foster Street in Brighton for Jesuit faculty and graduate students from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, which re-affiliates with Boston College in 2008.
  • Build a 500-space parking facility to serve the Brighton Campus.
  • Develop the former Cardinal’s Residence on the Brighton Campus into a Conference Center for Boston College.
  • Develop St. William’s Hall on the Brighton Campus into the new School of Theology and Ministry.
  • Utilize the remaining properties acquired from the Archdiocese of Boston as administrative offices.

 In January of 2009, the plan was approved, with a number of modifications.  Here are the highlights of the changes:

  • Number of dorm rooms to be added was scaled back dramatically from the original 600 beds, down to 150 beds, and the 150 bed proposal was not approved and was to be taken under further advisement.
  • Athletics facilities: Seating capacity of the baseball facility reduced from 2,000 to 1,000 seats, with the possibility of a future increase if management and impact standards are met.  Seating capacity of the softball facility reduced the from 500 to 300 seats.  The planned 200,000 square foot field house was reduced to a 60,000 square foot support facility. 
  • Fine arts center, museum and auditorium relocated from the corner of Lake Street and Commonwealth Avenue to a more central location along Commonwealth Avenue (near the former Cardinal’s Residence).
  • BC agreed to establish for 25 years a “no-build” zone 50 feet wide extending from the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Lake Street to the driveway entrance to St. John’s Seminary.

Here’s a 2006 rendition of what the proposed athletic fields would look like (though in the 2009 revisions, the orientation was changed)

 

Brighton Fields | A view to the southwest from above property adjoining Brighton Campus. A set of playing fields stretches from the near left to the near right, ending at Lake Street. The new building in the middle distance is a combination racquet center and parking garage. The campus of St. John’s Seminary is in the middle distance at center.

Work has now begun. Walk past the former Bishop Peterson Hall and you will see scaffolding outside. The building used to have classrooms, administrative offices and dorm rooms for the seminarians.

What is BC planning to use the former Peterson Hall for?   According to this September 10, 2010 Boston Globe article, “Once the Lake Street renovations are complete, the college’s human resource employees from More Hall will move there.”

There are more than a few things that we do not understand.  The biggest one is why BC is saying they need to use the St Johns Seminary Chapel are part of the negotition over the dorm rooms SJS would like to acquire back.  There is a perfectly fine spacious chapel BC owns in the former Peterson Hall building and they are apparently planning to gut (or are already gutting) so they can use the space for some other purpose.  How demanding could the office requirements for HR employees who are right now comfortably working in another building possibly be?  BC also got a chapel in the former St. Clements Hall building and another smaller one in the former St. Williams Hall building.  They bought 3 buildings with chapels, and need to further encroach on our seminary to use their chapel?  Does anyone else think this is preposterous? 

Beyond the matter of the chapel, although it is “water over the dam” at this point, just out of curiosity, was the property sold to BC in 2004 and 2007 ever even put up for sale by the archdiocese via an open request for proposal (RFP) and open bidding process?  Could anyone who wanted to submit a proposal for consideration, or was BC the only bidder allowed?

Why is BC’s further encroachment on the seminary tolerated?  Don’t the growing numbers of seminarians and expansion of the SJS programs speak volumes?  Why isn’t Cardinal O’Malley trying to “buy back” the former Peterson Hall so the seminary’s growth has someplace to go?  Whose advice is he listening to regarding the future of the seminary?

So many questions.  So few answers.  Stay tuned for more in our next exciting episode of Seminary Squeezola.

ps. Odds now favor the announcement of Kathleen Driscoll as the new secretary for institutional advancement next Tuesday, Election Day, so it will get the least amount of press coverage possible.


St Johns Seminary “Squeezola”

October 24, 2010

We were going to hold this story a little longer to give you all of the historical context first, but feel like it is urgent to get this one out for you all.  It concerns how Boston College is squeezing the property of St. John Seminary at the same point when the seminary is prospering and needs more space.

We hear that tensions are increasing, with BC taking back space the seminary was previously using.  Several reports–now confirmed–indicate that BC has recently pushed St. Johns out of their music room, and is booting St. Johns faculty from their dining room as well.  Normally we would wait to verify this from multiple sources, but it aligns with a pattern we have been seeing already.  So, this blog feels compelled to come out and say it appears no one at the top of the archdiocesan food-chain is pushing the seminary needs over BC’s encroachment.  That is why we are calling this a “Seminary Squeezola.”

As most people know, back in 2007 the Archdiocese sold off the huge majority of the land and buildings owned by St. John Seminary to Boston College when the archdiocese needed to raise cash.  We will go into the details of the transaction at another time.  The archdiocese took the cash and according to St. John’s Annual report, the archdiocese owes St. Johns  $4.8 million (plus interest) as of January 2011 from the 2004 sale of seminary land, and another $36 million in 2017.

How the cash-poor archdiocese will pay back those debts from the land they forced the seminary to sell is a story for another time.  So is the question of why Chancellor Jim McDonough is on the board of the seminary, when his main business is consuming money for the archdiocese–which presents a humongous conflict of interest vs advancing the formation of seminarians. More on that another time… 

So, the great news about St. Johns is that it is prospering and needs more space!   We heard glimpses of the good news back in 2008 when the Boston Globe reported on the “Stunning Turnaround for St Johns Seminary.”

Today there are about 100 students studying at St. Johns.  We get numbers from different sources, but this breaks down to about 80-84 residents, and 17 day students.  27-30 of those are from Boston, maybe around 10 are Neo-Catechumenates, and the rest come from other dioceses.  We hear great things about rector, Bishop Kennedy, the overall program, and quality of seminarians and staff at the seminary.  The seminary has run out of residential space in St. Johns Hall.  They are out of classroom space, because Bishop Peterson Hall was sold to BC, and may need to bus seminarians to the Masters of Arts in Ministry (MAM) building in Brighton for classes. 

To help solve the residential space problem, the seminary has been negotiating with BC to purchase back about 62 rooms over the refrectory (dining hall).  These were leased to BC in an arrangement which was a 99-year lease for $1, which is effectively a sale for legal purposes.  Now BC wants somewhere north of $1.5M to sell the rooms back to St. Johns and is apparently driving a hard bargain.  BC fired a shot across the bow letting them know “who is in charge” by trying to use the St. Johns chapel and pipe organ without asking permission back in September.  Now we hear they are taking back the small music room and faculty dining room they had legally acquired but were letting St. John’s use.

We wonder which side of all this Jack Connors is on?  Where is he when you need him to push for the seminary and archdiocesan needs for a change and tell his alma mater they should back off?  Cardinal O’Malley has stated his unequivocal support for the seminary in the past (“My commitment to St. John’s Seminary and its work of preparing men for the priesthood remains as strong as it has always been.”)  Where is he in this picture?   Besides Bishop Kennedy, who above him is standing up for the needs of the seminary and our future priests?

Apologies for the incomplete information today and tone of anger and frustration.  We are miffed. 

If anyone from the seminary would like to comment, please feel free to in comments or via email (bostoncatholicinsider(at)gmail.com).


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