Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me – Part I – Introduction:

March 23rd, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

I have just joined the writing staff of Cleansing Fire. Since 2006 I have been the editor and publisher of a Newsletter called It Really Matters for members of victim parishes in Our Lady of the Lakes (OLOL) Cluster. Most recipients of the Newsletter are in the parishes of St Januarius in Naples, St. Theresa in Stanley, and the now-virtually-closed-but-still-having-its-treasury-emptied-by-OLOL parish of St. Mary in Rushville. We call these “Cluster West,” as differentiated from the largest of the parishes, St. Michael in Penn Yan and the other two parishes of St. Patrick in Prattsburgh and the now closed parish of St. Andrew in Dundee. All the parishes are being “amalgamated” into a single OLOL parish. It’s a tragedy.

With the March 11, 2011 announcement regarding Fr. Robert Ring’s leaving OLOL, two years before the end of his appointed term, to go to St. Louis in Pittsford, and with the repeated failure of diocesan leadership to remedy the many problems of OLOL and of Fr. Ring’s pastorate, it seems to be time to stop hoping for an ecclesiastical “doing the right thing” and to begin to share past events more widely. Thus, the plan for “Zeal” is to serialize some of the most egregious happenings on behalf of those who have suffered so much and hopefully to use those experiences to caution others who, without light, might be beckoned into the same pit. Otherwise, as we read in Luke 6:39: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?”

We begin a bit chronologically in this Part I, and then will focus on the pipe organ issue in Part II, which highlights much of what has been so wrong at St. Jan’s and in OLOL. There are strange goings-on in Naples, well away from the eyes of much of the Rochester Community, things which will likely surprise and shock good, faithful Catholics. In subsequent postings we will deal with the pipe organ threat and how that fits into the larger issue of Sanctuary Demolition, how pastoral planning failed the people of OLOL, how the shroud of secrecy has injured souls, how financial matters are obscured, how NYS Religious Corporation Law wasn’t followed, how conflicts by Trustees abetted the process, how a priest-friend of Fr. Ring’s became a Trojan Horse to destroy the Rushville parish and SO much more!

On September 11, 2001, an infamous day in the History of America, Fr. Robert Ring arrived to take over the approximately year-old cluster of the six parishes called Our Lady of the Lakes (OLOL), headquartered at St. Michael in Penn Yan. Taking over a parish in September is unusual but it was widely related that the previous, esteemed pastor had experienced health problems due to the enormous task of bringing six parishes together. The OLOL cluster is over 700 square miles, impossible for any one priest to effectively pastor, if only Fr. Ring would admit it. Now he leaves it for another pastor and the next bishop to sort out. It was the Bishop’s error, of course, to have approved such an organizational structure in the first place, and one which he seems unable to acknowledge or to correct. Fr. Ring himself often said during pastoral planning that “no other priest is willing to pastor this parish;” i.e. that only he is capable to do so. Karen Rinefierd, the diocesan planning coordinator assigned to OLOL at Fr. Ring’s request, backed him up, publicly calling him the “best” priest in the diocese. Now the truth or lack of truth of those statements will be tested.

One month after Fr. Ring arrived, St. Januarius celebrated its 125th Anniversary as a Parish, a thriving and growing parish (as cited by Fr. Ring in the Anniversary Program) with 325 families. Before Fr. Ring’s arrival, St. Jan’s annual attendance was 17,576 attendees at Masses of Sunday Obligation. In the calendar year just ended, there were a little over 200 families, and only 9483 attendees at Masses of Sunday Obligation at St. Jan’s, a drop of about 46% in attendance. The intervening years have polarized the pastorate away from the parishioners, with many folks driven away or leaving in disgust, and not without good reason. (For comparison, cluster-wide weekend attendance including St. Jan’s is down 34% in the same period of time).

Fr. Ring had not been a popular choice to head OLOL, let alone to have stayed for 10 years. He was widely seen throughout St. Jan’s as having poorly handled the removal of Fr. Emo and the attendant sexual abuse allegations against that priest in the 1990’s. Fr. Ring had headed up the diocesan Human Resources then, and many parishioners still do not feel they were told the truth. Therefore, a few years later, when he arrived to pastor OLOL, it was seen by some as a betrayal of their trust, or at least a very poor error in judgment. Many saw no effort at all to apologize or to lead a flock to healing. Rather, the “presider” mindset seemed to take over, many parish functions were transferred to Penn Yan, Religious Education fell precipitously (to a few years, for example, with no program at all), and tension grew rampant. Less than two years after his arrival, Fr. Ring was the subject of a parishioners’ forum, in August 2003, which demanded his removal, and sent documentation including a transcript to the Bishop, who refused to respond. Furthermore, in spite of repeated correspondence, in 2007 Bishop Clark renewed Fr. Ring to another six year term to the dismay of many. He will have completed four of those six years when he leaves for Pittsford.

I have always asked for correction in the Newsletter It Really Matters but virtually nothing has been received. Therefore since both the Bishop and Fr. Ring regularly get that Newsletter, and all the information has been brought to their attention with persistence, I am confident, to the best of my ability, in the truth of all that is written and all that will be written in this blog. Nevertheless, corrections are always welcome. The next posting, Part II, will deal with the threatened sale of the St. Jan’s pipe organ, and what was revealed about the secret plans to demolish the St. Januarius Sanctuary. Pray for those parishioners, please. For a long time they have suffered as sheep without a shepherd.

Your sister in Christ,
Diane Harris

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3 Responses to “Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me – Part I – Introduction:”

  1. avatar Susan says:

    Great post, Diane. Is there a way to obtain a copy of your newsletter? Could you post a link to it? Thank you.

  2. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Thanks, Susan. The Newsletter isn’t yet available electronically; it’s a snail mail thing. The email address is itreallymatters@frontiernet.net

  3. avatar Eliza10 says:

    This is a sobering story you are sharing. Thanks for letting the truth be known. It is a story unique to your parish/cluster and yet it is the same story happening again and again and continually in the DOR for the reign of Clark.

    I googled Karen Rinefierd and got this strange but TYPICAL quote in the Catholic Courrier:

    “Karen Rinefierd, a diocesan pastoral-planning liaison, noted that healthy parishes do not limit activity to their four walls. Growing parishes work with other churches and individuals in need, she said.”

    This is the DOR redefining reality for us. Healthy parishes are clusters.

    “Very few parishes see themselves as a single entity anymore,” Rinefierd observed. “They are seeing the positives of working with their neighbors.”

    Really.


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