Cleansing Fire

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Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me – Part VI –Truth and Consequences

April 9th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

In July and August 2010, Fr. Robert Ring solicited donations in a letter to parishioners and summer visitors which claimed that the Wegmans were donating $270,000 or $300,000 (depending on how you read it) and that it was to be a memorial to Robert Wegman. It also left the impression that Wegmans were requiring that parishioners come up with $30,000. All of the foregoing has been denied by Danny Wegman, but the funds were “de facto” raised on what is now said to be an untrue basis, and no visible effort is apparent to correct what had been so misleading. The consequence of such fundraising method is that donors seem to have a basis to demand return of funds. Below is the full copy of the Fr. Ring and Fr. Wiant letter, which is still on the OLOL website.

Things to notice in the Fr. Ring (and Fr. Wiant) letter:
• there is no connection to “simplicity when the church was first dedicated.” This church has never looked as is now being proposed.
• Vatican II liturgy is again misrepresented, if not hijacked.  The church was BUILT in 1967; i.e. “post Vatican II.”
• That the Wegmans will “provide the remaining funds” is untrue.
• How does it “renew” our experience of “praying the Eucharist,” when Jesus in the Tabernacle is bumped off to the side?

“Out-ed” Mandater Consequences

The “outing” of mandaters, as wrong as it was, had a good consequence too. Those who had collected mandates had also been very careful not to disclose identities, even of mandaters to each other. But we know that the Lord works all things to the good, and once the Newsletter, It Really Matters, told all parishioners that Fr. Dan Condon, Chancellor, had released the names, there was no point in mandaters any longer being secret from each other, although it was left as each mandater’s individual decision. Since the opposition knew who they were, many mandaters now could openly admit they were mandaters and work together. Even the outrageous actions of Fr. Condon and Fr. Ring did actually have a uniting force. Hence, there was more of a bonding among the mandaters, more open conversation, more rallying at St. Januarius to try to save the church from demolition of its Sanctuary.

Thumbs Up or Down?

As a result of mandaters more freely coming together, and better communications to share the truth, a group of 7 parishioners (mandaters and non-mandaters) offered to work collaboratively with the Sanctuary Steering (aka ‘Demolition’) Committee on a mutual survey. It was refused by Fr. Ring at a meeting in concert with a retired priest (Fr. Wiant) and five other parishioners who were at the Care of the Community (CC) when it was taken to a vote. It was odd, one thinks, that a vote would have been taken of a group with no power to vote, and which was forbidden to even discuss the renovation issue, and at a meeting for which this agenda matter of a vote hadn’t been announced in advance. But, of course, Fr. Ring would have known how those few present would vote, giving him an opportunistic way to dismiss the matter from further consideration; i.e. IF the parishioners had not taken the matter further.

But the seven parishioners, who believed it was necessary to know the truth of support or lack of support, went ahead and did the survey on their own initiative and at their own expense. Their methodology differed from the prior survey done by the Newsletter in some substantial ways; nevertheless, the results were astoundingly similar. There was only one question on the Parishioners’ Survey, and it wasn’t about Mass Times, the pipe organ, the pastor, or staff. It was simply a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” reaction to the renovation plan. The respondent was to choose one or the other response, and had the option (but not the requirement) to write additional comments if desired. Over 95% of respondents chose to comment, some were brutal and harsh regarding the proposed renovations and the pastoral leadership. The simple question was:

I support the modification of the St. Januarius Altar and Sanctuary for these reason(s):  ______________________________________________________

 ______________________________________________________

or

I am opposed to the modification of the St. Januarius Altar and Sanctuary for these reason(s):

______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

Another difference from the Newsletter’s survey was that respondents had to sign the parishioners’ survey, and give their contact information. That way, it was possible for the committee to contact every person who did not return a survey (or who hadn’t indicated they didn’t want a survey) to press for 100% return, regardless of opinion. Thus, they were also able to ensure there was no double voting, and if a comment couldn’t be read they could call the person for clarification. The Newsletter Survey had received 42 responses, representing 33 households. The Parishioners’ Survey received more than twice that response: 114 usable responses, representing 77 households, an extraordinary return. The Parishioner Survey took place in July/August 2010.

Preventing Bias or Error:

The Parishioner Survey Committee also took special measures to prevent bias or error. (It has been a problem in OLOL that when Fr. Ring doesn’t like the results he just ignores them and/or claims bias.) Envelopes were only opened in the presence of at least two committee members, and a log number was immediately assigned. A copy was also immediately made to be sure that every response had to be tracked and accounted for. The extra effort was worthwhile and outside review of the results added extra credibility.

Yet, even though the methodologies differed, when all the results were tallied, the results of the Parishioner Survey were surprisingly close to the Newsletter Survey. The Parishioners Committee, which conducted this Survey work, was able to protect the identity of the respondents.

Parishioner Survey Results: Truth of the Matter:

The 114 (adult) respondents comprised 77 households. The response rate of 77 out of a net deliverable 239 households represents an excellent response rate of 32.2% (most consumer surveys are considered a success at 3% return rate and 5% is extraordinary!)

The results were dramatic, showing that 72.8% oppose the proposed renovation; only 27.2% are in support, virtually the exact opposite of what Fr. Ring and the Sanctuary Steering Committee claimed after informally showing the drawings. Moreover, these results were also consistent with the Newsletter Survey which showed: 79% said the altar should not be lowered; 72% said it is not a good use of funds to remodel the sanctuary; 75% said the altar /sanctuary should be left alone (average: 75%). This consistency was in spite of the fact that two very different, but valid, survey methodologies were used, strengthening the reliability of the conclusions of both.

Serving the People

The Parishioner Survey Committee did a great service for the present and future attendees of St. Januarius. They did what Fr. Ring should have done — collaborated on a definitive survey. He should have had a hunger to know and respond to what his flock wants and needs. He should have engaged in discussion over the results of the work. He should have found inclusive ways for resolution instead of further alienating the flock. In short, he should have pursued truth, fully, faithfully and responsibly. Instead, others had to do the job for him.

Distribution of the Parishioner Survey Results:

The Parishioners Survey Committee which produced the Survey made the results widely available to the parishioners, to Fr. Ring, to Fr. Wiant, to the Parish Council, to the Bishop, to the donors, and to other relevant parties. Members of the Parishioner Survey Committee had asked to present their results at a Care of the Community (CC) meeting in September, which was inexplicably cancelled. They asked to speak at the October 6th CC meeting and that too was cancelled. After canceling the October 6th date, Fr. Ring, without even consulting the Survey Committee members as to their availability or convenience (most were not available), set an arbitrary meeting date of October 4th at 7PM, for a presentation of the Parishioners’ Survey to the OLOL Pastoral Council. The council, as mentioned above, had already received the survey summary as well as the consultant’s input and analysis. The parishioners were apparently not going to be allowed to present to their own community, only to the rubber-stamping Pastoral Council.

Alternative Presenter

The Parishioner Survey Committee members were almost all unable to attend the meeting date which had been dictated to them without a fair attempt to find a convenient mutual date (after two other dates which had been convenient were cancelled by the pastor). Those parishioners decided to ask their third party consultant, PerformancePlus, which had reviewed all their work in good faith, and had, in addition, validated serious and divisive issues facing St. Jan’s, to make the presentation to the Pastoral Council and Fr. Ring. It also seemed that perhaps a professional presentation would be less laden with emotion. After using his allotted 15 minutes, the consultant had received only one ‘clarification’ question, and NO challenges, NO claims of bias. Fr. Ring asked no questions, and there was no conversation among the Pastoral Council members. They seemed not even to consider the results with any energy or interest, but voted to recommend to the Pastor to go ahead with the Sanctuary demolition. Afterwards, the parishioners, who had done so much work in good faith, were criticized for not having presented the results themselves, were called biased, and the consultant’s input and suggestions were ignored.

There was a summary of the project by Jerry Luzum, of the Sanctuary Steering Committee, which said in part what is shown below. Things to note:
• Why was an appraisal made of the value of the property (some folks are very concerned that their church might have a loan or mortgage being made against it, and no one has set their minds at ease.)
• Note also the words related to the $30,000: “Provided the parish provide part of this total.”
• It may interest some readers to know that the Diocese has a 15-step process, but parishioners were NOT kept informed of the process or progress.
• Final drawings have still not been shown to the parishioners. It is believed that neither the eye-candy drawings shown in early 2010, or the drawings recently posted to the OLOL website dated March 2009 are the correct drawings.
• The two meetings referenced were handout meetings of liturgical arguments, not discussion and discernment.
• The claim of 75% approval by parishioners (because of all the other surveys), is believed to be blatantly untrue, but it continues to be promulgated by Mr. Luzum’s letter on the OLOL website, and relied on by the Bishop. The consequence? A project going forward that is believed to not be based on reality.

Pastoral Puppets and the Consequences:

Once again, the Pastoral Council acted as a puppet group to the pastor, to rubber-stamp the recommendation he was expecting them to make, i.e. whatever he wanted to do. No minutes are circulated from the Pastoral Council, and there is no evidence of any thoughtful, minority opinions. It is one thing to have a parishioners’ group with the caring and commitment of those who did the Survey, but it is quite another to have a Pastor who wants to hear the truth, let alone act on it. Much is wasted by poor stewards, but it is an insidious, demeaning and hurtful waste when it is people’s time and effort and faithful caring.

This is how a project, unwanted by parishioners, moves ahead in the Diocese of Rochester. 

Next time:   Appeal to the Bishop.

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4 Responses to “Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me – Part VI –Truth and Consequences”

  1. avatar Bernie says:

    Diane, you are a saint! You have sacrificed much to stay on this. Thank you.
    You are quite right that what is happening at St. Stan’s is exactly how these renovations move ahead in this diocese.

  2. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Thanks, Bernie. I know what you meant, and I am grateful for your kindness (believe me, there is not much of that “where I come from.”) Nevertheless, as we are bound to say in doing the work of the Lord (and as I have increasingly come to believe we say in the joy of serving Him:

    Luke 17:10 “So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

    Your unworthy sister servant, Diane

  3. avatar RochChaCha says:

    Diane,

    Did I read in an earlier post that Chris Wensel was involved in the St. Jan’s mess? Is this the same Chris Wensel listed in the staff directory at St Louis in Pittsford?

  4. avatar Diane Harris says:

    RochChaCha, please see answer to this question above, under prayer for St. Jan’s. Diane


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