Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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$hepherds $hearing $heep – Part 1 “Unfair CMA”

May 5th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

The financial stories behind the closing of parishes need to be told, and the exposé by Gretchen Garrity and Susan Miller is an important first step.  I had thought to cover financial issues next, after completing the Zeal Series, but given that they’ve opened the door to shed light on what is happening, I’d like to contribute to keeping up the momentum, while still completing the Zeal blog.  Thank you, Gretchen and Susan, for taking such a brave and needed step.

Somewhere in the not-so-distant-past the “Thanksgiving Appeal” was renamed the Catholic Ministries Appeal and the perception at least is that the charity of Thanksgiving was replaced in substantial part with covering ever more diocesan administrative expenses.  Whoever suffered by not receiving as much under the Thanksgiving spirit is unknown.   (BTW, does anyone have figures on an assortment of diocesan budgets per registered Catholic in various geographical areas?) 

My first twinges of mistrust came as I looked at the allocations by parish, and learned that the CMA is really a tax and not charity, and that what I thought were just errors in allocations were actually part of a plan that was blatantly unfair and without even the courtesy of explanation.  Over the years it became clearer that there was a variety of methods used to decrease the cash in my parish’s savings (then St. Mary of Rushville), savings built up over generations by donors in good faith.  The CMA is but one example, but I offer it because it dramatically illustrates the unfairness of this diocesan tax.  And the unfairness doesn’t stop when a church is closed; look at St. Bridget’s which is closed but still has an allocation.

The following is a 5-year summary of the CMA allocation to Our Lady of the Lakes (OLOL).  The allocation comes directly from the diocese, but it is unclear what role the pastor of multiple parishes has in recommending the allocation among parishes. 

Here is an explanation of what one is viewing above.  Throughout the period, the number of households used is 1585, the figure published by the pastoral planners.  They also published the number of households by parish.  We use these numbers because they really are the only ones available, but we believe that St. Mary is somewhat understated and that St. Michael is grossly inflated.  Nevertheless, we use the figures upon which presumably the diocesan CMA tax allocations were based. 

The table above shows that the little church of St. Mary in Rushville was consistently assessed about 3 times what the average was for the other five churches in OLOL, and that no church was charged anywhere near the St. Mary assessment.  There is no basic difference between the parishioners of St. Mary Rushville and parishioners in the rest of OLOL, so there is no sense of fairness about the allocations.  It is true that St. Mary is in the East Lake area of Canandaigua, but the more affluent summer visitors do not belong to the parish and, rather, pay their CMA assessments through churches like St. Louis in Pittsford.  Moreover, they usually don’t register at the church they attend in the summer, nor cover winter expenses like fuel costs.  Hence, the churches which serve in a vacation area have a particular burden, further exacerbated by the diocesan unfairness.  Over these years St. Mary has paid thousands of dollars out of its savings to cover its CMA shortfall.

The table above shows four fiscal years of allocation by parish:  2007-2010.  St. Andrew closed in June 2009, and St. Mary effectively closed in September 2009, but the CMA allocations continued.  For the 2011 Fiscal Year, and for the first time, a single goal was given to OLOL.  Even though St. Mary is closed, there is no way to know if its savings are still being applied to pay the CMA or not.  There has been no reporting since Fiscal Year 2009.  (We do believe that OLOL is still taking its own allocation out of St. Mary’s savings for services it isn’t rendering at all to St. Mary parishioners, who already are dispersed elsewhere.) 

Objections were made to the Diocese about the apparent unfairness of the CMA tax.  The Business Manager, Gary Pierce, said that he had complained but, when asked several times for a copy of his correspondence, he couldn’t produce it.  Similarly, he said that Fr. Ring had asked for a reduction, but there is also no evidence that he did.  The chair of the Finance Council (JM) did make a request in at least two separate years for a reduction and I saw his letters, which seemed to be totally ignored by DoR.  In Spring 2007, Fr. Hart held a “listening session” and at that meeting parishioners spoke out about the unfairness of St. Mary’s CMA allocation compared to the other OLOL parishes.  He promised to review it.  The next year, it went from $94.06 to $90.52 per household.  That tiny, insignificant concession was wiped out the following year by an allocation of $109.47 per household, the highest it had ever been.

Impact:  How could one not question the sincerity of the diocese and/or pastor addressing any matters of concern, let alone actually believe that the good of souls could be uppermost?  And, once that mindset develops, the damage is done.  The conclusions of a number of people who have looked at the matter are:

  1. There is no point in giving to the CMA.  If a parish beats its goal, it is likely to have the goal raised in the following year.  Better to have a shortfall.
  2. Since the diocese is just going to take the money from a parish’s savings anyway, it is better to give it to one’s own church; at least the donor won’t have caused his or her church’s tax to increase by plumping the CMA.
  3. Be careful about giving cash donations or substantial bequests to one’s own parish.  It seems to make the parish even more of a target for closure.  Better to pay for services or give vestments, or sacred vessels, or pay for paving the parking lot, or for a Youth Program, and keep it out of the treasury.
  4. If one wishes to leave a bequest, be specific about what it can be or not be used for; consider paying out over a number of years and contingent on one’s parish still being open and having Mass of Sunday obligation.

It is a shame to have to deal with one’s own church this way, but the past has shown that hierarchical stewardship of the physical assets is not to be trusted.  These conclusions may not be accurate, or accurate all the time, but they are real perceptions.  In a future post we’ll discuss more types of financial abuses, but here is just one example in the CMA tax.  People know what is fair and what is not; they’re not stupid.  But they are far too trusting.

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16 Responses to “$hepherds $hearing $heep – Part 1 “Unfair CMA””

  1. avatar Mike says:

    Diane,

    Your parish’s CMA assessment is supposed to be based on how much DOR thinks you and your fellow parishioners earn.

    See here.

  2. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Hi Mike,
    Well, reading through your link I have to say that is EXACTLY my point. The 700+ square mile territory for OLOL does not have the kind of variation implied by St. Mary’s paying 3x what the other parishes are assessed. If property values are indeed used, that is a big part of the problem. For example, in Yates/So. Ontario the lake properties account for about 90% of the taxes and assessed valuation of places like Gorham and Middlesex, but a very large percentage are not resident; they are summer lake homes and the owners are in other parishes when the CMA comes due. Many are not even from the Rochester Diocese, being from Michigan, Florida, California, Virginia, Minnesota and Ohio just to name a few. The regular/registered parishioners don’t vary much from one church in OLOL to another, but the resort property causes a significant distortion. As far as I know, Canandaigua is still ahead of Lake Tahoe in assessed values of lakefront. In this case, a percentage of contributions would be far fairer. Instead the folks on Mediterranean and Baltic are paying the rates for the Boardwalk and Park Place. d
    PS (I fixed the extra posts).

  3. avatar Anonymous says:

    Ask the DOR to give you the “formula” used to determine the parish goal. You will find it to be so convoluted your head will spin! Ask to get a report how the monies are spent, not allocated, and your head will spin more! Ask for a breakdown of Buffalo Road expenses, such as specific salaries – – you won’t get it! Ask what is done with monies left over. Ask why parishes who go beyond their goal can’t credit parishes who never reach their goal. Ask why some parishes never benefit from the CMA or receive the services it supposedly provides. Most parishes have to pay an annual fee for everything and are billed for anything asked for. The only “ministry” of the CMA is to bail out Buffalo Road. It has nothing to do with ministry to the Diocese.

  4. avatar Nerina says:

    Diane,

    Thank you for calling the CMA what it really is. I have long referred to it as a “tax” (much to the chagrin of my pastor) – even while sitting on parish council. It is absolutely dishonest to continue to call it anything but coerced charity. I haven’t given to the CMA in years and I would suggest if people opt out they write to the diocese and tell them why. Goodness knows what Buffalo Road does with the letters, but I write them just the same.

  5. avatar Dan says:

    Since Bishop Clark is refusing to give a report how the contributed money is spent, such as a breakdown of Buffalo Road expenses including all employee salaries and his own salary, somebody has to write the bishop a letter stating these facts and ask for all of the specific information.

    If the bishop continues to withhold the financial information, it seems that you would have a legitimate case to present to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) and the New York State Attorney General’s Office.

    Bishop Clark is hiding behind the non profit status and has free rein of the millions of dollars like it is his own piggy bank.

    Once again, send copies of these postings to the local TV stations, newspapers and local politicians. Get this information off the Cleansing Fire web site and out to the world. You can use a pen name and send email with an anonymous email address.

    I would rather be walking the toughest streets in Rochester evangelizing the poor souls who desperately need Jesus, than working on this computer to expose Bishop Clark who is destroying our Lord’s church from within.

    Bishop Clark closed most of the inner city parishes in Rochester that served the poorest of the poor.

  6. avatar militia says:

    what I would especially like the newspapers to get ahold of is how the diocese announces the CMA goal, and then or soon after announces how they’ve achieved a huge percentage of goal, creating the illusion of widespread support. In reality, setting the goal and knowing how much cash a parish has on hand enables them to publicize a big number because they know they’ve raised it since they can just grab it as a tax anyway. But I object to the charitable illusion it creates and the newspapers seem to get suckered in and report on it as a real story. What other organization unilaterally determines its own budget, decides what they will take whom from,regardless of support, and then makes a news story out of it? Even the government holds votes and hearings on some things, and has grievance days and transparent tax rate formulas. Maybe this is the year to have a widespread “just say no,” and save the money for the new bishop, who is going to need all the help he can get.

  7. avatar Bill Benton says:

    “Back in the day” before any CMA or requsts, any diocese took a percentage of the individual weekly collection for the purpose of running itself. This was back in the “pray, pay and obey” mode. Now they put a name to the financing of a diocese. If you hold back from a CMA, be prepared to be asked to assist a retirement fund for old sisters, brothers (maybe not in this area)and priests. Be prepared to fund Catholic based charity (there are real ones). Be prepared to to fund future seminarians (a favorite topic-future priests). When it concerns money hold back, remember that it is still possible to cut off your nose to spite your face. Tough call. How many of us would go that extra mile and …sell all that you have and give it to the poor?

  8. avatar Bernie says:

    Another well-done exposé, Diane!
    I think, however, that it might be difficult to by-pass the diocese with targeted contibutions or gifts of any substantial amount or value. We’re pretty much stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  9. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Thanks for all the great comments. Regarding by-passing the DoR for gifts, I would say “it depends.” It may well be different in a small parish. I was able, for example, to buy two bench/picnic tables, a DVD-TV, a vanity and mirror that needed to be replaced, some tables and chairs, and pay someone to garden occasionally around the church, and another to do a few fix-it projects. That way the money didn’t go through the financial statements, and what I thought was important got done without imposing on anyone else. Of course, I did clear it with the pastor in advance, who never declined the gifts, or authorizing a receipt.

  10. avatar Nerina says:

    Bill,

    I would say, in response to your comment, that I don’t trust the diocese to be a good steward of my money. That may change in the future and I will reconsider my support then. Right now, I prefer to choose the charities I want to financially support. I tend to go with relief agencies that are Christian (preferably Catholic) like Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Medical Mission Board, and Food for the Poor. I also support Good Counsel Homes and the FOCUS Pregnancy Center in downtown Rochester (adjacent to Planned Parenthood). Both of these charities provide spiritual, physical and material support to women in crisis pregnancies. Further, I give to evangelization apostolates like catholic radio and Priests for Life. I would love to support retired priests and if you know a way I can do that by going around the diocese I’d appreciate the information.

  11. avatar Anonymous says:

    I am not sure there is a non profit organization for retired priests in the DOR. You may have to give to individual priests but the donation would be non deductable.

  12. avatar Anonymous says:

    While I am not sure of the various ways that parishes are assessed, I do know from other Dioceses where I have lived (Houston, Camden, Baltimore among others), the parishes there have all had to pay the full amount regardless of how much came in for the appeal. That is not unusual. That doesn’t however answer how certain parishes are assessed. But in paying the “full freight” DOR is not alone in that…

  13. avatar Anonymous says:

    In Rockville Centre, the CMA pays for Catholic Charities, Seminary, lay formation, religious ed, etc. The chancery runs from the tax on each parish, as most dioceses. In the CMA each parish keeps 20% below the goal and 80% of anything above the goal, so there is a big incentive to make goal. If you don’t make goal there is no tax.

  14. avatar Dan says:

    We are very blessed to have so many wealthy parishioners in the Diocese of Rochester.

    There are more people with a net worth of more than a million dollars, than you know about. These family members, friends and neighbors live a fairly conservative lifestyle, but are considered financially wealthy. 5.6 million dollars for the Bishop Clark’s financial appeal is a drop in the bucket.

    If Bishop Clark didn’t force the closing of 50 Catholic schools and 35 parishes, which drove away tens of thousands of parishioners, the money flowing in from the parishioners in the pews would be no problem, as it was back in 1979 when Clark came to Rochester. The parishioners always sacrificed and donated money to the parish.

    The example that I like to use is the Eastman Savings and Loan credit union now known as ESL. This credit union has grown from the Kodak employee’s convenient branch bank on Kodak property to a bank approaching 4 Billion dollars in assets. This is local money in the Rochester area. Now add in the rest of the banks and credit unions in the diocese and it proves the point that we are financially blessed in the Diocese of Rochester.

  15. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Nerina wrote: “…I don’t trust the diocese to be a good steward of my money. That may change in the future and I will reconsider my support then…” and that’s where I stand too. However, I give something. Priests have to get paid. Churches need heat. But I don’t give to CMA.

    Dan wrote: “…Since Bishop Clark is refusing to give a report how the contributed money is spent, such as a breakdown of Buffalo Road expenses including all employee salaries and his own salary, somebody has to write the bishop a letter stating these facts and ask for all of the specific information.

    If the bishop continues to withhold the financial information, it seems that you would have a legitimate case to present to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) and the New York State Attorney General’s Office.”

    I don’t want to see the DOR have to use our money to pay lawyers to defend their probably very immoral financial practices and misuse of our money. However, I am wondering how the DOR can be so completely unaccountable with how they spend our money. Its amazing to me that they get away with it.

  16. avatar Nerina says:

    However, I give something. Priests have to get paid. Churches need heat. But I don’t give to CMA.

    Eliza, I should have mentioned that we do believe in the precepts of the Church and we do contribute to our local church. I don’t give to the CMA, though.


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