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$hepherds $hearing $heep – Part 2 “Letter to Cuomo”

May 6th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

After witnessing financial abuses for years, last summer I was inspired, after reading a newspaper article about then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s coming to Canandaigua, to present a letter to him.  It is not that I am a political supporter which, given his position on abortion and gay “marriage,” I never could be.  But, in all righteousness, the abuse of the NYS Religious Corporation Law should be called to his attention for just action.  As then AG, and now as governor, he is uniquely positioned to do something about financial travesty, especially in not-for-profits, which enjoy many benefits at taxpayer expense.  At least the law should be followed, and I also propose strengthening those laws.  

In this blog post  is the front page of  the newsletter It Really Matters, explaining to recipients what was given to Mr. Cuomo and why.  Next, in this post, is the text of the letter hand delivered to candidate Andrew Cuomo last August.  Certain red highlights are intended to help readers skim the content, but was black in the original letter.  In a future post will be the detail that was in the attachment regarding financial abuses at just one small country church, St. Mary Rushville, under the pastorate of Fr. Robert Ring. 

I hope to introduce some discussion about what more, as a group, Catholics might do in the interest of fairness to all who pay for the tax benefits enjoyed by churches, and especially what might better protect the sheep.  

I am NOT advocating losing tax-exempt status, but rather limiting any mis-use of the status at the cost to all.  I am NOT advocating government interference in the internal matters of the Church, but rather enforcing the laws already on the books and plugging the loopholes.

Hand delivered

August 18, 2010

Re: NYS Religious Corporation Law Reform, Strengthening and Enforcement

Mr. Andrew Cuomo [originally sent to campaign headquarters address, he may now be addressed at:  The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York State, NYS Capitol Building, Albany, NY 12224.]

I am very glad to have had the opportunity today to attend your public meeting in Canandaigua, and to deliver personally to you an area of suggestion for improvement in New York State, as I believe you are sincere in seeking ideas which would make our state a better place to live.  I would like to address an issue with broad applicability across the state; i.e. the issue of more financial accountability and stronger enforcement under the NYS Religious Corporation Law. 

At the onset, I would like to say that I am very sensitive to issues of separation of Church and State yet, as recent cases of pedophilic abuse have shown, there are times when government is required to intervene to relieve abuse, and to apply justice.  The need to do so, and the manner of acting, fits both rules of intervention set by the US Supreme Court (the Hierarchical/Congregational Rules or the Neutral Rule).  It is in that spirit of justice, rather than interference, in which I bring seven points to your attention. 

Your visit brings you to the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, which has been a place of significant injury spiritually and financially to many people of this Diocese.  However, lest you think this is only a local issue, egregious as it is, I can assure you that the same factors, to varying degrees, are present statewide.  That is why action in this area would have much wider impact than just in our local church.  Nevertheless, I will speak to just one local church situation to illustrate just one tiny example of the need for reform.

Application:  To clarify, I am sure that you are aware across the state and even across the country, that Catholic Churches are being closed and their patrimony (cash, value of properties, furnishings and other assets) are being distributed in a secretive manner.  Because of the hierarchical nature of the Catholic Church, such unpopular decisions, moving of funds, and questionable financial practices are easier to effect than, say, through a congregational model where a variety of parishioners or elders can provide oversight.  I’m sure that I don’t need to point out to you the potential state impact on matters ranging from tax deductibility of donations, property taxation and use taxes, disrespectful ignoring of the real intentions of donors to charitable trusts which are regulated by the State, and how those charitable trusts are administered.  For example, it is not unusual to see donations left to a church that is in the process of being closed.  Surely that was not the intention of most donors, yet there seem to be no guidelines to handle appropriately.  Moreover, there is serious opportunity for fraud in a situation which so lacks transparency.

Areas Sought for Reform I suggest seven areas to you which could benefit from a reform and strengthening of enforcement of the NYS Religious Corporation Law, especially as it pertains to the Catholic Church.  Yet, I would like to make clear, I am a faithful Catholic who staunchly resists any involvement of government in the area of religion, unless absolutely necessary for the protection of the innocent and to avoid their victimization.  Nevertheless, having now had first-hand experience of many abuses since 2003, in just a small local configuration of parishes, I fully realize that unless the state steps in, further abuse will be perpetrated. 

For each of the seven points, I offer examples in a small local parish in the attached “Case Study,” but I do so to illustrate to you how pervasive these abuses are when even very small parishes are so affected.  Please be assured that these small examples are just a tiny tip of an iceberg that begs for intervention.  Also, while some of the suggestions deal with laws already “on the books,” I do recognize that others may require legislative or regulatory action.  Therefore, I address these issues to you not only as State Attorney General but, more explicitly, as candidate for governor of New York State.  These issues are quite broad, involving almost all communities across the state, and people from all walks of life, in various faiths (especially hierarchical faiths), and of various degrees of affluence, ethnicity, age, etc.  Moreover, I believe if you explore this issue that you will find many Catholics in particular at a loss for how to protect themselves yet still be faithful to their Church.  In addition there would be application to other institutions incorporated under Religious Corporation Law, e.g. schools and hospitals, not further mentioned below.  

Seven Recommendations:

 1.      Taxation of “closed” church propertiesWhen parishes and schools which are tax-exempt are closed (i.e. effectively non-functioning for the purposes for which they are intended), property and other use taxes are lost to the public.  Massachusetts has recently had success in charging the Catholic Church property taxes on such properties, charged back to the time of closure, with some figures per property in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And that is just in Boston so far.  Income from rentals of such property should also be examined, as renting for profit is not part of the charter of most parishes.  Such rentals effectively keep the rented properties off the tax-rolls.

 2.      Public Disclosure of Audit Detail of each incorporated parish entity:  While some parishes provide annual financial detail, some do not.  There is no way for a person in the pew to verify if the data are right or wrong.  Even when an audit is requested (as I personally did in the case cited), the results are not available to the parishioners.  Therefore, there is no way to know if good financial practices are being followed or not, or if the financial report is true or not.  Moreover, errors like uncredited donations are caught one parishioner at a time, and others are not alerted to bad bookkeeping until they personally notice it in their own records.  One area for focus is expenses which are not “arms length” or free market, but charged back to parish corporations at egregiously inflated rates.  Examples would include insurance levies by the diocese, for example, or unfair sharing of expenses between incorporated parishes.  The discipline of releasing audit detail would bring more care to the way donations are accounted and errors corrected, and give more relevant information to donors.

3.      Restrictions on transfers between separate religious corporations, and required public reporting of such transfers:  It is believed that most parishes are individually incorporated and that closure of those parishes is either through “suppression” and amalgamation into a new parish with other parishes, pooling funds and liability risk, or (less often) by actually dissolving the corporation.  Some parishes may “stay on the books” for years, while no longer functioning as a parish.  Solvent parishes with more financial resources (all tax exempt donations) are dissolved and the funds “freed up” for other, undisclosed purposes.  A more financially solvent parish seems to be at more risk for having its treasury plundered than a parish which has less, yet is still solvent.  Moreover, there is no method by which a “clean” balance sheet parish can avoid being amalgamated with one having undisclosed liabilities or other risk.  In the Case cited, there is a “bleeding” of the treasury of a more solvent church prior to closing, preventing funds flow as the Catholic Church would require for a “personal parish.”

4. Mandatory reporting of the disbursements from sale of church properties and dissolution of parish assets:  Generations of donors have built up reserves, doubtless intended to be used in the parishes to which they were contributed.  However, by amalgamating parishes, liquidated assets of the closed churches are moved where they were not intended to go, and there is no readily available accounting for the transfer of those assets.  Moreover, it is feared that churches are being liquidated in order to pay off pedophilia and/or other lawsuits, claims or reparations, again kept secret from the original donors and from parishioners. 

It would seem, since original donors likely had no intent that their donations be used for covering the sins of the hierarchy or for “paying someone off,” that there should be restrictions under the NYS Religious Corporation Law for using funds for such purposes.  Consideration should be given for methods by which donations might be returned to estates when a bequest is to a church being liquidated.  Donors in good faith should not have to be savvy enough to restrict every check they write, noting for what it cannot be used.

5. Disclosure of Personal Benefits Increases:  If or when there are substantial increases to staff employees (including bishops and priests) in salaries, retirement funds, health care coverage and other benefits, including paying off lawsuits incurred by such employees’ behavior, since there isn’t an arms length or open deliberation about such uses possible in parishes, consideration should be given to full disclosure and to the recipient of such benefit having taxable income.  Moreover, it seems questionable that the use of donated funds of an incorporated parish, not a party to a lawsuit, should be used to pay off such suits.  The Case Study describes a levy against a parish, neither plaintiff nor defendant, to cover alleged expenses of a defamation lawsuit against a pastor.  All “enrichment” of individuals (hierarchy and staff) should be routinely disclosed in financial reports, so that parishioners can make informed decisions on future contributions.

 6. Criminal / Civil Prosecution of Trustees who betray the best interests of the parishes for which they are Trustees, and also prevention of interlocking trusteeships where a vote for one parish is automatically a vote against another for which the same person is a Trustee.  It is believed that when a priest is a Trustee of multiple parishes and one is targeted for closure, that he cannot exercise his fiduciary obligations to both.  Nor can a bishop who is a Trustee of all.  The intent of Trustee structure is open to significant abuse and is meaningless when three of the five Trustees are diocesan employees and lay Trustees are replaced when they disagree on matters of finance and property (not doctrine.)  Moreover, Trustees who contribute to one parish to the detriment of the one for which they are Trustee, or otherwise do not execute their fiduciary obligations, should be liable for such damage and prosecuted.  Several examples of abuse of Trusteeship and fiduciary duty are cited in the Case Study.

7. There should be a 10-year historic restatement regarding all the matters listed above, which will cover much of the period of closing of churches and questionable transfers of assets, with full disclosure of how the patrimony has been deployed, and prosecution and restitution where appropriate.  Perhaps the only way to restore confidence that the NYS Religious Corporation Law is sensitive to the rights of individuals is to require restatement for a decade on the sources and uses of cash over that period, with specific undisclosed payments being disclosed, and all certified by outside independent auditors.  One can contemplate the many benefits of the Sarbanes Oxley overhaul (painful as it was to live through) and the time to apply it to incorporated parishes, individually and collectively, is now.

Mr. Cuomo, it is my intent in citing a particular local Case to shed further light on the abuses associated with hierarchical churches exposed by their closings in particular, to make the issues more “real” to you, and to more fully describe the potential for abuse as well as the helplessness of the laity to deal with such matters under the current usage of NYS Religious Corporation Law.  The Case is from a small parish, but replicated across the state would be significant, just like price fixing milk sales by only a few pennies a gallon.  The actual Case recounted is a faithful representation of my personal experience at St. Mary in Rushville, NY, a parish located less than 10 miles from Canandaigua.  What is most startling is that so very many issues could have occurred in just one country parish, and it well illustrates the multiplicity of opportunities for financial abuse on a much wider geographic basis.  All is recounted truthfully, and to the best of my ability.

I realize that you, as Attorney General, have taken on many situations which most people would have feared to handle.  It would be a natural and normal response of most people to fear that taking on a church situation would mobilize many of the faithful against you.  However, if you explore the issue, I believe you will find a considerable number of Catholics very unhappy about the way bishops and pastors have shut their churches, and closed down or “amalgamated” their parishes, parishes often funded by their own parents and grandparents.  They need someone with more “clout” to see their agony and how they have been misused.  You will find a great level of disenchantment also at closed schools and a hierarchy unresponsive to parishioner wishes and to their protests.  You will also find a widespread feeling of helplessness; i.e. that they are powerless to do anything about the survival of institutions which do continue to be viable, but are disbanded for undisclosed reasons. 

The often articulated “too little money; too few priests” is not always true.  The example I will give is of a small parish of 60-70 households with about $125,000 of savings when the pastoral planning process began in earnest.  While the 2010 report has not been issued yet, it is believed that the balance is about $25,000-$30,000 and that the remainder will be drained off in the next year.  Parishes with cash, I believe you will find, are more likely to be targets of closure and movement of money.  Were you to take on the needed reformation of NYS Religious Corporation Law, especially as it pertains to Catholic Churches, I believe you would find many in the pew feeling “rescued” by the effort.  And, quite frankly, you are one of the very few people who could take on confronting this matter. 

Personal Note:  Mr. Cuomo, I am not writing as simply a parishioner disappointed to lose her church.  There are many such people with the same emotions and I feel for them too.  Rather, I am writing as a retired officer of a publicly held company…  from 1967-1996) and also as a person who has served on a NYSE Company Board for 16 years … including chairing its Audit and Finance Committee.  My background (MS from Rensselaer) is science, but I am well-versed in corporate governance, finance, contracts and strategic planning and presently own a company which consults in mergers and acquisitions, [resume background was enclosed in original letter] …. I can assure you that I consider personal credibility to be of exceptional importance, and I put it on the line in writing to you about this matter. 

I do hope this matter will pique your interest and concern, and that people of faith will receive better and fairer and more just treatment as a result.  While the following may sound outrageous to you, I personally believe that the yet-to-fully-emerge financial scandal in the Catholic Church has the potential to rival the sexual abuse scandal.  

Thank you for considering this matter.

Sincerely,

Diane C. Harris

Enc. Case Study:  St. Mary Rushville, Diocese of Rochester

Note: Case Study will be the subject of Part 3 blog post.

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38 Responses to “$hepherds $hearing $heep – Part 2 “Letter to Cuomo””

  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    Relax. Take a deep breath. No offense, Diane, but you’ve really gone off the deep end with this whole thing. Some perspective is badly needed.

  2. avatar Persis says:

    I am no financial expert, and do not have any real knowledge of theNYS Religious Corporation laws. I am also the first person to agree with you that many times, money is not spent wisely in the DOR.

    However, this statement scares me very much, “unless the state steps in, further abuse will be perpetrated.”
    Once we let NYS in, do you really think that they are ever going to want to leave?
    Or is the state going to take it as, “well Catholics here would rather have us in charge than their own heirarchy, so lets make it the NYS Catholic church?”

  3. avatar Bernie says:

    The diocese/parishes could do nearly all of this without being told and it would greatly increase the faithful’s trust. They won’t, of course, so I think Diane’s suggestions are reasonable. (It would be fun to see the diocese try and meet the demands of #10.) Schools, governments, churches, corporations -they all engage in intricate maneuvers meant to hide actions.

  4. avatar Bruce says:

    Once you let the State take over matters which are rightfully under the Church’s control, you’ve lost the Church. As bad as the DoR can be at times, it is better that you be patient and love the Church, warts and all, instead of jumping into the arms of a much crueler master. None of us are perfect, including (obviously) some of our bishops, but we are still the Body of Christ and on our way toward our ultimate end in God. The Church under the boot of the State is exactly that: Under the boot of the State. Trust me as one familiar with persecuted churches overseas, that is something you do not want. An apparent good, that is only good in appearance, is a calling card of the enemy himself.

  5. avatar Louis E. says:

    I would caution against any appeal toward state imposition of a congregational polity on a hierarchical church.Official worship of “democratic” over monarchical models invites discrimination against the idea of divine commandment as a whole.

  6. avatar Bruce says:

    Pray for Bishop Clark, and for his successor. God placed him here for a reason, and if He did not love the bishop, the bishop would not exist. He is retiring soon, and the rebuilding can begin. Pray now and save your strength for the reconstruction to come.

  7. avatar Diane Harris says:

    I’m glad to see discussion like the issues Persis raises, because it isn’t just about agreeing or disagreeing with each other, but rather examining the issues about which we agree/disagree, even if — in the end — neither of us changes his/her opinion. Therefore, I will address the points made by Persis. I too agree that money is not always spent wisely in DoR, and even if it were I doubt we would all agree about what is wise and what is foolish. But that isn’t the point; that is just the nature of community.

    The point is really that Catholics and non-Catholics alike, aka “taxpayers” of NYS (and of other states and of the US) pour millions of dollars into the church every year by the exemptions given to Religious organizations, whether it is no property tax, or even just buying supplies with a tax exempt number. Moreover, people who give to religious organizations get tax deductions for their donations, the cost of which is borne by all taxpayers. I AM NOT ADVOCATING ANY REPEAL OF THOSE TAX EXEMPT BENEFITS. But in order to enjoy the benefits under those laws, there are rules we must all adhere to, or lose the benefit. So, for example, I better have a receipt for my donations. And a church better not be donating to election of a particular political candidate. And the state should stay out of the way of valid church teaching, like Romans Chapter 1.

    But what happens when, often less visibly, a church (any church) doesn’t obey the laws, or doesn’t fulfill what is reasonably required of tax-exempt organizations? What happens when fiduciaries violate their obligations? When financial statements aren’t released? When annual meetings required by law aren’t held? When property tax exempt buildings are rented out and competing with rentals of ordinary citizens who do have the expense of paying property taxes? When donations never intended for use outside one’s church are used for another property? or when donations are used with no visibility to pay lawsuits caused by pedophiles, that aren’t even the judgment of a valid court case? WHO is responsible for seeing that laws are enforced? I say it is the state, which makes those laws. So if we’re arguing about that, then I guess we disagree.

    We have had MILLIONS of dollars of liquidated Catholic properties in the Diocese of Rochester. WHO is held accountable for where the cash is being used? Why shouldn’t parishioners who built and supported those buildings have a right to know? And if it isn’t required under NYS religious corporation law, then I am saying it should be. If someone has a will, dies and then the church is closed, sometimes within a year, how can it be right to just take that money? There are laws about bequests and how they are handled in NYS. What about what is happening to the money at STA? What about a Monsignor buried on the front lawn?

    When those in power and authority are secretive, hide what they are doing, can’t stand up to the light of day and are dealing with tax-exempt funds and government benefits, I do think they have some responsibility. So, if we disagree, fine. But I certainly did not mean, nor do I believe I was implying that Catholics need the government to take over the churches. God forbid. Once we let NYS in? They are already in. And if the church leaders accept the benefits, it should accept the rules as well.

    As far an the comments by Anon 135, there is nothing to answer, because nothing was said. Perspective? deep end? deep breath? Those are personal comments, bordering at least on the ad hominem instead of the issue, and not at all focused on furthering dialogue, hence not helpful.

    I do look forward to continuing to hear responses on both sides as good preparation for dealing with both the secular and clerical sides of the debate.

    Note: I wrote this after the first two postings, but to the others I would say, in case it isn’t said well enough in the letter to Cuomo, that this is not asking for any more than the current law and what not-for-profits are already subjected to. And if the church doesn’t get its own house in order, it will be done for it, no matter what we want or don’t want. God does use civil authority (think Babylonian Captivity) to bring His discipline when the religious leaders won’t.

  8. avatar Anonymous says:

    I agree with Diane and am amazed at the research done. Civil authority can also be used to “rebuild the temple”. So often, in the circles work in, I hear complaints from religious sisters and priests about the hierarchy and I think to myself,if it were not for the authority of the Church, you wouldn’t have your vocation and be enjoying all the benefits that go with it (3 square meals, a roof over your head, health care).

  9. avatar Anonymous says:

    I would just like to clarify one point. The Diocese does not pay legal expenses for priests accused of sexual misconduct. Unless you have proof otherwise, I feel this argument should be taken out of your essay.

  10. avatar Snowshoes says:

    Thank you, Diane, for the diligent work you have done to research this sad state of affairs.

    I could be wrong, but it seems to me that a good father always asks himself, what do the children need to know about this situation? A good Bishop, or a good Priest-Pastor always asks himself this question and makes appropriate answers in all the fields of concern in a diocese or parish so that the operations of the Mystical Body of Christ are transparent to the Faithful to the end that the Faithful are assured of the good working of the Church, and so they know how to provide input. Such a healthy operation of Church affairs demonstrates to the Faithful they are loved. A lack of this transparency gives the opposite message, intended or not.

    It is simply a matter of manners, and as Mother said, you can’t change manners, you can only observe them or not… I heartily second your wise proposals. But in the meantime, ora et labora!! Jesus I trust in You!

  11. avatar Diane Harris says:

    If you read more carefully what was said in the blog post, it does not mention payments to defend priests against sexual abuse. Actually, I am not sure how that works, since often an employer IS named when an employee commits a crime on the job. Then, if a case were to go to trial, someone has to pay for the defense of both the defendant and of the co-named. I can’t imagine the Diocese NOT defending itself, even if it helped the priest. But this seems to be another lack of disclosure; i.e. who paid what part of which defense, and did any insurance payments kick in, was the insurance policy itself paid for by the diocese? Was any portion reimbursed by the priest? However, the point is that although these are valid questions, and mostly unreported results, I didn’t actually raise them. All lawsuits do not involve sexual misconduct.

    Here’s one I do know about personally, and will be reporting in more detail soon in an upcoming post. Fr. Robert Ring had to defend himself against a personal defamation lawsuit. The diocese claims it paid over $20,000 for the defense, and then they tried to charge it all back to the little Rushville church which wasn’t even a party (plaintiff or defendant) to the action. After detailed argument why this was unfair, the diocese reduced the charge against St. Mary Rushville, an innocent bystander, to about $14,000, and removed it from the church’s treasury over the next 12 months. This money was from personal donations of many parishioners and precipitated by Fr. Ring’s personal actions. Why should St. Mary in Rushville have to pay anything? And why shouldn’t payments made on behalf of Fr. Ring’s defense be personal income to him? I don’t know, but I intend in a future post to discuss this in much more detail. See St. Mary Rushville FY 2009 financial statement for more detail.

    There was another earlier lawsuit also in which Fr. Ring was named as a defendant in the diocese (not OLOL), but it involved another priest’s alleged sexual abuse. It was settled out of court. I don’t know how the payments or insurance expense were handled, so I am careful not to say.

    There is my detail, Anon 3658. Would you please cite for us your source on the Diocesan Policy and where we can find a copy? Thank you.

  12. avatar Sassy says:

    Full disclosure. I currently live in an archdiocese that is undergoing yet another huge priestly scandal, so I understand being torn about how my donations are being spent.

    However, that being said, I’m in the process of reading the book “Why Enough Is Never Enough.”. The author cautions the reader about viewing donations as a “mere investment.”

    He follows up by saying, “It strips the act of it’s inherent spiritual dimension.”

    I have spiritually debated about giving to a large capital campaign being led by our Cardinal. However, in the end, I did make a sacrificial donation despite the current scandal. Why? Because I trust that, in the end, God will judge those who oversee the use of that money justly.

    I am not saying that one should bury his head in the sand and not speak-up when there is suspected abuse of funds. What I do wonder is at what point do donations look more like financial transactions/purchases/investments rather than true gifts of the heart?

    Food for thought on a Friday night.

  13. avatar militia says:

    I like what Sassy said; it is very spiritual. But how do I know if there is abuse if I never get any reports? Should I just not worry about it? Will I be guilty of not being a good steward if I don’t know where it is going?

  14. You are correct when you say the Church is already entwined with the government. The whole idea that we can claim charitable giving on our tax returns (in the hope of lessening what belongs to Caesar), is a subtle form of state control. And it is demonstrable that religious institutions are using taxpayer funds to further their agendas (in the case of the DOR to grow Catholic Charities and its affiliates). The accountability toward those who are giving (both via taxes and voluntarily) is nil. I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel as a responsible giver (steward) that I should know where and how my charitable funds are being spent. If I knowingly give XX amount of dollars to the CMA, which in turn is given funds from Providence Housing Development Corporation (as stated in their documents, which later buys my parish church and demolishes it for senior housing…then I feel partially responsible for the situation. As a taxpayer, I am forced to do this. As a Catholic, I should be free to make my own decisions about where I give. And I have the right to know, as I am ultimately responsible to God for where my charitable giving is directed.

  15. avatar Barnyard says:

    I was wondering something. Suppose I or my company gave $5,000 to one particular church to put a new roof on the church. I am giving it to THAT church, not a priest or a cluster or trustees. Before the roof is put on, the church closes. Why do I not get my $5,000 back. They never put the roof on, they transfered the money to a different church or used it to pay off for sexual misconduct by someone. That was not why I gave the money. It looks very questionable when money is moved shuffled around and nobody has to account for anything.

  16. avatar Dr. K says:

    Exactly.

    The former parishioner of St. Thomas the Apostle who left a large amount of money specifically to that parish about a year ago should have the money returned to his estate if it will not be used at STA. It is not right to take this money to spend at Christ the King/St. Cecilia/St. Margaret Mary. This is begging for a lawsuit.

  17. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Wow. I am so glad to see an expose of DOR’s highly questionable financial practices. There is something really, really rotten about the way Bishop Clark runs things financially here in the DOR. It stinks of immorality. Diane, you do a real service to point out things that are wrong, very wrong. Its good to expose it. I am glad you are doing that!

    However, is pulling in the government a good idea? It sounds like an expensive idea! Assuming the DOR has a lot to hide, if called to accountability, do you think they will gladly open their books? No – they will hire expensive lawyers to protect from exposure what they have done! Who pays? We do! Both ends, too, as the state will hire expensive lawyers to make their case and we’ll pay that with our school and property taxes… The only ones to make out will be the lawyers. And in your business, you know – these kinds of lawyers are incredibly expensive!

    The DOR will continue to do its rotten thing with our money and probably even step it up while they scurry to meet their goals and take from the pot while they can for their personal agenda and maybe even themselves. Who knows. But the end is in sight! Look at our ticker! A new Bishop can turn a lot of things around, quickly!

    I say we are better off letting the new Bishop look things over and see the damage done and come up with his own plan to fix it. We can appeal to him for transparency in the “New Order”. But lets not saddle him (and us) with overseeing unwieldy court battles from the abuses of the previous administration.

    You have been valiant in battle, Diane, and your exposes here are a great service to truth. Your work to save St. Jan’s was amazing! I cannot imagine how it must feel to fight so hard and so well and so fairly and have no visible success. The jackhammers at Eastertime! Holy Week!!! It was shocking! Such determination to lower the altar of God. (to raise the self). However, you have proven, with your careful documentation, how callouos and determined and completely lacking in shepherd qualities our Bishop is. I think the Vatican WILL take note, because of your work. We need someone special here, after this long ordeal.

    Nonetheless – involving the government in the very probably gross financial abuses of the DOR – I think that’s not a wise step to take!

    I think we just have to suffer the injustices and pray for the new Bishop to set things in the right direction.

  18. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Bruce said this well: “Once you let the State take over matters which are rightfully under the Church’s control, you’ve lost the Church. As bad as the DoR can be at times, it is better that you be patient and love the Church, warts and all, instead of jumping into the arms of a much crueler master. None of us are perfect, including (obviously) some of our bishops, but we are still the Body of Christ and on our way toward our ultimate end in God. The Church under the boot of the State is exactly that: Under the boot of the State. Trust me as one familiar with persecuted churches overseas, that is something you do not want. An apparent good, that is only good in appearance, is a calling card of the enemy himself.”

  19. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Diane wrote: “Here’s one I do know about personally, and will be reporting in more detail soon in an upcoming post. Fr. Robert Ring had to defend himself against a personal defamation lawsuit. The diocese claims it paid over $20,000 for the defense, and then they tried to charge it all back to the little Rushville church which wasn’t even a party (plaintiff or defendant) to the action. After detailed argument why this was unfair, the diocese reduced the charge against St. Mary Rushville, an innocent bystander, to about $14,000, and removed it from the church’s treasury over the next 12 months. This money was from personal donations of many parishioners and precipitated by Fr. Ring’s personal actions. Why should St. Mary in Rushville have to pay anything? And why shouldn’t payments made on behalf of Fr. Ring’s defense be personal income to him? I don’t know, but I intend in a future post to discuss this in much more detail. See St. Mary Rushville FY 2009 financial statement for more detail. ”

    This is a good thing to expose. A solid (and shocking) example of the DOR’s immoral financial practices. St. Louis, have fun with Fr. Ring at your helm. 🙁

  20. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Hi Eliza10,

    Thank you for your careful insight and comments. To clarify, I have NEVER intended that this would involve a lawsuit by or for the diocese, and I agree with you that would be too expensive and unproductive. Also unnecessary. Rather, I think that NYS should better detail what the Religious Corporation Law requires, and fix loopholes where they exist, so that they will uniformly apply to ALL churches, regardless of denomination. I also do not mean as might be implied by another poster that this should mean a change from hierarchical structure to congregational. That too would be detrimental to our Church.

    However, many other not-for-profits are regulated by NYS with fairly minimal requirements. If a church doesn’t fulfill the minimum legal requirement — here’s where many of us could brainstorm — it might lose some portion of its tax exemption until it does comply. Or perhaps be fined for failure to comply. Another type of regulatory penalty can be if the annual statements are filed late, then they need to be filed quarterly (precedent in sales and income tax areas). Or go from unaudited to audited statements for a period of time until in compliance. Also, I would favor filing the financial statements on-line with the NY Sec of State so the financials can be publicly viewed. Why should we not know what is happening to all the cash being freed up from liquidations?

    Church closures have actually revealed the weaknesses of the financial reporting system. When churches are closed, there are no longer any gatherings at which financial statements might be handed out or explanations given, or even the expense of mailing incurred. And accounting without accountability can become very sloppy. From a practical point, if what happened in Massachusetts were more widespread, closing churches and letting them stand idle would be less acceptable if after, say, a year, the diocese had to start paying property taxes on the buildings no longer being used for worship! Such laws could definitely be for the good of the people saving their churches.

    There also should be some oversight to make sure that financial results are accurately recorded. The people do have a right to protection from the x00 club, the Tammy Fayes, or smoke in the financials, because most are not able to figure out that something improper is going on. When there is a disrespect for the state laws established, I think it goes from bad to worse. I have been told that many parishes don’t meet their annual meeting requirements at all! How can that be? We are called to obey proper civil laws aren’t we?

    Quite frankly, I don’t think it is reasonable to wait for a new bishop to fix these matters because he is going to inherit an awful mess and the immediate good of souls must take precedence. But there will also be statutes of limitations for getting things corrected if there is any criminal mischief involved. A new bishop will likely rely on the auditors already in place to establish his starting point on the books which may be wrong, and unless he makes a super effort to change auditors and go from the bottom up quickly, his own work could end up on very shaky ground.

    My personal belief is that, if we sense something is very, very wrong, we should not delay the kind of lobbying that needs to be done for the state to strengthen a uniform Religious Corporation Law. I think back to how much objection there was from even good people to the courts getting involved in the sexual abuse of children, and they argued that the church could take care of it all on its own. But the church is made up of human beings, who need laws for the protection of their own souls, and those of others. In that case, it was the courts involved. In this case, it is simply codifying what should already be in place. And it is truly about the good of souls, because as people lose trust in what is being done with financial resources, they will cease to give and the final state of the flock will be even worse.

    Just my thoughts, and I am grateful for yours!

  21. avatar Susan of Corning says:

    I agree with Diane. I would not support government involvement UNLESS there was no other recourse. And there isn’t. The status quo is simply unacceptable, destructive to our parishes, and demoralizing to parishioners.

  22. avatar Sassy says:

    In response to militia and others, I fully understand that there should be transparency with any non-profit (especially religious organization). Every parish should publish an annual report (ours does). However, at some point (and that is as different as we are from one another) we need our faith to kick in and calm us in the fact that we did and tried to do the right thing. The souls of those who make spending decisions will rest with God. And in the end, God will don the right thing.

    My point was simply one of degree. Is there a crossover between a donation being a gift versus a donation being another purchase for goods/services we desire? I’m sure it is different for everyone, but does it exist?

    Peace.

  23. avatar Bernie says:

    Another solid post, Diane!

  24. avatar Sassy says:

    Diane, I forgot to mention that I really admire your courage. May God bless you in your efforts.

  25. avatar Bill B. says:

    I remember an incident at church where someone fell and was injured. The bills were submited to the church for payment through their insurance. I asked the pastor about it and he said that the diocese had changed its methods for insurance. They were “self insured.” What do I know? Seems that self insurance is the diocese buys the services of an insurance company to handle the incident; however, the actual church pays for the payments to the claiment. That would answer DH as to why the money came out of Rushville for the settlement. That being the case, no matter what, the parish pays for everything. Anyone with smarts should check my post out to see if this is still the case. I guess self insurance means you have the administrator of the plan (insurance company) negotiate the payment and YOU take care of the bill. I would imagine throughtout the country there are differing methods of insuring risks, not just the DOR doing this.

  26. avatar Anonymous says:

    I realy don’t think a pro choice pro homosexual governor will take any action against a probably pro choice, pro homosexual bishop. I think there is a likelyhood for an unholy alliance between members of the dark side.

  27. avatar militia says:

    Cuomo probably won’t do anything but I guess it shouldn’t be because we didn’t try. What about Bob Duffy? Also I’ve been thinking that if they’re not faithful in little things, like money, why should we expect them to be faithful in the big things, like liturgy and care of our souls? My 2 cents.

  28. avatar Dan says:

    Nice job Diane.

    New York State is already involved in every parish in the Diocese of Rochester.

    Bishop Clark is hiding behind the New York State Religious Corporation Law, which appoints him as President of every parish corporation. He has 100% control of the parish, school, rectory, convent, the contents of the buildings and the savings accounts.

    Bishop Clark appoints the vicar general, the pastor of the parish and has the final say on the appointment of the 2 parish trustees who make up the balance of every parish corporation.

    You have one out of control bishop who has destroyed this diocese in 30 years.

    If Rome will not intervene, then it is time for the New York State government to protect the financial interest of the parishioners and make sure that all of the non profit laws are being followed.

    It is nice to see that we have started a discussion about this New York State Religious Corporation Law that is allowing Bishop Clark to “dictate” the financial rules and closings of our parishes and schools. Our families paid every dollar to build and operate these buildings.

  29. avatar Anonymous says:

    To me this appears like a nothing other than an adult temper tantrum – I cannot get my own way here, and the Nuncio and Rome aren’t helping out, so I’m gonna go over your heads to the “civil authorities” if I can’t get my way. If that doesn’t work I’m gonna hold my breath until I turn blue in the face. And how is this different from the reaction to Church decisions that are not uncommon among those who occupy the left side of the “big tent” that is the Church?

    News flash – People don’t like the decisions their un-elected pastors make! News flash – our shepherds are sinful humans!

    As the sheep in the sheep-shepherd relationship, perhaps we’re called in humility to rise above all this and place all our focus on the man/God on the cross.

    Get a grip, will ya?

  30. Ah yes, anonymous135225, by all means let us be that crowd. What were they saying two thousand years ago, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

    Perhaps we should (as instructed by Christ) render unto Caesar that which belongs to him…Since the DOR is under the civil authority of the NYS religious corporation laws, then our religious leaders ought to be accountable to those laws, right?

    There is a higher shepherd than the bishop. His name is Jesus Christ. Ultimately, our obedience must reside with Him. And until He comes again, the Church Militant remains to do battle with evil–within or without.

  31. avatar Harold says:

    When you donate to a charity, its up to the charity to spend that money as it sees fit. I think we are missing the boat here– If we dont like how matthew clark is spending our money– then we should rag on him! Stop giving, and picket,– protest etc! Dont have the state do our dirty work.

    Maybe we could stage a sit in on Buffalo Road and all sing gergorian chant on the front steps of the DOR.

  32. avatar militia says:

    A few people seem to be missing the point. How do we know if we like the spending or not if we don’t get reports? Other charities post their financial statements on line for transparency (like the sunshine laws in government.) Maybe if we saw the real financial statements we would give more. Maybe not. But it seems like poor stewardship to pour money down a black hole and into some of the causes being supported. What role does Fortunate Families have in all this, for example? Or why support people and activities which are destroying our churches? Where is basic respect for and care for the flock?

    What particularly strikes me above are the two comments by Anon 135–there is no content, just criticism of people who oppose something he or she seems to believe in. But can’t even articulate what it is? To me, it sounds like a diocesan pawn mouthing what we’ve heard too often, trying to keep everyone else in line, but offering no dialogue and just attacking. I am really glad we can at least track which Anon is saying what!

  33. avatar Louis E. says:

    If a state decides a biahop should not be allowed to control parishes,where else will it pry in?

  34. avatar Sassy says:

    Militia, do you suspect that organizations like FF are secretly being funded by the DOR? That would be terrible indeed, but I never got that sense from reading their financial statement. Just some priests supporting that cause by donating their money. Please correct me if I have misinformation.

  35. avatar Sassy says:

    Once again, full disclosure. I have close family members who are heavily involved in FF, so I’m going on information provided by that source.

    Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.

  36. avatar militia says:

    Hi Sassy, you are asking good questions and I think it is the lack of answers which frustrate me. You are right that there are priests who give to FF; but I know a couple of them to be good and faithful; I wonder if they have any idea what they are supporting? I have no way of knowing if money moves from the diocesean treasury to FF or not, but the diocese does support LGBT. I don’t know the connection, therefore I was asking what their role is.

    There is even worse support than giving money. Bishop Clark praises the LGBT “outreach” which seems to give solace more than faithful teaching. Where is the chastisement for the awful things that FF says about our church, and how can Karen Reinford be a liaison for the diocese for this group and not stand visibly with the church teaching? (It’s sad about her husband, but maybe that means she’s a poor choice for this job.) Bishop Clark has the control to stop their use of the word “Catholic” but he doesn’t. There is a big difference between being gay and living a gay activist lifestyle, and that isn’t being differentiated clearly either. I think these failures are worse than giving money. But I don’t have a copy of FF’s income statement so I don’t know if they get money from the diocese of if any of the “anonymous” donors are diocesan sources. I didn’t mean to imply more than I know, just my frustration with the whole thing. Also, that our donations are being used to pay people’s salaries like the planners who brag about closing our parishes.

  37. avatar Sassy says:

    Militia, I totally understand and sympathize. I called the DOR when I saw what FF was endoring. At first, they had some statement that they were rooted in the Catholic tradition. After my calls, they at least changed their wording to something like Catholics families with gay and lesbian children. However, when I pushed further to speak out against the organization, I was told by some lady that the bishop doesn’t have time to get after all the dissenting organizations that call themselves Catholic.

    Trust me, I know all about the outreach too. This very issue has divided our extended family–those living in the DOR who think that Bishop Clark is correct in his SSA teachings versus my family, who feel he’s promoting scandal. You can only imagine the horror I felt when a FF scholarship was funded and named for a deceased relative for the purpose of mailing these militant materials to people who can’t afford the postage!

  38. avatar Tony DeBottis says:

    NY State religious corp law was suppose to protect parishes assets, not give Bishops carte blanc on there usage. It is an unlawfull law and should be repealed.


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