Cleansing Fire

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$hepherds $hearing $heep — Part 4: Case cont’d: Trustees

May 10th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Reminder: blue text is an update to the Case Study: St. Mary Rushville, appended to the letter to Mr. Cuomo.  See $hepherds $hearing $heep — Part 2 for the letter to Mr. Cuomo, and Part 3 for the beginning of this “Case Study,” with background on the parish of St. Mary Rushville, as well as information on the Partners in Faith Capital Campaign as it applied to St. Mary’s.  The “Case Study” continues:

Trustee Turnover:   St. Mary, as do other parishes, has five Trustees.  Three are diocesan hierarchy (one of those includes the pastor).  The two lay Trustees basically do not have an effective vote.  Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that Trustees must be “approved” by the bishop, the pastor changes Trustees himself as he wishes.  For example, I (the undersigned) was named Trustee in late 2004, midway through the fiscal year 2005, ending June 30, 2005, when it became obvious that there was no Trustee.  It was difficult to get information that was accurate from OLOL business management.  Specifically, I had concerns related to the period in the same fiscal year, but prior to my being named a Trustee; i.e. summer 2004.  The pastor had brought a man to St. Mary parish whom he said owed him money, and that he was going to have the man “work it off.”  My understanding was that there would be no charge to St. Mary.  

After I became a Trustee I remembered that conversation, and that later the business manager had told me the pastor made him write him (the pastor) checks that he could cash.  I witnessed some money then being given by the pastor to the man, who by then was staying overnight in the children’s classrooms with a sleeping bag and with alcohol found on premises.  The pastor ignored complaints.  Damage was also unnecessarily inflicted by the work that man was doing, so he stayed even longer (about five months in all) and the Parish House (rectory) was unavailable for usual parishioner use. 

Things began to come to a head when the man was injured by a chemical in the painting work he was doing (a paint remover absorbed through his skin), and the pastor had to drive him to the hospital.  Then when NYS Police came to the property for a child car seat demonstration, that man was very upset and said the police had a warrant for his arrest.  He called the pastor who came and quickly drove him away.  Then, I saw in the financial reports that money was being paid out, money the parish had not expected to pay and which had not even been presented to the Finance Council for review.  In any event, these were concerns I had as Trustee, and it is possible that my questions, which were not answered, also contributed to the pastor’s firing me as Trustee as further described below.

In mid-August 2005, the pastor put a notice in the church bulletin that he was convening an annual meeting with parishioners after Mass the following week.  (Some years no annual meeting with parishioners was held at all, without explanation.  The business manager told me that many churches in the Rochester Diocese do not hold annual meetings.)  I told the pastor that I needed to see the financial report, and that sufficient notice had not been given to be in compliance with NYS Religious Corporation Law.  I also informed him that, as Trustee, I would not sign to close St. Mary.  He seemed quite annoyed with me and, although he did delay the meeting, he also had an announcement read from the pulpit asking for a new Trustee.  That was the first I knew I’d been replaced.  I did not sign anything at all for the period I was supposedly Trustee; I don’t know if anyone else did. 

A year later, my replacement (Lori Jones) who apparently did everything she was asked to do also said she would not sign to close St. Mary.  Soon thereafter, the pastor asked the Finance Council Chair, through the business manager, for her also to be replaced as Trustee.  Her name later disappeared from the Trustee listing in the Diocesan Directory but she told me she had not been informed officially. 

Trustees not meeting Fiduciary Obligations:   It is obvious that signoff by Trustees of a church closing is a requirement to be a Trustee in OLOL, which would seem to have the potential to violate fiduciary obligations if Trustees are chosen for agreeing with the pastor on temporal issues, rather than voting their conscience and for the care of the people.  Moreover, the pastor is Trustee of the other 5 churches as well, and he induced a competition between St. Mary and St. Theresa (by establishing a “Secret Subcommittee” comprised of two members of St. Theresa, none from St. Mary, his Religious Ed Director (employee), and a friend of his from another OLOL parish.   After meeting for several months, they determined that St. Mary, not St. Theresa should close.  When I asked the pastor how he could do such a thing, and have no representation from St. Mary on such an important committee, he replied: “You can’t prove I knew anything about it.”

As Trustee of both incorporated parishes, it would seem that any pastor would be highly conflicted, as a vote for one to stay open must inevitably adversely impact the other.  The bishop too is in a similar position.  Moreover, the two new current lay Trustees, personally picked by the pastor, began contributing to St. Theresa (where they would find their new home after St. Mary closed) while St. Mary was still open and should have received the funds.  For all these reasons, I point out that the Trustee situation in the hierarchical church is subject to such violations of fiduciary obligation and conflicts of trusteeship, and also to pressure from the pastor to vote in solidarity with the other Trustees, that the very concept of trusteeship lacks credibility.  Without better controls, lay trusteeship is, in essence, a myth.

to be continued …..

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14 Responses to “$hepherds $hearing $heep — Part 4: Case cont’d: Trustees”

  1. avatar Bruce says:

    This kind of stuff – bad bishops and lay people who imagine that they are priests – makes me want to grab a sword and swing it wildly like Peter in the garden. Except, that didn’t do any good and the Lord rebuked him. It is all so frustrating, but I know that God hears our complaints and prayers. All I can do is pray for Bishop Clark, that God blesses him with open eyes to the damage he has caused and gives him humility, obedience, and holiness for the rest of his days. I have to pray for these LEMs and priestesses as well, because even though they make me so angry I could spit, I cannot succumb to that. They are a test for me and for us, and nothing more. Looking at them as tests, as opposed to actual enemies, makes them easier to deal with. I unite my anger and suffering at the hands of lay priestesses to Christ, who has already conquered all. Pray for their souls that they wake up and realize their error.

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    Just think. During the English reformation, almost all the priests and bishops sided with Henry VIII. It is much easier to swim with the tide, even though it carries polutants.

  3. avatar Bruce says:

    It not only bothers me that these lay people call themselves “pastors” but that it is done in blatant disregard for Canon Law. How is this really any different than Spiritus Cristi with a different name?

  4. avatar Bruce says:

    Again, if my church brought aboard a lay pastor, that would be the last time me and my large family (who tithes well) would set foot in that parish. Only priests can be pastors, and when there are no more priests, there is no more Catholic Church. Period.

  5. avatar Louis E. says:

    I believe Trusteeism was named as a heresy in the 19th century…and who wants a repetition of the St. Stanislaus debacle in the Archdiocese of St. Louis?

  6. avatar Diane Harris says:

    The definition of Trusteeism: in Roman Catholicism was a controversy concerning lay control of parish administration in the late 18th and 19th centuries in the United States. Several state legislatures had recognized elected lay representatives (trustees) as the legal administrators of parishes. Although church law did not forbid lay participation in some aspects of church life, it was emphatic concerning the bishop’s prerogative of appointing the pastors of parishes. Crises thus arose when trustees invoked civil law to dismiss unpopular pastors, sometimes because they were from different ethnic backgrounds than their parishioners. Trusteeism spread across 20 states in the East, South.

    Louis is correct that trusteeism was a problem in the late 18th-19th centuries, the “Americanism” problem in the Church as it was sometimes called. But it was not a heresy; it was a schism, rejecting lawful actions of bishops, such as by laity hiring their own priests. Christ’s call to oneness should prevail, as should obeying just and relevant orders of bishops and pastors. However, the discernment of what is just and relevant is a matter of conscience, i.e. a well-formed conscience. Thus, it is entirely possible to read canon law and the obligations of pastors to be priests and reasonably conclude that female pastoral administrators may not do what a particular bishop gives them permission to do. Then it becomes a matter of conscience not to aid and abet injury to the church through the doing of what is not permitted. Obviously, one is called to properly discern, and also to dialogue with each other (also a canon law right) is helpful for discernment.

    I would like to be very clear, however, so that no one takes Louis’s words as applying to what is permissible under State Laws, and to which the Church has acceded. By having 3 of the 5 Trustees, the Church is assured that the will of the hierarchy will be done (except where, say, a pastor votes against a bishop in a matter of his conscience, which is rare.) However, the long defeated Trusteeism is NOT related to the obligations of Trustees today. Why appoint lay trustees at all? The lay trustees have fiduciary obligations to the legal entity for which they have been named Trustees, and to vote their consciences, even if it is in disagreement with members of the hierarchy. They will not prevail, but that doesn’t excuse them from doing what is right and proper. The modernistic: “Why complain? It won’t make any difference anyway” simply ensures that all points of view are not heard, and that indeed no member of the laity can make any difference. Dismissing lay members willy-nilly who have their own opinions, especially on secular matters, is more of personal vendetta, in my opinion,as if silencing comment makes the truth go away. The Church is well-protected from Trusteeism today, by having 3 out of 5 votes, but that doesn’t give the hierarchy the right to squelch the opinions of others in secular matters.

    I just want to be sure that the readers do not misunderstand Louis’s comment and think that meeting one’s legal and moral obligations as a Trustee has anything to do with the old schism of Trusteeism, the similarity of the “trustee” word notwithstanding.

  7. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    excellent comment, Diane. Thanks for taking the time to tackle issues head on.

  8. avatar Dan says:

    How much money is Bishop Clark sending to the Vatican?

    Under the New York State non profit corporation law, does a parishioner who is a registered member of the Diocese of Rochester, have the right to request documentation showing how much money is being sent to the Vatican?

    Will Bishop Clark give this information to a parishioner or does the New York State Attorney General’s Office have to notified to force Bishop Clark to release the information?

  9. avatar Bruce says:

    Well, I’m not sure about that Dan, but perhaps someone knows. Personally, if we did not have a priest for a pastor, but rather a lay person, I would not give ANY money to the diocese or parish until that is rectified (preferring to send it, instead, to crisis pregnancy centers and faithful charities). No money until priests are pastors and bishops are shepherds!

  10. avatar Hopefull says:

    I also have a question if, when money is collected and sent to disaster victims (Katrina, Tsunami etc) if the diocese takes a “handling fee” off the top. Does anybody know? In the meantime, I just contribute directly through other (non-diocesan) charities due to general lack of disclosure.

  11. avatar Bruce says:

    Good call, Hopefull! I do the same.

  12. avatar Barnyard says:

    Hold on a minute. The police had a warrent for this guys arrest and the pastor came, picked him up and drove him away??? That act folks is a crime! If someone is wanted by the police, you can not aid them to avoid capture. I think it is called aiding and abetting. If he were still alive, you could ask Doctor Mudd. The man who set John Wilks Booth leg after he killed Abraham Lincoln. And, I don’t think Doctor Mudd knew what JWB had done when he helped him.

  13. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Really! But I guess if you are a priest with no respect for the Magisterium of the Church you made a vow of obedience to, then its not surprising you have no respect for the law of the land, either.

    Its the fruit of disobedience. Is the DOR cancer, and its rampant. Its how Bishops Clark has always run his Diocese.

  14. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Diane, you wrote: “…The modernistic: “Why complain? It won’t make any difference anyway” simply ensures that all points of view are not heard, and that indeed no member of the laity can make any difference. Dismissing lay members willy-nilly who have their own opinions, especially on secular matters, is more of personal vendetta, in my opinion,as if silencing comment makes the truth go away. The Church is well-protected from Trusteeism today, by having 3 out of 5 votes, but that doesn’t give the hierarchy the right to squelch the opinions of others in secular matters.”

    Thanks for clarifying Trusteeism. I have too often heard members of the DOR leadership completely wrongly quote Catholic history to support the doings of their collective DOR imaginations. It doesn’t take any great intellectual mind, either, to get at the truth. I simply realize, “I smell a rat” and read the piece of history myself to realize, “Yes, that was a rat.”

    It has seemed to me that DOR leaders feel they can quote Catholic history since no one knows it (and they have assured that by not teaching anyone anything in 30 years!) and all they have to do is declare their “history twist” with authority and confidence, and it will shut people up. And then they can continue with their merry thing.

    Those of us who navigated Evangelical Christianity before we arrived at the True Home Port are very familiar with twists of the Bible to support ANYTHING.

    And I am guilty of saying to myself, “Why complain? It won’t make any difference anyway”, and I am not proud of it. So I really applaud your efforts, your zeal, your fortitude.

    I also think you are fair and smart and thorough. I would like to ask the new Bishop to have you involved in getting the DOR finances in order! I would certainly feel safer sending more money to the DOR then, and would feel assured that things really would turn around and head in the right direction!


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