Cleansing Fire

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$hepherds $hearing $heep — Part 5: Case cont’d: “Planning Damage”

May 13th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Reminder: blue text is 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 Parts 3&4 for the beginning of this “Case Study,” of St. Mary in Rushville, NY.

Planning Group was managed to the detriment of parishes for which the pastor was a Trustee:

  1. In August 2003 a new planning group was convened for further consolidation of parishes.  Parish councils (advisory to the pastor) were asked to name 2 members to the planning group for each parish.  The pastor then replaced 3 of the 4 named by the joint council of St. Mary / St. Theresa.  One from St. Mary was actively involved and removed with no notice.  The person with whom he was replaced would ultimately become one of the current Trustees against whom complaint is made (see Trustees section above).  When the other representative moved away, St. Mary ended up with only the one representative, the one appointed personally by the pastor, was not allowed to name a replacement, and thus had less influence and vote than otherwise it should have had. 
  2. Forums for discussion were held only at the two churches which were planned to definitely stay open, denying parishioners the right to input for their own parish, to hear and exchange with other parishioners.  Even if they tried to participate at the larger parishes, their voices were minimal by comparison.
  3. Two and a half years after the planning began, there finally was an analysis by the business manager of the financial picture of combining parishes, just minutes before a vote was to be taken.  Later it was seen that his data were erroneous, showing losses where there was actually positive income for configurations which the pastor did not favor.  Even when brought to his attention, it was never corrected, so members of all parish councils, some of whom were Trustees, were misled by seriously wrong financial analysis.  The auditors agreed when it was shown to them but they said this was outside the area for which they were hired.
  4. At the “final” planning meeting, St. Mary and St. Theresa expressed the unanimous will of their council members to close neither parish, but to rotate Masses between them as long as each was financially solvent.  The final report to the bishop lied about this conclusion and presented it as a “choosing” between the parishes, with one to be closed.  The bishop accepted that write-up even though it was untrue and disputed.
  5. The pastor had persistently promised council members that the savings would stay with each parish.  At the last meeting, the final plan presented had no such provision.  Funds which were collected for St. Januarius roof, for example, have met an ambiguous fate.
  6. For the final decision on whether to close St. Mary or St. Theresa, the pastor asked the Parish Council members to all agree in advance to accept whatever the recommendation would be of an outside consultant who would know “nothing” of the OLOL situation.  The council unwisely agreed.  Then the pastor used a priest friend of his [Fr. Timothy Niven]  who had once been under his supervision at St. Januarius, who knew well the OLOL situation, and against all objective data to the contrary (some data he received also was untrue), gave the recommendation that the pastor wanted, which was to close St. Mary.  St. Theresa had less than $10,000 in savings, and St. Mary had more than $100,000, adding to the perception that the church closures are not about priest shortages (there are plenty of priests available in OLOL) but about cash.  The result was announced in May 2009. 

At another time there will be far more to say on the pastoral planning debacle; but, for now, this is simply what was included in the letter to Andrew Cuomo, and thus limited principally to financial aspects.

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