Cleansing Fire

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$hepherds $hearing $heep–Part 6: Case cont’d: “Bleeding the Treasury”

May 15th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

This is part of the continuing saga recounted to Mr. Cuomo in the letter given to him in August 2010 when he was State Attorney General and running for Governor.  The following is just part of the “Case of St. Mary’s Rushville” which begins in Part 3 and was appended to his letter.  As a reminder, anything in blue was added after the letter was given to Mr. Cuomo, but added for the sake of clarification to current readers.

Bleeding the Treasury:  For a church to be closed, it is required that the bishop hear his presbyteral council and make a decree.  The Bishop says that St. Mary’s is still open, but the pastor has used his authority as a pastor to set Mass schedules so he has given none to St. Mary, which bypasses the Canon Law requiring consultation with the Priests’ Council.  Hence, St. Mary had Mass on a few Saturday mornings a month [this is no longer happening; there are no more Masses], for about 3-5 people, in order to claim it is still open.  But those Masses do not fulfill the parishioners’ “Sunday Obligation” hence they no longer go to or contribute to St. Mary.  Although the property is falling into disrepair, by keeping the parish “open” OLOL can still bleed off about $22,000 per year in the OLOL “Tax” and the Diocese can still take about $6000 per year for its mandatory Catholic Ministries Appeal (CMA; see below).  When the parishes complete amalgamation, anything left of St. Mary’s cash will be unknown.  On the surface it would become OLOL funds, but there is no transparency to where the cash goes from there and if there are payments to the diocese for lawsuits or anything else.  Without mandatory reporting of the liquidation (or suppression) of parishes there is no ability for parishioners to know where the funds flow.

Unfairness to Parishioners regarding its being a “Personal Parish.   St. Mary has always been called a parish.  Sometime during the planning process, there was an attempt to call it a “mission” of St. Theresa (but St. Mary is the older church and all the documents use “parish.”  Besides, if it were a mission, under Canon Law it could not have been arbitrarily assessed by the diocese.)  Then, at another point during planning, the territorial boundaries “disappeared” for St. Mary.  St. Theresa’s map at the diocese showed up encompassing the entire territory.  Under Canon Law, having no boundaries would make St. Mary a “personal parish” and the funds after closure would follow the parishioners (savings plus the liquidated value of the properties.)  We believe that keeping St. Mary’s (Rushville) “open” is so that nothing will be left when it closes, nothing to follow the 75% of parishioners who now attend St. Mary Canandaigua, and which parish should have a rightful claim on 75% of the (Rushville) patrimony.  This is simply one more illustration of the abuses which can take place in a not-for-profit religious corporation under the current law and its uneven enforcement.

As an afterthought, it seemed like you might want to see what a church with over $50,000 in cash, when it’s shut down and bled off, looks like after a year and a half of neglect.    No, it’s not one of the grand churches of artistic merit; but, it is a place where people have worshipped for over 100 years.   The following is one of the fruits of Fr. Robert Ring’s pastorate: 

Broken Window for over a year

           How does a Pastor let the Patrimony get into this shape?

Why isn’t the parish savings allowed to be used for repair?

Peeling Paint

Parish House Run Down

Critter hole in wall near Tabernacle

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18 Responses to “$hepherds $hearing $heep–Part 6: Case cont’d: “Bleeding the Treasury””

  1. Talk about shearing of the sheep – now shearing of a pastor.
    Today at morning mass at St. Andrew Church of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Parish, Fr. Laurence Tracy stated that he wanted to clear up the talk about him retiring. He said it was a complicated issue. He assured us that he was not retiring but was continuing to work full-time. He then told us the conditions of his continued full-time work with the Diocese of Rochester. He told us that he was called into Fr. Joseph Hart’s Office who was Vicar General of the Diocese of Rochester. Fr. Joseph Hart told him that the Diocese was trying to curb costs for St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Parish so they wanted him to take technical retirement, but continue to work full-time to save the parish money. Fr. Joseph Hart stated this way he parish did not have to pay for his Health Insurance, The Diocese of Rochester would pay for his Health Insurance. Fr. Laurence Tracy said that he would continue to do the work with various groups and fill in at masses. We would still be seeing him. Fr. Laurence Tracy gave an excellent speech about the mission of the church and what we as parishioners should ask of our new pastors. He received a long, loud ovation.
    Some parishioners after mass were questioning how he was going to get income if the Diocese of Rochester was just going to pay his Health Insurance.

  2. avatar Raymond Rice says:

    This makes me very sad, Diane!!! If this is the tip of the iceberg, what are we missing because we cannot see it!!!! Shame on them!

  3. avatar Jim says:

    Jim M. here: Wow! …take a technical retirement, but continue to work full-time to save the parish money. What in the world is this diocese coming to? Fr. Tracy should have the choice to either retire, or to get paid full time from the diocese, if he continues to work in the parish. Fr. Joseph Hart really needs to grow a heart!

  4. Christian, imagine them asking some of our lay ‘leaders’ to ‘technically’ retire…

  5. avatar Diane Harris says:

    There is something very unsettling about the reported conversation between Fr. Tracy and Fr. Hart. One thing I’ve learned is that there is very little natural transparency, and often with good reason — because something else is being hidden. What can it be? If it were only allocation of salary costs that could be done as paper entries between the diocese and parish and have it be whatever the diocese wants it to be. If priests’ health insurance is less at the Diocesan level, how could that be? Is it a policy with less benefits? Two different rates and games playing? Is it forcing taking of early Social Security, reducing what is later available, as a supplement to salary? Does it elimate some benefit he’d otherwise be entitled to? That’s an interesting question. Does it change the benefits deductions? Doesn’t seem like it, unless it is forcing Fr. T into a part time category.

    Now it is very difficult to remove a pastor. There are notices and objections and all sorts of red tape under canon law. But if he voluntarily gives up those rights by retiring I wonder if he’s lost a lot of protection. Father needs some clear outside advice — tax, retirement accounting and protection of pastor’s rights. Let’s pray he gets it.

  6. avatar Anonymous says:

    Diane, I think you have a good point as this situation doesn’t make sense.
    Gretchen, Fr. Hart would never ask a lay leader to do this becasuse he knows a lawsuit would entail. And I bet the current lay appointees may have hinted at such, otherwise why would 2 lay women get chosen over priests?
    As for the CC convoluted comment policy, it goes right along with their convoluted subscription policy.

  7. avatar Louis E. says:

    Which is the oldest of the parishes consolidated as OLOL?…I recall the occasionally mentioned canon law that a merged parish must have as its “head” the un-renamed church building of the oldest consolidating parish.

  8. avatar Diane Harris says:

    St. Andrew began as a mission church of St. Michael Penn Yan in 1877
    St. Januarius was incorporated on October 4, 1876 in Naples.
    St. Mary Rushville was incorporated in 1869 as a parish.
    St. Michael “built its first church” in 1850 (Inc. date undisclosed)
    St. Patrick became a missiom of St. Gabriel in Hammondsport in 1880.
    St. Theresa was “erected in 1876”. Believe it was incorporated same year.

    Apparently, St. Michael is still the name of the Penn Yan church, but its corporation was used to form Our Lady of the Lakes. (Funny, OLOL wasn’t even a corporation but people were writing checks to it for years.) The rest I believe were incorporated into the new OLOL name for St. Michael. I can get more info from Fr. McNamara’s book but I don’t have it available tonight. Thanks for asking and for your input. Diane
    PS Thought a few pictures might be worth a lot of words.

  9. avatar Deborah Victory says:

    Diane, As always, this is so well written. The story just breaks my heart and the pictures tell a lot.God bless you and all those involved

  10. In regard to how the D.o.R. treated our former pastor at St.Andrew Church at Light of Christ Parish, and now how they are treating Fr. Laurence Tracy connected with St. Andrew Church, now at St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Parish, how does the D.o.R. ever expect to get more vocations to the priesthood? What message would that give to young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood?

  11. avatar Mike says:

    The Parochial Vicar at Holy Cross also retired a couple of years ago at age 70 but continues to work/volunteer full-time for the parish. At the time it was explained as a cost saving measure for the parish, with HC now supplementing what Father receives from his diocesan pension (so that his annual income is unaffected) and the diocese now picking up the tab for his health insurance.

    I suspect this kind of arrangement is more common than we realize.

  12. avatar Anonymous says:

    This arrangement encourages active priests who are approaching the age of 70 to retire in order to save their parish money and it helps the diocese to reduce their number of active priests.

  13. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Since the subject started on this thread, I would like to raise what some will see as a controversial subject and I suppose good Catholics could have varying views of the matter. But I, personally, am of the opinion that having a priest receive Social Security and then cutting back his wages to “keep him whole”; i.e. receiving the same amount as he did before he was collecting Social Security, is an injustice to the priest. Here’s why:

    The priest is performing a job which is worthy of fair pay (it’s too low as it is!) He should be paid for doing a job the same amount as others are paid for the same work, with same seniority. He also has paid into Social Security over the many years he’s received a salary (whether as a priest or in other jobs before being ordained.) He has a right to receive Social Security payments for HIS money which HE paid in to Social Security, whether or not he is still working (taxability is a different issue.) A priest has a right in justice to BOTH, and it would be unfair for the Diocese or anyone else to cut his salary because he has a little extra income, whether from social security, investments or winning the lottery. Diocesan prists do NOT take vows of poverty. They may charitably give whatever they choose to give, but should not be compelled.

    Medicare is a different story (All seniors are eligible at 65 or 66.) Of course the cost of health insurance will go down (whether paid by the employer or by an individual) once the individual is eligible for Medicare because Medicare pays first,reducing the cost of supplemental insurance. That should be true whether or not the priest is on the parish payroll or the diocesan payroll.

    Scripture says a priest is a priest forever. It bothers me that I can’t find the footnote which says “until Fr. Hart wants him to retire.” The real problem with parish budgets and cash flow is the huge number of lay employees, and more are being created with every graduation from St. Bernard’s. And they have to be paid close to what they’d get elsewhere or they’ll go elsewhere. It is my opinion that priests are suffering through far more than we know, and stand silent before their ecclesial shearers. There–back to the theme again of this thread.

    PS The reason why I don’t think all Catholics will agree with these conclusions is because of the bad press on “double dipping” for government employees, while still employed. There may be much wrong with those retirement plans, short service retirement, and largess from the public till, but a contract is a contract. Corrections should start with the contracts, terms of employment and contributions in those government jobs, not with changing the terms after the fact. I don’t see the priest in the situation above as “double dipping” but rather as “employer shaving.”

  14. I agree wholeheartedly with you Diane.

  15. I hate to say this but the property should be sold rather than fall into such disrepair.

  16. avatar Anonymous says:

    Lay employees are not paid even close to what they are paid elsewhere and without them there would be no church – sorry. I wish there were more priests and I agree they are underpaid but until there are more, the lay people are left to do the daily work of the parishes

  17. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Anon-62134:

    I think it is a mixed-bag on the pay. It is my understanding that some are paid more than they would get on the outside and some are paid less. It depends not so much on the level of job, but on whether the skills are transferable. Finance is generally a transferable skill; so, when Jim Rinefierd went from Bausch & Lomb to CFO of the Diocese, it was generally seen as competitive. And healthcare and vacation policies may be more than competitive, and needs to be factored into the equivalence formula. Secretaries have a wide range anyway, from typist to executive assistant, and do tend to be lower pay in not-for-profits than in industry. Their job advancement tends to be minimal in a parish situation, where Executive Assistant skills are not usually needed.

    But some skills don’t transfer well to other settings. The pastoral planning being done in the diocese isn’t planning at all; it is a manipulative process in which consensus or buy-in doesn’t matter; hence, it isn’t transferable to industry regardless of the title. It’s not worth much on the open market, but may get compensated in the diocese for what it does that the boss wants done, regardless of title. I suspect that pastoral administrators will ultimately find themselves in a similar situation. Skills that nobody wants. (They will need to learn to say: “Do you want fries with that?)

    Another such job that doesn’t transfer well is the DRE (Director of Religious Education). or pastoral associate. I was on finance committee at the time when the person in this job was hired-into OLOL. It started over $40,000, got a big jump when a pastoral associate title was added. Then the pastor let her take a half-time job at St. Louis, so we understood that she was getting 1.5x salary, plus mileage expenses escalated. So there are ways to take a church job and make more than the going rate would be on the outside. When one counts the vacation and benefits, it is hard to imagine such a narrowly focused job would make anywhere near this amount on the outside. To what could I even compare it? If the person can’t get this pay on the outside, then I would call it over-paid.

    The question of equivalence and paying more or less isn’t as simple as either of us make it sound. It is sometimes higher, sometimes lower. But if one doesn’t figure the priests’ salaries into the formula, I think the lay payroll kind of hovers around an equivalence, some up and some down, especially if one plays the system.

    Also, I do think that lay employees are needed, but I don’t think volunteers perfectly capable and willing to do a job should be eliminated in favor of paid employees. I think one’s involvement in the church community as a volunteer is vital. One example I’ve seen is where an organist plays as a volunteer for years, to the satisfaction of the parishioners, only to have another organist hired for pay. And I’ve seen a leader appointed over volunteer catechists who then started lobbying the pastor for money for the catechists. Just some examples, which can demoralize volunteers or undermine their contribution.

    One area I do wonder about is moving other staff members along with a pastor who moves. Wasn’t moving supposed to prevent abuses, collusion, and what can evolve from people working too closely together for too long? So how is a “duo” moving to Brockport? And a duo or trio to St. Louis? Is that good for a new parish to have a management team descend and take over? It’s worth discussing, and also how pay scales are affected. I believe we are in transition from true shepherd care as a parish model to make-believe “professional management” in parishes, with an authoritarian model that long ago fell into disfavor in many companies, who at a leading edge have come to recognize the benefits of entrepreneurism, engaging the spirit as well as the wallet, and unlocking passion.

  18. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Diane wrote: “One area I do wonder about is moving other staff members along with a pastor who moves. Wasn’t moving supposed to prevent abuses, collusion, and what can evolve from people working too closely together for too long? So how is a “duo” moving to Brockport? And a duo or trio to St. Louis? Is that good for a new parish to have a management team descend and take over? It’s worth discussing”.

    Yes its worth discussing. But I think we are only TOLD that moving priests is to prevent abuses and collusion. Maybe in fact moving priests IS to allow abuses and collusion — if for the “cause”m, of course (the Diocesan agenda). The ends justifies the means, with the DOR, as we keep seeing. It would be foolish to take the Diocesan excuses for moving priests at face value.

    Yes, a Duo or Trio descending on a parish should be questioned. But we don’t expect this Bishop to do anything but ignore such questions (and maybe keep a dossier on the questioners!).

    Diane, you also said: “I believe we are in transition from true shepherd care as a parish model to make-believe “professional management” in parishes, with an authoritarian model that long ago fell into disfavor in many companies, who at a leading edge have come to recognize the benefits of entrepreneurism, engaging the spirit as well as the wallet, and unlocking passion.”

    I agree one hundred percent!


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