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$hepherds $hearing $heep: Part 8: Case cont’d: “Abuse and/or Defamation”

May 29th, 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 the final part of the “Case of St. Mary’s Rushville” which began in Part 3 and was appended to his letter in its entirety.  (As a reminder, anything in blue was added after the letter was given to Mr. Cuomo, but is added for the sake of clarification to current readers.)  The pastor mentioned is Father Robert Ring.

Intimidation, Verbal Abuse and Defamation:  This has been typical of the pastor’s style, which is intimidating and sarcastic, controlling people from asking too much or getting too involved.  I realize this may seem far afield from the financial and NYS Religious Corporation Law, but I am sure you are aware that under Sarbanes Oxley (federal financial legislation which would be well-known to Mr. Cuomo) much attention has been given to the effect of an intimidating, hostile environment on the loss of quality in financial reporting, caused by reluctance to elevate or dispute relevant issues.  Therefore, I mention specifically just a few of the acts of hostility, experienced or witnessed. 

For example,

  • one gentleman who was on a committee with me said that Fr. Emo (see above and prior Zeal posts) had been convicted of sexual abuse in another case, but the pastor denied it.  That gentleman sent me an email to prove it and I copied it to the pastor as proof, who threatened that man with a lawsuit for “slander” [against himself, the pastor!]  The man left the committee and his parish (St. Jan’s)
  • In another situation, an elderly and very reliable parishioner who was one of the people who counted collections faithfully remarked that the headcount [reported by the usher] looked higher than she felt had been present that day.  The pastor heard from others about her remark, telephoned her and denigrated her, and also made a joking remark at her expense at another parish’s meeting, all causing the lady to no longer count.  So, a high quality, reliable financial counting person was replaced by more of the pastor’s personal selections.  Since then, I have personally seen a number of errors made, mis-crediting donations between St. Mary and St. Theresa. 
  • I too have been an object of the pastor’s sarcasm and denigration, and subjected to his intimidating tactics.  At one point, when I was parish council chair, I asked for and received data directly from him on financial status among parishes for the purpose of analyzing and posting on the parish forum.  Within hours of the posting, the pastor said he could “no longer trust” me, and dismissed me from Parish Council.  I still believe it was a ruse to remove opposition to the closing of St. Mary.
  • I witnessed the pastor’s accusing a woman in another parish of lying when I knew and I believe he knew she had not lied.  But she was bringing together a group of parishioners seeking better alternatives than the planning team was presenting.  Therefore, her credibility was damaged with another group of people, and she wasn’t present to defend herself.
  • The pastor held a meeting between parish councils and the planning team and invited input in November 2005.  Another council member and I provided 11 pages of planning input.  The following Sunday the pastor stood in the pulpit and denounced our input as a “pack of lies.”  That was untrue.  He wrote an apology he wanted us to send to the planning group.  We refused.
  • In violation of Catholic Church Canon Law, the pastor interfered with the rights of parishioners to meet and discuss the pastoral planning work, to form our opinions without pressure from him, and to do the best job possible for other parishioners.  Both the Concerned Parishioners of St. Mary and the Friends of St. Januarius were treated this way.
  • After presenting to the pastor a draft complaint to the Chancellor about the pastor’s behavior, he changed the locks, removed me from all ministries and threatened to do more.  He did not comment on the draft, which was transformed into a complaint to the Bishop in June 2006.
  • The pastor’s persistent hostility has modeled the same for his staff and for some of his parishioner supporters, so that to some inquiries on financial matters I have been met with email response such as “Cool your jets” and an outright refusal by the business manager to answer questions; in other cases hostile email and letters, some of a threatening nature, have been received with his apparent “blessing.”  It only shows the pressure within this not-for profit entity against elevating issues of concern, and illustrates the need not to allow the church to become the last bastion of permitted insult and abuse. 

Defamation Lawsuit Against The Pastor:  Finally, in 2007 after all efforts with the pastor and with the Chancellor and Bishop of the Rochester Diocese failed, I initiated a defamation lawsuit against the pastor (Monroe County Index No. 5797-07).  Long delays by the Diocese in even answering my complaint caused many events to expire under the statute of limitations but, nevertheless I pursued it as a per se defamation suit, against the pastor and against the Diocese for failure to supervise him. [Mr. Cuomo, as a lawyer, would know what “per se” means; i.e. that the defamation was so egregious that I would not have to prove injury to health or prove financial damages.]  The case was not heard, as the judge determined it did not rise to the level of “per se” and that I would need to prove financial or health damages, and dismissed the case without prejudice, giving me 6 months to appeal.  [An important point here, that again Mr. Cuomo as a lawyer would have understood, is that by the judge’s stating “without prejudice” the judge was NOT saying I hadn’t been defamed, only that I would need to have health or financial damage too.]   I did not appeal, as neither my finances nor my health were damaged.  I mention this in the interest of full disclosure.  Among my claims were that the pastor had slandered and libeled me, and I provided backup for all those claims, which is a matter of record. 

After I let the time for appeal expire (June 2008) thenthe diocese decided that it would assess St. Mary Rushville (another way to move money out of the Treasury, we believe) “charges” which they say were not covered by insurance for the Diocese’s and/or the pastor’s defense of my suit against them. (The Diocese had been included as a party for failure to properly supervise its employee, Fr. Bob Ring.)  The charge they levied against St. Mary was about $19,000 yet St. Mary was not even a party to the action.  St. Mary was neither plaintiff nor defendant, and had and has no ability to supervise or to discipline the pastor.  Eventually, on protest, the Diocese dropped the charge to about $14,000.  The 2009 and 2010 (ended June 30) financial report has not been issued yet, so we can’t verify what actually was charged.  But St. Mary had to pay for a personal lawsuit against the pastor, for his personal behavior, when the parish had no role, which of course seems unfair to most parishioners.  As we ask “why” it appears that such a tactic is at least partially intended (or at least has the result) to intimidate others from bringing lawsuits.  If such intimidation were to prevent a parent from bringing suit on behalf of a molested child, it would be a very wrong signal to send, to require hurting one’s own parish in order to protect oneself or family.

CONCLUSION:  All these abuses within one parish, with one pastor, over just a few years, experienced by a number of different people, show how those who know how to “manage” the law in the not-for-profit area of religious corporations can deeply affect the lives of individuals and communities.  Very few of these actions seem to be an outgrowth of the true not-for-profit purposes.  And it is believed if there were more state oversight over the financial and governance areas, the net result would even be good for the church, and give people comfort that they can be treated fairly and be safe.  Even appeals, by many parishes, all the way to Rome in accordance with approved Church process and Canon Law, seem to have fallen on deaf ears.  Please lead a reform of the NYS Religious Corporation Law.

Furthermore, in the process of researching such matters, I suggest that due to the small size and self-contained nature of these issues at St. Mary Rushville, over a prolonged period in OLOL and in the Diocese of Rochester, St. Mary would make an excellent further case study for reformation, and I personally pledge all possible cooperation to assist with your further analysis and consideration.

Sincerely,

Diane C. Harris

The above ends the text of the mailing to Mr. Cuomo, and is only the tip of the iceberg of what went on in OLOL, and only on finance-related matters.  But finance is an important diagnostic of the state of openness, transparency, responsibility in any not-for-profit, which benefits from a plethora of  tax exemptions, at tax-payer expense. 

When I first posted the letter to Mr. Cuomo, some thought I wanted government interference in the Church.  I DO NOT!  What I want is for the Church management, and any not-for-profit, to adhere to the law, and for that law to be enforced.  I do not believe churches should be above reasonable and just civil law, nor should  the people who run them. 

Future posts on the $$$ thread will unwrap even more details on certain events, in those posts sticking  to the finance and finance related areas.

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6 Responses to “$hepherds $hearing $heep: Part 8: Case cont’d: “Abuse and/or Defamation””

  1. avatar Robert says:

    Diane,
    Why don’t you get off this? I think you could do a lot better in serving the Church! You are going no where!

  2. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Oh, my, Robert; I think you could do a lot better in serving the Church, too. As a matter of fact, I think every single one of us could do a lot better in serving the Church. But since you are the one who opened the subject,

    1) Please set forth your authority regarding knowing and advising how others should serve the Church.
    2) Please describe the fruit of your spirituality and your work for the Church, leaving out anything for which you draw a salary or other remuneration, including favorable press.
    3) Please provide specific detail on what you are doing personally to witness to Truth, and to help souls who are alienated and feel they have no voice in the Communion of Saints to be “heard”; e.g. to stem the flow of disenchanted parishioners.
    4) Please provide explanation of how those who feel ignored or abused in their concerns, especially by Church hierarchy, are being helped and supported by you.
    5) Please mention details of how you yourself have worked to address the financial lapses in parish and diocese, and what you have been doing to improve it.
    6) Please provide information on how you personally are being abused (by people like yourself, by church staff, by the hierarchy) and what you have learned and would advise others to do.
    7) Please share with all the readers what you have determined through prayerful discernment that Christ is calling you to do for His People, and how you have been answering that call over many years.

    And feel free to post your input over multiple posts so that we can truly learn from whatever you have accomplished. But I will say that, to me, the giveaway in your words is the last sentence: “You are going nowhere!” How often I have heard that from perpetrators of abuse, and from those trying to shut down righteous dissent in the Church, as if “winning” were the only thing that matters. Mother Theresa remarked that it is not about being successful; it is about being faithful. It matters not one whit to me if I “am going nowhere” because I have nowhere else I want to be than in the arms of Jesus and doing His Will. Hence, in an infinite loop, please return to question #1. And begin to answer more meaningfully than just a nasty throwaway sentence.

    And while Robert is doing that, I would say to the readers of Zeal and $$$ that the wounds to parishioners’ souls are many; some deep and some myriad paper cuts. I don’t discard or ignore any of those, but I have also found that unless one is specific about the offenses, those who are outside of the experience can’t imagine. And can’t share. To some it may seem that each point is minor or irrelevant, but to the soul burdened with much persecution (yes, it can be persecution) there is a cumulative effect. And after 30 years, the cumulative has great effect. “Cumulative effect” reminds me of an unknown but much repeated author’s comment: “No raindrop ever considers itself responsible for the flood.” And perhaps no pastor (or bishop or pastoral staffer?) ever considers himself responsible for a lost soul?

  3. avatar Robert says:

    Robert’s remark deleted as being an ad hominem (personal) attack.

  4. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Wow, Robert seems to have taken this very personally.

    On the other hand, I am glad you are continuing and I am wondering what the next installment will be!

    Diane, you wrote:

    “This has been typical of the pastor’s style, which is intimidating and sarcastic, controlling people from asking too much or getting too involved. ”

    I have not met Father Ring but this rings true because the DOR [which he is in excellent standing with – and his standing is probably better than ever since he made sure the altar got jackhammerred – during Easter week!]has strong narcissistic flavor and what you wrote here is a typical aspect of Narcissism. I mean, if a Diocese could have a personality disorder, ours would have Narcissism!

    Thank you for detailing these abuses abuses of one pastor, one parish, over one year, affecting many, many souls.

    We know that Father Ring is not alone, that he is simply one of many, many other like-minded priests obedient to Bishop Clark over many years, in many DOR parishes, doing the very same things. It has to be a part of a great big “okay” from our bishop (or as some have implied, whoever is controlling the bishop). It seems to be what is expected of them. Yes, these priests are doing what their employer expects!

    It must make Father Ring pretty personally mad to be questioned for doing what is expected of him! Anyway, for most of these years, all the OTHER priests got away with doing whatever was expected of them by the DOR – [all that necessary ends-justifies-the-means behavior], with no one detailing on the Internet what they were doing. Must be really crumby to be called on what EVERYONE ELSE got away with, just fine.

    I feel that when Father Ring acts dishonestly with parishioners, when he is disingenuous with what he says, when he detracts others, when he is dishonest and manipulative with people and money, he feels entitled and approved of because all these things are okay with the DOR – and everyone else does them anyway.

    But wrong is wrong. And ends-justifies-the-means behavior IS wrong, as Our Holy Mother the Church teaches us. Just because other people get away with it doesn’t mean you get to be unexposed, as well. I am glad you are exposing, Diane! To pull out the cancer it needs to be exposed, so that it can be excised.

  5. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Diane, you wrote:

    “When I first posted the letter to Mr. Cuomo, some thought I wanted government interference in the Church. I DO NOT! What I want is for the Church management, and any not-for-profit, to adhere to the law, and for that law to be enforced. I do not believe churches should be above reasonable and just civil law, nor should the people who run them.”

    I am trying to understand the difference (between government interference and law enforcement). I guess I see it. However, maybe there is a bit of naive anarchy in me that thinks the Church will do the right thing [EVENTUALLY!]; we don’t need law enforcement [which happens through lawyers and courts, right?]. So, yes, the DOR will act despicably while they scramble to meet goals in their last days of their agenda’s reign. But all their efforts can be undone so easily with a moral and actually Catholic bishop. And that is soon!

    But keep writing. I am looking forward to seeing where this is going. Exposing the truth is a good thing!

  6. avatar Bruce says:

    Sounds like Robert may have something to lose when a new bishop arrives and reinvents the DoR in the image of the Catholic Church as opposed to the eee-piss-co-pals.


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