Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me – Part I – Introduction:

March 23rd, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 1 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

I have just joined the writing staff of Cleansing Fire. Since 2006 I have been the editor and publisher of a Newsletter called It Really Matters for members of victim parishes in Our Lady of the Lakes (OLOL) Cluster. Most recipients of the Newsletter are in the parishes of St Januarius in Naples, St. Theresa in Stanley, and the now-virtually-closed-but-still-having-its-treasury-emptied-by-OLOL parish of St. Mary in Rushville. We call these “Cluster West,” as differentiated from the largest of the parishes, St. Michael in Penn Yan and the other two parishes of St. Patrick in Prattsburgh and the now closed parish of St. Andrew in Dundee. All the parishes are being “amalgamated” into a single OLOL parish. It’s a tragedy.

With the March 11, 2011 announcement regarding Fr. Robert Ring’s leaving OLOL, two years before the end of his appointed term, to go to St. Louis in Pittsford, and with the repeated failure of diocesan leadership to remedy the many problems of OLOL and of Fr. Ring’s pastorate, it seems to be time to stop hoping for an ecclesiastical “doing the right thing” and to begin to share past events more widely. Thus, the plan for “Zeal” is to serialize some of the most egregious happenings on behalf of those who have suffered so much and hopefully to use those experiences to caution others who, without light, might be beckoned into the same pit. Otherwise, as we read in Luke 6:39: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?”

We begin a bit chronologically in this Part I, and then will focus on the pipe organ issue in Part II, which highlights much of what has been so wrong at St. Jan’s and in OLOL. There are strange goings-on in Naples, well away from the eyes of much of the Rochester Community, things which will likely surprise and shock good, faithful Catholics. In subsequent postings we will deal with the pipe organ threat and how that fits into the larger issue of Sanctuary Demolition, how pastoral planning failed the people of OLOL, how the shroud of secrecy has injured souls, how financial matters are obscured, how NYS Religious Corporation Law wasn’t followed, how conflicts by Trustees abetted the process, how a priest-friend of Fr. Ring’s became a Trojan Horse to destroy the Rushville parish and SO much more!

On September 11, 2001, an infamous day in the History of America, Fr. Robert Ring arrived to take over the approximately year-old cluster of the six parishes called Our Lady of the Lakes (OLOL), headquartered at St. Michael in Penn Yan. Taking over a parish in September is unusual but it was widely related that the previous, esteemed pastor had experienced health problems due to the enormous task of bringing six parishes together. The OLOL cluster is over 700 square miles, impossible for any one priest to effectively pastor, if only Fr. Ring would admit it. Now he leaves it for another pastor and the next bishop to sort out. It was the Bishop’s error, of course, to have approved such an organizational structure in the first place, and one which he seems unable to acknowledge or to correct. Fr. Ring himself often said during pastoral planning that “no other priest is willing to pastor this parish;” i.e. that only he is capable to do so. Karen Rinefierd, the diocesan planning coordinator assigned to OLOL at Fr. Ring’s request, backed him up, publicly calling him the “best” priest in the diocese. Now the truth or lack of truth of those statements will be tested.

One month after Fr. Ring arrived, St. Januarius celebrated its 125th Anniversary as a Parish, a thriving and growing parish (as cited by Fr. Ring in the Anniversary Program) with 325 families. Before Fr. Ring’s arrival, St. Jan’s annual attendance was 17,576 attendees at Masses of Sunday Obligation. In the calendar year just ended, there were a little over 200 families, and only 9483 attendees at Masses of Sunday Obligation at St. Jan’s, a drop of about 46% in attendance. The intervening years have polarized the pastorate away from the parishioners, with many folks driven away or leaving in disgust, and not without good reason. (For comparison, cluster-wide weekend attendance including St. Jan’s is down 34% in the same period of time).

Fr. Ring had not been a popular choice to head OLOL, let alone to have stayed for 10 years. He was widely seen throughout St. Jan’s as having poorly handled the removal of Fr. Emo and the attendant sexual abuse allegations against that priest in the 1990’s. Fr. Ring had headed up the diocesan Human Resources then, and many parishioners still do not feel they were told the truth. Therefore, a few years later, when he arrived to pastor OLOL, it was seen by some as a betrayal of their trust, or at least a very poor error in judgment. Many saw no effort at all to apologize or to lead a flock to healing. Rather, the “presider” mindset seemed to take over, many parish functions were transferred to Penn Yan, Religious Education fell precipitously (to a few years, for example, with no program at all), and tension grew rampant. Less than two years after his arrival, Fr. Ring was the subject of a parishioners’ forum, in August 2003, which demanded his removal, and sent documentation including a transcript to the Bishop, who refused to respond. Furthermore, in spite of repeated correspondence, in 2007 Bishop Clark renewed Fr. Ring to another six year term to the dismay of many. He will have completed four of those six years when he leaves for Pittsford.

I have always asked for correction in the Newsletter It Really Matters but virtually nothing has been received. Therefore since both the Bishop and Fr. Ring regularly get that Newsletter, and all the information has been brought to their attention with persistence, I am confident, to the best of my ability, in the truth of all that is written and all that will be written in this blog. Nevertheless, corrections are always welcome. The next posting, Part II, will deal with the threatened sale of the St. Jan’s pipe organ, and what was revealed about the secret plans to demolish the St. Januarius Sanctuary. Pray for those parishioners, please. For a long time they have suffered as sheep without a shepherd.

Your sister in Christ,
Diane Harris

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me – Part II — An Organ Harvest?

March 26th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 2 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

One would think it wouldn’t be necessary to defend the presence of a beautiful, donated pipe organ in a Catholic Church. There is a quote in the documents from Vatican II that “…the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.” What a shock it was, then, for the parishioners of St. Januarius to learn that the pastor, Fr. Robert Ring, was giving serious consideration to selling their cherished instrument, and eliminating the beauty the pipes add as a backdrop to the Sanctuary.

Parishioners had no inkling any changes were threatening until late September, 2009, when Fr. Ring introduced an anonymous “offer” to buy the St. Jan’s pipe organ for $3,000. He made it seem unsolicited but refused to identify the buyer, and said the offer had to be accepted by the end of October 2009 or it would be withdrawn. Clearly there was pressure put on the parishioners, who reacted admirably in defense of their church. They researched that the pipe organ was actually worth $70,000 to $100,000 and that it had been a gift from a former, beloved pastor, Fr. Robert Smith, and that maintenance expense was far less than what Fr. Ring had implied. Further, the 7 Rank Wicks had once graced the Cathedral for a short time. Understandable resistance to such a sale began to emerge.

There were several attempts to get to the truth of parishioner perceptions and opinions regarding the threatened sale of their pipe organ. At the time most parishioners thought this was an isolated threat, and did not know such a sale was just a small part of an intended but undisclosed Sanctuary demolition project. Serious objections to the sale of the pipe organ were voiced several times:

1. Show of Hands: At an after Mass gathering on October 4, 2009, an overwhelming majority of attending parishioners, in a show of hands, voted NOT to sell the pipe organ. (It was said at the time to be about 30 against, and 2 in favor of the sale). This meeting was apparently also the first time that many parishioners began to hear rumors of other intended Sanctuary renovations, although they were assured by JL, who favored the sale, that the two issues were unrelated.

2. Pastor’s Pew Survey: In early October 2009, Fr. Ring did a pew survey on what parishioners saw as the highest priority in 2010 for St. Jan’s. The most votes concerned Mass times and not losing the Saturday night Mass. In second place were 56 votes to replace the pastor and/or faith formation director, Cris Wensel, (more on the connection between Cris, Fr. Ring and St. Louis in a future posting.) The votes in Fr. Ring’s pew poll were 40 to keep the organ, and 8 to sell it. The organ issue had only come to light part way through the voting.

3. A Care of the Community meeting was scheduled for October 28, 2009 and 40 people (10x the usual turnout) showed up, on the opening night of the World Series, but were forbidden by Fr. Ring from discussing the pipe organ, or other subjects parishioners themselves had designated as major priority, such as: Mass Times, Sanctuary ‘Renovation’, improved communications, and removing the pastor and/or faith formation director. In stark contrast, parishioners WERE allowed to speak about whether or not the “ugly bushes” should be trimmed, but not about the issues of most interest to them. Some people walked out in disgust. To avoid such discussion, Fr. Ring said the matters had to be taken to the 6-church clustered OLOL Council instead, without even first hearing St. Jan’s parishioners’ input. (This is a great flaw of clustering. People with no interest at all in another church, or who are competing for the survival of their own church, begin voting about the future of someone else’s church. It is compounded by the council members often being the pastor’s personal appointees.)

4. A poll by the Newsletter “It Really Matters” then did a survey by mail for more detail and for validation on the issues about which Fr. Ring had forbidden open parishioner discussion. The results showed a groundswell of opposition to selling the organ, and to renovating the sanctuary (which at that time was only known to involve lowering the altar significantly from four steps to two, but was expected to block the vision of children and smaller adults). There were 42 surveys received from 33 households. One of the key survey results (more in next issue) was that, regarding the organ, 82% disagreed with accepting $3,000 for an organ worth $70,000-100,000; 70% said it shouldn’t even be sold at fair market value; 71% said the organ is important to St. Jan’s.

October 31, 2009 had come and gone without the pipe organ disappearing, so most people believed the matter was resolved. They did not know that nearly eight months earlier, in early 2009 (perhaps even earlier), Fr. Ring had been consulting, unknown to parishioners, on radical renovations he wanted to implement at St. Jan’s before he left. The architectural consultation was with LaBella (yes, it is the same LaBella who “renovated” the Cathedral and in the process became good at ignoring protests of ordinary people in the pew. They have also ignored parishioner input on the St. Jan’s matters.) St. Jan’s parishioners would not know until February 2011, that there were LaBella drawings already marked as a final presentation dated March 6, 2009 (a time when St. Jan’s parishioners didn’t even know Sanctuary modifications were being considered). These “final presentation” (“finalpres”) drawings were done nearly 7 months before Fr. Ring mentioned selling the organ at the outlandish price of $3000. When the March 2009 drawings finally were shown on-line, the shocking revelation was that those “finalpres” drawings showed NO ORGAN and NO PIPES in a remodeled Sanctuary, just the little keyboard which has sometimes been used at services.

Thus, Fr. Ring had been entertaining a sale of the pipe organ at a seriously distressed, apparently unfair price, under the guise of an unsolicited offer, knowing full well that the then 7-month old secret LaBella “final pres” drawings had no plans for a pipe organ to be included in the future Sanctuary.

Use the link http://www.ourladyofthelakescc.org/whoweare/stjanrenovation/renovation.html and click on “Proposed Renovation Design”. It takes time to load. The banner heading on the pdf will say “finalpres.” There you will see the March 6, 2009 drawings, with NO pipe organ, and there are even foreboding margin notes against St. Jan’s pipe organ.

Future “Zeal” installments will review the Sanctuary renovation/demolition plans and current threats and impending jack-hammers. To whet the appetite, consider the following color picture of St. Jan’s Sanctuary today (the one on line is old). Contrast it to La Bella’s “finalpres” drawing. In the color picture, the pipes can be seen behind the center Tabernacle. In the architectural drawing, the Tabernacle has been moved to a lowly spot near the exit door, and the pipes have disappeared. The presider’s chair has been raised to the prominent place vacated by the Tabernacle and a “royal” backdrop added to the presider’s seating area. No wonder people are upset…to be continued….

When Christ was asked by his disciples for signs of the end-times, He said in Mark 13:14: “….when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be…:”

Please remember, corrections are always welcome.

Your sister in Christ, Diane Harris

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me – Part III – An Unholy Atmosphere

March 30th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 3 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

We left off Part II with the threatened organ transplant lurking once again in a cloak of secrecy. However, we were getting a bit ahead of the story. Back on October 28, 2009, when Fr. Robert Ring had denied 40 parishioners the right to be heard at a “Care of the Community” (CC) meeting, on the very issues which they had raised and prioritized by vote at his request, there was a high level of frustration. So through the Newsletter, It Really Matters, we conducted a Survey of St. Januarius’ parishioners, to give them the opportunity denied to them at that CC meeting.

There had been an overwhelming response against selling the pipe organ, as mentioned in Zeal Part II, even at a fair price, let alone for $3000 (which would be less than 4 cents on the dollar for its fair market value. And a pastor is supposed to be a good steward of the patrimony of a parish!) In addition to that pipe organ question, and with rumors increasing as to threatened Sanctuary renovation (extent then unknown), we expanded the Newsletter Survey to include the other issues raised by parishioners in Fr. Ring’s pew survey: reactions on the Altar and Sanctuary, on removing the Pastor and/or Faith Formation Director, and how folks felt about not being allowed to discuss their concerns. Remember, these were not issues raised by the Newsletter, but rather by Fr. Ring’s own pew survey.

Here are the results:

ALTAR and SANCTUARY: 79% said the altar should not be lowered; 72% said it is not a good use of funds to   remodel the Sanctuary:  75% said the altar / Sanctuary should be left alone.
REMOVE THE PASTOR: 50% agreed, 21% were undecided and 29% disagreed.
REMOVE THE Faith Formation Director, Cris Wensel: 33% agreed, 39% were undecided; 28% disagreed. (Much of the ‘undecided’ vote came from people who didn’t even know who Cris was, although she’d been there over four years.)
SILENCING THE FLOCK:  a strong level of indignation (with many respondents’ comments) was expressed about being gagged in the Care of the Community meetings, permitted to only discuss meaningless matters. We asked about a variety of banned subjects on a 0 to 10 rating scale, where a 10 was “completely inappropriate” to ban and zero was “completely appropriate” to ban. The number of respondents awarding a ‘10’ is also shown, divided by the total number of respondents to that question. The following banned subjects were rated by respondents:


     
Subject Av. Rating #’10’ratings/total #resp.
Mass times 9.1 30/34
“Hearing” people’s voices (input)  9.1 28/33
Bringing back people who left 8.5 24/34
Need for Spiritual Leadership 8.4 23/32
Use/sale of Rectory 8.3 22/32
Keeping St. Mary (Rushville) open 7.5 21/31
     

The inherent fallacy in Fr. Ring’s forbidding discussion, after inviting input, is that it is illogical for those unfamiliar with St. Januarius to make decisions without even hearing from the St. Jan’s parishioners. Why would he do something like that? Why did he conduct his pew survey at all? We began to wonder if the decisions hadn’t already been made.

Father Ring exerted pressure from the pulpit; it seemed to some as trying to prevent folks from actually answering the Newsletter Survey, implying that it would not be fair since it was being done by It Really Matters. We offered the Survey as a service to St. Jan’s, which is what the pastor should have done. The results had a sworn statement to the truth of the report, which is also what a pastor should be able to do. Respondents could comment freely and without distortion. which is what Fr. Ring should have allowed at the Care of the Community (CC) meeting.  It is hard to see how his trying to prevent a survey could possibly serve the people.

We wrote that “The Proof was in the Pulpit,” saying: “It is hardly necessary to write an article about Fr. Ring’s errors and omissions, abuses and misuses, when he himself gives irrefutable proof from the pulpit. Consider that on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009, and again on Sunday, Nov. 22, at St. Januarius, after a brief homiletic reflection, he launched into a personal attack against the editor and the Newsletter. Those in attendance know well what he did, even to the point of a few folks said to have walked out of Mass. Some expressed shock and consternation. The worst was actually not in the words or in the innuendo. Did you know that a priest is not permitted to use the pulpit at Mass to denounce any individual? That is yet one more abuse. It doesn’t matter if he says “a woman from St. Mary’s who writes the Newsletter” and doesn’t use a name; it is all the same. Not only is he not permitted to use a “bully pulpit” to be a bully, but the rules are to protect the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist from abuse. People leave when a pulpit is so misused; they know they could be the next target. The good of souls always comes first!”   Sadly, some of those who left have not returned to St. Januarius.

Another way in which Fr. Ring has suppressed discussion in OLOL is by allowing (or at least not correcting,)  his minions who take hostile positions on his behalf. To understand how hostility can be used in OLOL to punish parishioners who disagree, to instill fear in those who would like to discuss issues, and to drive others away, we consider the case of “DS,” from Rochester.  We recount the flavor of a letter which DS sent to those who were mandaters, who were openly publishing the Newsletter about their concerns, who were meeting together and otherwise pursuing their rights under Canon Law, but doing and saying nothing about DS personally.  DS sent a letter to the Newsletter editor and to select others, dated November 18, 2009, which said “This is addressed to all your members. Please forward to all members.” In the Newsletter we reprinted DS’s letter in its entirety (with full identification) and answered each of his points.  Here, for the moment, we simply print an excerpt of his words and let them stand alone as bald testimony to the atmosphere of hostility engendered against the people who speak out for truth and fairness, and against suppression and secrecy.

The letter was addressed to the “KKK Members of It Really Matters,” setting the tone for the entire letter. We abbreviate a bit where necessary to avoid some redundancy, but we change nothing that was written, and will print the entirety and our point by point published response soon in another “Zeal.” DS wrote:

“As individuals in the South hid behind their white sheets and killed individuals they did not like. [sic] You hide behind your alleged newsletters and try to lynch individuals that will not meet your self-centered, egoistical, childish, self-absorbed petty meaningless demands….you hide within your un-authored [sic] articles…. Your KKK members are wasting so much energy, time and money on fighting petty administrative decisions that you should be happy someone else is handling so you can have more time to complete your own list of Faith First acts of Christian kindness.” Mass times, redesign of the altar area, closing of churches have to have the final decision rest with the hierarchy of the church with the priests and bishop. It is impossible to please every individual and every group. If mass time changes or if Saturday night mass is canceled or if a church is closed down, what is the big deal? You just go to church at a different time or place. Where is your faith, or sense of sacrifice instead of your self-centered sense of me, me, me? If an individual leaves the church because of a change in mass times, altar change or the closing of a small church, I would have to question the strength of their faith in the first place…..Your self-centered sense of the norms of the church is centered in the dark ages….to be so bitter and self, self, self-centered is so anti-Christian. Where is your basic Christian faith…. Your explanation in this newsletter is just plain sick and deranged. You are a sore cancer in our church….You have a choice. Leave and go to start or find your own Catholic Conservative Church with your strict allegiance to the “norms” as you interrupt [sic] them. Take our names off your mailing list and never send us another vicious, vile newsletter.”

Three days after DS wrote his attack, and at the same Mass that Fr. Ring himself, seriously misusing the pulpit, denounced the Survey, Newsletter and its editor, Fr. Ring permitted DS to mount the St. Jan’s pulpit, to proclaim similar denunciations, and stood by and approved. It was a speech against the people who were mandaters under Canon Law, who were legitimately trying to prevent the amalgamation of OLOL into a single parish. (More than 100 people from St. Jan’s were mandaters; more on that in a future Zeal. That number is more than half the average weekend attendance at St. Jan’s, given the decimation of that parish since Fr. Ring’s arrival, a drop of 46% in attendance.) DS spoke loudly from the pulpit to lead a cheering section for Fr. Ring and also to denounce those whose opinions were different from his own. Then DS called for applause and ovation for Fr. Ring. Many refused to applaud or to give a standing ovation, but some felt intimidated into doing so against their own consciences. Few things are so divisive to a community as putting forth an issue from the pulpit in which parishioners are forced to take sides against each other. Some who walked out have not returned.

After answering DS’s written diatribe point by point, in a subsequent Newsletter, we wrote: “This has been an opportunity to witness to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith. Quite frankly, we also hope that parishioners of St. Jan’s will understand better who it was that addressed them from the pulpit on Fr. Ring’s behalf, and be better able to decide if this is the personality and style with which they wish to align themselves and the future of their parish. It is a valid question why Fr. Ring resorts to such displays instead of apologizing and dealing with the issues, year after year.”

Later we found out that DS, who had been an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion for years during Fr. Ring’s pastorate, actually wasn’t Catholic at all. Soon after we had discovered and publicized it, DS quickly came into the Church, in early 2010. As a non-Catholic,  Fr. Ring allowed or invited him to take the pulpit and give the pep talk for him at Mass. (And he is NOT the only person who has communicated in this way. Another person in yet a different OLOL parish, doing the same, has even been on the OLOL Pastoral Council for years.)

A few folks said after Mass, of both Fr. Ring and of DS: “I’m sorry I didn’t stand up and tell him off” or “I wish I’d noisily stormed out.” We wrote: “No, that is not the way to handle it. For those who quietly left and for those who stayed and were dismayed or upset or hurt, you did the right thing. You had more sense of correct behavior around the Eucharist than did Fr. Ring [or DS]. He should learn from your example. It is NEVER right to be disrespectful to anyone, especially in the presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle, and NEVER right to turn the Mass into a stage show, which includes applause for the pastor in his own personal vendetta, which includes leaping to one’s feet to express approval of his misbehavior at Mass, and includes huggies, condoning / participating in his disregard for the Eucharistic Presence. Thank you to all who did the ‘right thing.’ God bless you abundantly for your restraint.”

The pipe organ, two surveys and internal hostility– each is a pericope* into the way Fr. Ring “manages” that with which he has been entrusted by God. With this insight into the atmosphere, an unholy atmosphere, we can next view the drawings, two more surveys and more claims of bias, the Sanctuary Demolition Plan and the mysterious donor situation.

Peace of Christ,

Diane Harris

*pericope: passages from different parts of a single book or different books, linked together into a single or composite reading. A “cutting out” which forms one coherent unit of thought.

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me — Part IV — KKKeystone KKKops

April 1st, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 4 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

Open Letter from and to DS:

Although I had never met the man, this is the letter I received from DS, which he wrote 3 days before taking the pulpit at St. Jan’s to lead a pep rally for Fr. Robert Ring. As mentioned in Zeal Part III, he asked for it to be disseminated. DS’s words are in red; the response from myself as Editor for It Really Matters is in blue. I did not know that this EEM, speaker from the Catholic Pulpit wasn’t even Catholic when I replied to him.

While we had no obligation to share it at all, we did so in order that people in the parish could see the kind of tone that was behind Father Ring’s agenda. It is shared here for a similar reason; i.e. that those reading the saga of OLOL will have a sense of “tone” on both sides, and be better able to interpret the stories as they unwind going forward. I’d have liked to shorten the material, but will go with the full letter and reply, lest we be accused of making adjustments to the real history. Only the name is changed to the initials “DS,” and initials added for innocent parties. The letter was addressed to the “KKK Members of It Really Matters,” and that quite sets the tone.

DS never answered our answers to him. 

Your sister in Christ,

Diane Harris

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me – Part V: Inside the House of God

April 7th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 5 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

Summary to date:

In this fifth part of the St. Januarius / OLOL / Fr. Robert Ring saga, we go back inside the church. The time frame is early calendar 2010. The organ had been threatened to be sold in October 2009 for less than 4 cents on the dollar (but is still there), parishioners have been forbidden to discuss at Care of the Community meetings most all the subjects on which they were polled and issues they had raised. A confirming survey by the Newsletter It Really Matters showed 3:1 opposition to selling the organ or radically modifying the St. Jan’s sanctuary (although there are repair projects for which funds would be welcome). The actual donor still has not been revealed although there had been rumors that it was the Wegman Family for a memorial to Bob Wegman, and that their donation was $300,000. Meanwhile, a non-Catholic, whom Fr. Ring was allowing to be an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister, had been permitted to take the pulpit at Mass to rouse support for the pastor, just three days after that individual, “DS”, had sent a letter accusing parishioners who were trying to save their Sanctuary of being “KKK.”

Abuse of Mandaters?

Something else had happened in December, 2009 besides the Newsletter survey. Fr. Daniel Condon, Chancellor of the Rochester Diocese, had met with Fr. Ring and the Pastoral Council of OLOL and given the council members the names of all the 174 mandaters (over 100 were from St. Jan’s) who had an action in Rome to prevent merger of the parishes. (More on that Rome action in future Zeal posts).

The names, which had been confidential until that point (except to the Bishop who has a right to know) were distributed among council members allowing them to pressure mandaters to revoke their mandates. It was seen by most mandaters affected as an interference in their exercising their canon law rights. It was seen as divisive in the life of a parish, a power abuse by clergy, improper behavior by the laity, and an attempt to intimidate, coerce and suppress.  Moreover, it is believed to be an illegitimate violation of privacy (Canon 220).

Many mandaters happened to also oppose the Sanctuary changes. Some non-mandaters also opposed the renovations. Although there was no canon law action at that time regarding the Sanctuary renovation, distribution of mandaters’ contact information was interpreted as trying to martial pro-demolition support or to remove opposition.

A member of council from St. Jan’s, “PR”, was a big supporter of Fr. Ring and of the Sanctuary changes he wanted, thus many calls and contacts were made by her to exert pressure to revoke mandates. Most of the intimidation effort was unsuccessful, and some who were contacted resented the intrusion, which further deepened the divisions in OLOL and at St. Jan’s. (Note: we carefully identify the person as a member of council from St. Jan’s, but not as a representative from St. Jan’s. Many members are hand-picked by Fr. Ring and not subject to parishioner selection or voting. Others have been nominated but not considered. Still others may be picked by lot. In a future posting we will discuss Fr. Ring’s removing from positions like Parish Council those who disagree with him. Parish Council is advisory only and holds no power of its own. Repeated unanimous votes by Parish Council are one indication that it may not only have no power of its own, but perhaps also no opinions of its own.)

Liturgical Excuses

In early 2010 there were a few meetings at St. Jan’s and copies of excerpts from “Living Stones” were handed out, with supposed liturgical arguments for the demolition. These meetings were not opportunities for any meaningful discussion, and the liturgical arguments were irrelevant to what was happening, yet tried to create an impression of valid defense for the radical renovation.  Amusingly, in the materials distributed, there was even an argument in favor of pipe organs!

Architectural Renderings

In approximately February/March 2010, for the first time “architectural drawings” were put on display for a while in the parish center. People supposedly could “make comments.” Those who opposed the renovations were unlikely to suggest minor improvements; thus, input would have been biased; major objection did not seem a possibility. Moreover, there had been no indication that comments would be treated as a survey or as voting. But Fr. Ring would later report that his survey showed 74% support for the project!

To many folks, it was a meaningless claim and not credible, since 1) viewing the drawings wasn’t positioned as a vote, so mostly those who did support the project were likely to make comments, 2) Fr. Ring never revealed how many people had viewed the drawings, or made comments or what was the nature of what he defined as “support”, 3) how did he prevent any ‘duplicate voting’ ? and 4) what was the nature of comments given?  It clearly appeared to be an “after the fact” interpretation, with the viewing of drawings results being called meaningful support, but with no statistical basis. If nearly three-quarters  (74%) were really  in favor of the Sanctuary renovation, was that 3 people out of 4?  Or 74 out of 100? Who knows?

Below are two architectural renderings from that period. Some people, who had a positive response to the drawings, noted the windows looked nice. They were surprised to find out that there was no change to the windows even planned.  Another architect to whom the drawings were shown remarked: “Oh, that’s just eye-candy.” What? He said it is a way to divert attention away from what isn’t supposed to be noticed.

Once the misleading “eye-candy” was recognized,
people began to look closer at what was lost in the browns and more browns at the heart of the Sanctuary.  (Note, too, that the perspective is from above, an unnatural point from which to view, as there is no balcony, and it minimizes the actual partially blocked view if one were in the pews at floor level, with real people in front of the viewer.)

  • All of a sudden parishioners noticed that their Tabernacle was to be moved, from its prominent center place, off to the side.
  • The beautiful altar would be replaced by a smaller, less prominent table, and the presider chair would be raised above where it is now. (In drawings available on line in 2011, the presider has moved himself right to the center, where the Tabernacle is currently!)
  • Although Fr. Ring said the pipe organ would remain, neither the pipes nor organ show in the drawings, but the choir area seems greatly expanded.
  • Folks were unhappy about what they began to call “the ugly Christmas tree, ” the triangular backdrop where the Tabernacle had been, and although it was supposed to reduce glare, many didn’t see glare as a problem at all.
  • There is supposed to be a lighting component of the project but the current drop lighting is missing in the drawings, without mention of what it will be.
  • The altar today is up four steps (see Zeal: Part II for a picture), with railings built by and donated by parishioners. It is planned to be lowered by proposed jack-hammering of all four steps, and then replaced with two of less square footage. Also, the smaller top “circle” platform would make use of the Sanctuary for the Latin Mass very unlikely.
  • One of the major complaints about the lowered altar is that it will be difficult for children and small adults to see the altar if two steps are removed.

The Bishop says there will be a ramp (not shown) but no one seems able to figure out how that will be done, without blocking the access to the sacristy, or an aisle. A ramp certainly isn’t needed. How could anyone in a wheelchair go up and down a ramp holding a cup of Precious Blood? Because of the risk to the Eucharist, many  believe it should not be done. No railings are shown with the two steps; but, if people can fall up or down four steps, they can also fall on two.

Baptismal Font:

There was also an architectural rendering of the proposed back of the church. Again, the window eye-candy is grossly misleading; no changes are planned. There is an accordion type door today, which some feel would benefit from replacement. These drawings show wooden door/walls in between; however, the proper egress must still be maintained. A bigger issue is the tank in the middle of the aisle, making it a challenge to navigate coffins or bridal parties around it.

Fr. Ring grew up Baptist; an immersion baptismal font is apparently still high on his list of personal preferences. However, the Easter Vigil has only been at St. Jan’s every other year, and this year there are only two candidates coming into the Church in the entire OLOL cluster, but at St. Michael in Penn Yan. So a deep font isn’t likely to get much use, for all the inconvenience it would be bound to cause. Furthermore, the population is older, and it is awkward to stand facing backward for the duration of baptism, if one is to truly see the rite.

The face-to-face confessional modification has not drawn any particular criticism; however, it is unclear if it will also have handicapped access.

Repairs Needed:

The greater need at St. Januarius is repairs and adhering to rules about security. The Blessed Sacrament is supposed to be secured, not perched on a mediocre or tippy stand. Here is a picture of the improperly secured Tabernacle (with a key in its door) in the chapel.


Another complaint has been that the outside doors often don’t lock well, even to the point of having, on occasion “duck-taped” the doors shut. (See picture.) Timely and adequate repairs are, quite frankly, more important that catering to the whims of a departing pastor.

 

The other major objection of Parishioners to spending $300,000 to jack-hammer steps and make ego-changes to the Sanctuary is the hard economic times which so many people in the community are enduring. It was judged unseemly to be wasting money in such a manner when there is so much need. As a matter of fact, some parishioners said it was scandalous. Moreover, it is not believed that such changes will bring anyone back to the faith, or a single person back to St. Jan’s from the nearly half the parishioner body which has left since Fr. Ring’s arrival.

Collaboration Rejected:

Several parishioners, stumped by how it could even be remotely possible that Fr. Ring had support from  three-quarters of parishioners, made a conciliatory gesture to collaborate on a new survey, in which both sides would agree to the questions and the handling of the data, for decisive resolution of what the parishioners’ opinions really are. Fr. Ring declined the offer, and the concerned parishioners went ahead with their own survey, with very careful procedures, and a third-party consultant-reviewer. We’ll cover those results next time.  Fr. Ring said that he frankly didn’t care about the opinions of non-contributing parishioners.  He was about to try to raise $30,000 from parishioners for the project.

Follow the Money

Fr. Ring wrote to the parishioners and summer visitors in July, 2010, the following:

“…The Wegman family, in memory of Robert Wegman, has generously offered to fund this, though also wanting parishioners involved, raising part of the money. The approximate cost of the renovation will be $300,000. We are expected to raise $30,000 from our parish. The Wegman family will provide the remaining funds. Such an opportunity is unlike [sic] to come our way again….”

Much later, March, 2011, we’d also find out from Danny Wegman that he’d only agreed to donate $50,000 and that it wasn’t to be a memorial to his father, and that he hadn’t asked for $30,000 to be raised. He just wanted to know that people were in support (they aren’t.)

Fr. Ring claims to have raised the $30,000 from 72 donors. Since he has given no detail, it is possible that most of those donors have made a substantial gift, but it is also possible that only a few made quite substantial gifts and many gave token gifts. Regardless, 72 households donating out of the estimated 239 would only be 30% support. And if it is 72 individuals (some in the same household), the figure could be as low as 14% support. Just because these funds were (or may have been) raised is not true support; it is just money. And, actually the number of donors contradicts Fr. Ring’s claim that 74% of folks support the demolition of the Sanctuary.  Furthermore, if 72 people or households gave on false pretenses (i.e. believing that Wegmans were giving at least $270,000 and that it was a memorial to Bob Wegman, and that Wegmans would cover any overruns in expense), it would seem to beg the question of whether the fund-raising was under false pretenses, and/or whether or not those donors of the $30,000 now have a claim for a refund.

Coming Soon:

The parishioners’ own survey results, what the appeal to the Bishop said, how the parish council meeting was scheduled when nobody could come, the Care of the Community meeting when dialogue was squashed again and the discovery of LaBella drawings on the OLOL website in January 2011 but dated March 6, 2009 (with no organ). What is Fr. Ring really “up to” doing all this to the people of St. Jan’s 81 days before he leaves? Meanwhile, the jackhammers may already be doing their damage when the next post appears.

Please pray for us.

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me – Part VI –Truth and Consequences

April 9th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 6 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

In July and August 2010, Fr. Robert Ring solicited donations in a letter to parishioners and summer visitors which claimed that the Wegmans were donating $270,000 or $300,000 (depending on how you read it) and that it was to be a memorial to Robert Wegman. It also left the impression that Wegmans were requiring that parishioners come up with $30,000. All of the foregoing has been denied by Danny Wegman, but the funds were “de facto” raised on what is now said to be an untrue basis, and no visible effort is apparent to correct what had been so misleading. The consequence of such fundraising method is that donors seem to have a basis to demand return of funds. Below is the full copy of the Fr. Ring and Fr. Wiant letter, which is still on the OLOL website.

Things to notice in the Fr. Ring (and Fr. Wiant) letter:
• there is no connection to “simplicity when the church was first dedicated.” This church has never looked as is now being proposed.
• Vatican II liturgy is again misrepresented, if not hijacked.  The church was BUILT in 1967; i.e. “post Vatican II.”
• That the Wegmans will “provide the remaining funds” is untrue.
• How does it “renew” our experience of “praying the Eucharist,” when Jesus in the Tabernacle is bumped off to the side?

“Out-ed” Mandater Consequences

The “outing” of mandaters, as wrong as it was, had a good consequence too. Those who had collected mandates had also been very careful not to disclose identities, even of mandaters to each other. But we know that the Lord works all things to the good, and once the Newsletter, It Really Matters, told all parishioners that Fr. Dan Condon, Chancellor, had released the names, there was no point in mandaters any longer being secret from each other, although it was left as each mandater’s individual decision. Since the opposition knew who they were, many mandaters now could openly admit they were mandaters and work together. Even the outrageous actions of Fr. Condon and Fr. Ring did actually have a uniting force. Hence, there was more of a bonding among the mandaters, more open conversation, more rallying at St. Januarius to try to save the church from demolition of its Sanctuary.

Thumbs Up or Down?

As a result of mandaters more freely coming together, and better communications to share the truth, a group of 7 parishioners (mandaters and non-mandaters) offered to work collaboratively with the Sanctuary Steering (aka ‘Demolition’) Committee on a mutual survey. It was refused by Fr. Ring at a meeting in concert with a retired priest (Fr. Wiant) and five other parishioners who were at the Care of the Community (CC) when it was taken to a vote. It was odd, one thinks, that a vote would have been taken of a group with no power to vote, and which was forbidden to even discuss the renovation issue, and at a meeting for which this agenda matter of a vote hadn’t been announced in advance. But, of course, Fr. Ring would have known how those few present would vote, giving him an opportunistic way to dismiss the matter from further consideration; i.e. IF the parishioners had not taken the matter further.

But the seven parishioners, who believed it was necessary to know the truth of support or lack of support, went ahead and did the survey on their own initiative and at their own expense. Their methodology differed from the prior survey done by the Newsletter in some substantial ways; nevertheless, the results were astoundingly similar. There was only one question on the Parishioners’ Survey, and it wasn’t about Mass Times, the pipe organ, the pastor, or staff. It was simply a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” reaction to the renovation plan. The respondent was to choose one or the other response, and had the option (but not the requirement) to write additional comments if desired. Over 95% of respondents chose to comment, some were brutal and harsh regarding the proposed renovations and the pastoral leadership. The simple question was:

I support the modification of the St. Januarius Altar and Sanctuary for these reason(s):  ______________________________________________________

 ______________________________________________________

or

I am opposed to the modification of the St. Januarius Altar and Sanctuary for these reason(s):

______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

Another difference from the Newsletter’s survey was that respondents had to sign the parishioners’ survey, and give their contact information. That way, it was possible for the committee to contact every person who did not return a survey (or who hadn’t indicated they didn’t want a survey) to press for 100% return, regardless of opinion. Thus, they were also able to ensure there was no double voting, and if a comment couldn’t be read they could call the person for clarification. The Newsletter Survey had received 42 responses, representing 33 households. The Parishioners’ Survey received more than twice that response: 114 usable responses, representing 77 households, an extraordinary return. The Parishioner Survey took place in July/August 2010.

Preventing Bias or Error:

The Parishioner Survey Committee also took special measures to prevent bias or error. (It has been a problem in OLOL that when Fr. Ring doesn’t like the results he just ignores them and/or claims bias.) Envelopes were only opened in the presence of at least two committee members, and a log number was immediately assigned. A copy was also immediately made to be sure that every response had to be tracked and accounted for. The extra effort was worthwhile and outside review of the results added extra credibility.

Yet, even though the methodologies differed, when all the results were tallied, the results of the Parishioner Survey were surprisingly close to the Newsletter Survey. The Parishioners Committee, which conducted this Survey work, was able to protect the identity of the respondents.

Parishioner Survey Results: Truth of the Matter:

The 114 (adult) respondents comprised 77 households. The response rate of 77 out of a net deliverable 239 households represents an excellent response rate of 32.2% (most consumer surveys are considered a success at 3% return rate and 5% is extraordinary!)

The results were dramatic, showing that 72.8% oppose the proposed renovation; only 27.2% are in support, virtually the exact opposite of what Fr. Ring and the Sanctuary Steering Committee claimed after informally showing the drawings. Moreover, these results were also consistent with the Newsletter Survey which showed: 79% said the altar should not be lowered; 72% said it is not a good use of funds to remodel the sanctuary; 75% said the altar /sanctuary should be left alone (average: 75%). This consistency was in spite of the fact that two very different, but valid, survey methodologies were used, strengthening the reliability of the conclusions of both.

Serving the People

The Parishioner Survey Committee did a great service for the present and future attendees of St. Januarius. They did what Fr. Ring should have done — collaborated on a definitive survey. He should have had a hunger to know and respond to what his flock wants and needs. He should have engaged in discussion over the results of the work. He should have found inclusive ways for resolution instead of further alienating the flock. In short, he should have pursued truth, fully, faithfully and responsibly. Instead, others had to do the job for him.

Distribution of the Parishioner Survey Results:

The Parishioners Survey Committee which produced the Survey made the results widely available to the parishioners, to Fr. Ring, to Fr. Wiant, to the Parish Council, to the Bishop, to the donors, and to other relevant parties. Members of the Parishioner Survey Committee had asked to present their results at a Care of the Community (CC) meeting in September, which was inexplicably cancelled. They asked to speak at the October 6th CC meeting and that too was cancelled. After canceling the October 6th date, Fr. Ring, without even consulting the Survey Committee members as to their availability or convenience (most were not available), set an arbitrary meeting date of October 4th at 7PM, for a presentation of the Parishioners’ Survey to the OLOL Pastoral Council. The council, as mentioned above, had already received the survey summary as well as the consultant’s input and analysis. The parishioners were apparently not going to be allowed to present to their own community, only to the rubber-stamping Pastoral Council.

Alternative Presenter

The Parishioner Survey Committee members were almost all unable to attend the meeting date which had been dictated to them without a fair attempt to find a convenient mutual date (after two other dates which had been convenient were cancelled by the pastor). Those parishioners decided to ask their third party consultant, PerformancePlus, which had reviewed all their work in good faith, and had, in addition, validated serious and divisive issues facing St. Jan’s, to make the presentation to the Pastoral Council and Fr. Ring. It also seemed that perhaps a professional presentation would be less laden with emotion. After using his allotted 15 minutes, the consultant had received only one ‘clarification’ question, and NO challenges, NO claims of bias. Fr. Ring asked no questions, and there was no conversation among the Pastoral Council members. They seemed not even to consider the results with any energy or interest, but voted to recommend to the Pastor to go ahead with the Sanctuary demolition. Afterwards, the parishioners, who had done so much work in good faith, were criticized for not having presented the results themselves, were called biased, and the consultant’s input and suggestions were ignored.

There was a summary of the project by Jerry Luzum, of the Sanctuary Steering Committee, which said in part what is shown below. Things to note:
• Why was an appraisal made of the value of the property (some folks are very concerned that their church might have a loan or mortgage being made against it, and no one has set their minds at ease.)
• Note also the words related to the $30,000: “Provided the parish provide part of this total.”
• It may interest some readers to know that the Diocese has a 15-step process, but parishioners were NOT kept informed of the process or progress.
• Final drawings have still not been shown to the parishioners. It is believed that neither the eye-candy drawings shown in early 2010, or the drawings recently posted to the OLOL website dated March 2009 are the correct drawings.
• The two meetings referenced were handout meetings of liturgical arguments, not discussion and discernment.
• The claim of 75% approval by parishioners (because of all the other surveys), is believed to be blatantly untrue, but it continues to be promulgated by Mr. Luzum’s letter on the OLOL website, and relied on by the Bishop. The consequence? A project going forward that is believed to not be based on reality.

Pastoral Puppets and the Consequences:

Once again, the Pastoral Council acted as a puppet group to the pastor, to rubber-stamp the recommendation he was expecting them to make, i.e. whatever he wanted to do. No minutes are circulated from the Pastoral Council, and there is no evidence of any thoughtful, minority opinions. It is one thing to have a parishioners’ group with the caring and commitment of those who did the Survey, but it is quite another to have a Pastor who wants to hear the truth, let alone act on it. Much is wasted by poor stewards, but it is an insidious, demeaning and hurtful waste when it is people’s time and effort and faithful caring.

This is how a project, unwanted by parishioners, moves ahead in the Diocese of Rochester. 

Next time:   Appeal to the Bishop.

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me–Part VII–The Off-Key Shepherd

April 15th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 7 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

In Part VI, we described Fr. Robert Ring’s efforts to raise $30,000 from St. Jan’s parishioners, and the mis-attribution that such fund raising was required by the Wegmans (untrue) to supplement their donation (untrue) of $270,000 to $300,000 (untrue) for an altar/sanctuary memorial to Bob Wegman (untrue). However, at the time of the fund raising it would still be 7 months before parishioners would know the truth. In Part VI, we also described the definitive work of a parishioner group (which produced survey results consistent with a prior newsletter survey),  proving that the ratio of parishioners in opposition to the Sanctuary Renovation to those in favor was approximately 3:1 against. That careful parishioner survey work was also validated by an outside consultant.

Meanwhile through summer 2010 and into the fall, the “Concerned Parishioners” and the Newsletter It Really Matters continued efforts to expose the truth.  This Part VII summarizes some of what was written in the newsletter, and illustrates some of the work that might be taken on in a community when its shepherding fails, or is terribly misaligned to (i.e. out of tune with) the flock.  Hate the architecture or love it, but please at least respect it means so much to those who have worshipped there  and supported their church for so many years.

Here are just a very few of the articles and actions over summer 2010.  First, in June 2010, there was clarification in the Newsletter that what was being said misrepresented the USCCB’s “liturgical requirements.” That article in Vol. 5 #6 said:

                                                                                                                                                                                                One member of St. Jan’s, JH, took the initiative to interview parishioners about their feelings about the proposed Sanctuary demolition/renovation, and shared his results which we publicized in It Really Matters. We were also told that Fr. Bob Ring did not receive well this input.  He refused to consider the comments without the names of those who commented but, because of what had happened with the mis-use of the mandater list six months earlier, Fr. Ring was not trusted with those names. 

 

We also wrote about the basic flaw of cluster pastoral council decisions:

“The debacle of the Parish Council vote to change the sanctuary at St. Jan’s is a prime illustration of what is wrong at Parish Council, especially Parish Council for a Cluster.  A Parish Council is only advisory to a pastor anyway.  It’s not as if they have any power.  But those who take a seat at the table do have a responsibility, and that is not just to rubber stamp what the pastor wants.  He still has the power to do what he wants, but that doesn’t entitle parish council members to avoid doing their homework, listening, speaking the truth and realizing the responsibility they have to other parishioners.  Otherwise, when all is said and jack-hammered, the pastor can always say that no one on the rubber stamp council ever objected.  It might be true.  For the most part, they are his hand-picked “me-too-ers.”

 

Then we wrote about “The Real Tragedy” and how the misuse of funds to remove cement steps flies in the face of a true sense of priority, especially considering the plight of Catholic Schools:

 

Over the intervening months, many points of argument appeared, all to be ignored and the people to be “lorded over”  by the powers that be.  In concern for the scandal of such a waste, and for the greater need, we wrote:

All input from newsletters, surveys, petitions, and quiet / respectful parishioners beseeching for pastoral care were again ignored, as rights were trampled in another headlong thrust to spend other people’s money, to do unnecessary damage, to deeply divide community.  That has been the track record of the pastorate so far, and it was still going to be.  The only thing missing was Bishop Clark’s anointing of the irresponsible behaviors of a shepherd in effect singing off key, or at least in a different key than what most of his flock were baa-humbuging.  The anointing was yet to come.

In the next installment, we’ll revisit what Bishop Clark had to say, when implored by parishioners not to let this travesty occur.  And we will see the persistence of excuses, not reasons, for the damage being done to a House of God.

As of this writing, the jackhammers have  arrived, and the side “shrines” by a local artist have already been destroyed, dragged off for someone to use in his or her garden.  The organ is still there, covered.  We hope when the cover is taken off that it will still be there, and concrete-dust free and unaffected.  La Bella still doesn’t have a building permit, but it has a demolition permit, and perhaps that is what it is all about anyway. 

It calls us all to contemplate what kind of pastor, after nearly 10 years of his pastorate, does this to his own people 73 days before he leaves, destroying their Sanctuary and place to worship in time for Holy Week and Easter?  May God have mercy on his  soul. 

And may the next shepherd have a heart attuned to the flock, and a voice which they can trust and follow. 

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me — Part VIII — ‘By the Letter’

April 18th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 8 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

When the St. Januarius parishioners had all they could stomach of Father Bob Ring’s “full speed ahead without explanation” style of forcing demolition on the Sacred Sanctuary, they finally turned to the Bishop for help.  In spite of the abuse to which they had been subjected, their tone was polite, restrained and reverential in asking for relief.

First Letter

Six parishioners names were at the bottom of the first letter; they had done the survey and wanted to communicate the results to Bishop Clark.  They sent him a copy of the results of the  survey,  to which 114 parishioners had responded (See Zeal VI), with the prominent, indisputable conclusion that 72.8% of respondents opposed the sanctuary renovation. Moreover, they confirmed that the matter had never been put to a vote of parishioners, and (as gently as possible) pointed out the error of Fr. Ring’s so-called “survey,” which had been identified as such only after the fact.

The words of this letter to Bishop Clark have been left as they were written and sent; hence, the Wegmans’ Foundation is mentioned or alluded to several times because the correspondents relied on what Fr. Ring had been saying regarding the donation, purpose and raising of additional funds. See notes in red in the copy below.

 

Construction of the La Crosse Sanctuary

Upper Altar La Cross Shrine

The September 8, 2010 letter went unanswered. On October 22, 2010, the same group of parishioners wrote again to Bishop Clark, providing additional information, with dozens of additional parishioners signing a petition. By this time, research on the so-called liturgical requirement to lower the altar had been found to be untrue. 

The NEW construction of Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a construction effort led by now Raymond Cardinal  Burke (head of the Apostolic Signatura), made it abundantly clear that the liturgical justification for fewer steps was untrue.  The pictures show at least 6 steps up, 4 from the main floor and an additional 2 to the altar.

In the October 22, 2010 letter from petitioners, other needs of St. Januarius were pointed out, the potential for community scandal was shown, and the lack of good financial reporting was lamented. Most of all, the writers recognized how the good of souls was at stake. The following is the second letter sent by parishioners. This one was answered by Bishop Clark.

Bishop Clark’s Response of November 12, 2010

Bishop Clark answered the parishioners’ second letter in a letter dated November 12, 2010. He sent his letter to only one person, LL, who was the first name on the petitioners’ list, de facto making her the contact for everyone. While he repeats the petitioners’ assertions in his first paragraph, he really doesn’t answer their complaints or concerns, and goes on in the second paragraph to assert what is untrue or only partially true, and what is irrelevant or mis-represented. For example,

• “Fr. Bob Ring” may well have “diligently followed” some parts of “the process regarding renovation of liturgical spaces,” but there are also Canons which are believed to have been ignored regarding historic and art considerations. The renovation impacts negatively on artistic and historic value; even non-Catholics travel to see the unusual vaulting sanctuary, in the midst of grape country, with grape colored windows contributing to the vineyard theme. Petitioners believe based on Canon 1292§2, that the sanctuary of St. Januarius, in its unique motif, is precious both by reason of its artistic as well as historic significance. There is no evidence, relative to Canon 1293 that just cause exists or that experts in art, architecture and replacement value were consulted, as required.

• The Bishop’s words that “The project has received the unanimous endorsement” of Finance and Pastoral Councils totally ignores the results of several surveys showing rejection by ¾ of the parishioners, and what might be considered dereliction of duty by those “unanimous” voters ignoring the truth. Besides, since Pastoral Council is only advisory, its “vote” is meaningless.  It is composed of a majority of people who don’t even go to St. Januarius.  And is it the same Finance Council which didn’t say “boo” when Fr. Ring entertained sale of the organ for pennies on the dollar? 

• The “significant number of donors” can be calculated to be between 13% to 30% of parishioners — if it is true that there were 72 donors. It isn’t even half of Mass attendance!   And there is no evidence that many donations weren’t just a few token dollars to increase the number of donors. The donor list is also secret, protected by the same people who cooperated with the Chancellor to disclose the list of mandaters, to which they had no right.

• Bishop Clark echoes an unlikely claim that priest presiders have seen the steps up to the altar as dangerous. We believe they were built to code and, among priest presiders and laity, we are aware of no accident, let alone any insurance claim, that ever occurred over more than 40 years of use. Suddenly, when Fr. Ring is bent on building to his personal taste,  the steps are “dangerous!”

• The third paragraph is what we have seen from Bishop Clark before, and for which we will, in the future, be publishing other correspondence from him as well, perceived as tinged with sarcasm. Read for yourself. And Bishop Clark makes no attempt, in his response or later, to correct the misperception of what happened with the donor Fr. Ring said was giving $270,000 to $300,000.  His letter was sent right after what we now know to have been money raised without donors knowing the facts.  And he has still not “corrected” the solicitation information.  That is unfair to the Wegmans who had often been generous not only to St. Jan’s, but also to the Diocese.

• There is no dialogue with parishioners offered at all.  A proclamation is just made as if proclaiming it could somehow make it true, as if parishioners are so stupid (after all this time!) as to believe what is written on diocesan letterhead.

 

When one considers the many points which were raised to Bishop Clark in both letters, we notice that most issues he didn’t even deign to consider or to explain.  This response letter is a classic but common response  in the DoR of ignoring or insulting sincere parishioners who struggle with important issues.  It is certainly not the worst of what people have experienced, but it shows the ingrained lack of servanthood by too many who should be serving the people of God.  

By the time we finish the full series on OLOL, this letter will seem tame compared to treatment other parishioners have received, but one will have to wait for future installments for “the rest of the story.”

 

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me–Part IX– ‘No’ Appeal

April 21st, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 9 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

Zeal Part VIII ended with the petitioners of St. Januarius receiving an incomplete, dismissive letter from Bishop Clark approximately a month after their petition was filed with him. In accord with Canon Law, the petitioners had 10 (canonical) days to reply and ask him to reconsider, which they did within the allotted time in a letter dated November 23, 2010. Even though many might sense this effort is a waste, it is necessary to ask for his reconsideration before appeal of the Bishop’s decision can be made to Rome. This is the letter sent by parishioners to Bishop Clark:

On almost the last possible day to respond, Bishop Clark sent his refusal.  While it contained a bit more detail than his first refusal, it still did not address the key issues, and was glaring in what appeared to be his stubbornness and lack of concern for the wishes of the overwhelming majority of parishioners.  He wrote:

When both refusals of the Bishop are considered, it is clear that:

  • he blindly refuses to consider the accumulated data showing the desire of most parishioners, or even to admit that it exists,
  • he ignores arguments of practices at other DoR churches,
  • he refuses to address the statements that there are no liturgical requirements to do this project,
  • he never corrects the parishioners’ belief (based on Fr. Ring’s words) that the Wegmans were creating a family memorial (and to date neither he nor Fr. Ring have issued a correction.)  Only Danny Wegman has clarified the matter (more detail in future Zeal),
  • he fails to acknowledge the absurdity of a pastor being in a parish for nearly 10 years, losing nearly half its attendees, impacting morale through a failed pastoral planning process, and then wreaking destruction on a sanctuary in his final days,
  • he offers the lame excuse of handicapped accessibility (which does have application to the front doors) to what is about to become a smaller sanctuary area where it is doubtful that a wheelchair could navigate anyway. What do his words “negotiate the stairs” mean when there are no railings in the plans that were shown?  Why should people in wheelchairs be able to go up and down a ramp as EEM’s and risk spilling the Precious Blood?
  • he mentions “Acolytes?”  Who? Where? When? 
  • he mentions other parishioners in OLOL attending St. Jan’s (even though Fr. Ring moves many events away from St. Jans and to Penn Yan,) 
  • he writes of “cramped” space but proposes to move more chairs into the sanctuary space and move the Tabernacle out to the fringes.  How does that serve the people or, most of all, their God? 
  • he fails to address the local scandal of using approximately $300,000 for an ego-cementric project when there is so much need in the world. 

Some commentators on recent Zeal postings have suggested that Rome should be informed, and they are correct.  Much of the above list was among the very issues the parishioners would appeal  to Rome.  Nevertheless, it was first necessary to wait for the appeals process with the Bishop to be completed before “appeal” could be made.  The bishop’s second refusal was received in late December, 2010 with demolition still apparently scheduled to begin in early January.

Cardinal Llovera

However, there is one other type of approach, other than an appeal, and that is to ask for an intervention when irreversible damage is threatened, for example, as it was for St. Jan’s.  The Bishop’s refusal even to consider the facts or concerns sent the signal that there was no chance for his rational consideration of the complaints; so, in approximately mid-November, 2010, the St. Januarius parishioners did address their concerns to Rome.  They followed all the procedures, through the Papal Nuncio, to the proper Dicastery in Rome. 

Be prepared for disappointment when you read future Zeal posts.  If one thinks that the case recounted against Fr. Ring indicates lack of caring for the flock, and that the dismissive tone of Bishop Clark’s letter is indicting of lack of serving the people, one will be saddened further to learn in our next posting of the lack of response from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, whose Prefect is His Eminence, Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera.

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me — Part X–Happy Easter

April 24th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 10 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

This is a brief interlude in telling the St. Jan’s Sanctuary Story, to show the “Happy Easter” present 

Fr. Robert Ring delivered this week to his parishioners

of nearly 10 years. 

 

 

St. Januarius, Naples NY two weeks ago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Januarius  in Naples, NY– Easter  Sunday 2011 (in cartoon)

Happy Easter from Fr. Robert Ring, Fr. George Wiant and Bishop Matthew Clark

 

 

 

Yes, you are understanding correctly.  The damage is done.  Father Ring, who has been pastor of the St. Januarius flock for nearly 10 years, abetted by Fr. George Wiant and Bishop Matthew Clark, has caused jackhammering of the St. Jan’s Sanctuary, even though knowing well  the resistance from a large majority (3 to 1) of parishioners; even though there is question about where the money is coming from; even though there is no liturgical reason to do this destruction.  

Fr. Ring has offered Mass from the St. Jan’s Sanctuary for nearly 10 years, yet he has pushed through this demolition at the last minute, so that 64 days before he leaves his flock has to celebrate Easter Sunday at a construction site.  He was asked to please wait until after Easter and he refused.  So, incredible as it seems, the jackhammers began on Monday of Holy Week and have completed the damage in time for Easter Sunday.  

Isn’t it surprising that a pastor and a bishop won’t wait for a new pastor to arrive, but rather will burden the new pastor with a Sanctuary in which neither of them is required to celebrate Mass, and with an injured and disgruntled flock to try to bring to healing?  And that is healing which Fr. Ring himself didn’t do over a decade!  What disregard and lack of trust they seem to manifest toward the next pastor! 

These actions culminate what appears to have been a very damaging pastorate; although, who knows?  There are still 64 days left for more destruction.  When we get the actual pictures, we’ll be sharing on this blogsite.  Meanwhile, please still pray for the people of St. Jan’s who have suffered so much, and for the people of St. Louis who may also be in danger.

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me — Part XI — Meditation in the Ruins

April 26th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 11 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

In a Diocese where churches are so wantonly closed, objections of parishioners dismissed, and the communion of saints in the Church Militant has reached its apex in spaghetti suppers, it seems fair to say that a sense of the Holy has been lost, or at least diminished.  Is not the Sanctuary of any Catholic church at least as holy as the Sanctuary of the Temple of Jerusalem?  Why then do we see such disrespect, and also the enticing of souls into disrespect?

What has been occuring at St. Januarius is all of the above and more.  It has become the poster child for so much that is wrong in the servanthood for souls.  And now we have icons of destruction to gaze upon as we meditate from the Bible on how God views His Own Sanctuary, and those who destroy it, or aid those who destroy it. 

Destruction in the Sanctuary

Psalm 74: 3-8:

“Direct Thy steps to the perpetual ruins; the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary!   

Thy foes have roared in the midst of Thy holy place; they set up their own signs for signs.

At the upper entrance they hacked the wooden trellis with axes.

And then all its carved wood they broke down with hatchets and hammers. 

They set Thy sanctuary on fire; to the ground they desecrated the dwelling place of Thy name.

They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”…”

When it is church leadership that drives forth to this destruction, how can the flock be blamed for not understanding the concept of holy?  For arriving at church on a Sunday morning and greeting everyone but the Lord?  For dressing improperly?  For running out early to get out of the parking lot?  For failing to pause for Thanksgiving while the Eucharistic presence still dwells within?  God is still God, and He’s given many words of Scripture to reveal what He expects for His Sacred Sanctuary.  We offer these for additional meditation, and in memory of the words: “I will go in to the altar of God; to God, the joy of my youth.” (Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.)

Steps of Ascent to the Altar

Lev: 19:30 and 26:2:   “You shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.”

Num: 18:3:   “They shall attend you and attend to all duties of the tent; but shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar, lest they, and you, die.”

Num 3:38:   “…Moses and Aaron and his sons, having charge of the rites within the sanctuary, whatever had to be done for the people of Israel; and any one else who came near was to be put to death.”

Num 4:15:  “…the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry.”

Num 18:1:  “So the LORD said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your fathers’ house with you shall bear iniquity in connection with the sanctuary; and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity in connection with your priesthood.”

 

"...tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away."

Isa 63:18:  “Thy holy people possessed thy sanctuary a little while; our adversaries have trodden it down.” 

 Lam 1:10: The enemy has stretched out his hands over all her precious things; yea, she has seen the nations invade her sanctuary, those whom thou didst forbid to enter thy congregation.”
 
Eze 5:11:  “Wherefore, as I live, says the Lord GOD, surely, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations, therefore I will cut you down; my eye will not spare, and I will have no pity.” 
 
Eze 8:6:  “And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.”
 
Eze 23:38:  “Moreover this they have done to me: they have defiled my sanctuary on the same day and profaned my sabbaths.”
 
Eze 44:8:  “And you have not kept charge of my holy things; but you have set foreigners to keep my charge in my sanctuary.”
 
Dan 9:17:  “Now therefore, O our God, hearken to the prayer of thy servant and to his supplications, and for thy own sake, O Lord, cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary, which is desolate.”
 
The verse from Daniel is a good place to end; it requires the recognition that we are indeed in exile, and while we serve as best we can on behalf of God’s Sanctuary, it is only His MIghty Hand which can restore His Glory, and avenge desecration.  Winning or losing is only relevant to those for whom winning or losing is the highest they can achieve.  As for us, we serve the Lord, and simply say, as in Luke 17:10:  “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”
 
 
 

 

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me — Part XII — Rome Bound

May 2nd, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 12 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

Update: 

The story of the St. Jan’s Sanctuary was interrupted for the public service announcement that the demolition had taken place (Part X) and we first posted archive pictures and a sad cartoon, not intending to raise discussion about what needed renovation or what one’s personal preferences are in church design, but to punctuate the long, arduous and unfair process the people of St. Jan’s have suffered through.  The pictures of the destruction were next posted as a meditation reminiscing on Psalm 74, among other relevant Scriptures (Part XI). 

Yes, in spite of parishioners’ strong desires and pleading for Fr. Robert Ring to wait at least until after Easter, he went ahead with the demolition beginning on the Monday of Holy Week, and completing the jack-hammering by Good Friday.  St. Jan’s parishioners had to celebrate Easter in the Parish Hall because of Fr. Ring’s refusal to wait even a week.  We again raised the question how any priest, who had shepherded a people for nearly a decade, could wreak such destruction in what was then 64 days prior to his departure (now 55, and counting) without even apparent respect for the desires of an incoming pastor (still unnamed).

In the Comments to Zeal Part X, we pointed out 16 problematic issues and tried to bring front and center the disrespect for the pain of a large majority of parishioners, and for which they have no mechanism to be heard. When the bishop’s reply contains half-truths and ignores facts, and when one isn’t even allowed to speak at a Care of the Community meeting, it says as much as the pictures do.   Remember — all this is happening in a parish in which attendance has dropped now 47% since Fr. Ring arrived on the scene, and in which even more people are likely to leave in anger and frustration.  There is a science to destroying churches and in getting the laity to aid and abet the plan —  a science which is well-honed in the Rochester Diocese.

The main issue on which we now focus is how the whole process in parish, diocese and even Rome is not responsive to parishioner input, fails to investigate the truth of complaints, and is negligent even in the process which has been given to the faithful to exercise their rights under Canon Law.  

I requested and received copies of what the petitioners submitted to Rome.  Rather than rehash much of what has already been said in the Zeal series, we will excerpt for the sake of some brevity, and leave out the names of the petitioners, because of the abuse suffered by earlier petitioners resisting amalgamation of parishes, abuse suffered at the hands of the Chancellor, Pastor, and OLOL Pastoral Council.

First Stop:  Apostolic Nuncio, Washington D. C.

For those not familiar with the process to Rome, we want to explain and share the experience, to hopefully help others, since the process is often shielded from eyes which have a genuine interest in the proceedings.  Here’s what we’ve learned.  The petitioners, after receiving a letter from Bishop Clark which left no room for hope, re-appealed to him as they are required to do before their appeal could be submitted to Rome.  They then had to wait until the Bishop either replied to their re-appeal (or the period for his response expired, in which case a negative response is presumed) before they could appeal to Rome.  

Nevertheless, because of the imminent and irreversible damage threatened to the St. Jan’s Sanctuary, the petitioners were permitted to request an intervention when Bishop Clark did not respond in the required time to the first (October 2010) appeal.  That is exactly what petitioners did in mid-November 2010, as permitted under Canon Law.  This submission was done by parishioners of St. Jan’s and not through a Canon Lawyer.  Because the people have a right to make their submission under Canon Law, there is a corresponding obligation on the part of the receiving party to respect and respond to those rights.  If the people themselves can’t be heard, then do they really have any rights supported by the Church? 

First, one simply doesn’t send a package to Rome.  It must go through the proper channels, and that means the Apostolic Nuncio in the U.S. who forwards the materials by diplomatic pouch to the proper Congregations in Rome.  It has been our experience that the Nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, and his office have been diligent in doing what they have responsibility to do in these circumstances, as best we are able to assess.  They receive the materials (documented through US Mail receipts) and they promptly acknowledge to the senders that the materials were received, and the Nuncio confirms that they are or will be sent to the addressees in Rome.  The correspondence is quite standard, and we don’t reproduce the correspondence with the Apostolic Nuncio, for that reason.  But for those intending to use such a route, we simply mention that the sealed copies to the proper dicastery in Rome are accompanied by a set of the same materials for the Nuncio’s information.

Cardinal Llovera

To Two Dicasteries (Congregations): Cardinal Llovera & Cardinal Piacenza

Cardinal Piacenza

It is our understanding that writing to Rome directly is futile, and correspondence must go through the Apostolic Nuncio.  Many of the laity have not seen such correspondence before, so we share excerpts in the spirit of helping all to become more informed on how the process works.

The petitioners believed that two dicasteries or congregations  in Rome had “competence” (i.e. jurisdiction) in these matters.  Their request for intervention was addressed to both dicasteries.  It is common practice when two dicasteries have competence that they will decide among themselves which should take over the case.  Below are excerpts from the first letter sent to Rome, mailed on November 15, 2010, asking for intervention, and which was accompanied by petitioners’ signatures.

The petitioners then gave details on many significant points contesting the renovation/demolition, which have already been recounted in earlier Zeal posts.  Appeal for timely intervention was made, lest irreversible damage occur.  There were 7 pages of content, with multiple exhibits indexed, and citations of relevant Canons for a number of the complaints.  (We don’t reproduce most of the complaint detail here, for the sake of brevity, and for the protection of petitioners.)  However, there is one section, #9, to which Rome’s attention was directed, and which conveys both questions of motivation and pleas for urgent response.  It was written before the announcement of Fr. Ring’s departure to St. Louis in Pittsford, but a departure that was not unexpected.  In retrospect, his pressing this project forward was even an indication that he was likely to be moved two years early, as it seems most doubtful that he would ever want to celebrate Mass in the Sanctuary he is advocating.

Setting aside the remainder of the input and commentary, the petitioners also proposed an alternative, expecting that people of good will would strive to find a resolution for the good of souls. 

The signed letter was accompanied by petitioner signatures, addresses and necessary information. 

The letter of re-appeal which had gone to Bishop Clark in November, and his answer in the negative in late December 2010, are both reproduced in Zeal Part X.  The year 2010 closed, with nearly seven weeks having passed since the request for urgent intervention, without having heard anything from either the Congregation for the Clergy or from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, not even an acknowledgement of receipt of the submissions. 

Demolition was scheduled to begin the first week of January, 2011.

As a reminder, comments and corrections are most welcome.  May the Truth always prevail. 

After publishing this installment of Zeal,  there was yet another mailing of the entire package a second time, to both Dicasteries, through the Apostolic Nuncio’s office, because neither Dicastery had acknowledged receipt.  That second mailing went to the Nuncio on December 18, 2010, and he confirmed that he again forwarded to both Dicasteries in Rome.  The year 2010 ended with imminent destruction of the Sanctuary expected.

Your sister in Christ, Diane Harris

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me -Part XIII- Cardinal Llovera’s Failures

March 9th, 2013, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 13 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

This post should be read in conjunction with the Zeal Post Part XII.  In that prior post, it was noted that after two mailings to both dicasteries (through the Apostolic Nuncio, which is required), on November 15th and again on December 18th, the year 2010 closed with still no answer from either dicastery.  The Nuncio confirmed that all the materials had been sent.   As reported previously, Fr. Ring and others on his staff were stating that demolition of St. Jan’s Sanctuary would start “in early January.”

After more than seven weeks had expired without even an acknowledgment from either dicastery that the urgent request for intervention had been received, the petitioners of St. Januarius wrote a third time, by fax letters beginning January 5, 2011.  The letter were mailed by January 10, through the Nuncio to Cardinal Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (reproduced below) and to Cardinal Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, with the same content.

Third Letter to Cardinal Llovera

Llovera fax p 1 of 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Llovera fax p 2 of 2 crop crop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nuncio again confirmed receipt and that he forwarded the materials,  in  a letter dated January 19th.  Meanwhile, a letter dated January 18th was on its way to the St. Januarius petitioners, from the  Congregation for the Clergy, assigning a protocol number but stating:

“The Dicastery has forward your materials to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, as it is competent in the areas with which your letter deals.” 

Thus, the first reply was from the Congregation for the Clergy and was sent just over two months since the urgent request for intervention began.  That is considered prompt apparently in the Vatican, and outshines Cardinal Llovera’s first and only reply received in August of 2011.  But that is getting ahead of the story.   The net effect was that the Congregation for the Clergy confirmed that it was not responsible for handling the matter, so the St. Jan’s petitioners ceased further correspondence with that Congregation.  That left them sadly in the unresponsive hands of Cardinal Llovera and his Congregation, with jackhammers still threatening at any moment.

Click here to read the rest of this post

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me — Part XIV — LaBella is not so “bella”

October 16th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 14 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

Although this post is Part XIV of the Zeal Series, it was delayed in posting in order to collect additional information.  There is still more to find, but it seems time to share what is available.  As the headline says:  “LaBella is not so bella.”  The word ‘bella’ is supposed to mean beautiful.  But that was apparently not the experience of the folks at St. Januarius in Naples, NY or in the dynamics of their Sanctuary Renovation project with LaBella as architects.

Check out:  www.LaBellaPC.com which lists under “markets served”  its “religious projects” in the following order:  Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Church of Christ the King,  Sacred Heart Cathedral, St. Anne Church and Parish Center, St. Catherines [sic] Church, St. Matthew Church, St. Titus Church, St. Louis Church.  We can’t help but notice that St. Januarius in Naples didn’t make their list.  Are they ashamed of that work?  It seems plausible that they wouldn’t want to be too closely associated with such a result: 

LaBella Renovations from OLOL Website

One can easily observe a certain sterility and Protestant scent to much of LaBella’s “Religious” work, but that isn’t the only disconcerting aspect of their work. 

Obviously, the Diocese of Rochester is one of LaBella’s valued clients, so much so that there was no visibility to any fair bidding process for the work at St. Jan’s, and one has to wonder if there was any arms-length bidding at any other DoR sites?  There also seemed to have been no accountability to parishioners for the work commissioned by DoR, no sincere attempt to meet with parishioners to determine their real needs, to hear their comments, to respond.  It seemed to some to be just a blind execution of Fr. Robert Ring’s personal agenda, and at what a horrible cost!

I conducted a newsletter survey of St. Jan’s parishioners and am also aware of a similar and simple survey conducted, not by me, but by a group of St. Jan’s parishioners.  All results confirmed that about 3/4 of the parishioners opposed the project.   I wrote the following to LaBella’s President,  and never received any reply:

PO Box 23973

Rochester, NY 14692

January 19, 2011

Robert A. Healy, AIA, President

LaBella Associates, PC

300 State Street

Rochester, NY 14614

Dear Mr. Healy,

Please permit me to introduce myself.  I am the Editor of the Newsletter It Really Matters, which is written on behalf of many of the parishioners of three of the six parishes in Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community.  While I would expect that you have received prior copies of our Newsletter through Father Robert Ring, pastor, regarding the long-standing opposition of approximately three-quarters of St. Januarius parishioners to most of the renovations your firm proposes for St. Januarius, I realize that may not be the case.  Information flow to parishioners has been significantly restricted, perhaps to you too.  Hence, in a spirit of openness and fair communication, I am writing to you.

On your website, you specifically mention as an attribute of your company: “Honesty and Integrity in all Transactions.”  That is a noble commitment; however, regarding the St. Januarius Project, we believe that has not been the experience of the majority of the parishioners.  And that may not be La Bella’s fault.  For example, it may not have even come to your attention that Fr. Ring forbade parishioners from discussing the project at Care of the Community meetings to give input prior to decision making, or that an excellent survey was completed by a committee of parishioners (with external review) which identified serious deficiencies in and resistance to the project, all of which has been ignored.  While you may not have been told of the numerous complaints or dissent, nevertheless it is obvious to many parishioners that no visible effort has been made to sincerely seek and respond to their input, or to creatively and compassionately resolve issues causing deep division in the parish.

To better assist your understanding of these matters, I enclose a copy of the most recent issue of It Really Matters.  If you would like to see the survey results or speak with members of the committee seeking to protect their parish from demolition and unwanted renovation, I would be pleased to put you in touch with them.  If you would like copies of prior Newsletters, please contact me.  I simply felt that in a spirit of “honesty and integrity” I should be sure that you knew of the situation and had received this communication involving a project of your firm.

Very truly yours,

 (signature)

 Diane C. Harris, Editor of It Really Matters;  member of Our Lady of the Lakes

LaBella’s rudeness in not replying to this letter, and in not acting as one would expect an architect to act (with sensitivity to the community in which they leave their work behind ) is perhaps nothing less than knowing on which side their bread is buttered.   But what many may not know is that the unpopular turbine windmills in Prattsburg and Italy Valley and Cohocton (controversial to say the least in Naples, and with some parishioners having financially benefited and others having suffered from the negative impact on their environment) is but one other way in which LaBella has brought its bread to be buttered.  And, more recently, LaBella acquired a hydrofracking consulting company in Pennsylvania.  Does that have anything to do with the Courier article on hydrofracking?  or to do with buttering more bread?

There is still no financial report on this project from Our Lady of the Lakes administration, nor have St. Jan’s folks (or other OLOL parishioners) yet received year-end June 30, 2011 financial reports for their parishes.  It is hard to understand why parishioners continue to give anything, when they can’t ensure it is spent properly.  

The Mystery of St. Jan’s Financials

As for all parishes in the Diocese of Rochester, and to align with priests’ starting and ending dates as pastors and in new assignments, the DoR fiscal year (FY) begins July 1 and ends on June 30.  Thus, the FY 2011 began July 1, 2010 and ended June 30, 2011.  In the summer of 2010 (at the beginning of FY 2011) Fr. Ring wrote to parishioners and summer visitors alike at St. Januarius, telling them that Wegmans were contributing $300,000 for the renovation of St. Jan’s sanctuary, and asking his addressees to donate $30,000 (unclear if in addition to or part of the supposed pledge by Wegmans) and saying that it was a memorial to Bob Wegman.  Fr. Ring’s (and Fr. George Wiant’s) exact words on the letter they signed were:

“…The Wegman family, in memory of Robert Wegman, has generously offered to fund this, though also wanting parishioners involved, raising part of the money. The approximate cost of the renovation will be $300,000. We are expected to raise $30,000 from our parish. The Wegman family will provide the remaining funds. Such an opportunity is unlike [sic] to come our way again….”         (Summer 2010)

Some months later, Danny Wegman denied he was giving $300,000, and said he was giving only $50,000 although he’d been asked for $300,000.  He also denied that it was to have been a memorial to his father, Bob Wegman, and he denied that he required that parishioners had to give $30,000, saying he only wanted to be sure that parishioners were supportive (which we know from surveys that they were not.)

It is interesting that today the fundraising letter and pages of other project detail have disappeared from the OLOL website.  Fr. Ring never set forth an explanation or apology for doing fund raising with untrue representations.   All that remains on the OLOL website  is before and after (see above) pictures of the Sanctuary and the following text:  (We show OLOL’s words in blue, and our comments in red.)   Note: LaBella, Fr. Ring, and Wegmans are not even mentioned.  However, one can see in OLOL’s statements the efforts to defend what some consider the indefensible.  One can also see the blatant error in both the text below, and the picture above.

“In 2011 the sanctuary area was renovated that:

  • Provides a special area created solely for the Tabernacle (one positive — OLOL has stopped improperly calling it a chapel.)  However, the squared-off back and the massiveness seem to tip the entire sanctuary off center.  This OLOL comment ignores what so many see as a demotion of the Real Presence from the Center of the Sanctuary to a place near the exit door. 
  • Lowered the sanctuary height from four steps to two steps (this is a lie:  the Sanctuary was previously one step up, prior to the renovation.  Now it is two steps up.  The altar – not the sanctuary – was lowered from 4 to 2 steps, ignoring the fears that it would be too low) to find a balance between being too high for the parishioners sitting in the front pews while still being high enough to be seen during Mass by parishioners sitting in the rear.   Recent feedback indicates that all the fears of having the altar too low are true; people in the rear are having trouble seeing, just as we’d predicted!  We have been told that at a recent, well-attended funeral, someone reported not being able to see the Tabernacle, or to see anyone at the ambo, and only the top of the celebrant’s head. )
  • The existing altar was removed. The top from the existing altar was cut and refinished to be used as the new altar top. A new base was constructed that is more stable than the previous base. Other pieces of the existing altar were used in the new ambo and tabernacle area.  To some, this seems a desecration of a sacred, consecrated object.  Others have expressed a feeling of loss, and wonderment as to why they weren’t told until the deed was done.
  • The main lighting was replaced with new features that brighten the church while keeping in mind energy conservation.  Please note that if you look in the sanctuary lamp there are two old style lights that remain. These lights were in the previous church that was torn down in 1966, thus maintaining some continuity throughout the history of St. Januarius’.   There have been a number of compliments about the new lighting being brighter and easier to read.
  • To help make the church more accessible to the handicap, the doors on the west entrance were replaced with handicap accessible powered doors and a ramp was added to provide access to the sanctuary area.  The ramp has been generally seen as unnecessary, taking up of too much space and its railings casting unpleasant shadows; however, in the accompanying  “cutsey” photography,  pains were taken to align the shadows of the railings with the railings themselves, so the shadow doesn’t show.  But that is only for the benefit of anyone choosing to stand on a ladder in the middle of the aisle during Mass.   By aligning the rail just over the altar, the shadows are also hidden, and by subtle positioning of the presider chair some of the shadows are masked, though some are still seen near the presider chair.  The above OLOL (blue) text doesn’t mention the blockage of light by the rear wooden wall, and its overbearing look,  or the weird shadows from the top of the wooden wall lurking in the background.  That the floor space has been radically minimized and that the organist can’t even see the presider aren’t mentioned either.
  • The project was originally estimated at $300,000.  The renovation was split into two phases. Phase I is the work described above.  Phase II is expected to include replacing the slide partition between the church and the hall and the construction of a new baptismal font.  There is no date scheduled for Phase II.   Now, the questions really are “How much money was raised?  How much was spent?  How much is left?  Where is it?  And why don’t the financial statements show these details?”  It isn’t as if we have no financial statements, but  available statements through May, 2011,  raise more questions than answers.  For example, on the May balance sheet, does the $55,229.30 in “Renovation Fund Liabilities” mean that much is still owed?  To whom?  Where are the funds to cover it?  And what is the $43,551.02 liability to OLOL and does it have anything to do with pushing the liability to St. Jan’s without the funds?

 

Fr. Ring and certain members of his staff said in September/October 2010 that nearly $30,000 was raised from St.Jan’s parishioners.  However, through December 2010 no such income showed up either in Revenues, or as a separate asset.  At that time, St. Januarius had not yet been merged into OLOL, and if there really had been such funds raised for the St. Jan’s renovations, where were they posted?  Were they in the OLOL account?  Or in a Diocesan account?  That would seem to be improper accounting, as there is an apparent liability on the December 2010 St. Jan’s balance sheet of $22,196 owed for renovations.  If money had been given for this purpose, it shouldn’t be in a separate corporation’s savings, earning interest for that corporation and not deployed for the purposes for which it was given.  Similarly, the question becomes “Where does the supposed $50,000 from Wegmans show up on the St. Jan’s balance sheet?  Is this total of approximately $80,000 “someplace else?”  Why?  Where?

While we’d hoped to have some definitive  financial reports to include and explain on this blog, including how much La Bella was paid for their work, all still seems to be a secret, as well as how much was collected, was there money left over or were there cost overruns, and how can so much be spent for such little architectural merit?

Life With LaBella:

Holy Week Jack-hammer

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Easter 2011

 

Welcome Summer Visitors

Jesus near the exit door

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After posting this segment, I was searching through the DoR Directory and came across an advertisment by LaBella.  To me it was kind of shocking, although not really surprising, to see what they consider a good ad for the Diocese:  an empty church, 4 steps up to the Sanctuary (which is what they created their work around removing in Naples) and a Sanctuary area which can only be examined with a “Huh?”  What IS it supposed to be?  The vision of DoR for its churches?  Well, after all, the Diocese does hire LaBella consistently, and even permits this ad to be in the Annual DoR directory.  What else are we to think if not a shared vision?  Click on the picture to see more detail.
 

LaBella Ad in 2011 DoR Directory

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me—-Part XV—-What Danny Wegman Said

July 30th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 15 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

As noted earlier, I skipped over a few parts of the story in order to get current but will be filling in the details in retrospect.  This is one I wish I had brought up sooner (if I’d had time) as I now note much speculation about what really happened with Danny Wegman.  I will share what I know, and also raise a few questions too.  But I think, overall, it will bring some clarification.

Bob Wegman lived on the west shore of Canandaigua Lake in the summers, and was a generous contributor to St. Januarius in Naples.   His widow, Peggy, continued to attend and be supportive.  Danny Wegman is situated further north but also on the west side, and although closer to Canandaigua sometimes also attended St. Jan’s.  His daughters, Colleen and Nicole were married there, and Danny Wegman contributed to refurbishment of the church for their double wedding.

This is by way of background to show that the Wegman Family did consider St. Januarius to be part of their faith experience, and that they were supportive.  In fiscal year ended June 30, 2009, St. Jan’s experienced a serious shortfall, and a Wegman donation of approximately $20,000 bailed out the parish, and by implication OLOL and Fr. Ring as well.  It must have taken some effort to secure such a sum, as Fr. Ring told me once that the Wegmans are a “house account” for the Bishop.  So during Partners in Faith in 2003 they didn’t received the typical solicitation as did the rest of us, but (I was told) they were separately solicited by DoR and therefore the half that would revert to a parish would not do so.  Other than conversation, I have no way to verify this, but it would not be surprising that a number of “deep pockets” in DoR don’t directly benefit their local parishes except through the Sunday collections.

Therefore, there must have been some high level machinations to even be permitted to go after the Wegmans to fund Fr. Ring’s projects at St. Januarius.  Fr. George Wiant apparently knew them and had contacts, but it seems pretty clear that DoR was on top of this all the way.

Since I started sending the Newsletter to all DoR parisihoners in Fall 2009, the Wegmans have been on the list, and therefore they received volumes on the concern about selling the organ, about the Sanctuary opposition, about the surveys, and even letters from parishioners.  Mostly, the parishoners felt ignored, and Fr. Ring and Fr. George went full speed ahead.  They solicited funds from parishioners and from summer visitors alike with a letter that said:

Dear Parishioners:

We have been offered a unique opportunity. Numerous times conversations have surfaced about renovating St. Januarius Church: to restore the simplicity that was so beautiful when the church was first dedicated, to make the altar more safe and accessible, while bringing the altar, tabernacle, baptistry and reconciliation room (confessional) more into conformity with the Vatican II Liturgy.

The Wegman family, in memory of Robert Wegman, has generously offered to fund this, though also wanting parishioners involved, raising part of the money. The approximate cost of the renovation will be $300,000. We are expected to raise $30,000 from our parish. The Wegman family will provide the remaining funds. Such an opportunity is unlike to come our way again.

Economically, this is a very difficult time for everyone. Yet at least some things, like the partition separating church and hall which is falling apart, must be addressed.  We now have a unique opportunity to address not only that, and to improving lighting; we can also accomplish renovation/restoration that could serve us very well long into the future.

Enclosed are some pictures of the renovated altar and baptistry. Will you try to be as generous as you can to help with this unique opportunity, which holds the promise of not only renewing our building, but also renewing our experience of praying the Eucharist, and our celebrating the sacraments together? Please return your pledge card by August 15th. Your pledge will be due Sept. 15th.

In advance, we thank you for your support and generosity.

In Christ,

Fr. Robert Ring & Fr. George Wiant

Please note several points in the letters sent by the Pastor and Fr. George.  The reference to original simplicity is apparently not shared by those few parishioners who were at St. Jan’s when the new church was dedicated.  Leaving that aside, Fr. Ring (with handouts earlier, and with this explict statement) seems to be clearly stating that St. Jan’s (the parish he has pastored for about 9 years at that point, has not been in compliance with Vatican II.  Strange, because that was the first time it seemed many people were hearing that complaint.  (Let’s not get into the Vatican II disputed statements at this point; worth a different post.)

Next, Fr. Ring and Fr. George are clearly saying they have $300,000 pledged by the Wegmans.  Remember the exact words:  “The Wegman family, in memory of Robert Wegman, has generously offered to fund this, though also wanting parishioners involved, raising part of the money.”   Ask yourself, is it any wonder that people receiving this letter would believe the Wegmans had agreed to fund, and even to cover overruns.

It isn’t clear why we never heard from the Wegmans, either to request to be off our mailing list, or to protest that Fr. Ring’s letter to parishoners didn’t accurately reflect their donation intent. 

Most (but not all) of the “Rest of the Story” is reflected in a chance encounter with Danny Wegman, reported to parishioners in a Special Edition Newsletter in March, 2011.  Here that Newsletter is reproduced in its entirety.  Click to make it larger and more readable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This would have been a logical place to end the portion of the Zeal story that deals with Danny Wegman and the Wegman Foundation, if it truly were “the end.”  However, after more than a month of quiet (no reaction to the Special Edition Newsletter) it was reported back to me from those in attendance at two different Care of the Community meetings, that

1. Cris Wensel (Fr. Ring’s DRE and gatekeeper) reported that there had been a $300,000 commitment by Wegmans but that because of my meeting with him in the aisle of Wegmans that he had reduced his donation to $50,000.  That attributed comment would be patently false, as Mr. Wegman informed me that he had NOT promised the $300,000 but only the $50,000 and that is consistent with DoR reducing the scope of the project in January 2011.

2. It was also reported separately that the Wegmans had reduced their donation because someone from St. Jan’s (“a mandater”) had banged on Peggy Wegman’s door on her birthday demanding Wegmans not fund the project.  I have personally spoken to a mandater who says he did see Peggy Wegman walking on her birthday, said hello, did politely request that Wegmans not fund the work in their mutual parish that was opposed by so many.  He did not go to her home, let alone “bang on her door,”  or “demand.”  Such exaggeration and spin  is not untypical of other “stories” that get told in OLOL.

3. At yet another Care of the Community meeing, Cris Wensel stated that Danny Wegman had contributed another $50,000.

4. Then it was mentioned that Fr. Ring had secured the funding from “another source” and people worried that he’d put a mortgage on St. Jan’s or used the St. Patrick;s money which got folded into OLOL with the amalgamation, or the final spend-down of the St. Mary Rushville treasury.

5. At another point it was said that Mr. Wegman had relented and was giving the full amount.

 6. At another time it was said that a private donor had stepped in to make the rest of the donation.  Speculation was Fr. George Wiant or Danny Wegman “anonymously.” 

7. At another point it was said that  Danny Wegman had relented and was going to give the $300,000 after all.

Since so many OLOL stories do not seem to agree with each other, and minutes with specifics are unavailable, we can’t say what is true and what is not.  So we rely for the moment on what Jack Jones in his Naples Record arrticle reported: “Ring has since acknowledged that the Wegman gift was a donation of $50,000, but said that since that time the controversy over the project has led to Wegmans and another anonymous donor to make additional contributions that will cover the $300,000 cost.” 

How does one explain first the accusation that those who protested the sanctuary changes caused the contribution to drop, and then Fr. Ring’s later remark that the controversy led to Wegmans making additonal contributions?  It sounds like a contradiction.  Further, why the secrecy about an “anonymous donor” and is it really a donor or another financing method?  And since the diocese split the project, it would seem that all $300,000 wouldn’t just be spent on the sanctuary and lighting, so where is the rest of the money, especially for what had been most needed all along — the divider curtain in the back of the church?

I am the one who looked Danny Wegman in the eye, heard, restated and thus confirmed what he said to me.  I sent him a thank you for his good stewardship and I believe others did too.  If he changed his mind, it would be surprising but not impossible, but going from $50,000 to $300,000 seems unlikely for a good businessman, no matter how much wheedling Fr. Ring did.  And where are the financial statements showing the flow of funds?

If I’d published this part of the story after meeting Mr. Wegman “in the aisle” it would have ended with the 2-page special edition newsletter.  Now, with all the versions being spun, anything seems possible.  We may never know the truth, so reporting all the versions we’ve heard seems the fairest way to proceed.

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me — Part XVI–Investigative Reporting

July 23rd, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 16 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

No, you haven’t missed parts XIII, XIV and XV of this series.  They are still in work.  But to keep information fresh, let’s fast-forward to this week’s Naples Record and note the unusual interest a community newspaper has in its local Catholic church.   It was written by an investigative reporter, Jack Jones.  Since I am a member of Our Lady of the Lakes, OLOL, but not St. Jan’s, I was mostly contacted about whether or not I had really sued Fr. Ring for defamation (yes, I did, and a fuller story in posted in the letter to Andrew Cuomo, Shepherds Shearing Sheep, Part #8.) 

The reporter also asked me about numerical sources of information I’d published.  He must have been satisfied, as he used some of  it in his article.  But the remainder of the 4 column article is really input from the people of St. Jan’s, an outpouring of their thoughts and concerns.  Only one other person is mentioned in a quote in support of Fr. Ring, and that is the person he hired as project manager for the Sanctuary demolition (hardly an objective view.)  I will have much more to say in the intended Zeal posts XIII (How Rome got a failing mark under canon law), XIV (LaBella refused to answer; is getting into hydrofracking), and XV (What Danny Wegman said in the middle of the supermarket aisle).  Stay tuned.  But, for now, you might like to see what is being written in the environs of Naples.  You will have to click on the picture to make the text readable.

 

 

 

I was pleased, but not surprised, to find so many of the facts stated in the Newsletter “It Really Matters” validated by appearance in this report, and articulated by a variety of people, including that over 70% of the St. Jan’s parishioners did not want these changes, and including FINALLY corroborating that Danny Wegman had given only $50,000 when  Fr. Ring in his solicitation letters was claiming $300,000.  The reporter did an artful job of eliciting the denial by Fr. Ring, and then showing copy of the solicitation.  It was  wonderful to see a description of the reverence with which Catholics hold the Tabernacle, even though explained in more secular terms.    

Another untrue statement by Fr. Ring is his blaming canon law and building codes for his having to make the changes!  This is untrue.  And without good reasons to do what he has done, then the parishioners’ allegations as “retribution” become more credible.  Further, the article demonstrates the persistent lack of care for the individual, grouped together as ‘they’ [who] “just hear what they want to hear” and the whistling in the cemetery with the comment “Ring said he’s certain that church members – including many of his current crtitics – will endorse the changes.”  That is just one more way of ignoring people, who say what they mean and mean what they say.  I was sorry to see the reporter leave out the information about the forum of St. Jan’s parishioners who wrote to the Bishop demanding Fr. Ring’s removal (which was ignored, and then Fr. Ring was given another 6 years as pastor!)  I was also sorry to see that he didn’t mention how over 100 St. Januarians mandated a canon lawyer to try to prevent their amalgamation in OLOL.  But obviously there were space constraints, and everything couldn’t get told.

Personally, of course, I can’t help but note that Fr. Ring doesn’t see me as a parishioner of OLOL (which I am) and whose soul he as pastor was charged with saving, but as “adversary” which, of course, is a term in church-speak which means the devil.  It is a shame when people, especially in power, can’t dialogue and disagree without ad hominem attacks.  That is why I brought a defamation lawsuit, because I perceived I was being defamed.  And I would do it again, if necessary.  At least it resulted in his stopping for a while, and perhaps other people like mandaters were spared a little bit of the verbal abuse for a little while. 

The reporter writes of scurrilous … allegations between myself and Fr. Ring.  All I can say is similar to what Christ said in John 18:20-23 when He was before the high priest: 

Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together; I have said nothing secretly. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard me, what I said to them; they know what I said.” When He had said this, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike Me?”

To paraphrase, what I would say is: “I have spoken openly to the world.   I have said nothing in private that I didn’t put in Newsletters, lawsuit filings, affidavits for denunciation or on this blog.   I have presented the truth and Fr. Ring has not refuted a single statement I have made about him or about what he has done.  If what I have said is “scurrilous” testify to the wrong.”

[Emended for Clarification:  There are certain facts and truths about Fr. Ring which I have discussed only with advisors, such as attorneys or spiritual advisors, but under confidentiality, and which I have not published, nor  have  intention to publish, and none which could even remotely be considered “scurrilous”.  None of these was discussed with the reporter.] 

Thus, if  “scurrilous” is an appropriate word  for the “allegations between Harris and Ring” such allegations would seem to be in one direction,  from Fr. Ring in his interaction with the reporter, which serves to alert me that the language such as presented as claims in the defamation lawsuit may still be going on, again validating what has gone before.  For the record, I would have no trouble testifying under oath that I have made NO scurrilous comments verbally or in writing about Fr. Ring. 

Note the scurrilous definition: from the American Heritage Dictionary: 

scur·ri·lous  ADJECTIVE:

  1. Given to the use of vulgar, coarse, or abusive language; foul-mouthed.
  2. Expressed in vulgar, coarse, and abusive language.

In my perception, such claims are made for flock-control.   But, as Fr. Ring notes himself, attendance and contributions have fallen off in OLOL.  He avoids taking personal blame for the disaster OLOL has become.  He claims it as a reason to close churches.  But it wasn’t true at St. Mary’s ,which had more non-restricted funds than any of the OLOL parishes.  Was it just a target, like STA?  Whoops, getting off-subject.  More soon….

  

 

 

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me — Part XVII–Wreck-ovation

July 26th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 17 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

As we draw toward the end of this saga, the results of Fr. Ring’s demolition project are beginning to show.  On August 14, the Bishop and he will come to St. Jan’s to “re-dedicate” the altar and sanctuary.  All the furnishings aren’t in place yet, but at least the plastic is down and one can get a look at it.  In time, parishioners will form their opinions.  Perhaps some who resisted it will accept it.  Perhaps others who vigorously defended the demolition will come to realize they trusted in vain. 

Why is DoR making such a big deal about a “re-dedication”?  I suspect it is because there are no “dedications,” that the diocese is one big parade of church closures, or sobbing grandmothers and wilted roses tied to doorknobs.  WOW!  A photo-op to refute the image!  But it is also like bragging about healing from a self-inflicted wound. 

The beautiful altar has disappeared and there is a table “altar” that is a hand-me-down from the now closed St. Andrew Church in Dundee.  We’ve heard that it had been falling apart (legs coming off) but it has apparently been fixed and patched to now be the St. Januarians’ new altar.  Whether the larger treasured altar is in basement storage or departed on a dump truck is not known.

Then there is what the Bishop most argued for — a ramp behind the altar.  Fr. Ring had complained of clutter and moved the tabernacle (CLUTTER!  OUR LORD?)  So now there are railings which cut across the plane line of the altar in a distracting way.  There is no clear need for the ramp except, perhaps, ensuring that it would be most difficult to ever again celebrate The Latin Mass in this space.

Oh, and somewhere in this new space we hope there’s an organ.  Maybe the pipes are hiding behind what the parishoners call “The Ugly Christmas Tree” or maybe not.  Fr. Ring wrote in last Sunday’s OLOL bulletin (yes, he is now pastor of St. Louis but doesn’t seem to be able to keep his hands off OLOL) that the statues of The Blessed Virgin Mary and of St. Joseph will be moved from Rushville to Naples.  It shows how out of touch he is with how people react.  He opines that it will make parishioners from the (now closed and defunct from treasury draining) St. Mary Church in Rushville “feel more at home” in Naples.  Absurd.  What it will more likely do is remind them how their own church was wantonly and unfairly closed (even though the Bishop never changed his pronouncement that it isn’t closed) and how St. Mary’s was dismembered by OLOL.  Great “homey-ness!”  What is even more absurd is the concept that statues can make people feel more at home!  If I wanted to be at home, I’d stay home.  What would make people feel better, I suspect, would simply be a faithful Mass in a loving community.  But that seems too much to ask.

What else might be picked up and inserted in the new Sanctuary?  Guess it will depend on how many garage sales are in Naples before the “re-dedication.”  Meanwhile, what is shown below are pictures of St. Jan’s before the demolition began, the “Eye-Candy” LaBella drawing which changed the whole appearance of the window lighting, but which wasn’t even in the project, and the current partially furnished view. 

The bright spot is from the skylight.  It looks like LaBella forgot to take into account that skylights create light going somewhere.  They should have been able to figure where.  But that might have been a distraction from their new entry into hydro-fracking.

St. Jan's Altar & Sanctuary Before Demolition

St. Januarius Altar & Sanctuary Pre-Demolition

 

LaBella's "Eye Candy" Architectural Rendering

St. Jan's Reconstructed Altar & Sanctuary

Feel free to “VOTE”  below with your comments whether you think $300,000 or thereabouts (still undisclosed and unaudited) was a fair investment for conversion of what WAS into what now IS…..thanks.

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me — Part XVIII — Testimony of Pictures

September 1st, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 18 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

It is often said that “a picture is worth 1000 words”.  Try to keep in mind that these pictures show a cost (as best we know) of about $300,000.  The question isn’t only if the demolition/renovation at St. Januarius in Naples is worth the money, but was it worth dividing a parish, severing long time relationships, and deepening the alienation, for THIS?  (We regret that some of the pictures are fuzzy; people run in and run out trying not to get “caught” and that is the kind of fear that is so widespread when a parish is divided.  As better pictures become available, we’ll post here, so please check back.

(For reminders, the original pictures of the Sanctuary can be found in Part II, X and XVII of this series.)  This is what the Sanctuary looked like last week:

1. Overview from left Rear of Church

 

2. View from center, right side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

3. Close-up of Tabernacle

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

4. Presider Chair and Altar

 

 

5. Crucifix in Sanctuary

  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

  

 

 

 

6A. Statue of Mary taken from St. Mary Rushville 6B. St. Joseph not shown

 

 

 

7. Rear of Church; Divider not repaired or replaced

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It should be remembered that 1) about three-quarters of St. Jan’s parishioners opposed these changes, 2) that they were not allowed to discuss their concerns at Care of the Community meetings, 3) that the faith community did not have a vote (but the Parish Council which is not representative of the parishioners and is mostly hand-picked by Fr. Ring did have the vote), 4) that the parishioners and summer visitors were solicited for contributions with false information regarding the chief donor, the purpose of the donor, and the requirements of the donor (Zeal post XV) 5) that the work that needed to be done (divider wall repair or replacement and adequately securing the Tabernacle–Zeal V) were set forth as part of the project but were not done 7) that no accounting for the project has been given to parishioners; they don’t know if their parish is in debt or not   8.  that greatly insulting actions against the parishioners were taken such as conducting demolition during Holy Week and making the Church unusable for the Triduum, 9) that secret plans were drawn up for a Sanctuary without the organ and the pastor entertained selling it for $3000, its having a worth of $75,000-$100,000 10) that donations by parishioners of railings, shrines and other art, for example, were unceremoniously trashed.  And more….but that is enough to at least convey the hostility of pastoral leadership toward many of the parishioners. 

A very key question that yet has no answer is why would a pastor who knows he is leaving and who had presided in the Sanctuary for nearly a decade, insist on making such dramatic and damaging change in the weeks before he left?  Perhaps those with less vested interest can candidly comment on the fruits of Fr. Ring’s work in the St. Jan’s Sanctuary.  But for the moment, relating to each of the pictures above, we will try to point out the parishioners’ many objections to the final result.

By way of background, the bright balloon shapes of the windows are not the actual experiences in the Sanctuary but are due to the scatter of light in the picture taking, so we won’t comment on that effect further. If you look back at the earlier postings of Sanctuary pictures, you will have a better idea of the appearance, which is unchanged.

Comments by picture #:

1. People have, most of all, complained about the Holy Eucharist being removed from the prominent center position behind the altar and shunted off to the side near the exit door.  They have remarked about the architectural imbalance of the squared-off back drop for the wall behind  the Tabernacle being at odds with the sweeping lines of what is un-affectionately called “The Ugly Christmas Tree-UCT.”  Complaints have been heard about how the enclosure of the UCT has a separating effect, and how its architectural style expresses no continuity with the architectural style of the church, even with the ill-matching of the yellows of the wood to the blues of the reinforced concrete.  There are complaints that the massiveness of the Tabernacle Wall and Table unbalances the entire Sanctuary.  It is a bit of a shock that a firm like LaBella would put their name on such a debacle.

2.  This view shows the free-form steps, now only two (reduced from four) which impairs the view of children and small or infirm adults to fully see the liturgy.  Moreover, there has already been conversation that the free form steps, ascended and descended for lectoring, for example, are awkward and easier to stumble over due to the irregular shape.  Time will tell if this is just the newness, or actually an architectural defect.  However, in spite of Fr. Ring’s citing clutter in the Sanctuary as an excuse for his demolition, one should note the handrails on the wall behind the altar.  (The black horizontal lines which cut across the altar profile.)  These are handrails which follow a ramp up to the altar area, and the lighting causes shadows, almost as dark as the railings, to fall on the light wall, creating a hodge-podge of horizontal “cuts” across the field of view.  The presider chair (now elevated, while the Tabernacle is demoted) sits alone with those same lines and shadows creating distraction.  There are twice as many distracting lines on the left side, due to railings there on both sides of the ramp, and shadows from both.  The altar is a spoiler, but after the beautiful altar which the St. Januarians enjoyed previously, probably anything else would be a disappointment.  The prior altar, as best we know, has been demolished and pieces and parts plastered elsewhere, like on the ambo.  The replacement altar was from St. Andrew in Dundee and was literally falling apart and had to be reworked.  But it gave the Bishop a reason to come celebrate and consecrate a “new” altar, hardly something which happens often in the Diocese of Rochester.

3. The controversial ramp goes “up” behind the tabernacle.  Close behind this sacred space is a station for people to sanitize their hands.  Now it is unclear if Eucharistic ministers will also descend on the ramp, being out of sight of the congregation while carrying the Precious Blood.  This is a good opportunity to point out that the wall behind the Tabernacle, and the UCT wall both have a “fakeness” to them, like a movie set in a Western, where the storefronts are all propped up with a 2×4 brace.  There is a cubicle-quality cheapness (though not cheap) to such false dividers.  One can also see the seeming insignificance of the altar space as seen from the area of the church near the Tabernacle and its facade.  (The fan on the floor evokes a dissonant note too; perhaps A/C would have been a better investment?)  The scene is completed with a (white?) Sanctuary candle.

4. This picture gives a closer view of the altar and of the multiple bars and shadows that cut through the altar profile.  It is far more clutter and distraction, in some people’s estimation, than what Fr. Ring previously called clutter (which, sadly, included the Blessed Sacrament.)  Now people won’t have much to look at except the presider, but perhaps that was part of the purpose?  There is a sense of “congestion” in the available area for the altar.  As the Sanctuary begins to be used, what is becoming apparent is that there is less usable floor space than previously available.  Is that why the other two chairs, usually with the presider’s chair, have disappeared?  It isn’t just square footage, but how one can move around the space.  Can a priest step backward without stepping off the ramp?  Some believe that the ramp was a farce to try to prevent a Latin Mass from ever again being celebrated in this space.  Perhaps it seems far-fetched, but the hijackers of Vatican II have gone to greater lengths.  Part of the space reduction is the incursion by the choir and music area too.  Good news is that the organ is still there, and the pipes are behind the UCT.  But, as the instrument is positioned now, the organist doesn’t seem able to see the presider!

5.  Having a crucifix back in the Sanctuary can be a plus, but the planners found a smaller one than had been there, and the woods do not match well.  It seems that perhaps a smaller crucifix is used for scale because of the diminished Sanctuary space.

6. The statues of Mary and Joseph were taken away from St. Mary Rushville.  The Bishop continues to insist that St. Mary is still open, but there seems to be no hesitancy in letting the vultures descend on the bones.  Fr. Ring even expressed what seems a somewhat absurd opinion that having these statues in Naples would make the former St. Mary parishioners feel more comfortable there.  It belies a real lack of understanding of how people react in their spirits when they are continually subjected to what has been taken from them.  Or perhaps that is part of the intention?  Meanwhile, the statue of St. Januarius seems to have disappeared from the Sanctuary.

7. One of the few areas in which there was consensus was that the divider screen between the church and the parish hall needed repair or replacement.  People who gave were likely enticed by that being one of the promised renovations but it did not happen.  This photo shows the view into the parish hall, the state of the divider screen, and the tiny baptismal font in the middle of the aisle near the Paschal candle.  There is also no evidence that the Tabernacle has been secured, which also was important to do.  Instead of taking care of the most obvious needs, the Pastor’s decision was to spend on false walls, an unnecessary ramp, elevating the presider chair, lowering the Tabernacle, and for what purpose?  How much of this gives praise to the Lord, saves souls or serves people?

That brings up the final point which doesn’t show in any particular picture but is perhaps hinted at by all the pictures.  Why did Fr. Ring do this just before he left for St. Louis in Pittsford?  Is it just bad taste or did it have an element of retribution against a community that felt he had mis-handled the Fr. Emo sexual abuse situation, which held a parish forum and asked the Bishop to remove Fr. Ring, which had been silenced and suppressed during pastoral planning, and which has suffered as a step-child of St. Michael’s in Penn Yan for far too long?  You decide.

Meanwhile, it would be of interest for those who are perhaps too close to the current situation to hear from others with an independent view and willingness to share it.  Thank you.

 

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me — Part XIX–Rebuttal

September 10th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 19 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

It occurred to me when I was doing Zeal XX (see third blog post below this one) that I had not uploaded the rebuttal of  the St. Jan’s Renovation Supporters.   Zeal XVI was focused on the investigative reporting article by Jack Jones which was published in the Naples Record.  The article did not go unnoticed by a few of Fr. Ring’s and the project’s supporters.  First, Andy Beigel wrote a letter to the editor longer than the original article, claiming to represent St. Jan’s and setting himself forth as “President” of the Parish Council of OLOL.  Following his letter to the editor there were 5 more letters published in the next edition, one being from his wife.  This is the gist of those 5 letters:

  • Joaquin Aymerich (why he and his wife are grateful and so donated to the project)
  • Lynn Lersch to compliment the investigative reporter and the Naples Record for being willing to publish a story that “needed to be told and documented.” 
  • Rachael O’Connor saying :  “the tone of the ‘article’ is screamin’ yellow”! 
  • Marianna Beigel to complain about “shoddy journalism” (after they’d just published her husband’s tirade), and about logs in some eyes and splinters in others, etc. 
  • Joan Hoeffel who contributes her own interpretation of other people’s motives, including that she sees those who dissent as railing against St. Jan’s (rather than against what is being done to St. Jan’s.)  Her answer was “let them find other churches, other priests and even other faiths.” 

Each, of course, has a right to his or her opinion.  However, the letter of most concern was from Andy Beigel who didn’t only set forth his opinion, but set forth seriously wrong information which needed to be corrected.  Therefore, I am publishing the correction below, which will be fairly self-explanatory as to what was in the Beigel letter, without again reiterating his errors.  But here is a sampling of what was just plain wrong from Andy Beigel, who was setting himself forth in the role of a spokesman for St. Jan’s:

  • “I am currently the President of the Pastoral Council for OLOL.”
  • “74% of those attending Mass were in favor of the renovations”
  • “…nothing was demolished”
  • “each person had the opportunity to express his or her concern”
  • “decisions are made without input from the faithful…for well over 1000 years”
  • “A special Pastoral Council meeting was scheduled, so that all concerned parties could come and express their concerns”

The parishioners’  letter set forth below counters each of these errors, and more besides.  There are a few typos, but I left them alone as the meaning still seems clear.  As you will also see in Zeal XX we are often dealing with outright lies, errors or selective omissions.  Thus, the misleading of the flock metastasizes.

Closing Arguments: At first this title brought fear to my heart; we are all so used to thinking “Closing of Churches” that it threw me for a moment.  But it wasn’t arguments to close St. Jan’s, but rather it represents that the Naples Record is done with the subject, having printed Mr. Beigel’s letter and five others, and then a rebuttal signed by 7 parishioners who opposed what was done to St. Jan’s Sanctuary and opposed the errors perpetrated by Mr. Beigel.  A few of the signatories to the parishioners’ letter to the editor told me that many more people read their letter, said that they agreed with it completely, but were afraid to sign.  I congratulate those who did sign, and sympathize with those who are afraid.  In future writing I will be dealing with the issue of intra-parish bullying. 

 

 

Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me — Part XX — Courier Between the Lines

September 10th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 20 of 21 in the series Zeal for Thy House

The following article appeared in this week’s e-Courier, and was also contained in the September Newspaper Catholic Courier, Regional Finger Lakes section.  It is reproduced in its entirety, with comments in red  which relate to our earlier postings and current information,  except for the Courier’s picture of Sister Binsack and the Bishop pouring chrism on the renovated altar,  because that picture  is copyrighted.  In the following reproduction of text, some paragraph separation (but not reordering) was done for the sake of clarity.  Background and summary information is in blue; my remarks on the Courier text are in red, and the Courier text is in white.  An earlier picture of the renovated Sanctuary is included, just for reference (before the Tabernacle was placed on the table shown).

Previously,  we have only alluded to the 25% of parishioners who supported the renovation, but without naming names.   The Courier names names, quoting parties alighned with Fr. Ring regarding the travesty at St. Jan’s.   The view into their thinking  showcases what is wrong with the attitude of the undercatechized toward the church, the Mass, and how “feel good” seems to have replaced responding to the question “How does God want to be worshiped?”  It demonstrates how putting less informed people into leadership positions makes it easy for pastors or diocesan staff to run rough-shod over a parish by claiming it was the will of the people.  Notice particularly in the Courier comments the lack of  words like  “God,” “Jesus,” “Christ,” “pray” and “worship”.  See what you think, especially about the supporters’ priorities.

The surprising name missing from the article is Fr. Robert Ring.  Why would he not even be mentioned on a project he conceived, raised money for, and drove to completion against the wishes of 75% of his parishioners?  Will he later point to this article and say “See, I wasn’t involved.  It was Fr. Wiant?”  We can’t help but wonder!

 

 September 2011 Diocesan Courier

Renovations complete at Naples church (complete?  what happened to the rest of the money and the rest of the work that was promised in the fund-raising?)

By Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier

Bishop Matthew H. Clark visited St. Januarius Church in Naples Aug. 14 to rededicate the altar of the church’s newly renovated sanctuary.

The base of the altar is new, but its top was constructed using wood from the previous altar. This new altar is highlighted by a curved wooden reredos, or backdrop, which comes to a point above the altar. A crucifix hangs at the peak of the reredos, and another portion of the reredos stretches out to one side to provide a backdrop for the tabernacle.   Reredos is a pretty fancy word for what we’ve been calling the Ugly Christmas Tree (UTC).  A friend looked up the meaning of reredos on line and tells me it usually applies to a wall of some artistic merit behind the altar.  I hope Bernie will have a comment on whether or not reredos is appropriately applied here. 

St. Januarius Demolished/Renovated Sanctuary July 2011

 The tabernacle itself was moved from its previous place behind the altar to a chapel of the Blessed Sacrament to the left of the sanctuary, just steps from the altar.  The Tabernacle, unsecured, is perched on the table to the left (Tabernacle is not shown in picture as Mass had not yet been said here), close to the exit door.  It strikes us as a Tabernacle on a Table.  How can the word “Chapel” be applied to a table?

Several other elements of the church also were changed during the renovation, including:

*the sanctuary floor, which was lowered to make it more accessible, Former Sanctuary; one step up; 3 to altar.especially for the elderly or those with disabilities.  (wrong; it was already one step from the nave to the sanctuary floor, then it was three steps from the sanctuary floor to the priest’s position behind the altar.  It was the altar which was lowered, not the sanctuary floor.  The Sanctuary floor has actually be raised to 2 steps from 1.  That means that lectors now have to go up and down 2 steps instead of 1, increasing the chance for their tripping, especially with a kind of free form shape to the curve of the steps.)  

Whereas five steps previously led from the nave to the sanctuary, now there are only two (wrong again, count them!  from the floor of the nave there had been one step up to the sanctuary floor, and another 3 to the altar.  One plus three equals FOUR, not five, to where the celebrant stands).  Now there are two steps total, from the nave to the sanctuary floor, and the altar table sits on the sanctuary floor.

A ramp into the sanctuary also was installed at the rear of the area.  There was never a single insurance claim or any known fall on the prior steps.  There was no need for a ramp, a very expensive item and for what purpose?  It is believed that the whole installation of a ramp is to interfere with the Tabernacle at the center, behind the altar and to impair celebration of a Latin Mass at any time in the future.  If a lector really needed to use the ramp, it would involve going up the left side, crossing behind the altar and wheeling to the ambo?  It is hard to believe that people who can’t count up to 5 steps actually were capable of evaluating a survey, keeping track of funds, and voting with any conscience at all.

* the crucifix at the reredos’ peak. The cross is new, but the corpus previously had hung on another cross in the church’s foyer. 

This crucifix is significantly smaller than the previous large crucifix which commanded more imposing sanctuary space. 

Some parishioners have already expressed their disappointment that the original, magnificent crucifix is “missing in action,”   and that the presence of the Crucified Christ has thus been diminiahed.

What happened to the large crucifix?   Where is it?  Who has that blessed object?

Here is a picture of the original large crucifix, just  in case anyone finds it:

Large original crucifix

* the ambo. Wood from St. Januarius’ previous altar was used to fashion a new top for the ambo, as well as part of the new Blessed Sacrament chapel. 

This Courier article is the first time that many St. Jan’s parishioners are learning that their previously consecrated altar has been broken in pieces and spread over at least three places, with other parts unaccounted for.  Since the altar is supposed to be a symbol of Christ, some folks wonder: “how can it just be broken in parts?”  Why do we bow to something that can be willy-nilly chopped into pieces?

* the lighting and electrical systems in the sanctuary and nave, which were upgraded and made more energy efficient.  Time will tell.  At the moment there are some weird shadows cast by the handrails of the ramp, creating a new kind of clutter.  It may be a function of both bad design of the ramp rails and unnatural accents caused by the lighting.

* the church’s Tobey Street entrance, where an automated handicapped-accessible door was added.  We are told that this entry automation is not working properly; but most parishioners agree it would be helpful.  The building itself has had long term issues of poor locking mechanisms, which endanger the security of the Blessed Sacrament in the Daily Mass Chapel and now in the church as well by having an easily movable Tabernacle.

St. Januarius also has become home to two statues from St. Mary Church in Rushville, which held its last regular (it was not “regular” at all; it was a Saturday morning (weekday) Mass, and was 15 months after the last Mass of Sunday obligation was said at St. Mary)  Mass Jan. 1, 2011.  Both churches are part of Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community.  Questions abound on the hijacking of St. Mary’s statues to St. Jan’s.  In separate posts, in a new series, there will be more discussion on St. Mary’s Rushville, victim of DoR pastoral planning machinations.

The rest of the article (more than half) is a plethora of support statements for the disaster of the demolished/renovated Sanctuary at St. Januarius.  Most of the  individuals quoted have varied backgrounds of significant compliance to Fr. Ring’s whims.  Without trying at this point to lay bare individual faults or errors, we will simply say that among the names quoted as authoritative commenters on the joy of the renovated Sanctuary are a person who compiled the secret plans for demolition/renovation that were later found on the OLOL website; one who was the one of only two  in a meeting of 30 people who (with spouse)  voted to get rid of the organ for $3000 (worth $75000-$100,000), someone who hung around the construction site for the duration, one who is a retiree but who is the only “altar boy” in the parish (the children having departed),  a person who wrote a letter to the editor of the Naples Record awarding himself a title in OLOL that doesn’t exist and presuming to speak for the parish and making claims especially regarding data and surveys which were erroneous (more to come in Zeal XIX). one who is an employee of OLOL and likely to get a full time job with Fr. Ring at St. Louis, two who participated on a secret subcommittee  to decide between St. Mary Rushville and St. Theresa Stanley for survival,  (there was no member of the committee from St. Mary’s, which parishioners didn’t even know of the existence of the secret subcommittee), three who were members of the St. Januarius Parish Council who voted to refuse the petition of  dozens of parishioners to have OLOL split rather than amalgamated into a 700+ square mile OLOL parish, two who have brought pressure and insult to bear, demeaning some  who opposed the Sanctuary changes, refusing to speak to them, e.g., another who is a fairly recent graduate of St. Bernards, looking for a job in DoR, one who was previously chair of the parish council,  one of the two members of the pastoral planning team which worked for over 30 months in closed sessions without using parishioner input and supported Fr. Ring in his insistence of amalgamation in spite of OLOL-wide survey results,  a member of Finance Council  yet parishioners have been unable to get finance statements relating to many matters,especially to the renovation, and one person representative of those who are afraid to speak their opinions clearly out of fear of retaliation.   

Fr. George Wiant we mention separately, as he is a public figure as a priest.  Without diminishing Fr. Ring’s responsibility, it is also fair to note that Fr. George’s support for the project significantly undermined the ability of parishioners to present the truth to the steering committee and to make their voices heard.   Although Fr. Ring thrust him to the front, he is in large part responsible for the debacle at St. Jan’s.  The Wegman connection was used for money, illogical liturgical arguments were put forward that were untrue, collaboration on a survey was rejected,.  We note that Fr. George isn’t even using the ramp.  It is sad for a retired priest to now be seen as not able to be trusted due to his role in the demolition/renovation, to the pain of parishioners.

But the above spokespeople who pursued and supported what 75% of the parish opposed are obviously in the way of achieving any real healing between parishioners at St. Jan’s.  Now, at least, everyone knows who they are!

The following is the rest of the Courier article, with the quotes in white, and again in red there is commentary on the quotes, but not on the quoters (as noted above) based on what we understand at this time.  It is noticeable how preoccupied the commenters are with steps and lights, without ever noting the impact on the worship of God, attraction for new parishioners, care for children, or any way in which the Kingdom of God (rather than the Kingdom of the Clergy) will be advanced by what was done.

The Courier continues:  “All of these changes were made for either liturgical or safety reasons, said Jerry Luzum, a parishioner and volunteer at St. Januarius.  “From a liturgical standpoint, the concerns were that the focus in the sanctuary was no longer the altar,” said Luzum, noting that this focus was obscured by wooden railings, organ pipes and other items in the sanctuary. “There were just a lot of other things that had been added, and when you walk into a church, you ought to have a sense of what’s the most important thing there.”   This is mostly mouthpiece for Fr. Ring’s arguments to do what he had determined to do.  Railings at least helped people step up.  There are no railings now, and hopefully no one will get hurt going up 2 steps instead of the one to lector.  Demolition was hardly necessary to mask the organ pipes and if Luzum really had a sense of “the most important thing there” it wouldn’t lead to moving the Blessed Sacrament out of the way. 

“It was just a little crowded up there, busy,” added fellow parishioner Sue Hopper.  It appears that the floor space is much less now, and the priest risks stepping off the ramp.  It seems much more crowded now. 

The height of the sanctuary floor had been a safety concern for some time, said parishioner Andy Beigel, who noted the condition of the stairs leading to the sanctuary was “treacherous at best.”   As noted above, there was only one step up from the main floor to the sanctuary.   Beigel seems to have sanctuary and altar confused.  The three steps from the sanctuary floor to the altar had railings, as shown above. 

“They had weird rises, very narrow tread, and a few of them were kind of shaky,” said Beigel, a member of the steering committee for the renovation and cochair of the cluster’s pastoral council.  The cement that had to be jack-hammered was “shaky?”  It doesn’t take $300,000 to lower the rise or increase the run of steps.

The church had been built with a raised sanctuary to allow people sitting far away to be able to see what was happening at the altar, explained Father George Wiant, a retired priest who regularly assists at St. Januarius. When the church was built in 1966, weekend Masses drew large summer crowds of visitors, so a movable, accordion-style wall allowed overflow crowds to be seated in the gathering space beyond the nave.  This is true.

“To me as celebrant, it made me feel quite distant from the people,” Father Wiant said, noting that this extra space is no longer needed during Mass.  How sad, that attendance has dropped 47% and the overflow room isn’t “needed.”  How sad, also, that it seems to be spun as a positive.  Fr. Wiant doesn’t have to sit in the pews and look around other people’s heads to see what’s going on, something impossible for the children.  But then again, most of the children have been driven away.  “The motive was to lower the altar down where it felt like it was more of a community together.”  Typical of the overemphasis on “It’s all about us” rather than “It’s all about Him Whom we worship!”  This is the same mindset in the church today that leads to emphasis on a communal “meal” rather than liturgical worship, in my opinion.  What is also weird about Fr. Wiant’s comments is that it makes him seem unable to function in a large church where people may well be further back from the altar.  And the pastoral planning drive to close small churches and try to create mega-churches is certainly out of step for the personal need expressed by Fr. Wiant.

With the floor lowered (again, it wasn’t– IT WAS RAISED!  why do you think they are so insistent on constantly repeating what is obviously untrue?)  and the ramp installed, it now will be easier for people with disabilities to serve as lectors or extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, added Cris Wensel, pastoral associate at St. Januarius. (As if there were actually a need, which there has not been, and there is no sign on the horizon that there will be.  And see the notes above, how a lector now has to go up two steps, or else go up the ramp, traverse the altar area and then go to the ambo, and then do it all in reverse!  This seems very distracting!) 

The new lighting makes it easier for parishioners to see, and the new layout of the sanctuary draws one’s eyes to the altar, Beigel said.  One’s eyes were always drawn to the altar.  Now that it is lower AND smaller, and lacking as much floor space surround, and competing with an overbearing Tabernacle wall, one can predict that all eyes will likely be drawn away from the altar, not toward it.  The result of the new design seems to accomplish just the opposite of what Mr. Beigel claims was intended.  Moreover, another impairment of visibility which no one seems to mention is that the organ is tucked into a back corner where the organist  CANNOT see the presider!  Why?  Is it part of getting rid of the organ without getting rid of the organ?

“I think it’s very simplistic. Wonder if she meant “simple?”   However, her word “simplistic” is much closer to the truth: Definition of Simplistic:   adjective:  Treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are:simplistic solutions”.  It’s almost as if when you come in, it wraps its arms around you,” said parishioner Jackie Leysath.  The touchy-feely is a very poor reason for advocating these changes.  Where is arm-wrapping in the GIRM?  In ANY liturgical directive at all?  Or is it a new age prop, inconsistent with Catholic liturgy?

“I find it a serene, very meditative environment. The curvature of the reredos seems to be embracing, like a set of arms pulling you in,” Hopper agreed.  Here we go again.  More of the “It’s all about ME!”  But who knows what St. Bernards has been teaching on this subject?

Yet some parishioners did not share such sentiments about the reredos, or the renovation in general.  Convictions would be a better word than sentiments.  The 75% of parishioners opposed to the demolition/renovation put forth their specific reasons, all unanswered.  The “leaders,” especially Fr. Ring, refused to allow discussion.  So how would the supporters even know what the logical arguments were?  Touchy feely giggles were never seen as a plus by anyone on any survey.   

“The new design looks like a wooden Christmas tree, and you can’t see the organ (anymore),” noted Bill Vierhile, who said he and a number of other parishioners were not in favor of the renovation and liked the church the way it was.  “A lot of people weren’t for it, but I think it came out all right,” he said. “Probably we’ll get used to the new design.  This is just what the perpetrators are hoping.  I think in time it will probably work out OK, but it’s different.”  Is “getting used to” something that is bad or ineffective or just wrong a good thing?  Were the Jews supposed to get “used to” their exile in Babylon?  Or were they to long for return?  So, too, may the many parishioners long for the return of Jesus to the Center of their Worship Space.

Leysath said she loves the sanctuary’s new look, but understands it will take time for some people to get used to such a drastic change. It’s human nature to be afraid of change, said parishioner George Horsch, who was on the steering committee for the renovation.  We wish that George Horsch would also acknowledge that it is sometimes human nature to oppose stupid and wasteful changes, change for the sake of change, while needs such as religious education of children, evangelization and care of those in need goes relatively unaddressed.  When did “change” become a worshippable deity in Catholicism?

“There was a lot of negativism, a lot of critique about what they were doing to the beautiful sanctuary,”  Horsch recalled.  Critique?  Yes, George is right.  But he should also mention that he completely ignored the input.  Negativism?  Well, it is hard to say something good about something bad.  “THEY were doing to the beautiful sanctuary?”  Don’t you mean YOU, George?” 

Wensel acknowledged the mixed feelings about the renovation and said parish leaders didn’t want to make people unhappy. Nonetheless, “You go by what needs to be done,” she said.  And by what Fr. Ring tells her  to do.  One of the key points is that there were only two things that needed to be done:  the divider wall and securing the Tabernacle.  In spite of all the money collected and spent, neither was done.

All aspects of the renovation were meticulously planned (doesn’t quite fit with not being even able to count the steps!)  with the goal of making sure St. Januarius remains a vibrant church community, Beigel added. It would be wonderful if it were true that St. Jan’s is “vibrant” but it  lost 47% of its attendees on Fr. Ring’s watch; that  is hardly vibrant.  There is a 75:25 split among parishioners.  That is hardly vibrant.  It remains to be seen what a new pastor can do.  But if there is improvement it will be because of the return of many who said, when they left, “I’ll be back when Fr. Ring is gone,” (and some who now add: “and when Fr. Wiant is gone”) and it will be because of healing brought by the new pastor, in spite of the Sanctuary changes and not because of them.

“It’s like labor,” Hopper said. “You go through a lot of pains, there was a lot of pain in the community itself, and maybe the baby doesn’t look exactly like Mom or Dad, but it’s beautiful in its own way. The Lord gave it to us.”  — This last paragraph was not in the printed newspaper copy.  But when the Lord is finally mentioned it is to lay the blame at His Feet: “The Lord gave it to us.”  No, He didn’t.  You took it AWAY from the Lord–His position in the elevated center of the altar, the visibility of His Sacrifice in the Mass, the ability to offer Him a Mass in the Extraordinary Form, and the inspiring beauty of His House.  And now you say the Lord did it?  At least His Name finally got mentioned, even though dropped in the paper edition.

Selected Comments on Line

by Mary on September 6, 2011, 5:09 PM
I’ve seen various images of the St. Jan renovation on the Internet, and I have to admit that the results are not impressive (at least to me). The removal of the tabernacle from the center of the church over to a secondary position on the left side of the altar diminishes the importance of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. The sanctuary appears overly-simplistic and uninspiring. At least with the former design the sanctuary was elevated contributing to a sense of the importance of what takes place at the altar during Mass. A dividing wall near the Baptismal font, which was supposedly an important renovation priority, was left unfixed. It is my understanding that this renovation was hotly contested by a sizable number of parishioners which has contributed to many leaving the community. When all is said in done, striping the sanctuary down and moving the tabernacle is not worth the anger this project caused and souls put in danger of those who leave.