Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Posts Tagged ‘Diocese of Rochester’

Inaugural men’s conference set for May 16

March 6th, 2015, Promulgated by Ben Anderson

Inaugural men’s conference set for May 16 By Mike Latona/Catholic Courier

The conference will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 16, in the gymnasium of St. John Fisher College in Pittsford. Also collaborating in the organization of the event is organizing the event is Exult Rochester — a coalition of Catholic men from Rochester-area parishes — in conjunction with the Diocese of Rochester. Registration is open to men in the diocese and beyond, with an attendance capacity of 1,000. Tickets are $50 per person and available at exultrochester.org.

Bishop Salvatore R. Matano will begin the event by celebrating Mass at 8 a.m. Three popular national Catholic speakers are scheduled to follow.

For more info see exultrochester.org.

Rochester Catholic Women’s Conference

January 18th, 2015, Promulgated by Hopefull

ScreenShot023 The Second Annual Rochester Catholic Women’s Conference will be held on Saturday, March 28, 2015 at Aquinas Institute.  If you remember, last year the event was sold out and there were many women who wanted to attend but could not.  If this is of interest to you, now would be the time to register, without waiting for the announcement detail to get around to your parish.

The entire program, registration information, costs etc. can be found here:  http://www.rochestercwc.org/index.html

You can also see a video from last year’s conference.

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Courier Commentary #1: Intrinsic Evil Trumps Prudential Judgment

March 5th, 2013, Promulgated by Diane Harris

My experience with the Diocesan Courier has been that my comments have not been accepted for several years, no matter the subject, and no matter that they conform in all ways to the guidelines.  So I am going to stop submitting comments to the on-line stories, and begin offering the commentary here, adding a good deal of what I would have edited out were the comments to have been posted on the DoR site.  But perhaps it is better this way, as a full response can be given. 

To make the commentary more “usable” I will put all the Courier’s excerpted words in blue, and major concerns or rebuttal points in red.  It is offered as the start of a series, so others can number future commentary on the Courier (especially if their comments on the DoR site are rejected) as part of this series, if they choose to do so.  A very good place to begin the Commentary Series is with this week’s story:

Advocates will lobby in Albany March 20

By Mike Latona/Catholic Courier

…several dozen from the Diocese of Rochester… will meet with their legislators to discuss five priorities that have been selected by the state’s bishops….

  • oppose the Women’s Equality Act, an outgrowth of the Reproductive Health Act, which would significantly expand abortion rights;
  • preserve Catholic schools and offer adequate resources for all school children;
  • provide affordable housing for low-income and vulnerable populations;
  • support humane treatment for people who are incarcerated; and
  • ensure that reform of Medicaid benefits consumers and maintains quality of care.

“We have been hearing each year to be prepared to fight this bill, but it never came forward (in the legislature). With the governor’s enthusiastic push of it in his State of the State address, it may actually come to a vote this year,” said Marvin Mich, director of social-policy research at Rochester’s Catholic Family Center….

While acknowledging that the Women’s Equality Act will take top priority because it involves the protection of innocent human life, Mich stressed that “all of our issues are linked in the consistent ethic of life. We cannot choose just one issue and ignore the rest.”

Sculpture of  "Post-Abortion Pain, Mercy, Forgiveness"  by Martin Houdacek

Sculpture of “Post-Abortion Pain, Mercy, Forgiveness”
by Martin Houdacek

WAIT!  Stop right there!  At least this time we are seeing the pro-Abortion act on top of the list, but there is NO comparison between the #1 item, which is directed to the fight against intrinsic evil and the following four items which are prudential judgment issues, about which reasonable people can disagree, especially on “how” a particular good or benefit is achieved.  It is precisely this lumping together of prudential judgement issues with action against intrinsic evils which has so weakened the mobilization of the Faithful to fight evil, and to be a consistent voice at the ballot box.  It is exactly what makes the Catholic Church look fragmented and immobilized.

And what about the other intrinsic evils that should be addressed?  Where is repeal of same-sex marriage?  Why shouldn’t that precede the prudential judgment issues?  What ARE the priorities of those assembling this list?

Just READ the list.  The first item is clear — oppose a bill threatened to come to the floor for vote.  But there are no specifics about the remaining four items.  They mean whatever someone wants them to mean!  This loading on of general statements and ambiguities serves to dilute the most meaningful actions, those against intrinsic evil.  And for what purpose?  The interesting thing about the four Prudential Judgment issues is that they are not specific, they are never “satisfied.”  They can stay on DoR’s list forever.

The so-called “Consistent Life Ethic” is a very shredded fabric, and lacks credibility in the public square.  Marv Mich states:  “We cannot choose just one issue and ignore the rest.”  I strongly disagree. 

Certainly we cannot perpetrate one intrinsic evil and yet fight against another.  We must be consistently aligned and supportive of all Church Teaching.  But ambiguous, poorly articulated “nice” goals are not worthy of mobilizing our energy, time and efforts when intrinsic evils are basking in public.  I most certainly CAN and MAY choose one of the intrinsic evils (#1 on the list above) and work with all my energy to fight that one, without diluting my effort by spreading too thin over someone else’s prudential judgment priorities.  Of course I am, for example, in favor of humane treatment of prisoners.  But while babies are being killed in the womb, don’t ask me to divert my available time and related abilities to an issue which proposes not even a specific of what it means!  If  it means no torture, of course I agree.  If it means letting people out of jail early so they can shoot more firefighters, of course I oppose it! 

Then, buried in the Courier article, is a comment that “expressed hope that participants in the March 20 event ‘do not leave our legislative appointments without some comment on gun control.'” 

Well, I hope so too!  I hope they make the point that the so-called and mis-named “SAFE” act was illegally promulgated against the rights of the public to comment, that it will not make people any safer, and that it is a distraction from the main issue of having suitable protections in schools for the children.  I hope the comments will ask for repeal of a meaningless, sham act.  But I rather doubt that is what the comment means.   Yes, it is a prudential issue too, but one that risks coveting the rights of others, interfering with a person’s ability to defend themselves and their families, and undermines and sabotages the law of the land — the Second Amendment.  It borders on sin against people’s rights, and may even cross the line.  More on that another time.  But notice how the diocesan newspaper manages to squeeze in a quote on an issue not even on the list!  That is also how personal opinions on prudential issues from the pulpit or in a diocesan newspaper serve to be divisive in the Church. 

In the Courier story posted on March 4 (updated March 5) it states regarding the Mass to be held during the lobbying in Albany: “Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is the scheduled celebrant and homilist. He will be joined by the state’s bishops.”  

HELLO–Cardinal Dolan is in Rome!  FYI–the Pope resigned and there is a Conclave of Cardinals meeting there!  Does anyone look up from their list of prudential judgments to see what is really going on in the world?  I hope so. 

 

What about the “Pastoral Minister” title?

February 25th, 2012, Promulgated by Diane Harris

If you haven’t yet caught up with   http://spiritualpilgrim.dor.org/ you may not have seen the use of the title “Pastoral Minister”  there.  At least two women are given that title on the site.  One is Kathy Lipfert from Auburn, and the other is Cris Wensel who is an employee of both St. Louis in Pittsford and Our Lady of the Lakes in Penn Yan, and has been since 2008.  (Figure out the mileage on that one!)  Wensel is one who pushed so hard for the wreck-ovation at St. Januarius, and who got low ratings in a parish-wide survey, but  is still hanging on.  (See the Zeal posts II, III, XV, XX, and XXI.) 

Now is she the spokeswoman for Our Lady of the Lakes in evangelization too?  The person who calls the Holy Spirit “she?”  Interesting!  But Fr. Ring defended her gender mis-use; not a surprise in DoR, is it?  Well on the video she identifies herself as a “pastoral associate in the Diocese of Rochester.” 

So, where does the term “Pastoral Minister”  come from? Where does it fit with Pastoral Associate, Pastoral Administrator and Pastor?  Lipfert’s title is enshrined in the Diocesan Directory; Wensel’s is not.  But before the titles disappear from the website, here is the evidence:

If you play the Wensel video, you will hear her identify herself as pastoral associate, but how can we help but wonder what is around the corner?  Why is DoR using these titles now?   Not surprisingly, the difficult time Wensel has had in OLOL is at least partly reflected in her choice of words that the Catholic Church is “grounded in community” and it can be a “little rough, a little frustrating, a little difficult”.  Oh, my — what evangelization is THAT!  If I weren’t Catholic, would I want to run right out and convert?  Not likely.  Her message is to “try out one of our parishes.”  And although she is listed for Yates County, she doesn’t mention OLOL churches.  Check it out at:  http://spiritualpilgrim.dor.org/tasks/sites/sa/assets/File/Cris%20Wensel%20video.mov

 Late Emendation:

When I first posted, I’d hoped for some input and reaction to the spritual pilgrim program, and was wondering if this is a good way to go about evangelization?  However, in the first 10 responses there has been much banter on the comment I’d made about Cris Wensel’s calling the Holy Spirit “she,” and it felt to me like “deja vu all over again” as Yogi Berra would say.  Back in Our Lady of the Lakes this was precisely the question I had called Cris on, and for which Fr. Ring defended her.  He even used some writing by Scott Hahn to argue that Bishop Bruskewitz endorsed Cris’s language.  As the Holy Spirit often and so fortuitously arranges, I actually had the opportunity to speak with Bishop Bruskewitz on the national EWTN call-in show, and here is his reply, soundly defeating the Wensel-Ring arguments, and also some of those arguments posted in the comments below.

Click on this link to hear the commentary with Bishop Bruskewitz:

Diane with Bishop Fabian

Does “sexual orientation” have a place in your parish’s mission statement?

December 28th, 2011, Promulgated by Ben Anderson

Does “sexual orientation” have a place in your parish’s mission statement? Fr. Joseph Marcoux of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Ithaca seems to think so:

We are so pleased that you chose to celebrate with us this weekend. We warmly invite you to active participation in our liturgical celebration. Please feel free to approach one of our Ministers of Hospitality if you are in need of any assistance. No matter what your present status in the Catholic Church, your current family or marital situation, your past or present religious affiliation; no matter what your personal history, age, background, sexual orientation, gender, race or color; no matter what your self-image or self-esteem: YOU are invited, welcomed, accepted, loved and respected at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Ithaca, New York.

Another curiosity I’ve had is, “why do parish’s have mission statements?” Aren’t we all Catholic? As Bishop Hubbard recently lamented:

There is also a growing congregationalism, wherein parishioners fail to appreciate the relationship of their parish to the diocese and to the Church universal.

A few years back, before I left my geographic parish because the priest removed himself from full communion with the Catholic Church by endorsing the ordination of women, I remember he made a big deal out of a huge weekend event in which the parish would define its mission statement. I didn’t have time to devote a whole Saturday (and I believe Friday) to such a silly ordeal, but if I would have had my say it would have gone something like this:

O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy catholic Church teaches, because in revealing them you can neither deceive nor be deceived.

And if you think Fr. Marcoux is happy to warp the truth only in his own parish in order to tailor to the LGBT community in, you’d be mistaken. See his bulletin article here on the diocesan wide push.  In fact, in hind sight, I would bet that my previously mentioned priest was pushing behind the scenes to get such wording into my previous parish’s mission statement.

And here is the bulletin article articulating the change to the mission statement:

Fr. Marcoux was also one of the three co-authors of the Rochester priest protest against the Church’s language toward homosexuals and also an alleged butt-baptizer.

DISCLAIMER: There are ways to interpret Fr. Marcoux’s words to be inline with Catholic teaching. Certainly we should be welcoming to all people and meet them where they are and gently invite them on a path towards full communion with the Church.  Those who struggle with SSA who are in full communion should be treated just like anyone else.  However, in our confused society and pro-gay agenda diocese, when one speaks of inviting homosexuals to full/active participation in the liturgy without clearly stating that practicing homosexuals should refrain from receiving communion, it’s highly suggestive that you are actually supportive of their lifestyle and their agenda.

 

Gay Affirming Catholic Churches in Rochester, NY

December 7th, 2011, Promulgated by Ben Anderson

According to gaychurch.org:

Gay Church is a web site dedicated to ministering to the gay and lesbian Christian community (GLBT) and friends of our community. We feature one of the largest gay and lesbian affirming Christian church directories and bulletin boards in the world.

If you look at the listings for New York State, you’ll find a few Roman Catholic churches on the list in Rochester:

Church of the Assumption
Church of the Blessed Sacrament
Corpus Christi / Spiritus Christi
St. John the Evangelist (Humbolt St.)
St. Mary’s Downtown
St. Monica

If your parish is on this list and you think it’s a mistake, please contact me and/or gaychurch.org and we’ll see if we can get it off. If you’re proud that your parish is on this list, could you please explain how the term “gay and lesbian affirming” is consistent with Catholic sexual morality?

AS ALWAYS THE BIG DISCLAIMER: People who struggle with same sex attraction (or any sin for that matter) are no less Christian than anyone else based on that fact alone. Certainly we must be considerate and pastoral to people of all stripes so as not to be a stumbling block on their journey to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, in our modern society, we must be very careful to explicitly state that loving all people equally is not the same thing as condoning the homosexual lifestyle or the homosexual agenda.

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

September 10th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

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.

Unfair Pastoral Planning Results

September 5th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

In spite of all the lip service given to fairness and input from parishioners, consensus and “no secret plans,” the DoR pastoral planning process has been rife with manipulation, secrecy and results that scream “unfair!”  In the issue this week of It Really Matters, the newsletter principally for parishioners of the Westside of the 700+ square mile Our Lady of the Lakes Parish (OLOL, aka “oh well, oh well” or “oh hell, oh hell”), we printed another evidence of DoR’s unfairness.  We share the following information from that issue:

More Pastoral Planning Unfairness

Over the years we’ve had many indications of the unfairness of the Diocese of Rochester’s (DoR’s) pastoral planning process.  For the moment, we won’t rehash what was done against the Catholics in closed or soon-to-be-closed parishes but, rather, we’ll look at how DoR’s pastoral planning has failed society as a whole, people of all faiths and of no faith.

If one believes that by virtue of our baptism we have an obligation to bring our faith to those without it, to answer the Holy Father’s call to a new evangelization, to be present where we are needed, and to witness to the great gift of faith we’ve been given, then it would follow that abandoning our post is dereliction of duty.  Yet, that is exactly what seems to have happened in the 12-county Diocese called “Rochester.”

We use two sources of data: 1) the www.DoR.org website has a map of the Diocese.  By using the cursor over the map, we can find how many parishes (not churches) are in each county.  2) the 2000 and 2010 census data provide information on total population by county, and its change over the last decade.  The census does not have a breakdown of people by faith, but a most vital point in missionary zeal for spreading the Word of God is that it is meant for all people.  Thus, there should be reasonable proportionality of parishes to total population. 

If pastoral planning had any aspect of fairness to it, one would expect a fairly consistent ratio of total population per parish, with perhaps even a lower total population per parish in the remote areas, where distances are greater.  But just the opposite is true.  Dividing each county’s 2010 population by the #parishes in that county calculates the total population per parish.  The table lists these data by county; DoR averages 10,140 total population of people per parish.

County    #Parishes        #People       People÷Parishes

Cayuga        14               80,026                5,716

Chemung       7               88,830              12,690

Livingston      9               65,393                7,266

Monroe         65           744,344                11,451

Ontario          13           107,931                  8,302

Schuyler          2             18,343                   9,172

Seneca            5             35,251                  7,050

Steuben        14              98,990                  7,071

Tioga*           1               51,125               51,125

Tompkins        5             101,564              20,313

Wayne         13               93,772                 7,213

Yates           1                 25,348               25,348

TOTAL       149            1,510,917              10,140

*Note: DoR reports “4 churches” in Tioga, but Blessed Trinity Parish bulletin lists those churches, so we identify it as one parish.  Other than this one correction, we did not attempt to verify that what DoR publishes as a total number of parishes per county is correct.  We did not slog through the directory or other bulletins to confirm that DoR was reporting its own data correctly.  We simply used what DoR furnished, except for the obvious correction for Tioga, which was the only county for which DoR published # of churches instead of # of parishes.

Some will try to argue that it is the number of open churches, not parishes, which matters, but those in more rural areas especially know that once every activity of significance moves to the “headquarters church”, the continued vitality of the satellite churches is in great jeopardy.  Thus, we consider the number of “parishes” to be significant of the Catholic Presence and activity for the general public, usually where the pastor resides and where everything from RCIA to Youth Programs is held.

The table above shows that Tioga suffers the most, with over 51,000 people in its general population for  a single parish; Yates is next in too high population for the # of parishes, with over 25,000 for just one Yates OLOL, which parish also draws from Ontario County (where St. Jan and St. Theresa are located) and from Steuben (where St. Patrick is located), making the  ratio of population to parish even worse.   The DoR average is 10,140 total population of people for each Catholic parish in the Diocese.  If  Tioga and Yates results are left out, the average total population per parish in the remaining 10 counties is 9758 per Catholic parish, which is only 38% of the population to parish of Yates County, and 19% of the population to parish of Tioga County.  Said another way, the Tioga parish has over 5x as many people in general to be concerned for (and the Yates parish has nearly 3x as many) as the average of other parishes in the DoR.

Double Unfairness:  The double unfairness to people in rural areas  is  1) greater distances to travel PLUS 2) fewer parishes, resulting in a ratio of population to parishes far above what is served by other areas of the 12-county diocese. 

 By the way, we note that both Tioga and Yates are where Fr. Ring was engaged in pastoral planning.  Is it even possible to say with a straight face that there wasn’t a plan from Buffalo Road systematically implemented against the Catholics and their neighbors in these rural areas?

Cleansing Fire’s Worst Hits

September 4th, 2011, Promulgated by Ben Anderson

Update on 2011-09-24:  I originally posted this back in June.  I’ve been working behind the scenes to organize the site a little more and thus updated this post accordingly.  I’m bringing it back to the front page just to highlight it again.

This is a list of some of the more egregious stories in the Diocese of Rochester. This initially started in an email conversation I had with someone who was in denial of the fact that our diocese is overrun by a radically progressive agenda. If you’re looking for a link to send to someone to bring them up to speed on the zaniness of our Diocese, this is it.  We also have an archives page which includes links to all posts, but it’s somewhat daunting.  Most of our posts are also “tagged” (see the topics in the right column).  This post is meant to be a living document. I intend this post to be modified by other staff writers and by readers as you provide your own links (they don’t have to be links to Cleansing Fire). Feel free to be chatty on this particular post. If something said in the comments proves valuable to a future reader, I’ll bring it up into the main post.

National Coverage of CleansingFire and the Diocese of Rochester

Gay Agenda promoted by the DOR:

Women Priests

Forward in Hope (the recent book of Bishop Clark):

Financial Funny-Business

Misc

  • Nora Bradbury, Director of Faith Formation – “on- the ordination of women to the priesthood, birth control… I’m NOT leaving and I’m NOT going to be quiet”
  • An unbelievable and extremely sad case study of the demolition of a parish.  Diane Harris reports in her series Zeal for Thy House will Consume Me
  • 30 Years of Bishop Clark
  • Bernard Grizard, Diocesan Director – Parish Support Ministries
    “the sacred narratives of all 3 of these religions [Judaism, Islam, and Christianity] feature many of the same figures, history, and places, although they often present them with slightly different roles, perspectives, and meanings.”

 

Another Mystery on the Front Lawn

August 6th, 2011, Promulgated by Hopefull

It’s a Mystery, but here are six clues.  We’re trying to figure out “What happened?”  What do you think?

Clue #1:  Check out the list of dissenters from the teaching of the Catholic Church, and notice a Sister Joan Chittister on http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/disspeop.htm marked as a dissenting speaker for her support of the ordination of women, feminist theology, Call to Action, and as a frequent contributor to the National Catholic Reporter dissident periodical.  On the dissidents’  list she keeps company with Frs. Charles Curran and Richard McBrien, retired Bishop Weakland, Cardinal Mahoney, and VP Biden…..among many others.

Clue #2:  LifeSite News Interview (LSN) with the Dissident nun Sister Joan Chittister (JC)  contains such gems as the following exchange on Feb. 15, 2010 when she was in Canada to deliver a Lenten mission for Canada’s National Catholic Broadcasting Council (NCBC):

  • LSN: Okay. So you don’t have a stand on contraception?
  • JC: Well, I’m a nun. And I, I mean, I believe that – in the first place, the Church is not opposed to birth control. The Church is great on arithmetic, they just have a problem with chemistry…..
  • LSN: Okay. Where do you stand on something like the woman’s right to choose?
  • JC: I believe that that’s – let’s put it this way. I’m opposed to abortion. I have no problem with that whatsoever.  I would never see abortion as a birth control method of choice. But having said that, I would never condemn a woman who finds herself in the position where she believes that, or her doctor believes that, abortion is the only answer for her at that moment. My problem lies in the fact that we make it an absolute.
  • LSN: Would …you think that the fact that you are questioning Church teaching on these things, would that present a problem for you presenting on a Catholic program?
  • JC: Well, you see, I’m more concerned about your questions than I am about my presentation. Because you’re obviously not – you aren’t even interested in the program.  What you’re trying to do is to create some situation where a program on spiritual development in the 21st century is questionable.  And I’m not happy about that at this moment. I consider it bad journalism in the first place, because you didn’t call about the program. So I don’t know how to answer you….. I just think it’s irresponsible.  If I said to you, now you’re a journalist … The reason I want to know that is you’re a journalist, and can you really present those questions objectively if you’re writing a story?  More at:  http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archive/ldn/2010/feb/100215

Clue #3:  LifeSiteNews carried the story of the Detroit Archbishop issuing a warning against a dissident conference in Detroit.  … On June 7, 2011 Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit sent out a second warning to clergy and Catholics in his flock against participating in an upcoming conference in his diocese, organized by a group of dissident Catholics, including groups that promote the normalization of homosexuality, abortion, and other liberal issues.

“All of the invited keynote speakers have manifested dissent from Catholic teachings or support for dissenters,” says a question/answer statement from the diocese posted on its website.  “Keynote speakers include: Hans Kung, a dissenting theologian priest who had his authority to teach rescinded by the Church; Dr. Jeanette Rodriguez, a board member of the group Catholics for Choice which rejects Church teaching on the immorality of abortion; Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who as Former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland publicly opposed Church teaching on abortion and chastised American bishops for pushing to make abortion illegal; and Sr. Joan Chittister, an open advocate of women’s ordination…”  More can be found at http://catholicwideweb.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/lifesitenews-detroit-archbishop-issues-warning-against-dissident-conference-this-weekend/

Clue #4:     Stella Maris Retreat and Renewal Center  sponsored a retreat  July 3-9, 2011 called: “In Search of Belief” Retreat Presented by Sister Carolyn Gorny-Kopkowski, OSB based on the Book by Sister Joan Chittester [sic], OSB….  Presenter, Sister Carolyn Gorny-Kopkowski, OSB, is the director of spirituality program for the Erie Benedictines.  For $435 you could have participated. The Stella Maris literature states that Sr. Carolyn has facilitated many retreats and days of reflection since 1983, and has served on the leadership team of the Erie Unit of Church Women United, an ecumenical international organization for 12 years. See more information at: http://www.stellamarisretreat.org/july_retreats.html

Clue #5:  Recent announcements in some DoR parish bulletins:   MERCY PRAYER CENTER RETREAT EVENT:  The Center at 65 Highland Avenue in Rochester will be offering a Guided Retreat titled “In Her Own Words” on Monday, August 15th, at 7 p.m. through Saturday, August 20th after Brunch. The Facilitator will be Sr. Carolyn Gorny-Kopkowski, OSB, and the retreat will be based on the book of Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, titled “In Her Own Words.”   Come to learn how ordinary life can become an extraordinary adventure!  ….The resident fee is $375/commuter fee $300.  See more online at www.mercyprayercenter.org.

Clue #6:  This above program has disappeared from the MercyPrayer Center offerings.  Was it cancelled?  Oversubscribed?  Why?  Is there more here than meets the eye?  Or just another run-of the mill dissenter on stage in the Diocese of Rochester?  But we rest assured that like an unwanted dandelion in the front lawn each spring, that Sr. Chittister will pop up again soon, and hopefully get blown off.

John Allen Jr. speaks to Rochester’s Ministerium

May 27th, 2011, Promulgated by Ben Anderson

As previously reported by Mike, the nearly ubiquitous John L. Allen, Jr. sadly still writing for the ultra-liberal dissenting National Catholic Reporter (as Fr Z says) was here in Rochester this week addressing the Ministerium.   I’ve cut out some interesting parts of the article on which I have no comment, so be sure to read Mike Latona’s full article at catholiccourier.com.

Disclaimer:  Mr. Allen is obviously MUCH more informed about global Catholicism than I and MUCH more educated about Catholicism in general.   So please don’t mistake my comments to be a correction to his overall message.  My comments are meant to offer perspective for those of us living within the Diocese of Rochester.

HENRIETTA — John L. Allen Jr. is out to clear up some widely held, yet mistaken beliefs among United States Catholics.

He shies away from the term “polarization” because that inspires the terms “left” and “right,” when in fact divisions in today’s church are more complex.

Well, sure.  However there is a great chasm between the hermeneutic of rupture and the hermeneutic of continuity.  Much of the “more complex” issues are downstream from that major distinction.  Though not absolute, I think we could start with a pretty big distinction between those who wish to change the Church and those who submit fully to her teachings.  This integral issue actually seems quite simple to me.

And, he said a bishop alone cannot be expected to shape any significant trends.

But he certainly can stifle trends.  He has a significant voice and significant power.  And beyond that, he controls the education (SBSTM) and appointment of many of our diocesan leaders, who in turn shape the minds of parishioners. Other trends outside his control are Catholic Radio, EWTN, the Pope’s voice, and this blog.  All of these “other” influences are quite new and I believe bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  And indeed there are forces outside the Church which shape trends inside the Church as well.

These were among the viewpoints Allen shared as part of his keynote address, “The Future Church,” at the seventh-annual Gathering of the Ministerium on May 12 at the DoubleTree Hotel. Approximately 400 pastoral ministers from across the Diocese of Rochester attended. [wow!]


Allen said U.S. Catholics have not only become more ethnically diverse, but also are splintered into many causes. Whereas he said polarized Catholics are commonly depicted as being either liberal or conservative, he prefers the term “tribalization” over “polarization.” Examples of so-called tribes are pro-life groups, peace-and-justice advocates, liturgical traditionalists and feminists.
“Each of these tribes tends to move in their own little world. They have profoundly different senses of what is happening in the world,” Allen said.

Let’s break down the groups he mentioned…

Pro-Life
Being pro-life is non-negotiable.  If you are not pro-life, then you are rejecting a core teaching of the Church and endangering your soul.  Obviously, some people are more involved in the cause than others.  Not everyone spends their weekends praying outside of abortion clinics and that’s OK.  We all have different callings.  I’ve never heard a pro-lifer coerce someone into joining them with a line like, “well, you’re ignoring the Gospel message if you don’t come to our rally.”  However, we should all be supportive of the cause in whatever way we feel called.  We are not allowed to be unsupportive.

Peace and Justice Advocates
Let’s be honest – this “cause” is often extremely pushy of the social welfare state.  Many of these people pretend that their causes are non-negotiable, when in fact they are.   If you want to spend your free time passing out petitions to increase taxes and further enable the culture of the poor – that’s cool with me.  I won’t agree and I won’t participate, but I certainly won’t let it cause divisions between me and you as Christian brothers and sisters.  I have yet to meet anyone from the pro-life or liturgical traditionalist camp who would say otherwise.  I might, however, get upset when “peace-and-justice” advocates present their negotiable positions as if they are official teachings of the Church.  Just look at what these “expert” theologians had to say about House Speaker Boehner.   Fortunately, we are finally starting to see the hierarchy in the US take note of the legitimacy of various positions.

Allow me to also give the disclaimer that I don’t like the term “peace-and-justice” advocates.  Certainly we are all called to be such and I don’t want to mislead others into thinking that peace and justice aren’t important.  However, given the particular place and time we live in, the most grave offense to peace and justice is the murder of innocent children.   Let’s break down how many people are killed each year in the US due to a lack of peace or justice.  How many criminals have been executed in the US in the last 50 years?  How many poor people have died of starvation?  How many have been killed in the womb?  The answer to the first 2 questions is a handful.  The answer to the last is millions.  According to the principle of proportionality, where would our time be better spent?

Liturgical Traditionalists
As a convert I always find it funny when Catholics are labeled as traditionalists.  hmmm – Catholicism is all about tradition, n’est-ce pas?  All Catholics are in a sense liturgical traditionalists.  That doesn’t mean we are required to do everything exactly as it was done in 1950.  But it does mean that we should have great respect for our Catholic patrimony.  That said, I think we all know what he’s getting at.  I find this labeling to be somewhat of a straw man and perhaps even pejorative.  I would bet that for many who attended this conference, Cleansing Fire would fit the bill for this label.  Again, I don’t think this matter is quite as complex as some would make it out to be.  There are rubrics for the mass.  They should be followed.  If they are not, then people have a legitimate right to complain.  Also, people have a legitimate right to have differing opinions on things that are licit.  Some people will argue against the priest facing the people.  There’s nothing wrong with voicing that opinion as long as you acknowledge that according to the rubrics we have today, it is licit and valid for a priest to do so.  The number of people who go overboard in their “liturgical traditionalism”  is much smaller than the progressives try to make it out.  They attempt to label anyone who thinks liturgical rubrics ought to be followed as rad-trads.

Feminists
Authentic feminism is a good thing, but the term is almost always used to represent ideas that are not in accord with Church teaching.  So, we’re back to the simple division of those who accept the teachings of the Church and those who don’t.  If you want to learn more about feminism, I suggest searching Catholic Answers’ radio archive.

He observed that not surprisingly, tribalization has hindered U.S. Catholics’ ability to come together as church.

I’m not sure I buy this.  I have yet to meet two people from different “tribes” who both accept the teachings of the Church and yet are unable to “come together as church”.  The inability to come together as church stems from the rejection of Church teaching.  In such a case, it is the group denying Church teaching who has hindered the relationship – not the other way around.

Allen said he supports the Common Ground Initiative, begun in 1996 to promote respectful dialogue among Catholics despite differing perspectives — “but more than 15 years after it was launched, we’re more divided than we were.”

Never heard of CGI, but I haven’t been Catholic for all that long.  Common ground is a good thing – I just hope our common ground is a firm belief in the teachings of the Church.

Allen reasoned that perhaps not enough Catholics have really cared to see eye-to-eye: “We all know 12-step programs don’t work for people who don’t want the help.” However, he emphasized that Catholics must strive to unite in order to withstand the growing influence of secularism and other religious denominations. One way to achieve this, he suggested, is not to view differing ideological camps in an either-or way but by “instead understanding the legitimate concerns of their positions” without passing quick judgment.

Let’s take Cleansing Fire as an example.  I think many progressives would try to say that we are quick to pass judgment and intolerant of different ideological camps.  However, that claim is totally without merit.  We are quite the mixed bag here.  We have people from all over the spectrum (ie the legitimate Catholic spectrum – limited to staying w/in the bounds of Church teaching).  One thing we all seem to unite on is standing firm with Holy Mother Church.

He added that Catholics need to focus on strengthening ties at the grassroots level, stating that “creative change in the church rarely originates with the bishop.”

indeed – sometimes creative change goes viral 🙂

This remark was made in response to the observation made during a question-and-answer session that Bishop Matthew H. Clark is due to retire in 2012. The keynoter said anyone expecting immediate and significant upheaval under Bishop Clark’s successor will likely discover otherwise.

How I would have loved to hear that question.  I find Allen’s response difficult to believe.  I suppose it depends on what you mean by upheaval.  If you mean that the DOR will immediately begin buying up all the churches she sold off, that mass attendance will sky-rocket, and that all of the diocese’s problems will go away, then obviously I’d agree with him.  However, if you mean that many people at SBSTM (and elsewhere w/in the diocese) will be dismissed from their positions, women “pastors” will be forced to stop playing priest, and orthodox doctrines will be allowed to be taught from the pulpit w/out repercussions, then I think this is more than a legitimate possibility.  There have been several examples of quick change after progressive bishops were replaced by much more solid leaders.  DrK posted a little while back about what Bishop Robert Finn accomplished in just his first week as bishop of Kansas City-St. Josph.  Rich Leonardi has also posted a few times concerning the many positive changes taking place within the Archdiocese of Cincinnati since the new bishop arrived.

Thus concludes my analysis of Latona’s article on Allen’s visit to Rochester.

Here’s a few more links of interest in regards to Allen:

A Recent Speech by Allen at Kansas University
(perhaps quite similar to the speech he gave to the Ministerium)

LifeSiteNews: John Allen’s strategy for legitimizing Catholic dissent (provides some insight into the Common Ground Initiative):

The Allen Strategy hearkens back to the 1990s, when Chicago’s Cardinal Bernardin sought to co-opt orthodox Catholics with the “common ground” and “seamless garment” initiatives. His apparent intent was to induce the faithful to compromise with liberal dissenters in order to promote “unity” in the Church. Inevitably he failed, although the Common Ground Project maintains a post-mortem presence at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union.

“Top Nine Reasons why Baseball is to Sports what Catholicism is to Religion.” (w/ Fr. Z’s commentary)

And speaking of tribalism, I think this joke is fitting (hat tip gadel)

A Franciscan and Jesuit were debating which order was the greatest. So, they decided to ask for a sign from God. This is what they received falling down from heaven:

My sons,

Please stop bickering about such trivial matters,

GOD, O.P.

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

May 13th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Reminder: blue text is update to the “Case Study: St. Mary Rushville”, appended to the letter to Mr. Cuomo.  See $hepherds $hearing $heep — Part 2 for the letter to Mr. Cuomo, and Parts 3&4 for the beginning of this “Case Study,” of St. Mary in Rushville, NY.

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

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

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

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

May 10th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to be continued …..

$hepherds $hearing $heep – Part 3 “The Case of St. Mary”

May 7th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

This is Part 3 of $hepherds $hearing $heep, and the beginning of the second portion of the Andrew Cuomo letter, as promised, “The St. Mary Rushville Case Study”.  While Part 2 brought forth the point that the NYS Religious Corporation Law is not being uniformly applied or enforced, and that strengthening is needed, that letter  to Mr. Cuomo was written  on mostly a theoretical or legalistic basis.  Quite frankly, since it was addressed to Mr. Cuomo, there were references which had particular application to his knowledge and work (e.g. the Sarbanes Oxley regulation of corporations, and the price fix in milk that he had previously combatted) and there was an implicit understanding which he would have had on the difference between enforcement and “taking over an institution.”   So I apologize to anyone who might, in good faith, have been confused by reading the letter to Mr. Cuomo, which obviously  had a different original audience.  However, in the interest of not being accused of rephrasing or of avoiding confrontation, I had decided it was best simply to put it out there exactly as it went to Mr. Cuomo (and Mr. Palladino.)

Again, I was  faced with the same dilemma; whether to rewrite the Case Study (Part 3) which I sent to the candidates, or simply to clarify any confusions or provide defense as needed after the fact.  Again, I choose to present it exactly as it went to the candidates (typos and addresses excepted) plus a few  updates added as needed (in blue), where otherwise an erroneous impression would be created caused by the lapse of time.  

Also, at first, it seemed better to post the Case all at one time, while the prior post was still fresh in the previous readers’ minds.  I did that, and even apologized because it was so long for a blog post; but I had not seen a way to conveniently break it into “two pieces” without destroying the momentum.  However, after this newbie blogger got some advice, I decided to redo and spread the story out through what will eventually be throufgh Part 8.  Here we begin Part 3 of  “$hepherds…” with the history of St. Mary and the comments sent to Mr. Cuomo on Partners in Faith.  (If you did read the prior (very extensive) posting of Part 3, it will be all the same information, but spread over more parts.  So you need not re-read it just because it is now in multiple parts.)

Actual Case for Illustration

St. Mary in Rushville, NY

(With information limited where possible to matters related to NYS Law)

 

Background:  The Catholic Church in Rushville, NY began when the first Mass was celebrated on May 3, 1853.  St. Mary’s was incorporated as a parish on March 29, 1869.  Approximately 130 years later it joined with five other parishes under a Diocese of Rochester Directive to form a non-incorporated entity known as Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community (OLOL).  Ten years later, in September 2009, the pastor stopped scheduling Masses at St. Mary, bypassing the required decree of the Bishop, so it is effectively closed, but the Treasury continues to be drained.  The other entities in OLOL are St. Michael in Penn Yan, St. Januarius in Naples, St. Andrew in Dundee (now closed), St. Patrick in Prattsburgh, and St. Theresa in Stanley, NY.  St. Theresa, being the closest to St. Mary evolved over time as a “sister” parish, and a rectory was build in Stanley which up until about 10 years ago housed the priest who served Rushville and Stanley.  Neither the Rushville nor the Stanley rectory now has resident priests but they are served by priests from Penn Yan (from where a lone priest originally travelled by horseback to say Mass.).  The territories of the six OLOL parishes comprise over 700 square miles, with two full time priests and two retirees to assist, plus 4 ordained deacons.  The two full time priests live in Penn Yan.  The current pastor is Rev. Robert Ring, who coincidentally came to OLOL on September 11, 2001.  There was quite a bit of tension around his appointment especially at St. Januarius parish, where many parishioners believed and continue to believe he was responsible for the mishandling of a sexual abuse case against a Fr. Emo of St. Januarius, accused of molesting a vulnerable adult in the 1990’s.  The pastor has denied it was mishandled, and also has denied that he was responsible for the reassignment of Fr. Emo elsewhere, or to anywhere he continued to molest.  (The pastor was for many years the person in the Diocese of Rochester designated to receive the complaints of sexual abuse.)  In August 2003 there was a forum held at St. Januarius with parishioners demanding the removal of the pastor.  The diocese did not do so.  He was reappointed to a second 6 year term as pastor in 2007. 

While there are many complaints which could be detailed in too many pages, the following are most relevant to Trustee issues, financial issues, and general management of a not-for-profit corporation in NYS, as related to NYS Religious Corporation Law.  However, they are just a sampling.

A Diocesan Capital Campaign was neither spent on promised projects nor funds returned to donors:  In May 2003, the Diocese of Rochester launched a capital campaign drive, prior to the “pastoral planning” which would soon close parishes, and with the promise to return half of everything collected to the parish which raised the funds.  Those monies were raised on the promise that they would be used for identified projects.  Of the $43,723 collected for St. Mary, $21,811.50 was returned to the parish, and a pre-announced 25% was set aside for staffing.  Thus, the net amount remitted to St. Mary for the projects regarding which funds were raised was $16,358.62.  None of the projects promised were done.  One roofing/foyer problem was later charged at a cost of $5500, awarded against church policy which requires a second quote.  That specific project (except for possibly some minor painting) was not an approved project.  Nevertheless, it seems to have been deducted from the total residual remaining.  The balance in this capital account is now believed to be approximately $10,858, if the full $5500 were to be allowed.  Since St. Mary is to be closed, projects will remain undone and there is no visible action to return the restricted funds to the donors. 

….to be continued

$hepherds $hearing $heep – Part 2 “Letter to Cuomo”

May 6th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

After witnessing financial abuses for years, last summer I was inspired, after reading a newspaper article about then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s coming to Canandaigua, to present a letter to him.  It is not that I am a political supporter which, given his position on abortion and gay “marriage,” I never could be.  But, in all righteousness, the abuse of the NYS Religious Corporation Law should be called to his attention for just action.  As then AG, and now as governor, he is uniquely positioned to do something about financial travesty, especially in not-for-profits, which enjoy many benefits at taxpayer expense.  At least the law should be followed, and I also propose strengthening those laws.  

In this blog post  is the front page of  the newsletter It Really Matters, explaining to recipients what was given to Mr. Cuomo and why.  Next, in this post, is the text of the letter hand delivered to candidate Andrew Cuomo last August.  Certain red highlights are intended to help readers skim the content, but was black in the original letter.  In a future post will be the detail that was in the attachment regarding financial abuses at just one small country church, St. Mary Rushville, under the pastorate of Fr. Robert Ring. 

I hope to introduce some discussion about what more, as a group, Catholics might do in the interest of fairness to all who pay for the tax benefits enjoyed by churches, and especially what might better protect the sheep.  

I am NOT advocating losing tax-exempt status, but rather limiting any mis-use of the status at the cost to all.  I am NOT advocating government interference in the internal matters of the Church, but rather enforcing the laws already on the books and plugging the loopholes.

Hand delivered

August 18, 2010

Re: NYS Religious Corporation Law Reform, Strengthening and Enforcement

Mr. Andrew Cuomo [originally sent to campaign headquarters address, he may now be addressed at:  The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York State, NYS Capitol Building, Albany, NY 12224.]

I am very glad to have had the opportunity today to attend your public meeting in Canandaigua, and to deliver personally to you an area of suggestion for improvement in New York State, as I believe you are sincere in seeking ideas which would make our state a better place to live.  I would like to address an issue with broad applicability across the state; i.e. the issue of more financial accountability and stronger enforcement under the NYS Religious Corporation Law. 

At the onset, I would like to say that I am very sensitive to issues of separation of Church and State yet, as recent cases of pedophilic abuse have shown, there are times when government is required to intervene to relieve abuse, and to apply justice.  The need to do so, and the manner of acting, fits both rules of intervention set by the US Supreme Court (the Hierarchical/Congregational Rules or the Neutral Rule).  It is in that spirit of justice, rather than interference, in which I bring seven points to your attention. 

Your visit brings you to the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, which has been a place of significant injury spiritually and financially to many people of this Diocese.  However, lest you think this is only a local issue, egregious as it is, I can assure you that the same factors, to varying degrees, are present statewide.  That is why action in this area would have much wider impact than just in our local church.  Nevertheless, I will speak to just one local church situation to illustrate just one tiny example of the need for reform.

Application:  To clarify, I am sure that you are aware across the state and even across the country, that Catholic Churches are being closed and their patrimony (cash, value of properties, furnishings and other assets) are being distributed in a secretive manner.  Because of the hierarchical nature of the Catholic Church, such unpopular decisions, moving of funds, and questionable financial practices are easier to effect than, say, through a congregational model where a variety of parishioners or elders can provide oversight.  I’m sure that I don’t need to point out to you the potential state impact on matters ranging from tax deductibility of donations, property taxation and use taxes, disrespectful ignoring of the real intentions of donors to charitable trusts which are regulated by the State, and how those charitable trusts are administered.  For example, it is not unusual to see donations left to a church that is in the process of being closed.  Surely that was not the intention of most donors, yet there seem to be no guidelines to handle appropriately.  Moreover, there is serious opportunity for fraud in a situation which so lacks transparency.

Areas Sought for Reform I suggest seven areas to you which could benefit from a reform and strengthening of enforcement of the NYS Religious Corporation Law, especially as it pertains to the Catholic Church.  Yet, I would like to make clear, I am a faithful Catholic who staunchly resists any involvement of government in the area of religion, unless absolutely necessary for the protection of the innocent and to avoid their victimization.  Nevertheless, having now had first-hand experience of many abuses since 2003, in just a small local configuration of parishes, I fully realize that unless the state steps in, further abuse will be perpetrated. 

For each of the seven points, I offer examples in a small local parish in the attached “Case Study,” but I do so to illustrate to you how pervasive these abuses are when even very small parishes are so affected.  Please be assured that these small examples are just a tiny tip of an iceberg that begs for intervention.  Also, while some of the suggestions deal with laws already “on the books,” I do recognize that others may require legislative or regulatory action.  Therefore, I address these issues to you not only as State Attorney General but, more explicitly, as candidate for governor of New York State.  These issues are quite broad, involving almost all communities across the state, and people from all walks of life, in various faiths (especially hierarchical faiths), and of various degrees of affluence, ethnicity, age, etc.  Moreover, I believe if you explore this issue that you will find many Catholics in particular at a loss for how to protect themselves yet still be faithful to their Church.  In addition there would be application to other institutions incorporated under Religious Corporation Law, e.g. schools and hospitals, not further mentioned below.  

Seven Recommendations:

 1.      Taxation of “closed” church propertiesWhen parishes and schools which are tax-exempt are closed (i.e. effectively non-functioning for the purposes for which they are intended), property and other use taxes are lost to the public.  Massachusetts has recently had success in charging the Catholic Church property taxes on such properties, charged back to the time of closure, with some figures per property in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And that is just in Boston so far.  Income from rentals of such property should also be examined, as renting for profit is not part of the charter of most parishes.  Such rentals effectively keep the rented properties off the tax-rolls.

 2.      Public Disclosure of Audit Detail of each incorporated parish entity:  While some parishes provide annual financial detail, some do not.  There is no way for a person in the pew to verify if the data are right or wrong.  Even when an audit is requested (as I personally did in the case cited), the results are not available to the parishioners.  Therefore, there is no way to know if good financial practices are being followed or not, or if the financial report is true or not.  Moreover, errors like uncredited donations are caught one parishioner at a time, and others are not alerted to bad bookkeeping until they personally notice it in their own records.  One area for focus is expenses which are not “arms length” or free market, but charged back to parish corporations at egregiously inflated rates.  Examples would include insurance levies by the diocese, for example, or unfair sharing of expenses between incorporated parishes.  The discipline of releasing audit detail would bring more care to the way donations are accounted and errors corrected, and give more relevant information to donors.

3.      Restrictions on transfers between separate religious corporations, and required public reporting of such transfers:  It is believed that most parishes are individually incorporated and that closure of those parishes is either through “suppression” and amalgamation into a new parish with other parishes, pooling funds and liability risk, or (less often) by actually dissolving the corporation.  Some parishes may “stay on the books” for years, while no longer functioning as a parish.  Solvent parishes with more financial resources (all tax exempt donations) are dissolved and the funds “freed up” for other, undisclosed purposes.  A more financially solvent parish seems to be at more risk for having its treasury plundered than a parish which has less, yet is still solvent.  Moreover, there is no method by which a “clean” balance sheet parish can avoid being amalgamated with one having undisclosed liabilities or other risk.  In the Case cited, there is a “bleeding” of the treasury of a more solvent church prior to closing, preventing funds flow as the Catholic Church would require for a “personal parish.”

4. Mandatory reporting of the disbursements from sale of church properties and dissolution of parish assets:  Generations of donors have built up reserves, doubtless intended to be used in the parishes to which they were contributed.  However, by amalgamating parishes, liquidated assets of the closed churches are moved where they were not intended to go, and there is no readily available accounting for the transfer of those assets.  Moreover, it is feared that churches are being liquidated in order to pay off pedophilia and/or other lawsuits, claims or reparations, again kept secret from the original donors and from parishioners. 

It would seem, since original donors likely had no intent that their donations be used for covering the sins of the hierarchy or for “paying someone off,” that there should be restrictions under the NYS Religious Corporation Law for using funds for such purposes.  Consideration should be given for methods by which donations might be returned to estates when a bequest is to a church being liquidated.  Donors in good faith should not have to be savvy enough to restrict every check they write, noting for what it cannot be used.

5. Disclosure of Personal Benefits Increases:  If or when there are substantial increases to staff employees (including bishops and priests) in salaries, retirement funds, health care coverage and other benefits, including paying off lawsuits incurred by such employees’ behavior, since there isn’t an arms length or open deliberation about such uses possible in parishes, consideration should be given to full disclosure and to the recipient of such benefit having taxable income.  Moreover, it seems questionable that the use of donated funds of an incorporated parish, not a party to a lawsuit, should be used to pay off such suits.  The Case Study describes a levy against a parish, neither plaintiff nor defendant, to cover alleged expenses of a defamation lawsuit against a pastor.  All “enrichment” of individuals (hierarchy and staff) should be routinely disclosed in financial reports, so that parishioners can make informed decisions on future contributions.

 6. Criminal / Civil Prosecution of Trustees who betray the best interests of the parishes for which they are Trustees, and also prevention of interlocking trusteeships where a vote for one parish is automatically a vote against another for which the same person is a Trustee.  It is believed that when a priest is a Trustee of multiple parishes and one is targeted for closure, that he cannot exercise his fiduciary obligations to both.  Nor can a bishop who is a Trustee of all.  The intent of Trustee structure is open to significant abuse and is meaningless when three of the five Trustees are diocesan employees and lay Trustees are replaced when they disagree on matters of finance and property (not doctrine.)  Moreover, Trustees who contribute to one parish to the detriment of the one for which they are Trustee, or otherwise do not execute their fiduciary obligations, should be liable for such damage and prosecuted.  Several examples of abuse of Trusteeship and fiduciary duty are cited in the Case Study.

7. There should be a 10-year historic restatement regarding all the matters listed above, which will cover much of the period of closing of churches and questionable transfers of assets, with full disclosure of how the patrimony has been deployed, and prosecution and restitution where appropriate.  Perhaps the only way to restore confidence that the NYS Religious Corporation Law is sensitive to the rights of individuals is to require restatement for a decade on the sources and uses of cash over that period, with specific undisclosed payments being disclosed, and all certified by outside independent auditors.  One can contemplate the many benefits of the Sarbanes Oxley overhaul (painful as it was to live through) and the time to apply it to incorporated parishes, individually and collectively, is now.

Mr. Cuomo, it is my intent in citing a particular local Case to shed further light on the abuses associated with hierarchical churches exposed by their closings in particular, to make the issues more “real” to you, and to more fully describe the potential for abuse as well as the helplessness of the laity to deal with such matters under the current usage of NYS Religious Corporation Law.  The Case is from a small parish, but replicated across the state would be significant, just like price fixing milk sales by only a few pennies a gallon.  The actual Case recounted is a faithful representation of my personal experience at St. Mary in Rushville, NY, a parish located less than 10 miles from Canandaigua.  What is most startling is that so very many issues could have occurred in just one country parish, and it well illustrates the multiplicity of opportunities for financial abuse on a much wider geographic basis.  All is recounted truthfully, and to the best of my ability.

I realize that you, as Attorney General, have taken on many situations which most people would have feared to handle.  It would be a natural and normal response of most people to fear that taking on a church situation would mobilize many of the faithful against you.  However, if you explore the issue, I believe you will find a considerable number of Catholics very unhappy about the way bishops and pastors have shut their churches, and closed down or “amalgamated” their parishes, parishes often funded by their own parents and grandparents.  They need someone with more “clout” to see their agony and how they have been misused.  You will find a great level of disenchantment also at closed schools and a hierarchy unresponsive to parishioner wishes and to their protests.  You will also find a widespread feeling of helplessness; i.e. that they are powerless to do anything about the survival of institutions which do continue to be viable, but are disbanded for undisclosed reasons. 

The often articulated “too little money; too few priests” is not always true.  The example I will give is of a small parish of 60-70 households with about $125,000 of savings when the pastoral planning process began in earnest.  While the 2010 report has not been issued yet, it is believed that the balance is about $25,000-$30,000 and that the remainder will be drained off in the next year.  Parishes with cash, I believe you will find, are more likely to be targets of closure and movement of money.  Were you to take on the needed reformation of NYS Religious Corporation Law, especially as it pertains to Catholic Churches, I believe you would find many in the pew feeling “rescued” by the effort.  And, quite frankly, you are one of the very few people who could take on confronting this matter. 

Personal Note:  Mr. Cuomo, I am not writing as simply a parishioner disappointed to lose her church.  There are many such people with the same emotions and I feel for them too.  Rather, I am writing as a retired officer of a publicly held company…  from 1967-1996) and also as a person who has served on a NYSE Company Board for 16 years … including chairing its Audit and Finance Committee.  My background (MS from Rensselaer) is science, but I am well-versed in corporate governance, finance, contracts and strategic planning and presently own a company which consults in mergers and acquisitions, [resume background was enclosed in original letter] …. I can assure you that I consider personal credibility to be of exceptional importance, and I put it on the line in writing to you about this matter. 

I do hope this matter will pique your interest and concern, and that people of faith will receive better and fairer and more just treatment as a result.  While the following may sound outrageous to you, I personally believe that the yet-to-fully-emerge financial scandal in the Catholic Church has the potential to rival the sexual abuse scandal.  

Thank you for considering this matter.

Sincerely,

Diane C. Harris

Enc. Case Study:  St. Mary Rushville, Diocese of Rochester

Note: Case Study will be the subject of Part 3 blog post.

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

April 18th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

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.”

 

What is happening with priest assignments?

April 7th, 2011, Promulgated by Hopefull

There was a flurry of activity a few weeks ago on priest assignments (and, ugh, pastoral admins) but it has been strangely quiet ever since. Does anyone know what is happening and when additional assignments might get posted?

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

April 7th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

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 I – Introduction:

March 23rd, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

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

Epic Comment Thread at SavingOurParish

March 22nd, 2011, Promulgated by Ben Anderson

There’s an epic comment thread over at the SavingOurParish blog.  It puts a light on the situation so many of us face in the DOR and the tug and pull between “should I stay or should I go?” and “is there something I can do about all this nonsense?”

It starts off with an anonymous poster deriding those who have left the parish.  Another anonymous poster followed w/ this:

If you are comfortable to sit in the pews at All Saints and support the current leadership, good for you. We are all being called to help bring about the change that is so desperately needed. Perhaps my absense will bring about a greater good than your presence or vice-versa. My teen-aged children and their faith formation is my number one priority. If we are required to drive 10 miles up the road to provide them with an experience that they will embrace, I will do it. I will drive much further if necessary. The spiritual crisis in this parish is much bigger than the possible loss of Saint Vincent’s; I am more troubled about the diminishing presence of the Catholic in our faith.

I totally sympathize with this view.  Sometimes I consider staying close to home to go to mass instead of hauling the family downtown.  Is it really worth it?  Wouldn’t it be nice to work to build a more local community.  Then I realize that when I baptized my children, I promised to raise them as Catholics, not as Moralistic Therapeutic Deists.

Susan says later on:

Regarding the request for more money, parish leadership should provide some basic info first. Let’s see last year’s financial statement. What is the plan going forward? Providence Housing did not apply for funding last month, and their next chance to apply is next February. Why hasn’t this been announced? How can we possibly consider not cutting positions, or at least reducing hours to part-time? People in surrounding parishes are amazed at the size of our staff.

Demoralize people and destroy their churches. Yep, that’s a recipe for successful fund-raising.

Another anon

If you were a parent, would you take your children to a day-care provider if you had doubts about the care they were receiving? Or to a doctor that people were constantly complaining about? Why do some people have this loyalty thing with the Church; believing we stick together and stand by, no matter what? We are a universal Church. What a beautiful gift to have wonderful options for worshipping. I WILL NOT subject my children to the current policies, politics and failings of our local parish. It is my responsibility to ensure that they receive the best faith formation I can provide and it is not here. I have too many unanswered questions, in particular with the youth leadership.

and another Anon:

As others have said, we could pack the churches and everyone tithe, and they would still shut our churches down and implement their vision.

and another:

To the parishioner who sent the accusatory e-mail, I would say that I have felt the same way that you do. There have been times when I wondered “who are these insane, unknown, un-Christ-like people who say all of these horrible things about our church leadership?” But then I started hearing troubling things from people that I know and that I respect, who are very involved in the parish activites, I saw that both sides were telling the same things. The truth. Some people are a little more charitable and more gentle but, in the end, we are all saying that we need a new leader. In fact, even when people protest about the comments on this blog, they criticize the brutality of the comments but they never state, or attempt to prove, that they are not true. What does that tell you? If the truth is damning, sometimes it can’t be sugarcoated, it just needs to be told.

This comment thread pretty much sums up what life is like in the Diocese of Rochester. If you’re like me, it also sums up your inner turmoil. If you’d have told me 5 years ago, I’d be contributing to a blog “Defending Truth and Tradition in the Lay-run Diocese of Rochester”, I’d have said you were nuts.

Disclaimer: I just picked these comments because I found them interesting. I’m certainly not advocating that everyone should leave their parishes. If your situation allows you to do so, to stay and fight is certainly a noble cause.