Cleansing Fire

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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.

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18 Responses to “Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me – Part V: Inside the House of God”

  1. avatar Bro. AJK says:

    Dear Diane,

    How many baptisms have taken place at St. Januarius and the rest of the cluster?

  2. avatar Diane Harris says:

    I wish I knew. This is not a number which is publicized or available to us. But during “RCIA” time we tend to know how many people are meeting together. Even if we knew the total baptized in OLOL or St. Jan’s, sometimes parents take the babies to the church in which they were baptized or married, or home to family so more people can come. Sometimes there is the thought, “This church might close. I want my child to be baptized in a church which is likely to stay open.” Complicated question/answer. Diane

  3. avatar Bernie says:

    This is a fascinating story. It probably is similar, I would guess, to the types of frustrating experiences that many folks have had dealing with renovations of existing churches, or of the building of new ones. You have my sympathy!

    I have to admit that the existing interior does not thrill me. I’ll leave it at that.

    The proposed design as indicated in the artist’s rendering will give you a nice Protestant church (the crucifix is the only Catholic element). Even the tabernacle could be mistaken for a coffee urn.

    What would make it better? This is a Catholic church and therefore should reflect Catholic tradition and doctrine. First, the space must suggest a sacred presence even when the congregation is not there. The most obvious change would be to place the tabernacle on the central axis –put it back in the center and frame it in such a way as to emphasize its importance. And then, veil the tabernacle! Second, the proposed altar is more table than altar (that’s because liturgists have waged war on the interpretation of the Mass as a sacrifice. Prior to Vatican II we all knew the Mass was also a meal/banquet. That’s why we went to Communion!)so a design that looks more sacred, more like an altar, is needed in the proposed design. A stone altar with solid sides should do it, perhaps carved with images of grapes, wheat and fish. Third, where is sacred figurative imagery? We could understand the absence of holy images if this were a Protestant church, but it’s a CATHOLIC church. Where are images of the holy mysteries? Where is the doctrine of the communion of saints? Fourth, sacredness is also conveyed by hierachy. The chancel is the holy of holies and should be visibly separated from the sanctuary or body of the church. Why lower the altar? Don’t we go “up” to the mountain of the Lord? Up to the Temple? Once again, liturgists are determined to destroy any sense of mystery or sacredness. They want you see what’s on the table because that’s how you experience a meal -you should be able to see what’s for dinner. Not being able to clearly see everything is a traditional way to indicate sacredness –I call it the principle of veiling.

    I could go on but I think you can see were I’m coming from. The sense of the sacred and mystery has been destroyed in the N.O. environment to the point where it is even difficult to describe modern ‘worship environments’ and ceremony as liturgical at all. The number of Catholics attending Mass has fallen off drastically. We can talk about demographics all we want but the real reason is –there’s nothing there (in church) I can’t experience at a tail gate party.

    Sorry to use your post to rant.

  4. avatar Anonymous says:

    How many installments are in this series?

  5. avatar Anonymous says:

    This unfortunately is par for the DOR and other liberal parishes. I recall reading Bishop Clark’s address to collages and theological institutes. This often pronounced speach decries the “heavy handed” methods of the Vatican and urges that matters be solved by “Open” discussion.

    But when the “pedel hits the metel”, this same croud thinks nothing of ramming their ideas down the throats of their sheep, leading to anger, betrayel, and disiluinment.

  6. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Regarding the question of how many installments are in this series, I don’t know. It is still being written. Why?

    Regarding comments on the church building, itself, I will try to say more in the future about what is behind the design. For example, the actual window colors were picked to be colors of grapes (Naples is in the heart of wine country). Not saying it is right or wrong; it just “is what it is.” The greater concerns, of course, are demotion of the Blessed Sacrament, jack-hammering all that concrete dust into the air, blocking aisles, and especially driving people away.

    Also, there is much to say on Bernie’s point about driving people away. Will publish those numbers soon too.

  7. avatar Anonymous says:

    Get to the point already.

  8. avatar Diane Harris says:

    My, you do sound like someone from OLOL who has been trying to squelch the It Really Matters newsletter for years too, but here’s the situation. Fr. Ring has 80 days left in OLOL to wreak all kinds of havoc, and one of those is the threatened demolition of St. Jan’s Sanctuary. What you are getting is a play by play with color. The St. Jan’s issue doesn’t end until June 28th, at the earliest. Anything can happen. You might want to wait until it’s all over and just read the cliff notes.

    However, there are many people who have suffered through this same kind of game-playing, arrogant machination. We stand in solidarity with them as well by telling our story. It isn’t just the bottom line that “really matters”, it is what people have suffered and how they have been demeaned on the way. But if you haven’t had the experience, I can understand how it might bore you. If you’ve ever been in solidarity with the perps, I can also see how it might annoy you.

  9. avatar CPT Tom says:

    Diane,

    This is the same type of flim-flam that is happening all over the diocese. Seems to be the M.O. of the destroyers in this diocese. I hope we can all hold off the scourge for another 400 or so days. St Michael Defend us!

  10. avatar Raymond F. Rice says:

    This problem has been an issue with the Church for centuries!! Childless aging clergy want to leave something of themselves behind after they pass. Often it is not a spirtual legacy but a physical one.

  11. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Diane, you don’t need to explain yourself to Anonymous. He/she is just being plain rude.

    What’s going on at St. Jan.’s reminds me of what I saw when St. Matthew’s in Livonia was being planned and built. I was shocked by the manipulative way the building was planned – an elaborate show of pretending to gather parisioner’s input when they were simply implementing the plan of the DOR, whole. And then the immoral way parishioners were pressured into paying for it. I will never forget it. It told me a whole lot about how Bishop Clark runs the DOR.

    That your story of Fr. Ring’s aggressive wreckovation attempts sounds so much the same is no surprise at all. These plans are fine-tuned, and are carried out with NO RESPECT for parishioners whatsoever.

    And, Raymond F. Rice, you have it exactly right when you say: “This problem has been an issue with the Church for centuries!! Childless aging clergy want to leave something of themselves behind after they pass. Often it is not a spirtual legacy but a physical one.”

    I have never heard anyone state that before but its exactly how I have always seen Bishop Clark’s building projects. That he wants to leave a narcissistic physical legacy of himself behind. Its so shallow. And also what he writes is shallow…

    The legacy obsession is not holy, its not Christlike, its not shepherd-like – its the opposite…

    Diane, the spiteful and manipulative actions of Fr. Ring and also of Fr. Dan Condon – immorally naming those who did not agree with for Father Ring, so Father Ring could have them hunted down and badgered – that gives me the creeps. Its just evil.

  12. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    Diane,
    I didn’t realize the jackhammers were so imminent. Is there anything people not directly involved can do to help?

    Bernie,
    I wouldn’t call your comment a rant. I’d call it an incredibly informed critique – one which should be taken into consideration.

  13. avatar Nerina says:

    Diane, I am riveted by this story. I think it is a fascinating commentary on the political dynamics at work in our diocese and, unfortunately, at the parish level.

    The public shaming of “Mandaters” is inexcusable.

    Anon, if you’re bored with the story, you don’t have to read it.

  14. avatar Anonymous says:

    I like the series, its very fascinating! But I guess I’m just curious, could you do a post on maybe some of the good things (if any, I suppose) Fr. Ring has done in OLOL? Diane, how grim do you think the outlook is for the parishioners at St. Louis?

  15. avatar JLo says:

    I’m not sure what the documents from Vatican II state about church architecture, but I’m recalling what Maria Montessori wrote back in 1932 in her book “The Mass Explained to Children”, so I looked it up. Regarding the stairs leading up to the altar, she said that there “are usually three in number, and are a symbol of the three theological virtues which lead us to God: faith, hope and charity. The steps really form a part of the altar itself, because the Mass begins art the foot of them.” (On page 23 of her book for those who have a copy.)
    +JMJ

  16. avatar Eliza10 says:

    I really went to bed with the creeps about how the DOR operates. You can see why people want to remain anonymous when dealing with the DOR.

    I woke up feeling very disturbed, and then I remembered what I had been dreaming. I was at Buffalo Rd. because I had been asked, with many others, to be on some kind of Diocesan planning committee. When I got there, I was filing in with others and some people were already seated and were watching us come in. A man I never saw was staring at me as I approached, and I heard him turn to a woman I never saw, next to him, and say, “THAT’S Eliza10!”

    I woke up wondering what kind of creepy goings on uncovered that, and felt I was wasting my time to be on this committee if they were researching everyone before they came rather than just take what they have to say at face value…

    I’ll be reading the next installment earlier in the day!

  17. avatar Diane Harris says:

    It is a fair question that another anonymous asks:

    “I like the series, its very fascinating! But I guess I’m just curious, could you do a post on maybe some of the good things (if any, I suppose) Fr. Ring has done in OLOL? Diane, how grim do you think the outlook is for the parishioners at St. Louis?”

    This is something I want to be fair and even-handed as best I can and to pray over before giving a more complete answer, so just know that I’m not ignoring the question. As best I can tell he says a valid Mass, although departing at times from the rubrics. He sings a lot; some people like it, some don’t.

    His style will be different from what St. Louis is used to. But a new bishop might make a big difference too, in control. Hard to predict but I am not personally optimistic. Would love to be wrong for the sake of my friends at St. Louis.

    I will also add (edit) here further as it seems appropriate. One positive is that he is an excellent gardener and the grounds of St. Michael’s in Penn Yan are much improved during his tenure. He has a vegetable garden in Stanley too. And he makes a good Indian soup. Hope that helps.

  18. avatar annon. says:

    Thankyou for for this series. I guess I never thought Clark was that interested in his mass destruction so far out of the county. I will be praying for you and others. Please keep us updated. It might be comforting for your members to read. CF.to.see the support,understanding,and prayers we offer them. I get frustrated listening to others crow we only have 400+.days to go. Lots of damage can be done in400+.days. I will keep you in my prayers.

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