Cleansing Fire

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Vatican Insider Excerpt 6-30-11

June 29th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

“The tsunami of child abuse cases has devastated the life of the American Church”

By Marco Tosatti Vatican City

“The huge wave of child abuse scandals has dramatically altered the life of the American church. Not only from a moral point of view – as is obvious and right – with an examination of conscience that has been going on since the 90s when US bishops met in Rome in front of John Paul II and, at the time, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger. But also, and above all, from an economic point of view.

The lawsuits brought forward demanding tens of billions of dollars in damages, which have enriched the victims of abuse from decades ago and the team of specialised lawyers in the field have forced several dioceses to seek judicial protection for bankruptcy. The first was a diocese of great importance, Portland, followed by others, including Spokane, Delaware and Wilmington. There is great concern in the Vatican. Not just because the United States, historically, has always made large contributions to the Holy See’s budget, a budget which receives very little revenue and so is normally in the red without the contributions of the dioceses of the various donating countries throughout the world, among which the most important are the U.S., Germany and Italy. The Holy See, however, also fears that economic problems could lead to repercussions on religious life and even on maintaining the basic living conditions for priests, especially pensioners. For this reason, the Congregation for the Clergy in agreement with other departments has prepared a specific document,  which will be released after the summer, possibly in October, that is specifically dedicated to the reorganization of American dioceses. The document is currently being examined by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, chaired by Archbishop Francis Coccopalmerio. Obviously the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is also interested in the matter. It will provide guidelines on how the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, and each individual diocese must act to rebuild its presence in their area.

A “classic” negative example of the reorganisation linked to the economic problems is that of Cleveland, where the Holy See has decided to send an apostolic visit, or rather, an investigation to look into whether the decisions taken by the Bishop Ordinary Gerard Lennon were adequate. He announced that 29 parishes will close and another 41 will be merged. The restructuring plan which will cut 52 parishes out of 224 is already in effect. Other cities in which word about closure has been heard are Camden, New Jersey, Allentown, Pennsylvania and New York City. The reasons that prompted the decision to close parishes in Cleveland have been the flow of population to outlying areas, the financial difficulties that have seen 42% of parish budgets finish in the red and the shortage of priests. Now this last point is questioned by the Vatican and the apostolic visit will serve to ascertain the facts. The Vatican has asked Lennon to stop his policy of savage cuts. In Boston, amongst many other controversies, he closed 60 parishes. So far the Vatican has not had any luck. The protests of the faithful against these cuts have been numerous and loud and have even reached the Vatican.

This uprising inspired the creation of a document which is based precisely on the nature of participation at the grass roots level that the Church in the United States has, therefore giving an important role to the laity. The philosophy is that of making a distinction between parish and the church. A diocese in difficulty does well to reduce the number of parishes, but must maintain churches and chapels where they exist, perhaps entrusting the care to families of the faithful who are willing to look after them and keep them open. Then on Sundays it is easy to send a priest to celebrate Mass. This solution would take into account various factors, the first being the singular issue of distances, which in the United States are so large. Outright closure of places of worship often oblige the private faithful of the parish to take long journeys to participate in the holy Sunday service.

A second problem that the document will take into account is the sale of and management changes at Catholic hospitals. The first recommendation is to preserve an ethical perspective in the case of a change in management. If this is not possible, then one can sell, but must anyway favour organizations and institutions that are ethically sound.

Finally – and this will not be in the document, and will probably be part of recommendations provided to the individual bishops, there is great concern about the consequences of the payment of damages for the abuses. Some dioceses, such as Boston, led by the Franciscan Cardinal O’Malley that have been particularly affected by the abuse phenomenon, are extremely generous. But they may run the risk of not being able to pay for pensions and healthcare assistance to elderly priests. The document will advise the creation of a guaranteed safety net for people such as these who are particularly vulnerable.”

QUESTION:  IS  IT TIME TO PRESS FOR A DIOCESAN-WIDE PETITION TO THE HOLY SEE TO DO AN APOSTOLIC VISITATION TO THE ROCHESTER DIOCESE AS IS BEING PLANNED FOR CLEVELAND???

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38 Responses to “Vatican Insider Excerpt 6-30-11”

  1. avatar Susan of Corning says:

    Where do I sign?

  2. avatar Bill B. says:

    Seems to me like that would be jumping the gun a bit. We get a new bishop in a year or so and by making his life difficult from the start by having this visitation would hinder him rather than help him see what he has to do. See if he is “the man” before calling in any attack dogs.

  3. On the other hand, Bill B., a visitation could show that the Holy See “has his back” to make tough decisions. Realize that Rochester’s new shepherd will be forced to start practically from scratch.

  4. avatar Anonymous says:

    Yes!!! This is our chance to “open the door.” Our previous letters have been unanswered; however, since this issue is on Rome’s mind, they may finally listen. This is about saving our Diocese – – it’s not about pointing fingers at Bishop Clark. I don’t feel this will hurt a new Bishop. Whoever comes is already walking into a mess, especially financially. The DOR priest pension has always been in jeopardy, so intervention from Rome ahead of time may help. Besides, a new Bishop will not be able to clean house overnight – – there is too much to clean. We can’t just sit back anymore. We have to put aside our opinions about Bishop Clark and his advisors, and forget about our hopes in a new Bishop. This is up to us! We have to save our Diocese!!!!!!!!

  5. avatar DW says:

    The fact that the Vatican must make visits to “understand” and “see for themselves” is testament to the fact that they have no idea what is really going on in the US. The lack of money, priests, and resources in the majority of the US has become the way of life over the past several decades– this is not unique to one diocese in one area.

    Where has the vatican been and have they been reading their mail over the past 20 years???

    We need a new Bishop, a new college of cardinals, and a new pope!

  6. I think there is so much going on in the world needing Rome’s attention that it isn’t fair to judge the time frame. We can have no idea what our beloved Pope is dealing with on a daily basis. Heretic bishops have been around since the beginning. They do a lot of damage (don’t we know!), but they have never been able to destroy the Faith.

    The mess we have in the USA is of long duration, but I think a good deal of it would’ve been stopped if the laity had been faithful to the magisterium and not afraid to speak out. We cannot entirely blame poor catechism and so on. At some point one must take their own share of responsibility for the state of affairs. One cannot simply pray and then wring one’s hands. Rightly guided prayer results in actions. This website is one of those actions. 🙂

    Bishop Sheen said it right, “Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops like bishops, and your religious act like religious.” — Bishop Fulton Sheen to the Knights of Columbus – 1972

    I think Bishop Sheen saw what was coming.

    And I do think an apostolic visit would do a world of good. A new bishop could use the support, I would think.

  7. avatar DW says:

    “I do think an apostolic visit would do a world of good”

    I am curious as to what good an apostolic visit would to, and how a visit would change things. Please explain your statement.

    Do you think a visit by a high ranking Vatican official will change bad practices in the DOR?? Will it make St Marys downtown shape up? Will a visit convince Buffalo Road to stop appointing female pastors? Will it persuade priests to stop allowing non-liturgical practices??? Of course it would– for as long as the Vatican is here- and then things would go back to old ways as soon as they left.

    So i go back to my original question– what good is an apostolic visit? THey are out of touch, and may as well stay that way!

  8. avatar militia says:

    I think it might help to better clarify the needs of the diocese to enhance selection of the next bishop. I think a visitation is more than a high ranker having dinner with the bishop, but involves interviews with all kinds of people. My feeling is “Can’t hurt; might help.”

  9. I do think an apostolic visit would do a world of good if not only for morale. I think the Vatican would be shocked if they saw some of the very liberal practices going on in our Diocese. If the Vatican per an official witnessed some of the most questioning practices and asked them to cease, and those practices were reinstated after he left – That official would have been a witness to them and have firsthand knowledge of the situation-So if a complaint was filed with the Vatican using that official’s name, there would be a greater chance that situation would be remedied.

    “But also, and above all, from an economic point of view.” I have a problem with that statement; although Marco Tosatti, Vatican City, may have not intended that money outweighs human suffering and devastation, it read that way. The abomination of sexual abuse of minors (and beyond) by priests and religious in the Catholic Church is the driving force behind many, and I mean many, Catholics leaving the Church. Those who have chose to leave do not want to be associated with a Church which has had so much appalling, perverted sinfulness by those in high positions which had been purposely covered up and allowed to continue. Due to the fact that Church Officials thought economic considerations and staffing were more important than the catastrophic damage caused by sexual abuse, the Church is now in this position. Church Officials, from pastors, bishops, cardinals who did nothing and allowed the abuse to spread and continue brought this on themselves, upon the Church (the alienation of Catholics, lawsuits, and priest and religious shortage). It is very sad and unfair that the good priests and religious have to suffer the consequences from having a poor reputation as a whole, to having their retirement jeopardized. It is very sad and unfair also, that parishioners must suffer by having their churches closed and continually having to shift to a site which is still open – at least for the time being. Remaining Catholic parishioners are continually asked to reach deeper in their pockets to help foot the bill in light of all that has occurred.

  10. avatar DW says:

    Good points everyone, but i must disagree with everyone saying ” The Vatican would be shocked if they saw some of the very liberal practices going on in our Diocese.”

    THE VATICAN DOES KNOW B/C WE HAVE ALL SENT THEM PHOTOS, VIDEOS AND BULLETINS”

    Writers on this site act if the Vatican has no idea of what happens in ROchester, when they are indeed very well informed– perhaps more so than any other US diocese over the past 30 years. We have written, called, met in person with all types of evidence.

    The Vatican knows– they choose not to care.

  11. avatar Faithful says:

    Diocesean assets and parish assests are distinct under Canon Law. Parishes are seperate juridic persons. While many dioceses often hold some or all of the parish assets, the diocese cannot take, mix, mingle, or otherwise use parish assets for diocesean business. Bishops do not own parish property, they hold it in trust. Bishops do have the authority to use, manage, dispose, etc, parish assets, but in the name of the parish and for the parish, not for their personal business, and not for diocesean business.

    I say this becasue there seems to be a myth perpetuated that parishes close becasue of lawsuits, or that bishops raid parish assets to pay the debts of the diocese. Under Canon Law bishops cannot do this, and in cases where lawyers have tried to attack and raid parish assets for lawsuits bishops have challanged this in court. Unfortunately the question is not resolved becasue bishops have settled prior to rulings, or prior to appeals—so it is unclear how this question would be resolved if the issue is forced. Given the liberal court systems I would suspect the bishops would be forced to raid parish assets if this issue is ever decided—though I am sure the case would make it’s way to the Supreme Court. If this happens—your fight is not with the bishop, but with the liberal court systems and greedy lawyers, and legeslatures who pass unjust laws which give a free pass and protect public institutions, only allowing private institutions to be sued.

    Therefore unless the court systems force bishops to raid parishes assets to pay diocesean debts—remember– bishops cannot close parishes so they can raid the assets and use them for diocesean debts.

    There are two types of parishes: Territorial and Personal. If a territorial parishes is closed, the assets and liabilities are transferred to the next parish over, or the one the bishop assigns to the pastoral care of the people. If a territorial parish closes the assets and or liabilities are transferred to the diocese, at which time the bishop will decide how they will be utilized. In one diocese it was made clear that Personal Parish assets (a portion of them) will be used to pay outstanding debts OF PERSONAL PARISHES. (In other words, the diocese did not take the assets to pay diocesean debts, but took the assets to satisfy PARISH debts.)The portion of the assets remaining went to the parish the bishop assigned the people. This means the majority of the assets followed the people.

    Please stop perpetuating the myth that bishops close parishes becasue they want to take the assets and use them for the diocese.

    As I have said before and I will say again: parishes are closing because THEY NEED TO CLOSE. The year is not 1950, it is 2011. The structures of the Church need to reflect modern times, not a by gone golden era that people cannot seem to get over. You prune plants when they are over grown not to kill them, but so that their health will be preserved over the long haul and they will become stronger. It is the same thing with parish structrues. Right now they are in a sense over grown becasue they were built in a different era. We need the structures to reflect the realities of 2011, not 1950. Why can’t you understand that? Would your grandmother stay in a house she herself had built if she could no longer maintain it, or pay for it? NO! As hard as it is, she would sell it and move out—(choosing to live in something which reflects her situation in life) notwithstanding all the happy memories, etc, and all the sweat blood and tears she put into maintaining her house over all those years. Same thing with the Church.

  12. avatar Anonymous says:

    A territorial parish has geography attached to it. If is closed, and the property sold, the debts are paid and the assets go to the parish that assumed the territory. A personal parish such as one created to serve the needs of an ethnic group can close. After debts are paid, the assets go to the parish where who will maintain the former parish’s records, usually a neighboring parish.

    Parishes can incur debts to the diocese such as insurance, priest pension payments, diocesan taxes like the cma and the like. Those debts do need to be paid before assets are transferred.

    It is a myth that a diocese gains profit from closing a parish. At times, a diocese actually loses money from closing a parish because the assets are often less than the debt even after the sale of the property. Bishops often pay outside debts before diocesan debts, and often absorb the debt.

    It is irritating when people think bishops grow personally rich over these things. Our bishop is paid just as any priest in the diocese which is a set amount based on the number of years of ordination. Some people just want to see conspiracies around every corner.

  13. Do you think a visit by a high ranking Vatican official will change bad practices in the DOR??

    A certain Nigerian cardinal visited Cincinnati’s Mount St. Mary of the West Seminary a dozen or so years ago and plenty of good came from it. Dissenting faculty members were sacked, priestly vocations became a greater diocesan priority, and the seminary was sent on an orthodoxy-seeking arc that continues to this day.

  14. Faithful: I can’t help get the idea that you work for the Diocese.
    Maybe a church doesn’t close directly from a lawsuit, but the conditions creating the closure of churches have been linked to lack of attendance hence adequate financial income to maintain buildings and priest shortage. You have to look at the reasons why there is less church attendance in the Catholic Church. The disclosure of longtime, widespread sexual abuse by clergy which was allowed to continue and spread by covering it up, has driven many people away in disgust. If people haven’t been driven away by that, they have been driven away by liturgical abuses and the financial appeal for matching jackets for ushers, large video screens, state of the art baptismal fonts, and new renovations which are not neccessary,and if that is not enough, have their church and/or school closed after that.
    If we need to get modern like you say, then where is the accuntability of the Bishop, Fr. Joseph Hart, and the select few who make all these decisions? Why aren’t they present at church meetings in regard to church closings? The idea that special committees of parishioners from the churches involved make the decisions is an illusion. The individuals on such committees have already given testimony of how they were led in a certain way by how information prepared beforehand was presented for voting and they were not allowed to deviate from the prepared agenda or object. Even when parishioners who were petitioned unanimously agreed on criteria a course of action in voice and writings, the Diocese still carried out their plan already in place. If we are supposed to be modern, why isn’t there a financial report from the Diocese disclosed to the public, inparticulary to parishioners, of personal expenses, private renovations, pensions, etc. in addition to other ways money is spent in the Diocese?
    DW:Your news reporting the lack of concern by the Vatican is very disconcerting.

  15. avatar Raymond Rice says:

    Faithful:

    Canon law says a lot of things about jurisdictions and finance. Are the DOR’s books open so it can be verified that canons are in effectively being followed?? Do auditors cover the cemetery funds found in some parishes. Who audits the books? Does the diocese, if funds are missing, bring the responsible person up on charges or does it give the person the chance to cover his a— by returning the funds? We have seen in other dioceses where a pastor has embezzled up to millions of dollars and it went on for some time. Is the DOR transparent or is it like Lamont Cranston in the “The Shadow” radio program years ago who learned to cloud men’s minds so they could not see him!! And they back it up with the “long black line”.

  16. avatar Faithful says:

    Christian,

    Not only do I NOT work for the Diocese, I don’t even LIVE in your state! I don’t mean to defend the rampant liberalism in your diocese, nor the liturgical abuses which take place. I simply mean to say that the same thing Rochester is doing with regard to parishes is going on in dioceses accross the country, and the reaction from the people is pretty much the same as the reaction from the people in your diocese: DENIAL. People want to continue on as though the year is 1950 and nothing has changed when in fact it HAS.

    I agree one has to address the reasons WHY Mass attendence is down—but one FIRST has to address the reality THAT mass attendence is down, there are fewer priests, and fewer donations before the reasons WHY are addressed. Again—pruning a plant is not for the sake of killing the plant, but empowering the plant to be stronger and grow bigger IN THE LONG RUN. Same thing with the parishes. Pruning the parish structures NOW will lead to stronger parishes and parish life, and Catholicism in the FUTURE.

    I think the problem is that too many people are thinking SHORT TERM when they need to think LONG TERM.

  17. avatar Faithful says:

    Raymond:

    I don’t know what goes on in Rochester—but what I can say is this: if you have specific evidence to present to back up your claims–present it in Canonical court. If not—then what you are saying is nothing but rumor, speculation, third hand information, and circumstantial.

    Also, like I said–parish closings are going on all over the country—are you going to suggest that ALL dioceses are simply closing parishes and raiding the money, or otherwise doing dishonest things? I suggest that the simpliest explanation is to be desired, namely: maybe the populations really are shifting, maybe there really is a shortage of priests, and maybe money really is in short supply. In essence, that the dioceses are speaking the truth regarding these matters is self evident to anyone who is not in denial, and anyone who has not had their heads in the sand the the past 20 years!

  18. avatar Diane Harris says:

    SORRY ABOUT THE LENGTH
    Both Faithful and Anonymous 137150 seem to have exalted views of how the diocese vs parish works. I would refer them to the 8-part (and still counting) Shepherd’s Shearing Sheep Saga, especially the “Case Study” on St. Mary Rushville, for some perspective. Check out subject index “Finance” to get to all 8 parts. The people of St. Mary Rushville, a victim parish of Our Lady of the Lakes and of Fr. Robert Ring’s pastorate know well the long term financial machinations that were done, and many would have little faith in the glib statements that a diocese can’t take a parish’s assets. Nonsense. Canon Law? We have seen too many instances of not following Canon Law to believe it does much more than give the bishop yet another way to reach his and the diocese’s objectives. But, for the record, here are a few facts, and even more relevant questions:

    1. Three of the trustees of parish corporations are the Bishop, Vicar General or Chancellor, and the pastor. Three out of five can do anything they want to a parish? Oh, but there are two lay trustees you say? More nonsense. The pastor just fires them if they don’t go along with what he wants. The lay trustee is meaningless, and nothing but a liability to the lay person who puts him/herself at risk under NYS Religious Corporation Law with the possibility of violating fiduciary responsibility and obligations.
    2. The diocese is not supposed to levy a tax against a “mission,” but regularly does so. Isn’t that against Canon Law?
    3. The diocese can use the CMA tax to milk the treasury of a parish (see Part 1 of Shearing Sheep). When St. Mary was taxed $109.47 per household, all the rest of OLOL was taxed $34.64 per household, and those proportions went on for 5 years. The shortfall, thousands of dollars each year, was simply removed from St. Mary’s treasury.
    4. When the pastor was sued for defamation, little St. Mary’s which was neither plaintiff nor defendant was milked for $14,000 to cover the diocese’s cost of defending him (and that was without going to trial or trial preparation!) Why? Because the diocese can do whatever it wants with parish funds. They may use “insurance” as a category, but it is just plain wrong.
    5. There is no cumulative financial statement for the OLOL cluster so there is very little transparency. Who is to say that when all the parishes were combined that no special payments were assessed by the diocese? Maybe to repay the worthless work of Karen Rinefierd and Bill Pickett? Or for some trumped-up insurance rate increase (self-insuring entities have wide latitude, and also prevent parishes from seeking insurance outside at lower rates.)
    6. A cluster/parish structure has a lot of places to hide movement of funds. St. Mary Rushville, a church that has essentially been closed since September 2009, paid about $22,000 to OLOL this past year for NO SERVICES AT ALL! Why? Perhaps to cover the too large overhead structure of OLOL? Perhaps to pass money back to the diocese for its arbitrary allocations such as computer services, training, and myriad other little special charges? How would we know? The results of the parish audit report were never released (Fr. Ring only read a few irrelevant passages from the pulpit.)
    7. The diocese approved certain projects for Partners in Faith and then never assured those restricted funds were used for such purposes. Where are all the balances of PIF funds throughout the diocese that were never used and rightfully should be returned to the donors?
    8. The cozy relationship with some corporate entities, such as LaBella, raise even more questions. Were the estimates for St. Januarius’ wreckovation accurate? Did the project have to go ahead because so much had been spent on LaBella that it would be scandalous to then abandon a project which should never have happened? How would we know? The cost basis by project element was not published. Does LaBella win all the diocesan construction put out to bid? If so, why put anything out to bid? What kind of surcharges are there for diocesan oversight of what they call a 13-step process for construction? Are all funds for charity collections like Katrina sent to the victims, or is there a handling fee? These are of course questions that the laity can’t answer because the detail is not supplied. But they can ask. And lack of answers does not beget trust. And, by the way, just what do you really think is going to happen to the half million dollars at St. Thomas the Apostle? Does anybody really think that greed for their reserves wasn’t the reason for their closure?

    How can “Faithful” say that if the courts turn over parish assets to the diocese to pay sexual abuse lawsuits our quarrel would be with the courts. Oh, no! The blame is with bishops who failed to provide sufficient oversight to avoid such lawsuits. It is with the pedophile priests. And if the “corporate shell” is pierced, it will likely be because the track records of the movement of money made it easy to pierce the shell. Moreover, would somebody PLEASE point out the obvious – that amalgamating parishes simply puts all the included parishes at risk. For example, St. Januarius suffered from a pastor arrested for sexual abuse (Fr. Emo). Now, as statutes of limitations are lengthened, and outrage prevails, if the victim should sue and recover, it will no longer be a debt of just St. Jan’s but of all OLOL. WOW! That’s an incentive to sue (better chance of recovering more money). That is great strategic planning! So St. Michael in Penn Yan is (yes IS) now at risk for any perpetrations of abuse that were done at St. Jan’s. At least before amalgamation, loss might have been restricted to the parish affected.

    It is NOT a myth that parishes close because of lawsuits, regardless of what Faithful says. Who knows what debts the diocese has to pay and how they move money to do so, and what is really covered by true insurance (not self-insurance since that is just another pocket in the same suit.) Now that St. Patrick’s in Prattsburgh is amalgamated into OLOL, its nearly quarter million dollar bequest belongs to OLOL. Does OLOL still have it? Was it used to pay LaBella or other expenses in the Sanctuary wreckovation financing? How will it be tracked to be sure it doesn’t move to the diocese? Faithful states a lot of things that “can’t” be done under Canon Law, but we have yet to see Rome care about the application of Canon Law in our local situation. Quite frankly, WHO is going to stop the bishop from doing what he “can’t” do?

    Faithful also makes an interesting point about territorial and personal parishes. Here is a view into what happened at St. Mary’s in Rushville. For over a century it was called a parish. Materials from the diocese, from pastors, in all kinds of materials called it a parish. Some of us remember seeing territorial boundaries. But sometime during the pastoral planning process we couldn’t find those boundaries on-line any more, and it was about the same time that the planning team started calling it a mission of St. Theresa. Untrue. It was older than St. Theresa but it was the setting up of the scenario to close St. Mary. Why? Because at the beginning of pastoral planning St. Mary had over $100,000 in savings. This was no financially defunct parish. Now, it has nothing.

    Faithful is right that there are two types of parish, and without territorial boundaries, that makes St. Mary a personal parish, and the assets should follow the parishioners. With the savings, and the asset value (based on assessed valuation) 75% of the value should have followed the 75% of parishioners who went to St. Mary Canandaigua. Fr. Mull should have received at least $150,000 we estimate. But, as best we know, he got nothing, as Fr. Ring spent down the treasury (when the bishop insisted the parish was not closed, and “only” had a schedule change of “no Masses.”) Did you notice that the same strategy was employed against St. Thomas the Apostle? (Note: Faithful explains two different outcomes for territorial parishes and none for personal parishes, possibly just a writing error by Faithful, but Anonymous said it correctly.) What reason is there NOT to think that indeed the diocese wants to shake loose funds to use where it wants to use them. But, I don’t think anybody has inferred personal use by any individual, so that’s a red-herring.

    Faithful also says: “…parishes are closing because THEY NEED TO CLOSE”. Maybe it is true for some. It was NOT true for St. Mary Rushville and I very much doubt it is true for St. Thomas the Apostle. How come the Vortex data says from 1972 to 2010 the number of Catholics in the US went up by a third, but the Rochester Diocese went down? It isn’t all demographics, is it? So much energy has been focused on abuse by priests, pastoral planning, closing churches, closing schools, and even more outrageous preoccupations, that catechesis is badly neglected and people have lost the sense of why a Catholic Church is different from a Protestant one. No wonder vocations fell through the floor. When the sense of the holy is so diminished, and all the preoccupation seems to be money, to what would a young man be giving his life? And the ambiguity of the defense of homosexuals in the priesthood doesn’t help. Most of the closing activity has been post-scandal. Just what was happening in this episcopacy for the first 20 years to get it into such bad shape? The people know the reasons. It seems those who say they don’t know are those most responsible. I offer the above explanations in rejection of the analogy of parish structures to my grandmother’s housing needs. Personally I believe that in 30 years all the machinations of clustering and fancy new parish names will be a bad memory, a tremendous amount of energy wasted that should have been directed to saving souls.

    Anonymous writes: “Some people just want to see conspiracies around every corner.” If I may say so, that is not surprising. Wherever there is secrecy, lack of transparency, ignoring of complaints, persistence in finance errors, playing games with trusteeships, hiring collusive “consultants” to give the answer desired, saying what is closed is open, spending money on wasteful wreckovations, there will surely be conspiracies discovered and/or imagined. Why are truth and openness so difficult to implement? When parish finances aren’t transparent, as they are not in much of OLOL, money can move without question.

    Anonymous even mentions the strange “Priest Pension” situation. One last question (said Columbo), speaking of transparency and also of moving funds around, and of priest retirement funds. There is a rumor afoot in the diocese that the priest retirement fund is severely underfunded, and that priests are being told they must give $5000 each to help restore the balance. I want to say clearly that this is just a rumor. That happens in a secretive climate. But doesn’t the pension plan come under the PBGC (Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation) and isn’t it improper (if not illegal) to require such payments from a beneficiary under the plan? Again, we don’t even know if it is true due to the lack of transparency, but one has to wonder how investment funds have been handled to be in such a state. How did investments track in the crash of 2008? Did they recover as the market recovered or were they spent and not available to “recover?” And how much of the shortfall is due to dropping the retirement age of priests, which in turn creates a priest shortage? If a church property is sold, since it has been served by many priests over the years, can balances be transferred as a so called “retirement payment?” We could go on, but perhaps this dimensions somewhat the issues and flexibility around the question of benefiting the diocese by closing churches?

  19. Thank you, Diane. Those posters who act as if the bishop is constrained by canon law, are either disingenuous or extremely naive. They ought to come down here to Corning and take a look at the insurance rates for our parish — some years they were well over a hundred thousand dollars when the previous years they were in the low 30,000s. The reason given out? That one of our closed/shuttered churches was costing huge amounts to insure. Yeah, right. When that was exposed as untrue the leadership had to admit that ‘insurance claims’ in the diocese were responsible. Never got the specific claims, though we can imagine.

    We just had another ‘selection’ of parish council members. The first meeting? Closed to parishioners, as all of them are. Council members not allowed to talk about what transpired.

    Rotten to the core. And all too common in our diocese.

  20. avatar Anonymous says:

    I just wonder where all this money is going? I wonder if organizations like St Berbards are putting away secret slush funds so they can operate if and when the next bishop cuts their funding or changes leadership.

    I don’t trust too many people in the diocese leadership.

  21. BRAVO DIANE! Your post said it all.

    Faithful: If the PRUNING continues on in the course it has been going-there will be NOTHING left of the plant!

  22. avatar Anonymous says:

    Yes, bravo, Diane Harris! Would that you could stand on Main and Clinton in Rochester and read over and over again this brief of what your world has encountered here these last years. It’s a blueprint of what has transpired here.

    Whatever does happen to all the “taxes” drawn from DOR parishes? Why is Buffalo Road not accountable to the people who pay those taxes? We ask our investment counselors and bankers and employers for an accounting; why not the lofty chancery? No, Holy Mother Church is not a democracy, but good conscience should be transparent so that no skullduggery occurs… which fallen humans are always prone to!! Being accountable is a blessing for all of us in all our undertakings… keeps us from sin!

    In all conscience, I cannot give to that annual drive of the bishop! I realize that it doesn’t matter, that my parish will just have to pay any shortfall anyway, and that’s the merry-go-round we are on! But I have a conscience, and it is well formed, so I do not fund that which so obviously is contrary to righteousness.

    Yes, Faithful, oh for the days of parish life funding parish life, living it openly, and the bishop’s office little involved. As the federal government of our country has grown and overtaken America and in the process terribly weakened this country, the story of Holy Mother Church in America has shadowed it by doing the same. Our next bishop? If he is a holy shepherd with our souls his first and foremost concern, he will spend his time meeting us and praying with us; he will open all the windows on Buffalo Road, hire on faithful and competent helpers who love Holy Mother Church, and thus will he restore what has been lost these 30 years. May God be served and we blessed in all we do! +JMJ

  23. avatar Anonymous says:

    I am not Anonymous-239163… I am JLo.
    +JMJ

  24. avatar snowshoes says:

    Thank you, Diane and other posters, excellent analysis of the situation. Let us pray and work for the good of our diocese and parishes as we are given the talents to do so. Be not afraid!

    The context: with the persecution of the Church in China and India, the cruel continuation of the ride of the moslem horde across North Africa in the 600s now enveloping much of the rest of the world and wiping out Catholics and their parishes and dioceses, and worldliness killing off much of the rest of the Church, I’ll bet Rome is tickled to actually get cogent appeals from Catholics in straits, such as have been sent by Diane and her friends.

    We must hope in Our Lord’s guidance of the Pope and the Vatican offices, that though they cannot say yet, the plans and decisions are being made for the future of this diocese and all others. Pray, pray and fast for this intention! Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us! Hang in there.

  25. avatar monk says:

    Where does the money go?

    Gretchen Garrity and Susan Miller of All Saints parish in Corning summarized it very insightfully a while back: Below is a excerpt of their article in the Star Gazette:

    “The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester is a wasteland of closed churches. Parishioners are told repeatedly that there is not enough money to keep them open. Yet the diocese and Catholic Charities (which receives parish money) remain financially strong. How? The answer is found in the appropriation of parishioners’ offerings and government money.

    First, parishioners contribute to the annual Catholic Ministries Appeal (CMA). Begun by Bishop Matthew Clark in the 1980s, this effort has raised tens of millions of dollars for diocesan ministries. The diocese sets a goal for individual parishes, and each parish must meet it. If contributions run short, the parish must take the remainder from collections and/or savings. Consider All Saints Parish in Corning, with one church demolished and two others slated for sale or destruction. Still, the parish’s CMA goal this year is more than $107,000.

    Second, Catholic Charities receives about $625,000 from the CMA. This is more than twice what diocesan schools receive. Between the CMA and government funding, parishioners subsidize Catholic Charities twice through contributions and taxes.

    The next beneficiary is Providence Housing Development Corporation (PHDC). From its beginning in 1994, it envisioned using diocesan lands for redevelopment. The PHDC board president is John Balinsky, also director of Catholic Charities. PHDC gains access to taxpayer funds through government grants, while acquiring church properties at bargain prices for redevelopment.

    The diocesan web of relationships directs the flow of CMA and taxpayer money for the redevelopment of church properties. The diocese, either directly or through its affiliates, transfers money and property from the faithful to nonprofits and taxpayer-funded organizations. Since PHDC is a corporation with diocesan officials as principal members (including the bishop, vicar general and chancellor), the property essentially remains in diocesan hands.

    Catholic Charities and PHDC do some important work, and Catholics are called to serve the needy. However, reasonable people can debate how to do this most effectively where government programs, taxes and personal donations of time and money are concerned. Catholics can certainly question whether they are obligated to meet CMA goals that may be the difference between keeping open their churches or not.

    The prospering of the diocese’s CMA and its affiliates, Catholic Charities and PHDC, has come at the expense of parishes. Closing churches has consequences: the alienation of the faithful; less ability to support local charities; reduction/withholding of contributions; and the loss of parishioners. This means fewer people to support parishes, the diocese and, yes, the worthy activities of Catholic Charities. Most seriously, it means the destruction of faith communities and possible loss of souls.”

  26. avatar Faithful says:

    Snowshoe:

    Actually you made me realize something. The Church is being persecuted, the Church is shrinking, there are many problems in the Church and all you folks are worried about is whether you get to keep real estate that is not pastorally necessary.

    Maybe if you folks spent your time evangelizing and spreading the gospel rather then focusing your energy on preserving pastorally unnecessary real estate pretending the year is still 1950 where there needs to be a Church in every neighborhood the universal Church would be better off.

    Tell me—what do you think Jesus would rather you do? Spend your time fighting to keep open buldings you don’t need or evengelizing?

  27. avatar Faithful says:

    Anonymous,

    Yes, dioceses are getting like the federal government—I agree. Dioceses should tend to allow parishes to run themselves. However: without the diocese your insurance premimums would be far more expensive. Without the diocese you would be on your own when some parishoner slips and falls and trips over their own two feet, then sues your parish–you would have to hire your own lawyer, pay your own court costs, etc. Need a loan to cover capital expenditures? Go see a bank, prove your ability to pay the loan and put up the parish as collatoral— that is what you would have to do without the Diocese. Parish savings? Put it in a bank and get less returns then keeping it with Diocesean investments. Parish has no money to make payroll for the week? Without the diocese you are out of luck. Want a priest? Hire out for one, rather then relying on the Diocese. Want a Catholic school? Good–manage it yourself—deal with the teachers union if there is one, negotiate with the teachers yourself…deal with all the inherent problems in modern day education-worry about funding yourself. This is just a small portion of the good that dioceses do for parishes.

    Are dioceses tending to micromanage parishes these days? Indeed they are. Are dioceses tending to stick their nose in day to day running and decisions of parishes that ought to be left to pastors? Yes. However—it is the Diocese ultimately, not the lay people that has the RESPONSIBILITY for the buildings. It is not the lay people that loose sleep when collections aren’t covering expenses. It is not the lay people that loose sleep when the payroll can’t be met. It is not the lay people that loose sleep if the teachers strike. It is not the lay people that loose sleep over any of the problems inherent with parishes, schools, etc, it is the leaders of the diocese. The lay people can walk away from the parish anytime they want, the diocese can’t do that. Easy for you to criticize when you have no responsibility for anything in the Church. It is so easy to demand that a parish be kept open when none of the responsibility for that parish falls to you.

  28. avatar militia says:

    It is hard to believe that “Faithful” even read what Snowshoes wrote. Perhaps he/she also can justify why hundreds of people have to travel thousands of miles just so the priest doesn’t have to travel to what had been their church. I think it is “Faithful” who is stuck in the 1950’s. A lot of people who are earnestly complaining don’t even know what it was like 61 years ago; get real! Just how are they supposed to evangelize and spread the gospel when they and their children have suffered through decades of poor or no catechesis? I still can’t imagine why anyone gives money to the diocese when they have so broken trust with what was built up over generations. Why give anything? They can’t be trusted. Yes, churches are too empty, but when did you last hear a homily telling the folks in the pews that it is a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday? Hah! that is “politically incorrect” or has not telling them been part of a plot to empty the pews and sell the churches?

  29. Faithful: I think you are the one who fails to get the message despite the many posts, including Diane Harris’, which has given readers and YOU valuable and accurate information leading to an ACCURATE ASSESSMENT of the current situation!

  30. Faithful makes numerous assumptions which don’t hold water. I will choose one to discuss. Show us some proof that insurance premiums would be more expensive, and that somehow they wouldn’t cover situations like you described. In our parish, we had insurance experts look at the diocesan-assessed insurance costs and compare them to costs for commercial buildings. Besides letting us know that insurance costs for religious properties are almost always less (because of much less liability), they could not believe the huge amounts of money that the diocese was charging for ‘insuring’ our churches and properties. They cited an example where a commercial property worth seven or eight million dollars would normally be covered for less than $50,000 a year. Our parish was being charged over $130,000 some years to insure our church properties that were worth less.

  31. avatar Faithful says:

    Gretchen,

    First, as I have said before and I will say it again, becasue obviously you missed it: I am writting in general. When I write I don’t necessarily have Rochester in mind—but many other dioceses. I know in my diocese the insurance premiums are far cheapter going with the Diocese then if we had to go with an insurance company. I also know that in the end I would trust the Diocese with a claim before I would trust an insurance company.

    Even if you are correct about the insurance premimiums, you failed to address my other points. Even IF everything Diane said was correct—that still does not address the MAIN POINT: the parish structures in many dioceses are set up for a time period that no longer exists, which means the diocese has to reorganize the structures to meet the needs of 2011. This means some parishes MUST close, merge, and or consolidate. That is what you don’t seem to be getting.

  32. Um, writing in ‘general’ is a pat way of avoiding specifics that do not jive with your narrative. Your narrative that posters are stuck in the 1950s and things have radically changed does not address the numerous ‘exceptions’ to your ‘general’ rule.

    What other points, specifically, would you like me to address? That parish savings are safer with the diocese than in parish hands? Really? Prove it. Our parish savings seems to disappear into diocesan coffers quite handily each year, never to return.

    Your main point that parish structures are set up for a time period that no longer exists is a convenient perspective, given that the diocese has ‘disappeared’ so many parishes and churches in the last 20 years, as well as an assumption that the priest shortage will last forever, that there will never again be a need for the churches that are being torn down and sold, and so on. Extremely shortsighted, not to mention disrespectful to the priests, bishops, religious and laity who labored to build those houses of God.

    Look, we are not going to agree, probably ever. So the battle of ideas will go on until one or the other side is victorious. The diocese has had its way for 30 years and the fruit is…well…you said it yourself–dioceses are micro-managing, sticking their nose in parish business and so on. If the fruit was good, you might have an argument that would hold water. As it is, the fruit is rotten. Time to try something different.

  33. avatar Diane Harris says:

    In OLOL I was on the Finance Committee and we invested our funds ourselves, mostly in CD’s. Every year, for the time I can remember, about 5 years before the diocese or other forces made us give them the money to invest, we were told that our parishes (St. Mary and St. Theresa) out-performed diocesan results. I don’t know if DoR wanted our funds out of greed or embarassment, but it makes an important point which refutes “Faithful’s” claim.

    Of all the people to whom closing of churches most shows disrespect, lack of trust and even despair, it is to the Holy Spirit who was sent by Christ to guard and protect our Church. What is the local hierarchy thinking? Can’t trust Him to restore the priesthood, so might as well do a scorched earth ourselves? Yes, that is what at least the last 10-15 years have seemed like in Rochester, a scorched earth strategy, sort of like Sherman’s March to the Sea. But, still, the Holy Spirit cannot be overcome. Praise God!

    And He did provide vocations. Don’t we all know of a few faithful candidates who went elsewhere rather than get involved in the feminist-flawed functioning which underlies so much error? Some believe there are candidates standing in the wings, waiting. I pray vocations will spring anew and be faithfully answered with a new bishop…which is perhaps why scorched earth has become so important to press forward. It will impair and impede a new bishop, but the gates of hell shall not prevail.

  34. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Christian1954: “Faithful: I can’t help get the idea that you work for the Diocese.”
    Faithful: “Not only do I NOT work for the Diocese, I don’t even LIVE in your state!”

    So – which Diocese DO you work for?

  35. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Faithful, you are a STRANGE one. (And, its such a FAMILIAR kind of strangeness; that’s why I think you are on a Diocesan salary [not necc. DoR]). You make a statement that says, in short, “Bishops wouldn’t use parish funds for Diocesan or personal business! Lawsuits don’t have anything to do with parish closings! Bishops follow Canon law!” and, “Golly gee whiz, I would trust the Diocese with a claim before I would trust an insurance company!” Pardon the paraphrase.

    This you say, in spite of all Diane has written here at Cleansing Fire. You have been contributing to the comments here awhile – I am not mistaken on that, right? Don’t you read what’s written? It certainly seems you don’t!

    If you have somehow missed Diane’s Cleansing Fire writings, she gave you an excellent synopsis right here in the comment section. At this point its rude, or ignorant to continue on the same vein as if Diane just didn’t invalidate your former comments. Are you too lazy to read what she wrote? Or not able? In that case, you just should be done commenting, IMO.

  36. avatar Eliza10 says:

    And “Faithful”, the frightening picture you paint of what a parish would be like without the Diocese just doesn’t hold water. One only has to compare with any one of the local independent Protestant Churches that, provided they are clear and orthodox in teaching their belief system, tend to grow and grow, adding new halls, gyms, schools, mega-auditoriums. They have open financial policies and then people want to contribute when they can see where their money is going. People don’t want to contribute here because it gets sucked into the Diocese where everything they do is secret. For all we know, it COULD be used for personal use. All we know is its NOT getting used by the parishes its taken from. And that whatever they do with large sums of our money in the Diocese of Rochester, ITS A SECRET!!!

    Thank you so much for this work Diane. Particularly the expose of whats gone wrong in one “Cluster”. (How sick I am of that word, and the glowing words our Diocesan reps speak of how people are embracing “Clusters”! Who cares about Clusters?! Most of us HATE that word!). You have the brains and the tenacity and the honest faithfulness to stick with getting the truth out. Though you are a lone voice now, the same thing has happened over and over again. The Diocese has its system down!

    In answer to your question, Diane, “IS IT TIME TO PRESS FOR A DIOCESAN-WIDE PETITION TO THE HOLY SEE TO DO AN APOSTOLIC VISITATION TO THE ROCHESTER DIOCESE AS IS BEING PLANNED FOR CLEVELAND???”

    Yes! They can stop here after!

  37. avatar JJC says:

    I must agree with Faithful this time-

    The utilization of parish property and buildings in the DOR leaves much to be desired. Having so many church buildings so close is just not practical given the resources we have to work with. Lack of priests, nuns, volunteers, and staff makes keeping the buildings ( including churches) impossible. I hate to see churches and buildings close– but someone please offer a better solution. (Ie produce millions of $$ to run these buildings, and priests to staff them)

    I’m all ears………….

    Or maybe the Holy See will give us a plan after they visit- They dont even respond to our mailings of liturgical abuses. Do you really think they care about whats going on here????? Oh thats right– Bishop Clark has lots of friends in Rome keeping him in power.

  38. It is the utilization of resources that causes problems. In other words–poor stewardship. Why do we need numerous full-time employees when in the past a strong priest/pastor, a secretary, and a bookkeeper could run a parish? What is the ROI of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries to lay staff? Is the local parish run any better? Are more people coming in to the Church? Is the catechism better? Are the children better educated? Are the poor being served in greater degree? Are the volunteers any better organized?

    The lack of priests mantra is not a good enough reason to close and sell churches, according to Rome. Rome is speaking. If anything, part of the so-called priest shortage is a likely manufactured issue that progressives are using to push the agenda of married and women priests.

    Our parish has been clustered for 20 years. One of the main reasons we were told that clustering was essential was because of a coming priest shortage. It literally took all those 20 years before the DOR cut us down to one priest. Of course, we have numerous retired and monastic priests around to assist and help out, not to mention two deacons. If American bishops saw this problem a generation ago, one would think there would’ve been vigorous efforts to counter it with an emphasis on vocations…

    Also, there are many creative ways of using parish buildings to bring in income. Until recently, one of our unused schools was rented out to a couple businesses, including a child care business. One of our convents is bringing a nice rental income through renting to a halfway house.

    This is not rocket science. It’s called good stewardship. And good stewardship, especially when it comes to houses of God, does not include destroying them. That is simply a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

    And what does it matter if they are close together, especially in suburban and rural areas, where the populations are stable? Why the drive to consolidate assets? Is money driving the decision to close and sell churches? I thought the Roman Catholic Church was in the business of saving souls. Destroying the visible presence of God in the community so that one can save money or direct funds elsewhere is again….poor stewardship, and even worse, a graphic illustration of retreat from the mission to save souls.

    Also, it really doesn’t take millions of dollars to maintain the buildings in most parishes. It just takes the desire and will and commitment. It takes a plan, like any household that is looking at needed repairs and ongoing maintenance. You don’t even need to think out of the box. You just need common sense.

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