Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Posts Tagged ‘Finance’

Following the Money

July 7th, 2013, Promulgated by Diane Harris
Pope Francis checking out of Conclave Hotel

Pope Francis checking out of Conclave Hotel

Perhaps it seems funny at first — Pope Francis lecturing on what kind of car priests drive,  his living in a small hotel apartment, and paying his own bill at checkout after the Conclave, and it might even be forgiveable to wonder why. 

But it can’t be underestimated how the financial cancer which has long held sway at the Vatican can influence financial irresponsibility down through the ranks, to national conferences like the USCCB (e.g. CCHD scandal) and into local churches as well.  What is condoned will be exploited. 

So when we wonder how the retirement fund for priests and employees could be so eroded, when we wonder where the money has gone from the liquidation and closing of churches, and when we can’t find statements on funds from property transfers, there is no reason to be surprised.  What flows down from higher levels of irresponsibility will eventually engulf the lowest levels.   The hijinks at the Vatican Bank are not all that far removed from us; it all rolls downhill.  That is why it is important, once in a while, to take a peek.  Here’s a recent update.

Vatican Bank (IOR) Changes

A few days after Pope Benedict announced his resignation, Zenit reported Ernst von Freyburg as the new President of the Supervisory Board for the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR).  A “Commission of Cardinals” for that Institute had made the appointment, stating “The Holy Father … expressed his full consent ….”  It was reported that Freyburg, a German lawyer, had “a vast experience of financial matters and the financial regulatory process.”

On May 31, 2013 Zenit ran another article entitled: “IOR President Dispels Myths on Vatican Institute:  Ernst von Freyberg [note variation in spelling of name] Speaks on Challenges in Restoring Reputation of the Institute for Religious Works,” in which “the newly appointed president of the IOR spoke on the challenges faced in dispelling myths surrounding the organization …. Mistakenly referred to by many as the “Vatican Bank”, the IOR “administers the assets of Catholic institutions who aim to further a religious and charitable apostolate at an international level.”  [He said] “Our biggest issue is our reputation.” … Concluding his interview, von Freyburg expressed his hope that at end of his term in 2015, the IOR can be viewed in a positive light ….” 

On July 2, Zenit headlines read: “Institute of Religious Works Director and Deputy Director Resign.”  … “Paolo Cipriani and Masimo Tulli, Director and Deputy Director of the [IOR] respectively,  have resigned their positions. ….  After many years of service both have decided that this decision would be in the best interest of the Institute and the Holy See,” the communique stated…. The IOR accepted the resignations and named Ernst von Freyberg as the interim General Director.  The article continued:  “A Special Commission created by Pope Francis last week to study the workings of the IOR acknowledged the decision.”

Von Freyberg apparently still serves as President of the Institute.   Now he would become interim director too.  He stated:  “Since 2010 the IOR and its management have been working hard to bring structures and processes in line with international standards for anti-money laundering.  While we are grateful for what has been achieved, it is clear today that we need new leadership to increase the pace of this transformation process.”  “The Oversight Council has begun the selection process of choosing a new General Director and Deputy Director for the IOR. Under the leadership of von Freyberg, the IOR has been working diligently in assuring compliance with anti-money laundering programs.” 

Four days later, July 6, Reuters announced:  “Prosecutors accuse the bank’s director general, Paolo Cipriani, and its deputy director Massimo Tulli, who both resigned this week, of  “authorizing illegal financial transactions…. A judge will now decide whether to proceed to a trial of Cipriani and Tulli.  The two directors left the bank on Monday after the arrest of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a senior cleric  who is accused of plotting to smuggle millions of euros into Italy from Switzerland.” 

As further background,  Prosecutors also dropped charges against Tedeschi, who was ousted from the bank last year and had said he was dismissed because he wanted more transparency, but the board of directors said he had neglected his duties.  In 2010, officials froze 23 million euros ($29.5 million) of the bank’s funds in Italian banks as part of the investigation. The Vatican bank said it had done nothing wrong and was transferring its own funds between its own accounts in Italy and Germany. The money was released in June 2011.”

Reuters further reports:  “The Vatican bank, known formally as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), has been a byword for opaque and secretive dealings for decades and its future has been in question since the appointment of Pope Francis in March.”  Pope Francis set up a special commission of inquiry to reform the bank in June, his boldest move yet to get to grips with the institution.”  

What is hard to know regarding Vatican finances, and is hard to know locally as well, is who is the hero?  who is the perpetrator?  and who is the fall guy?  But at least Pope Francis is shining a spotlight.  I hope our new Bishop does the same.

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

October 16th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

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

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

LaBella Renovations from OLOL Website

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

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

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

PO Box 23973

Rochester, NY 14692

January 19, 2011

Robert A. Healy, AIA, President

LaBella Associates, PC

300 State Street

Rochester, NY 14614

Dear Mr. Healy,

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

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

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

Very truly yours,


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

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

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

The Mystery of St. Jan’s Financials

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

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

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

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

“In 2011 the sanctuary area was renovated that:

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


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

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

Life With LaBella:

Holy Week Jack-hammer






Happy Easter 2011


Welcome Summer Visitors

Jesus near the exit door

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

LaBella Ad in 2011 DoR Directory

$hepherds $hearing $heep: Part 9: Farmer Bob

August 14th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris


In honor of all the Sheep who put their skin on the line, who complained about the mistreatment of God’s Sanctuary and Tabernacle, complained about being abused and silenced, and complained about being financially sheared. 

With care and concern for those too intimidated by Farmer Bob or Father Bob, for those who ran away from the fight, who were afraid to sign petitions or mandates or letters to the editor.

With prayers for those who are still so divided from Christian principles that they continue to ignore, revile or berate their brothers and sisters in Christ who have done what God has called them in conscience to do. 

 But especially for those few who stood courageously for the TRUTH, for righteousness, and for the future of the flock, even when others ran away or hid.  God bless your caring and your sacrifice on this day especially, when the Bishop of the Diocese of Rochester arrives in Naples, NY to “re-consecrate” the unnecessarily demolished / renovated Sanctuary at St. Jan’s for a photo-op triumphant display of violating the wishes of the majority of parishioners. May God have mercy on him, and on Father Robert Ring, and on the donors who enabled the travesty.

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.”


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

May 29th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

This is part of the continuing saga recounted to Mr. Cuomo in the letter given to him in August 2010 when he was State Attorney General and running for Governor.  The following is the final part of the “Case of St. Mary’s Rushville” which began in Part 3 and was appended to his letter in its entirety.  (As a reminder, anything in blue was added after the letter was given to Mr. Cuomo, but is added for the sake of clarification to current readers.)  The pastor mentioned is Father Robert Ring.

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

For example,

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

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

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

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

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


Diane C. Harris

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

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

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

$hepherds $hearing $heep: Part 7: Case cont’d: “Financial Sloppiness or not?”

May 20th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

This is part of the continuing saga recounted to Mr. Cuomo in the letter given to him in August 2010 when he was State Attorney General and running for Governor.  The following is just part of the “Case of St. Mary’s Rushville” which begins in Part 3 and was appended to his letter.  As a reminder, anything in blue was added after the letter was given to Mr. Cuomo, but added for the sake of clarification to current readers.

Financial Mis-Allocations and Abuse:  St. Mary had savings of about $125,000 during the early stages of the pastoral planning period.  However, it was consistently assigned a disproportionate assessment for its membership in OLOL, beyond expense levels previously incurred as a stand-alone parish.  For example, it had less than 4 percent of the households in OLOL but carried 7% of the financial burden for staff, while still paying all its own heat, light, insurance, maintenance and other carrying costs. 

The Diocese also has a mandatory program called Catholic Ministry Appeal (CMA), referenced above, which is a required payment by parishes to the diocese.  If sufficient contributions for each parish are not received, the funds are simply removed from the parish’s savings account.  It only became clear in retrospect how the “tax” burdens imposed by OLOL administration, and also by Diocesan Administration, were setting St. Mary’s up for closure, “milking” funds from the corporate entity.  For perspective, the following were the diocesan CMA assessments in each of the years shown per household, compared to the “per household” CMA assessment for all the remaining OLOL parishes combined, without St. Mary.  There is no substantial difference between the financial ability of St. Mary parishioners and that of other OLOL parishioners.  See $hepherds $hearing $heep Part 1 for more detail on the CMA.

                  St. Mary Goal/household                    Remainder of OLOL Goal/household

2007                                 $94.06                                      33.39

2008                                  90.52                                      34.01

2009                                  109.47                                    35.64

2010                                    95.94                                      34.76

Moreover, St. Mary’s 7% allocation to cover OLOL expenses is also applied to the cost of maintaining the rectory in Penn Yan, though St. Mary must pay itself for the St. Mary buildings.  The pastor has allowed other individuals to live there, each man for approximately a one year period (one through most of 2005 and the other through much of 2009.)  It is believed that the former was also a vulnerable or impaired adult, whose staying in the rectory would be in violation of diocesan policy.  Possibly these men provided some work toward their room and board, but it did not accrue to the benefit of St. Mary which was burdened with 7% of the rectory expenses.  But, again, the finances are not transparent. 

Audit Unavailable:  I met with Fr. Daniel Condon, Chancellor of the Diocese of Rochester, in April 2007 to express a number of complaints against the pastor, including financial, liturgical and pastoral.  Among those complaints were issues of financial abuse and/or mismanagement.  I requested that the Diocesan auditors, The Bonadio Group, look into the situation, which I believe was done.  I had an opportunity to present issues to those auditors prior to their on-site work.  On December 9, 2007 the pastor spent about 15 minutes in the pulpit at the beginning of Mass reading excerpts from an “audit report” purported to be from Bonadio, and using the opportunity to deride my having caused the audit.  However, none of the excerpts addressed the issues which had been brought to the Chancellor’s or auditors’ attention.  After Mass, I asked the pastor for a copy of the report and he not only refused to make it available, but he accused me of “mental illness.”  Then he stormed into a group of parents waiting for their children in Religious Education asking them if they ‘hate’ him.  One father in attendance left, removed his family from the parish and has never come back. 

In spite of the 2007 audit, it seems there are still problems in the handling of funds in OLOL.  The report which I received from the OLOL Business Manager in January 2009 for my donations in 2008 for tax purposes was seriously erroneous, an understatement of nearly 22%, and missing 8 separate donations.  Quite frankly, it is typical of the sloppy financial accounting in OLOL and it took 7 weeks to get a reply acknowledging that I was correct.  There is no way for a parishioner to determine whether or not those donations were actually credited to St. Mary or to another church.

Additional Background:  This is a continuation of the Case Study sent to Mr. Cuomo, broken into bite-sized chunks.  More to come.  All together, we are aware of three men who lived on OLOL property during this pastorate.  The one who stayed occasionally at St. Mary’s, Bill, was described in $hepherds $hearing $heep Part 4.

The second person, Dennis, lived in the OLOL Rectory in Penn Yan for most of 2005.  Fr. Ring said he was interested in becoming a priest; however, he was not admitted to Becket Hall and finally left the rectory for the Evelyn Brandon Health Center and other care facilities.  We believe that his living in the rectory for such an extended period of time is in direct violation of Diocesan Policy, especially since his admission to care raises the question of an impaired adult, who is specifically prohibited from being housed even one night in a rectory under the Diocese’s “Safe Environment” policies, which Fr. Bob Ring even helped to formulate!  Fr. Ring said he had met Dennis during chaplaincy at Keuka College.

The third person also  spent about a year in the Penn Yan rectory and is the person referred to in the letter above, who resided there through much of 2009.  He claimed to have been sexually abused by a priest in the Diocese of Cleveland and there are media stories to this effect.  His name is Chris Kodger, a self-styled Taoist, and he can be found on Facebook or MySpace, telling much of his story.  Or Google Chris Kodger.  The reader will have to judge by reading those entries if this is a suitable resident for a rectory on the grounds of a Catholic School.  His picture is shown here since it is not confidential, and one wonders, since he was recently seen at St. Januarius, if he will also be seen in Pittsford.  The excerpts regarding rectory residents have been included at various times in the It Really Matters Newsletter, which is sent to Fr. Ring, who has never made any amendment to or correction to reporting regarding those visitors, even though the Newsletter regularly invites such correction. 

The issues were included in the Case Study to Mr. Cuomo because they involve questionable use of tax-exempt properties, uneven charging/crediting of member corporations (parishes), questionable employment policies, accounting, benefits and reimbursements, among other issues. 


$hepherds $hearing $heep–Part 6: Case cont’d: “Bleeding the Treasury”

May 15th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

This is part of the continuing saga recounted to Mr. Cuomo in the letter given to him in August 2010 when he was State Attorney General and running for Governor.  The following is just part of the “Case of St. Mary’s Rushville” which begins in Part 3 and was appended to his letter.  As a reminder, anything in blue was added after the letter was given to Mr. Cuomo, but added for the sake of clarification to current readers.

Bleeding the Treasury:  For a church to be closed, it is required that the bishop hear his presbyteral council and make a decree.  The Bishop says that St. Mary’s is still open, but the pastor has used his authority as a pastor to set Mass schedules so he has given none to St. Mary, which bypasses the Canon Law requiring consultation with the Priests’ Council.  Hence, St. Mary had Mass on a few Saturday mornings a month [this is no longer happening; there are no more Masses], for about 3-5 people, in order to claim it is still open.  But those Masses do not fulfill the parishioners’ “Sunday Obligation” hence they no longer go to or contribute to St. Mary.  Although the property is falling into disrepair, by keeping the parish “open” OLOL can still bleed off about $22,000 per year in the OLOL “Tax” and the Diocese can still take about $6000 per year for its mandatory Catholic Ministries Appeal (CMA; see below).  When the parishes complete amalgamation, anything left of St. Mary’s cash will be unknown.  On the surface it would become OLOL funds, but there is no transparency to where the cash goes from there and if there are payments to the diocese for lawsuits or anything else.  Without mandatory reporting of the liquidation (or suppression) of parishes there is no ability for parishioners to know where the funds flow.

Unfairness to Parishioners regarding its being a “Personal Parish.   St. Mary has always been called a parish.  Sometime during the planning process, there was an attempt to call it a “mission” of St. Theresa (but St. Mary is the older church and all the documents use “parish.”  Besides, if it were a mission, under Canon Law it could not have been arbitrarily assessed by the diocese.)  Then, at another point during planning, the territorial boundaries “disappeared” for St. Mary.  St. Theresa’s map at the diocese showed up encompassing the entire territory.  Under Canon Law, having no boundaries would make St. Mary a “personal parish” and the funds after closure would follow the parishioners (savings plus the liquidated value of the properties.)  We believe that keeping St. Mary’s (Rushville) “open” is so that nothing will be left when it closes, nothing to follow the 75% of parishioners who now attend St. Mary Canandaigua, and which parish should have a rightful claim on 75% of the (Rushville) patrimony.  This is simply one more illustration of the abuses which can take place in a not-for-profit religious corporation under the current law and its uneven enforcement.

As an afterthought, it seemed like you might want to see what a church with over $50,000 in cash, when it’s shut down and bled off, looks like after a year and a half of neglect.    No, it’s not one of the grand churches of artistic merit; but, it is a place where people have worshipped for over 100 years.   The following is one of the fruits of Fr. Robert Ring’s pastorate: 

Broken Window for over a year

           How does a Pastor let the Patrimony get into this shape?

Why isn’t the parish savings allowed to be used for repair?

Peeling Paint

Parish House Run Down

Critter hole in wall near Tabernacle

$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.


Diane C. Harris

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

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

$hepherds $hearing $heep – Part 1 “Unfair CMA”

May 5th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

The financial stories behind the closing of parishes need to be told, and the exposé by Gretchen Garrity and Susan Miller is an important first step.  I had thought to cover financial issues next, after completing the Zeal Series, but given that they’ve opened the door to shed light on what is happening, I’d like to contribute to keeping up the momentum, while still completing the Zeal blog.  Thank you, Gretchen and Susan, for taking such a brave and needed step.

Somewhere in the not-so-distant-past the “Thanksgiving Appeal” was renamed the Catholic Ministries Appeal and the perception at least is that the charity of Thanksgiving was replaced in substantial part with covering ever more diocesan administrative expenses.  Whoever suffered by not receiving as much under the Thanksgiving spirit is unknown.   (BTW, does anyone have figures on an assortment of diocesan budgets per registered Catholic in various geographical areas?) 

My first twinges of mistrust came as I looked at the allocations by parish, and learned that the CMA is really a tax and not charity, and that what I thought were just errors in allocations were actually part of a plan that was blatantly unfair and without even the courtesy of explanation.  Over the years it became clearer that there was a variety of methods used to decrease the cash in my parish’s savings (then St. Mary of Rushville), savings built up over generations by donors in good faith.  The CMA is but one example, but I offer it because it dramatically illustrates the unfairness of this diocesan tax.  And the unfairness doesn’t stop when a church is closed; look at St. Bridget’s which is closed but still has an allocation.

The following is a 5-year summary of the CMA allocation to Our Lady of the Lakes (OLOL).  The allocation comes directly from the diocese, but it is unclear what role the pastor of multiple parishes has in recommending the allocation among parishes. 

Here is an explanation of what one is viewing above.  Throughout the period, the number of households used is 1585, the figure published by the pastoral planners.  They also published the number of households by parish.  We use these numbers because they really are the only ones available, but we believe that St. Mary is somewhat understated and that St. Michael is grossly inflated.  Nevertheless, we use the figures upon which presumably the diocesan CMA tax allocations were based. 

The table above shows that the little church of St. Mary in Rushville was consistently assessed about 3 times what the average was for the other five churches in OLOL, and that no church was charged anywhere near the St. Mary assessment.  There is no basic difference between the parishioners of St. Mary Rushville and parishioners in the rest of OLOL, so there is no sense of fairness about the allocations.  It is true that St. Mary is in the East Lake area of Canandaigua, but the more affluent summer visitors do not belong to the parish and, rather, pay their CMA assessments through churches like St. Louis in Pittsford.  Moreover, they usually don’t register at the church they attend in the summer, nor cover winter expenses like fuel costs.  Hence, the churches which serve in a vacation area have a particular burden, further exacerbated by the diocesan unfairness.  Over these years St. Mary has paid thousands of dollars out of its savings to cover its CMA shortfall.

The table above shows four fiscal years of allocation by parish:  2007-2010.  St. Andrew closed in June 2009, and St. Mary effectively closed in September 2009, but the CMA allocations continued.  For the 2011 Fiscal Year, and for the first time, a single goal was given to OLOL.  Even though St. Mary is closed, there is no way to know if its savings are still being applied to pay the CMA or not.  There has been no reporting since Fiscal Year 2009.  (We do believe that OLOL is still taking its own allocation out of St. Mary’s savings for services it isn’t rendering at all to St. Mary parishioners, who already are dispersed elsewhere.) 

Objections were made to the Diocese about the apparent unfairness of the CMA tax.  The Business Manager, Gary Pierce, said that he had complained but, when asked several times for a copy of his correspondence, he couldn’t produce it.  Similarly, he said that Fr. Ring had asked for a reduction, but there is also no evidence that he did.  The chair of the Finance Council (JM) did make a request in at least two separate years for a reduction and I saw his letters, which seemed to be totally ignored by DoR.  In Spring 2007, Fr. Hart held a “listening session” and at that meeting parishioners spoke out about the unfairness of St. Mary’s CMA allocation compared to the other OLOL parishes.  He promised to review it.  The next year, it went from $94.06 to $90.52 per household.  That tiny, insignificant concession was wiped out the following year by an allocation of $109.47 per household, the highest it had ever been.

Impact:  How could one not question the sincerity of the diocese and/or pastor addressing any matters of concern, let alone actually believe that the good of souls could be uppermost?  And, once that mindset develops, the damage is done.  The conclusions of a number of people who have looked at the matter are:

  1. There is no point in giving to the CMA.  If a parish beats its goal, it is likely to have the goal raised in the following year.  Better to have a shortfall.
  2. Since the diocese is just going to take the money from a parish’s savings anyway, it is better to give it to one’s own church; at least the donor won’t have caused his or her church’s tax to increase by plumping the CMA.
  3. Be careful about giving cash donations or substantial bequests to one’s own parish.  It seems to make the parish even more of a target for closure.  Better to pay for services or give vestments, or sacred vessels, or pay for paving the parking lot, or for a Youth Program, and keep it out of the treasury.
  4. If one wishes to leave a bequest, be specific about what it can be or not be used for; consider paying out over a number of years and contingent on one’s parish still being open and having Mass of Sunday obligation.

It is a shame to have to deal with one’s own church this way, but the past has shown that hierarchical stewardship of the physical assets is not to be trusted.  These conclusions may not be accurate, or accurate all the time, but they are real perceptions.  In a future post we’ll discuss more types of financial abuses, but here is just one example in the CMA tax.  People know what is fair and what is not; they’re not stupid.  But they are far too trusting.