Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Posts Tagged ‘Fr. Robert Ring’

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

April 9th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

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

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

“Out-ed” Mandater Consequences

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

Thumbs Up or Down?

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

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

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



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



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

Preventing Bias or Error:

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

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

Parishioner Survey Results: Truth of the Matter:

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

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

Serving the People

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

Distribution of the Parishioner Survey Results:

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

Alternative Presenter

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

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

Pastoral Puppets and the Consequences:

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

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

Next time:   Appeal to the Bishop.

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

April 7th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Summary to date:

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

Abuse of Mandaters?

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

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

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

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

Liturgical Excuses

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

Architectural Renderings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baptismal Font:

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

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

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

Repairs Needed:

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

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


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

Collaboration Rejected:

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

Follow the Money

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

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

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

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

Coming Soon:

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

Please pray for us.

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

April 1st, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Open Letter from and to DS:

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

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

DS never answered our answers to him. 

Your sister in Christ,

Diane Harris

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

March 30th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

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

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

Here are the results:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace of Christ,

Diane Harris

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

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

March 26th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please remember, corrections are always welcome.

Your sister in Christ, Diane Harris

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

March 23rd, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your sister in Christ,
Diane Harris