My letter to the editor about the missing two years of Annual Reports from the Diocese of Springfield has been published in a number of area newspapers. Here, we delve into the reasons why this lapse of accountability is important.
We need look no further than the Dec. 11 issue of the Catholic Observer (diocesan newspaper) and read the comments by Mark "Mariano" Dupont. He was commenting on the public hearing to consider the wisdom of creating a historic district in order to protect the closed Our Lady of Hope church from alternation or destruction. In defense of the bishop maintaining complete control of the building, Dupont said that "...if the result of this action causes the property to sit vacant, that may prevent future investments and limit scholarship funds for Catholic education in Springfield - which is what the bishop had envisioned with these proceeds..."
This seems to be a straightforward pitch and yet I believe I detect some spin on it. Dupont is quite specific about what the proceeds of a sale, if any, will be used for but his assertion raises questions. Granted that investments and education are good values, how do we know that this is what the money will actually be used for? Contrast how specific Dupont is about the proposed use with how vague the track record is, as exemplified by the missing records for what the diocese has actually spent money on over the last two fiscal years. Why would the bishop not "envision" that any money realized from a sale of OLOH would instead be used for more pressing needs?
For example, the amount of money owed to the diocese by parishes has climbed into the millions over the last 5 years or so. Why would the bishop not envision that the proceeds from OLOH would be used to offset this money? The upkeep of Thomas Dupre has been a very substantial amount of money ever since he fled the diocese in Feb. 2004. Why would the bishop not envision using the money for that? The law firm of Egan, Flanagan and Cohen have sat in cubicles for three years defending the diocese in a three-year insurance trial, June, 2005 - June, 2008, and Jack Egan continues to be on a retainer; in fact, he appeared at this very meeting of the Historic Commission. Why would the bishop not envision that part of the proceeds from a sale of OLOH would go toward our lawyers? Their fees by this time must be staggering. And there are many other areas of debt.
But, what are those areas of concern? How much is the overall debt? What is the diocesan budget all about, anyway? How much do we owe, and what are our assets?
All of this is white space, because we have no data.
Stay tuned for a retrospective look at the Mullin Report, published in March of 2007. This was ostensibly a review of the infrastructure of the diocese, and yet it focused solely on the finances of the parishes. It will occur to many that since 29 parishes have been scheduled for closure or alteration ever since the publication of the Report, that it was an advance justification for the parish-closing program. And that does appear to be the case. This process will have reduced the number of parishes from 125 to 95 or so, a decline of about 25%.
Don't get me wrong, changes in the structure of the diocese, including the alteration of parishes, are just a fact of life. I'm not saying these should not take place. My concern is in governance, i.e., HOW these changes take place. For an organization that professes to believe that the clergy and laity are equal down the line, and should share in decision-making, this parish-wrecking program is a disgrace. We are a better church than that.
In the absence of good data, thorough discussion and real consulting with parishioners, the Pastoral Planning process as we have seen it in action over the last few years is really nothing more than a corporate Financial Planning process. All of these results were suggested in the way that the Mullin Report was conceived, carried out and presented.
However, there are also many statistics in the Mullin Report about the attendance at Sunday masses that raise questions about how much Catholics in this area of the country support the diocese. These are some of the concerns we will take up in the next post.