The Batting Average

OK, maybe we should talk batting average.
it's warm enough for spring training, you Florida.
% of Catholics in W. Mass is about 33%.
if this is true for Berkshire Co., then a batting average of .333 is pretty good, right?
33 Catholics out of every 100 in general pop.
that would put us in Stan Musial territory (.331).
but wait.
figures show that only 29% of those go to mass once a week.
ok, .290, we're still in Dave Winfield territory.
but wait.

when you consider that the message is "go out to all nations", etc., maybe we should find the batting average (loyal adherents) for the whole population of Berkshire Co.  after all, the RCC has been around for a while and the message is presumably out there.
now the batting average is .095
that's only 9.5 loyal Catholics out of every 100 in the general population.
so my question is: how can the batting average be improved?

I think of this analogy every time the bishop says something like "we have lost a third of our Catholic population; in 1980 there were 380,000 Catholics in this diocese and now there are 221,000" as a justification for suppressing parishes (he said this in Dec. of 2008).

When Msgr. Bonzagani was explaining Pastoral Planning he noted that "The state is undergoing a net decrease in population". A Catholic Observer editorial deplored the loss in population: "... our diocesan family has become significantly smaller in the last 30 years because our region has itself become smaller... "

Just the other day, Mark "Mariano" Dupont made the same pitch: "“The population has fallen by one-third in our diocese as the industrial base has declined. The bishop is determined to right-size the diocese in terms of parishes and not over-extend our priests,” (Religion News Service, written by Solange De Santis).

These various offical statements make sense until you look at the real numbers.  The U.S. Census, an admittedly secular source and thus probably biased, reports that the population in the four counties that make up the Diocese was 791,258 in 1980, 812,322 in 1980, 814,967 in 2000, and 817,291 in 2006. So, the Diocese is not shrinking.  Similarly, the Commonwealth is not shrinking. U. S. Census projects steady growth in Massachusetts for every 5-year period from 2000 til 2030.

In a recent radio interview on WAMC a figure of 216,000 Catholics for the Diocese was reported.  If we take that 216,000 as gospel, that's a lot of people for 100 parishes or so, an average of 2,160 adults (children under 12 are not counted) per parish.  Is that enough to sustain a parish?

It would be, if they were all inspired to attend.  They aren't, and they don't.  As noted above, about a third (720, in our hypothetical example) make the effort to attend weekly mass. As a cross-check, about 30% of the Catholics in the Diocese have contributed to the Annual Catholic Appeal over the last few years, according to the figures I have from Stacey Dibbern, administrator of the ACA.  Anyway, about 700 or so sounds about right for your average weekly parish attendance, right?

May I suggest to Bishop McDonnell and Mark Dupont that the Catholic church hereabouts is not being victimized by the U.S. Census or the declining industrial base or anything else?  Could it be that we simply need to improve our game?

The Mercure Verdict: Updated

Regular readers know that I don't often write about sex abuse per se. Although abuse is certainly a serious problem, I feel like Bishop Accountability does a superior job of reporting it. Besides, once you begin to focus, you realize that it's a vast cesspool. There is really no end. You can only back away and come up for air once in a while.

Nor do I think that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has a sex problem — they have a control problem. Only change from the bottom up can address the control and power issues which cripple our church. That's why the pathology of the Springfield Diocese, the structure I am most familiar with, is the subject of this blog. Clearly, the People of God of the Springfield Diocese and the corporate sole of the Springfield Diocese have become two separate entities.

Having said that, the Mercure verdict is such an important local topic that I wrote extensively about it in this post.

No sooner had I finished explaining why I found the Rev. Doyle's remarks to be such a whitewash than I found another example of how the clergy of the Albany Diocese are responding to the conviction of the Rev. Gary Mercure. See Rev. Doyle's article here.

This subsequent letter to the editor appeared in the Albany Times Union:
I write in appreciation of the Rev. Kenneth J. Doyle's Feb. 13 Perspective article, "A Test of Faith."

To serve in the same presbyterate with him is an honor and a privilege. His justifiable anger has moved him to a higher plane of compassion and concern for the victims of abuse, and great sadness for those who will absent themselves from a faith community that needs their presence more than ever.

I pray that he will continue to forgive Gary Mercure and commend his eternal salvation to a Lord who came to heal the sick and forgive sinners.

Saratoga Springs

It's interesting that Rev. Kirwin has dropped the "Reverend" from Mercure's name, though Rome has not.

There is nothing wrong with praying for sinners. But, Doyle's righteous anger (similar to the anger of Christ when he chased after the money-changers in the temple, presumably), has captivated Kirwin. Perhaps it has blinded him to more important issues. 

Kirwin lauds Doyle's conversion from anger to forgiveness. This, he feels, puts Doyle on higher moral ground.

In the same breath, Kirwin considers the Catholics who have left the fold because of the scandal of clerical sexual abuse. He finds Doyle's sadness about their departure to be understandable, even admirable. Thus, Kirwin elevates those who remain loyal to the church while he shames those who have deserted her. How disrespectful this attitude is toward those who have left the church for ample reason.

It's not surprising that Kirwin would back a high official of the clerical brotherhood, and the institution that employs them both.  But, let's pose some questions here: are Doyle's anger, compassion and concern really all that remarkable? Do they eclipse that of the principals in the case? That of the victims? How do they compare to the anger, compassion and concern of the parents?

Perversely, Doyle and Kirwins' public posturing threaten to rob Mercure, their fellow priest, of his share in the story. Their focus on salvation appears to be mainly about the two of them. Has Mercure shown remorse? Nope. Has he begged for forgiveness, or shown any contrition at all? Nope.

Missing from Doyle's and Kirwin's statements are the supervisory issues. The mental-health issues. The disclosure and structural change issues. Instead, they see only issues of personal morality.

There is temptation, which the Rev. Doyle resisted, and which the Rev. Mercure did not. There is prayer. There is forgiveness. There is salvation.

Maybe, on further reflection, Kirwin and Doyle will realize that Gary Mercure, priest, predator, or simply one seriously f****d-up human being, was mentally ill, and that he has been ill for a very long time.

Maybe they will realize that his longtime employers share some blame. Maybe they will get off their high horses and desert their higher planes of compassion and concern, and join the rest of humanity in working for transparency and healthy change within the Roman Catholic church.

We can only hope.

The Mercure Verdict

When I read the newspaper this afternoon about the sentencing of Gary Mercure, a former associate pastor at Our Lady of the Annunciation in Queensbury who raped two boys in Massachusetts in the 1980s, I pulled out my pen and circled the remarks of the judge and the prosecutor who commented. Judge John Agostini said, “You’re not a priest. You’re no more than a common thug,” and First Assistant District Attorney Paul Caccaviello said “It is strongly suggested that he’s a predator who happened to wear priest’s clothing.” 
I circled those responses because it reminded me of what the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany has not said, that it has not from what I’ve seen taken jabs at Mercure, and judged him.   I have to say, that’s commendable. And when I met Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Albany Diocese after he delivered a homily for the Queensbury parish to apologize for sexual abuse by clergy, I told him so.
So reads a recent post (presumably from reporter David Taube) posted on Feb. 17th, under Chapel Chat, a blog about local religious organizations sponsored by the Post-Star, an Albany area newspaper.

As a church-going Catholic I always find the aftermath of our scandals interesting.

Church officials rarely confront allegations of sexual misconduct head-on, and never publicly. When they cannot defuse them, they try to kill them with a long and stony silence. However, the silence ends if the allegations are proven. Suddenly, the officials can’t wait to put on a public display of hand-wringing. They express sadness and disappointment. Yet, they’re seldom judgmental toward the perpetrator, as Mr. Taube points out. These official acts of contrition are supported by a lay chorus in sackcloth and ashes. The crimes discovered in the glare of secular law are soon filtered through stained-glass to soft theological hues.

"Yes, a priest has been convicted of criminal charges", they will say. "But, did you know that there is nothing so bad that good cannot come from it?"

We’re primed to hear, once again, about the sinful nature of man. About the eternal need for repentance, for forgiveness, for rehabilitation. I don’t disagree with the importance of gospel values. However, it’s both dangerous and inappropriate to link spiritual values to a verdict just because it concerns a priest. Can it be proper to use gospel values to explain away criminal conduct?                           
The secular authorities in New York State and the Commonwealth had a right and an obligation in the case of the Rev. Gary Mercure to find and punish illegal actions. In this context, beliefs are beside the point. It's not that police expect the Catholic clergy to be "better than” other people, or that these clergy have “fallen” to our level.  It’s more that the clergy are expected to be "as good as" other people, and no less accountable for their actions.
To be sure, it’s not hard to find evidence that Jesus expects believers to strive for perfection. The gospel reading for Feb. 20, for example, takes the law of Moses to a higher pitch. “An eye for an eye” thinking should be replaced by higher values. We should not rest with responding to evil in kind, but should turn the other cheek. We should not go the one mile, but two, three – as many as necessary. These are gospel values.

But, the Rev. Gary Mercure was not punished by the state because he failed to live up to gospel standards of perfection. He was punished because his conduct failed to measure up to even a minimum standard of decency. It is revealing that this failing was not discovered in-house, so to speak, by the so-called experts in morality at the Diocese of Albany but, instead, by public servants at law enforcement agencies.

It’s also worth noting that Bishop Hubbard waited until Mercure’s conviction before asking the Vatican to laicize Mercure.  Apparently the 20 to 25 year state prison sentence had a sobering effect on the Bishop. We must ask — why did it take so long for Mercure’s depredations to register on Hubbard’s sense of justice? What was there about the Mercure case the day after the verdict that Hubbard did not know the day before the verdict?

The Mercure verdict is important because some measure of justice, so often denied to victims of sexual abuse within the church, was finally found for these two men, albeit 25 years later. It is also important because of what we learn from the reactions to the guilty verdict, one of which I have placed at the top of this post.

There is a third reason for the importance of the trial. During it, an organization’s many good works and motivations were put into question. Thankfully, it survived the ordeal. This is an organization that is constantly in the news and that provokes strong reactions. They've found a way to speak strongly, swiftly, and with moral clarity. I refer, of course, to SNAP (Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests).

First, the importance of the trial in itself. The Rev. Gary Mercure was found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, by a fair and impartial jury, of crimes committed in Massachusetts against two children. The crimes dated from 1986 and 1989. This verdict was a triumph for victims, for their families and supporters, and for the general public. The losers would appear to be Mercure, who was finally held accountable, and the officials of the Albany Diocese, who have long shielded Mercure from this reckoning. According to SNAP, he was sent away for rehabilitation to a still unnamed mental-health facility in Pennsylvania about 15 years ago. Now that close to a dozen accusers have come forward, there is no reason to believe that his crimes did not start sooner.

The presiding judge was John Agostini. During the 8.5 million insurance trial which I have studied at some length, Judge Agostini appeared to be a scrupulously fair judge. He was no less effective here. He is meticulous.  This is important because during the Mercure trial (held in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and concerning 2 Massachusetts incidents only) he allowed many details and witness statements about crimes in New York into evidence. All of these were challenged throughout the trial on evidential grounds by the counsel for the defense, Michael O. Jennings.

This New York evidence will almost certainly be at the heart of any appeal. Based on the care with which Agostini guided the proceedings, a win on appeal is unlikely. The conviction of Mercure sets the stage for many more court actions against the Albany Diocese over the next 5 to 10 years. This explains the strong reaction from the diocese, which we will address shortly.

I quoted a lay reaction at the start of this post. Note Mr. Taube’s exclusively theological train of thought – he asserts that the lack of judgment on the state of Mercure’s immortal soul by church officials is admirable. Certainly the writer has a point. Humans know nothing with certainty about anothers salvation. Indeed, they know nothing with certainty about their own.

However, I find the post objectionable because the writer misuses the words of the prosecutor and the judge to make his point. The prosecutor and the judge did no more than their duty. The DA was recommending a sentence, as he is obliged to do, and the judge was busy judging. But, these actions are under the standards of man’s law, not God’s, and they did not pretend otherwise. They were factually correct in pronouncing Mercure a predator.

We contrast their devotion to duty to the statements of the officials of the Albany Diocese. We find the latter lacking, and contradictory.

First, although Mercure has a record as long as his arm, the record shows that church officials pretended, again and again, that nothing was amiss. They only admitted what they were forced to admit. One occasion was in the mid-1990’s, when the Watkins affair resulted in a change of Mercure's parish assignment (though this was not made public at the time). Another occurred in 2000 when a credible charge was made by a victim's mother. Again, this was not made public at the time. In fact, the only reason we know of the complaint now is that the diocese disclosed it after the convictions (though they had denied knowing of any other allegations before the conviction).

In 2008,  complaints were vented at a press conference coinciding with the loss of Mercure’s public ministry. The press conference was organized and attended by SNAP representatives, among others. The public airing of multiple accusations against Mercure explains why this press conference became the focus (indeed, almost the linchpin) of Jennings’ defense of Mercure during the trial.

In 2008, Ken Goldfarb, spokesman for the diocese, was still insisting that, in so many words …we must not rush to judgment, let’s give the benefit of the doubt, we have received very few complaints…, and so on.  Mysteriously, although charges were brought by Massachusetts in 2008, it took well over two years for the trial to begin. There is a story there. It would be nice to know it some day.

Even as the trial began on Jan. 31 or so, Jennings continued to seek delays. He insisted that he needed to wait for a crucial witness. Wisely, and justly, Agostini ruled that the trial, so long delayed, should finally begin without the so-called crucial witness.

But, the trial did not begin before Ken Goldfarb announced that the impending charges against Mercure, far from being isolated, unfounded or the like, were now considered by officials to be  credible. What a remarkable change of heart. His exact words were that the officials of the diocese found the charges “profoundly troubling” and “reprehensible”.  Just as suddenly, by issuing additional press releases to the now-growing media pool, the diocese began aligning itself behind the two victims, instead of the Rev. Gary Mercure.

It is too much to suggest that this re-evaluation of the case by the diocese, on the eve of the trial, was a  shift in strategy, and that they were preparing to jettison the Rev. Gary Mercure, now that justice could no longer be forestalled?

Their new-found horror at the charges certainly fit with their simultaneous protests that the diocese was not funding Mercure’s defense. This invited more questions about how much money, exactly, the diocese was still giving Mercure.  Through some follow-up from journalists (not disclosure by the diocese) we learned that Mercure continued to receive pension payments (though he was denied regular employment or diocesan housing). Oddly, the subject of health insurance didn’t come up, but it’s known to be a standard diocesan benefit for “clergy on involuntary leave” in the Springfield Diocese and in some others.

Other questions were unanswered, or perhaps not even asked: why and how is it that Michael O. Jennings, a highly-paid criminal defense lawyer for Bishop Thomas Dupre, became Mercure’s lawyer? And, who is paying him? There is a story there. It would be nice to know it some day.

By far the most visible church reaction to the verdict was published in the Times Union (Albany, NY) and the Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA). It was titled “A Test of Faith: A Catholic priest confronts his rage over sexual abuse within his church” by the Rev. Kenneth  Doyle. The full article can be seen here.

In it, we learn a lot.

We learn that the decision of a woman on Rev. Doyle’s parish staff to pray for Gary Mercure (an attitude at first questioned by Rev. Doyle) was, after some reflection on his part, found by him to be both noble and Christian. We learn that nothing that Rev. Doyle did led to this tragedy, although it did lead him to feel saddened, ashamed, and angry.
Putting aside his sadness, shame, and anger for a few moments, Rev. Doyle throws in some history lessons: that the Catholic church opened the first orphanages and medical clinics in history, that it kept learning alive during the Dark Ages and founded the first universities; that it sponsors one-sixth of all the hospital beds in America and that it is affiliated with Catholic Charities, an operation that serves more of the poor than any other private agency in our land.

It also, according to the Rev. Doyle, has annually resettled nearly a third of all the refugees who come to our shores.

We learn that just when the Rev. Doyle thinks that the sex abuse crisis might be over, just when he begins to relax a bit and starts to feel this shameful chapter in the Church's history is finished, just then, something like the Mercure trial comes along to burst his bubble.
And so, when something like this comes along, Rev. Doyle goes to sleep each night troubled and he wakes up feeling the same way. But, in the next sentence, we learn that the Rev. Doyle gets up and resolves, for one more day, to keep on doing what the Rev. Doyle was called to do.

I was puzzled about the meaning of this last line of the essay until I looked beneath it.  There I found that what the Rev. Kenneth Doyle is called to do is to fill the office of the chancellor for public information for the Diocese of Albany.

Suddenly, everything clicked into focus.

It makes sense to me that the Albany Diocese would feel that the vomit and the blood and the semen and the stench of the Mercure trial needed to be cleansed. It made sense that since the trial was public, that the absolution must be public as well.

Who better to absolve than a priest, and to boot, a priest who is a chancellor, a high official?

It makes sense that the cleansers would be those in charge of defending the institution that needed cleaning. Those who are at risk from further claims in more “chapters” to come. Those who never saw the abuse, or, those who kept it hidden, and all those who forestalled the victims in their quest for justice. We have seen this behavior in Springfield, and in so many other places. Is it any surprise that it is happening in Albany? It is the big lie, the one that is the hardest to believe. Partly, because it is so big, and partly, because it is so audacious.

It will be appreciated that all of this, the absolution, the venting, the hand-wringing, the conversion experience, the raw emotions, the wiping clean, the staunch defense, has little to do with the Rev. Gary Mercure and even less to do with his victims. It is not even about the Rev. Doyle. It is all about the Catholic church.

The Rev. Doyle implies, like Mr. Taube, that the only real and lasting solution to the difficulties is a theological one. A solution that is grounded in forgiveness, and only realized by accepting our limitations. Salvation is found in bucking up and carrying on, like he does.

It’s not just that he prays. He writes that his duties as a priest would be impossible without prayer.  He writes that the solutions, for him, are his three Hail Marys a day, and his fidelity to the Catholic religion. He implies that these are the differences (hopefully among many) which separate him from the likes of the Rev. Gary Mercure.

Again, we reiterate: Beliefs, Faith, Acceptance, Prayers, Fidelity — these are beside the point. You don’t need to be a “devout Catholic” to find Mercure’s conduct, and the conduct of those who shielded him, deplorable. Again, we need to stress that the Rev. Gary Mercure was on trial not because of his limitations, but because he went too far. He transgressed the bounds of common decency.

It’s a measure of his depravity that his appetites knew no boundaries — moral, age, state or otherwise — as was so well brought out during the closing arguments by Mr. Caccaviello. As opposed to this behavior, Christ calls us to do more than we need to, not less, and toward the good, not the bad. But that higher calling, important in its own right, is not relevant here.

It is only the state, and civil law, that can call us, and hold us, to the bare minimum. These laws force us to do no harm to others, no matter what our beliefs consist of, and no matter how strongly we hold them, or even if we have none at all. These civil laws may not be gospel values, but they are fine values which civilized society readily accepts. More to the point, civil law prevailed when there was no justice to be found in church, much to the church’s shame.

Certainly, Jennings didn’t have much of a case. In his closing arguments, he all but admitted that Mercure was a rapist. However, he was at pains to make the distinction that the alleged rapes were far more likely to have happened in New York than in Massachusetts. With cards like that, it’s not hard to understand why his defense consisted of putting the victims on trial.

He questioned their veracity and their motives. He did the same with SNAP.  It was the SNAP press conference, he argued, that poisoned the jury pool, and made a fair trial impossible.  It was the SNAP press conference, he claimed, that had branded his client a “rapist”. He called special attention to the SNAP “network” during cross-examination of witnesses and in his closing argument, implying that the group was a conspiracy. This network, he claimed, was pulling the levers, arranging meetings, plotting with victims. He stopped just short of saying that SNAP encouraged the plaintiffs to fabricate evidence. And though he did not say that, he managed to plant the implication for the jury to consider.

Most serious of all, he claimed that SNAP was responsible for arming the New York victims with the information needed to bring suit in Massachusetts (because of the discrepancies between the SOL laws in the two states).  If he had succeeded in convincing one or two jurors of this, the outcome might have been far different. In effect, Jennings put public disclosure; free speech; the right of advocacy groups such as SNAP to reach out to individual victims; the ability to link victims one to another to offer counseling, information, and resources – all of this – on trial. Thankfully, the jurors did not buy his arguments. The guilty verdict for Mercure was in equal measure a “not guilty” verdict toward SNAP.

It was interesting that another part of Jennings’ closing summary to the jury stressed the need for the  “moral certainty” that must accompany a juror’s verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  This injected a theological aspect into the debate, one that well might have given an indecisive or overly-scrupulous juror pause. However, the jurors did not shy from the challenge.  They found beyond a reasonable doubt and, to the depth of a moral certainty, that the crimes were committed, in fact, just as the plaintiffs described them.

I suspect that the Rev. Doyle, or whoever next fills the office of the chancellor for public information, may soon be mounting more defenses of the Diocese of Albany. The victims, having found their claims to be vindicated in one state, will press more claims elsewhere. Some of those claims will include charges of supervisory lapses.

We can expect that there will be more chapters in this saga.

The Our Lady of Hope Lawsuit

a link to the civil action pdf:

Roman Catholic Diocese lawsuit vs. City of Springfield re Our Lady of Hope Historic District

this one is an eye-opener; it's kind of like going to the dentist, you know you should but you dread it....this is a very angry's sometimes suggested that bishops have ice water in their veins; Mr. Egan (lead diocesan lawyer) appears to have vinegar in his.......anyway, if you have an interest in these things, take the plunge, you'll feel awwwww better after you slog through to the bitter end.  one thing for sure, the attached photocopies, grainy as they are, have the unintentional effect of proving what a fabulous historic structure this is. wow.

Egan's argument, (I'm guessing it is mostly written by McDonough) is that the original fabric of the building, inside and out, "speaks" religious intent, and this makes the building itself a religious expression (though closed).  for example, the structure is in the form of a cross. not kidding. that's why he says that when the historic commission gained some control over the fate of the church, it placed an unlawful restriction on the "freedom of speech" and "freedom of religion" on whoever happens to own the church.  Which as we know, is the Diocese.

Diocesan lawyers don't say if this restriction would be equally unlawful if Our Lady of Hope were sold to more sympathetic, secular owners, who would be willing to preserve these features (as opposed to the Diocese who are not willing to preserve them) but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  On the surface, as in Cleveland, the Diocese appears to be objecting to inadequate due process provisions of the historic commission, but I don't think the diocese is interested in or would settle for due process; clearly, this is all about maintaining an iron grip on a financial asset.

They also accuse the Historic Commission and City Council of violating the "civil rights" of the Diocese and throw in one charge that I have never heard before, which I can only call: "vagueness in the first degree".

What is interesting is that, though there seems little need for it, Egan singles out Councilor Rosemary Mazza-Moriarty for a good scolding because she dared to question the sanctity of the Pastoral Planning Process.  There is more than a hint of "Who does she think she is?" and payback in this portion of the lawsuit.  He also drags the parishioners of OLOH and IOICC into the middle of the lawsuit, giving them a good scolding as well.   Apparently, Egan feels that they have no rights at all in the case, either as citizens who live in the neighborhood, or as parishioners who were unhappy with the Pastoral Planning Process.  The Pastoral Planning Process is not on trial here, but Egan has opened the door to a discussion of it, should the case proceed to arguments. Not sure if that was a wise move, counselor!

For one thing, his assertion that the problems that the bishop encountered at Indian Orchard Immaculate Conception are due to a "small vocal minority" are at odds with the facts.  The reason that the bishop relented on closing IOICC was clearly because he was faced down by a majority of the parishioners.  Permit me a dream: a sea of red t-shirts in the court aisles as witness after witness (and not just from IOICC and OLOH) describe how very flawed the Pastoral Planning Process was to an open court.  That would be something to see.

UPCOMING:   we consider several topics

as an aside, I have to remind readers that sex abuse, parish closings, accountability for money and so on are  not causes but rather symptoms (in my book, anyway).  they have some importance in their own right, but I see them collectively as failures in governance and that is why they appear here as "issues" - governance cannot be talked about in the abstract. 

for example, I would be willing to bet that the problem of sex abuse, bad as it is, is pretty much the same as in other denominations.  however, what I fail to see is that other denominations have made the safe harboring of problem priests such an art form.  and it is the bishops who are responsible for this, much more than the offending priests.  so - governance.

by the way, if anyone had asked me about three years ago if I would conduct a long-term study of the three-year insurance trial of the diocese and then come to the conclusion that the number one recommendation for healing would be the rehabilitation of Bishop Dupre, I would have told that person that they were Out. Of. Their. Mind.

and yet, that is exactly what I came up with.   Bishop McDonnell is in a bit of a fix because he apparently believes that the best way to "fix" the Bishop Dupre problem is to pretend that it never happened.  and that is the message, if you visit the diocesan web site today.  go ahead.

you will find no trace of the man who was a bishop in this diocese from 1990 until his wizard-of-Oz-like departure in Feb. of 2004, a span of 14 years.  none. they have done everything but airbrush his image from photos.

similarly, Richard Lavigne, master pedophile, was a priest in the diocese for some 25 years or so -  and yet one can find more information about him on the web site of the Chicopee Police Dept. than on the Diocesan web site.  why is this? many other diocesan web sites around the country have posted the names of credibly accused priests, yet the Springfield Diocese has yet to make the first baby step.  why?

but as we know, web sites can be used for many purposes.

I still hope and believe that this confinement of Dupre to crazy-uncle-in-the attic status can be reversed.  but to effect this, number one, it has to be seen as an option by the present bishop, as something that could work in his self-interest, in order to gain ground. are some of the upcoming topics.................

1. the change in parish rebates for the Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA).
(without any fanfare in the spring of 2009, and without any parishioner input, the bishop announces that the rebates that have traditionally gone back to each parish in excess of their "goal" amounts will now have a new home - the chancery treasury; more changes; starting with the 2010 campaign, the goal for each parish is not a dollar amount, rather "100% participation"; thus on Feb. 21 the nagware will prompt this dialog box in parish bulletins: " date, our parish has seen a ___% rate of participation. Every donation matters so please send yours in today..."; I'm not sure this is the way to inspire more contributions; since the percentage of people attending Sunday mass is nearly identical to the percentage giving to the ACA (about 30% in each case), it could just be that the ACA has nearly 100% participation now......of those in church.......)

2. accounting for the missing .5 million dollars from the 5 million dollar settlement in 2008.
(the settlements for the 59 victims in 2008 cost far less than the settlements for the 46 victims in 2004; for those following the numbers, the average award for 2004 was $168,478; the average award for 2008 was $76,000; to say that the victims in the settlement of 2008 were unhappy with their awards is an understatement; you can easily look this up in the quotes ascribed to them by the newspaper accounts of that time frame; I also know from personal email exchanges that some of them were devastated and felt victimized once again; this discrepancy in the average of the two awards is a direct result of the bishop being in control of the process due to the 20,000 cap (85K) and the SOL limitations, which both result in great leverage; when the arbitration of the 5 million dollars ended with a 4.5 million payout, leaving a .5 million surplus, where did it go?; did the bishop consider the idea of providing a rebate to the 2008 victims, by distributing the .5 million to them?  if he had done that, the award would have been increased by $8,475 each for the 59 victims, surely not an extravagant figure, considering all that the victims have been through, including a three-year trial that most everyone thought unnecessary; a rebate on the part of the bishop would have been a noble gesture, and he would have won over many of the affected victims and their supporters, and possible many in the larger church community and maybe even many non-Catholics; so..........did he do this?  nope.  did he even consider it?  this we don't know, but there is no evidence of it; what we do know is that the money, all $500,000 of it, was put into the chancery treasury; there has been no further disclosure about this money.)

3. how the parish councils are structured, and why they don't work.
(parish councils are mandated by the bishop to help him govern and his "rules" have many thoughtful provisions and they look great on paper; all of which become moot when a pastor decides that he knows better, and suppresses the councils and the ideals behind them; for example, the rules call for a yearly invitation to the parish community for new members; for publication of meeting times and places; for an account of what went on and what was discussed and what decisions made; in point of fact most of these things in most parishes of the Diocese do not take place; the question is, why not?; another good question: why are so many of the angry and surprised quotes in newspaper accounts about closing parishes attributed to those on parish councils, not excluding the presidents of parish councils?  why are these people, who are the very ones who are supposed to know the most about the parish, and help to govern it, the ones who are the last to know about the imminent parish closing?)

4. my recent letter to the editor about financial disclosures in St. Louis
(the letter muses that recent disclosures in St. Louis about payments to victims and diocesan lawyers were both applauded and hissed at by parishioners; proving once again that reasonable people may disagree, and that disclosures result in dialog - and through this discussion and dialog, possible healing; this situation is contrasted with Springfield, where we have yet to see the Annual Reports for 2008 and 2009; my question; why?)
To the Editor,

AP reported on Nov. 16 that the St. Louis Archdiocese spent $352,000 last fiscal year on payments to victims of clergy sexual abuse – but $852,000 on legal fees  defending against the suits.  In fact, for 5 of the last 10 years, payments to lawyers outpaced payments to victims.

The response was varied.  Advocacy groups complained about the imbalance as a sign of misguided priorities.  Church officials replied that victims had received about 1.7 million more than church lawyers, overall, and that money awarded to victims did not come from parish collections, but from insurance and sales of real estate. The opinion of parishioners was also split.  Some felt that the whole episode of abuse was dwindling down.  They were not happy, but ready to accept high legal fees as a modern inconvenience of getting closure.  Others were uncomfortable that the courts had to be involved at all.

As an area Catholic, I wondered how these disclosures compare to the record of the Springfield Diocese.   It is not easy to track all these figures, but some of them have been included in past Annual Reports under the "Child Protection" category of the budget.  I was surprised to find that it is now impossible to compare figures.  The reason, I was told by diocesan officials on Elliot St. in Springfield, is that the Annual Report for fiscal year June 30, 2008 - June 30, 2009, has not yet been published.  Granted, financial reports are sometimes tardy. However, the Annual Report for fiscal year June 30, 2007 - June 30, 2008, has also not yet been published.

They did not have an answer for my next question: why?


Robert M. Kelly

5. the recent unanimous decisions of the Historic Commission and City Council in Springfield about preserving Our Lady of Hope Church, and why they matter
(once again diocesan attorney Egan pulls the First Amendment "freedom of religion" card, whereby no government authority can tell the diocese what to do; we explore this and also ponder how it relates to Egan's assertion in 2003 that even if the bishop might be mistaken, and has hired a "problem" priest...the bishop's decision is essentially a religious one, and therefore entitled to protection under the First Amendment; for example:

Associated Press, carried by the Boston Globe on April 18, 2003:

Springfield MA - Lawyers for the Springfield Diocese argued Friday that church officials who supervised admitted pedophile priest Richard Lavigne are shielded from a sex abuse lawsuit by the First Amendment.

In a motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit accusing church officials of failing to protect a boy from Lavigne, attorney Jack Egan said the constitutional separation of church and state prohibits the courts from considering the case.
"The government ought not to be mucking about in areas where they have no jurisdiction," Egan told Judge Lawrence Wernick in Hampden Superior Court...

Egan's assertions about "freedom of religion" inevitably lead to the conclusion that the Catholic church is above the law.  But, is this true? What is the proper jurisdiction of the State?  We will look at this question.)

Local Catholic Statistics

Last time, we talked about statistics.
This time.....more statistics!

The most interesting, I think, are those that show how very Catholic Western Massachusetts remains, even though we all know that church attendance has slumped.  Put it this way: in Berkshire County, 500 out of every 1,000 people you meet will be Catholic.  That is so far ahead of every other denomination, it's not even funny.

I think it explains why, in a so-called "secularist"  and liberal, if not free-thinking environment, the articles in the Berkshire Eagle that address Catholic issues are so well-followed.  It is clear that many of the movers and shakers of the community - the lawyers, judges, police, politicians, ceo's, and so on, are Catholic in cultural upbringing and outlook, if not in regular attendance.

Let's look at this "shadow" constituency of Catholics in a different way.  Supposing that the 70% who do NOT go to mass on a regular basis are a potential market, and supposing that Bishop McDonnell wants to win them over, and yet is only getting about 30% of his constituents into the pews on a weekly basis, would it not follow that he should cultivate those faithful 30%, and build on that, to attract the others?

What future could there be for an organization that, for whatever reason, continues to lose the minority of faithful who remain?  And yet, the church-closing policy of the corporate office on Elliot St. seems to be accomplishing that very thing, if we can believe the candid comments as quoted in area newspapers from rank-and-file Catholics who are angered, saddened and disgusted with the Pastoral Planning process.  I have talked elsewhere about my objections to the program so I won't beat a dead horse.  The remainder of this post will consist of earlier writing in a slightly different direction.

The Mullin Report came out in March of 2007 and the critique that is excerpted below came out around Oct. 15 or so. Full critique is here.  One of the reasons I wrote it was that I felt we were not getting the full picture about statistics.  For example, Msgr. Bonzagni said that population in Mass. was declining, overall.  I checked.  It's not. An editoral said that the region's population was decreasing.  I checked.  It's not.

These little examples could be expanded, and were, in the critique.  Since March of 2007 the Mullin Report (and perhaps my criticism) has taken on added weight, if for no other reason than that the diocese decided at some point in 2007 that they would no longer issue the useful Annual Report that had been the norm in recent years.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think that the Annual Report told the whole story, by any means.  But at  the very least, it did show how much money was being spent on lawyers for the abuse settlements, and it included much useful information.  Suddenly, once the annual reports stopped coming, this information vanished.

More to the point, I had subsequently studied the 8.5 million dollar settlement of the diocese, the one that had closed down 105 cases against the diocese for sex abuse (46 in 2004, and 59 in 2008).  One of the results of the study was a handy chart showing the financial costs of the settlement, including lawyer's fees - not an exhaustive list by any means, but fairly comprehensive.  Would you believe that the whole reason for this hue and cry about the missing FY's is that I simply wanted to update that list? But, if you have no data, you can't do any updating, that's the way it works.

At any rate, without further ado, here is a slimmed-down version of my critique of the Mullin Report, published around Oct. 15, 2007.

excerpts from: Critique of the Mullin Report

There is considerable alienation in our Church. Many laity are physically alienated - over two-thirds decline to attend weekly mass. Many attendees are burdened by a spiritual alienation toward the clergy. This alienation is tempered by respect for our spiritual leaders. Nevertheless, I see it expressed by passivity, coolness and skepticism, all signs of a real "turning away". I believe that many clergy are also alienated. Except for Sunday homilies, one rarely hears any original, independent thought from the "lower clergy", even when critical issues within the Church cry out for thoughtful comments.

Number one, let's admit that there is mounting debt in the diocese, and at the same time, a surfeit of parish assets. The clergy has been dropping broad hints about this for years, but nowhere was it stated more plainly than by Msgr. Bonzagni, in the 2006 annual report: "...our ancestors...have left us vast resources in the form of buildings and to best utilize all that we the charge of the Office of Pastoral Planning..."(1)  I decided to look into these resources. In my corner of the world (Berkshire County), the diocese owns over 53 million dollars worth of property, a number that makes any subsequent reference to 7 or 8 million seem almost paltry. (2)

And note that this 53 million represents the assessed value for non-profit use. Almost certainly, a reappraisal of the property for commercial use would show a much higher figure. But while there are millions of dollars worth of property in the diocese, this does not mean that it can be converted to cash at will, and this has to do with the nature of the Church. Most property does not belong to the diocese, but rather to the parishes of the diocese, as part of their long-term stable patrimony. It can only be altered with the permission of the parishioners.
Nor is this the only issue. Leveraging the current debt of the diocese by transferring parish property to cash does not address the underlying causes of the debt. The Mullin Report is said to be one tool among many in the pastoral planning toolkit. Yet the Bishop also editorialized, on March 2, that "......the study points out the reality of where we are today...". I find that this overstates the case. On the contrary, the Mullin Report is mainly a select compilation of data that the diocese has known for some time.

Indeed, understanding the reality of where we are today in the diocese, though a worthy goal, seems unattainable for the laity at the present time, especially in terms of money. There's a Temporalities Secretariat which manages the assets of the diocese, but it's not clear how the Cemetery Corporation, Foundation, and investments relate to the big picture, nor how parishioner contributions affect the whole. Nor do we know how well the diocesan framework (corporation sole) is working, and whether the administration of the diocese could stand improving, and if so, where. There needs to be much more detail published so that parishioners can see how they can and must contribute, where their contributions fit in, and what their dollars are used for.(3)

For example, annual reports are made, but these show operating budgets and not net worth. What significance do operating budgets have to net worth? What significance does net worth have to pastoral planning? What significance does parish income have to diocesan planning? How does pastoral planning differ from financial planning? Granted, these are difficult questions, but attempting to answer them may provide the framework for dialogue that the Bishop has called for.

Figures from annual reports suggest (but do not establish) that the Springfield Diocese has been in a financial freefall for several years. Total amounts owed to the diocese by parishes and institutions, for example, rose from 7.5 million in 2004 to 7.8 million in 2005, and then to 8.9 million in 2006(4).
Parish debt to the diocese, the major component of the above figures, is high, about 6.6 million presently. The Mullin Report contains a crushing amount of evidence to drive the point home, but the reasons for the shortfall are not addressed. Nor are they addressed elsewhere. In seeking information I found this lone paragraph from a past annual report on the diocesan web site:
"...there has also been an increased effort to obtain from parishes reimbursement of their portion of insurance premiums and school assessments related to parish and school personnel. The necessity to cover the parish share of these costs has contributed to diocesan deficits in recent years. These non-payments, in many instances, reflect a general over-all decline in many parishes' financial health, as they also face increased expenses with little growth in their collections...".(5)

I believe that for the Mullin Report to begin to be useful, several diocesan statements need to be reconciled. First, the above statement that parish collections have been decreasing. Second, the statements in the Mullin Report which describe the financial health of 9 out of the 10 geographic areas of the diocese: " general, financial indicators suggest that parishes in this region are not in financial difficulty...". How can this contradiction be explained?

Nor is this the only contradiction to be found.
According to the premises in the Mullin introduction, the report is designed to support the institutional mission of the diocese (6).  But, the individual parishes are being studied - not the diocese. Nor is this institutional mission defined, and how it relates to the mission of the parishes. The premises assume that dwindling numbers of priests must result in dwindling number of parishes(7). This premise places the availability of priests above the canonical right of the parishes to exist.(8) It also slights the principle of subsidiarity.(9)

Why are fewer parishes held to be inevitable, when we've known for so many years that the population of priests was dropping, and when there are thousands of lay people who could be authorized to take on non-sacramental functions of priests? Recommendations for whether a parish should be suppressed, merged or left alone are guided by a set of indicators, and these indicators are explained. But, we're not told why these particular indicators were chosen, nor the weight given them, nor why they were given this weight. In other words, there is no methodology. Without knowing what relative values were assigned to the indicators, and why, the conclusions become clouded.

In annual reports, in order to make the case for changes, the Bishop has stated that there've been negative changes - to society, the region, the job market, and availability of resources - which have weakened the diocese.(10) A Catholic Observer editorial deplored the loss in population: "... our diocesan family has become significantly smaller in the last 30 years because our region has itself become smaller... "(11) Elsewhere, Msgr. Bonzagni explains: "... The state is undergoing a net decrease in population...".(12) Introducing the Mullin Report, McDonnell said: "...we sought the expertise of the Economic Development Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, to provide as much raw data as possible for all of us together to study..."(13)

However, many of these statements are either misleading or debatable.

The county populations of the diocese aren't getting smaller, and those of Massachusetts aren't decreasing. All ten-year periods since 1940, save one, have shown growth in the diocese. All five-year periods for the Commonwealth are projected to show growth until 2030(14).
The raw data for the Mullin Report was provided by the diocese, not the University of Massachusetts. Figures for baptisms and funerals, weekly mass attendance, parishioner contributions, amount of parish debt, and numbers of priests can only be found in the diocesan chancery. Other data, population projections for example, are readily available at no cost from public agencies.

The contradictions above bring the premises of the Mullin Report into question. The report also lacks transparency. For example, we need to know how the study of the parishes relates to the institutional needs of the diocese, since this is the reason for the report, yet this explanation is nowhere to be found. The fact that so much emphasis has been placed on vague "societal changes", and on the roll-out of the report, and on parish debt, is very troubling. It begs the question - Why now? For example, within living memory parish debt has been as low as 4 million and as high as 14 million. Why then is the Bishop preparing to shut parishes at this time?

Absent any better explanations, the pastoral planning effort, of which the Mullin Report is part, seems to consist largely of encouraging or enforcing the dissolution of parishes in order to alienate their assets for the benefit of the diocese.
There are other reasons for this supposition. According to the CFO for the diocese, Mr. William LaBroad, parishes are prone to need extra money from the diocese because of mandated insurance and the like, but don't contribute extra money because any excess in weekly collections is retained by the parish(15). And, if a parish becomes merged, its property and assets belong to the new parish, not the diocese. This means that the diocese can never profit from the assets of parishes as long as they remain parishes.

The Mullin Report is full of information, and that's all to the good. It may yet overcome a puzzling start and help open the way to dialogue. However, as it is presently being used in the context of pastoral planning, it is a rather slippery tool. Its contents can be used to close a parish just as easily as they can be used to keep one open. Indeed, this has already happened.(16) Surely the people who commissioned the report intended it to be more than a sort of Swiss Army Knife of pastoral planning. Parishioners may well come to the conclusion that a suppression is a valid and helpful decision. But, it should be their decision.

Whether future parish closings are merely encouraged, or forced, the result will be the same - the diocese stands to profit financially. However, without better explanations to allow us a more complete understanding of diocesan aims, this alienation of parish property is likely to come at a high cost - the further alienation of lay Catholics, and the increased alienation of the clergy from the objective world in which lay Catholics live. In the opinion of this Catholic, it is a price too high to pay.

-- the end --

1 In the Annual Report of the diocese (2006), pg. 5. The report is located online... 
2 see:, last visited 9/5/07.
3 For example, on the diocesan web site ( there is a single page of financial information to cover all of 2004 and 2005...
4 Page 11 of the Annual Report of the diocese (2006).
5 Diocesan financial report for July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004.
6 in the Introduction to Mullin Report; "...the final set of indicators selected for the analysis were chosen based on the indicators ability to support the institutional mission of the Diocese...".
7 The introduction lists "...anticipated decline in the number of active priests to minister to parishes..." as one of the chief factors in choosing indicators.
8 The premises of the Mullin Report slight the fact that there is nothing in canon law which prevents the laity from becoming administrators of parishes, officiating at liturgies, and fulfilling other ministries. Indeed, to the Bishop's credit, there are already some parishes in the diocese that have lay administrators; but this option could be widened considerably. Many experts in clergy/laity relations see no reason why a respectful and liturgically correct prayer service, including distribution of the Eucharist, could not substitute for the weekly mass in priest-poor areas of the diocese.
9 Canon law supports the principle of subsidiarity, whereby smaller and less powerful units of the faithful are favored over larger units. It was in defense of this principle that Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Clergy, wrote a letter reprimanding American bishops for their incorrect application of canon 123 (suppression) to parishes. He wrote:
"...only with great difficulty, can one say that a parish becomes extinct. A parish is extinguished by the law itself only if no Catholic community any longer exists in its territory, or if no pastoral activity has taken place for a hundred years (can.120#1)". (see article ' Vatican: Suppressed Parish's Assets Must Go To Receiving Church, Not Diocese", online at:
10 On page 2 of the diocesan Annual Report (2006). "...there is no question that the resources are less than what they once were and that simultaneously needs are growing. People in the Church, like all people, are impacted by changes in society and by changes in the community. There is no question we have seen changes in the job market here in Western Massachusetts. There is no question there have been changes in the availability of resources. Those have had their effect on our ability to respond as fully as we might like to the needs of people here in the four counties..."
11 The unsigned editorial appeared in the issue of 3/2/07, pg.8.
12 In the Annual Report of the diocese (2006), pg. 5. The report is located online...
13 on page 2 of the Supplement on Pastoral Planning, March 2, 2007 Catholic Observer. This supplement is located online...
14 The U.S. Census reported these totals for the four counties that comprise the diocese, at ten year intervals:
for 1940, 576,294;
for 1950, 641,278;
for 1960, 729,581;
for 1970, 791,643;
for 1980, 791,258;
for 1990, 812,322;
for 2000, 814,967.
In 2006 there were estimated to be 817,291 people in the diocese (U.S. Census, at, and 820,000 are projected in the diocese by 2010, see pg. P16 of the Catholic Observer of 03/02/07 (Mullin Report).
For the ten year periods, see - Massachusetts - Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990, Compiled and edited by Richard L. Forstall, Population Division, US Bureau of the Census, Washington, DC 20233, at, last viewed 5/19/07.
U.S. Census projections show that the population in the state in the period 2000 - 2030 is expected to grow from 6,340,097 to 7,012,009; see especially, which shows steady growth of the Massachusetts population over every five year period from 2000 to 2030.
See also for interesting pdf files about Berkshire County population trends.
15 LaBroad, "...Parishes in the diocese of Springfield do not forward excess revenues over operating expenses to the diocese: they are maintained by the parish. Parishes are canonical entities which are expected to be self-supporting through the financial contributions of parishioners ...when parishes cannot pay the cost of insurance, pension, school and other costs, they begin to spend their savings, if they have any. Often the diocese is forced to pay for some parish costs from its own savings thus creating significant debt on the part of the parishes to the diocese..."
16 compare the articles on St. Ann's opening and closing in the Catholic Observer, June 22, pg. 4, and August 24, pg. 3.