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.)