A Trial Balloon (with postscript)

"We've had some parishes express some concern over the cost, these are difficult financial times our feeling is you have to invest in the future you can't simply sit back and think that people will come without being asked, without being encouraged," said Dupont.

This is supposed to explain why Bishop McDonnell wants to begin charging parishioners $6.00 a year for a monthly magazine which will replace the bi-weekly Catholic Observer newspaper.

The first thing I notice is that once again McDonnell has looked in his mirror while shaving and seen the image of Jack Welch or Lee Iococca.  What else would explain why he would send this memo to Mark Dupont and have Mark read it to WWLP News, where Elysia Rodriguez reported on it?

Let us examine this trial balloon.

Mark "Mariano" Dupont puts an extreme spin on this one, even for him.  This ball is practically uncatchable, but we'll give it a try!

The euphemisms point in the direction of evangelicalism, in other words, you have to have a glossy, attractive media in order to attract new Catholics in this day and age, and perhaps win lapsed Catholics back into the ranks.  Fair enough.

The problem is, parishioners in this diocese already know what Bishop McDonnell's idea of media is. We have increasingly less information each year, not more.  People in the pews, without question, know what the Catholic Observer is, and what it stands for – and that explains why it is not read and loses money each year.

To put it bluntly, I gather that the Catholic Observer, by the evidence of reading it religiously for the last two years,  is not particularly interested in truth.  Journalism 101 says that truth must be the cornerstone of the media.  And truth includes not leaving out important items, just as much as it does putting them in.  The Catholic Observer follows the party line as laid down by Bishop McDonnell.  It is relentlessly clerical in tone, and, like the web site of the diocese, it is in denial.

This explains why you will see nothing in the Catholic Observer about financial support or anything else about Bishop Dupre.  And, nothing about Richard Lavigne, convicted pedophile. And, nothing about the 50 some-odd priests of the diocese credibly accused of sexual abuse - who they are, where they are, and what treatment they are receiving. And, nothing about the deliberations of the parish councils of the diocese -  the idea that the voice of the laity matters (in distinction to the voice of the clerical branch) has apparently never occurred to the people who run the newspaper.

 And yet, all of these items are of great importance to the people of God in Western Massachusetts.

So: Mark.....maybe we should work on having a newspaper that is worthy of the name, before talking about a change to another format?

The pitch that parishioners should reach into their wallet for this upgrade is another chin-scratcher.  Why on earth would we want to pour more money into an organization that does not report on the money we have already given? Does not Mark realize that the Annual Catholic Appeal already allots over $200,000 to the media of the diocese?  This trial balloon seems to be another attempt to restructure the money flow so that the parishes give more and more to the central organization with less and less accountability.

Let's look at the Annual Catholic Appeal:

From the whole budget of 2,753,398 for ACA, the school portion is 707,700  for "Education Support to Catholic Elementary and High School Students", plus 162,750 to "Diocesan School Office", so the total is 870,452. That is close to 32% for education.  Don't get me wrong, education is important.  But, it is also a part of the central administration.  It is not really what the Appeal pretends to be all about, which is the corporal works of mercy to all men, women and children of the area, Catholic or not.

What I find disturbing is that in the ACA brochure and cover letter and in follow-up mailings, one of which I got last week, the delivery system that is run by the diocese is hardly mentioned at all - and many of the parts of this system are costly.

For example, a lot of "pastoral" things that involve the parishes, plus parish religious education office (at 204,000), and stewardship and development (at 215,000), so that they can continue sending all of this mail out and processing all the checks, etc., - all of these are clearly part of the central administration of the diocese.

Instead, the bishop always leads by stressing the things that he knows most people will donate to without reservation: aid to the homeless, the sick, the elderly, the poor.

In fact, these things represent very small slices of the budget, only 10,000 or 15,000 here and there.
I'm not saying these small slices are not worthwhile, but I think that the appeal should be truthful and put the stress where it belongs: the vast majority of the budget supports the Diocesan delivery system, and is not direct aid to the corporal works of mercy.

When may I expect to see these issues addressed in the Catholic Observer?


Postscript: while reading the announcements accompanying the release of FY2008 and FY2009 over the weekend I noticed that this trial balloon is, in fact, a done deal.  Odd how the change to a magazine was portrayed as "potential", "pending approval" and so on, in the WWLP story.

In fact, the Catholic Observer will cease publication in June.

It says in the Financial Report insert that "...under a three-year pilot program, parishes will be asked to provide this magazine to all families listed in the parish...".