Knights of Columbus: Do The Right Thing

There's an online petition making the rounds that calls on the Knights of Columbus to stop funding far right wing social agendas. It may come as a surprise to learn that the totals spent by the Knights on such things as anti-gay marriage legislation are in the millions of dollars.

The nonprofit group Catholics United is behind the petition. To learn more:

Scott Brown Is Threat To Women's Rights

letter to the Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield (MA)

Thursday October 11, 2012
I am an independent voter, family man, and practicing Catholic. For the last few weeks our parish bulletin in Lee has carried helpful hints about what sort of candidates should be elected. Our bishops tread a fine line between information (permissible) and advocacy (impermissible). These hints take the long way round. Yet, once the insert is read, and the recommended web sites found, the dots are easily connected. The road signs may be nonpartisan, but there is no mistaking that the preferred destination this year is the Grand Old Party.

During the first debate of the Senate candidates, incumbent Scott Brown stressed his support for the aptly-named Blunt amendment, the attempt by Republicans to limit reproductive choices for women. We know that this issue is dear to Brown because he co-sponsored the amendment. He continues to support the purported rights of the bishops, and secular employers, to dictate to their employees which health options they may choose, based solely on the employers’ moral viewpoint.

This alone would be cause for alarm. But, there is a larger worry. Even though Brown asserts that he is pro-choice, his votes on key issues have so consistently sided with Republican creed that it’s entirely possible a last-minute conversion on the issue of abortion could take place, with disastrous results. The GOP’s desire to overturn Roe v. Wade has grown so strong that they’ve written it into the party platform. Nor are they alone in working toward a change.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has made the overturning of Roe v. Wade a priority in their position paper: "A Call To Political Responsibility." In paragraph 42, we find that ". . .  a candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion. . . " IS sufficient to guarantee a voter’s condemnation.

Thus, there are powerful forces at work to criminalize abortion. This background must be considered in the Senate race. We know that Mr. Brown stands for denying reproductive rights for women, and that it’s possible he may stand for overturning Roe v. Wade. The contrast with the positions of his challenger is striking. Elizabeth Warren, besides being passionate, articulate, and intelligent, is a staunch supporter of women’s rights.

This is no time to mince words. Abortion is sad. It is revolting. And, it is wrong. Yet, in a pluralistic society, religious views, however well-intentioned, are held to a standard. They must fit within the framework of the greater public good. All are bound to respect the rights and welfare of all. A workable democracy is not easy. It requires a moral commitment to reasonable discourse as well as tolerance, and Catholics, no less than others, must not shy from the challenge. As bad as legal abortions may appear, the alternative of botched and back-alley illegal abortions would be far worse.

I support whole-heartedly the rights of my wife and daughter and all women of the commonwealth to make their own choices about reproduction services. The candidate who will safeguard these rights is Elizabeth Warren.


Contraception and Religious Liberty

[published in the New York Times on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012]

Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, prominent Republicans and other social conservatives have spent the past year making inflammatory allegations that an Obama administration rule requiring employer health plans to cover birth control without a co-pay tramples on religious freedom. An important federal court decision issued Friday rejected that attack as without foundation.

Judge Carol Jackson of Federal District Court, a George H.W. Bush appointee, dismissed the lawsuit filed against the administration brought by a mining company and its owner, who said that providing contraceptive coverage in the company health plan violated his personal religious views.

[link to her decision is here:]

Judge Jackson, based in St. Louis, correctly pointed out that the rule exempts churches, mosques and other houses of worship. The mining company — a secular, for-profit employer — clearly does not qualify for that exemption or for the accommodation the administration is fashioning to relieve colleges, hospitals and other organizations with religious affiliations from having to provide contraceptive coverage directly, by putting the burden on insurance companies. Her legal analysis, however, applies broadly, providing a useful framework for assessing claims by varied religious objectors.

The plaintiffs argued that the contraception mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that prohibits the federal government from taking actions that “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that action advances a compelling government interest and is the “least restrictive means” of achieving it.

Judge Jackson said she did not have to address whether the act’s strict test should be applied in this case to a company because the contraception coverage requirement does not rise to the level of a “substantial” burden needed to trigger the law.

Any imposition on religion is trivial and remote, she explained. The health care coverage would offend the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs only if an employee “makes an independent decision to use the plan” to obtain contraceptives; and that independent decision is no different from an employee using part of a salary to pay for contraceptives, which clearly would not harm the employer’s right to free exercise of religion.

The 1993 statute “is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others” and “does not protect against the slight burden on religious exercise that arises when one’s money circuitously flows to support the conduct of other free-exercise-wielding individuals who hold religious beliefs that differ from one’s own,” Judge Jackson wrote.

She also forcefully dismissed the claim that the contraceptive coverage requirement violates the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion. Her ruling accurately said the regulation is a “neutral” attempt to expand women’s access to health care and combat gender bias, and applies equally to all denominations. Under legal precedents, the First Amendment does not exempt individuals or entities from complying with neutral laws of general applicability based on a religious objection, however sincere.

Judge Jackson’s powerful ruling is a victory for women and religious freedom. The many other courts hearing similar lawsuits by companies, individuals and groups with religious affiliations should follow her approach.

Reading The Signs Of The Times

Last post, while explaining the petition, I sketched the connections from local to diocesan to larger units such as the Commonwealth, the U. S., and Catholic “headquarters” based in Rome. “All politics is local” and church politics are no exception. Church officials insist that the church is above politics, whether of the secular or religious variety. Careful observation belies this claim, and not only at the macro-level, where Cardinal Dolan plays a role on the national stage.

The parishes are the building blocks of the church. Parish councils, though ostensibly formed to help the laity govern, in reality play a very different role in the Springfield Diocese. They have a gate-keeping function, and one of their assignments is to squelch unorthodox strains of thought which may erupt into public speech, discussion and advocacy, and thereby undermine (so the thinking goes) the larger good of shaping behavior based on top-down authority. Propriety and appearance are very important values in the Springfield Diocese. 

This orthodoxy is expressed in pronouncements from "spokesmen" rather than individual parishioners; in marching orders issued from Elliot St., the centralized headquarters of the bishop, rather than bubbling up from an organic base; in a liturgy where spontaneity is discouraged; in chilly  homiletics, so barren of new theological thought; in the rich clothing and ceremonial trappings of the chancery, so clearly modeled on Roman imperial might. Without question, these sentiments and displays are backwards and anti-democratic. Yet, many Catholics accept them, often with the disclaimer that “that’s the way the Catholic church operates.” 

Curiously, the suspicion that these may not be gospel values hardly comes up. Even more curious, church officials claim to be not only unwilling, but unable to change — and proud of it, to boot. 

Are we not supposed to be listening to the signs of the times? When clergy and church members turn our back on change, are we not projecting our own limitations on a limitless good? 

Many Catholics have gauged the state of the church, read the propensity for orthodoxy as fatal, put their affairs in order, and bowed out. I don't blame them. Nevertheless, my choice is to remain. I can see no other way to affect the church for the better than to continue belonging to it. 

The first task while working for reform within the church is to understand how the church hierarchy thinks, not because they lead, but because they have appropriated all of the power. Power in this sense meaning simply "the ability to do." It is obvious that the power needs to be reassigned. This task of understanding what lies behind the liturgy, the ceremonies, the boilerplate of chancery pronouncements is harder than it sounds. 

All priests are trained in the arts of persuasion: in rhetorical, logical, and oratorical skills. Not surprisingly, those who rise in the ranks have more of these skills than their peers. I have found that if you want to understand the Catholic clergy, the last thing to listen to are pronouncements from diocesan spokesmen. Nor are statements from the pulpit to be taken at face value.

No, the most fertile ground for understanding what makes official Catholicism tick is not found in church, but in court: in the Bishop's lawsuits. Study the arguments made in the lawsuits. Study what they do and do not say. 

Study the positions taken by the lawyers of the bishops, and then we will understand the bishops themselves, and their vision for what the church is and should be in these times.

Why The Springfield Diocese?

Some of the signers of the petition questioned why the goal of getting better disclosure laws from religious corporations is so specific to the Springfield Diocese. This post attempts to answer that objection.

First of all, you have to start somewhere! It’s easy to agree that religious corporations need reform — agreeing about what needs to be done is hard. Second, Brody and I have lived and worshiped in the Springfield Diocese, even if he is now a few hours away, studying at Boston College law school; so, the Springfield Diocese is what we know best. Third, the climate at the chancery offices in this Diocese is much more repressive ("toxic," in the words of one priest) than elsewhere. There are good reasons for the toxicity, as we shall see.

The petition is therefore a specific response to specific problems in a local area. In this, it follows the structure of the Catholic church, which always works from the ground up. The popular image of the church shows a pyramid, with the Pope at the pointy end. The reality is the reverse. The Pope is actually a brother to other Catholics rather than a father. The people, along with their contributions (especially their financial contributions), undergird the whole. Without a ceaseless infusion of money, the Vatican (vaunted art collections, distinguished library and all) would come crashing down tomorrow.

This emphasis on community explains why the church has such a rich heritage of providing social services; think of Christ's praise for the widow's mite (she gave from her need, not her surplus), and about his words: "the last shall be first"; "are you not worth more than many sparrows?";"do unto others", "who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" These words spawned a broad-based, inclusive ministry which always champions the dignity and the rights of the individual irregardless of their social standing, and even if they have no social standing at all. 

This communitarian ethic does three things: 1. it gives us a standard with which to measure the shortcomings of the official church, 2. it spurs us toward creating a better church, and 3. it helps us sort out the differences between civil law and canon law. 

In the immortal words of Mitt Rommney, "corporations are people, my friend." Yet, by the standards of Catholicism, corporations are never people. Canon law must always aim higher than civil law, and it is a disgrace to Catholics every time that civil law has been found more fair, more just, more humane, than the law of the church. Sadly, we've witnessed many court decisions that show exactly these results.

For another example of the difference, during the 8.5 million insurance trial, diocesan attorney John Egan failed in his bid to paint the Springfield Diocese as a branch office, or “operating unit” of the Roman Catholic Church based in Rome. Judge John Agostini ruled to the contrary, writing that the Springfield Dicoese was an independent corporation, albeit a religious one. It had no greater or fewer rights than other corporations in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is given the same license to operate as others. More significantly, it is also bound by the same regulations as other corporations. The connection of Judge Agostini’s ruling to the wording of the petition will be readily apparent.

Over and above the peculiarities of the Diocese (which we will cover in future posts), the wider Catholic church is a unique organization which has never fit neatly with the American way of life. In the early 20th century, this problem was defined by Leo XIII as a heresy called “Americanism,” and by the somewhat related heresy, “Modernism”. Almost unbelievably, the simple proposition that church and state should be separated (something we take for granted today) was the core of the Americanism heresy. 

The official church's reaction to these dangers included the imposition of loyalty oaths for both clergy and people, to be quite sure that the authority of the church was dominant, and that the respective poisons would not spread. "Error has no rights" was the slogan summarizing Leo's views.

In this Diocese, there was a flavor of this overreaction in the continued use of loyalty oaths. These persisted until quite recently on the website of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the four Massachusetts bishops, a requirement that has thankfully been abandoned.

We don’t have enough time or space to go into Americanism and Modernism, but an internet search will reward those who want to know more about the foundation of the church/state controversies that are common these days. All we want to note here is that people who think that the church/state divide is secure and unremarkable have not been following developments in the church. There has been a deliberate retreat among church officials from the mid-20th century notions championed by Murray, Rawls and others. This earlier view found many positive values in a separation of church and state, and not
 merely compromise. Today, many church officials are bent on reasserting a union of church and state, although they use different words to describe it. This swing to the right cannot be ignored, and some eccleseastical talking points show us why:

From the USCCB’s obsession with a supposed threat to their “religious freedoms” at the hands of secular authorities, to the controversial contraception mandate in the national health plan, to the desire by the Romney campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade (and an equally strong desire by the Obama campaign to sustain that decision) to the debate about what "marriage" means, the issues are real.

Nor are the issues of church and state irrelevant to those in our own little corner of the state. Here, no less than in the Supreme Court and in the Papal State, the issues are worth fighting over. 

This explanation hopefully sets the stage for more about what prompted this petition, how it was created, and what results we hope its successful adoption by the Secretary of State will bring.

What Are Your Reasons for Signing the Petition?

Maureen Dascanio Cheshire, MA
Our country was built around the separation of Church and State. It should remain that way and "churches" should not be allowed to give money to political candidates, PACs, or special interest groups whose only mission is to undermine the rights of citizens because of their race, religion, sexual preference, etc.

Richard Jette Adams, MA
The Diocese should follow the rules that apply to every other non-profit organization in Massachusetts.

Barbara Racine Adams, MA
When the Church refuses to be held accountable, you know they are hiding something.

Elaine Whitman Hancock, MA
The people who support the church should have a full accounting. Good decision making requires that the facts be available and accessible.

John Tarsa Adams, MA
The church is supported by the people therefore the books should be open to the people. This not only applies to the diocese but at the parish level too.

Mark White Beverly, MA
Accountability is one of the best ways to keep checks and balances on corporations.

Joseph Borucki South Hadley, MA
With millions of retirement money missing, donations are not going for what they were given for. Reports published in flyers do not tell the whole picture. Books should be open, and the public [given] the right to view. Every group has people who do not follow all the rules, the church is no exception. The people have given less to the churches because of the economy, but may support them more if a watchdog is created, knowing it is going where it is intended.

John Thompson NY, NY
Institutions like the Catholic Church are given tax payer money to do 'charity work' but there is no accounting how these tax dollars are spent. The Catholic Church may be the largest institution that purchases child sexual abuse insurance to keep the cost of paying for their priests who rape children as low as possible. This insurance is usually included in their 'liability insurance' so they can hide it. I do not want my tax dollars used by the Catholic Church to pay their child sexual abuse insurance premiums. The church must be made to account for every single penny of tax dollars they spend or lose their tax exempt status.

Betty Lou Kishler Chaumont, NY
Religious figures have no right to get involved with politics

Alice B Younger Stratford, WI
Because what happens in one State will affect all the State's in the US. We all need to be aware of what is happening all around us or we will end up like the Holocaust.

Katherne Goodnow Lenexa, KS
Read the article. It says it all!
[Katherine refers to: "Earthy Concerns" in The Economist]

Paul Sullivan Tega Cay, SC
The Catholic Church needs transparency on all levels as bad as they need oxygen.

Frank Walterman Hebron, KY
Transparency and accountability are needed to rebuild real trust

Tim Little Oakland, CA
The church should not be involved in politics, The church should only feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the poor. Period!

Janet Hauter South Barrington, IL
There is sufficient evidence of mismanagement of donations. It is crucial that the Catholic Church account for its money since they knowingly or unknowingly "hide" what they spend and on what. It's time to hold them to the same rules as others.

Chris Murphy Atlanta, GA
Since the diocesan corporations involve themselves with and seek influence in political issues by spending money, they should be required to file reports as other corporations do.

Richard Byrne Staunton, VA
Churches involved in strictly civic activities need to be accountable like everyone else.

Gaile Pohlhaus Media, PA
Because we all should be accountable to one another.

Mark Crawford Avenel, NJ
Such institutions act "above the law" and their secrecy allows this "abuse of power" to flourish. Mandate reporting as we expect from ALL other institutions and organizations...transparency is the best disinfectant.

Alfred Kracher Apple Valley, MN
In a democratic society openness about anything that affects public policy is a necessity. Religious freedom is important, but it does not require secrecy to flourish.

Paula Ruddy Minneapolis, MN
Financial transparency will enhance the health of the Catholic church.

Sarah Kleman Houston, TX
Every nonprofit has to follow these rules. Corporate churches should follow suit.

Susan Druffel Western Springs, IL
Transparency is very important in any organization, but especially in the Catholic Church. Without the truth, all else fails.

William Lindsey Little Rock, AR
Churches should be transparent and accountable in disclosing the use of their finances--particularly when they engage heavily in political lobbying and political activities, as the Catholic church frequently does under its current leaders.

Fred Daniels San Francisco, CA
When an organization dedicates a significant amount of its time to political activities, and controls a significant portion of our healthcare, we should have transparency.

Anna Cannon READING, United Kingdom
It is vital that, in addition to preaching personal morality, the Church is an example of honesty and integrity within societal structures and does not place itself above the law.

Ana Vicente Estoril, Portugal
Because as a Roman Catholic I care about keeping the institutional church in line with Gospel teaching and that obviously means that bishops not only should be chosen by the community that they are to serve but also be accountable in all ways - this must be so in the universal church - USA, Europe etc.

Christopher Pett Bath, United Kingdom
Because honesty and accountability are the cornerstones of a fair and just society

FAQ about the Bishop Accountability Petition

a. What Is The Petition?

b. Why Is This Petition Important?

c. How Can I Help?

a. What Is The Petition?

The owners of the Western Mass Catholics blog (Robert Kelly and Brody Hale) started a petition on Change.Org. 

You can sign the petition here.

The petition asks Massachusetts Secretary of State William Francis Galvin to reinstitute a requirement that the Corporation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts provide annual financial statements to state officials. 

It is critical to understand two things:

1. this petition is NOT directed at religious organizations in general; it is directed at the Corporation of the Springfield Diocese.

2. this corporation is NOT a religious entity. 

Corporate sole gives the diocese civil standing. Through corporate sole, diocesan officials buy and sell property, file lawsuits (see links below for five recent lawsuits), lobby the state legislature, and donate to political parties and special interest groups. Deed restrictions on real property are especially important in the Springfield Diocese because they are by far the most restrictive in the state.  If the requirement for “annual returns” were reintroduced, citizens would learn about:

-  source and list of diocesan money and assets.
-  what the money and assets are used for.
-  how much money is used for civil suits and political donations.

Financial transparency is a good thing; it will do a world of good for the Catholic church; but it will never come without change! 

An article about just this aspect of the US Catholic church was published on Aug. 18 by the British magazine The Economist. The gist of the 4,000 word special report "Earthly Concerns":

" . . . there has never been a more important time to listen to such calls [for transparency], and to invite in the help and scrutiny that the church’s finances seem so clearly to need."

 b. Why Is This Petition Important?

So-called Annual Reports of the diocese show operating budgets only (money-in, money-out), and officials cherry-pick which categories to include. There is no attempt at a complete balance sheet. Even within this weak system, the Annual Report is sometimes skipped for years with no explanation. For example, FY 2008 and FY2009 were not reported until March, 2010. These reports are not even certified by a CPA. For an organization that depends on freely given donations, these failings are serious. For an organization that regularly files lawsuits in non-religious matters, donates money to political candidates, and seeks to influence political issues, they are alarming.

Recently, church officials used shell organizations such as the National Organization For Marriage (NOM) to launder money. In 2008, for example, as part of an orchestrated push, Bishop McDonnell donated 1,000.00 of the money of the diocese to an anti-gay campaign spearheaded by NOM in Maine. This was not disclosed to anyone, at any level, until the sunshine laws of Maine required the identification of donors.

Massachusetts should follow Maine’s example: the Secretary of State should ensure that we have the disclosure laws we need to keep pace with developments in political donations. Donors to PAC’s and social advocacy groups are allowed to remain quietly anonymous, and yet money talks — sometimes very loudly. 

This secrecy, whether it is practiced for so-called religious or other reasons, undermines the democratic process. On the state level, for the last eight years all four Bishops of the state have lobbied hard against House Bill 469, which calls for reform of the child abuse laws (statues of limitations). And yet, almost none of this advocacy or cost has been disclosed.

Another example of the trend is that the Knights of Columbus, encouraged by church officials, donated 1.4 million dollars to NOM anti-gay efforts in California and made other large contributions to anti-gay forces in Iowa. Rhode Island and Minnesota have seen the same type of activity. This money was not initially donated by parishioners or KOC members for political or legislative purposes, but rather for charitable purposes, to help “the least of us” — those most in need. 

By participating in this end-around, the KOC and the diocesan bishops are flirting with money-laundering. Although the KOC is a private group, many Catholics are beginning to question why we should allow Bishops to funnel large amounts of money to effect social and political change. 

Another concern is Bishop McDonnell’s use of the civil courts to enforce a worldview at odds with our non-Catholic neighbors. Examples include: his lawsuit against the Mayor and City Council of Springfield (to fight the designation of a church as a protected historic building); his lawsuit against the officials of the City of Northampton (to thwart a bikepath which would have benefited all citizens); his lawsuit against seven insurance companies (to compel them to pay the entire bill for clergy sex abuse); his legal counter-attack to parishioners pushing for a large bequest from a local parishioner to a local parish in Northampton; and his lawsuit against the parishioners of Mater Dolorosa (for trespassing on his private property). 

None of these lawsuits, managed by Bishop McDonnell in his role as head of the corporation, relate to religious practice!

Northampton Bike Path Lawsuit (court papers)
article: Diocese Sues City Over Bike Path (Northamptonmedia)

The Our Lady of Hope Lawsuit (court papers)
article: Historical District Wins Federal Judge's Support

The Mater Dolorosa Lawsuit (court papers) 
article: Court Hearing Pits Mater Dolorosa Parishioners....

article: St. Mary’s of Northampton Lawsuit (Northampton Gazette)
article: Parishioners Go To Court (Springfield Republican)

The Lawsuit Against Diocesan Insurers
FAQ About The Insurance Trial

The conclusion must be that “corporate sole” is being used as a cover for corporate misbehavior. Corporate sole enables the Bishop to pursue civil agendas for civil reasons without accountability to Church OR State. There should be more disclosure about these lawsuits, including why they are initiated, what their resolutions are (including information about settlements), and how much they cost.

Unfortunately, since these are civil matters, church membership lacks the authority to challenge such behavior. Our state must step up to create and enforce better disclosure laws. Requiring basic financial disclosure from the Springfield Diocese will institute a much-needed accountability. Your signature on the petition will send an email directly to the in-box of Mr. Galvin, Secretary of State — where it can do the most good.

For more historical background, see: “Accounting To No One”: A Historical Introduction to Corporate Sole in Massachusetts.”

Summing up, certain aspects of corporate sole as practiced in the Springfield Diocese have led directly to a union of Church and State that is accountable to no one. Far from advancing religious liberty, the “hands-off” approach toward the Springfield Diocese has encouraged intolerance by church officials and led directly to tampering in political and social change for all citizens under the guise of religion.

c. How Can I Help?

Sign the petition! 

Send this message for greater accountability to someone who can help: Secretary of State Galvin. All he needs to do is re-institute a requirement that has lapsed. Again, this is not about policing any other denomination or about crossing any church/state lines, or instituting onerous audits, as some will claim. It is about a justified accountability! Publicize it on your own web site, or forward the link to others. Spread the word! 

Although Secretary of State Galvin will give most weight to the signatures of Massachusetts citizens, all are welcome to sign. It's critical to show widespread support for more disclosure by Catholic church officials about spending habits which affect the whole society.

Please note: this petition could be duplicated many times over. Many (if not most) of the Catholic dioceses in the United States are corporations. 

Thank you for your interest!

Accounting To No One

Recently, I posted three 19th century newspaper articles from the archives of the Boston Globe about corporation sole (full texts are here). 

The articles tell how this method of governance started. One phrase in the first article sticks out: “At Present Such An Official [the archbishop of Boston] Accounts To No One.” Corporate sole legislation was enacted in 1897 to address this flaw. And yet, over 100 years later, lack of accountability continues to hobble Catholicism. Is there any fix?

The central question — whether there is accountability in our church — is easily answered by opening a newspaper or browser. When it comes to clerical sexual abuse, self-policing simply does not work. Even though the abuse is a symptom rather than a cause, it is the most compelling example of the imbalance of power between the clergy and laity which has produced the lack of accountability. The balance needs to be righted.

Without question, the tort system in U. S. courts has done more for justice, reform and healing in this area than any bishops’ conference; indeed, publicity about testimony during trials and subsequent damage awards has done more to redress the imbalance than all of the bishops’ conferences combined. We can extend the criticism of the bishops’ competence in this area with complete fairness to another vital area: finances. Note that the same issues — obsessive secrecy, elaborate cover-ups, repeated denials — characterize both areas. If you are yet unconvinced, please see this timely in-depth article about US Catholic church finance from the British magazine "The Economist". The article pulls no punches, and characterizes the financial affairs of the nations bishops as "an unholy mess."

The failings in themselves are understandable. Missions, even divine missions, are carried out by human beings. That explains the constant need for oversight, for checks and balances, a need that is now unfulfilled.

Ironically, part of the inspiration for the introduction of corporate sole can be traced to wrong-doing in another diocese, as noted in the articles. We should also note that the Bishop Purcell scandal referred to actually took place in Cincinnati, not St. Louis. Purcell and his brother (also a member of the clergy) got into hot water by acquiring diocesan assets and transferring them to the Purcell family name. After the Bishop’s death, the question of inheritance was key. It took years for the local church to regain financial stability and respectability. Meanwhile, legal wrangling took center stage. Afterwards, diocesan and state officials were eager to avoid such blunders.

In the early years, not surprisingly, there was only one Catholic diocese in Massachusetts. As late as 1866, according to Fr. Bill Pomerleau’s short history, all 400,000 Catholics in the Commonwealth belonged to the Boston Diocese. That would change in 1870 with the creation of the diocese of Springfield. By 1900, the number of all Catholics in the state had grown to one million, 600,000 of whom were in the Boston archdiocese with the rest in Springfield. When the Springfield diocese started, it included everything outside the Boston area. Although Worcester was a larger city at that time, the Springfield-Holyoke-Westfield area was chosen because it was more populated overall, a situation that continues today. It was many more years until the Fall River Diocese was created (in 1904), and until the Worcester Diocese split from Springfield (in 1950). That gives us the present lineup of four dioceses. Ranked by founding, they are: 1. Boston (also called archdiocese or metropolitan), 2. Springfield, 3. Fall River and 4. Worcester.

Getting into these articles, let’s look at the criticism of one of the legislators during the debate on creating corporation sole. He said that he didn’t want to introduce corporation sole because it would result in the church becoming a “gigantic trust”. But, in truth, this phrase  does describe the Catholic church, then and now. There is one pot of money, no matter what you may hear to the contrary from diocesan accountants or lay apologists. The participants belonging to the church have much (and some would say, everything) in common, even if these participants are divided into two broad categories (clergy and laity).

Power within the Catholic church is nominally held by the clergy for the benefit of all. Yet, without some correcting mechanism, power (the ability to DO things, broadly speaking) can easily be misused. 

It's not our purpose to delve into internal Catholic affairs which can be fairly described as religious in nature. What concerns us are the ramifications of official behavior on the civil side of the Diocese. It is a fact that the Corporation of the Diocese of Springfield is not a religious entity at all; like all corporation soles across the country, it's a creature of the state. This fact explains why the bishops' organization (the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB) have standing when it comes to lawsuits, which are always entered into "on behalf" or similar wording, of their respective dioceses. For example, there are 30 amicus briefs listed on the USCCB website and although this is only the tip of the iceberg, it gives some idea of the scope of activity.

The fact that corporate sole is a creature of the state also explains why Bishop McDonnell was able to sue the parishioners of Mater Dolorosa in his failed attempt to end their occupation of their closed church. McDonnell did not argue in court that the parishioners were disobedient, or divisive, or sinners, but that they were civil trespassers under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He objected because he was (he said) the owner of the property.

Under a time-honored system, it is the laity who contribute the money, and the clergy who are supposed to contribute the moral authority. The clergy’s role has been challenged greatly by disclosures in recent years. On the local level, these five points stick out:

1. Bishop McDonnell sent 1,000.00 of the money of the diocese to a anti-gay legislative campaign in Maine. Yet, there is no record of this in local church or civil financial statements, and there was no disclosure.

2. The diocese continually sends money for the support of disgraced Bishop Thomas Dupre, and has since 2004. Yet, there is no record of this in local church or civil financial statements.

3. The bare minimum was paid out in settlements to victims in 2004 and 2008 for 105 sexual abuse claims against the Diocese, and though totals were given, individual amounts were not disclosed. Yet, according to the Dallas Norms endorsed by the nation's bishops in 2002, such secret settlements have been banned. There have also been payments to victims of clerical abuse outside of the 105 claims. For example, payments resulting from actions of the former Rev. Al Blanchard, and the payment to the brother of Danny Croteau. There has never been an accounting made of these other payments, which are known only because of newspaper investigations.

4. As long as operating budgets (which record money-in money-out for a given year) are the only records, the financial health of the diocese will remain a mystery. Layoffs have been made, churches and parish centers closed, land sold, programs cut, and yet, a balance statement has never been published which would show how the whole stands in relation to all these parts.

5. The most recent instance of church opacity occurred on July 27 when a settlement was made during the lawsuit of a Williamstown man vs. two Bishops of the Diocese over sexual abuse. The award was 500,000 dollars. There was no indication from church officials where the money will come from...and it is unlikely that there will ever be an indication from church officials where the money will come from.

With this background of how financial accountability continues to elude the Catholic people of Western Massachusetts, we turn to the three 19th century articles which describe how corporation sole was established.

In the first article, as previously noted, Mr. Pierce objected because “…he said the bill proposed the creation of a gigantic trust. He would give to the Catholic church just as much as he would give to any other sect, but not one iota more…” The complaint reveals a common attitude at the turn of the century.

Around 1900 the disillusion with “trusts” (monopolies) was probably at its height. Trust-busting was not some legal technicality confined to the back pages of law books. It was constantly on the front page. The Duponts (purveyors of gunpowder), Standard Oil (sellers of petroleum), and railroads were all scrutinized. Without question there were aspects of the church, with its monarchical trappings and insistence on absolute control, that resembled a trust. But, this warning of Pierce’s was countered by the claim from other legislators that Catholics themselves supported the institution of corporate sole.

That support might be more accurately named subservience. This is not just a subjective criticism, but a theological one, too. At this time the role of the laity, as laid down by Leo XIII, was to follow; the role of the clergy was to lead. Today, the analogy to a trust (monopoly) has less validity. Church doctrine has evolved. The laity no longer follow, but on the contrary are charged to be active. On the civil side, even if secular law sometimes favors trusts or monopolies, the recent lawsuits by the Department of Justice against Amazon, Google and Apple are strong reminders that the principles against monopolistic behavior hold up. This distinction matters because it is in the civil arena that the corporate sole structure of the Catholic church resides.

In the first article the date of 1878 comes up, which is when the Boston archdiocese was established. One of the legislators argues that the law enacted in that year already governed arguments about corporate sole. The establishment law was supposedly modeled after legislation crafted in New York. However, the validity of this law is not without controversy. The New York law seems open to questions about the federal constitutionality of how it transfers property rights from laity to clergy — a bypath that we will not pursue here.

Mr. Manchester welcomed the bill because it would be an improvement. He noted that the archbishop accounted to no one, yet was responsible for administering over 5 million dollars of property. Manchester urged that the archbishop should be “… obliged to open his books once a year and show the commissioner of corporations of this state how he has administered the property intrusted to his care…”

Mr. Dubuque of Fall River asserted that the bill would give to the laity of the Catholic church more power than they ever had before. Perhaps the bill did hold out that promise. Yet, there is no evidence that the laity ever had much clout in statewide financial matters, particularly in the early 20th century. Maybe Manchester was expecting some control through state agency. It seems safe to assume that any attempts at control soon gave way to a live-and-let-live attitude between state and Catholic officials.

And that is a summary of what we have today. The financial health of the church is opaque, not only to citizenry, but also to church faithful, who are responsible for maintaining it. Financial disclosure could and should be accomplished at the church level. But, since that never happens, and since it is too important to ignore, it must therefore happen on the civil level. That control should address those issues where church spending impacts the whole society, as outlined elsewhere — in political and social advocacy, and in non-religious lawsuits launched by the diocesan corporation.

In the second article, the headline reads: “Archbishop is Required by New Act to Conform to Its Provisions.” What were these provisions? McCarthy’s synopsis explains that “…should there be any contention about his will, the title would be in peril, and the Catholic body might suffer….” This seems like a slender foundation for such an important change in legal standing. But, his reasoning suggests that corporation sole was instituted not because of any real problem in day-to-day church business in 1897, but as a hedge against anticipated problems.

McCarthy goes on make four important points about the new law:

1. it would ensure that the property of the church was used for the good of the members.

2. “…there would be no danger of the misapplication of the property, as the state has the control, regulation, supervision and direction of every corporation it creates, and may alter and amend the act at any time, if found necessary…”

3. If Catholics want church property held by a corporation sole there is no constitutional bar, as long as the corporation so created is subject to the laws of the Commonwealth.

4. “…the corporation shall be subject to all laws of the Commonwealth regulating corporations established for religious and charitable purposes, in requiring them to make annual and other returns to the commissioner of corporations concerning their condition and affairs,…”

In the third and last article, specific to the Springfield Diocese, not much is new. It’s interesting that prominent non-Catholic politicians signed the petition urging incorporation. This suggests a gathering of a full head of steam to push the bill through. So, the train arrived, debate was foreclosed, and has not been reopened since. Mr. Crowley’s final questions were never answered: He wanted “…returns that would show the income from this corporation sole, and how it was applied…”

I want that, too, and I believe that Catholics deserve that from their officials. A complete accounting for the accumulations of the widow’s mite, along with the many thousands of dollars that are dropped into collection plates on a weekly basis, and information about bequests, is long overdue. This is the Catholic lay issue.

But more important, it is also a citizen’s issue. It is not only Catholics who have a stake in the continued financial viability of this important charity. Any information about Catholic church corporations would be an advance over what we have now, which is a vacuum. Looking ahead, what might the ramifications of a disclosure law be?

First, it would help the state, because it would curb monopolistic behavior. No longer could the church escape neutral, common sense disclosure. Once the secrecy is thrown out, these disclosures would verify to the state, for the first time, that the church can be a good neighbor among all faiths.

Second, it would help the clergy of the church, because it would show the faithful that the clerical/administrative branch has nothing to hide. It would also accelerate a much-needed airing out and reform within the church, which is already in progress.

Third, it would help the citizens of the Commonwealth. For the first time, because of financial transparency, they would have a rational basis for trusting the church.

--the end--

The Origins of Corporation Sole in America

As part of this series on the legislation that makes the Springfield Diocese a civil corporation in the eyes of the Commonwealth, I offer the following commentary about the origins of corporate sole. The history in England, where it arose from common law roots, is not uninteresting. Yet, for the sake of clarity it may be best to stick to how it is applied in the U. S. That application is ably sketched out below. The reference for this article, from which this extract has been taken is:
The Modern Corporation Sole. James B. O'Hara, 93 Dickinson Law Review, Fall 1988.

The Modern Corporation Sole

“When John Carroll was chosen as the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States in 1789, gaining secure title to the property of his church in the various states and territories was one of his most pressing tasks. This task was by no means easy.

Roman Catholicism had no legal standing in England, and its position in the new nation was awkward. Although Catholicism shared the fruits of the first amendment, it had a structure that many Americans judged to be autocratic and monarchical. At that time, congregational ownership of church property was natural to many denominations in America, but was contrary to long-established Roman Catholic policy.

Sometimes, for want of a better method, church property was held in fee simple by the local priest or by a pious layman. This system, however, led to endless difficulty. There was a constant fear that church property held in a private name might be claimed by a relative of the holder. Worse yet, the possibility existed that some unworthy claimant with a plausible story could make out a case for ownership. In one lawsuit, an unfrocked priest claimed to be heir to land that a deceased predecessor had purchased to build a church.48

Bishop Carroll won that suit, but for the next seventy years the Roman Catholic hierarchy struggled to find a legally sufficient and canonically suitable manner for its church to own property. Vesting title in a board of elected or appointed trustees was one obvious possibility. In fact, that is the way Carroll originally incorporated in Maryland.49  But "trusteeism" itself became an issue when the trustees in some areas used their property ownership to pressure the bishops in doctrinal or disciplinary disputes.50 

The internal problems of the Catholic Church were exacerbated and complicated by the rise of a national social and political phenomenon called the "Know-Nothing" movement.51 In addition to their many other objections to Catholicism, these opponents had particular objections to control of church property by the clergy, and strenuously battled the church on this issue.52  The bishops battled back, in what they saw as a defense of the doctrine and practice of their religion against bigots on the outside and recalcitrants on the inside. Over time, the corporation sole became a major weapon.53

Beginning in 1829, a series of national bishops' meetings was held to address the problems of Catholicism in America. Invariably, property problems were on the agenda.54 Soon after the first of these gatherings. Archbishop Whitfield of Baltimore sought a charter in the form of a corporation sole from the Maryland General Assembly. In 1832, it was granted.55

The link between Roman Catholicism and the legal concept of a corporation sole was surprising for two reasons. First of all, in England, this mode of incorporation was limited to the Anglican Church.56 In fact, the Roman Catholic hierarchy was not reinstated in England until 1850.57 Second, Catholic Canon Law did not envision a one-person corporation. The minimum number required to constitute a "collegiate moral person" was three.58 Even the Pope was not a corporation sole.59 Even though bishops of dioceses have great autonomy in church law, favorable action by a board of consultors is still required on major property decisions to this day.60

As Roman Catholicism spread geographically and grew in numbers in the last decade of the nineteenth century, new dioceses were created as new areas of the country were settled. Where they could, the bishops incorporated as corporations sole.61 In some states, this required a private act of special incorporation; in others, a general incorporation statute was utilized.

The effort was not successful everywhere. On at least one occasion, a legislature defeated a bishop's request for sole incorporation on the grounds that Catholicism would thus acquire a legal right not held by other religious denominations.62 Slowly, Roman Catholics won the battle for their church to be incorporated in a manner consistent with church polity.63 During this struggle, the old common law corporation sole was gradually transformed. There was no longer any link with an established church. Although legislative action was often the result of activity by one church, the laws passed were usually broad enough for others.

In the courts, judges began to require specific legislative authorization for a corporation sole. The common law was not invoked to create sole corporations in states where the legislature had not acted.64 Finally, at the beginning of this century, the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Holmes, confirmed what was already an almost universal judicial stance: "Apart from statute the law does not recognize the bishop as a corporation sole . . ."65

The transformation of the corporation sole from its common law form to a legislative format, however subtle, created something altogether new. Zollmann, writing in 1915, called it "a new form . . . vigorously flourishing"66 and "American in the true sense of the word."67 The tide had turned. Momentum to secure the property rights of the Roman Catholic Church a century ago left permanent traces in modern American law. Today at least thirty states have a corporation sole in one form or another."
48. Browers v. Fromm, 1 Add. 362 (Pa. 1798).
49. 1792 Md. Laws 55.
50. See generally 1 A. STOKES, CHURCH AND STATE IN THE UNITED STATES 808-18 (1950); Guilday, Trusteeism (1814-1821), 18 HIST. REC. & STUD. 7 (1928); McNamara, Trusteeism in the Atlantic Stales, 1785-1863, 30 CATH. HIST. REV. 135 (1944); Stritch, Trusteeism in the Old Northwest, 1800-1850, 30 CATH. HIST. REV. 155 (1944).
52. A. STOKES, supra note 50, at 808.
54. P. GUILDAY, A HISTORY OF THE COUNCILS OF BALTIMORE 1791-1884 (1932). The 1829 meeting was attended by Roger B. Tancy, a prominent Catholic layman, later Chief Justice of the United States from 1836 to 1864. Taney's role at this meeting of bishops is unclear, but possibly he was serving as legal counsel. Id. at 89.
55. 1832 Md. Laws 308.
56. Recent Cases, supra note 16, at 295-96.
57. There were a few Roman Catholic bishops ministering to congregations before 1850, but there were no dioceses until the hierarchy was reestablished in that year with the appointment of Cardinal Wiseman as Archbishop of Westminster.
58. This long-standing policy was formally codified in 1917 Code c. 100, § 2. For an exceptionally clear short explanation of the canonical concept of moral personality, see A. MAIDA. OWNERSHIP. CONTROL AND SPONSORSHIP OF CATHOLIC INSTITUTIONS 10-22 (1975).
59. C. CARR, supra note 14, at 16 n.l.
61. It is not the purpose of this study to create a state-by-state history of this pattern of incorporation. However, in some of the cases there are occasional references to the history of this pattern. A few examples will suffice: Illinois had created a corporation sole by private act in 1845; South Carolina in 1880; Kentucky in (or before) 1888; Massachusetts in 1898. See Chiniquy v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 41 III. 148 (1866); Decker v. Bishop of Charleston, 247 S.C. 317, 147 S.E.2d 264 (1966); McCloskey v. Doherty, 97 Ky. 300, 30 S.W. 649 (1895); Searle v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield, 203 Mass. 493, 89 N.E. 809 (1909).
62. Union Church v. Sanders, 6 Del. (1 Houst.) 100, 127 (1855).
63. For a summary of the later stages of the trusteeship controversy, see 3 A. STOKES, supra note 50, at 408-13. The Vatican gave formal approval to the corporation sole as one of the approved modes of holding title to church property in a private letter sent to the American bishops in 1911. For the text, see 2 T. BOUSCAREN. CANON LAW DIGEST 443 (1966). The corporation sole is still the "preferable civil law instrument for the dioceses to use in holding title to property." See A. MAIDA & N. CAFARDI. CHURCH PROPERTY, CHURCH FINANCES, AND CHURCH-RELATED CORPORATIONS 129 (1986).
64. See Roman Catholic Archbishop v. Shipman, 79 Cal. 288, 21 P. 830 (1889) (affirming action taken by the legislature of California). For other decisions where a court did not recognize a corporation sole because the legislature had not acted or where a party had not followed a procedure created by state law, sec Dwenger v. Geary, 113 Ind. 106, 14 N.E. 902 (1888); Blakcslee v. Hall, 94 Cal. 159, 29 P. 623 (1892); First Nat'1 Bank v. Winchester, 119 Ala. 168, 24 So. 351 (1898).
65. Wright v. Morgan, 191 U.S. 55. 59 (1903).
66. Zollmann, Classes of American Religious Corporations, 13 MICH. L REV. 566, 571 (1915).
67. Id. at 573.

AS I RECALL: Why I Wrote About The 8.5 Million Dollar Settlement

It's official: ebooks are shaping up as the next form of serious scholarship: move over, vampire chronicles and celebrity cookbooks. I know this because of my other life as paperhanger/scholar. This has encouraged some thoughts about this blog. Would it not be timely and smart to repackage this study as an ebook? Conversion software is out there, it works, and some of it is free. A simple text document, like the 8.5 study,  is an ideal candidate. So, look for that down the road. In the meantime, I take this opportunity to reflect on how this "book-length study" came about.

Blogging, for the most part, is driven by passion. It has to be. The pay is lousy, the hours long. But, the sight of your own name in print is only slightly less intoxicating than the sound of your own name. Many bloggers start with a conviction that "Soon, all the people of the earth will thank me."

Actually, they won't, by and large. Polishing a piece of prose to a shine is no mean accomplishment. Sending it forth is a kick. But, these pleasures soon fade. They are replaced by the Robinson Crusoe syndrome: "Why is there no feedback? Where are the comments? Am I here all alone?"

For these reasons, it seems to me, most of the longtime bloggers who have not landed a paying gig accept working in solitude. This disposition dovetails with Catholicism. The interior life of the Catholic tends to be rich and personal, though based on universal truths. Committed Catholics have followed their spiritual path for years.

That is the case with me. Our Irish-American family consisted of ten children, anchored by the Mom and Dad. Only seven of the kids appear in this early photo (I am second from the right). When you belong to a family larger than a softball team, especially one that is captained by a meat cutter, certain priorities emerge. I recall that the big three ideals, after the church, were education, imagination, and self-reliance. These kicked into high gear as we left high school and the nest of home.

In a single year (was it 1972?), I was at the State College at Lowell (now the University of Lowell), Martha was at Salem, and Kathy was at Bridgeport. All were state schools and all was done through student loans which were paid back, dollar by miserable dollar, over many years. The smartest of all the children, Linna, started her own family soon after high school. Yet, she returned to school after dozens of years and earned a degree. My mother, too, went back to school. She got several advanced degrees in psychiatric nursing long after raising the ten of us. I guess she was at loose ends.

But, back to the church. I was in a religious order for four years, and while it was somewhat of a mixed blessing, no pun intended, those years were valuable. I learned that many if not most Catholics were genuinely nice people; that conviction has stayed with me. It was a missionary order. While I didn't travel back to the origins in Germany, nor to the many third-world countries where the order had set up shop, there was plenty of contact with Catholic seminarians from around the globe. I always liked the Australians. Somehow their sense of humor stood out.

ANYWAY, enough about my early life.  I think the best way for a solitary blogger to get into the topic of Why Write? is to interview myself:

Q: What is Western Mass Catholics (WMC)?
A: This is the first web site I did. It's a static one, and is where all the court papers are parked, along with editorials, letters to the editor, articles and so on, usually relating to the Diocese of Springfield. From there I created, which is where the 8.5 study first appeared. That was written between 2008 and 2010. When the 8.5 material got too large for the blog, I created a new blog ( and parked the study there, along with a list of accused clergy.

Q: Why did you begin writing about the 8.5 Million Dollar Settlement?
A: The impetus was a letter that Catholic historian David O'Brien of Holy Cross wrote to the editor of the Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA) in July of 2008. The occasion was the conclusion of the three-year insurance trial, in which 8.5 million dollars was awarded to the church in order to compensate victims of clergy abuse. O'Brien wrote that now that the deal was made, it was the duty of local Catholics to make sure that the victims had, in addition to the money, any other help that they needed. This sounded like the right thing to do. 

Q: Did you know any of the victims?
A: Not a one. But still, I felt like I owed them.

Q: So, this writing is sort of like social work?
A: Not exactly, although it ended up being "citizen journalism" or something like that. All during the trial (from May of 2005 to July of 2008) I could not really make head nor tail of it. At the parish level, we only heard about it through a short news story every 8 months or so from the Eagle or Springfield Republican, and none of it hung together.
Was this a class-action suit? Who was suing who? Why was there no trial or testimony? What was at stake? How much money was involved, and who was paying it? Where was the money coming from?  How do you buy insurance for child abuse, anyway? Is that even possible? All these things were mysteries.
On top of that, we heard zero from church officials. Nothing was said at Mass, nothing in parish bulletins, and nothing much in the Catholic Observer, the diocesan newspaper. What was going on? Even the newspaper reporting sounded wrong, because the two sides rarely agreed on anything. They sounded like they were on different planets. 

Q: Why does it matter?
A: It matters because the church is an organization made up of human beings. In this case, human beings who had screwed up big time. As a contributor to the church, I wanted to know how they were spending my money.  I also wanted to know more about how the abuse had happened; what the causes were; and what the resolution would be. I also suspected that other Catholics were no better informed than I was. It seemed like a good idea to get the original documents (court papers), study them, and learn more.

Q: Why?
A: In my professional life I am a paperhanger/scholar. For a long while I have worked in historic homes. I also work in residential and commercial spaces, but the historic homes have become a speciality, and led me into research and writing. For more about this you can go to or my profile on LinkedIn.
It's through the study of original documents such as bills, correspondence, trade and government statistics, advertising and the like that we make sense out of historic wallpaper use. It's no different for other decorative arts, and for the trade history of painting, upholstering and paperhanging. I thought my skills as a researcher and writer could be used to analyze the arguments of the opponents in the insurance trial. I also assumed that the material could be made into a narrative. Eventually I came to a conclusion; the true costs of the settlements is also an important topic.

Q: How did you start?
A: I can't remember which court paper was the first. Maybe it was the judge's decision on the "protective order". I think I called Stephanie Barry at the Republican, or maybe Ellen Lahr at the Eagle. Anyway, one of the reporters said that if I went to Hampden County Superior Court a few days after any hearing,  I could get copies of the arguments. I was a little reluctant to follow through, but once I began reading I was fascinated.
Here, in black and white, was the story. There was no ambiguity. On the contrary, each side was desperate to paint a compelling portrait for the judge, in order to win the case. Almost immediately I felt that publishing the papers was the logical thing to do.

Q: So, you copied and scanned.
A: Exactly. The cost was less than 200 dollars for hundreds of pages, and you just placed an order with the clerks. The scanning took a little time. Later cases were easier: federal cases are already online through PACER, so those could be downloaded easily, and cost less. And, the Republican began putting court papers on Scribd.

Q: Are there any models for this type of work?
A: The template was laid down long ago by I don't know when or if lay Catholics will qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize, but the originators of that web site are worthy candidates. It is a marvelous piece of creative journalism. The difference is, I wanted to apply the method to the Springfield Diocese: to create an online database of permanent literature so that others could study it, too. I had local Catholics in mind, but also journalists and any local citizen, plus of course people in the many other dioceses who were going through similar ordeals.

Q: What happened after you got all the important papers online?
A: I wrote a narrative about the progress of the suit. But, I soon realized that the story was  incomplete. I couldn't draw any conclusions about the trial because so much of it hinged on what led to the victim's claims, and that history was strongly contested. As the judge put it: "What did the officials of the Diocese know, and when did they know it?"
The only way to get the back story was from online nonprofit databases and the pay archives of the Springfield Republican, Boston Globe and  Berkshire Eagle. I got dozens of articles about the Lavigne trial, the Misconduct Commission, the claims and lawsuits that began to surface around 2000 or so, and local reactions to all these things. These articles are really the backbone of the study, because they provide the facts that the 8.5 trial and the 8.5 study are based on.

Q: Why have you not uploaded many other court papers, like those of the Danny Croteau investigation?
A: While I have the utmost respect for SNAP and those who work on the bishop-accountability web site, I do not think that abuse per se is the biggest problem in the Catholic church. I think that the real problem is governance, of which the abuse crisis is a symptom. Also, for sheer volume, the abuse crisis is overwhelming. In the Springfield Diocese alone, it's more than I could do well. Most of all, the BA web site is already doing it well, so why bother? On the other hand, I see little on other web sites about governance. The outstanding exception is the Voice of the Faithful group in Fairfield County, Diocese of Bridgeport. An excellent book on the topic is "Common Calling: Laity and Governance in the Catholic Church."

Q: Why is governance so important?
A: The Catholic church (People of God), by doctrine, cultural and spiritual tradition, are both the laity and the clergy. They are equal, and share governance. That's the spiritual reality, even if it's not always manifest. It's important to know the history, and there have been fantastic strides in understanding the historical Jesus and the early church, including the important role of women.
When Christ was alive, he moved and worked among ordinary people.  The apostles were all laymen.
He had few nice things to say about the clergy of his day, that's pretty well know. But something that is not well known is the origin of the sacraments. They arose from day-to-day events. A child was born, so they felt a need to bless the baby. Someone got very sick, or died, so the family wanted to have a special prayer service. And so on.
These homemade family traditions, over many years, became repetitious. A set way of doing the prayer emerged, not unlike how the psalms developed in the temple. Finally, there were formal ceremonies. And that's what baptism and extreme unction and marriage are today. But, they came from everyday life. And, from this, you can see that the Catholic church changes, and that it changes from the ground up. It always has. And, it is changing now, except that it's harder to see.

Q: What's the most important level of the church and why?
A: The local parish is always the most important unit. I disagree with those who pick up stakes to follow a particular priest simply because he has a winning personality. This neglects the universal nature of the church. It also raises questions: I understand that someone in a well-off suburb can jump into an SUV and drive 20 miles to a favored worship site, but what about people who need to walk to church? Or, who are isolated in a small town? Are we to assume that their church experience is less valid because they have fewer options? If so, how can these different tiers be squared with the universal Catholic message? Another intriguing question is whether their church experiences might actually be richer than those who have more discretionary income and therefore more options.
I often hear that the Vatican should sell all their art on Ebay and give the parishes the money. In the real world, I think that dioceses and parishes and Rome and religious orders and universities need to fight about money all the time, except, in the Catholic tradition, behind closed doors, with slogans, and using mainly polite language.
The structure of the church is poorly understood. It is not a pyramid, with the Pope at the pointy end. That image would be more accurate if it were turned upside down. But, even that image fails, because the church is really a bewildering variety of overlapping canonical units. All of this depends on the generosity of lay Catholics at the parish level. But, because of the canonical structure, all of the money is in one pot. This is why the 8.5 million settlement affects parishes. Not because it is a direct cost, but because everything that affects the diocese affects the parishes, and vice versa.

Q: Doesn't the Bishop own the property of the diocese?
A: No. Trustee is a better word than owner. The bishop is the administrator of the diocese, but, in church law, "administer" has nothing to do with ownership. For more, see "New Commentary on The Code of Canon Law" (2000) by John Beal and others.
It's confusing, but the Springfield Diocese has a joint identity. The Springfield Diocese (canonical division) was formed in 1870. The Springfield Diocese (civil division) was formed in 1898. It takes nothing away from the canonical unit to acknowledge that the Springfield Diocese is also a civil corporation. In fact, I would argue that if the state of Massachusetts published an annual report on the financial health of the Springfield Diocese (as they have the right to, since it is a civil corporation), it would make the canonical unit stronger, because more financial disclosure would encourage more trust. This would serve the self-interest of the bishop, because no one wants to be captain of a sinking ship. That much is clear.

Q: What is the single most important thing about Catholicism that most people should know?
A: Most people don't realize how hopeful it is, and how important prophecy is, and how faithfulness to a covenant makes sense and is rewarded no matter how bad the situation. And some situations can be very bad indeed. If you read the daily Mass readings, you read about some of these trials, and see how often prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah and Moses are quoted, and if you pray the Psalms, you get a sense of how the New Testament connects to the Old. Then, the words of the gospel are greatly enhanced.  But somehow that hopeful message has a hard time being heard.

Q: Is your blogging a success?
A: I enjoy it. I'm happy with my statistics, which consists of page views, returning visitors, length of visit, and so on. I am proud that about 15% of the visitors spend more than an hour. It shows that they are actually reading a lot of stuff.

Q: Who is your number one fan?
A: My most frequent visitor is the law firm of Egan, Flanagan and Cohen. Last time I checked, they had visited the main blog over 250 times.

Bishop Lori's Connecticut Career

[This article appeared in the Norwalk, CT Hour on 3/29/12. It is interesting to compare the settlements in the Springfield Diocese to those in the Bridgeport Diocese.]

Lori's tenure as bishop

By Joseph F. O'Callaghan Sr.

The announcement on March 20, 2012, that William E. Lori has been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as archbishop of Baltimore is an opportunity to assess his tenure as bishop of Bridgeport since 2001. From the beginning he has presented himself as a protector of survivors of priestly sexual abuse and as a champion of religious liberty.

As the successor to Edward M. Egan, Bishop Lori had to confront the terrible tragedy of priestly sexual abuse, especially acute in the Diocese of Bridgeport. He announced on February 15 2004 that 107 persons made 109 allegations of sexual abuse against 32 priests in the Diocese from 1953 to 2003. While he served on the American Bishops' committee that drew up the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, he also established a Safe Environment program aimed at preventing similar abuse in the future.

Although those administrative actions were necessary, neither he nor his predecessor displayed any real compassion for the survivors of sexual abuse. For many years the Diocese fought tooth and nail to avoid giving them financial compensation. In legal settlements reached in 2001 just before Bishop Egan was promoted to New York and in 2003 under Bishop Lori the Diocese paid $37,700,000 to the survivors. The faithful were assured that none of that money came from the Annual Bishop's Appeal or parish collections, but rather from insurance, investments, and the sale of unneeded property. Nevertheless, as all diocesan funds come out of the pockets of parishioners that explanation is misleading and disingenuous. During their meeting in Dallas in 2002, the American bishops emphasized the need for greater accountability and transparency. Despite that neither Bishop Egan nor Bishop Lori issued a financial statement detailing the expenditures involved in processing claims by survivors.

Moreover, Bishop Lori labored mightily to keep under seal court documents relating to sexual abuse (the so-called Rosado Files). In the eight years that elapsed since the sexual abuse cases were settled in 2001, a succession of Connecticut courts ruled against him and the Connecticut Supreme Court ordered the release of the documents in question. Bishop Lori, however, was adamant in his determination to prevent the public from reading about the cover-up by Bishop Walter W. Curtis and Bishop Egan and their subordinates, as well as the testimony of abusive priests and the survivors of their abuse. Thus, claiming the protection of the First Amendment, he attempted to present the dispute to the United States Supreme Court. The Court, however, refused to hear the case. Consequently, the documents were finally made public in the fall of 2010. Countless sums, perhaps in the millions, that could better have been used to alleviate the suffering of the poor, were expended on this legal battle. The First Amendment guarantees the separation of church and state, but it does not guarantee Bishop Egan or Bishop Lori the right to conceal criminal behavior on the part of the clergy, the bishops, and their subordinates.

While Bishop Lori noted that he had apologized to individual survivors of priestly sexual abuse, he has steadfastly rejected overtures from Catholic organizations concerned about this grave scandal. When Catholics of long-standing service to the Church organized Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport in 2002 and offered their support in restoring the Church's good name, Bishop Lori spurned them and, without a hearing, accused them of not adhering to orthodox teaching and banned them from meeting in their parish churches. In like manner, when the newly formed Connecticut branch of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) asked Bishop Lori's permission to place notices of meetings in the diocesan newspaper and in parish bulletins, his response was a deafening silence.

Financial scandals in at least two parishes prompted Bishop Lori in 2008 to require all parishes to utilize the Parish Administration and Finance Manual. Though intended to protect against similar abuse in the future, it also centralized control of parish finances in the diocesan office. Just as bishops have often been described as branch managers of a corporation centered in Rome, Bishop Lori has transformed pastors into branch managers of the diocesan corporation. At the same time, he has neglected to provide a financial statement for the Diocese since 2008.

That point became very clear in 2009 when the Judiciary Committee of the State Legislature began to consider a bill that would modify the existing structure of parish corporations as established by the State of Connecticut. The parish corporation, according to the current statute, consists of the bishop, the vicar general, the pastor, and two lay members appointed annually by the other three. The proposed modification would provide for greater participation by the laity. Realizing that enactment of that bill into law would undermine his absolute control of each of the 87 parishes, Bishop Lori, wrapping himself in the banner of the First Amendment, led a rally in Hartford to denounce it. Whereas the Second Vatican Council affirmed that the Church was the People of God, Bishop Lori used the First Amendment to oppose this challenge to his authority and to reject the right of the faithful to participate effectively in the governance of their Church.

Most recently Bishop Lori has gained national attention as the spokesman for the American bishops on religious liberty. A photograph depicting Bishop Lori and four other male clerics appearing before a congressional committee has become iconic, as evidence of insensitivity to women who queried: what is wrong with this picture? If the hearing was to discuss contraception, why were there no women at the witness table? Bishop Lori's "Parable on the Kosher Deli," delivered on that occasion, would likely make Jesus weep.

Now that Bishop Lori embarks on a new stage in his ecclesiastical career, we wish him well. We pray too that the clergy and laity of Bridgeport will have the opportunity to voice their concerns about the needs of the Diocese and the qualities desirable in a new bishop. We also pray that the faithful of the archdiocese of Baltimore will discover in Bishop Lori the type of leader described by Jesus when he said: "You know that among the Gentiles their seeming rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all" (Mk 10:42-45).

Joseph F. O'Callaghan Sr., is former chairman of Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport and Professor Emeritus of History at Fordham University.