What Abraham Gave

The gospel message for today, March 4th, is about God's conversation with Abraham, and God's insistence (later reversed) that Abraham sacrifice the thing most precious to him. Abraham's willingness to do this, his leap of faith, is impressive, even if the story has some regrettable overtones. Human sacrifice?  

Still, his acceptance of vulnerability in the face of great cosmic forces strikes a chord. Are not we, too, asked to sacrifice for a higher good? Isn't it true that duty to our friends and family, our need to do right by them, often demands a willingness to sacrifice?

When we look closer at the Abraham story, the escape clause is a little anticlimactic. What stands out are two things: 1. Abraham opened himself up, and 2. he was rewarded for doing so. Yet, when he made his leap, he had everything to lose and nothing to gain.

We look around in this world, in this church which we belong to, in western Massachusetts, and it's natural to ask: if God asks for vulnerability, and faith, how do we respond? Have we been doing what we should, in organized religion, to further these worthy attitudes?

The need for transparency in Diocesan organization, it seems to me, has never been greater. Here are only a few examples that come to mind.

1. St. Stan's.  This is a success story, because it shows how transparency could and should work. In fact, the decision to close St. Stan's was never right. The so-called Pastoral Planning was neither pastoral nor well-planned. The deck was stacked. 
It took determination, organization, and the occupation of the building (which itself was a leap of faith) to make a difference. Over three years, the Diocese simply could not prove that the closing was justified. A solid win for transparency, and a lesson, for those who are open to learning.

2. Mater Dolorosa. The outcome here is far more clouded, and the dark cloud of threats, lies, wheelings and dealings, all whipped up by church officials to hide the truth, presents a small catalog of what's wrong with Diocesan operations. The list of offenses is long, but suffice it to say that nothing verified and factual about the situation has been provided willingly by the Diocese. Everything that we know for sure (including that Canon 1214 is a valid Canon of the Roman Catholic Church) is known because of one reason, and one reason only: that it was required in a court of law. This speaks volumes about the difference between the gospel message of Jesus Christ and the way that the Corporation Sole of the Diocese is run.

3. My Parish. Here at St. Mary's in Lee, we follow the rule of the Diocese, which seems to be: say one thing, do another. Bishop McDonnell mandates open meetings of all parish councils, the posting  of meeting times in the bulletins, and hopes for active participation of all in parish decision-making. Do we do these things? Nope. Are we encouraged in our weekly bulletin to do these things? Nope. Then why does the window-dressing continue? My guess is that it has something to do with vulnerability — or lack thereof. Perhaps some day there will be a leap of faith in my parish toward open participation. Secret meetings, on which the parish and diocese continue to depend, should have no place in parish governance.

4. Contraception. Here, too, is a contest between vulnerability and non-vulnerability, even though the issue was decided long ago in favor of the availability (which is not the same as an endorsement) of contraception. Vulnerability and openness means that one is willing to discuss and debate in hopes of finding a solution. But when discussing and debating are treated as anathema by church officials, including Bishop McDonnell, is it any wonder that there is no solution in sight?

5. Gays. Say what you will about homosexuality, it is a fact that many of our fellow citizens are gay, and that they want the state to recognize their marriage. In view of this, it is just plain wrong to send money to an anti-gay out-of-state political action group, as Bishop McDonnell did a few years ago. It is also wrong that he wrote the thousand-dollar check out to that group in Maine in the name of the "Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield." But the worst thing is that the donation was hidden. Trust me, you will not find this transaction anywhere in publicly disclosed records of the Diocese.

6. Bishop's Appeal/Catholic Charities. Certainly many of the groups that are funded by the Bishop's Appeal are worthwhile. Certainly Catholic Charities, in general, is worthwhile. The problem is that we cannot be sure how the money is spent. Again, transparency, or lack of same, is an issue, where it should not be. 
The last time I checked (which was several years ago, and only from the scant information provided by Diocesan accountants) the percentage of the money from the Bishop's Appeal that went to central operations was disturbingly large. The lion's share went not to the soup kitchens and services for the homeless, as you might infer from the brochure, but to the schools and other core diocesan services. Schools and core services are worthy, too, but the point is, the money should be accounted for, dollar for dollar, and this accounting should have no spin attached.
Similarly, the accounting for Catholic Charities is obscure, and when information appears, it is not always comforting. Although the USCCB likes to give the impression that each diocese runs the show for each local agency, the percentage of funding for Catholic Charities, overall, is 62% from government, and only 3% from diocesan support. 
This disparity was one cause of the controversy in Illinois, when the church there decided to back out of the adoption business rather than place kids with gay couples. In Illinois, the percentage of the adoption programs that were funded by the government for five dioceses ranged from 60 to 92%, depending on diocese. 

It will be seen from this brief list that some operations of the Corporation of the Springfield Diocese are certainly questionable, if not worse. Why is this, and how can they change to support our higher goals?

In the coming months I will be posting a historical look at the problem, starting with transcription of several articles in the Boston Globe around 1897 or so. I will argue that Corporation Sole, as it is implemented today, was never intended by the original legislation. To cite just one example, the original legislation stipulated annual "returns" in order to keep tabs on the financial state of the corporation — a common sense procedure that all corporations in the commonwealth are expected to comply with. Has anyone  heard of the existence of a single report by the Diocese to the State? Me, either.

This rather dusty history will be relieved by a modern finding by the intrepid attorney Victor Anop. He recently uncovered the astonishing fact that Corporation Sole has been operating illegally in the Commonwealth for the last 15 years or so. The last bishop to certify his authority as required by law was Marshall.

Although this legality may seem just that, a mere formality, it does at the very least raise the issues of competent management and proper bookkeeping, which we know, through other documentation, are sometimes lacking in the day-to-day operations of the diocese. 

These are the questions to which we will return.