Today, the online version of the National Catholic Reporter
published a commentary by Father Thomas Reese, SJ, titled 'Judging and Firing Bishops and Due Process in the Church'. You can read it here
. In his commentary (prompted, no doubt, by the recent rescript
clarifying the resignation process for bishops), Father Reese expresses concern that 'When people do not like their bishop, they often call for the pope to fire him and appoint another'. Reminding us that bishops are not CEOs but rather the vicars of Christ (not to mention the successors to the Apostles), Father Reese argues that such removals should not result from caprice but rather follow an established process with recognized procedural protections in place. While I agree with many of the points that Father Reese makes, including his general call for due process protections, I disagree with his assessment that the absence of the protections that he lists indicate a 'paternalistic church that believes it always knows what is best for its children'. I would respectfully argue that Father Reese's position on 'people who do not like their bishops' is equally paternalistic, especially considering the very serious issues that have led to some of the removals that have occurred in recent times.
Let me be the first to admit that at this time last year, I would have (and did) articulate the same skepticism towards removing bishops that
Father Reese expresses in his article. It is very difficult to reconcile Catholic theology with the idea of removing a bishop when he has earned, rightly or wrongly, the disfavor of his people. One only has to think of the situation of Archbishop Joseph Rummel and his desegregation of the Archdiocese of New Orleans
to understand why bishops ought not to be subject to removal based on popular opinion.
Yet, there are certainly times when a bishop cannot be permitted to continue in office. Father Reese offers a number of examples of bishops who have resigned or been forced to resign, including Cardinal Bernard Law, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg (the so-called 'Bishop of Bling')
, Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton
, Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano
, Bishop Thomas O'Brien (involved in a fatal hit-and-run)
, and Bishop William Morris
of Australia (theological positions). I put together a similar list, exclusively of American bishops, that included Bishop James Sullivan of Fargo
, Bishop Donald Pelotte of Gallup
, and Bishop Fernando Isern of Pueblo
. Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times
reminded me of Bishop Robert Sanchez of Albuquerque
, Bishop Anthony O'Connell of Palm Beach
, Bishop Kendrick Williams of Lexington
, and Archbishop Rembert Weakland
Many of the bishops on this list offered their resignations or were forced to do so as a result of public scandals involving their personal conduct. Others- including Law, Tebartz-van-Elst, Martino, and Livieres- were ousted because of administrative problems or personality issues. Bishop Fernando Isern is said to have resigned for health issues but has been dogged by rumors of an affair with a woman.
In all of these cases one has to assume that the bishops were aware of the reasons why their resignation was being sought, and in many cases they admitted to the conduct that led to their resignations. Livieres and Morris, both who link their ousters to their theological positions, might be the exceptions, but in those cases there was extended dialogue and/or an apostolic visitation prior to a decision being taken. I am not sure it is fair to look upon these situations as evidence of an unjust form of paternalism. If anything, I think they can be canonically and theologically justified as offering the resigning clerics the opportunity to admit their faults and offer amends, without causing further harm and scandal to the Church.
From a due process perspective, the more concerning cases are that of Bishop Sullivan and Bishop Pelotte. In both cases, the bishops were suffering from health issues (dementia and traumatic brain injury) that not only called their administration into question, but their very competence.
In such cases, one wonders if they were even capable of validly offering their resignations, much less whether they had sufficient understanding of the situation to be willing to do so. Interestingly, although the Code of Canon Law
contains provisions for the governance of a diocese when its bishop is impeded (canons 412 and 413
) and those provisions include the administration temporarily devolving upon someone of the bishop's own choosing, in both of the cases I have listed the Holy See intervened and appointed an administrator with the authority to govern despite the impeded bishop retaining possession of the diocese.
Anyone who has dealt with aging parents or grandparents understands the difficult emotions and considerations that accompany such situations, as well as the infighting that occurs as different family members struggle to accept and cope with a loved one's declining capacity. The Church is no different, and the chaos that ensued in each of these situations demonstrate exactly why there must be a way for a bishop's hierarchical superior to intervene for the good of the Church, even if in doing so questions arise as to whether such actions respect the rights of the individual bishop. Often the individual or the civil authorities designate an individual to act on behalf of the incapacitated person, even if those actions are opposed to the individual's desires at the moment. We can view the intervention of the Holy See in these cases as analogous.
But these situations also highlight the need for a means by which 'people' can make their concerns or observations known to those in positions of authority without being subjected to scorn or derision for doing so. What I struggle with, and what has not been clarified by the rescript
, is the process that well-intentioned individuals can use to bring such concerns to the attention of the Holy See before they become problems of such seismic proportions. Some have suggested that the Apostolic Nuncio is the appropriate route, but I think those who advocate this approach are not always aware of the complex levels of relationships that exist within the hierarchy, nor of the nunciature's practice forwarding complaints to the bishop in question, with a request that he address the matter at the local level.
For me, this lack of accepted procedure is not a merely academic concern. I know that there have been those with close ties to the administration (and therefore with more information than the general public) who have been advocating for Archbishop Nienstedt's resignation since at least this time last year, but their methods have been largely limited to requests and entreaties to himself. And, I had to deal with the situation in a very practical way several months ago when I was contacted by Greene and Espel to provide information to the investigators hired to look into Archbishop Nienstedt's conduct. I agreed to meet with the investigators because they promised to show me letters authorizing their investigation. Yet, upon my arrival I quickly learned that while they had sufficient information to justify a contract between their firm and the Archdiocese, they were unable to provide me with any evidence that the process was authorized by anyone with the canonical authority to do so. I don't think an investigation into an Archbishop conducted by his own priests and auxiliary bishop satisfies anyone's notion of due process, nor do I imagine that the Holy See is satisfied with an investigation conducted by a civil law firm, no matter how solid its reputation.
The Church would do well to clarify how individuals may voice legitimate concerns about the conduct of those who have been declared the vicar of Christ when their governance is un-Christlike (even if through no fault of their own). The need for this type of process is not simply because '
when people do not like their bishop, they often call for the pope to fire him and appoint another', but because (as this post should make abundantly clear) at times bishops, who after all are merely human, are unable to fulfill the charge which they have been given.
Earlier today, the National Catholic Reporter posted a series of amusing tweets about Archbishop Nienstedt's use of the word 'trouble' in his column introducing last week's disastrous financial report for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
picked up on the Archbishop's unfortunate decision to place the word in quotation marks, a grammatical device generally used to indicate irony. This choice leaves the reader wondering if the Archbishop truly understands how serious the situation is, or if he instead views the present state of the Archdiocese as really no problem at all.
It would appear that at least one person on the staff of the NCR (reporter Brian Roewe) is both an astute reader and a fan of The Music Man, and he playfully suggested a tweet riffing on the song 'Ya Got Trouble'
to introduce his article on the financial report: 'Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with B and that stands for...bankruptcy?'. You can read his article here: http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/finance-report-shows-trouble-twin-cities.
I am not sure how far the NCR intended to take the comparison between the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and the plot of The Music Man, or perhaps between the Archbishop and Harold Hill. Unlike the con artist Harold, who is the 'Music Man' of the book, play, and movie, Nienstedt does have a legitimate talent for music. However, some would argue, especially as we wait for the release of the investigation into his conduct by Green Espel, that Nienstedt is a man who entered town under false pretenses, as did Harold Hill. And, like Harold, Nienstedt also did his share of fear-mongering, attempting to sell a solution which the people of this Archdiocese, like the victims of Hill's scams, will never see materialize. Take it one step further and you can see the similarity between Nienstedt's refusal to resign and Harold's decision not to skip town.
Of course, at the end of The Music Man Harold is both arrested and pardoned, while Archbishop Nienstedt's fate is still uncertain.
Then again, perhaps the NCR meant to go no further than to suggest that the Archbishop's use of the word 'trouble' in quotation marks suggests the same kind of willful blindness of which Harold sings in 'Ya Got Trouble'.
'Well, either you're closing your eyes
To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated...'
If only the Archdiocese's 'troubles' were limited to the presence of a pool table.
Yesterday, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis released audited financial reports showing a more than $9 million operating deficit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014. In both the Archbishop's column accompanying the announcement and the report of the Chief Financial Officer, the precarious financial position of the Archdiocese is linked to the passage of the Child Victims Act, which opened a window for the introduction of 'old' civil cases involving acts of sexual abuse of minors. I disagree, and instead attribute the financial crisis to poor management and a fundamental failure of Archdiocesan leadership to govern the diocese in accord with its mission. Let me explain.
1. The Child Victims Act
The passage of the Child Victims Act did not create the financial distress that we learned of yesterday. All the Child Victims Act did was create a window during which victims of sexual abuse could present civil cases that otherwise would have been barred by the statute of limitations. Permitting someone to introduce a case is not the same as guaranteeing that person a positive verdict. The 'number of cases' the Archdiocese is facing is not the result of the Child Victims Act, it is the result of decades of abuse perpetrated by clergy, often under circumstances in which the Archdiocese knew of or could have reasonably assumed the likelihood of such abuse occurring. For proof of this statement, I need only refer you to the Archdiocese's own website and its growing list of 'Individuals with substantiated claims against them of sexual abuse of a minor within the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis'.
In addition, over the last two decades the Archdiocese further complicated its position by its aggressive and litigious response to claims for compensation by victims. Since at least the Kapoun trials in the early 1990's, the Archdiocese has aggressively defended itself against such liability claims, even in cases where it was evident that the abuse had occurred (http://caselaw.findlaw.com/mn-court-of-appeals/1112778.html). And, it employed a litigation strategy designed to make potential claimants fearful of pressing their claims. In other words, the Archdiocese taxed the victims with the costs of its legal fees. This strategy was first used in the Kapoun trial in the 1990s, but was used again as recently as 2010.
These actions were taken despite the Catholic Church's explicit support for for the rights and needs of victims found in documents like ‘Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice’, which is a policy statement issued on November 15, 2000, by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Archdiocese also often pursued ends in court that are contrary to Catholic teaching, such as forcing victims to undergo psychological testing and other procedures which the Church believes cannot be compelled because of the natural dignity of all persons.
In this context, the Child Victims Act, which the Archdiocese spent more than ten years and nearly a million dollars opposing, can be seen as merely leveling the playing field for a category of victims that had been denied justice by a powerful organization committed to winning in court using all means available- fair or foul. For, the Archdiocese had other options available to it besides litigation and lobbying. It could have avoided its present predicament by doing as other dioceses did and voluntarily agreeing to mediate or arbitrate cases that fell outside of the statute of limitations (see, for example, the Diocese of Springfield) prior to October 2014. This was, of course, the position advised by Mark Chopko and the USCCB, which encouraged dioceses to consider mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution as early as 2005.
2. $1,000,000 Write Off of Software
The statement of the CFO, Tom Mertens, notes, 'The Chancery Corporation wrote off $993,642 of software that did not meet specifications identified in the Report and Recommendations of the Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force.
' I have no doubt that this is true. However, the Archdiocese did not need a Task Force to tell it that this investment was of no value, nor is that the fault of the software itself. As early as July of 2012 I informed the Archdiocese that I had no confidence that the software project could be successfully completed and noted 'the financial cost to this Archdiocese will be unjustifiable'. This loss of nearly a million dollars can be attributed only to poor management decisions that included acting against the advice of several employees as well as the contractors that had been employed to guide the project and employing unqualified personnel in order to win favor with others in the episcopacy.
'The Chancery Corporation's financial condition does not directly affect the parishes or other Catholic institutions'.
Wait, what? This statement doesn't fit with the theological symbiosis of the parishes and dioceses of the Catholic Church, nor with what I know of parish and Chancery operations. When I left in April of 2013, the Archdiocese (Chancery Corporation) owned the land on which several schools
were built (these include Totino Grace and Benilde-St Margaret). Surely this land (especially given the value of the Benilde property) would be considered an asset in any bankruptcy proceeding, or a significant point of contention if it were determined that the land was 'gifted' away in the last year. In addition, the Archdiocese has guaranteed many of the loans taken out by parishes for capital improvements and other building expenses, and floats the costs of medical and pension insurance for the parishes and other institutions in the self-insurance plan, at times permitting struggling parishes to go significantly into arrears on these costs. I cannot see how the deficits reported in yesterday's statements, and the possibility of a bankruptcy filing, do not impact these parishes and institutions.
UPDATE: I neglected to mention that the Archdiocese also owns the land and buildings of the Cathedral, although the Cathedral parish (a separate corporation) owns the debt.
I also find it significant that the Archdiocese has announced that it is beginning another wave of 'strategic planning'.
What I am hearing is that there is more than one parish within the Archdiocese that is running out of money to pay its bills, and quickly. At least one of these parishes, according to my sources, is under the absent leadership of a priest 'temporarily removed' from ministry last December for 'boundary violations' involving minors and is currently staffed by a resident priest who is himself under restrictions in terms of his ministry. Yet, rather than removing the pastor and assisting the parish in overcoming the disheartening situation to which the Archdiocese knowingly subjected it, the parish is being left to implode and is without any hope of meeting its expenses much less any type of criteria for avoiding restructuring. I find this a convenient situation for an Archdiocese with financial woes, especially given the interest in the parish property that has been expressed by a neighboring Ukrainian Church.
In his column, the Archbishop writes that he has 'spent countless hours and several sleepless nights trying to analyze the current situation
and find the best resolution available to us'. With all due respect, it would appear that the Archbishop has failed to consider the most obvious resolution, which would start
'Most Holy Father, in accord with canon 401, 2, I hereby my submit my resignation as Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis...
Priests in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis were informed this morning that the Central Corporation reported an operating deficit of $9.1 million and a net loss of $8.9 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014. I have several comments to make about the deficit and the reasons given for it, which I will present in a later post. In the meantime, here is the announcement that pastors and parochial administrators received shortly before the information was posted on the archdiocesan website.
Subject: FY 2014 Chancery Corporation Financial Report Released Today
Dear Pastors and Parochial Administrators,
Today, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is releasing the full audited financial report for the Chancery Corporation for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014. We will post the financial statements, footnotes to the statements, and the independent auditors’ report as one document on archspm.org
at 10 a.m. today. You will find it on the Administration and Finance page of the website: http://www.archspm.org/departments/administration-finance/index.php
Attached to this email you will find a PDF of the articles which will appear in today’s issue of The Catholic Spirit
and be posted on http://thecatholicspirit.com/
at 10:00 a.m. today. I am sending this email to you now so that you are aware that this information will be posted later today. The Archdiocesan Update with links to all the online content will be sent at 10:00 a.m. to all clergy, parish business administrators, parish trustees, Catholic school principals and presidents, and other parish and school leaders who have signed up for the Archdiocesan Update enewsletter.
A few important points for you to know that may be helpful if you get questions from parishioners or others regarding the financial report release:
- The Chancery Corporation financials cover the activities of the archdiocesan Chancery Corporation. Parishes and other Catholic entities are independently incorporated and report their own financial information.
- The net assets of the archdiocesan Chancery Corporation were $32.5 million at June 30, 2014, the end of the last fiscal year. That is $8.9 million less than a year earlier.
- The change in Chancery Corporation financial position is due primarily to three factors:
1. Special issues expense for third party professional services primarily related to the review of priest files, investigation of insurance coverage and analysis of financial options: $4.2 million
2. Catholic Services Appeal transition to an independent non-profit entity: $3.7 million
3. Write off of software: nearly $1 million
- Chancery Corporation FY 2014 operating activities resulted in a deficit of $9.1 million.
- The Chancery Corporation is cutting its FY 2015 operating budget by 20%, with immediate and future expense reductions and the layoff of 11 employees last week.
- The Chancery Corporation is considering all options, including reorganization under the bankruptcy code, in order to provide the most fair response to clergy sexual abuse claims against the archdiocese. At this point no decision has been made for or against reorganization. If the archdiocesan Chancery Corporation files for reorganization:
- The archdiocesan Chancery Corporation would expect the court’s permission to continue to function in the ordinary course while pursuing a reorganization, similar to other dioceses which have sought bankruptcy reorganization in recent years.
- Parishes are separately incorporated and would not be part of a Chancery Corporation filing for reorganization. Parishes in the archdiocese have been separately incorporated under a religious corporation statute dating back to the 1800s.
- Catholic schools are either ministries of a parish/parishes or are separately incorporated and would not be part of a Chancery Corporation filing for reorganization.
- It is premature to speculate on the potential impact of reorganization on 403(b), pension, medical or other employee or priest benefits were the archdiocesan Chancery Corporation to undergo reorganization. If reorganization is pursued, we would seek court approval to maintain such plans during the course of the reorganization. Such relief has been granted in other diocesan reorganizations.
If you have questions about the financial report or related documents, please contact Tom Mertens at 651-291-4400.
In this season of thanksgiving, I offer my gratitude to God for your ministry and countless good works.
Sincerely in Christ,
Very Rev. Charles V. Lachowitzer
Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia
Noting that 'the interests of individual parishes are distinct from those of the Archdiocese', two diocesan priests have taken the bold and, to my mind, unprecedented step of securing independent legal counsel for their parishes, with the goal of working out a separate global resolution to liability claims against individual parish communities.
In one sense, this is the fullest expression of canon 532, which states 'in all juridic affairs the pastor represents the parish according to the norm of law.' I am not as confident that the bylaws of the parish corporations offer a similar level of support for this position. Under Minnesota law, parish corporations are governed by a Board of Directors consisting of five members- the Archbishop, the Vicar General, the Pastor of the parish, and two lay trustees (Minnesota Statutes, Section 315.15). While the pastor and the trustees have the authority to transact daily business on behalf of the parish, proxies from the Archbishop and Vicar General must be sought for acts of extraordinary administration, including resolving individual or aggregate claims by financial settlement. Moreover, certain acts require the consent of either a majority of directors or the unanimous consent of all of the members, including some contracts for services.
Historically, adopting this structure for parishes was thought to guarantee that the bishop (or Archbishop) always retained the upper hand, while at the same time the assets of the parishes were protected by the veil of indirect control. In other words, the administration of the corporation was entrusted to an 'independent' board of directors, despite the fact that the bishop is both a member of the board and has the authority to remove, effectively, all the other members should their 'independent' judgment conflict with his own.
It is unclear what the Archbishop's position is on this initiative, which apparently originated from pastors and parishes rather than from anyone at 226 Summit Avenue (the Chancery offices). Perhaps he is willing to grant his proxy to each parish that would like to join the effort. Or, perhaps the pastors have realized that he cannot remove them all, and so are trying to generate enough support that they can simply join with the lay trustees and outvote him if it comes to that. Either way, the explicit acknowledgment that, as a result of this crisis and the way it has been (mis)managed, 'the interests of individual parishes are distinct from those of the Archdiocese', has to be a bitter pill for man that chose for his episcopal motto 'Ut Omnes Unum Sint' ('That All May Be One').
Yesterday, Emily Gurnon of the Pioneer Press reported that Father Curtis Wehmeyer was charged in Chippewa County, WI, with second-degree sexual assault arising from contact with an unconscious boy while on a camping trip in 2011
. I was not surprised to learn that additional charges had been filed against Father Wehmeyer, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to charges related to his molestation of two minor males, as well as to seventeen counts of possession of child pornography. It has long been anticipated that additional victims would come forward.
I was not even surprised to learn that the new charges involved sexual contact alleged to have occurred during the time in which the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was supposedly monitoring Father Wehmeyer's behavior, and at approximately the same time that Father Kevin McDonough was opining that Father Wehmeyer was 'not really all that interested in an actual sexual encounter'
What I did find surprising, however, was the final paragraph of the article, which stated,
'The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has requested that
he [Father Wehmeyer] be defrocked. Local leaders are awaiting
a decision from the Vatican.'
This, I find mind-boggling. How can it be possible that this case has been languishing in Rome for two years, without a determination?
It is not as though there is an unresolved question as to his guilt. Father Wehmeyer pleaded guilty- with a straight plea- and the transcript of his plea allocution was included in the materials sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in November of 2012. At that court appearance, which occurred earlier in the same month, Father Wehmeyer admitted to the acts of which he had been accused, the criminal nature of those acts, and acknowledged that the victims were minors at the time that the abuse occurred. Furthermore, he denied that there were any mitigating circumstances that might have impacted his culpability.
Such a clear-cut case should have been resolved in a matter of months if not weeks. After all, there was no need to request a dispensation from prescription (the statute of limitations) or any other cause of canonical hangups. The abuse occurred in 2010 and was reported in 2012, Father Wehmeyer was ordained at the time, he was informed of his canonical rights and given the opportunity to respond and to freely resign, and the victims were obviously minors according to every possible definition of the term. There isn't any reason for the Congregation to insist on an ecclesiastical trial, since there was nothing that remains in dispute nor is any additional evidence likely to emerge. Even the punishment was predetermined- having admitted to acts of sexual abuse of minors, Father Wehmeyer had to be permanently removed from ecclesiastical ministry per the terms of the Essential Norms.
What, then, can be causing such a delay in response?
Well, one possible reason for the delay is the lack of interest shown on the part of Archbishop Nienstedt. As I testified in my affidavit, I prepared the case so that the Archbishop could personally deliver the file to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when he traveled to Rome for the November 2012 consistory. And, the acts of the case themselves referred to Wehmeyer's sentencing date in February of 2013, and our (my) hope that the matter could be resolved before then. However, the Archbishop refused to take the materials with him, as did Father Laird, who departed for Rome just a day or two after the Archbishop
. With no sense of urgency from the episcopacy, members of the Congregation may have simply pushed the case to the bottom of the pile.
The second possible reason for the lack of response may be similar to the reason we have been given as to why the Saint Paul Police Department reopened its investigations into the conduct of Father Wehmeyer (and Archbishop Nienstedt) in March of 2014- the cases had other elements that required investigation.
Although little information has become available about the Holy See's process for investigating bishops, it would not surprise me if the Congregation was investigating either the Archbishop's personal relationship with Father Wehmeyer (which was a subject of investigation by Greene and Espe
l), and/or whether the Archdiocese and/or individual clergy members violated the civil mandatory reporting statute (the Congregation, of course, has all the materials, including the dated decrees and summaries
). The latter point is especially salient given what is known about the Vatican investigation of Bishop Finn
, who was convicted in 2012 of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse.
These are just speculations, of course, flowing from, more than anything, my hope that there is some sort of reasonable explanation for the delay. Canon lawyers like to speak of 'justice delayed' as being synonymous with 'justice denied'. Without some sort of extenuating circumstance, it would appear that justice is indeed being denied to the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer, even as their numbers continues to grow.
Since Saturday's announcement that the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis needs to cut 20%, or nearly $5 million, from its operating budget, I have been quoted by various media outlets as stating that the Archdiocese's financial troubles are not just the result of legal costs resulting from the Doe 1 litigation, but can also be seen as the logical result of years of mismanagement and poor decision making. While I don't think anyone has publicly challenged the truth of that assertion, I do want to take the opportunity to point out what I consider to be five examples of poor decision making that have negatively impacted the Archdiocese's bottom line. The cumulative effect of these decisions, as you will see, have cost the Archdiocese in excess of $5 million.
Decision #1- Gift of land to Hill Murray
Prior to 2005, the Archdiocese had a 41% interest in land on which Hill Murray High School sits (the Sisters of Saint Benedict, Saint Paul Monastery, owned the other 59%). The assessment of the property at that time placed its value at over $12,000,000. As part of a restructuring of the governance of the school, the Monastery sold its portion of the property for 'fair and adequate compensation'. The Archdiocese, on the other hand, gifted its portion of land to the school.
Obviously, the 'gift' by the Archdiocese was to the benefit of the school and arguably therefore to Catholic education. However, canon law requires that prior to making such a 'gift' (canonically referred to as 'alienation') the Archbishop must get the consent of the Archdiocesan Financial Council and its College of Consultors, who are to assess whether such a decision is rationale, practical, and in accord with the general priorities of the Archdiocese. I have seen nothing to indicate that these consultative bodies were ever informed of the decision, much less that their consent was sought. Nor was such consent likely to be forthcoming. After all, this 'gift' was given just shortly before the Archdiocese's first 'restructuring', its freezing of the lay pension plan, and its significant reduction in other benefits provided to lay employees.
Decision #2- The Reinstatement of Father John Bussmann
For reasons that I will never understand, Father John Bussmann was reinstated to ministry and appointed pastor of two parishes in 2001. In 2003, as police were preparing to arrest him for multiple counts of criminal sexual misconduct (and eventually theft by swindle) involving members of those two parishes, his resignation was purchased in exchange for ongoing financial support until 2005, twenty-three years of (unfunded) service credit in the Priests Pension Plan, a sum of money equal to six months of salary and automobile allowance, and ongoing psychological and employment counseling.
Those financial provisions do not take into account the more than $850,000 in legal fees and settlement costs paid by the Archdiocese as a result of Father Bussmann's misconduct, nor does it include similar costs that arose from the conduct that led to his removal from ministry in 1992.
Decision #3- The Campaign for a Constitutional Amendment Prohibiting Same Sex Marriage
So much has already been said about this topic that there is little that I can add, except to point out that by the time this campaign was begun it was acknowledged that even if it passed it would have been ineffective in preventing same sex marriage from becoming legal in Minnesota. The Archbishop was advised at the time he began his crusade that constitutional amendments on marriage would face court challenges, and likely be declared unconstitutional. The Archbishop was also advised to seek the approval of his finance council and the College of Consultors prior to dedicating diocesan funds to this initiative, but no official consultation ever occurred. The Archdiocese publicly acknowledged donating $650,000 to the Minnesota Catholic Conference for this effort (a number that I think is low by about $200,000), stating that it came from 'investment income' rather than donations to the Archdiocese (trust me, I wasn't the only one pointing out at the time that anything the Archdiocese has to invest has come from donations of the faithful...). In moving ahead with this initiative, the Archbishop alienated a significant portion of his priests and the Catholic faithful (also to be thought of in this context as 'donors'), earned the title 'Best Villain of 2013', and spurred an investigation by the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board (and consequent legal fees). And the amendment failed.
Decision #4- Rediscover Catholicism
While generally I would support initiatives designed to bring people closer to the Catholic faith, such initiatives should be built on a solid foundation. When the Archdiocese began preparations to 'launch' Rediscover, it was already in a state of internal crisis as a result of the discovery of embezzlement as well as the abuse by Curtis Wehmeyer. The house needed to be cleaned before visitors could be safely and comfortably welcomed. Yet, instead of cleaning house, the Archdiocese swept all the dirt into the closet and attempted to put on a good face. The hollowness of this effort is nowhere more apparent than in the decision to have Father Michael Keating serve as a keynote speaker and the 'face' of Rediscover, although the fact that Meier, Kennedy, and Quinn (the Archdiocese's law firm for abuse cases) was a 'bronze supporter' of the 2014 Catholic Celebration comes in at a close second. And, don't believe that this initiative is cost-neutral, despite donations by Matthew Kelly and others.
Decision #5- The Strategic Plan
While each of the four decisions listed above have negatively impacted the financial viability of the Archdiocese, none has had as direct an impact on parishes and parishioners as the so-called Strategic Plan. Obviously, changes needed to be made. But, rather than a well-thought out and implemented initiative (in other words, rather than being 'strategic'), the Strategic Plan was driven by predetermined outcomes, a communication timeline that was well in advance of the actual progress that had been made, completely arbitrary decision making on the part of the Archbishop, bogus and often untruthful consultation with those impacted, and little, if any, acknowledgment of the financial burdens these decisions would place on the affected parishes. The result was a glut of undesirable parish properties on the market, financially strapped parishes being forced to cover the expenses of closed buildings (the Catholic Finance Corporation at one time estimated that the cost of maintaining a 'closed' church was 110% of the cost of keeping it open), and angry Catholics withdrawing financial contributions from both the parishes and the Archdiocese.
There is no doubt that Rome is a fascinating city and one that is always a pleasure to visit. But, most travels guides recommend travel in the spring or early autumn, when it is dry and pleasantly warm. November and December, being the wettest months, are not generally recommended for tourism or leisure travel.
Which is one reason that I was surprised to hear rumors that Bishop Piche and Bishop Cozzens were in Rome last week. It would make sense for Bishop Cozzens to have gone to Rome earlier in the fall for the seminar for new bishops, but for both bishops to have gone to Rome, in November, and without their Archbishop, seems odd to me.
I don't want to raise expectations that the situation in Saint Paul and Minneapolis is finally getting attention from the Holy See, nor do I think we can safely conclude that the investigation into Archbishop Nienstedt's conduct has been completed and some sort of resolution is imminent. After all, perhaps the rumors are false. Perhaps the only 'City of Seven Hills' the bishops visited last week was Saint Paul. Or, perhaps they were in Rome, but were called there because the Holy See, like many of the rest of us, has questions regarding the landmark settlement announced last month. And, perhaps Archbishop Nienstedt was there with them, as he claims to have been when the two auxiliaries met with the Nuncio earlier this year.
It used to be that the calendars of the bishops were published in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, so that the faithful were aware of their ministrations on our behalf. That practice was halted during the campaign for the marriage amendment (out of fears that the Archbishop would be targeted for 'glitter bombing'), but after the campaign's defeat, the calendars were published again, at least for a time. I just checked the most recent online edition of the paper, but didn't find any of the bishops' schedules.
If it does turn out that the bishops were in Rome, the Archdiocese's silence on that fact will be yet another source of disappointment for me. Surely given the recent announcement of significant cuts to the Archdiocesan budget and staff, the faithful have a right to know if its bishops are traveling abroad, and for what cause?
Sometime this afternoon, the Archdiocese released a statement confirming what I reported this morning: the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis plans to reduce its overall budget by 20%, through 'staff and other expense reductions'.
To read the announcement, click here.