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. 
 


Comments

Michael skiendzielewski
11/16/2014 7:07pm

Irresponsible, reckless, selfish, unethical, dangerous
conduct and decision making on the part of archdiocese LEADERSHIP, which conduct may also indicative of civil and/or criminal liability. THEY NEED TO BE REMOVED NOW


Comments are closed.

    Author

    Jennifer Haselberger is a canon lawyer who served as the Chancellor for Canonical Affairs in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis until April of 2013, when she resigned in protest of the Archdiocese's handling of sexual misconduct by clergy.

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