Thursday, January 12, 2012

Diocesan flimflam

Lennon, Tayek, Gulick talk of full transparency that will end all questions and conversation concerning parish closures. I wanted to respond since the degree of interest in detail, and knowledge of the subject appeared scant, and was coupled by temerity in voicing inquisitiveness. We have to remember in Cleveland, television 'investigative reporters' are sent to the East Side to discover how much snow sits upon the roads, and highways in a winter remarkably devoid of snow.

The venue of the 'news conference' was St. Hedwig's, Lakewood. It took place Monday the Ninth. Now, that parish Lennon forced into extinction. They had more than a million dollars in the bank, this was not mentioned. It should have been.

The programme was similar to an auto show, in which automobile executives and spokesmen prattle on, and the reporters politely, and cheerfully present the same statements as reports to their audiences. I wondered what to entitle this wee essay. I had considered: Misdirection; or Disinformation Continues; or Here is my statement, now shut up and go home. Then a few minutes ago, the word, 'flimflam', arrived and presented itself in my thoughts.

Och, it was promised for January, and it did come in January, but with less than a day's notice of time and place. The coloring of the scene was quite artful, as was some hair dye. The church has been repurposed into a museum, and the school adjacent to a cosmetic enterprise. The deeds to the properties include restrictions, as they admit; one restriction they did not furnish in their statements, was a prohibition of using the church for Catholic services.

In Holy Russia the bolševiki repurposed many a church. Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg became a Museum of Religion and Atheism. That was a better fate than Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow which was exploded.

Lennon has tightly circumscribed the universe of areas of discussion, and then presents some of that; and that is supposed to be complete? Lennon wants it to be called closed. In the first week of February he is to give a report on all his Cleveland doings in Rome to Benedict and the curia. Things are not so tidy.

"To some extent, you can be very sad about it, but the utilities have to be paid". What an interesting sentence. He allows for painful emotion, to a degree, but that is trumped by a supposed water bill, and a gas bill, and an electric bill. It is dismissive, and dishonest. Plenty of parishes had no outstanding bills, and were closed. Those who had outstanding debt, had debt to the diocese in the form of past assessments [many formerly forgiven]. 'Assessment' is the euphemism for those taxes the bishop requires of parishes. Cleveland has the highest rate of bishop's taxation on the continent. The parishes are not in debt, the diocese is.

A statement was produced that none of this money from parish property sales goes to pay for scandal settlements. Complete piffle. It is shifting of funds. The diocese collects income in many forms. This fire sale of parish goods brings money. Other avenues produce cash. So, the money that is paid for scandal comes from the other avenues, and this money then replenishes some of the diminished kitty. While it maybe true in a casuistic sense, it is not really true.

James Gulick, financial officer, says a true statement and applies it for something else. "Parish money is just that - parish money". What he does not say, is that the bishop's office gets to play with it. "You'll see in our report that once the debts and expenses of the closed parishes are addressed, the money left over is reinvested in existing parishes".

Lennon says, “We are committed to having strong parishes. We are committed to good stewardship of our resources and we are transparent in what we are doing with the assets and the sales of the parishes that have closed”. This is also the fellow that used to talk about 'vibrant' parishes, and could not define vibrant. The transparency is not there.

Here is the transparency given of one parish; and of the 52 files for 53 parishes made public, 27 are of similar length and transparency:


Parish: St. Lawrence Parish, Cleveland

Status: St. Lawrence Parish was a personal parish serving the Catholic Slovenian community in Cleveland prior to its closing. Since the time of closing, the parish’s cash is being held in custody. The Diocese is overseeing any incidental operating or maintenance issues at the closed facilities. The parish property is presently listed for sale and a full accounting of the finances will be published following the sale.

Now, on this site St. Lawrence is not listed*. I do not know when, if ever, a real estate sign was on the property. I do know 12 windows had the ransom paid (c. $25,000) by another parish, that many of the parishioners, sometimes, attend. A check for c. $550,000 was given to the bishop's office when the congregation was evicted. There, i have given more information than Lennon, and the press have on one parish; and i have details of more parishes.

The diocese is paying maintenance on the parish properties, and deducts that from the amount collected. If the parish was open, those diocesan payments would be zero. There are too few figures, and they are not all applicable to listed reasons, and listed reasons are not applicable to reality.

Lennon says (often), "I closed my own parish back in Boston, and it was the church that my grandfather built, where I made my first communion, where I buried my parents, where I said my first mass". Well, that may all be true. He made that decision, not the parishioners here. If he is fine with it, that is one matter; the parishioners here are not fine with the closures here, and that is another matter.

The numbers are too few. There were 231 parishes when Lennon came. There is far less than 231 pages presented. It was admitted 14 parishes have appeals pending with Rome. A list was not given. Reading the documents, 13 were apparent. One reporter states 54 church closures were accounted for (the press, and the chancery never made that high number before — there were 58 parishes closed): 26 sold, 14 for sale, 14 on appeal; but one on appeal (St. Martha was open as Blessed Trinity, which was one of his 5 examples of successful transitions in his 8 minute speech) was not closed. Reading the files, 13 are of them were for sale. On page 1, of a 4 page handout available at many weekend Masses, there was a picture of Lennon with the repurposed doors of St. Catharine's (the church was demolished late September). St. Catharine's did not have a file. The Community of St. Malachi had no real estate, nor file. Still the numbers of parishes closed is not transparent, certainly not consistent!

The exercise that was Monday's 'press conference' was staged to 'show' everything is fine here, now get along there is nothing to see. The bishops of Ohio, and Michigan will report to Rome February 1st. They will be there for their first ad limina visit to see Pope Benedict XVI. These are supposed to be quinquennial reports of each diocese to the Holy See. Benedict has been pope since 2005, this is his first time seeing American bishops for this. The last time Ohio bishops went was in 2004. Ad limina apostolorum is to the threshold of the apostles. The bishops come to pray at the tombs of Peter, and Paul. They come to meet, and explain, and present to the current Pope the state of the local dioceses.

While Lennon was destroying parishes that were created to be perpetual, and this point is the point, and it is not publicly spoken, he was trying to simultaneously raise capital. That drive was delayed, and delayed, and the goal was reduced.

We have seen a ruthless drive to exercise power, and gather money. We have seen little public accountability. We have seen anyone critical of this maligned, or sent away. We have seen terrible pastorship at the episcopal level. We have seen few questions answered. We have seen all this denied.

Lennon was asked about the criticism he received, he says, he believes some of it was "unfair". He defends himself with they "don't have the information that I do have". He could tell us, we have asked; but that would be sort of like 'transparency'. Perhaps, he is just self-pitying. He does realise the source of his flock's displeasure, they have "very strong, religious feelings about what they lost". Finally, a recognition of reality. Still there are things he doesn't see about Lorain, Summit, and Cuyahoga counties of Ohio — Geography. He showed in this well rehearsed farce in answering a question, which he, in part repeated bits of his stump sermon of Eviction, but with an inability to recognise the country we come from is called the Mid(dle) West.
*In the print copy of Tuesday's Cleveland Plain Dealer, there is a note, that there is a sale pending on St. Lawrence, and on the vacant lot where St. Andrew Svorad had recently been [E.51 and Superior].

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