Dysfunctional Dioceses

Dysfunctional Dioceses



Leo Tolstoy’s famous opening to his Anna Karenina novel reads,

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. 

A glance at three troubled dioceses east of the Mississippi shows a portrait of local dysfunction, but with interesting differences among them:

  • The Dioceses of Altoona-Johnstown in central Pennsylvania and Youngstown, Ohio are linked through a ‘monster cleric’ now deceased, who preyed upon dozens of minors in both dioceses.  While this may not be news in the wake of the scandal in Boston, the new news is the aggressive role of Pennsylvania’s attorney general resulting in the recent criminal indictments of three Franciscan Minister Provincials charged with conspiracy and child endangerment. 

  • In the Archdiocese of New York, there are two distinct ‘situations’ that may soon come together and conflate to form a critical mass (physics, not liturgy):

    In the wake of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s wholesale batch of mergers of more than fifty parishes in 2014-2015, thousands of local parishioners now await the disposition of more than a dozen canon appeals at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy; and

    There are plausible allegations of an inner network within the leadership of the diocese, involving favoritism in assignments and massive financial irregularities; along with the running story since last December of a law suit brought by parishioners against a pastor for misappropriation of over $1 million to support a flamboyant lifestyle; this first surfaced in The Daily News. But it took a specialized website, Church Militant to report the story of inner circle network within the archdiocese.  In due course, these twists of allegations may precipitate more litigation. 

Dioceses of Altoona-Johnstown, PA and Youngstown, OH

The local developments break into new legal territory:

  • Three Provincial Ministers of the Franciscan Friars Third Order Regulars are now under criminal indictment for conspiracy and child endangerment; these Provincial Ministers were successively in charge during the period 1986 through 2010, essentially they are the religious order’s bishops for central PA.

  • While these indictments echo the prosecution of Philadelphia’s Monsignor William Lynn of a few years ago by the city’s DA, they represent a significant escalation because they now bring center stage the attorney general for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and three religious leaders.

  • As reported by the AP, “Last August, agents [Special Agents of the Attorney General’s office] raided diocesan offices in Hollidaysburg and carted off 115,042 documents from filing cabinets…”

The link between the Altoona and Youngstown Dioceses is a predator, Brother Stephen Baker, who served in Youngtown from 1982 until 1992, including a stint at a Catholic high school in Warren, OH as a sports trainer; he then moved to a Catholic high school in Johnstown, PA where he had unsupervised access to minors.  Given settlements with 91 former students at Warren/JFK High School reached in late 2015 – to which the Diocese of Youngstown was a party, for Youngstown the major issues become: (a) What did the diocese know at the time when Brother Stephen Baker moved from OH to PA; and (b) Did Youngstown pass to Altoona what it knew about Baker?

From Pennsylvania’s Investigating Grand Jury’s recent presentment (a 33-page report of findings):

“The Diocese of Youngstown said…they were alerted to the allegations in 2009…”

“The diocese [of Youngstown] said they had no legal liability but participated in the settlement negotiations…”

“JFK [the Catholic high school in Warren], T.O.R. [the Franciscan Order] and the Youngstown Diocese also agreed to pay attorney fees and expenses.”

“The [settlement]  agreements…said the payments will be made ‘solely upon pastoral concern’ and was not an admission of any wrongdoing [by the three named parties].

The Youngstown prelate tagged as the Damage Control Officer for the diocese is Chancellor John Zuraw.  On the issue of Youngstown’s chancellery archives subject to seizure by law enforcement, he is reported as saying that the diocese does not have a secret archive.  Hmmm, I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘secret archive’. 

Under Canon 482, in all dioceses “…a chancellor is to be appointed…to ensure that the acts of the curia…are kept safe in the archive.” 

And under Canon 487, “The archive must be locked and only the Bishop and the chancellor are to have the key.”   Perhaps the Youngstown archives have been moved to the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington where they are shielded by diplomatic immunity.

Comment: from my direct knowledge, the Diocese of Youngstown is a case study in decline, going back to 2010/2011 when several ill-advised mergers were executed by Bishop George Murry, SJ, installed in March of 2007; these mergers have resulted in widespread parishioner alienation, falling church attendance, and shrinking collection plates.

Local Catholics feel strongly that it is high time for the Vatican to launch its own investigation into the management of the diocese through a formal Apostolic Visitation.  Confession might be good for the soul.

Archdiocese of New York

NY, NY is a wonderful town, tra la la.  But the outlook for the archdiocese (which excludes Queens and Brooklyn) is stormy.

Again from direct involvement, parishioner feelings are running high because of the dozens of mergers decreed in two waves (2014 and 2015) by the cardinal.  After some sleazy games were played by the archdiocese to deny parishioners the decrees regarding their own parishes (which is their right under canon law), decrees were grudgingly ‘made available’ for viewing at the chancellery.

Well over 20 canon appeals went to Rome in due course, and currently at least a dozen (probably more) have been accepted by the Congregation for the Clergy for review.

When the appeals have been decided, in the event of turndowns or only minor alterations to the cardinal’s merger decrees, there could be thousands of NY parishioners asking themselves the WTF question. 

And if the broader context within the archdiocese is gross financial mismanagement and turning a blind eye to credible allegations of embezzlement, with the connivance of an inner nomenklatura of UNcelibate clergy, that spells trouble.

In that regard, a couple of unusual ‘situations’ are materializing:

  1. The grotesque scandal Father Peter Miqueli, pastor to a couple of parishes who is now accused by parishioners – through a civil law suit – of financial improprieties involving over $1 million, along with allegations of $1,000/hour payments to “his hunky lover.”  Link below to The Daily News article of last December for the lurid (sic) details: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx-priest-sued-allegedly-stealing-1m-churches-article-1.2462101

  2. And detailed allegations involving the second-highest ranking official in the diocese, Msgr. Gregory Mustaciuolo

As reported in several postings on the Church Militant website, Mustaciuolo is a hierarchical triple threat as: 

Vicar General, i.e. Executive VP of the archdiocese;

Moderator of the Curia, i.e. Chief of Staff to whom all curia department heads report, and

Chancellor, i.e. keeper of the archive (aka secrets); bear in mind Canon 487 above, ‘The archive must be locked and only the Bishop and the chancellor are to have the key…’

The Mustaciuolo story has not yet jumped from one specialized website to the mainstream media. And yet, the specific detail of what is alleged is striking.  Per Church Militant, one of Mustaciuolo‘s favored subordinates, Msgr. Michael Hull, was also a triple office holder in the archdiocese until Hull’s sudden and dramatic departure from the New York City area in 2014: 

Professor at St. John Seminary;

Pastor of the Church of the Guardian Angel in Chelsea, and according to the website, 

Mustaciuolo is also said to have secured a third full-time position for Hull – as director of the Sheen Center…a performing arts complex in Lower Manhattan that cost around $20 million to convert from a homeless shelter run by Catholic Charities.”

But in the spring of 2014 “Hull had suddenly vanished from the New York archdiocese, leaving no indication of his whereabouts…he surfaced in the news months later as Director of Studies…in the Scottish Episcopal Institute (SEI) – married and with a baby.”  Hmmm. 

One important detail:  Most Archdiocese of NY parishes are structured as non-profit corporations under NY State law, each parish with a five-person board of trustees.  As such, these corporations enjoy exemption from certain categories of taxes, and donations to them are tax exempt.  The quid pro quo is that the State attorney general exercises oversight through the Charities Bureau.  So, if donations are diverted to purposes inconsistent with the non-profit’s charter, there could be legal trouble.  Which in the first instance would draw into the situation the corporation trustees through oversight and fiduciary duties, i.e. the bishop, the chancellor, the pastor, and two lay members of the parish.

Comment:  You might wonder how NY’s newspaper of record has covered all this, with hundreds of newsroom reporters including their usual Religion and Metro beats.  Keep wondering.

And remember that it took the Boston Globe’s swat team – Spotlight – to break the 2002 scandal – after a brand new executive editor rode into Beantown in mid-2001 and re-mobilized Spotlight which disrupted the comfortable reporting arrangements that passed for coverage.

If it had not been for the Spotlight Team, do you think we would be having this conversation?  Do you think there would be today’s global awareness of clergy sex abuse of minors?

Coda:  Boston Archdiocese – A Glimpse into the Future?

If you want a preview of the longer-term consequences of the current situation in the Archdiocese of New York, just have a look at the Archdiocese of Boston today, 14 years after its own scandal:

Per the FY-2015 audited financial report, the Archdiocese of Boston recorded an operating loss of $5 million.  

Maybe not a big deal, BUT – coincidence (?) – net gains from the sale of closed parish properties in the year were just over $5 million, otherwise the losses would have been $10 million.  This is the business model for how dioceses manage their decline:

Cover operating shortfalls with sales of parish properties.

In financial terms this is unsustainable; it amounts to self-liquidation.  And beyond these clever financial maneuvers, consider the following:  

The most telling indicator of a diocese’s spiritual vitality is its Mass Attendance Ratio, the percentage of self-described Catholics in the diocese who actually crawl out of bed to go to Mass regularly.   Per Georgetown University’s annual survey,

The national average for all U.S. dioceses is 24% in 2015

(down from 55% in the halcyon days of 1960!). 

But for the Archdiocese of Boston the Mass Attendance Ratio was:

11.9% in 2015, down from 17% in 2010…dropping by one percentage point for each year, between 2010 and 2015.

And finally, a softer indicator:  

In September of 2014 the owner of the Boston Globe (and the Red Sox) funded the launch of CruxNow, a free weekly on the web covering the Catholic Church, staffed by expert Vatican reporters and with frequent ‘name’ contributors.   A few weeks ago, after a mere 18 months,

“…The Boston Globe has bailed…the Globe’s editor…’We made the words work, but not the numbers…So we decided…to cut our losses’.” (The Atlantic, March 11, 2016).  

Yet the Boston Archdiocese has a flock of almost 2 million faithful (2015 diocesan data).

Jeremiah, 2:31:

Why do my people say, ‘we have moved on, we will come to you no more?’


3 thoughts on “Dysfunctional Dioceses

  1. Three Franciscan Provincials now indicted. Can it get more serious that that? Diocesan hierarchy know enough to flee (Bernie Law), Franciscans sadly even testified before the grand jury. Very badly handled from a criminal defense perspective. Sad.

    RCAB is definitely balancing their books by including proceeds of sale of closed parishes as income. Is not that money the property of the receiving parish according to canon law?

  2. I hope the sad news moves other leaders in religious entities to clean up their act, especially concerning cover-ups of all kinds.

  3. STOP THE ABUSE! This horrific behavior will not stop here. The next step that will be taken by your alleged spiritual leaders, will be to start selling off your churches. This is how they will pay for the crimes of their past. Stealing churches from the faithful to pay all the expenses of moving child rapist’s around like some twisted chess game. The RCAB of Boston called it reconfiguration and has now relabeled it Mergers. For all of you that think they have done one damn thing to stop this, think again the Vatican policy is that, the new laws and changes to address this nightmare, only apply to the laity and priests, THE BISHOPS REPORT ONLY TO ROME – FACT! We have been fighting a battle against Our supposed spiritual leaders for almost twelve years .We also had two abusive priest in our parish and after all the pain and horror they cause in our community our faithful Shepard Cardinal Sean O’Malley is trying to steal our church. The same church that sits on 30.2 acres of prime costal real-estate .Just a little background, Boston is the epicenter of sexual abuse in America, and Scituate Mass is that epicenters bullseye. We have asked Cardinal Sean to sell us our church, to return it to its rightful owners, the people who bought, paid for, built and to this day work hard to maintain (this would be us paying for our church for the third time –another story) But he refuses that’s why after occupying our church 24 -7 for almost 12 years we find ourselves at the possible end to our battle. THIS DAY! We have filed to the UNTIED STATES SUPREAM COURT to finally settle this matter and the important constitutional issues that are critical to gain clarity on. We have asked for a peaceful and pray full solution that provide fairness and honesty and common sense for everyone! Cardinal Sean’s response? He is SUING US! Google Saint Frances, Scituate MA, go to our website and face book. We all need to stand up and stop the abuse! No more physical, spiritual and monetary abuse by our alleged spiritual leaders. We will not PAY, PRAY and OBEY any longer! Together we can make a difference and save OUR and all the churches!

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