The Lone Pundit and the Archdiocese of Boston

Have you ever noticed that reporters tend to go to the same pundits when reporting on particular subjects and sometimes rely on a single pundit to comment? And those stories often seem tailor-made for that pundit to comment on?

So in today’s Boston Herald, the reporter goes to Peter Borre of the so-called Council of Parishes, a tiny organization that purports to represent Boston Catholics, but which apparently has a tiny membership and almost no public footprint1, to comment on the “news” that the Archdiocese of Boston has hired a consultant to help with parish fundraising.

I worked in the Archdiocese of Boston’s fundraising arm for several years and then in a parish for several more. I am well aware of the deficiencies in fundraising in the Archdiocese. I also know that dioceses hiring consultants to help parishes with increased offertory campaigns or capital campaigns is as run-of-the-mill as hiring waste disposal firms to take away the trash. This is not news and one wonders why it is that the Herald decided this was news and perhaps whether the reporter called the pundit or the pundit called the reporter.

The Archdiocese of Boston has hired a fundraising agency to boost donations for parishes — an expense that shouldn’t be necessary with all the employees raising money in the finance department, a Catholic Church watchdog said Tuesday. … Borre told the Herald, “The use of an outside firm surprises me. They have salaried people in the finance department who are supposed to be pretty good at fundraising.”

Borre’s complaint is off-base. Fundraising doesn’t happen in the finance department. Fundraising is a separate function done by Boston Catholic Development Services, a department of the archdiocese which does fundraising for the clergy health and retirement fund, Catholic schools, and the annual Catholic Appeal that funds the operations of the Archdiocese.2 They also provide fundraising services and assistance to related Catholic entities within the Archdiocese, like parishes. There are definitely criticisms that can be leveled against the fundraising practices of the archdiocese and questions raised about the relative size and expense of BCDS compared to their results, but neither the reporter or the pundit come close to those.

You could also point out that lack of funding is not primarily a problem of extracting more money from the people left in the pews, but one of evangelization and discipleship (i.e. not more dollars per person, but more persons at the same dollar level).

But this Herald article is bunk, a criticism of a common and standard practice, and its reliance on a self-described Catholic Church watchdog is deceptive and religion reporters need to do a better job than this.

  1. They have a Facebook page with almost no followers and very little activity and a domain name that doesn’t have a web site. And their Facebook page links approvingly to information about schismatic parishes.
  2. Unlike some dioceses, the annual Appeal does not fund Catholic Charities. They do their own fundraising.

Reporting Systems are Fine; What We Need is Strong Leadership

Cardinal Seán O'Malley

Cardinal Seán O’Malley is instituting a new system for reporting misconduct by bishops of the Archdiocese of Boston. Of course, it’s mainly symbolic, but it sends a challenge to his brother bishops in the US and beyond to take similar action.

The new phone number and web site is similar to one that was set up in 2011 to report financial misconduct in the archdiocese from a company that specializes in setting up whistleblower systems for corporations and organizations.

At the moment, the only people it covers are the cardinal himself and his auxiliaries and his authority to institute it comes from his sovereign authority as bishop.

And therein lies a problem. The system exists at the will of the man who sits in the chair. Any successor of his could turn it off at a whim. The same is true for every other diocese.

The cure for these situations, like that of Ted McCarrick, the former cardinal and laicized cleric, is not that we need a reporting system. The solution can only come from having leaders willing to take action against those who undermine the Church, steep themselves in sin, and drive the nails through Christ into the cross by their abuse of the innocent or protecting those who do.

Cardinal Seán’s action is a good first step, but there are no easy solutions. What we need is for the Holy Spirit to bring us new strong and Christ-like bishops and for that we can only pray.

Why the SmugMug Flickr cap is bad for the whole Net

When SmugMug bought Flickr from Yahoo earlier this year, many people suspected another shoe was going to drop and now it has: Smug Mug is dropping Flickr’s free tier from 1TB of storage to just 1,000 photos. In addition to being an inconvenience for active users, it has larger implications.

For instance, Melanie​ has long used Flickr to embed photos in her blog posts rather than take up our own previous server space. But once Flickr starts actively killing off any older photos above her 1,000 limit, those embedded photo links will all break. So will we have to start paying $50/year as another expense to keep her blog going?

But there are even wider implications for the web. One of the largest sources of Creative Commons photos online has been Flickr, but many, many of those photos are sitting on old accounts. The internet community is about to lose access to a lot of visual content. Many of the photos you see on Wikipedia, for example, are Flickr photos. The same with many of those public domain stock photos.

Another example is the Archdiocese of Boston’s Flickr page. George Martell and I set that up back in 2009 and it has over 31,000 photos. It is a valuable historical record of the past decade of the Church in Boston. In fact, there are many Catholic sites that rely on Church’s Creative Commons-licensed photos, like Aleteia. They’re going to lose this and I don’t think the folks who are running it at the Archdiocese of Boston now realize what’s about to happen to it.

It’s a shame when invaluable internet resources like this are so dependent on one commercial entity and doubly a shame when they shut down or radically pare back. This is going to be bad for the internet for sure.

A Correction to NPR Story that Quoted Me

I was interviewed this week for a National Public Radio story on the decline of the influence of the Church in Massachusetts. I talked to the reporter for about 45 minutes and had two quotations in the resulting article.

One of the quotations is slightly in error.

On the one hand, 45 minutes was boiled down to two short soundbites, including something that is quite obvious and wasn’t even the main thrust of what I tried to convey, but that’s the nature of an article like this and is expected. On the other hand, I am the least famous or influential person quoted by name in the article (and the first) so I’m sure that was also a factor.

But the article quotes me as follows:

“The church recently managed to pull off a legislative win, helping defeat a measure that would have allowed physician-assisted suicide. But Bettinelli cautions that even that vote doesn’t necessarily mean an upswing in the church’s influence.

Lawmakers are voting “based on their faith,” he says. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are being influenced by [O’Malley].”

I didn’t say lawmakers are voting based on their faith, but voters who voted down the 2012 referendum on assisted suicide. There is currently a bill on Beacon Hill being debated that would legalize doctor-prescribed suicide and I and many others testified against it during a hearing on September 26. But all of those people came on their own or through grassroots pro-life groups. I believe there was a single lay official from the Mass. Catholic Conference, but no bishops or Catholic clergy.

As for what the legislators will do, that’s anyone’s guess. Undoubtedly some will vote their faith, but my guess is more will vote based on what they think the majority of their constituents want (or more cynically, what will advance their future career in the Legislature.)

As for the rest of the article, the mindset behind it falls into the old trap of thinking that the Church’s power is in her ability to influence politicians. While lobbying on behalf or against legislation that promotes or hinders a more moral society is important, the primary reason for the existence of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. While we like to imagine that the Church pre-Scandal was like Alcuin standing at the right hand of Charlemagne, building Christendom in Europe, the reality is that the worldly authority of the Church in the US had already long been in decline.

In another sense, you might even say that the influence of the archbishop of Boston beyond the borders of Massachusetts is even higher with Cardinal Sean than it was with Law. No American bishop is closer to the Pope and most observers believe that Cardinal Sean may have come in second or third in the conclave of 2013. And when it comes to issues of immigration and pro-life matters, Cardinal Sean’s voice is heard above many others. The article does acknowledge this last point.

I will note that as far as I can tell, I was the only conservative source consulted for this article.

Remembering Father Timothy Murphy

The summer of 1996 I was planning to move from Ohio back to Massachusetts. I had finished up at Franciscan University of Steubenville and had a job that allowed me to work remotely from anywhere I had an internet connection. My friend, Randy, who was from Phoenix, had got a job as a youth minister in Salem, Mass., and so we agreed to get an apartment together. However, he then was offered by his new boss, the pastor, Fr. Timothy Murphy, to come live in the spacious, mostly empty rectory to save money. Randy was concerned about our agreement, but the pastor extended the invitation to me as well, letting me rent a room and receive board for monthly rent.

That was how I met Fr. Murphy, who would become a friend, a mentor, and a father-figure to me over the next two decades. Fr. Murphy retired from active ministry a few years ago and has now died after a short illness.

In 1996, Fr. Murphy was the newly arrived pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Salem, the second oldest parish in Massachusetts after the cathedral-parish in Boston and the oldest church dedicated to Mary in New England. Fr. Murphy was always proud of the history of the parish, including the fact that he was the second pastor named Timothy Murphy, his eponymous predecessor having lived in the 19th century.

Father Murphy had previously been pastor of St. Angela’s Parish in Mattapan since 1979, an inner-city parish with a very large Haitian immigrant population that had grown there as the neighborhood transitioned from mainly Jewish and Irish families who were moving out to the suburbs. Notably, Fr. Murphy was the first of his seminary class to be named a pastor (back in the days when not every parish priest became a pastor and if so after decades of ministry) and he learned of his assignment on the day Pope St. John Paul II celebrated Mass on Boston Common, October 1, 1979. He served St. Angela’s until 1995 when he took a sabbatical year in Rome before going to Salem.

That year in Rome was special to Fr. Murphy and he talked about it often in the following years and he stayed in touch with the other priests from around the United States who were in the same program year. It also prompted him to do more pilgrimages and international travel.

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Losing My Old Parish, But Can Something Be Saved?

From the “You should have listened to me before” file: The Archdiocese of Boston parish collaborative that includes my former parish in Salem where Melanie and I were married is in deep financial trouble, so now they’re going to turn one parish into a Polish shrine to St. John Paul II and merge my old parish and another one.

Three years ago, Salem was one of the first collaboratives under the Disciples in Mission pastoral plan and had Salem’s four parishes included. They quickly determined that four was too many and St. Anne’s was split off, leaving Immaculate Conception (my old parish), St. James, and St. John the Baptist, which was previously a Polish national parish. The pastor of the collaborative was unable to get the finances of the collaborative under control and ended up resigning last year.

Now the temporary administrator and the parish leaders have come up with this new plan to turn St. John the Baptist into a Polish shrine dedicated to St. John Paul II and merge Immaculate Conception and St. James into one parish while keeping the two churches open, which will let them sell off redundant property.
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Thousands Against Marijuana, What About Evangelization?

When Cardinal Seán came out against Question 4 on the Massachusetts ballot, which proposes legalizing marijuana, I thought it was interesting he would choose to do so, but I agree with him that legalization is bad. Then he rallied the state’s other bishops and starting producing all kinds of videos that have been plastered on the Archdiocese’s Facebook page and I began to wonder at the amount of time spent on this.

Now I read that the Archdiocese is spending $850,000 on this campaign, and I begin to wonder why this is where we choose to spend our efforts. Even as the rumors have started to ramp up about yet another round of layoffs, buyouts, and/or early retirements in the Central Ministries (round eight or ten or whatever of the past 8 years) and as more and more of the collaboratives that are a central feature of the Disciples in Mission pastoral plan that’s supposed to re-evangelize fallen away Catholics encounter financial difficulties, why spend scarce dollars on this?

It’s not like this was a special gift for the purpose. Terry Donilon is quoted in the article that the funds come from “a discretionary, unrestricted central ministry fund.” Presumably one that could be used for evangelization?

“It reflects the fact that the Archdiocese holds the matter among its highest priorities,” Archdiocese spokesman Terrence Donilon said of the donation. “It’s a recognition that, if passed, the law would have significantly detrimental impacts on our parishes, our ministries.”

And where in the list of priorities does evangelization fall? Let’s be honest, will pot smoking have that much of an effect on parishes? More than the continued loss of people from the pews who have become disillusioned and lack any real relationship with Jesus Christ in discipleship?

Or, if we wanted to use the money for an important political issue, how about we save it up for the next time doctor-prescribed suicide is inevitably pushed by its proponents. The Archdiocese spent millions in 2012 to defeat a very poorly worded ballot question. Will we have millions when the death-pushers come back more organized with a slicker message?

This may been a good time for the Cardinal to oppose marijuana. But the resources spent on it are misplaced priorities.

You Can’t Just Declare Yourself Catholic

Imagine I’m nose tackle for the New England Patriots. One day, Coach Belichick calls me in his office and tells me I’m being cut from the team. Well, I don’t want to be cut from the team so I go down the street to a high school stadium and declare that I am still part of the New England Patriots, that being a Patriot is bigger than the NFL team owned by Bob Kraft, that I will bring in other players and coaches, hold games and sell tickets, and that the games will be valid NFL games leading to the Super Bowl. Right about the same time I’m being served the lawsuit from Kraft and the NFL, the men in white coats would be carting me off to the loony bin.

Meanwhile, reporter Bella English and the Boston Globe1 continues to feed the delusions of the people in Scituate who believe that they are still a valid parish despite rejecting the authority of the Catholic Church.

Here’s how Maryellen Rogers describes it: “We are an ecumenical Catholic church, we are still valid practicing Catholics, part of the universal Catholic Church, not the Roman Catholic Church. So if you join our church community, you would see a welcoming Catholic experience but you would not be supporting the Roman Catholic Church or the Archdiocese of Boston.”

Jon Rogers says that the new church wants to draw from other towns south of Boston, not just Scituate. “This is the seeds of a brand new church, a simple structure, the way Christ would have it,” he says. “It will just be a spiritual home where people can be comfortable without being awestruck or overwhelmed by a hierarchical system. It will be run by the people and for the people.”

Both stress that the church remains Catholic. “We are valid, practicing Catholics,” she says.

I’m sorry, but it’s just not so. I hate to tell them that this doesn’t make them Catholic. All they’ve done is re-invent Protestantism because this is exactly how the Protestant Reformation began. They saw themselves as recovering the true Church while throwing off the hierarchy yet retaining the sacraments and other trappings at first. How long until they even give up those trappings, even if they survive at all?

  1. English, who is semi-retired from the Globe now, has been championing the Scituate protesters ever since they began. Something tells me she has an axe to grind.

From Irish Convict to Boston Catholic Newspaperman

John O’Reilly was an Irishman born in 1844 who join the British Army, but was then transported as a convict to Australia, until he later escaped and made his way to America, eventually coming to Boston and becoming of America’s then-largest newspaper which is now the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston, The Pilot. It’s a fascinating story that comes from the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Perth, Australia.

The Heart of St. Padre Pio in Boston

Update: They did make it there!

Thousands of people in the Boston area, some even flying in from other parts of the country, are venerating the heart of Padre Pio this week. It is the first time a major relic of St. Pio has traveled outside of Rome and it is here in Boston at the request of Cardinal Seán, a fellow Capuchin, for the saint’s feast day in the Year of Mercy.

The Boston Globe covers the initial veneration in Lowell and it’s funny to read the outsider’s perspective. We, Catholics, are a peculiar bunch and I can see why others think it’s weird. But human beings are weird and quirky, especially when it comes to those we love who are no longer with us.

You have to see George Martell’s photos of the visit on the Archdiocese’s Flickr page. You can see the full range of experiences and emotions that were present.

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Melanie and the kids are going to the Pastoral Center in Braintree this morning for veneration. They’re bringing a picture of Padre Pio that came to us mysteriously. Several years ago, Melanie took the kids to daily Mass on Sophia’s feast day and as they come out after, a young man approached them with the picture and said that it was for them. Melanie had never seen him before and didn’t recognize him from the parish at all. The picture has been in the girls’ bedroom since then. They hope to touch the picture to the heart of Padre Pio today and make it a third-class relic.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to go. I hope to swing by the Pastoral Center on my way home this afternoon, but my guess is that after the noon Mass until the end at 5pm the place will be crazy with people.

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