Two-thirds of the front page of Sunday’s edition of the local tabloid, the Boston Herald, was taken up with a lurid illustration and headline: “Priests’ trust shaken: Clergy say mismanagement left pension funds in pinch.” We’re promised a “special report” on the mismanagement of the priests’ pension plan under the tenure of former Boston archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law.
But when I read the relatively brief article, I was left wondering, so what’s new? I don’t think there was a single detail in the story that we didn’t know last year when the story first broke. Last April we found out that the Clergy Retirement /Disability Trust, into which the annual Christmas collection from around the archdiocese is supposed to go, had an $85.4 million shortfall. When you see a story like this, especially one that gets the front-page splash, as a news consumer you should ask yourself: “What special-interest group sent out the press release that convinced the editors that there is a story here?”
In this archdiocese, if it’s not Voice of the Faithful, it must be the Council of Parishes, which is really just VOTF under a different name. The Council of Parishes—who are apparently suffering mission creep away from protesting parish closings, claim that millions of dollars were spent under Law’s oversight on legal bills, psychological treatment, and other expenses for priests accused of sexual abuse. Now, I might dispute whether to consider such priests “disabled”, but if you do define them as such then it makes sense.
The Rev. Mark O’Connell, who supervises the Clergy Retirement/Disability Trust, vigorously defended the diversion of millions in holiday collections. He saidthatduring that 16-year period, archdiocesan actuaries said the retirement fund was fully funded and even overfunded, and did not require a transfer from the Clergy Benefit Trust, the account that takes in the Christmas and Easter donations.
The retirement fund faltered, he said, after nursing-home costs, previously taken from a medical fund, were reassigned to the pension account and new actuaries started accounting for the likelihood that retired priests would live longer than expected.
“To think that something bad happened to that money or that it was used for something else that the good people of the archdiocese gave it for is simply false,” he said.
But, again, I’m left wondering what’s new. In other words, where did this story originate? Most likely straight out of the Council of Parishes, which is probably trying to turn the screws on the archdiocese as several cases involving closed parishes come to a head, including that of St. James in Wellesley, which has a hearing before the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court.
Always remember, the story is often more complex and deeper than just what you see on the page.