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Diocese in Turmoil

 Spiritual & Emotional Pain - A Diocese in Turmoil 

March 30, 2021        

Dialoguing with the Diocese of Rockville Centre is very challenging these days. Ask any parish ministry leader, priest, or deacon, and you will find in private, a common response: “…the diocese is not effective at communication”. In non-church speak, his excellency seems to be circling the wagons, and rather not dialog directly, at least with this Rogue Deacon.  

“However, the hierarchy's ability to brush dirt under the carpet is noteworthy.”

Bishop Barres delivered a scripted video this past Autumn about the diocese's "Reorganization" by filing Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, an inevitable move, not driven because of lawsuits from the sexual abuse scandal, but in my opinion, from the actions of the men responsible for the well-being of the diocese, Bishop Barres and former Bishop William Murphy (Cardinal Law's right-hand man in Boston during the "Spotlight" scandal).

It is due to the failure of a church that cherishes "scandal avoidance" above the protection of the faithful and of whistleblowers. This is a situation I know too well. It is time for us to shake out the tapestries and reset this diocese.  The bankruptcy filing came upon us because the leadership circled the wagons with attorneys and should have repented and provided needed assistance to the survivors of sexual abuse. It is because our leadership in their zeal to protect the Church, have chosen to sacrifice the survivors of sexual abuse, have chosen to distance themselves from parish priests, have chosen to "Lawyer-Up" and allow Catholic Education to die and wither on the vine.  

"...maybe the Bishop and his auxiliary bishops should lead by example and sacrifice by taking a pay cut like the rest of us have experienced this past year!"


We have all heard the panacea of “dramatic missionary growth”, and an always rosy top-down communique of “all is well in Rockville Centre” as we balance the news of Catholic school closings with new education initiatives, revelations on clerical abuse, and compensation programs to avoid expensive litigation. Now the ripcord of bankruptcy has been pulled. As separate corporate entities, parishes will take on most of the most damage. Many are unaware that the bishop is the president of each parish corporation, along with an auxiliary bishop or monsignor as vice president and the pastor as secretary/ treasurer. Parishes pay on average a 12% to 20% tax to support the diocese. 

In these difficult times, the diocese still requires payments from individual parishes even though weekly collections have decreased during the pandemic. A diocese now in bankruptcy was once the safety net for poorer parishes, now the net is damaged and parish priests must transverse the highwire on their own.

Recently, I posed a question to my pastor, Fr. Jason Grisafi: "Father, who actually owns the buildings in our parish?" The good pastor in essence said it was "complicated" and could not provide an answer. I'm sure it was out of extreme caution since the financial meeting was being recorded for the parish website.(I applaud his transparency) 


It is time for us to "Boycott the Basket" this Easter season moving forward.  As a Catholic, I'm aware of my obligation to support my parish. I have offered my time and talent and in the past financial donations, but now the financial faucet has been turned off until that time the Diocese of Rockville Centre can provide true financial transparency.

How about some real change, maybe the Bishop and his auxiliary bishops should lead by example and sacrifice by publically taking a pay cut, as many of us have experienced this past year! 

Diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty as do many priests of religious orders. I know most priests who serve at the parish level live austere lives, however, they have not been immune to benefit reductions. The reality is that priest stipends have been cut, benefits like automobile insurance once covered by the dioceses have been eliminated. Compare this to the hierarchy who live privileged lifestyles, dining on three square meals a day, free housing, free servants, along with free travel on church junkets. I am well aware of one former troubled pastor who has been “gifted” two properties in the Hamptons and has a music business on the side, as the Bishop turns a blind eye.  

Having been on “the inside”, I sorrow for priests and deacons who have been abandoned by leaders who will not take the time to “smell like their sheep”, not to mention for them to get a whiff of what is really happening in the trenches at the parish level.  The faithful are often left in the dark about budgets at both the parish and diocesan levels. With the news of the bankruptcy filing, pastors are further distanced from their bishop and HQ in Rockville Centre. They have been instructed to group together and hire their own bankruptcy attorneys as they scramble to keep their parishes afloat. 

 I recently read an insightful article by James Carroll which I strongly recommend for Holy Week. 
 


 

Following the lead from the bishop, in the past pastors had become politicians and point guards for fundraising. Simply visit the diocesan website and one can be left with the impression that all is well in the kingdom, and the need to feed the coffers with funds.  Our bishop has made good in an effort to engage in rounds of photo opportunities doing meet and greets, and "get out of Dodge, parish visits. 

You will unlikely get a sense of reality if you are a parishioner in conversation with a parish priest. Fear lurks around the most seasoned cleric who is loathed to call it as he sees it, lest he is labeled a “partisan” in the folly of ordained vs layperson and be subject to recrimination by his bishop.


With the shortage of experienced pastors, it appears that Bishop Barres has decided to dispatch young pastors with a puritan leaning to the Church of Pre-Vatican II.  There exists an undercurrent of Conservative Catholicism harkening back to the “good old’ days” by newly ordained priests who reminisce in clerical cassocks and biretta hats about a period they never experienced. I can see it coming, the new mantra: “Make Catholicism Great Again!”

 
Clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny, and its hierarchical power, is at the root of Roman Catholic dysfunction.
                                             -James Carroll






One is left with the impression that discussions of women’s role in the Church, the empowering of the laity and “Bridge Building” to LGBT Catholics are not a welcome conversation in the DRVC.

When I challenged the firing of gay teachers in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis by Archbishop Charles Thompson, I was admonished by the diocese of Rockville Centre. I was interrogated as to my understanding of the sacrament of marriage in the Church. It was clear to me that addressing the targeting of gay Catholics were problems my superiors considered "third-rail" issues.
 

I defended my position as I invoked the work of Fr. James Martin, SJ, and lamented our need to reach out to our marginalized brothers and sisters, only to be reprimanded to stay far afield from such a controversial priest. I have read Fr. Martin’s books, and I count him as one of the many brave people doing the work of the Church in the trenches! 

Shame on our bishops who sit silently when so many are being oppressed.
 
The Diocese of Rockville Centre is too large to manage... 

but not too big to fail.
 
Bishop Johnbishopnavigates parish public relation tours well, however, when it comes to one on one interactions with clergy, he's absent. I know. I've tried to meet with him. 

I would venture to say the "Reset” will be handled in two ways, either the Archdiocese of New York will sub-divide the diocese, or if enough parishes and schools close, we will have a smaller diocese due to the financial hardships both self-inflicted and as a result of the pandemic.

An increasing number of lawsuits due to the pedophile scandal has widened the divide between the diocese and its parishes. Pastors have been advised to coordinate with other’s parishes to share legal expenses as they are now vulnerable to lawsuits directly. Pastors have been advised to buddy up with other parishes in the area to pool resources to fight litigation without help from the diocese.
 
We need leaders who can treat the faithful as adults and not merely as sheep.  Let’s face it, the Diocese of Rockville Centre is in dire straits. It seems that our diocese is ignoring the direction of the Holy Spirit by relying on the governance of attorneys.

Even before the Pandemic there existed a shortage of qualified priests who could be effective pastors. Parishes are being linked together because of the shortage of qualified pastors. Normally it would take several years of experience to assign a priest as a pastor to a parish, but now poorly trained neophytes are dropped into parishes.
  
Here is an example of the absurd: one priest who was dismissed as a pastor in 2018 due to financial improprieties has been assigned as an associate in an unsuspecting neighboring parish (September 1, 2020). 

A “cover-story” was provided to avoid scandal, however, the unintended consequences of the coverup left most parishioners conflicted as to what really happened.  These are desperate times, but the shuffling of “bad” priests must end. The shenanigans of this celebrity priest are well known in the dioceses among the clergy. Good cops despise bad cops, just as good priests abhor bad ones.  One has to wonder what skeletons are in Bishop Emeritus William Murphy's or Bishop John O. Barres' closet that emboldened the reassignment of this troubled priest to a neighboring parish in Suffolk County?  


The unofficial eleventh commandment of “Never critique another cleric”, has brought us to a local church that measures its priests on their ability to raise funds and remain silent. The culture of avoiding scandal and coverup sin dates to the story of creation when Adam and Eve tried to hide from their sins.  “Who told you, you were naked?” Gen 3:11. I believe the faithful can handle the naked truth. I was taught confession is good for the soul. Rockville Centre it is time to “fess-up”.

I often wonder about the enablers in the Church who choose blind and deaf obedience over doing the right thing. One can challenge a man's judgment, not know their true motives. I wonder about clergy personnel directors who had an early career in law enforcement fighting crime only to then embark on a vocation as a cleric called to embrace coverup and scandal avoidance under their shield of obedience? 

Sacrificing Catholic Education


Bishop Barres's "Morning Star Initiative" (https://www.morningstarinitiative.org/) Appears to be a glossy attempt to surrender catholic education completely. Knowing the lack of funding support from the diocese which left "stake holder's" parishes scrambling to keep their parish schools alive I am left with the impression that we have a hierarchy more interested in glossy brochures and public relations campaigns than funneling capital where it is needed at grass-root parish Catholic education initiatives. Please don't take my word for it, speak to the recently retired or displaced Catholic School educators who were lied to just weeks before their schools were shuttered by Bishop Barres. 

Love for Our Church 

I am a cradle-Catholic, I love the Church. My actions to shed light on a troubled pastor and corrupt system are a result of the love I have for the laity and the good priests, deacons, and religious who serve the Body of Christ. 

I am a product of parochial schooling and a recently ordained Permanent Deacon (2017) in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.  For full disclosure, I am on the “ropes” with my bishop as I have been silenced for speaking out on a pastor who had divided a parish with his financial and “spiritual” shenanigans. I have been yanked out of the parish ministries (November 13, 2019), denied the ability to preach,  baptize, witness marriages, nor present myself as a deacon. I have been silenced without due process by powers who want to hide the truth as they slow-walk their canonical judicial process. I have come to realize that the diocese tactic of delay, silence, and slow-walk justice is a practice that undoubtedly hid the clerical sexual abuse crisis as the diocese remains deaf to the pleas of the laity and clerics alike for transparency and reform. 



This blog no doubt will ruffle feathers. In my heart, I need to speak out against injustice, not only in other institutions but also here in the Church.  As one of my colleagues stated: “fidelity to injustice is unjust”. 

I have experienced firsthand; how blind fidelity can perpetrate crimes within the Church. Misguided clerical fidelity provides a vehicle for coverup as “silence under pressure” attempts to keep auxiliary bishops, priests, and deacons inline under the guise of protecting the Church from scandal. In any hierarchy, discipline and patience must be balanced by decisive action.  Considering the scandalous behavior and subsequent action and inaction by this diocese, I have come to realize that the welfare of corporate church finances outweighs the mission of the Church to spread the gospel with the message of redemption and serving the poor and marginalized.
 
I have had the opportunity in my secular job to work closely with management from other Christian traditions, I believe we as Catholics can work toward the better management of parishes with an empowered laity. Many may be surprised to learn that financial and parish councils in the Catholic Church have just an advisory role with the ultimate power resting with the pastor. This has worked well, except for ill-equipped pastors, and those who have “gone off the rails”.  Our Protestant brothers and sisters have it down correctly.  They leave the parish finances to those laypeople well equipment to manage finances and allow the pastor to focus on the spiritual needs of his community.

Canon Law places too much power at the hand of a pastor who can cripple and divide a parish with the mismanagement of capital. I have seen the inertia of a diocese that has a thirty-thousand-foot view of the parish level. The slow-to-action history of the diocese thwarts the ability to detect financial mismanagement at the parish level. Trust is eroded when donated funds are wasted away or embezzled by a priest who seemingly disregards diocesan guidelines. 



The concerned active members of my own parish know the inertia of the diocese as I have seen the letters of complaint, phone calls and conversations met with placating words and prayer offerings.  Action to confront crimes was slow to arise until the threat of holding back funds from wealthy parish donors came to the attention of the diocese.

Despite the avalanche of concerns, I remain hopeful. I hope Bishop Barres opens his ears and heart to what needs to be done. I’m just a phone call, text, or email away!

God has provided saints to do the hard work of correcting the Church which is both Divine and Human. We are all imperfect vessels and the Church is not immune.

Until there is an honest dialog between our bishop, his representatives and the faithful, the power of the checkbook and social media may be the best means of inspiring change.  This chapter 11 bankruptcy may be a blessing in disguise, however, without significant change in the governance of the institution, history will undoubtedly repeat itself.

I see a smaller diocese on Long Island in our future, and a hopeful change to better answer Jesus’ call to follow him ever more closely.

Forever seeking Christ,
 
Deacon Stephen Yusko 

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