Archdiocese planning another ‘realignment’ of parishes

Back in 2005 and 2006, I wrote a lot about the Archdiocese of NY’s plan to “realign” parishes.

I thought it was an important story. The church was looking at all sorts of demographic data — including the worsening shortage of priests — and might make some tough decisions about how to better allocate resources.

I wrote about a giant, 50-person committee overseeing the planning, about lay involvement in the planning process, whatever I could think of.

But when Cardinal Egan finally dropped the big plan in March 2006, it was a bit of a let-down. Only 15 parishes were targeted to close — and most of them were barely breathing.

People I spoke with were surprised that regions of the archdiocese were not touched, even though several churches appeared to be stagnant or worse.

There was a sense among some that the archdiocese deferred the hard choices until…a later date.

That date may have arrived (not today, but soon. Maybe.).

Archbishop Dolan has initiated a new planning process he’s calling “Making All Things New.” Yes, he’s presenting it as an opportunity to prune the archdiocese and make it stronger.

The planning process is well underway. Even though I’m no longer the religion guy here, I write about for tomorrow’s JN/LoHud.

Interestingly, the archdiocese has begun passing out surveys at weekend Masses, trying to get a sense of what people know and think about the pretty serious challenging facing their church in New York.

The first question/statement reads like this: “I am aware of the current situation facing the Archdiocese, particularly with such issues as the decline in Church attendance, shortage of priests, decreased financial stability, etc. For me this is a serious issue.”

The choices for the respondent are strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree.

Who would strongly disagree that these things are serious issues?

Many of the question/statements ask point-blank about the possible closing or merger of parishes.

Defrocked Kavanagh calls self ‘…a priest forever.’

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the strange, eight-year case of Monsignor Charles Kavanagh had come to an end.

A Roman Catholic Church court defrocked Kavanagh, who had once been among the most visible and influential priests in the Archdiocese of NY.

Kavanagh had been accused by a former seminarian named Daniel Donohue, who grew up in Peekskill, of manipulating him into a romantic relationship with sexual overtones during the late 1970s. At the time, Kavanagh had been head of the seminary where Donohue was studying.

Donohue first wrote to the archdiocese in 2002 after — he once told me — he started reading about the sex-abuse crisis that erupted that year. At that time, Kavanagh was the chief fundraiser for the archdiocese (that’s him on the right during happier times for him.

I won’t reconstruct everything that happened since then, but the case lingered for eight years. Everyone involved complained about a lack of justice.

People disagreed vehemently about it. I heard from many Kavanagh supporters and others who thought that Kavanagh did Donohue wrong.

There was a lot of debate — and still is — about the nature of the allegations. Donohue essentially accused Kavanagh of using his position to manipulate him into a boyfriend-ish relationship. He said that Kavanagh once got into bed with him wearing only underwear.

Through the years, Kavanagh has dismissed the charges — and the church’s investigative process — in very public ways, even wearing his clerical collar after Cardinal Egan told him not to. He has periodically sent letters about his case to his many friends and supporters.

Kavanagh, 73, has just sent out another one. A bunch of people have forwarded it to me.

It begins:

*****

I hope you had a blessed Christmas. I celebrated my 47th Anniversary of Ordination on December 18th and on the evening before that, the Archdiocese announced that I had been found guilty of a crime.

Words cannot describe how I feel. In almost fifty years, working with thousands of young people, I have never sexually abused anyone. No one has ever claimed that I sexually touched them and yet the Church has decided that all the times I was kind, (helping with tuition,driving a student home, buying a birthday gift, taking someone to a ballgame,) was “grooming” and that gestures like “hugging” and “holding hands” were crimes deserving the most severe penalty. I have been found guilty of the crime of “holding hands on the lap” which the Church has decided is a serious sin against the 6th commandment because it is considered physical contact with parts of the body which are
considered indecent.”

I cannot tell you how unjust this decision is and how I will never stop my fight to clear my name. I am so proud of my years of service and have been silent all these years hoping that I would be treated fairly.

*****

Kavanagh writes that after he was accused, he became “damaged goods” and that he was denied due process because the church wanted to cover up its own mistakes.

He also quotes what he says is a letter to him from Donohue, circa 1983, in which the writer speaks of Kavanagh as a great friend and mentor.

Summing up the eight-year case, Kavanagh writes:

*****

Any “case” which takes over eight years to decide cannot be fair. Any process which is so secret that one cannot talk publicly, or is not allowed to see evidence beforehand, or cross examine witnesses, cannot be fair. How can one defend himself against false statements and fabricated evidence when he is sworn to silence? In over forty years of priestly service how does one become a “predator” when there is a single claim of “inappropriate behavior” thirty years old, which involved no contact beyond hugging and holding hands? How can someone be considered a “threat to minors”, when I have worked so long with young people without even a hint of suspicion? There is much more to this story, which only compounds my feeling of injustice. Literally thousands of people have stood by me during these eight years. I do not know what the future holds but I  believe that the Lord is working in my life. I will never give up my fight for justice. I pray that people will stand with me in this struggle. I know what it means to give one’s life in service to God’s People, to be a priest forever!

Archdiocese of NY sets out to ‘make all things new’

As is always the case when Catholic schools are about to close, a lot of people in the affected parishes are hurt, frustrated and disappointed.

Some school communities knew they were in trouble but hoped for the best.

A few thought they were doing okay and would be spared — at least for a while.

But when the announcement comes that your school is officially “at risk” and will likely lose its life-sustaining subsidy from the archdiocese, it’s a shock and difficult to absorb.

The archdiocese has, of course, closed dozens of schools in recent years. After each round of closings, school communities hope that the dust will settle for a while. But these are tough times economically, enrollments are down, and Archbishop Dolan has made clear his belief that in order to strengthen and promote healthy schools, the church has to stop subsidizing those that can’t make it on their own.

In fact, in his recent column, Dolan says that he’s prepared to face the big challenges facing the Catholic Church in New York.

As he puts it:

*****

At times, I am tempted to run from all of this, to avoid it, to deny that we need any planning, or that we even need to ask realistic questions and come to a clear direction with consequent tough decisions about the future. I’m tempted to say, “Forget about all this planning for the future. Let’s just keep things as they are and let nature take its course.” That is tempting; that is comfortable. That’s also irresponsible, lazy, destructive and dumb.

*****

Dolan writes about a new pastoral planning process within the archdiocese that will tackle a lot of the short-term and long-term challenges that priests and others have been talking about for, literally, decades. He’s calling the process “Making All Things New.”

I can’t tell you how many times priests and church officials and active laypeople have lamented to me that the archdiocese has avoided making tough decisions. The archdiocese has, for instance, been very quiet about its shrinking pool of (aging) parish priests and what this will mean for parish life in the not-too-distance future.

Cardinal Egan oversaw a much-hyped “realignment” of parishes that many observers saw as a minimal, let’s-wait-on-the-tough-decisions package.

But Dolan says it’s time to look at the Big Stuff:

*****

Let’s face it, we’ve got some tough decisions to make in the years ahead: our people are “on the move” and populations are shifting; parishes in wonderful neighborhoods that 25 years ago were teeming with large, young families are now quiet and empty, while outlying areas cannot build churches big enough or fast enough; older parishes with extensive facilities struggle to keep them in repair as their numbers shrink, while other parishes cannot find room for meetings, education and worship; the number of priests goes down, so we have to be creative and careful in their assignments, so that all can benefit from their essential ministry; and the sluggish economy and the demands on our resources make it imperative that we take stewardship of our finances, properties and buildings very seriously.

*****

One more note: It will be interesting to see how Dolan reacts to those parents and school communities that will inevitably resist the closing of their schools. When Egan closed schools and parishes, he generally avoided them and did not answer criticisms in public.

Many priests have noted that a more pastoral approach from the Archbishop of NY could do wonders.

Msgr. Kavanagh writes he was charged with ‘grooming’

I don’t know how many times I wrote about the case of Monsignor Charles Kavanagh.

A lot.

I still get emails every now and then asking what happened to the guy. Well, I now have a small update.

Going back a bit, Kavanagh was the chief fundraiser for the Archdiocese of NY and a very visible and well-known priest in Westchester and all around. Then he got removed from ministry in 2002 after a former Peeskill resident named Daniel Donohue charged that Kavanagh had an improper, sexually charged relationship with him three decades before at a high school seminary.

He didn’t say there had been sexual contact, but that Kavanagh had manipulated him into a strange and inappropriate relationship. Donohue did say that Kavanagh once got into a bed with him on a trip wearing only underwear.

This was supposed to have happened while Donohue was a student at Cathedral Preparatory Seminary during the late 70s/early 80s and Kavanagh was the head of the place.

Kavanagh has maintained his innocence as his case has…languished. That’s him at a birthday party in Harrison in 2005.

Little happened before a church trial was held in 2006. No result was ever announced.

Both Kavanagh and Donohue have told me in the past about their extreme frustration over not being able to get (their version of) justice or even any information about what might happen.

In 2008, I wrote that Donohue, who now lives on the West Coast, believed a decision had been made, but no one would tell him what it was.

In 2009, Archdiocese Dolan, recently arrived, told me he would look into Kavanagh’s case.

Now Kavanagh has sent a letter to his supporters updating things from his point of view. A copy of the letter, dated July 4, was sent to me by one of the recipients.

Here’s the key part:

*****

Although I have never had sexual contact with anyone, I am now being charged with “grooming.” The fact that, thirty years ago, I took a student to ballgames, drove him home from school, helped him with tuition is a crime because, supposedly, those kindnesses were “preparatory acts” aimed at sexual exploitation.

*****

So some party in the church — A jury of priests? A Vatican tribunal? The CDF? — has concluded that Kavanagh was guilty of “grooming” Donohue for exploitation. But Kavanagh apparently has not given up. He also writes:

*****

Needless to say I am protesting the charge and hope to prevail soon. I have to keep on trusting that the Church will treat me with the respect and fairness I know I deserve after 47 years of service.

One fed-up archbishop

Archbishop Dolan is angry.

It comes through loud and clear in is latest blog post, up today.

Once again, he’s not happy with how his church is being portrayed by the media. But this time he’s not going after the New York Times, his target several times in recent months.

Instead, he’s going after “a prominent Catholic journal, published in New York,” “a newspaper on Staten Island” and an “Irish newspaper” for unfairly criticizing the church hierarchy.

He doesn’t like the journal’s steady criticisms of bishops and the pope, how the Staten Island newspaper blamed the “autocratic, aloof, mean, clandestine archdiocese (Dolan’s words)” for the mosque controversy and the Irish’s paper’s blaming of the “nasty, money-hungry, mean-old (Dolan again)” archdiocese for the closing of a Catholic school.

Dolan writes:

*****

Who likes criticism?  Nobody.  But I figure it comes with the job, and have to face it when it’s legitimate.  That happens often enough.

But I don’t like seeing “the archdiocese” blamed for something not its fault.

*****

Upon his arrival in New York, Dolan was widely praised for knowing how to work with the media.

But he seems increasingly exasperated by media coverage of his church.

Remembering Cardinal O’Connor — 10 years after his death

It’s hard to believe, but May 3 will be the 10th anniversary of the death of Cardinal John O’Connor.

O’Connor had been an outspoken and sometimes controversial figure, but his death was mourned by all of New York.

tjndc5-5b23gjbn63d6uqtmk3i_layoutOver four days, 150,000 people filed past his body in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pay their respects.

Over 3,000 mourners filled the cathedral for the Funeral Mass, with thousands more outside listening to a broadcast of the service.

President Clinton and Hillary were there. Al Gore and Tipper, too. George H.W. Bush sat with O’Connor’s family.

I remember the roar that rose through St. Patrick’s when the homilist declared “What a great legacy he left us in his consistent reminder that the church must always be unambiguously pro-life.” (The homilist was Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who had little idea that his world would come down two years later…)

Certainly, a big part of O’Connor’s legacy was his strong opposition to abortion. He started the Sisters of Life religious order to promote the church’s pro-life teachings.

tjndc5-5b1xm9on8c1176tizgqo_layoutLater this month, on Saturday, March 27, the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York will hold an all-day conference “honoring the legacy of Cardinal O’Connor” at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

Archbishop Dolan will get things started with his talk: “Cardinal O’Connor: Priest and Churchman for Our Times.”

Also scheduled to speak: Helen Alvare, a professor at the George Mason University School of Law; Father Charles Connor, historian for the Diocese of Scranton; and Mother Agnes Mary, superior general of the Sisters of Life.

The admission fee is $25, including lunch.

For info: www.flrl.org or 212-371-1011, ext. 3195.

A Catholic take on Tony Montana

If you’re a Catholic teen, how could you not want to attend this workshop: “Everything I ever needed to know about following Jesus I learned from Scarface and other Al Pacino movies.”

Scarface? I don’t get it. But I’m mighty curious.

scarface-photo-scarface-6229381The Pacino workshop will be part of a “youth congress” on Saturday, March 20 at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains. Hundreds of Catholic teens from across New York are expected to turn out.

A busy youth retreat leader named Tony Bellizzi will lead the Pacino talk (hopefully, without screaming).

There will also be a discussion of William Paul Young’s extremely popular book The Shack.

And there will be workshops on chastity (one for boys, one for girls).

Archbishop Dolan is scheduled to celebrate Mass at 2 p.m. And you know he will have plenty of jokes.

Says Cynthia Martinez, assistant director of Catholic Youth Ministry for the Catechetical Office of the Archdiocese of NY:

*****

Together with a very supportive committee we are planning a day that is sure to be very memorable to all of the youth that attend.  From the musical entertainment to the workshop presenters who will join us, this day is designed to motivate our students to bring “holy flavor” to the earth by recalling their call as Disciples of Christ, and by letting their light shine before others.  It is definitely an event our youth do not want to miss.

*****

It’s $20 per person, including lunch and a T-shirt. Only youth leaders can register, not individual teens. For info: go here or call 212-371-1000, ext. 2831 or email cynthia.martinez@archny.org.

One year and counting for Archbishop Tim

One year ago today, the rumor became fact: Tim Dolan was the next Archbishop of New York.

He had been talked about as a leading contender for the job for at least several years. His name came up in every conversation I had with a priest or church “insider” about who might replace Cardinal Egan.

I always heard the same thing: He was funny, engaging, insightful and “just what New York needs.” I had met Dolan briefly a few years before — but even a quick chat was enough for me to know it was all true.

tjndc5-5otbe1et0us110m2skcb_layoutFrom the day the Vatican made it official, Dolan lived up to his rep. And he received about as much Good Press as any public person in New York could possibly expect.

The media gushed over him for a solid two or three months. Breathless stuff. We had a larger-than-life guy.

Dolan told reporters that he would spend his first year getting a sense of things and listening to people. True enough, he’s gone from parish to parish and talked with many priests and lay Catholics — often in his now-famous spot phone calls.

I’ve heard a few grumblings — not many — that it’s time for Dolan to act.

He faces many of the same issues that Egan and Cardinal O’Connor before him faced. There aren’t enough priests. Many pastors are up there in age. Northern parishes are growing and many city parishes are not. Many Catholics schools are struggling. The archdiocese is becoming increasingly Hispanic, even as many Hispanic Catholics attend separate Spanish-language Masses or worship at largely Hispanic parishes. There are certainly a large number of illegal immigrants going to Mass in New York — who the church stands up for, even if many white Catholics will not.

Then there’s the economy. Demands on the church are greater. Resources are fewer.

As Dolan said in Poughkeepsie the other day: “Number one, more people come to us because you usually come to people you know, and most people know and feel comfortable with their church. If they’re short on rent, their kid’s tuition or grocery money, guess where they are going to go? Their parish.”

Dolan will mark his first anniversary in New York (he was actually installed on April 15) by spreading some more good cheer.

He told ABC News: “The number of people who have come to me, from the mayor’s office on down, and said, ‘Archbishop, we kind of like having you around. We’re worried about you. You better work on your weight.” They’re right, and I really, really have to watch the intake because I love to eat. I love being with people.”

Last night, Dolan held court at a “Theology on Tap” program at a NYC bar.

Whispers in the Loggia’s Rocco Palmo was there and typed a blow-by-blow account that you can read today.

There were about 900 people, Palmo wrote, and it took Dolan 20 minutes just to get across the room.

The boss had plenty of jokes, like “assure me I’m not picking up the tab tonight.”

He talked primarily about the “Petrine ministry” — the papacy.

He said “all we believe is Jesus Christ — alone — is the center and source of unity and authority in his church… he designated Peter as his vicar.”And “we believe Jesus gave Peter the privilege of being his earthly representative…”

And this: “Jesus is the head of his church… but — in case you haven’t noticed — Jesus just so happens to be invisible, alright?”

That’s Dolan.

My guess is that Dolan will soon begin making his mark in the Archdiocese of New York. It will be keenly interesting to see what he really thinks about what needs to be done.

If you want to know more about him, I came across an Oct. 19 release date for a new book from John Allen, Catholic journalist extraordinaire. It is to be called “American Pope: A Biography of New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan.”

American pope, huh? He’ll have a lot to live up to…


A great loss for the Archdiocese of NY

I’m getting lots of emails and calls about the death Saturday of William F. Harrington, a prominent Westchester lawyer for half a century who was one of the central Catholic philanthropists in the Archdiocese of New York.

Harrington, who was known as B.J., was a distinguished fellow who was admired by many.

One fan wrote to me: “I know of no other who gave of himself so unselfishly to
others as B.J. did — a truly great man.”

tjndc5-5b5f5q5i9tu1iq65pezi_layoutI first talked to Harrington in 1997 for an article about whether Cardinal O’Connor would actually retire, as many thought he would.

Harrington told me: “Many people assumed he would retire. But he’s as active as he ever was. He’s all priest, and still tending to his flock.”

I remember people remarking to me at the time that Harrington got it right — that O’Connor was “all priest.”

I talked to Harrington for the last time only this past August. He was chairman of the capital campaign for the new Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, a residential nursing facility for severely disabled children, which is scheduled to open in Yonkers next year.

He was so enthusiastic about the work of the Seton Center, currently located in NYC.

“You can’t describe the work that these folks are doing,” he said.

It would take me an hour to list all the Catholic institutions and causes that Harrington worked for. He was a member of the board of both St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Joseph’s Seminary.

In 1999, he received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, known as the Papal Medal, the highest medal awarded to a layperson by the pope.

Archbishop Dolan is scheduled to celebrate a Mass of Christian Burial for Harrington on Wednesday at 10:15 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Harrington’s loss will leave a big hole in the Catholic Church of New York.

New York Medical College to ‘convert’

New York Medical College in Valhalla has been a Catholic institution since 1978, run by the Archdiocese of New York.

But this is about to change.

The college is being taken over by Touro College, an Orthodox Jewish institution with several campuses, including in NYC.

The Journal News/LoHud wrote months ago that Touro was in serious talks to take over the medical school. The new issue of Catholic New York says the deal is done and that the transfer will take place in mid-2010.

The archdiocese gets $60 million — “approximately $30 million of which the Archdiocese will immediately contribute to a fund for NYMC’s business, operations and programs, with the remainder deposited in an endowment fund that will be used exclusively for the Archdiocese’s health care programs for those in need,” according to CNY.

The CNY story does not mention what will happen to NYMC’s Catholic mission. But we will ask today.

When we wrote about the possibility of the takeover, we heard from dozens of NYMC students who were not happy about the possibility. They viewed Touro as a step down in terms of quality. It remains to be seen how students and faculty react.