Monday, March 31, 2008

It Isn't About the Money?

A couple of weeks back I posted the Monroe County portion of a file I found on about a year ago. The file appears to show the 2006-07 Catholic Ministry Appeal goals for each parish, as well as the actual amount of pledges received as of about March 1st of last year.

CMA pledge goals are a fairly good indication of how the diocese assesses the relative wealth - or at least the relative ability to pay - of its various parishes. It's really pretty simple: Parishes with relatively high Sunday collections will generally have larger CMA goals than parishes with relatively low Sunday collections.

Over the last few days I've had a chance to work with this data a bit and have developed a spreadsheet that allows us to compare both CMA goals and actual pledges in parishes where schools are staying open with the goals and actual pledges in parishes where schools are being closed.

In terms of CMA goals, the parishes with schools staying open were tasked with raising 69% more money than those whose schools were being closed. The total dollar difference between the two groups was some $302,000.

But in terms of actual CMA pledges the differences are even more striking. Parishes whose schools are staying open pledged 97% more money than those whose schools are being closed. Here the total dollar difference between the two groups was almost $382,000.

The diocese, I'm sure, will say it isn't about the money. The data, however, are saying something else.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

More Fluff from the D&C

Mark Hare's got a nice puff piece on the Diocese of Rochester in today's Democrat and Chronicle. Not one of his interviews is with a rank-and-file Catholic from a parish that's losing its school. The closest he gets is Fr. Horan at St. Margaret Mary, who says, "all the changes" are "part of the purification the church."

Hare skims over declining Mass attendance, getting one of his numbers wrong in the process (it's 107,489 in 2000, not 2001), without pointing out just how striking the loss of over 22% Mass-attending Catholics in a mere 8 years is (see here and here).

This is a diocese in serious trouble. Mark Hare did it no favors today.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Parents Decide, but Only Outside Monroe County

This week's Catholic Courier is running an article reporting, in part, on St. Patrick School in Owego. The Courier reports that the school has met an enrollment quota and will continue to stay open. Fr. William Moorby, pastor of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes said that

"setting an enrollment quota was based on the parish pastoral council's wish to give affected families a role in determining the school's future.

"'We wanted to leave it up to the people,' he said, adding that parental support of St. Patrick has remained at a high level."

What a great idea: Giving affected families a role in determining a school's future!

It's too bad our Big Brother in Christ won't let it spread to Monroe County.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Dramatic De-population" Remains a Myth

The US Census Bureau's 2007 population estimates are out. The data shows that the overall population of the 12 counties that comprise DOR is essentially unchanged from last year, at just under 1.5 million.

Looking back, we see that from April 1 2000 through April 1 2007 DOR's total population fell 0.6%, while from October 2000 through October 2007 DOR's Average October Mass Attendance dropped 22.2%.

(The census data can be found here.)

Massive MCCS Defections Ahead?

There's another interesting comment to a post over on The Sad Saga. Anonymous writes,

"We trust the principals and the teachers at Catholic Schools, not the DoR. Most registered to see what would happen. Now with class sizes so large they will not stay. I believe that, unless there is a softening of the position the Diocese has taken people will pull their children out and the whole system will collapse. They are still supposedly down 500 students from where they wanted to be to keep the current tuition (although they got their 48%...their math doesn't make any sense). There is no way they will get those children in without opening one or two schools to create more space at the schools people desire." (emphasis added)

It's a pretty sure bet that several hundred parents pulling their children out of overcrowded schools was not something seen in the tea leaves examined by the bishop's panel of "experts."

This whole situation may turn out to be one more textbook example of the disaster that often ensues whenever primary stakeholders are excluded from the decision-making process.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Diocese Won't Seek New Students - Schools Are Full

A page 1 headline in today's Democrat and Chronicle proclaims: "Hefty re-enrollments fill Catholic schools." The accompanying article reports that 913 students who will be displaced from the 13 schools forced to close have applied for spots in the 11 schools that will stay open.

Also, there will be no 2008 MCCS ad campaign focused on bringing new students into the system. The D&C also reports that diocesan spokesman Doug Mandelaro said that "marketing to new families would raise false hopes. 'There just aren't a lot of seats available,' he said."

Contradictions Abound

This flies in the face of what Mandelaro said in a DOR Press Release less than 10 weeks ago: "The much-lower tuition rate will greatly increase the ability of families able to afford a Catholic education at our schools and is intended to draw new families to them."

It also contradicts what Bishop Clark wrote in his February 6 Along the Way column in the Catholic courier: "We simply had to lower tuition considerably if we were to have any chance of ... attracting new families."

And it also contradicts a February 12 diocesan statement: "We reiterate that we will do the best we can to seat every child who would like to receive a Catholic education."

These Are Our Leaders?

The only logical conclusion here is that Catholic education in the Diocese of Rochester is in the hands of prideful men and women who adamantly refuse to admit a mistake, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Given the normal MCCS ad campaign, 11 Catholic schools would almost certainly have proven to have been insufficient to handle the demand. Therefore, the diocese won't run the ads.

What a wonderful display of Christian leadership!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Where's the MCCS Ad Campaign?

The enrollment period for students new to the Monroe County Catholic School System begins today. One would think that the diocese would be doing everything possible to entice new students to register, if only to get the highest possible number of students into the system and thus ensure the financial success of its restructuring plan.

In the past the diocese has run extensive ad campaigns during enrollment periods for exactly this reason.

Where is the 2008 ad campaign?

And if we don't need one this year, why would that be?

Monday, March 24, 2008

New Construction Coming at MOS?

On Tuesday, March 11 a committee from Holy Cross Church made its latest attempt to convince the diocese to allow Holy Cross to operate its school as a parish school.

The committee met with Lisa Passero and Fr. Hart. Part of their presentation focused on the fact that Holy Cross already had a cafeteria and a gym, while Our Mother of Sorrows lacks both. One mother wrote me the next day that “our people were told that the lack of a gym and cafeteria at MOS 'were being addressed.'"

It would seem that the only reasonable way to address the lack of a gym and cafeteria would be to build them.

I can only wonder when that building project will be announced and how many millions it will cost.

It will also be interesting to see just how the diocese will try to spin the fact that a school only 2 miles away that already had both a gym and a cafeteria was being forced to close.

"Conservative" Catholic Hypocrites?

There is a rather long, rambling comment posted over on The Sad Saga: Rochester Catholic School School Closings. In it, author Anonymous takes "conservative" Catholics to task for "acting like spoiled children" who "feel free to raise hell when Church decisions don't go their way." Anonymous then adds, "They should at least have the decency to admit that there are two sides to the Cafeteria."

This sentiment isn't unusual. I've seen many like it on Topix and the D&C comment areas the last two months. They all display one of the results of the abysmal catechesis that has been standard fare in this and other dioceses for far too long.

Their authors see no distinction between obeying the Church in matters of faith and morals and accepting the Church's administrative decisions. To them they are one and the same. Either you accept everything the Church says or you are free to reject anything. Those who insist that matters of faith and morals are non-negotiable, while still claiming that policy and other administrative decisions can be questioned, are simply hypocrites.

These folks obviously have never been taught anything about the long and distinguished history of totally faithful Catholics protesting either unjust or erroneous administrative decisions on the part of the Church. Perhaps the most famous example is Catherine of Siena who, in the fourteenth century, was highly instrumental in convincing Pope Gregory XI to move the papal court from Avignon, France, where it had been for over 70 years, back to Rome where it belonged.

Catherine was canonized a saint in 1461 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1970. Not too shabby for a Tuscan peasant woman who told a pope, to his face, that he was in the wrong.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

MCCS Break-Even Point: 4,000 Students

In a column on page 3 of the Holy Cross Church Easter Sunday bulletin Fr. Thomas Wheeland has some interesting comments. He first mentions that there have been several discussions involving himself, the Holy Cross finance people, the bishop, Fr. Hart and Lisa Passero. Fr. Wheeland then adds,

"The bottom line from all of these discussions is that the 11 Monroe Catholic Schools that will be open have room for all who have registered from the closed schools. That is not what we hear. We also hear questions about class size and the extras that are needed for a school such as computer labs, cafeterias, gyms, music room, etc." (emphasis added)

In my neck of the woods only Our Mother of Sorrows School is being allowed to stay open, despite it already being near capacity and its lack of an adequate physical plant. A couple of parents registering their children there tell me that this school now has far more children registered than they can accommodate, even at 30 children per classroom.

A little later Fr. Wheeland writes,

"At present, they don’t want to permit any more schools to open because it will cause a loss of students from the Monroe County Catholic Schools System. With the new lower tuition structure, they need to have over 4,000 students in the system to meet their budget. If they don’t meet or even exceed that number of registrations, the new system with 11 catholic schools would suffer. This is the reason the Diocese is not recommending the opening of any closed schools, even if they were to be a parish school which is what Holy Cross is trying to do." (emphasis added)

Three years ago, before Bishop Clark allowed Sr. Elizabeth Meegan to introduce a tuition plan that drove hundreds out of the system, Monroe County Catholic Schools had 5,220 students!

The MCCS motto must be "If it ain't broke, work on it until it is."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Did the CMA Play a Role in School Closings?

On March 2 of last year I was searching on and I came across a tab-delimited text file that appears to show the status of the Catholic Ministries Appeal fund drive as of approximately that date. The file as I downloaded it was sorted in descending order of percent of goal achieved.

I have loaded that file into a spreadsheet, removed the non-Monroe county parishes, and resorted by parish name. The image below is a screen capture of the result.

As a resident of the Eastern Greece - Charlotte area I was drawn to the data for that region. I find it interesting that Our Mother of Sorrows School, which has no cafeteria, no gym, a library in a second building and parish CMA collections of $96,675.00, is staying open, while Holy Cross School, which has a cafeteria, has a gym, has a library in the same building, but has parish CMA collections of only $60,019.12, is being forced to close.

I will leave it to others to determine if there is any correlation between CMA donations and school closings in their area.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Is the CMA in Trouble?

I just went to the DOR website to see how the Catholic Ministries Appeal is doing. In the past I've just gone to this page and clicked on the "Check out the latest financial statement (PDF)" link on the bottom of the page and a PDF file opened up.

All I got today was a "404 - Page cannot be found" error.

I wonder what that might mean.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Words That Come Back To Haunt

In 1997 Bishop Matthew H. Clark published an essay in New Theology Review. Its title was "The Pastoral Exercise of Authority" and a reprint* is on the diocesan website. One section that caught my eye reads as follows:

Why then do we still act in ways that leave so many of our people feeling that we treat them like children? ... Why can we not trust that the Holy Spirit will bring about a "consensus ecclesiae?”

I will add just one more question to the bishop's list: Why is the Diocese of Rochester unwilling to share all of the data used by its task force to decide how many Catholic schools - and which Catholic schools - must close?

Why, Bishop Clark? Why?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why Is the USCCB Watering Down the Faith?

The Office for the Catechism

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a department called the Office for the Catechism. One of its responsibilities is the careful examination of grade school, junior high and high school religion textbooks for conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Conformity is judged on the basis of authenticity and completeness and those textbooks found to be in conformity are added to a list which many schools, parishes and dioceses consult when selecting their teaching materials.

Publishers need to know in advance just what is expected of them and so the Office for the Catechism has also produced an extensive list of 334 different criteria that it calls “Evaluative Points of Reference”. For a textbook to be deemed to be in conformity with the CCC it has to meet the criteria in this list that are appropriate to its specific subject matter and grade level.

At first glance this sure sounds like a great system - one with well-constructed safeguards that ensure that our children receive thorough instruction in the authentic Catholic faith. Those safeguards, however, have been circumvented.

The Devil Is in the Details

The best example of this is the meaning of “faith.” Look in the Catechism and you will find

“Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself …” (CCC 1814, emphasis added).

Not only are we taught that we need to believe in God and believe all that he has revealed, but we are also taught that we need to believe all that the Church teaches.

But now take a look at the specific points concerning faith in the Office of the Catechism’s Evaluative Points of Reference:

“Catechetical texts in conformity with the Catechism should

--- present the faith as a personal adherence of the whole man to God who reveals himself. It involves an assent of the intellect and will to the self-revelation God has made through his deeds and words.

--- present faith as a supernatural gift from God. In order to believe, man needs the interior helps of the Holy Spirit.

--- teach that "believing" is a human act, conscious and free, corresponding to the dignity of the human person.

--- teach that "believing" is an ecclesial act. The Church's faith precedes, engenders, supports, and nouishes our faith.

--- present faith as necessary for salvation.

--- etc., etc.”

But nowhere will you find that acceptance of Church teaching is an integral part of authentic faith! In generating their criteria for conformity with the CCC the Office of the Catechism has simply let that part of the CCC’s definition of faith vanish into thin air.

One Publisher's Response

Some textbook publishers seem eager to take advantage of this “oversight.” For example, Harcourt’s The Light of Faith – An Overview of Catholicism is this year’s freshman Religion textbook at Bishop Kearney High School. In this textbook's Glossary you will read,

“faith: a theological virtue, a gift from God; the habit of responding positively to God,”

and nowhere in that textbook will you find any mention of the specific requirement to accept Church teaching.

How Did This Happen?

The obvious question is how the USCCB could let something like this happen. I would certainly like to know who was responsible for the initial “oversight” that continues to allow a totally inadequate concept of faith to be presented as authentic Catholic teaching. I would also like to know just which higher-ups gave their blessing to the resulting defective list of criteria.

Somehow, I don't think I'll ever get an answer to either question.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Dramatic De-Population Myth

My previous post drew the following comment from SJRSOS: "We had been told of the declining population story several times, but when we went to the Census website, we were shocked."

I'm more than a little surprised that diocesan officials continue to perpetuate this myth. Both Bishop Matthew Clark and Vicar General Fr. Joe Hart have been aware that it is untrue for at least a year and a half.

Fr. Hart and I exchanged letters in August of 2006 on the subject of DOR's declining Mass attendance. In a August 10, 2006 letter to him (with a copy to Bishop Clark), I wrote,

"Your letter repeats the often-cited 'dramatic de-population' excuse for DOR’s rapid decline in Mass attendance. Unless the US Census Bureau is making up its numbers out of whole cloth, however, that is one myth that needs to be put to bed here and now. According to official census data, the 12 counties that comprise DOR actually saw an overall increase of 7,341 people (0.5%) from July 1, 2000 to July 1, 2004. During essentially that same period, however, DOR’s Mass attendance numbers fell by some 13,000, for a decrease of 12.0%. While there may be a number of explanations for this decline, 'dramatic de-population' is definitely not one of them."

That letter ended with this postscript:

"The US Census data I cite is on the Internet. Go to http://quickfacts. and click on 'Estimates for New York counties [Excel].'"

Why do the Bishop and the Vicar General continue to spin this tale? Doesn't truth matter to them?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Columnist: Bishop Brushed Aside Parents 2 Years Ago

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has an apologist for Bishop Matthew Clark on its payroll who has just come out with his second defense of the bishop's decision to close 13 Monroe County Catholic Schools.

In an opinion piece published today columnist Mark Hare writes that “downsizing the school system by more than 50 percent ... is necessary.” He then parrots back a bunch of financial and enrollment data lifted from DOR press releases that supposedly demonstrates that the MCCS system costs too much and benefits too few – and this from a man who wrote only 5 weeks ago that he hoped people would “stop interpreting the decision as proof that nothing matters but money – even in the church” [emphasis in the original]. An interesting reversal, to say the least.

Hare then goes on to cite a Nazareth College professor to make the point that “the population of upstate New York has been declining,” with the inference being that the number of Catholics in the diocese is declining as well. However, Hare knows for a fact – since I informed him of it in an email follow-up to his previous column – that US Census Bureau data shows that the overall population of the 12 counties that comprise DOR has remained essentially unchanged for at least the last 7 years. I'm sure I'm not the only one who believes that one who uses a quote from someone else to perpetuate what one knows to be a myth is guilty of dishonesty.

But by far the most interesting portion of Hare's column is the part about Noelle D'Amico and other parents who two years ago recognized the impending financial crisis in Catholic education and “tried to organize parents from around the county to plan for the future.” However, their letters to the diocese seeking permission for their efforts were met with stony silence.

The truth finally seems to be coming to light. Matthew Clark had already made up his mind some time ago about what needed to be done with the Catholic schools and he wasn't about to let a bunch of meddlesome parents stand in his way. All he needed to bring his plan to fruition was another year or two of declining financial and enrollment data and the appointment of a hand-picked committee of tame experts who would then dispassionately discern the only “reasonable” solution to the problem.

Shame on you, Matthew Clark.