Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

December 5, 2007


Yesterday, December 4, Father Michael Jude Fay was sentenced to 37 months in jail for stealing $1.3 million from St. John's Parish, in Darien of which he was pastor. A young curate and a parish bookeeper, frustrated by the inattention of Bridgeport diocesan officials to their warnings, hired private detectives to investigate and report their findings to the civil authorities. Trial and sentencing proceeded. On the ecclesiastical scene, the bookkeeper lost her job; the curate was transferred and disciplined for alerting outsiders to the church's problem. They had not kept their place within the clerical shell. The curate shortly afterwards left the priesthood. Both paid a price for their committment to honesty and justice. But the Bridgeport Diocese and the bishop paid a price: a priest was lost and priestly morale suffered further at the action of the bishop punishing the whistleblower instead of praising him. Apparently, the bishop was angered at the priest for exposing his maladministration.

The Archdiocese of Boston recently paid a heavy price for keeping the voice of the laity from being heard. As a result of the sex abuse scandal, the archdiocese had been forced to sell off church property to meet court judgements and settlements. A blue ribbon panel of distinguished Catholic laity was established to oversee the reconfiguration of the archdiocese and the use of funds acquired from the sale of church properties.

In November 2006, the archdiocese sold St. Mary Star of the Sea church to an individual for $850,000. Three weeks later, that individual resold the church to a Baptist congregation for $2.65 million! Parishioners of their now closed church were outraged. How could such a thing have occurred?

The lay Reconfiguration Committee selected a retired judge to examine the disastrous transaction. The judge severely criticized the archdiocese for its handling of the sale. Bishop Richard Lennon, the Vicar General, and David Smith, the Chancellor had apparently reported to the Committee the $850,000 bid as the highest, failing to tell the Committee that the Baptist group had bid a substantially higher amount. Their questionable interpretation of canon law that the church should not be sold for worship to a non-Catholic group was their rational for not informing the Committee of the Baptist bid. The Vicar General and Chancellor have since been replaced.

The retired judge also severely criticized the failure of the archdiocese and its lawyers and real estate advisors to protect agains "flipping", as the quick turn around sale is called, and for its failure to write a restrictive deed against religious use. He called this later failure "unfathomable" and that the archdiocese's conduct "arguably constituted malfeasance, a dereliction of duty".

These Bridgeport and Boston cases dramatically call attention to the importance of listening to the the voices of the faithful, the establishment of lay overseeing committees, and supplying all available information to them. Priestly morale, already at a low point from the abuse scandal, suffers further from the inept actions of their ecclesiastical leaders.