By Katherine Long | Editor
The Diocesan Pastoral Council met at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School in East Syracuse March 17 for its first session of 2018. The DPC is composed of pastoral council and ministry representatives from across the diocese. Presenters offered reports on diocesan Catholic schools, the annual HOPE Appeal campaign, the diocesan Year of the Family, and the diocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.
Superintendent William Crist offered a snapshot of and an update on various initiatives in the diocese’s 22 Catholic schools.
First and foremost, all schools are committed to the core work of developing missionary disciples, Crist affirmed. “Evangelization is the underlying focus of who we are and what we do,” he said.
While both public and private schools have seen decreasing enrollment, Crist said, the diocese has taken steps to help schools respond to the needs of their communities, including decentralizing the high schools.
As of July 1, 2015, Bishop Ludden Junior/Senior High School, Syracuse; Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School, East Syracuse; Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School, Utica; and Seton Catholic Central, Binghamton, began operating under a decentralized business model. Each school now has a board of trustees with the authority to make decisions on school policy, organizational oversight, and ﬁnances.
Crist highlighted two recent successful capital campaigns in the diocese. Notre Dame’s $8 million capital campaign yielded $4 million to build the Monsignor Francis J. Willenburg Center and $4 million to support tuition assistance and other needs. The Catholic Schools of Broome County are closing in on a $3.2 million goal, with funds aimed at upgrading programming at instructional spaces and learning centers, coordinating and expanding curriculum, and improving structures and grounds. Both Bishop Grimes and Bishop Ludden are close to beginning campaigns as well, Crist said.
Catholic schools are excelling academically, Crist said, with all four high schools offering Advanced Placement courses and the Syracuse high schools working toward authorization as International Baccalaureate schools. All schools offer foreign language classes, with courses ranging from Latin to German to Mandarin Chinese across the schools. Technology is a strong focus in the schools, he said, as are the arts and interscholastic athletics. The system of Catholic schools in the diocese was accredited by the Middle States Association in 2015 — a noteworthy distinction for such a large system with individual schools within this geographic area, he noted.
Looking to the future, Crist said the office has been evaluating how schools are funded. Beyond the tuition payments provided by families, much of the money to support Catholic schools comes from parishes by way of a school assessment, Crist explained. As the makeup of the diocese and the region continues to change — with an aging population, the loss of traditional industries, and population shifts — parishes and schools have experienced an impact. Crist said the diocesan office is now using a pastoral care area model for determining funding for schools, drawing on the parishes in a school’s area for support.
Crist also said a task force has been created to assess how to better serve the poor, work to stabilize neighborhoods, and keep Catholic education alive and well while being financially attainable to families in the Syracuse area. Crist noted that of the 12,000 school-age children who reside within the boundaries of the Syracuse City School District, only 360 attend the three Catholic schools in the city. He said a similar initiative will be undertaken for the areas of Oneida, Rome, and Oswego.
HOPE Appeal Manager Mary Kay Musyt provided an overview of 2017’s annual campaign and offered a look at the 2018 campaign set to kick off this spring.
Some highlights from the 2017 campaign:
• Goal: $4.75 million
• Gifts/pledges: $4,773,259
• Donors: 23,769
• 9% of donors gave at the Leadership level ($500+)
• 29% participation from 80,883 households
• Average gift: $200
• Parishes at/over goal: 89
• Parishes under goal: 49
• Total parish overage: $471,664
• Returned to parishes: $235,832
The 2018 campaign will be themed “Year of the Family, Year of Hope” and its goal is set at $4.7 million. A mailing will be sent to homes May 6, and the kickoff weekend in parishes will be May 19 and 20. The campaign will conclude November 30.
Pastoral letter study guide
A study guide has been developed to help Catholics “break open” Bishop Robert J. Cunningham’s pastoral letter, “Enriching the Church, The Role of the Family in the Life of the Church of Syracuse and Beyond.” The guide aims to help readers “understand the challenges facing Catholic families today, and how they affect our faith life” and “take action in creating environments which strength our own families as well as those around us.” The guide breaks the pastoral into seven short sections and provides a summary, reflection questions, action steps, and further reading for each section.
The guide can be downloaded at https://syracusediocese.org/year-of-the-family/study-guide/.
Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program
Bishop Cunningham and diocesan Chancellor and Director of Communications Danielle Cummings provided an overview of and update on the diocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP).
Through the voluntary program, announced on Ash Wednesday, independent administrators will determine monetary settlements for victim-survivors who previously notified the diocese of their abuse by diocesan clergy.
The program was established to try to alleviate some of the suffering of victims, Bishop Cunningham said. “And while this is not a total answer — money never is — it’s an attempt on the part of the diocese to reach out in a new way to let people know that we care, we’re concerned about them, we’re sorry for the pain that [abusive priests] caused, and we want to do what we can to help,” he said.
Cummings provided an overview of the program protocols and procedures. She focused on several key questions:
• Why the IRCP? “Simply, it’s the right thing to do, period,” Cummings said. She also pointed to the success of similar programs in the Archdiocese of New York and the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre.
• Who will run the IRCP? Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros will administer the diocese’s program. Their extensive experience in mediation and the administration of compensation programs includes the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility – BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and the IRCPs of the downstate dioceses.
• How does the IRCP work? Those who previously notified the diocese that they were harmed by a priest of the diocese have been invited to participate in the program. Those individuals may complete and submit a claim form by May 16. Feinberg and Biros review the claim, along with any related materials from the diocese, and determine a compensation amount. Feinberg and Biros retain complete and sole discretion over eligibility and settlement compensation amounts. The individual has 60 days to review the offer. If accepted, he or she must sign a release stating there is no further claim against the diocese. The release must be signed with a lawyer, which the program offers pro-bono. There is no confidentiality restriction; the survivor can disclose any details of his or her abuse and the settlement.
• How will the diocese pay for the settlements? The IRCP is being paid for out of the diocese’s general liability insurance program. The diocese is self-insured, and serves as the insurance company for parishes, schools, and other diocesan entities. As they would for any insurance provider, parishes pay a premium for this insurance; part of the premium goes toward the general liability insurance, Cummings explained. The diocese will not “tax” parishes nor will it use HOPE Appeal funds, Cathedral Restoration funds, donations to Catholic Charities, or any funds in the parishes other than the premium that is paid for insurance coverage, she affirmed.
• What claims are eligible for the program? At this stage, only those who reported their abuse to the diocese prior to February 14 are eligible for the program. Seventy-six individuals were invited to participate. The allegations of abuse stem from 1941 to 1990, with two recent exceptions: one a guilty plea of child pornography and one a criminal case found not guilty. Forty priests have been accused; 18 of those are living and have been permanently removed from ministry or laicized. The district attorneys of the diocese’s seven counties have the names of all those accused.
• How has the diocese responded to the abuse crisis? Since 2002, the diocese has implemented a Child and Youth Protection Policy in accordance with the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People; established the diocesan Office of Victim Assistance to facilitate counseling and other support; begun the diocesan Safe Environment Program, through which nearly 40,000 individuals have been trained and criminally background checked and 15,000 children have been trained in sex abuse prevention; established the Diocesan Review Board, made up of lay professionals and religious, which assesses allegations of sexual misconduct; instituted a diocesan Compliance Officer, who supervises priests removed from ministry; and signed Memorandums of Understanding with district attorneys in the diocese’s seven counties, formalizing protocols for reporting allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse against minors by clergy and religious.
The meeting closed with a general question-and-answer session with Bishop Cunningham. The next meeting of the DPC will be held May 5.