Saturday, August 20, 2016


Just got this from the chancery office regarding the state of affairs of the eparchy (diocese) and it is not a good situation as I see it from my perch high above the fray since I took an early retirement due to health reasons. Rather that respond at the end of this report sent to all the priests by the bishop, I thought I would interject my thoughts throughout the letter. As a prelude to my comments in red, let me just say that after being in private business for almost 20 years running my own company with seven employees and an annual six figure payroll, I speak with some knowledge of how a business should be run. Like many businessmen I have had banner years and when the market collapsed, like many, I not only lost my shirt but my underwear! Yet, there was one principle which all businesses adhere to and that is: "If you're not growing you're dying."  It's all marketing. It's selling plain and simple. 
August 9, 2016
Rev. and dear Father,
               Our Economos Deacon Robert Shalhoub has asked me to write to you to explain some imminent changes in billing.  If you read the last financial statement in the Eastern Catholic Life, you may have noticed the Eparchy has been subsidizing insurance in the amount of several hundred thousand dollars each year.  As you are also aware, fixed income investments are paying almost nothing now, i.e., interest rates are very low.  That means that the Eparchy has been spending its own savings just to maintain ongoing expenses of the clergy and parishes.  On the other hand, Deacon Shalhoub found enormous waste in these payments, so the changes won’t be as big as you might think from this opening paragraph.
Since the eparchy, which is a Non profit New Jersey Corporation "owns" all of the parish properties it carries the burden of insuring them.  This is unsustainable since most parishes can hardly pay the priest's salary which is then subsidized by the eparchy. As in my case, I took no salary for many months during my 17 years in Fort Pierce, and the eparchy who owns the parish claims it is the responsibility of the parish to compensate me for past due salary when in fact, as a corporation owning the parish properties, it ultimately has the responsibility of paying the priests's salary when a parish cannot meet its financial obligation. Regarding insurance of buildings, perhaps parishes could get a better rate depending in the state in which they are, and the condition of their buildings.
Many parishes should sell buildings which are seldom used as well. 
Where is this "enormous waste" that the bishop speaks about? Who wasted it and on what was it wasted? 
If the eparchy is depending on interest from government bonds, etc., then it will lose money. Perhaps investing in the stock market or municipal entities might bring higher dividends.
Have they even employed a financial manager to explore this? 
Right now, with medical, auto, pension, and salary, it costs about $4,500 each month to have a priest in a parish, $5,800 for a married priest.  (To be honest, I was surprised when I did the calculation.  I thought it was $4,000 per month.)  I believe it is essential for our future that the lay people are aware of what it costs to have a priest and a parish.  We are not doing the people a favor by withholding from them the actual cost of running their parish.  Many (or most) of them are not aware of how much it costs to maintain a full time priest and a plant with several large buildings for a handful of parishioners.
The monthly salary to my knowledge for a priest us $2100.00 per month which the parish is obligated to pay. The parish also pays a priest's auto insurance (though I paid for my own auto insurance). Again, most parishes cannot pay the salary on a monthly basis let alone monthly auto insurance premiums. For example in my former parish of about 30 families, our total monthly costs to sun the parish which included all bills (salary, electric, bishop's assessments, etc) came to roughly $5000.00 per month. Our monthly income most months was half that amount. Guess who suffered? I did for many months. The other parishes especially in Florida are in the same boat except maybe for one parish who was left money in a parishioner's will something that rarely if ever happens. And another parish is subsidized by a school who uses its facilities and pays rent. Were it not for that income, none of the Southern parishes could support themselves and few out of the 6 parishes in Florida do.   
As far as the medical insurance is concerned, there are a number of people receiving medical insurance who are not working, and so the Bishop has to pay for their medical insurance and will continue to do so.  The cost of our medical insurance has been coming down (while the rest of the country’s went up), but even so, our medical insurance cost per priest is more than we are currently billing the parishes.  This letter is not about changing the medical insurance. 
The minute a priest reaches the age for Medicare they're put on it faster than you can say God bless you.  Not only that, but the priests who reach retirement age are then relieved of the pastoral duties to save the bishop money being demoted to pastor emeritus which means pastor who got screwed after years of service getting a reduced retirement salary while living in the rectory. At least they're not moved to a shelter. The bishop says the parishes don't pay their "fair share" (sounds like Hillary Clinton or Obama" but does he reprimand the parishes? Does he write articles on stewardship in the church newspaper? Does he preach about it when he visits parishes? Does he threaten to close parishes that cannot support their priest? NO to all of those queries. Of course he doesn't have the stomach to do it. He doesn't want to look bad. He just wants to parade around have his hand kissed and soak up the adulation of the crowds. No he doesn't have the guts to do what he needs to do as he sees his churches empty out, donations shrinking, priests getting more disgusted discouraged and despondent. He could care less. He leaves the dirty work to his priests like me. When I would preach about good stewardship and state frankly that you need to double your weekly donation or more, I would get castigated and berated. Members would threaten to leave the parish, or worse start a campaign of hate for their priest as happened to me in Fort Pierce.  
The Eparchy has been subsidizing the property/liability/automobile insurance for several hundred thousand dollars each year.  In the past, each parish has been paying a rather arbitrary amount for property/liability/automobile insurance.  Some parishes pay more than their share, while more than one parish with over a million dollars in the bank paid almost nothing.  In the next month, each parish will be billed for the actual cost, that is, the actual amount set by the insurance company.  If you can’t pay that amount, talk to Deacon Shalhoub about it.  
So the bishop complains that some parishes have millions in the bank yet don't pay, once again, their fair share. I don't know if you know this but as a corporation, the diocese OWNS all church properties, and the bishop as the president of the corporation can do whatever he wants with all the monies of the parishes. So it is disingenuous for him to complain about what he himself is in charge of. I never had a parish that had money. Everyone I was sent to was dirt poor with not a penny in the bank while other priests got parishes flush with money and spent it like drunken sailors on a weekend binge building icon screens and other things in churches that lost half or more members, and were mostly empty on Sundays except for a handful of people and whose futures to this day remain bleak.  
At the present, all of our buildings are insured for “replacement” value.  It may be that some of our buildings should not be insured for that amount.  Perhaps some are not worth replacing.  In any case, your parishioners should know what their insurance actually costs.  Some pastors will actually have a lower bill since they won’t be subsidizing the other churches. 
Since the time of Bishop Dudick, most building built during his tenure could easily be sold since most were built as all purpose buildings where you would be able to close off the altar with a folding partition and hold bingo games. Maybe some can be turned into Dollar General stores! As for the other more traditional edifaces, they can be turned into restaurants, or dance clubs, or even lilke they did down here in Orlando, turned an old church into condos. Or just raze them and put up a parking lot or park with a nice plaque that reads:  "here stood a church that died a natural death." 
Next, let’s talk about the pension plan.  I am happy to tell you that the Eparchy has not been subsidizing the pension plan (so no big surprises here), and furthermore I am told that our pension plan is actuarially “fully funded”.  A recent article in the New York Times says that out of the 500 largest American companies, only 38 have a “fully funded” plan.  However, at the present, our contributions are incredibly low.  Deacon Shalhoub says that every Melkite parish is billed $600 every month for priest pension!  In addition, there is also inequity between our parishes.  Some of our parishes pay half of what other parishes pay.  The inequity came about in the past based on clergy distribution, but has never been updated.  So expect a small increase for pension payments for the parishes paying full amount, and a somewhat larger increase for the parishes making half a payment.  I hope to increase the payment over a year or two to $200 per parish.
Sure the pension plan is self funding for the following reasons. First, most priests die before they can enjoy retirement and so the funds remain. Second, the bishop due to the lack of priests won't allow priests to retire at 70 and so the funds remain. Third, he won't pay priests who because of health reasons take early retirement. Case in point, my situation. I would have been eligible in four years but because I was forced to resign my position in the parish due to health reasons, I have been denied my pension after being ordained 37 years. The bishop's other loop hole is that he claims that since priests do not put money into the pension fund,  we are not entitled to receive it automatically instead only if he decrees we are worthy of it. My question is this, if a priest is in a parish and the parish pays towards the pension plan for whom are they paying? Again, the bishop asks for more money from the parishes while he denys pensions for the reasons already mentioned. 
You may well ask, if the plan is “fully funded”, why do we need to increase our contributions?  Part of the answer is that past calculations were based on income from safe fixed-income investments.  In fact, the reason major corporations are no longer fully funded is because they also calculated that they would receive reasonable return on their safe investments.  For several years now, our government has been “printing money” and loaning it out at almost 0% interest.  Right now, treasury bills pay less than half a percent for a one year note, and 10 and 20 year notes pay less than 2 percent.  So our pension plan cannot rely on income generated from savings to pay your pension in the future.  Increasing the pension payments makes your pension more secure in the future.
And whose fault is that? Again the bishop must feel good when he bitches to his priests about having no money. Does he take responsibility for anything? Does this guy have a business manager wort their salt?  
To summarize:
Point One – It costs about $4,500 each month to have a celibate priest, at least $5,800 each month for a married priest.  Your parishioners should know that.
Point Two – We are billing less than our medical insurance costs, but we are not changing that now.
Point Three – The biggest change will be in liability insurance billing.  Both the Eparchy and some parishes have been subsidizing other parishes.
Point Four – The pension payments will be gradually increased, but not a great deal.
I believe that these changes are good for the future health of our Church at every level.  Thank you for all your hard work!!
To summarize:  
Point One: He talks about priests like commodities, and once again, when has he ever said these things to the people?  He takes on married priests and sends them to parishes (like recently to my old parish in Fort Pierce Fl, who owes me thousands in unpaid salary which the bishop says the parish owes me not him. Yet they cheer married priests as if that's the answer to the church dying. When will he realize and face the fact that he needs to combine parishes like the Roman Catholics have been doing for years now? There are cities in Pennsylvania that have two parishes when one parish not only for that one city but for the entire region would suffice. When will he deal with the fact that ethnic churches like this one will not survive.
Point two, three, and four......You'd think that the bishop would see the writing on the wall. This particular church is dying. It's on life support and mostly in a coma. Like some of my past members said to my face, they only hope the church survives so they can be buried in it. I guess after their demise they could care less about its future.  Candidly speaking most old timers have the same point of view. The rest of the bishop's whining can be summed up this way. He doesn't have a pulse of the people, the parishes, nor the priests, especially the priests. 
Instead of fixating on the financial health of the parishes, how about he spent a few minutes dealing with the spiritual health of them. Shouldn't he realize that as the president of the corporation, both the financial and spiritual health of the parishes is dire. Why doesn't he put out a chart not on finances, but show the people how many converts they have had each year, how many baptisms in each individual parish, , how many new families have joined each parish, how many weddings, how many children in each parish?  If you think the financial state of the churches is dire, knowing these other statistics would sound the death knell. Why? Because if you're not growing, you're dying plain and simple! Oh, and him thanking his priests for their hard work is like Pilate thanking the servant that brought to him the water to wash his hand with. 

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