The Challenging Future Of The Diocese Of Bridgeport

Long before John Marshall Lee began examining city budget books in his quest for an “Open, Accountable and Transparent” government, he had been urging the Diocese of Bridgeport to eat its OATs. The diocese has been facing all kinds of challenges including heavy financial losses. Lee examines:

The Diocese of Bridgeport has been without a Bishop for longer than one year and now “a buyout offer to 60 employees” raises questions about Diocesan financial health. The past two men who held this office were promoted to grander positions in some way acknowledging the “value” of this episcopal position as a “stepping stone” to political advancement. Fairfield County is known for its overall wealth and income per capita as well as for the glaring “gap” between those at the top and bottom of such demographics.

In recent years the Diocese has decreased from 87 to 82 parishes. Schools have been closed and the number of priests and religious serving has decreased while the average age of those serving has increased. The Diocese suffered episodes of sexual abuse claims with settlements exceeding $37.7 Million ten years ago as well as several other publicized clergy scandals more recently. Bishop William Lori organized a very disciplined financial reporting system. He was personally instrumental in annual Appeal fund raising as well as Endowment activity. (In a way it is strange that Diocesan statistics continue to reference 460,000 Catholics while local observers note fewer faithful in the pews. Is it also curious there seem to be no statistics or stories regarding the healing journeys of those who were abused by clergy as youth whether there were settlements or not?)

What Bishop Lori failed to accomplish was to be open, accountable and transparent when it came to financial details of the Diocese. There is no publication of any audits or other financial reports on the Diocesan site since June 30, 2008. The three specific reports available (as examples of financial stewardship) are not close to comprehensive representation of the entirety of Catholic activity in the boundaries of the Diocese, but merely a few slices of the dollars at work or at rest. The latest announcement of retirement offers to employees at Jewett Avenue provides a confirmation to rumors in recent months about extremely tight budgets, school finances under pressure, and division of full-time positions into multiple part-time jobs to avoid the expense of benefits, particularly healthcare.

What is the financial position of the Diocese today, across the Board, including real property and financial assets? It is a question that will be asked more frequently. What percentage of the good works pictured in Annual Appeal literature is provided through State or Federal funding rather than charity from the pews? How many employees are engaged in grants funded service? How have financial settlements and legal expenses for clergy abuse impacted the financial viability of Diocesan operation? What is the total paid out to date for settlements and legal expenses? Have one or more prospective candidates for the office of Bishop looked at the situation and opted not to accept appointment to Bridgeport, as rumors suggest? Did the Bishop on behalf of the Diocese borrow $30 Million from the Knights of Columbus or its business affiliates and if so for what purpose, is yet another rumor heard more than once.

Word from diocesan workers also indicates that there is an embargo on serious decisions regarding many local questions awaiting a Bishop’s presence. Some folks wait to ask for permission. Others are pursuing their best choice and will later seek forgiveness if in error. It is a strange time with people wondering how the last Bishop, so successful in fund raising and influence with wealthy Catholic constituencies, could leave the Diocese of Bridgeport in such a fiscal state. Time will tell.



  1. The never-ending sex scandals. The huge payouts for sex abuse. The Vatican attack on Nuns for helping the people on the margins of society and supporting gay issues. The millions spent fighting gay marriage. The threatening of the flock to not take communion if they support or attend a gay wedding. The stepping down of Pope Benedict. The fight against woman’s rights and contraception. The Church is so out of touch. The Church’s recreation of the Jew from Nazareth. An orthodox Jew into a caricature no Jew could recognize or identify as the Rabbi he was. It is sad the Church is in its final days at the dawn of the 21st century. I think Jesus would be happy to see the closing of Churches. People are just not having 8 kids anymore. The congregants are at odds with the church’s vain attempts to take the spotlight off the scandals. I thought Pope Francis could bring change but I do not believe the Archbishops and Cardinals are willing to live a life of poverty emulating their Lord and Savior. Bottom line, the flock is just not interested in giving their money to a decaying, out-of-touch political organization. Do as I say and not as I do. I do not expect the Roman Catholic Church to survive in the splendor and grandeur of its past. I think their best bet is Africa and third-world countries where ignorance is bliss. And everyone goes to heaven except for the homosexuals.

  2. I am a practicing Roman Catholic who supports my parish financially and contributes to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal. Mary and I target our Annual Appeal contribution to provide a scholarship for an underprivileged student in Bridgeport. I agree, the church needs to provide more transparency in order to facilitate more accountability. The last round on parish consolidations was wholly inadequate. The church still has too many parishes and properties. Pope Francis needs to appoint a new Bishop very soon.

  3. Gee, Steve. Such a broad condemnation of Roman Catholicism. Do you presume to be sufficiently empowered by depth of knowledge to declare an entire religion to be deficient? Furthermore, am I to expect you expect OIB readers to expect you to be the absolute authority on this matter? Annoying is as annoying does. Empty shirt.

  4. yahooy, altar boy–Listen. I am extremely proficient in both Judaism and Christianity. I can argue and support every commentary I make. If I offended you, sorry. If there is something I said you do not agree with, by all means post a comment. I am extremely respectful of all Christians as well as Moslems and all people of faith. The political institution of the Church has been built on the backs of the poor. Hundreds of thousands have died by the ignorance of the Church. Scandal has plagued the Church for oh let’s see, 2000 years or after Jesus was long gone. The graven images. The hundreds of new saints every ten years. All the pagan holidays incorporated to help spread the faith. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Gee, the anniversary of G-ds creation. Passover G-d called Heaven and Earth to witness so we would never forget the time we received the law. Been replaced with the feast of fertility and the pagan holiday of Whitesnow, Christmas. Look this is not about people of faith. this is about Priests, Archbishops, Cardinals and Popes who are riddled with and get away with murder! Better you address child abuse and money laundering of the Church than being upset with my commentary. The closing of the Churches and Catholic schools speak for themselves. Anyone who believes the Church is their ticket to heaven, Think Again. No Communion for you, yahooy! Hope Pope Francis’ Christmas speech next year can hold a candle to Pope Benedict’s anti-gay rant this past year. I particularly enjoyed Pope Benedict’s blessing of the leadership in Uganda on the eve of their Kill the Gays Bill which apparently has a lot of support. What if Jesus were gay? This shirt, yahooy, is pretty well filled out.

  5. With respect towards all people of faith the comments I included have to do with the institutional structure that for many reasons has failed to practice open, accountable or transparent governance. The way the structure works today is not the way it has for 2000 years and is the result of decisions by many men at different times and with different purposes in mind.

    As Lennie has indicated, my mantra of OATs (Open, Accountable and Transparent governance) was developed initially one decade ago as I was struck by the nature of the predation of clergy abuse on youth and the coverup by those higher on the political/institutional landscape. Power abuse and money are well connected. Conversations are difficult to hold, research is held back through privacy concerns for perpetrators rather than victims and there is no sense the men in charge may be on the wrong track.

    With respect to Catholics who may differ in their charitable efforts, but works of mercy as set out in scripture are not the sole province of groups that have a “Catholic” branding. Find a group of people who are doing “good work” for people in need, put your money, your personal time, effort and prayers into that work. Care about how funds are spent. Avoid entities that are “shy” about sharing info. We all need to grow up in our responsibilities. Time will tell.

  6. A book I recommend–“Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition” by Garry Wills.

    This from and the author: “I shall be arguing here that priesthood, despite the many worthy men who have filled that office, keeps Catholics at a remove from other Christians and at a remove from the Jesus of the Gospels, who was a biting critic of the priests of his day. To make this argument, I must consider the claim that has set priests apart from all other human beings, their unique power to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. On this claim the entire sacramental structure of the medieval church was built up. The priesthood stands or falls with that claim. I mean to examine it here dispassionately, thoroughly, historically. The outcome of this debate will determine the future (if any) of the priesthood.”
    In other words, this structure we support, albeit our sole organization and link to Jesus Christ, has many deficits, and is probably not what He originally intended.

  7. Sue,
    I have Gary Wills’ book but have not yet had the time to read it. However, I will recommend to you:
    Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church–Gender, Power and Organizational Culture by Dr. Marie Keenan. I have read many books on the subject during the past 10 years. I find Keenan’s to be the most comprehensive globally from any number of perspectives and worth the reading because of the wealth of sources provided.

    Thank you for your comments on this subject and others. We need to use our intelligence for good, associate with others of shared values and assist those who, especially for this moment, are unequal to the task of caring for themselves. If we participate in the healing and educational assistance, our communities should be better prepared in a future day for what must be faced. Time will tell.


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