Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 15, 2021 / 16:04 pm
The Buffalo diocese has responded to claims that it misrepresented the financial state of its seminary before closing it last year.
"The seminary has had sustainability issues for a long time, and for at least over the past 15 years. The financial information was readily available to all interested parties," a spokesman for the diocese told CNA on Friday.
"In short, the seminary was running out of students, time and money," spokesman Greg Tucker told CNA Jan. 15.
In February 2020, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, then-apostolic administrator of Buffalo, announced that the diocese's Christ the King Seminary would cease operations at the end of the spring semester. He cited a 10-year average financial deficit of $500,000 a year as a primary reason for the decision.
However, WKBW reported Jan. 14 that one diocesan donor was questioning the financial reasons given for the seminary's closure. According to the report, the seminary had actually been operating financially at a net positive from 2010 through 2019, after suffering a massive financial loss in 2009.
The nearly $3 million hit in 2009, when combined with the net gain of more than $150,000 from 2010-2019, did result in a $2.7 million net loss from the years 2009-2019-but not at the annual level reported by the diocese, the donor claimed.
Rather than an annual $500,000 financial deficit, the seminary's loss was around $250,000 per year for the 11 years, according to the WKBW report-and the seminary had a net financial gain from 2010-2019.
"A false narrative. A $500,000 false narrative," former volunteer Jim Grubka told WKBW.
According to diocesan spokesman Greg Tucker, however, the seminary had deep, long-standing problems of sustainability, including operating losses for the last six years.
According to Tucker, seminary expenses were increasing and revenue was declining, with the seminary having kept afloat by "extraordinary" donation sources including annual diocesan subsidies-sources that might dry up due to the diocesan bankruptcy process.
Subtracting "extraordinary" donations from the seminary's financials, he said, the seminary reported operating losses of around $800,000 a year, "which is the actual number vs. what the diocese reported at as averaging approximately $500,000 per year."
"Operating cash was being depleted," he said, and was estimated by management to be at only 12 months' supply; reserves were also declining, he said.
Enrollment was also declining, with only 26 students at the seminary and only two first-year students from the Buffalo diocese at the time it closed. Tucker also cited concerns about the seminary maintaining its accreditation, an "underfunded" lay pension fund, and the seminary's tarnished reputation as other challenges for its sustainability.
WKBW reported the story on the day before Bishop Michael Fisher would be installed as Buffalo's 15th bishop.
On Friday, Bishop Fisher offered his installation Mass, preaching that "[i]t is Jesus Christ who has the words of eternal life - who makes sense of all that we confront in our lives and that often doesn't make sense. It is Jesus Christ who never disappoints, though we confront deep disappointment; It is Jesus Christ whose promises are true and abiding, even when we have been disillusioned and left to wonder how it is we might recapture the zeal and joy that led us to become followers in the first place."
Bishop Fisher inherits a diocese rocked by scandal in recent years, and currently undergoing a bankruptcy process due to the number of clergy sex abuse lawsuits filed in the last 17 months under the Child Victims Act.
The former bishop Richard Malone resigned in December 2019, after a Vatican-ordered visitation of the diocese in October. Whistleblower reports by his former executive assistant and former secretary alleged a gross mishandling of clergy sex abuse cases.
In November 2020, the state of New York filed a 260-page lawsuit against the diocese, alleging that bishops and staff repeatedly mishandled abuse accusations.
In November 2019, the National Catholic Register reported a three-part series on scandals at Christ the King Seminary; the series included allegations of sexual harassment and violation of the seal of the confessional made by former seminarians against their confessor, and decades of allegations of sexual misconduct.