Foes say Diocese cooked the books at political church

Foes say Diocese cooked the books at political church
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short

A church official cooked the books to suggest that a politically active Bedford-Stuyvesant parish that Brooklyn Diocese officials wanted to close was financially unstable.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Brooklyn Diocese announced his decision to shutter Our Lady of Montserrat Church by the end of January and move its parishioners to All Saints Church because it “could not support [Montserrat] financially” after providing nearly $400,000 in subsidies to the church over the past decade and forgiving $1.7 million debt in 2000.

Church documents also claim that the Vernon Avenue church was $23,171 in the red for the year.

But parishioners questioned those figures, claiming that the church’s financial report on Montserrat willfully inflated the church’s expenses and did not consider at least two sources of income from the property.

“The numbers are highly inflated — there are some line items that don’t exist,” said parishioner Juan Ramos. “We don’t have as much debt as they say we do, and we don’t have all those services.”

For example, the Diocese report has a $11,203 budget line for clergy salaries. But Ramos said that a priest typically earns only $25 for each of the four to seven masses per week. That would come to $5,200–9,100 — but in most cases, the priest doesn’t even take the stipend, leaving it in reserve.

Other reported costs for salaries and utilities raised eyebrows, particularly $17,257 in salary for a secretary and an $811 phone bill — since the church has neither of them.

“We haven’t had a phone for over three years,” said Ramos. “You can’t reach anybody at the church. Instead you have to call All Saints.”

And church leaders said that Montserrat collects about $13,000 from a parking lot it owns on Vernon Street — income that was not reflected in the ledger. And none of the Passionist Order’s support for the church’s utilities was included either.

Parishioners expressed further puzzlement after All Saints’ Father William Chacon announced at mass that about $125,000 from an account held jointly by All Saints and Montserrat was used to renovate the All Saints rectory.

“He said he took money from an account from Montserrat,” said parishioner Anita Dunbar. “He redid the floors, cleaned up the rectory. It was a mess.”

When asked for comment, Chacon referred all inquiries to the Diocese. A spokesman with the Diocese said that the “inflammatory accusations” were made by a “small, but loud, group” that was “not being accurate.”

“Each parish has to take a big responsibility of its financial future and the Diocese of Brooklyn can be there to help but it can’t be there to help financially,” said Diocese spokesman Shane Kavanagh. “We can’t be the payer of last resort.”

The closure of the church, and the allegation of fiscal shinanigans to bolster the decision, plays out against a highly politicized backdrop. Earlier this year, Montserrat pastor, Rev. Jim O’Shea, took controversial positions on issues of extreme importance to the church and to the local power boss, Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Bushwick). O’Shea, for example, criticized the Lopez-backed rezoning of the so-called Broadway Triangle, and was said to be privately opposed to a Lopez bill that would have shielded the Diocese from some pedophile priest lawsuits. Lopez and DiMarzio were allies on both initiatives — though Lopez has denied that he played any role in influencing DiMarzio to shutter Montserrat and muzzle O’Shea.

Dunbar thinks the Diocese should re-evaluate its decision to shut the chapel — which has served central Brooklyn for over 60 years. She has already found a volunteer to fix the building’s boiler — for free — but DiMarzio, after meeting with a group parishioners last Thursday, said his decision was final.

“At this point we’ll try anything,” said Dunbar. “We just want to save our church. That’s all.”

Father Jim O’Shea has taken a leave of absence in the wake of the Brooklyn Diocese’s decision to close Our Lady of Montserrat Church.
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short