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Medford priest's letter slams diocese buyout plan

Rev. Edward J. Kealey of St. Sylvester's Church

Rev. Edward J. Kealey of St. Sylvester's Church in Medford with the tilted steel cross and debris sculpture that will be used for Easter Sunday mass. (March 28, 2002) Credit: Newsday/David L. Pokress

In an unusual public rebuke, the pastor of a Roman Catholic church in Medford has distributed a letter criticizing the Diocese of Rockville Centre's buyout plan that could affect up to 1,800 employees.

"Chill winds now buffet the Diocese of Rockville Centre and colder still are some policies of its spokesmen," the Rev. Edward J. Kealey wrote in a letter handed out Sunday at Masses at St. Sylvester's Church. He titled the letter "Economics - a dismal science in Rockville Centre."

"Our mission is not to hoard wealth, but to invigorate conviction," he wrote. He criticized what he called the "epic mismanagement" of diocesan finances and said the diocese's invitation to employees who take the buyout to return as volunteers "skates pretty close to injustice, especially in a period of mountainous unemployment."

In response, diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said, "The diocese and many of its parishes are facing significant financial challenges. We have received many comments, both supportive and challenging, of the decisions that have been made or are under consideration."

He said the diocese realizes its headquarters can "become a lightning rod for a wide range of feedback during this process," and that it will use the feedback to try to shape a successful restructuring.

Last week the diocese, one of the largest employers on Long Island and spiritual home to 1.5 million Catholics, said 100 of its 133 parishes are expected to lose money this year.

In an interview, Kealey said he wrote the letter to express his feelings on the diocese's actions, He did not object to everything in the recent diocesan proposal. He wrote that some remedies proposed by Charles Trunz III, the diocese's new chief operating officer, "seem quite fair to individuals. Several St. Sylvester employees can benefit from them. . . . However - and it is a major however - his experience and expertise have been in the profit-making realms."

Kealey also wrote that it appears many priests and lay leaders were not consulted about the crisis. He also criticized the diocese's new management initiative to centralize many functions traditionally carried out by parishes, through a new Center of Excellence.

Kealey said the policy "elevates centralization over local initiative, control over creativity. . . . Rather than considering the chancery [diocesan headquarters] a center of excellence, some wags now refer to it as a 'black hole' - everything is sucked in and nothing comes out."

The diocese has about 6,000 full- and part-time employees, meaning close to one-third of the staff could be bought out.

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