Thursday, June 25, 2009

Open Letter to Bishop Peña

Received this by e-mail a few days ago...


Dear Bishop Peña,

Here we are six years after you assigned Fr. Ruben Delgado to Holy Spirit Parish and had us all fired. And what a journey we, and the parish, have been on since then.

We just wanted to touch base with you and let you know that while we have forgiven you for your part in this action, you have done little to bring about the restoration of the parish, putting things back into place, doing justice.

This must be something that weighs on you terribly, the destruction of a vibrant parish which was one of the few in your diocese with a strong social justice thrust, great liturgies, a nationally recognized religious education program, and people involved in a diverse choice of ministries from Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to visiting the nursing homes.

In the last six years a majority of the active parishioners have left Holy Spirit Parish and attend other Catholic parishes, other Protestant parishes, other non-denominational parishes, and even one left and joined the local Jewish community.

Many families have just left organized religion altogether and go nowhere, all good people, all good Christians. Can you imagine the amount of pain that they must have suffered to have taken such radical moves? We would not want to be in your shoes for sure, for we do know that sometime you will be held accountable for your lack of action as the bishop of this church.

All the employees who were pushed out the door have continued with their lives and are doing great things. While they miss parish ministry, they do not miss working for the institution in this diocese as it now exists. What a sad statement.

We continue to meet regularly and hold our community together with no help from you or your clergy. We continue to celebrate and to do justice work and to do charitable work.

We do not forget, and we continue to tell our story and the story of our parish. On this sixth anniversary we want you to know that we still remember, we still pray for you to fix Holy Spirit Parish, and we pray for all those who have been so damaged by this event in their lives.

–Holy Spirit Parishioners in Exile

Monday, June 22, 2009

Here We Go Again...

KMBH Spots Worry Radio Group
Some think the announcements are targeted at a planned second public radio station.

By: Laura Tillman

BROWNSVILLE — Announcements on the Rio Grande Valley's public radio station, KMBH, warning listeners that donations to a different public station are either "a scam or fantasy" have riled members of a group seeking to create a second public radio station in South Texas.

"When the spots began to air, people immediately called me about it," said Betsy Price. Price is organizing a new public radio station - Voices from the Valley, which plans to begin broadcasting in the next few months. "They were very concerned."

Voices from the Valley members said they worried the ads could mislead the public to believe that they are not a legitimate radio station, and that making pledges of support was somehow dangerous.

Price says she and the other members of Voices from the Valley have not placed any calls to solicit money, but have been fielding calls and pledges of support from those who log onto the group's Web site.

"We're not asking for money at this time, just pledges of support," Price said. "People have tried to hand me checks and we have to tell them, ‘No, we can't accept money until we are launched and have a business plan.' "

KMBH had this text posted at the top of its Web site as of June 19:

There is only ONE PUBLIC RADIO in the Rio Grande Valley ... and this is Public Radio 88FM, serving you with the best of NPR and local talent since October 1989. If you or someone you know is contacted requesting a donation for Public Radio which is not Public Radio 88FM please report it to the authorities and let us know at 956-421-4111. Public Radio 88FM has been serving you in the Rio Grande Valley for TWENTY YEARS. Anything else may be a scam or fantasy."

Voices from the Valley said it is organizing a second legitimate public radio station in the Valley. It is common for large cities or well-populated regions to have more than one public radio station. Often, stations have different genres, group members said.
Msgr. Pedro Briseño, the president and CEO of KMBH, says the spots are unrelated to Voices from the Valley and are rather the result of calls from listeners.

"So far we have just received a couple of vague reports about attempts to collect financial pledges for a public radio station," Briseño wrote in an emailed statement. "No more information (was) given and the individuals reporting do not want their names disclosed. It has been suggested for us to make a public warning such as the one on our Web site in order to protect the public from a potential scam."

Asked for more details on the calls, Briseño said the station's role was not to investigate.

"We are not in the business of law enforcement investigation," Briseño wrote, "but in the business of serving our community through educational broadcasting, twenty years through public radio, twenty-five years through public television."

But organizers for Voices from the Valley, who are attempting to establish their credibility as a second regional public radio station, see the spots differently.
"I think they're trying to prejudice the public against another station," said Joe Perez, who used to host "North of the Border," a conjunto show on KMBH with his wife, Rosa.

Rosa and Joe Perez left KMBH after the network failed to air the "Hand of God" documentary at its scheduled time. The documentary, which the station later said aired at 1 a.m. the next morning, chronicled molestation by Catholic priests.

Joe Perez said he lost faith in the honesty of KMBH's managers when they provided what he called a "totally unbelievable" explanation for why the program didn't air. He said this distrust is the reason he also doesn't buy the station's explanation about the new spots. "I do not believe there is a scam going on," Joe Perez said.

Pablo Almaguer, a McAllen resident who used to volunteer with KMBH and is now helping to spread information about the Voices from the Valley station, says the spots are a "threat wrapped up in a warning." "I listen to the ‘NPR Morning Edition' pretty religiously and, when I heard the spots, I couldn't help but smile and shake my head," he said. "The last sentence, saying that another station is a ‘scam or a fantasy' is passive aggressive. This is a threat to those folks who are out there trying to start a new station, and I think this is the way management has decided to deal with it, by flexing their muscles and by saying: ‘Don't contact our funders.' "

Briseño insists that any speculation that the commercials are related to Voices from the Valley is unfounded. "We are not in the business of attacking anybody or campaigning against anything. We have no interest on useless debates of opinions. Any negative reaction to our warning is perhaps a confirmation that such a warning was needed to protect the public of the Rio Grande Valley from scams," Briseño said.

Perez, who plans to donate his show to Voices from the Valley when it starts up, says he hopes that potential listeners will continue to pledge their support. "All I can say is Voices from the Valley is starting from scratch and we're going to be fighting for listeners, so all is fair in love and war and radio," Perez said.
Laura Tillman is a reporter for The Brownsville Herald.

Sad Rememberance... from June 19th, 2003

What a sad remembrance of the actions of a Catholic bishop in retaliation of his church employees for joining a union, all of which was necessitated by his very own fire-happy administrative policy.

How sad it is that Protestant and Non-Denominational churches in the Valley are now stealing so many of our parishioners and our bishop doesn't have a clue on what is causing it!

Bishop Peña once had a parish in North McAllen that was attracting new parishioners like crazy. Many thought the growth at Holy Spirit was just a result of the growth in North McAllen. How wrong they were!

Holy Spirit's secret to attracting new parishioners was purely because it had a well qualified professional staff. One deeply rooted in the Catholic faith that cared about their parishioners and that took pride in the services that they provided to their parishioners. Incredibly simple logic.

Go to Holy Spirit today and you will see a very different parish. The current priest is poorly qualified to run a parish. The current staff could care less. It is a far cry from the 'vibrant parish' that Holy Spirit parish once was.

This should be a lesson to you, Bishop Peña. Maybe all of your Catholic parishes' should be run by a highly-qualified professional staff. Your priests have no expertise in running a parish, much as you are poorly qualified to run the business end of a Catholic diocese. Your past performance proves that out. At least be smart enough to hire yourself some professional help and lets stop the hemorrhaging! Maybe then you and your priests could dedicate your time to preaching the Gospel. That would be a good thing.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Does Anyone Remember This from June 19, 2003?

In Texas, Parishioners Protest Church Firings

Dismissed Lay Workers Accuse Bishop of Trying to Break Labor Union Contracts
By Lee Hockstader,
Washington Post Staff Writer

Saturday, July 5, 2003; Page A03

McALLEN, Tex. -- Nothing seemed amiss when 60 parishioners from the Holy Spirit Catholic Church here gathered at dusk the other day on the church's pink-bricked patio before a burbling fountain. They clasped hands in a semicircle, bowed their heads for the Lord's Prayer and, accompanied by two guitars and a tambourine, sang hymns in Spanish as the scorching Texas sun succumbed to an evening softened by shadows.

But the tranquility of the moment was deceptive, for the gathering was, in fact, a protest. The parishioners are at the forefront of one of the most venomous confrontations between the Catholic Church and organized labor since Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York faced down striking gravediggers in 1949, sending seminarians in to dig graves for 1,000 unburied bodies.

On one side of the dispute is a handful of parish churches in the Rio Grande Valley, including Holy Spirit, whose lay workers unionized last year -- a virtually unheard-of step in the American Catholic Church. On the other side is the powerful local bishop of the Brownsville diocese, Raymundo J. Peña, and his top aides, who condemned the contracts when they were signed and moved vigorously against the union.

It is an anomalous clash, casting the church and organized labor, traditionally warm allies, as rivals in one of the poorest and most heavily Catholic corners of the nation. And it is being played out in blazing local newspaper headlines and escalating mutual accusations, at a time when the Roman Catholic Church is trying to surmount the staggering effects of sex abuse scandals nationwide.

"It's almost like an intra-family dispute with some labor union trappings attached to it," said David Hall, executive director of Texas Rural Legal Aid, which is representing some of the unionized lay workers.

The family fight burst into public view June 18 when a parish priest, Ruben Delgado, newly assigned to Holy Spirit by the bishop, arrived at the church for his first day on the job and fired four of the unionized workers.

The fired workers received little explanation. One, Ann Cass, had been a key member of Holy Spirit's administrative staff for 22 years and played a central role in building the church's new building in the 1980s. Another, Edna Cantu, a young secretary who is several months pregnant, had been dismissed last fall from yet another parish church shortly after she and her co-workers unionized there.

The United Farm Workers (UFW), which represents the employees, received a court order temporarily halting the dismissals; the church then placed them on paid administrative leave. In the ensuing uproar, Delgado, the priest, resigned as pastor of Holy Spirit after a week. Aside from a written statement defending the firings as an administrative reshuffle designed to replace some paid staff with volunteers, he did not communicate with his parishioners and never celebrated Mass there.

Peña said he had no hand in the firings, noting he was out of town when they took place. He has reaffirmed his opposition to unionizing parish lay workers, whose minimum wage of $7, he said, is well above the average in the Rio Grande Valley.

"I honestly do not believe that is necessary or beneficial for church employees in the Valley to join a labor union," he said in an e-mailed response to questions from The Washington Post.

Hundreds of parishioners at Holy Spirit have accused Peña of engineering the firings to break union contracts that he publicly denounced as "invalid in church law" because he, as bishop, was not consulted and did not approve them.

To protest the dismissals, hundreds of Holy Spirit's parishioners have boycotted Sunday Mass for the past two weeks, holding communion services instead on the church patio and staging nightly candlelight vigils. They have urged other parishioners to divert contributions from the church to the Texas Civil Rights Project, which is representing the fired workers.

"It's one thing to suffer for the church; it's another thing to suffer at the hands of the church," said Dora Saavedra, a communications professor at University of Texas Pan-American who chairs Holy Spirit's parish council, an advisory body. "We want the staff reinstated -- period."

Holy Spirit was one of five parish churches in the Brownsville diocese that signed union contracts, but it has become the focal point of the dispute. In contrast with the mostly poor and rural churches of the area, Holy Spirit has a relatively affluent, well-educated congregation of 3,300 families.

From its perch in a predominantly middle-class neighborhood of McAllen, the church has been a vocal advocate for liberal causes in this city of 120,000 -- higher wages for low-skilled workers; an increase in the local sales tax; a reconfiguration of the town council to benefit poorer neighborhoods. It has also been at the forefront of demands that Peña disclose more information about priests accused of sexual abuse and about the diocese's finances -- demands that the bishop has resisted.

In the face of an open rebellion at Holy Spirit, Peña has condemned the protesters as a small group of firebrands who have challenged his authority and manipulated the parish. In an interview, Peña acknowledged he has become the lightning rod for the protests but said, "It's ridiculous to say it's me against them. I am their bishop, their pastor, and I have no ill will or animosity against anyone."

Peña, 69, was the bishop of El Paso before he arrived in Brownsville in 1995. His diocese is a long, thin strip running from the Gulf of Mexico west along the Mexican border, a sun-blasted, heavily Hispanic territory. Since his arrival, Peña has aroused resentments with a leadership style that is variously described as hands-on, micro-managerial, autocratic and preoccupied with secrecy.

The genesis of the current crisis can be traced to 2000, when the bishop abolished a 20-year-old pension plan for the diocese's approximately 1,100 paid lay workers, including administrators, religious education workers, secretaries and others. Rather than receiving monthly checks upon retirement, as many were expecting, they received one-time checks in early 2002 according to a formula that favored older employees over some younger ones who had worked longer.

The diocese did offer an alternative -- a defined contribution retirement plan, similar to a 401(k) -- which diocesan officials characterized as an improvement. But some church employees were indignant, insisting that the abolition of the pension plan would do particular harm to lower-paid workers.

Responding to those concerns, five parishes signed union contracts with the UFW a year ago, establishing pension plans and grievance procedures for approximately 50 lay workers. One of the parish priests, Jerry Frank, former pastor of Holy Spirit, said he did it to protect his staff from what he considered Peña's arbitrary management.

"I told him I had to protect my workers from him, and that he treats people as objects rather than as human beings," said Frank, 61, who has since been transferred by the bishop to a small, rural parish.

Diocesan officials denounced the union contracts, saying they corrupted what was akin to a marital bond between paid lay workers and the church -- even though parishioners point out lay workers at the Vatican itself are unionized. In a communique sent to all parishes, Peña warned them against further inroads by the union.

Unions "do not make sense in covenantal relationships of trust and love," Robert E. Maher, vicar general of the diocese, wrote last July in an e-mail to a lawyer who protested the diocese's policy. "There is no place in the Christian community for divisions along the lines of self-interest, and that means, among other things, no unions."

Maher, who is Peña's second-in-command, also threatened to slash funding for unionized churches, according to several pastors. He wrote to one pastor that the Catholic Extension Society, a grant-giving agency in Chicago that funds poor parishes, had also refused to help unionized churches -- an assertion that the Extension Society vigorously denied. Peña, saying his position was "misunderstood," reinstated the funding after he learned the pastor had ties with the Extension Society.

"It sounds to me like the vicar is trying to bring these guys into line by making that kind of threat," said Richard Ritter, the Extension Society's vice president. "Those decisions are up to the bishop completely."

Peña, in his e-mailed statement, said: "I have always been an advocate for social justice in Texas. I have supported labor's right to collective bargaining, and I support it now. Cesar Chavez [founder of the UFW] was my friend, and as a young priest I supported his organizing efforts."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company Posted by Hello