Program #0122 for Friday, August 26, 2011: Fr. Richard Erikson

August 26, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chip Hines

Today’s guest(s): Father Richard Erikson, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Boston

Today’s topics: Fr. Richard Erikson reflects on his five years as Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Boston

Summary of today’s show: Scot and Fr. Chip sit down with Fr. Rich Erikson to reflect on his five-year tenure as vicar general and moderator of the curia of the Archdiocese of Boston, which ends on September 1. Highlights include the move from crisis to a mission-oriented agenda, the move from Brighton to Braintree, Improved Financial Relationship with parishes, the Archdiocese’s bicentennial, and more.

1st segment: Scot welcomes Fr. Chip back to the show, substituting for Fr. Mark who will be back next week. Scot said Fr. Rich Erikson began his service as vicar general on June 16, 2006. Next Wednesday, he completes his service and will be replaced by Msgr. Robert Deeley. Scot welcomes him to the show.

Scot said he’s astonished by how many things have been accomplished during his tenure as vicar general. In 2006, he said one of his priorities is to continue the healing that had begun under Cardinal Sean’s leadership. Fr. Erikson said we’ve come far, but there is a lifetime of effort to go.

Scot mentioned the announcement yesterday of the consolidation of a lot of material related to clergy accused of sexual abuse on the archdiocese’s website. Fr. Rich said they’ve been working on this for many years. He believes the most eloquent part of the Cardinal’s letter is the final paragraph, but it does revisit painful and difficult times of our life together. Cardinal Sean wants to bring light to darkness and acknowledge with great contrition and sorrow what has been done. It’s a heavy and difficult decision. Fr. Rich said it’s the decision the cardinal has grappled with the most in the past five years.

Fr. Chip asked if Fr. Rich has thought maybe he should pass this responsibility on to Msgr. Deeley. He does admit that it crossed his mind that it might end up on MSgr. Deeley’s plate, but alas here it is.

Scot said we’re still in an era of crisis management since 2002. Together, Cardinal And Fr. Rich have led the archdiocese from crisis to a more mission-oriented agenda. He asked Fr. Rich what he sees as key moments in moving from crisis to mission. Fr. Rich said in 2006 coming back to Boston he said the care of survivors and care for children need to be first and foremost in his mission. Financial realities and painful reconfiguration are in a much better place now than we were in. We have dedicated ourselves to the care of survivors, especially through the Office of Support.

Before Fr. Rich came, Cardinal Sean wrote a letter that said everyone is aware of the abuse crisis, but not everyone was aware of the financial realities from the settlements and the need for reconfiguration.

When he came, there was a $15 million annual deficit, including $2 million in annual interest payments to Knights of Columbus. This year, they’ve completed their second annual balanced budget. He hopes Msgr. Deeley has a solid foundation to build on to go from maintenance to mission, including initiatives like the Light is On For You, Arise, Why Catholic?

Scot has seen how Fr. Rich tries to restore trust in Church authority. He focuses not just on his own team in his office, but on everyone who works in the Pastoral Center, focusing on collaboration and communication and the respect of others. Fr. Rich said we’ve come a long way but we have a long way to go. The Cardinal is a prayerful who strives for holiness in his own life, which has to be the mark of a bishop and that’s what we need in someone who rebuilds trust.

Fr. Rich remembers his first public appearance as vicar general-to-be, attending the Archdiocesan Pastoral COuncil meeting for the transparency initiative of 2006. The cardinal was about opening the windows within the Church and being open.

He said he remembers being interviewed by Antonio Enrique in the first week on the job and being asked how it feels working in the “evil chancery”, referring to how many people referred to the church’s leadership during the scandal. Fr. Rich’s mother used to work in the chancery in accounts payable and she used to have walk to work through protesters and critics. He said the perception of the chancery as evil and inept is not true, but that’s the perception, so he tried to fix that perception by upholding that what we are about it is service and what happens in the 144 cities and towns of the Archdiocese.

2nd segment: Scot said in 2008 the Archdiocese moved the chancery from the City of Boston, where it had been since 1808 to Braintree. It wasn’t universally applauded by those who were affected. Fr. Rich said the decision to move to Braintree came after a great deal of deliberation, but Tom Flatley gave us the gift of this building. If he hadn’t given the gift , there wouldn’t have been a move because it would have been too expensive. There was also Cardinal Sean’s vision that this building would become a spiritual and pastoral center for the Archdiocese of Boston. Some people scoffed that it would be in an office park. Even Fr. Rich saw it before the old tenant moved out, it looked Stalinesque with cubicle after cubicle, but the transformation has exceeded everyone’s dreams. Even the color scheme is bright and warm, plus the beautiful photos by George Martell throughout the building of all our parishes and schools, and the jewel of the Pastoral Center of the Bethany Chapel. It is such a prayerful place and has exploded into a daily Mass community of well over 100 people with standing-room only on many occasions. Plus there’s Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament each day and Sacrament of Reconciliation is available regularly.

There have also been many people coming for pastoral workshops and other events. We save more than $500,000 in overhead each year by being consolidated in one place instead of being scattered among many buildings throughout the Boston area.

One of the best experiences of the past five years was being asked by Msgr. Carlson to be in residence at Holy Name in West Roxbury. The chancery was three miles from the rectory and 15 miles away now. But he chose to stay in West Roxbury because of the great community it is.

Fr. Chip said he thinks there’s been great success in this building over the past three years. He thinks part of the loss of the Brighton property is a loss of some retreat space. Are there any plans afoot to have retreat space run by the Archdiocese? It’s nice to have the building for workshops, but there’s no space for retreats. Fr. Rich said there are already wonderful retreat houses in the Boston area that are having trouble filling all their available slots. Scot said when they left Brighton, there was no retreat space left anyway after the first sales of properties. There were no downsides to the move other than the change in the commute.

Scot said the cafeteria is great not just for food, but also to be a gathering place. Also a number of high-tech meeting rooms. He said it was extremely tough to leave someplace that had been our home for so long. If they had polled staff when it had been announced, they might have been 90% opposed. When they got to tour it, people were more 50-50%. And then when the chapel opened, people came to learn that it was not just an office building and we now had a beautiful and large chapel at the center of our building.

Fr. Rich said the people who know him best at the Pastoral Center are the daily communicants, which is odd given how present he is in the building. They know his heart the best because that half hour is the most important moment of the day and where his faith and who he is is most visible. He is a priest first and vicar general second.

Scot said on the first full day workday in the pastoral center, Fr. Rich began the tradition of a monthly all-staff meeting, profiling one of the various ministries in the building and also take any question, including anonymous questions, and answer them forthrightly. Fr. Rich mentioned that in Brighton most people ate at their desks because there was nowhere to eat and so nowhere for everyone to gather so the monthly meeting is a way to be together. Fr. Rich did a survey about 2 years ago about the meetings. The overwhelming response was positive.

In 2008, the Archdiocese celebrated the bicentennial, and among the activities was going to New York City for Mass with Pope Benedict. Fr. Rich got to concelebrate with the Holy Father. Fr. Rich said he’s only done three trips on behalf of the archdiocese in five years and he had originally signed up to distribute communion. He would have been in the stands. But because Boston was a bicentennial diocese, the Holy Father invited them to concelebrate at the altar.

Scot said at the end of 2008 and entering 2009 they launched an initiative to streamline the financial relationship between parishes and central ministries, called the Improved Financial Relationship Model. Working with parishes to help them with their finances and how they support the central ministries has helped stabilize the archdiocese. Fr. Rich described Scot as one of the architects of the IFRM and said it is one of the best initiatives the last five years mainly because it improves the relationship between parishes and the archbishop. If parishes do well financially, then the archdiocese does well financially. The model is one of mutual responsibility and respect.

In 2010, a significant decision by Cardinal Sean was the sale of Caritas Christi to Cerberus. He wanted to preserve Catholic healthcare in the region and preserve the pensions of so many who had provided great Catholic healthcare. Fr. Rich said when he became vicar general, the hospital system was in dire straits. They brought together these hospitals that were not succeeding into one system in order to continue providing care to those who needed it. But the financial distress continued and they were concerned they would lose Catholic healthcare in Massachusetts completely. When every non-profit refused involvement, they turned to for-profits to come in and infuse the system with the resources they needed to survive. Cardinal is deeply committed to continue Catholic healthcare in the Archdiocese and is committed to those who have pensions in the systems. They also have a commitment from Cerberus to continue the Catholic identity through funding of Catholic chaplaincy and that ethical and religious directives of the Catholic Church would be followed and promoted. This week he just met the new ethicist hired to make sure that those directives are followed.

Fr. Chip asked Fr. Rich how he internalizes the criticism he and the Cardinal have received, especially that which seems so unfair. Fr. Rich said God knows his heart and God knows that every decision has been made intending the good. People who receive the decisions may disagree with the process,m rationale and t he outcome but they don’t know his heart which is for the Lord and the people. In yesterday’s Office of Readings, the image was of the wounds of love. In Boston, you are bounded to be wounded but for Fr. Rich they are wounds of love. He can also understand the criticism they receive in two regards. Very often the criticism is from one point of view and in decision-making you get every point of view. He’s been criticized for decisions but people don’t know what he knows, including sensitive information and other privileged data. He’s a better person because of the criticism he’s received.

3rd segment: On September 1, Fr. Rich will be assigned for three months to the Pontifical North American College in Rome for sabbatical. He’s only spent three days in Rome in his lifetime. They were in the city for just three days in 1999. To be in Rome and at the Vatican as well as the Institute for Continuing Theological Education is a privilege. Many priests rave about it. Cleaning out his office, he has taken a ton of continuing education courses in sociology and military courses (he’s an Air Force chaplain). He will be taking a week of retreat in Assisi as well.

He’s been a reserve and active-duty chaplain in the Air Force chaplain since 1982. He will be allowed to continue as a reserve chaplain. Service to military troops is part of who Fr. Rich is. His father is World War II Navy veteran and his nephew is an Ensign in the Navy. There is a great need of care for our troops. He has served in Iraq, bringing sacraments to the soldiers. He also works in leadership at the Pentagon bringing the needs of the Catholic community to the military leadership.

Scot wished Fr. Rich well on behalf of everyone who works in the Pastoral Center.

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