Violet Arlene-6-13_376

Regular readers of this column may be aware that I represent pro bono (no legal fee) the elderly retirees who had worked at St. Joseph’s and/or Fatima Hospital before St. Joseph’s closed and Fatima was sold to Prospect Charter Care LLC. At the time of the sale the 2,700 former employees, i.e. nurses, X-ray technicians, food service personnel, janitors and maids, didn’t know that Bishop Thomas Tobin stopped putting money into their pension plan from the moment he arrived as bishop. At the time of the sale Prospect Charter Care LLC put in $14 million. The bishop remained silent as to the shortfall in the "pension pot” that was actually over $100 million at the time of the sale.

In August 2017 the Pension Plan filed for a receivership and requested that the court reduce by 40 percent the already meager pensions (average around $750 per month with no COLA’s) of the retirees. Because of the yeoman’s work done by the court-appointed receiver, Stephen DelSesto, and the brilliant litigation strategy on behalf of the pensioners by Wistow, Sheehan & Loveley, the pensions have not been reduced. Wistow et al. have succeeded in achieving settlements totaling $48 million with all of the defendants except one, the Catholic Diocese. What is striking about the settlements is that all the defendants who would be considered “lay entities,” while also denying responsibility, nonetheless, stepped up to the plate with cash infusions via the settlements. Only the Bishop has refused to contribute.

As someone who grew up in the Catholic tradition of justice, mercy, and charity, it is mystifying to me how a bishop could ignore his responsibilities toward the pensioners who worked, as my clients did, for 40 years plus at lower salaries than their counterparts in secular hospitals. I hate to think that it is sexism since about 90 percent of the plan participants are women. Bishop Tobin on the other hand continuously solicits for pension funds for the male priests in the church.

The bishop recently undertook a fundraising drive to raise $50 million to educate seminarians, extend financial support for retired priests, tuition assistance for Catholic schools, funding to preserve the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, and local assistance with parishes able to keep a percentage of what they raise. To date the campaign has raised over $51 million with another year to go. The campaign in its formation documents excludes any payment for judgments or settlement of lawsuits like that of the pensioners. In other words the bishop could care less about primarily women who gave years of their lives in the service of the Catholic hospitals.

The sole pronouncement made repeatedly by the bishop is that he isn’t responsible. Unlike the other defendants who claimed the same thing before settling he sees not even a moral responsibility to make good on the Church’s promise to these workers. His recent construction of a mausoleum complete with 720 cremation niches (cremation once frowned upon by the Church) cost about $12.3 million which he now seeks to sell. He refers to the construction as a “corporal work of mercy.” His purported reason for the construction was to ensure respect for the dead.

Now only if he could muster up the same respect for the living retirees.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.

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