Parish Report Denounces Ouster of Newton Priest
Cuenin's Removal Called Unjustified
By Matt Viser
January 12, 2006
A report released late last month has blasted the Archdiocese of Boston for removing the Rev. Walter H. Cuenin, the popular pastor of a Newton parish, from his post in September over allegations of financial improprieties.
The report, written by the parish's Finance Council after it reviewed private archdiocesan records, said that Cuenin's removal "lacked due process."
"And that leaves its motives open to question," the report said.
Cuenin announced his resignation at Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton to stunned parishioners after an archdiocese audit reported that he had violated several policies by taking a $500 monthly stipend and by allowing the parish to lease a Honda Accord for him.
His supporters, however, have said that he is being punished for his outspoken criticism of the archdiocese over its policies on gay rights and women, and for its handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal. Cuenin is living at Saint Julia Parish in Weston, and fills temporary vacancies for the archdiocese. Because he broke financial rules, Cuenin will not be able to have his own parish again.
The parish committee report also calls the actions against Cuenin "harsh and unjust."
It also criticizes the policies used as the basis for his removal as being vague, inconsistent, and not readily available.
The committee, for example, requested updated copies of archdiocesan policies, and said it had been told by the archdiocese that "they cannot be located."
The report also says that it could find no written prohibition against a parish providing its pastor with a leased car, though the archdiocese said that policy was implied in regulations about reimbursements for mileage involved in clerical and pastoral visits for the parish.
The committee also says that the $5 per day limit on stipends is ambiguous. "Based on past practices in the archdiocese, this limit has been seen by many as not applying to stipends/offerings given for marriages, baptisms, and funerals," the report said, arguing that priests in active parishes receive much more than $5 per day.
A spokesman for the archdiocese, Terrence C. Donilon, said that Cuenin will not return.
"Every priest and pastor in the archdiocese knows the stipend rule," Donilon said in an interview.
"He is the steward of finances there, and he was responsible for that," Donilon said. "The decision has been made."
Cuenin has "left; he's resigned," he said. "We would like to look at this in a go-forward process here.
"We've got a young, vibrant, exciting, talented priest in there now who is doing a great job," Donilon said of the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a former spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston.
The parish report, however, notes that because of Cuenin's resignation, "large numbers of parishioners have left, collections are down, and the financial strength and stability Father Cuenin worked so hard to develop and maintain have been compromised."
Since Cuenin left, the parish has held closed-door sessions for parishioners to vent.
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