A Diocese Policy Gives Way ... at Last

By Tom Lyons
Herald Tribune

September 1, 2008

Though I was skeptical at first, an anonymous letter writer was right.

The note sent to me more than a week ago said some elderly and disabled people were having a hard time because their small Venice apartment complex was being sold. The owner had told them the buyer wanted them out, fast, before the closing.

They got 30 days' notice. Some were having real trouble with it.

What makes this surprising, the writer said, is that it wasn't some greedy developer doing this. The buyer was the Catholic Church.

As we now know, the Diocese of Venice is indeed quietly buying that building at 500 W. Venice Ave. So when a reporter found that the letter was right about the distressed residents and asked the diocese about that, you'd think someone there would have responded with some expression of concern and intent to help. Or something like that.

Instead, for days the diocese refused to acknowledge that it had anything to do with the apartments.

Spokeswoman Adela White, when pressed, repeatedly said that it is a diocese policy "not to talk about land we do not own."


This was a shockingly hard-nosed, corporate CEO sort of response. There is no Biblical commandment that "thou shalt not talk about land though dost not own."

And the questions were really about vulnerable people and whether they were being treated harshly without need, perhaps accidentally. Doesn't the church speak frequently about ill treatment of the elderly and vulnerable without regard for who owns the land where it takes place?

But it seems business is business at the diocese these days. It acted like Snidely Whiplash Real Estate LLC. The focus was keeping a land deal under the radar.

The Herald-Tribune ran the story anyway, a few days later. It quoted the struggling residents, and made it clear that the church would not discuss its involvement.

Someone at the diocese, after reading the story, must have realized that even Snidely Whiplash LLC's public relations department would have handled this inquiry better. And after I called to ask about the clam-up routine, the diocese finally issued a statement.

Maybe you've read about it. White acknowledged that the diocese is the buyer, and said the place would be used for a good cause: housing for single mothers of infants. The diocese "intends to engage Venice city officials regarding this worthy cause."

The statement also explained that while the diocese had previously been told by the seller that the tenants were having no trouble finding new homes, the church has now asked that they be allowed more time. The statement ended with the instructive note that elderly and disabled people often have trouble with such moves, and "we are sorry some elderly persons have been having difficulty ..."

I asked White why the heck the diocese hadn't just said that sort of thing right off, rather than try to duck the issue, which seemed as morally weird as it was futile.

White just cited that policy. The diocese does not comment on land it does not own.

I said the bit about it being about the people, not the land, etc. I got nowhere. Again, she just cited that alleged policy. She said she only issued a statement at last because the Herald-Tribune had already revealed the deal.

Well then, I'm just glad that letter writer and this newspaper helped the diocese do the right thing, or at least finally say the right thing, even though it involved people having a problem on land it does not own, a major policy breach.

Maybe the business policy manual over there needs some editing.

Tom Lyons can be contacted at or (941) 361-4964.


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