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Dispute between bishop, service agency results in split


A dispute over the bishop’s control of a Catholic service agency in the Youngstown, Ohio, diocese led to the agency’s break from the diocese, when its board voted against conceding control of local operations.

After the board decided against affiliating with Bishop Thomas Tobin’s recently formed Diocese of Youngstown Catholic Charities Corp., the diocese prohibited Catholic Community Services of Stark County from using the word Catholic in its name and from acting as an official agency of the diocese, according to reports in the Canton newspaper, The Repository.

Founded in 1919, Catholic Community Services had an independently incorporated board that hired the staff of the agency. Under Tobin’s proposal, however, all social service agencies would come under the Catholic Charities Corp., overseen by the bishop and four members of the bishop’s staff. The local board of Catholic Community Services would have essentially gone from a decision-making board to an advisory board.

A major issue was who would control the agency’s assets. The agency received less than 20 percent of its funding from the diocese. The rest comes from grants, billable services and donations.

In a news release following the board’s vote against affiliating with the diocesan Catholic Charities Sept. 15, board president Stelio Flamos said, “It was a painful and difficult decision to arrive at. While we recognize Bishop Tobin’s authority, who, by canon law, has the power to make these determinations, we also feel a loyalty and recognition to his good intentions. Our members could not agree that this particular model was the best way to achieve [Tobin’s] goals.”

Flamos added, “No one wins. Our goal here is to serve the needy. We have to continue with our mission here, but there is some separation in terms of feelings with the board.”

Flamos resigned as president Sept. 17. He did not link his resignation with the dispute. “I felt my job was complete and for personal reasons resigned,” he told The Repository.

Msgr. Robert Siffrin, vicar general of the diocese, called the board’s vote a surprise. “It’s certainly been a disappointment to see whatever the fears and apprehensions of a few people have been,” he said.

A news release from the Community Services board after the vote indicated that board members were open to further dialogue with Tobin. However, the day after the vote, Tobin sent a letter to James Aylward, president of the agency, detailing the “consequences” of not affiliating with Catholic Charities Corp., including loss of affiliated tax exemption status; discontinuation of diocesan insurance programs; the end of lease agreements to use diocesan property; and loss of diocesan funding. “As of this date, you are no longer permitted to utilize the name Catholic in any form or manner,” the letter said. “Further, you are no longer recognized as a ‘Catholic’ institution.”

Siffrin told The Repository, “My impression from the representatives of the board is they’re not really open to the ultimate authority of the bishop. That being the case, there’s nothing to compromise, there’s nothing to negotiate.”

National Catholic Reporter, October 1, 1999