Issues Piling Up for Bishop Tobin — Receivership, Lawsuits and Ties to Priest Abuse Scandal

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


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Photo of Tobin, Wuerl, and Pope can be purchased on the Diocese of Providence website.

One of Bishop Thomas Tobin’s prized mementos is a photo of Tobin meeting Pope John Paul II. Tobin’s audience was a result of Tobin being named the Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh.

The meeting was facilitated by then-Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl — now Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, D.C., who is at the center of the storm of the 1,000 sexual abuse cases in Pennsylvania.

Wuerl was Tobin’s mentor. Today, many are calling for his removal as Cardinal.

The photo is available for purchase on the Diocese of Providence’s website and is available as a mouse pad or playing cards.

Multiple Issues Facing the Diocese of Providence and Tobin

For Tobin, the sexual abuse crimes tied to Wuerl is just the latest issue. In August 2017, the St. Joseph Pension Fund collapsed. In June, the receiver for the fund named the Diocese of Providence in a massive fraud lawsuit on behalf of the more than 2,700 plan members.

In June, GoLocal unveiled a new major controversy for the Diocese, which is that the pension plan for the teachers and staff of the Catholic schools is in massive financial distress.

“The unfunded liability of the Lay Employees’ Retirement Plan will continue to grow and will become untenable in the near future,” stated a recent Diocesan document. 

Pennsylvania Grand Jury Exposes Massive Sexual Abuse

Tobin has not been named as an abuser in the grand jury documents, but Tobin was a priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh from 1973 to 1992 and served as auxiliary Bishop from 1992 until 1995. These time periods coincide with the timeframe when more than 300 priests molested and sexually abused more than 1,000 victims according to grand jury documents.

Tobin on Monday came under fire at a State House protest. Sexual abuse survivor Jim Scanlon -- who had testified during the recent General Assembly session in support of the expanded 35-year statute of limitations for sex abuse crimes -- advocated for holding the Catholic church responsible for working to water down the legislation, including its top State House lobbyist, Father Bernard Healey. 

"This legislation isn't about us -- it's our kids, our grandkids, and future generations of kids, and having the ability for people who are survivors to come forward," said Scanlon. "That's what gets predators out of the system."

"I call on legislators and leadership to commit publicly to support [Senator] Donna [Nesselbush] and [Representative] Carol [Hagan McEntee's] bill, and what defeated us in the spring," said Scanlon. "I was raised Irish-Catholic. I call on parishioners to call on their church leaders to step down [and] my good friends and parishioners at Our Lady of Mercy to call on Father Healey to step aside [and not block this bill]."

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Grand jury report found that more than 1,000 were sexually abused.

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Found:

- 301 Catholic priests identified as predator priests who sexually abused children while serving in active ministry in the church.
- Detailed accounts of over 1,000 children victimized sexually by predator priests, with the grand jury noting it believed the real number of victims was in the “thousands.”
- Senior church officials, including bishops, monsignors and others, knew about the abuse committed by priests, but routinely covered it up to avoid scandal, criminal charges against priests, and monetary damages to the Dioceses.
- Priests committed acts of sexual abuse upon children, and were routinely shuttled to other parishes – while parishioners were left unaware of sexual predators in their midst.

CNN reports, that among the more egregious cases, the grand jury reports that:

• In the Greensburg diocese, a priest impregnated a 17-year-old, forged a pastor's signature on a marriage certificate and divorced the girl months later. According to the grand jury, the priest was allowed to stay in ministry by finding a "benevolent bishop."

• Another priest in Greensburg groomed middle-school students for sex, according to the grand jury, by telling them that Mary had to "bite off the cord" and "lick" Jesus clean after the Nativity.

• In Harrisburg, a priest abused five sisters from the same family and collected samples of their urine, pubic hair and menstrual blood.

• Also in Harrisburg, a priest raped a 7-year-old girl who was in the hospital after her tonsils were removed, according to the report.

• In Pittsburgh, church officials said that a 15-year-old boy "pursued" and "literally seduced" a priest. A church report later acknowledged that the priest had admitted to "sado-masochistic" activities with several boys.

• In the Allentown diocese, a priest admitted sexually molesting a boy and pleaded for help, according to documents, but was left in ministry for several more years.

• Also in Allentown, a priest who had abused several boys, according to the grand jury, was given a recommendation to work at Disney World.

• In Scranton, a priest who later served prison time for abusing children was found to have been HIV-positive for years.

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro has criticized Wuerl, for "not telling the truth.” The grand jury report is highly critical of Tobin’s mentor — who served as the Bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years, from 1988 to 2006, and the report says Wuerl covered up abusive behavior. In the Pittsburgh Diocese, 99 priests have been named as predators.

The grand jury report can be READ HERE

“It is my hope that, following the Holy Father’s words and teachings, Church leaders in Pennsylvania will cease their denials and deflections and now fully support the Grand Jury’s recommendations so that survivors have the opportunity to obtain justice and ensure this type of widespread abuse and cover-up never happens again,” Shapiro said.

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Members of St. Joseph pension fund have protested against Tobin.

St. Joseph Lawsuit — Now Pending in Both Federal and State Courts

Two related massive lawsuits have been filed simultaneously in state and federal court by the receiver in the collapsed St. Joseph pension fund - the largest pension failure in Rhode Island history.

The suit alleges massive fraud in the case which has created a hole in pension assets estimated to be in excess of $115 million. The suit was filed by the receiver Stephen Del Sesto of Pierce Atwood and was prepared by the special investigator Max Wistow and his law associates Stephen Sheehan and Benjamin Ledsham.

Tobin has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing or responsibility for the financial failure of the fund.

Federal, State Fraud Lawsuits Against the Diocese

The Federal Court complaint is 136 pages and includes a 21 count complaint filed against 14 defendants. Similarly, the state court complaint is 101 pages and includes 16 count complaint against same defendants.

The defendants include the Diocese of Providence, CharterCare, CharterCare’s parent company Prospect, Angela Pension Group, and a range of other related healthcare and diocesan entities tied to the sale of the St; Joseph Hospital first in 2009 by the Diocese to Roger Williams Medical Center which created CharterCare and then the sale of CharterCare to Prospect of California in 2014.

The litigation is expected to continue for years.

After the suit was filed the Diocese of Providence issued a statement which stated in part, “In the meantime, while this unfortunate litigation follows its own discrete path, the work of the Church will continue unabated. We will continue our mission of gathering the faithful for worship, preaching the Gospel, educating children, serving the poor, and advocating for a better and just society. As always, your prayerful and personal support will be important and greatly appreciated. The words of Jesus spoken to his disciples at the Last Supper are as relevant now as ever: “Do not let your hearts be troubled, but have faith in God and faith in me.” (Jn 14:1). 

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Diocese documents secured by GoLocal unveil the tenuous condition of the pension fund.

Lay Employees Retirement Fund Near Financial Collapse

Tobin’s Diocese also faces the potential financial collapse of a second pension fund -- the retirement fund for Diocesan teachers and staff.

Documents secured by GoLocal, which was prepared by the Diocese top financial officers -- Monsignor Raymond Bastia and Chief Financial Officer Michael Sabatino -- was considered by top Diocesan officials at a meeting held in June with Tobin.

The document, dated June 19, 2018, and marked “immediate action," called for drastic cuts to beneficiaries of the fund.  Also considered at the meeting was the aforementioned October 2017 recommendation document and the plan outlined is to be considered for action.

Another dire statement in the report says, "Even with the revised more realistic assumptions, if we make these changes, it will still take 30-35 years to fully fund the Plan."

Since GoLocal secured those documents and unveiled the fund’s fragile financial condition, the Diocese has begun to slash pension benefits for some eligible members.

On August 14, GoLocal unveiled copies of Diocese of Providence documents that show that the benefits of many teachers and staff in Lay Employees Retirement Fund will be frozen and for others, they will no longer be eligible for the “Lay Teacher’s Retirement Fund” at the end of the year.

The implications are profound, as potentially thousands of Catholic school teachers and staff will lose the contributions to the pension fund. They will receive nothing.

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Tobin is rarely available to press inquiries today.

Tobin, the Recluse

Tobin, who was once a “media darling” and available to all press inquiries is now non-responsive to most press calls.

In 2015, Tobin sat down with GoLocal for a sweeping interview on a range of issues.

It was just one of many times Tobin made himself available to discuss local, national and global issues, but now Tobin has retreated from Twitter — closing his account and claimed that it was an “obstacle” to a spiritual life.

On Monday, Pope Francis issues a letter addressing the child abuse unveiled in Pennsylvania. In part, the Pope wrote, “I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.”


Related Slideshow: 10 Shocking Elements of the St. Joseph Pension Fund Lawsuit Against the Diocese and Others

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Another Hospital Group Identified that the Pension Fund Needed $72M for Plan

In 2012, prior to CharterCare, then the owner of St. Joseph being sold to Prospect of California, another hospital group wanted to purchase Roger Williams, St. Joseph and Fatima. That group, LHP Hospital Group, identified that the pension fund needed a $72 million infusion, but their offer was rejected.

The $72 million was $58 million more than the amount put into the pension fund by Prospect, the eventual purchaser, in 2014.

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All the Parties Knew the Pension Plan Was No Longer a Church Plan

Post sale of St. Joseph to CharterCare in 2009 and then CharterCare’s sale to Prospect, and despite knowing that for the pension fund to continued to be considered a “church plan,” the Diocese and hospital officials continued to list the hospital under the U.S. Conference of Bishops’ Catholic directory as “operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with the Roman Catholic Church.”

The lawsuit states that all the defendants in the suit knew this claim was false.

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Tobin Misleads the Vatican

The lawsuit lays out that “Bishop Thomas Tobin did not disclose in his letter to the Vatican that the proposed asset sale increased the probability of the Plan failing. Instead, Bishop Tobin omitted that information and, in effect, said the opposite, that approval of the asset sale was actually necessary to secure the Plan.”

The suit goes on to assert, "On September 27, 2013, Tobin signed his letter as altered by [legal] counsel for [St. Joseph Health Services, CharterCare and Roger Williams Hospital] and sent it to the Vatican.”

The parties knew the implications, “These misrepresentations and omission concerning the Plan in the Bishop’s letter to the Vatican…all understood that Vatican approval was required for the transaction to proceed..”

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Suit Alleges Fraud

The lawsuit is blunt as it alleges that, "Saint Joseph Health Services of RI, the Prospect Entities, and other Defendants violated ERISA, committed fraud, breached their contractual obligations, violated their duty of good faith and fair dealing, and otherwise acted wrongfully. As a result, they must be required to compensate losses to the Plan and remedy such violations, including returning all assets improperly diverted to the Plan, and to otherwise fully fund the plan."

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Severe Remedy

Wistow and his team claim the remedy of violating the "fraudulent conveyance" laws in Rhode Island are severe and that the Plan -- thus the retirees -- should receive the assets, aka, CharterCare.

"They also ran afoul of Rhode Island laws prohibiting fraudulent conveyances. The remedies for those violations include that the Prospect Entities must turn over to the Plan and its participants the entirety of the assets they acquired in the 2014 Asset Sale, with no credit of offset for what they paid for those assets, or for the improvements that they may have made on the facilities. In other words, the Plaintiffs are entitled to a judgment awarding them these assets, including but to limited to New Fatima Hospital and New Roger Williams Hospital, or ordering that these properties and other assets be sold and awarding Plaintiffs the process from the sale up to the amount necessary to fully fund the Plan on a termination basis and to ensure the pensions of all Plan participants."

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Quid Pro Quo

On August 14, 2013, key hospital officials meet with the leadership of the Diocese of Providence’s office to get sign off on the sale to Prospect.

According to documents, a meeting was convened which was attended by Bishop Tobin, Rev. Timothy Reilly and Msgr. Paul Theroux at that meeting the top Diocese officials signed off on the deal which cast the pension off as an orphaned plan. The deal also asserted certain promises critical to the leadership of the Diocese specifically that Roger Williams Medical Center would not engage in prohibited activities of the Diocese and specifically listed:



Physician-assisted suicide

The suit asserts that there was a “quid pro quo for freeing New Fatima Hospital from the unfunded liabilities of the plan, and granting these extensive and perpetual ‘Catholic identity covenants’ for New Fatima Hospital and New Roger Williams Hospital.”

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Violated Federal Law and Federal Oversight

As the hospitals left the control of the Diocese and were sold off in 2009 and then, the ultimate sale to Prospect, officials knew that the pension plan was no longer a "Church Plan" and thus needed to then fall under federal regulatory review under ERISA.

According to the lawsuit, the "deceit" create a federal violation of the law and de facto an "unlawful violation of tax law and ERISA."

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Misleading the Vatican, Continued

Bishop Tobin did not disclose in his letter to the Vatican that the proposed asset sale increased the probability of the plan failing. Instead, Bishop Tobin omitted that information (removed from the letter was “spiraling and gaping liability’ which was in the draft) and, in effect, said the opposite, that the approval of the asset sale [to CharterCare] was actually necessary to secure the plan."

The lawsuit goes on to assert, ”These misrepresentations and omissions concerning the Plan in the Bishop’s letter to the Vatican were included by the defendants…and the Diocesan defendant, all understood that the Vatican approval was required for the transaction to proceed, and knew or were told that the Vatican must approve specifically the ‘pension structuring.’”

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Most Damning - Email After the Sale

In order to continue the status of the pension fund as a "Church Plan" and thus hide the financial condition of the fund from members and keep from federal regulation, after the sale legal counsel for St. Joseph Health Services of RI sent an email to the Diocese and copied CharterCare and the actuary Angell, reminding everyone of the consequences of the Diocesan defendants not listing St. Joseph in the Catholic Directory.

"Saint Joseph Health Services of RI believes that if it is not included in the 2015 issue of the directory that the pension fund will no longer qualify as a church plan and that the loss of the status will require that they immediately notify the applicable governmental authorities that the plan is currently underfunded."

The Diocese officials than contacted the editors of the directory and made sure that the St. Joseph remained listed, according to the suit.

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Funds Diverted to Priest's Pension Fund

One of the biggest affronts to members of the now failed St. Joseph pension fund was that when the sale of CharterCare was completed the Diocese received a $640,000 repayment of a loan from the Inter-Parish Loan Fund. 

The Diocese received those funds and instead of applying them to the pension fund, according to the lawsuit church records show that the loan was partially repaid, but that $100,000 was diverted to the priest's retirement fund -- a fund that is reportedly fully funded.


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