Catholic Church dodges local taxes and sells a city-supported child care center to developers
The Catholic Church claims to value charity and justice, but recent local conflicts over cutting off child care for low-income families and refusing to pay millions of dollars in taxes to cash-strapped San Francisco city government — as well as the ongoing priest pedophilia cover-up cases — cast doubt over the church's commitment to those in need.
The San Francisco Catholic Archdiocese has said it will close the Children's Village Development Center in August, displacing 110 children enrolled in the program and leaving 100 families — a third of them low-income — scrambling for hard-to-find childcare providers.
The Archdiocese also sold other surrounding properties because it could not afford to retrofit its buildings for earthquakes, selling them to developers Chris Harney and Tom Murphy. Both the church and the developers rejected efforts by Children's Village parents, who formed the nonprofit Supporting Early Experience and Development (SEED), to temporarily lease the building.
Dan Dillon, a representative for Harney and Murphy, told the Guardian that they decided to reject SEED's leasing offer because they had already made a deal with a tenant who was willing to offer more money. Dillon wouldn't identify the tenant, but he said the new tenant would use the building without major modifications, which might have triggered a need for city permits and a public hearing.
Catholic Charities CYO, an agency of the Archdiocese that oversees programs such as the Children's Village program, closed the center because it wasn't making money. The city gave about $1.5 million in grants and loans to support childcare for poor families at Children's Village, with most of the money coming from the Low Income Investment Fund.
According to Catholic Charities' official statement on the dispute, it tried to maintain the program by cutting slots for low income families in an effort to subsidize the program. There was still not enough money to fund the program. Catholic Charities representative Gabrielle Slanina told us that the tough economy and internal budget cuts hurt their ability to continue providing childcare at the site.
"The program hasn't been financially sustainable over the years," Slanina told us. "Sustainability just wasn't turning around. But we tried to keep it going for as long as we could."
Catholic Charities still plans to later build a new $1 million children development center three blocks away on the corner of 10th and Mission streets. But SEED members are left in the lurch for now, causing them to question the validity of Catholic Charities' mission to "support, stabilize, and strengthen families."
Dee Dee Workman, a consultant helping SEED, was disappointed with the Archdiocese's bottom-line approach to helping local families. "They have not attempted to secure slots with these families," Workman told us. "They don't care about these kids. It's just about the money, and it's immoral."
SEED member Sabrina Qutb, who has a three-year-old son enrolled in Children's Village, said she sees the new center as a waste of money. "I do not believe the city should continue to fund Catholic Charities child care programs," Qutb told us. "Who's to say they won't drop 10th and Mission in a few years and waste even more of the city's money?"
Many child care programs have waiting lists up to two years in a city where there are more than twice as many children under 13 with working parents as there are licensed child care slots, according to a study prepared for the city by the California Child Care Resources and Referral Network. Child care slots for infants are among the fewest, making up only 6 percent of the 17,894 child care center slots in the city. Preschool children ages two to five years old occupy 63 percent of the child care slots.
SEED member Kathryn Shantz put her two-year-old daughter on a waiting list for another child care facility immediately after the announcement of Children's Village closure. "I'm 104 on the waiting list for the Yerba Buena Child Development Center," Shantz said. "I've been on the wait-list for a year, and they basically told me that there's no way I'm getting in."
Meanwhile, while the city supported the church's child care program, the church is still stiffing the city on its tax bill. On April 16, the Archdiocese filed a suit in the San Francisco Superior Court against Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting. The suit challenges a Transfer Tax Review Board ruling last November which held that the Archdiocese owed the city $14.4 million after transferring 232 parcels of property among three Archdiocese corporations in 2008 without paying the required transfer taxes attached to those vacant lots, parking lots, apartments, commercial buildings, parishes, and schools. This is the second-largest transfer tax bill in San Francisco history.
Repeated calls to the Archdiocese of San Francisco were not returned. In a press release, the Archdiocese said that it "maintains that to impose transfer taxes, penalties, and interest on a religious organization in connection with an internal restructuring involving no exchange or receipt of money from which to pay any tax is inequitable and threatens to confiscate substantial church assets that are devoted to religious purposes."
The next court date for this case is scheduled for Sept. 17. This recent lawsuit and the sale of Archdiocese properties come at a time when the church is facing the possibility of paying out big settlements in cases involving sexual abuse by priests.
Survivor Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) Northern California Regional Office representative Joey Piscitelli said that if victims weren't so afraid to report their abuse, the Archdiocese would owe its victims even more money. "Ninety-eight percent of victims never report the abuse, and the average person reports the abuse 25 years after the incident," Piscitelli said. "The church brags that the clergy didn't do it because they were never convicted, yet they're paying billions of dollars in lawsuits."
With the Catholic Church now facing scrutiny on so many fronts, it seems that a day of reckoning could be in its future. On June 29, the Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal by the Vatican for immunity in a highly publicized pedophilia suit, clearing the way for the 2002 lawsuit to advance.
The plaintiff, under the name of John V. Doe, alleged that he was abused in 1965 by Father Andrew Ronan in Portland, Ore. Ronan died in 1992. The Vatican tried to kill the lawsuit by stating that it was protected under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, a federal law that prevents foreign states from lawsuits.
The appeals court determined that there was an exception to the law, stating that Ronan was an employee of the Vatican and he was working under Oregon law. No one has ever won a lawsuit against the Vatican for sexual abuse allegations made by the clergy. This Supreme Court decision opens the door for future lawsuits against the Holy See.