May 10, 2007

No decision on fate of parishes

Syracuse Diocese says more conversation is needed about plans for local Catholic churches.


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer  
Monsignor Michael Minehan stands on the steps of St. Mary Church on North Main Street in Cortland. 

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A much-awaited announcement of restructuring of local Roman Catholic parishes did not come Wednesday, as the Syracuse Diocese announced only a further “diocesan-facilitated conversation” about the future of local Catholic churches.
The diocese essentially agreed with the local churches’ suggestion that the county be served by three priests — currently, three full-time and two part-time priests serve seven churches, along with a mission and the Newman Center at SUNY Cortland — but how, when and where those priests would minister remains a question mark.
As for the potential for closings, mergers and the linking of parishes, “it’s all still on the table,” said the Rev. James Lang, diocesan vicar for parishes.
“Nobody wants it to come to that point,” Lang said of the possibility of closing parishes, which has been announced in other counties in the diocese. “You have to take a practical look … how long can you keep nine churches running as the communities shrink?”
In announcing mergers, closings and other changes for parishes in other areas of the diocese, Bishop James Moynihan said everything, from the number of available priests to the number of parishioners served to the financial viability of parishes — with energy costs, for instance, a serious concern — has been considered.
“Cortland is blessed with a lot of strong Catholicism, but we need to be sure there’s not redundancies, and the last thing we need is a lot of empty pews,” Moynihan said. “We may have to do a little bit of consolidating, but that’s what we’re all dealing with right now.”
Lang said he likely would be part of a team from the diocese that would work with local church leaders and parishioners to determine how three priests could best meet all of the needs of the county.
That discussion likely would not begin until after September at the earliest, he said, as the next few months will be spent implementing the first round of changes in the diocese-wide restructuring.
The discussion likely will begin with the bishop’s comments on the three possible options recommended to the diocese by the Cortland County Pastoral Care Area, or PCA, in anticipation of these announcements, Lang said.
Lang said Bishop Moynihan and the College of Consultors, a group of diocese vicars who have helped with the restructuring, had not agreed with those proposals.
The diocese has ideas for how the county’s parishes could best be reconfigured, Lang said, but he said that directive would be presented during the discussion.
“I need to share that with the planning groups and the parishes first,” Lang said, when asked what the diocese’s comments on the initial recommendations entailed.
Lang mentioned one suggestion that all nine ministries remain open, with the three priests splitting time between them.
“The question we have to ask there is, does that offer the best possible service, and what is the impact on the relationship between priest and parish?” he said.
While the number of active priests in the area will essentially be reduced from five currently to three, Lang noted that both the Rev. Dan DeLorme, who ministers at St. Margaret Church, and the Rev. Daniel Muscalino, who oversees St. Patrick in Truxton, both work part-time.
Danielle Cummings, director of communications for the diocese, said this morning that no priest would lose opportunities to minister, but the Cortland PCA would have to decide how it wanted to arrange the three priests who would ultimately serve the area.
“There really should be no names attached to that at this point,” Cummings said. “It would all need to be discussed by all of the communities.”
Lang said the larger issue is finding enough priests to serve the parishes throughout the diocese.
Just under half of the 215 active priests in the diocese are over the age of 60, he noted, meaning the church will be dealing with a shortage of pastors.
“That’s going to have to be part of the spirit of the Cortland conversation, too,” he said of the shortage.
While the future of Cortland PCA’s parishes remains uncertain, local church leaders touted the decision as an opportunity to have a continued impact on the decision-making process.
“I have no idea what kind of guidelines we’ll be given, but I think this is a positive, I think it’s indicative of the bishop’s desire to get input from the communities affected,” said the Rev. Michael Minehan, pastor at St. Mary’s, who was on hand for the announcement in Syracuse. “I think the conversation we had as a group before helped us develop a deeper understanding of the needs, and it’s been a good starting point … Now once we get some input from (the diocese), that conversation can recommence.”
DeLorme said the decision was a chance for local parishes to contribute “at the grassroots level” to the planning process, and suggested that the rural nature of the area, as compared to Syracuse, Binghamton and Utica, contributed to the continued discussion.
“I think the rural nature of our cluster is what made the difference, why they felt it was easier for them to facilitate change in the cities, because the parishes are closer together,” DeLorme said.

Three plans proposed

In November, area churches recommended consolidating individual parishes/ministries with the following plans:
— Three parishes, with one priest apiece linking St. Margaret, St. Anthony of Padua and the O’Heron Newman ministry as one parish; St. Mary, St. Patrick and St. Lawrence as a second; and three southern churches — Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Stephen and St. Patrick in Whitney Point — as the third.
— Three parishes divided by location, with the Cortland churches and the Newman ministry as one parish, the Homer, Truxton and DeRuyter churches as another and the southern churches as the third.
— Combining all nine ministries into one parish, which would allow for flexibility if priests are lost.
The Syracuse Diocese accepted the concept of three priests serving the area, but rejected the proposed restructurings. The diocese will begin leading a discussion between the communities based on its recommendations as early as this fall.


Cortland  Pastoral Care Area

St. Anthony of Padua Church
45 Crandall St., Cortland
The Rev. Mark Kaminski
St. Mary Church
44 N. Main St., Cortland
Monsignor Michael Minehan
St. Margaret Church
14 Copeland Ave., Homer
The Rev. R. Dan DeLorme
St. Patrick Church
3656 Route 13, Truxton
The Rev. Michael Minehan
St. Stephen Church
12 Academy St., Marathon
The Rev. Jerome Katz
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church
2708 Lower Cincinnatus Road, Cincinnatus
The Rev. Mark Kaminski
St. Patrick Church
59 Keibel Road, Whitney Point
The Rev. Jerome Katz
Other ministries in the Cortland PCA:
St. Lawrence Mission

1976 Cortland Street, DeRuyter
The Rev. Michael Minehan
 O’Heron-Newman Hall
 SUNY Cortland
The Rev. Mark Kaminski


Meeting set on pollution from former Smith Corona

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The results from the second round of testing for contaminants in the vicinity of the former Smith Corona factory are set to be released to the public May 22.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been conducting testing for trichloroethene in areas northwest of the former Smith Corona site on Route 13 since February 2006.
The potentially toxic chemical trichloroethene, or TCE, was used as a degreaser at the former typewriter factory.
Diane Carlton, a spokesperson for the DEC, said the number of homes being monitored has increased since last year.
In August 2006, the DEC announced that approximately 20 homes had high enough levels of TCE to warrant remediation. Another 50 homes required further monitoring, and the rest of the neighborhood required no further action.
The DEC began a second round of structure sampling in November.
Groundwater testing over the summer indicated that four more homes along the eastern margin of the contamination area needed to be tested, and three more homes outfitted with the mitigation systems, which are essentially radon treatment systems that suck soil vapors out of the ground and release them into the open air.
The vapor mitigation systems were installed by contractors under state supervision at no cost to the property owners.
On May 22 the DEC and state and county health departments will host two public informational sessions to update the community on the latest round of environmental investigations.
From 4 to 6 p.m., officials will be on hand to discuss individual sampling results, answer specific questions and to talk one-on-one with members of the community.
A formal presentation will be given during the public meeting at 7 p.m., and questions will be answered. Both sessions are open to the public.


Bank robbery suspect changes lawyer

Staff Reporter

A former Rochester-area schoolteacher accused of robbing a local bank changed attorneys Tuesday in Cortland County Court. Instead of being represented by assigned counsel, he will now be represented by a retained lawyer from Buffalo.
Michael Bohn, 41, of 232 Cobb Terrace, Rochester, will no longer be represented by attorney Randolph Kruman, who was assigned through the county Public Defenders Office, and now will be represented by Joel Daniels of Buffalo, Kruman said Tuesday in court.
“He didn’t give me a reason,” Kruman said about Bohn’s decision after the brief conference. “He has the constitutional right to the counsel of his choice.”
Bohn was arrested in February after city police received a call that a man had entered the Tompkins Trust Co. bank branch on Clinton Avenue while wearing a ski mask. When police arrived, Bohn was leaving the building with a loaded .44-caliber Magnum revolver and nearly $16,000 in cash.
At the time of the arrest, Bohn was employed as a junior high teacher at Allendale Columbia, a private school in a Rochester suburb. The school has since fired him. Bohn is scheduled for a pre-trail hearing with his new attorney in June.
Bohn is being held in the Cortland County Jail on $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond.
Bohn was indicted in March on three counts of first-degree robbery, one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and one count of third-degree grand larceny, all felonies. He is also charged with one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
If convicted, the robbery charges carry a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 25.


Appeals court to hear Cuyler judge appeal

Staff Reporter

CUYLER — In an effort to keep her position with the town, Justice Jean Marshall will have her appeal heard by the state Supreme Court Appellate Division on June 7.
A state panel recommended she be removed from office in February after concluding she dismissed four cases in 2003 based on out-of-court conversations, and then lied to cover-up her actions.
Marshall’s attorney, Lawrence Knickerbocker, filed a brief on April 26 with the court in response to the state Commission on Judicial Conduct’s recommendation. In the brief, Knickerbocker admits Marshall had ex-parte, or out-of-court conversations with four defendants before she improperly dismissed the defendants’ pending code violations, but denies Marshall ever attempted to cover-up her actions.
“Petitioner (Marshall) has acknowledged the ex-parte communications and that she dismissed the code cases without providing the town attorney an opportunity to be heard,” he wrote. “Petitioner recognizes her transgression, has taken steps to address the problem and expects to receive an appropriate sanction based thereon.”
Knickerbocker argues that the errors Marshall committed were not serious enough to warrant her removal.


Committee backs Daisy Hollow study

Staff Reporter

The Cortland County Highway Committee on Tuesday cautiously took the first step in what could be an expensive project to fix recurring issues along a short stretch of Daisy Hollow Road in Harford.
The committee expressed concerns that a project to permanently fix to the road could sidetrack other high-priority county road repair projects, however community demand for a solution prompted it to vote in favor of a $32,200 study by Barton & Loguidice to determine the cost and method of a solution.
The approximately 1,000-foot stretch of road has been a headache for residents living in the area who, two months ago, presented a petition to the county asking for a permanent fix to the road which, despite efforts to repair its surface, consistently breaks down due to weak underlying soil.
“The problem with fixing the road is, literally within a matter of weeks it’s back to where the thing just sinks,” said Legislator John Daniels (D-Cortlandville).
County Highway Superintendent Don Chambers estimated that the county spends $4,000 annually to keep the road up, while Deputy Highway Superintendent Bob Buerkle guessed a permanent fix to the road could cost anywhere from $250,000 to $700,000.
“We won’t know the cost until we have the study done,” Chambers said.
The committee’s dilemma was whether to move forward with a permanent fix for Daisy Hollow Road — which is traveled by about 285 cars per day — in lieu, potentially, of other planned road projects — for instance planned paving work on Kinney Gulf Road, which sees 2,000 cars per day, this summer.
Chambers said that, for the $32,200 study alone, he would have to propose moving money from one of the county’s planned capital improvement projects, likely a reconstruction of East Homer-Baltimore Road that is scheduled to be done this summer.
“We’ll just have to shorten that job,” he said, meaning the length of the reconstruction would need to be reduced.