BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Earlier this year, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy after it was faced with hundreds of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests.
But despite its financial problems, the diocese is now paying big bucks to change its image -- and that’s not sitting well with survivors of abuse.
Few have benefited from the diocese’s decision to declare bankruptcy as much as Greg Tucker, who has been working as a behind-the-scenes adviser to interim Bishop Edward Scharfenberger since the bishop’s introductory news conference last December.
The national public relations consultant replaced former diocese spokesperson Kathy Spangler soon after former Bishop Richard J. Malone’s resignation. He’s now making hundreds of thousands of dollars from a diocese that says it is financially insolvent.
Records filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court show the diocese paid Tucker more than $93,000 from December through February.
Going forward, under an agreement approved by a bankruptcy judge, the diocese will pay Tucker $10,000 per month plus a maximum of $3,500 in monthly expenses, even though Tucker says he is not traveling as much because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That equals $162,000 per year, if Tucker stays for another 12 months. Lawyers say the bankruptcy process could last three or four years. Add that to what Tucker has already been paid, and his total a year from now would turn out to be more than a quarter of a million dollars ($255,000).
“I think it's extravagant,” said abuse survivor Kevin Koscielniak, who says the diocese should save that money for abuse settlements with survivors.
“You know what the best P.R. plan is? How about you tell the truth,” Koscielniak said. “How about you get in front of people, and come right out and say, ‘Here are the files. We care about survivors. We want to make sure that this doesn't happen anymore. Here's the files. We're going to go to the Vatican, we're going to ask the pope to get rid of all the bad priests or give us, the bishops, the power to do that. And how about we start to really care and show that we're here to make a change.’”
Tucker, who lives in Baltimore, Md., is being paid to “arrange press conferences...advise diocesan leadership regarding public perception of the diocese...and oversee all internal and external communications,” according to court documents.
The agreement says he will work one week per month from Baltimore and another four days per month in Buffalo, though he said in an email that “it has turned into a great deal more” and he has not billed for those additional hours. Tucker in the application also asks that he “be permitted to submit fee applications providing a general description of the services provided, without submitting hourly time records.”
“I believe they're facing a monumental task,” abuse survivor Kevin Brun said of the diocese’s attempts to change its image. “And I think it's a waste of money.”
The agreement was approved by a bankruptcy committee of abuse survivors, but Brun, who said he was abused by Fr. Art Smith, voted against it.
“This has been very painful for me,” Brun said of the bankruptcy process. “I've heard it a thousand times, from attorneys to the bishop, everyone involved. ‘We are so concerned about making this right for the survivors.’ My answer to that is if you're going to talk the talk, it's time to walk the walk.”
In a written statement, Tucker said he is helping to fill a “critical need for professional communications given the significant challenges that the Diocese of Buffalo is working to resolve.”
Tucker disputed his status as a P.R. consultant, pointing to his title as interim communications director. As for the cost of his services, he said he reduced his fee by 30 percent “given the significant financial challenges of the diocese.” Court records show the diocese originally planned to pay him $15,000 per month instead of $10,000 per month.
He said he hopes to provide the diocese with “essential information, clarity, context that is so needed at this time, even as the work to bring about a new era of renewal within the Diocese of Buffalo continues.” Click here to read Tucker’s full statement.
While Tucker’s rates are higher than some public relations rates in Buffalo, industry sources say some local agencies had no interest in helping the diocese with P.R. once the more damaging details of the diocese sex abuse scandal emerged.
It’s a sentiment Koscielniak understands.
“That situation, if it was my agency, you walk away from that contract, because you don't want to align yourself with that kind of institution, not given what they've done and what they continue to do,” he said.
Click here to read a document filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court by Tucker and the Buffalo Diocese.