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Donor questions closure of Buffalo Diocese seminary

Christ the King closed February 4, 2020
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Posted at 5:48 PM, Jan 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-14 17:48:25-05

EAST AURORA, N.Y. (WKBW) — On February 4, 2020, after years of controversy about alleged inappropriate sexual conduct, Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora closed.

The decision to shut down meant 24 seminarians had to make alternate plans to continue their studies.

In a press release sent out February 4th, the Buffalo Diocese said, "Over the past 10 years, the seminary has experienced an operating deficit, amounting to $500,000 on average annually."

The Diocese posted a video to their YouTube page, announcing the closure to the community. Apostolic administrator of the Buffalo Diocese Bishop Edward Scharfenberger delivers a six minute message.

"The board of trustees has concluded that it is no longer feasible to continue the operations of the seminary with persistent operating deficits which total an excess of $500,000 on average annually," Bishop Scharfenberger said in the February 4th YouTube video.

Jim Grubka spent many years volunteering at the seminary. That night, he and many others, were devastated.

"They came to our house. They stayed here until two in the morning, crying. Seeing grown men cry. It hurt that much for Christ the King to be closed. It meant so much to the diocese," Grubka said.

But then he started having questions.

"We reviewed all the financial statements. We reviewed the independent auditors. We called the independent auditors and at the other end of the phone they’re going there’s no loss," Grubka said.

Grubka provided the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team with the seminary's financial highlights. He said they were prepared by the diocese's independent auditors the Bonadio Group. The documents show Christ the King's finances for the past decade.

For the 10 year span of 2010 to 2019, Christ the King actually had an overall net gain of more than $152,000, not the average loss of $500,000 a year as the diocese claimed in its February 4th press release.

The I-Team shared this information with the Financial Guys, an independent wealth management firm in Williamsville, to review.

"I would say that six out of the last 10 years they’ve actually had a net profit. Four have been net losses, including last year which was a loss of nearly $188,000. There’s no pattern of loss of a half a million dollars a year," Mike Hoeflich, from the Financial Guys, said.

But a further review of the documents by the I-Team shows that in 2009, a year before that 10-year window, Christ the King actually posted a loss of nearly $2.9 million.

When you factor in that figure, the seminary actually had a total net loss of more than $2.7 million or just under $250,000 on average per year over 11 years.

"A false narrative. A $500,000 false narrative," Grubka said.

Grubka, citing the most recent figures from 2010 to 2019 wrote Bishop Scharfenberger in April and COO of the Buffalo Diocese, Sister Mary McCarick, in May including the seminary's financial highlights. Grubka asked, "Is it only right that we, the faithbul, know the fullness of the truth?"

"So they had all of the documentation that we shared with you. That is their records. Their information and data," Grubka said.

Rick Brownell is a victim of sex abuse at the hands of a former, now deceased, Buffalo Diocese priest. He is also on the diocese's unsecured creditor's committee, which is appointed by the United States Trustee. That is why Grubka said he brought Brownell his concerns.

"Being on the unsecured creditors committee we’re certainly looking to see and hold the diocese accountable for the actual numbers of Christ the King Seminary," Brownell said.

In September, there was a 341 Hearing, a meeting related to the diocese bankruptcy filings, with all participants under oath.

"I had actually asked the bishop himself about the numbers that were put forth by the diocese in reference to closing Christ the King Seminary," Brownell said.

7 Eyewitness News received transcripts from the meeting. They show when Brownell asked about the $152,000 gain over the ten year period, Bishop Scharfenberger responded, "I'm not aware of that."

Then, Scharfenberger said, "I supposed i have to operate on the presumption of regularity until some irregularity is brought to my attention, so you're bringing to me some questions that, needless to say, I would want to look into and will."

Bishop Scarbenberger responded to Grubka in a letter October 9th, six months after Grubka initially reached out, saying, "I stand by the board's decision to close and will not reconsider reopening the seminary at this time."

"How can the Road to Renewal be started on this false narrative?" Grubka asked.

The I-team reached out to the diocese numerous times. In an email response, the diocese's communications director Greg Tucker said numerous attempts to turn around the seminary's finances were unsuccessful and expenses were increasing in recent years.

“Operating cash was being depleted and the Christ the King Seminary management estimated that they had less than 12 months available funding to meet operating costs. Their request for an additional gift form the diocese was not feasible, given the diocese's own financial challenges," Tucker wrote.

Tucker also said enrollment was also decreasing from 15 students from the Buffalo Diocese in 2019-2020 to just one for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year.

To view the diocese's full statement, click here.