Forged letter attacks St. Augustine
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, November 2007) A letter written to Bishop Richard Lennon of the Diocese of Cleveland on October 1st takes aim at St. Augustine Church and advises the Bishop “of issues surrounding St. Augustine Church at 2486 West 14th St. that you must consider when choosing which parish to eliminate in the Tremont cluster.”
The letter makes a range of charges against the church, the church building, the church’s staff, its services to the homeless and even questions the church as a site to minister to the deaf and blind. Scranton Road resident Henry Senyak says the letter writer falsely used his name and address when sending this letter to the bishop. There was no signature on the letter.
Senyak learned of the letter when he received a reply on behalf of the Bishop from J. Thomas Mullen, President and CEO of Catholic Charities Health and Human Services. He immediately called Mullen, and told him he hadn’t written a letter to Bishop Lennon. Senyak also called Father Joe McNulty at St. Augustine Church to let him know that the letter did not come from him.
Father McNulty said that when he first saw the letter, “I couldn’t believe that Henry could write a letter like that.” After receiving a call from Senyak, Father McNulty said, “I helped him get a copy of the original.”
After reviewing the original letter, Senyak said he felt the letter writer’s intent was twofold, “to discredit me and the causes I am working on having to do with inequality in Tremont; and to close St. Augustine Hunger Center. I feel it is a coincidence that several prominent people who have moved into the community in the past ten years have brought up to me some of the same complaints about the homeless, knowing I’m on my church council. The homeless may not fit into their grand plan of a social structure.”
“Why would anybody do that?” asked Father McNulty referring to the letter writer’s use of Henry’s name. He speculated that someone was out to hurt Senyak and his reputation with the Diocese. “It is about as low as you can go,” said McNulty of the tactics of the letter writer.
McNulty was particularly incensed at the letter writer’s attacks on the homeless. The letter writer claimed “They loiter all day in Lincoln Park, fighting, swearing, drinking, sleeping in the gazebo, panhandling parishioners of neighboring churches and stealing from residents.” Fr. McNulty said he was looking out at Lincoln Park at that moment, “There is absolutely no one there,” he said.
McNulty said he has learned from his ministry at St. Augustine that you can be subject to attack anytime you are in any type of ministry. He noted that in Tremont “there is a very small group of people, who feel threatened by the poor.” McNulty said Senyak is being “challenged as he tries to enforce zoning regulations and is dealing with issues in the neighborhood. He is the wrong man to target with something like this, because Henry will work to get to the bottom of it.”
The letter writer showed little knowledge of St. Augustine and its ministry, said Father McNulty. “I would think Henry’s knowledge is much greater.”
Senyak says he was baptized at St. Augustine, but later transferred to Our Lady of Mercy because it had a grade school. As a person who has lived in the area all his life, Senyak says he knows of the importance of St. Augustine and the work they do. He says, “there is a crucial need to continue these ministries and everyone in Tremont needs to work on an equitable solution to see this happen.” He notes that other Tremont area churches of differing denominations understand this, and participate in helping the homeless on a weekly basis. “The bottom line is, that it is being Christian to help these people,” he said.
Senyak, who lives near St. Augustine, says his experience with people using the St. Augustine Hunger Center has been positive. “We see people walking by every day to go to the hunger center. They are always pleasant, they say hello, or they wave. We never had any incidents.”
A member of the Parish Council at Our Lady of Mercy Church, Senyak said he is aware of Bishop Lennon’s message to the cluster, which includes Our Lady of Mercy, St. John Cantius, St. Augustine and St. Andrew Kim. Senyak says that the social services provided by St. Augustine will stay in the neighborhood despite which churches are closed. He produced a letter from the Bishop to Our Lady of Mercy in which the Bishop indicates the closing of churches will allow the parishes to “strengthen evangelization and the social and community services that serve the poor, surrounding neighborhoods and communities with special needs.”
Editor’s note: To view copies of the letters, visit the Plain Press website at www.plainpress.org
Content of forged letter sent to Bishop Richard Lennon
(Editor’s Note: The letter below was sent to Bishop Richard Lennon of the Diocese of Cleveland. The letter writer used Henry Senyak’s name and address in addressing the letter. Senyak says he did not write the letter)
Dear Bishop Lennon:
The purpose of this letter is to advise you of issues surrounding St. Augustine Church at 2486 West 14th St. that you must consider when choosing which parish to eliminate in the Tremont Cluster.
Our research has determined that St. Augustine’s parish size is grossly overstated because the number mistakenly includes individuals and families that have long since left to join other parishes. I hope this misstatement is an accidental oversight, however you can see how churches that accurately report membership would be penalized when competing for their very survival against such misrepresentation. This continues to be a dying parish, housed in a functionally obsolete antiquated structure, which would not even meet today’s building and safety codes.
Sister Corita and Father McNulty have been strong leaders in the past, but their age and physical infirmities have let the homeless feeding and outreach programs spin out of control. Vagrants now daily flood across the Inner Belt and Hope Memorial Bridges from the downtown shelters for daily feedings. They loiter all day in Lincoln Park, fighting, swearing, drinking, sleeping in the gazebo, panhandling parishioners of neighboring churches and stealing from residents. Homeless people, many mentally ill and unstable, from across Cleveland are drawn to Tremont by the feeding program. They have broken into vacant buildings and are squatting in several locations including areas near schools and day cares. The elderly poor of Tremont have long since stopped visiting the feeding center because of threats made by the homeless clientele. The only respite for the neighborhood occurs when the feedings are stopped while St. Augustine hosts the Rainbow Summer Camp. Apparently even they consider the clientele of the feeding program to be too dangerous to continue during the youth campers’ stay.
The deaf and blind ministries, although laudable, do not have any reason to be located in Tremont. Because they draw members from across the region, these would be more valuable to individuals if they were conducted in a centrally located, modern, fully accessible facility with sufficient, accessible parking. The existing rundown century old facility is more of an obstacle to worship for the handicapped than a welcoming place.
The remaining members of St. Augustine are further having their faith tested by the controversial Father Jimenez. His anti-military stand has further antagonized the majority elderly and traditional parishioners who support our troops because they had relatives serve in the military, and understand the depth of their sacrifice. He even arranged to have himself arrested at the Cleveland Air Show in protest, further embarrassing his parish. Lastly, his embrace of anti-Catholic causes such as Liberation Theology, in direct conflict with Pope Benedict has caused great turmoil within the St. Augustine’s parish.
We hope that you will seriously consider these issues when deciding the fate of the Tremont neighborhood cluster, and remember how difficult and painful it has been for us to “Speak the Truth to Power” by pointing out the results of good intentions unchecked and gone awry.
Response from the Diocese of Cleveland
Dear Mr. Senyak,
Bishop Lennon has received and carefully read your letter. He asked me to respond to your concerns regarding St. Augustine parish and the significant ministries they perform at the parish.
I have attended numerous liturgies over the years at St. Augustine and have found the church to be significantly filled on these occasions. The registered families in the parish may have declined by movement, but the number of people attending remains consistent over the last 10 years. Catholic Charities Facilities is performing facility assessments on all parishes involved in the clustering process. This will allow us to determine which facilities are in need of repairs, estimated costs of repair, and other physical needs regarding the facilities. St. Augustine will be assessed shortly, with the report provided to Bishop Lennon.
In my capacity, I have observed the staff and leadership of the ministries performed at St. Augustine. They still remain a skillful and compassionate group under Fr. McNulty’s leadership. The issues you raise may be addressed more readily by the City of Cleveland, etc. The need for more food programs is Downtown Cleveland and the deployment of Public Safety personnel at Lincoln Park are not simply the problem of St. Augustine, they are the community’s. The meals program is not scheduled during the period of Rainbow Summer Camp due to space limitations, not dangerous homeless clients.
The deaf and blind communities have significant reason to be located in Tremont. The first is its highway accessibility to other parts of the area and diocese. However, most importantly, it is the skill and expertise in working with these ministries by the staff of St. Augustine and, in particular, Fr. McNulty and Sr. Corita.
The Catholic parishes in Tremont are currently in a clustering process and the cluster committee will recommend their suggestions to Bishop Lennon. The Bishop’s decision on these recommendations will reflect the pastoral, spiritual, and social needs of the people of the Tremont area.
Thank you for your interest and concern for the St. Augustine Parish and the Tremont neighborhood. If you would seek any further explanation on the issues you raise, you may want to make an appointment with Fr. McNulty and discuss them with him directly.
J. Thomas Mullen
President and CEO
Catholic Charities Health and Human Services
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