Pope Francis pulled off a “synodal surprise” last Sunday, when he announced that the final phase of the synod on synodality due to take place in October 2023 will now be spread over two gatherings, with the second one a year later, in October 2024.
The decision to extend the global synod by a further year is significant. One source in Rome told me that it indicates the Pope intends to remain in post until at least the end of the autumn of 2024.
The decision to spread the final phase of the synod over two sessions shows he believes more time is needed for the synodal way to become embedded in the life of the Church, and is an implicit recognition of the resistance to the process. It also seeks to tackle the mentality in some quarters that the synod will soon be “over”.
Second, it is recognised that changes in discipline and developments in teaching need a careful process of assimilation and cannot be rushed.
The Pope made his latest announcement two days after meeting the synod office leadership team and having read the synthesis of what the local churches and communities around the world have been saying. Calls for expanded roles for women, for the inclusion of LGBT Catholics and for the problem of clericalism to be addressed feature prominently. All these questions are likely to be hotly contested.
The “fruits of the synodal process underway are many”, Francis said last Sunday, but they still need to come to “full maturity”.
Third, by spreading the final phase of the synod over two years it is less likely to become mired in an ideological clash. Rather than seeking to have the last word, the October 2023 meeting will be an important step in a longer journey.
Something similar happened during the synod on the family in 2014 and 2015: the added time allowed for the bishops to find a resolution to the contested issue of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, leading to the Pope opening a path for this to happen in his teaching document, Amoris Laetitia.
It’s also possible that when Francis gathers the bishops in the Vatican in 2023 and 2024 he will seek to move them away from voting on particular issues but instead seek consensus on the principles of a synodal Church.
Throughout this pontificate, the synod of bishops has become the vehicle through which the Pope has implemented his pastoral agenda. The structure, however, is evolving, and in 2018 Francis opened the possibility for the synod to exercise formal teaching authority in the document Episcopalis Communio.
Although the Pope has the final say, the synod’s authority has been significantly beefed up.
Another evolution has been in the name of the synod structure, which in Francis’ constitution for the Roman Curia, Praedicate Evangelium, is termed the “synod” rather than the “synod of bishops”. This suggests a desire for a body which includes all the People of God and not just the hierarchy, although it will primarily be the bishops who meet in assembly in the Vatican.
The structure of the synod of bishops, however, was established by Pope Paul VI in 1965 at the end of Vatican II to continue the conciliar experience. Might the move to a synodal church eventually lead to a Vatican III in the longer term?
A study of U.S. priests released Oct. 19 details clerics’ “crisis of trust” toward their bishops as well as fear that if they were falsely accused of abuse, prelates would immediately throw them “under the bus” and not help them clear their name.
The study “Well-being, Trust and Policy in a Time of Crisis” by The Catholic Project, written by Brandon Vaidyanathan, Christopher Jacobi and Chelsea Rae Kelly, of The Catholic University of America, paints a portrait of a majority of priests who feel abandoned by the men they are supposed to trust at the helm of their dioceses.
And while the study says priests overwhelmingly support measures to combat sex abuse and enhance child safety, the majority, 82%, also said they regularly fear being falsely accused. Were that to happen, they feel they would face a “de facto policy” of guilty until proven innocent.
The study, unveiled at The Catholic University of America in Washington, documents the environment between priests and their bishops in light of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” instituted in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Indeed, many priests feel that the policies introduced since the Dallas Charter have depersonalized their relationship with their bishops; they see bishops more as CEOs, bureaucrats, and legalistic guardians of diocesan finances than as fathers and brothers,” the study points out and quotes a diocesan priest saying: “Our archbishop is a remote figure. Not at all personable. Not approachable. He appears to be a busy CEO and religious functionary.”
The document reveals that 40% of the priests who responded said they see the zero-tolerance policy as “too harsh” or “harsher than necessary,” adding that it’s too easy to lodge false claims of abuse against them. They feel bishops would not support a priest in the period necessary to prove his innocence.
“There’s this sense … that the bishops are against a priest who’s been accused, rather than doing what the bishop must do but still supporting the priest,” said one of the 100 priests that researchers interviewed in-depth.
“Most priests agree with the church’s response to the abuse crisis, but also fear that their bishops wouldn’t have their backs if they were falsely accused,” said Vaidyanathan, one of the study’s authors.
Of the 10,000 diocesan and religious priests surveyed, just 24% said they had confidence in U.S. bishops in general. Instead, priests in the study said they predominantly see the prelates as social climbers, careerists and administrators who barely know priests in their diocese by name.
“I don’t really trust most of the bishops, to be honest with you. I’ll show them all a great amount of respect. And if I was in their diocese, I would really serve them and try,” a priest told researchers. “But just looking across the United States and looking across a lot of bishops … I would say I have an overall negative opinion of bishops in the United States.
“They’re really not leaders or they’re just kind of chameleons … looking to climb up the ladder.”
The study says 131 bishops also participated in the study, which analyzed attitudes about priests’ well-being, trust and the policy related to the sex abuse crisis.
In response to the study, the USCCB’s Public Affairs Office released a statement by Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey, chairman of the organization’s Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
“I am grateful for the insight provided by this study which will assist the bishops in our ministry to our priests. While not surprised, I am heartened that the results report priests have such a high level of vocational fulfilment and that they remain positive about their priestly ministry,” Bishop Checchio said in the Oct. 19 statement.
The bishop referred to a figure in the document that showed that 77% of the priests in the study could be categorized as “flourishing” — saying they felt fulfilled and had a sense of meaning and purpose — and 4% reporting that they were thinking of leaving the priesthood.
“Our priests are generous and committed,” Bishop Checchio continued. “While acknowledging that circumstances will vary from diocese to diocese, the findings of this study are overall valuable in that they remind us of the importance of being always attentive to the care of our priests with the ever-growing stressors they experience in ministry, while we strive to address any issues that have damaged the unique relationship we enjoy.”
The study says that the “erosion of trust between a priest and his bishop” affects the level of well-being of a priest, and those with more trust fare better than others.
It also points out a great disparity of perception between the two groups, with bishops overwhelmingly seeing their role as more supportive of clerics. The majority of bishops surveyed said that they felt their role was akin to a brother, a father, a shepherd, a co-worker, when it came to dealing with priests.
Priests said strengthening relationships with bishops, having more social interaction with them, have the prelates know their names, communication, transparency about processes, as well accountability on prelates’ part would help alleviate the existing erosion of trust.
“The hope is that if we were to do the same survey five years from now, things would look different,” Stephen White, of The Catholic Project, said in a statement released before the presentation.
“Priests are happy in their vocations, but we also want them to feel less anxious and more supported. I know the bishops want that too. Hopefully this data can help in that regard,” he said.
Priests in the study also said they felt like cogs in the wheel, seen by bishops as liabilities. Some of the attitudes varied between diocesan priests and those who belong to a religious community, with those who were part of a religious order reporting more support.
The study also said that “at least some” of the mistrust comes from the way priests see “the application of policies created in the wake of the abuse crisis,” even as some bishops helped cover up abuses or were accused of being abusers themselves.
“Perhaps some bishops see themselves through rose-colored glasses,” a summary of the study said. “Or perhaps priests, in a beleaguered and prolonged state of stress and uncertainty, unfairly characterize their bishops through a lens of cynicism and fear. Or perhaps there is some truth to both perspectives.”
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual abuse was created in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal to examine how institutions responded to allegations of abuse in England and Wales – both in the past, and today.
During seven years of hearings, 725 witnesses gave evidence at a cost of £186.6m. After investigating abuse in places such as schools, children’s homes and religious institutions, IICSA has produced its final report.
It said child abuse was an “epidemic” leaving thousands of victims in its “poisonous wake”. The scale of the abuse it looked at was “deeply disturbing”. And it found a “horrifying picture” of children being “threatened, beaten and humiliated”.
The seven-year inquiry is now over – here are some of the things it uncovered.
There was no elite paedophile ring
When the inquiry was first announced in July 2014, by the then Conservative home secretary Theresa May, there were rumours a paedophile ring of well-connected men had been abusing children for decades. Many hoped IICSA would investigate and unmask the guilty establishment figures of the past.
In fact, IICSA had no powers to accuse people unless they had previously been convicted by a court. There was no crack team of grizzled investigators waiting to comb through the files, to root out paedophiles in power.
The inquiry’s true remit was different: to investigate whether institutions such as schools, councils and the police had failed to protect generations of children. There was, therefore, an investigation into the way the political institutions of Westminster had responded to allegations of abuse.
It concluded early on that there was no evidence of an organised “paedophile network” in which “persons of prominence conspired to pass children among themselves for the purpose of sexual abuse”.
There was, however, “ample evidence of individual perpetrators” within politics.
A review of 37 cases found insufficient evidence to support claims that abuse by prominent people was covered up by the police. But IICSA did describe a “significant problem” of deference towards prominent people, which had put children at risk.
In the 1980s, the Conservative MP Peter Morrison was deputy chairman of the party, a government minister, and Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary, despite senior figures in government being warned of persistent concerns about his “sexual interest in small boys”. In 1991 he was knighted.
Lord David Steel, the former Liberal leader, admitted he took no further action when one of his MPs, Cyril Smith, revealed he had been investigated by the police for sexual abuse. It was in the past, Lord Steel told the inquiry. Using the same reasoning, he later recommended Smith for a knighthood.
IICSA said deferring to the powerful meant almost every institution in the political world had failed to put the safety of children first.
Children weren’t believed
Child sexual abuse is a crime usually committed behind closed doors. As a result, independent witnesses are rare. It is crucial that when an alleged victim comes forward, either as a child, or later as an adult, they are taken seriously.
In recent years, the police have been criticised in high-profile cases for being too willing to believe what turned out to be false allegations.
This resulted in men being wrongly accused, turning their lives upside down. It was said that after years when Savile’s abuse was ignored, the pendulum had swung too far the other way.
But during its investigations, IICSA repeatedly uncovered many more situations where reports of real abuse were ignored, treated as unlikely to be true, or blamed on the alleged victim.
Deprived children, sent abroad by religious charities in the post-war years, were physically and sexual mistreated – and prevented from speaking out. The British government ignored warnings for fear of upsetting countries, including Australia, which had hosted the children.
In the Nottinghamshire care system, council staff “took the side of foster carers” over young people who said they’d been abused. Police did not treat most allegations as serious.
In specialist boarding schools investigated by the inquiry, there were examples of “headteachers who found it inconceivable that staff might abuse their positions of authority to sexually abuse children”.
Girls groomed by abusive gangs of men from communities in British cities were sometimes regarded as “child prostitutes”, who had encouraged the attention of their abusers, even though legally children can’t consent to sex.
Child abuse is a crime where the power of the adult is used against the powerlessness of the child. That allowed the abuser, the inquiry often found, to silence their victim.
School children and staff were scared to speak out
At St Benedict’s School, linked to Ealing Abbey, at least 20 children were terrorised with a mix of physical and sexual abuse, from the 1970s until 2008, by just two members of staff.
The Catholic school was described as a “cold, grim, forbidding place” in which corporal punishment was used as a “platform” for sexual gratification. With senior figures at the school involved in abuse, other staff said the atmosphere was “like the mafia”.
Staff said they couldn’t risk their jobs by speaking out and it was years before abusers were brought to justice. The school is now under new management.
Specialist music schools were another area where children were at particular risk.
At Chetham’s School, in Manchester, a 14-year-old female pupil became a victim of the powerful director of music, Michael Brewer. She was groomed and sexually abused for years in the late 1970s and 1980s. She was left traumatised and unable to speak out for more than two decades.
By 1994, Brewer, then aged 49, was having sex with a 17-year-old. Not illegal at the time, but when he offered to resign, an investigation into his behaviour was “abruptly halted”. His earlier abuse wasn’t discovered.
Brewer was eventually convicted in 2013. Sadly his first victim, struggling with the mental health effects of her experiences, died of an overdose. IICSA described it as a “watershed moment”.
The failure to report abuse to the police or child protection agencies is a constant thread running through its investigations.
Currently in England there is no statutory requirement for people working with children to report abusive behaviour to the police or other authorities.
The inquiry has called on the government to urgently introduce a system of “mandatory reporting”, making it a criminal offence not to pass on witness accounts of abuse or disclosures by children or perpetrators.
Religious piety protected paedophiles
Whether it was Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or a host of smaller sects, when children were abused, the nature of religion often meant it was not confronted.
In the Catholic Church the inquiry identified “a sorry history of child sexual abuse” in which “abusive priests and monks” preyed on children for “prolonged periods of time”.
Victims weren’t supported and alleged abusers were protected. The culture of the Church of England facilitated it becoming “a place where abusers could hide”, IICSA concluded.
The power structures of the churches, where often the clergy was regarded as untouchable, was a major reason. Their religiousness was itself used as a reason not to believe allegations made against them.
One senior figure in the 1990s Anglican Church, the Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball, regarded himself as a “loyal friend” of King Charles III. But he was also facing allegations of child abuse.
The Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, Lord Carey, “simply could not believe” Ball was an abuser and “seemingly wanted the whole business to go away”, IICSA said. In 2015, Ball, by this point elderly, was jailed.
Smaller religious sects protected their reputations by covering up the mistreatment of children.
In the Jehovah’s Witnesses, someone accused of child abuse could only be expelled from the church if there were two witnesses to what happened. Yet as we’ve already seen, that was rare.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses say rules published in 2018 require church elders to report all allegations of abuse to the police and this policy is applied in practice.
But the inquiry also found that the application of the “two-witness rule” in the context of child abuse could increase the suffering of victims.
Making it a legal requirement to report evidence of abuse might go some way to opening the doors of secretive religious orders.
Abuse is not just a thing of the past
Much of the inquiry’s work delved into the dark corners of history, reaching back as far as the 1950s.
The inquiry has been repeatedly criticised for examining old-fashioned attitudes, which, it has been claimed, are no longer really a problem.
Protecting children has a much greater importance in modern institutions. Police forces, facing an incoming tide of cases, have had to invest significant resources in both clearing up historical allegations and dealing with new ones.
But the problem has not gone away. It has just changed. So called “street-grooming” is still seen as a major threat to girls from troubled backgrounds in major cities.
IICSA found councils don’t want to be labelled “another Rochdale, or Rotherham” and weren’t collecting enough data that might identify active paedophiles.
Abuse has moved online, with an estimated 80,000 people in the UK presenting some sort of sexual threat via the internet, often via live-streaming, in which paying paedophiles remotely dictates what happens on screen.
Police have developed new data forensics techniques to detect and detain paedophiles from the data they create. There are concerns about British paedophiles travelling abroad to access children, and create abusive pictures and videos.
And when children are abused, the adults they become bear the scars of their experience.
Some 6,000 victims shared their experiences with the inquiry’s Truth Project, aimed at building a deeper understanding of the effects on them. A similar project has been announced for the Covid 19 public inquiry.
They are living with very real psychological problems caused by their abuse, and will continue to do so long after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
The Catholic orders were put in charge of eight of 14 residential schools that operated in Manitoba. There were 139 residential schools opened nationally to assimilate thousands of Inuit, Métis and First Nations children.
“I think at first, I was really scared when I started seeing how the nuns were so abusive to the children,” she said.
Vanasse said it was common knowledge that children were being abused at Sandy Bay.
“The older girls were going around bugging the little girls, because I know it happened to me a couple times myself,” she said, “and somebody jumped in bed with me and tried to touch me and wanted me to touch them. And when I refused, she hit me.”
Vanasse isn’t surprised to hear how many alleged abusers walked the halls of her former school.
“I think there should have been some consequences,” she added, noting she feels the alleged abusers should have been criminally investigated.
Vanasse said her road to healing has been a long journey. She said spending time with her grandchildren and journaling have helped her along the way.
Later this year, she is set to publish a memoir about her residential school experience.
APTNInvestigates identified a lawsuit she filed in 2004 against the Catholic church and the government of Canada.
“We were given different clothes to put on, and our clothes had numbers,” she said.
Guimond said her time at Fort Alexander was devastating. For years, it impacted her ability to show love to her own children, she added.
Court documents reveal the residential school housed more than 70 alleged abusers from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Including Fr. Arthur Massé, who was charged in June of this year with indecently assaulting a girl at the school.
Massé was accused of physical and sexual abuse in five separate lawsuits from 1998 to 2006.
Those lawsuits were abandoned in 2006 when IRSSA was finalized.
Massé is among dozens of Oblate priests accused of abuse, including Fr. Apollinaire Plamondon.
Residential school survivor Theodore Fontaine, who attended Fort Alexander Residential School, identified Plamondon as his alleged abuser in his memoir Broken Circle.
In an APTNNews interview in 2014, Fontaine alleged Plamondon was a “sexual perpetrator.”
“Most of these people in this area, when they got their settlements under the residential school agreement, you’d say to them, ‘Man, you have a beautiful truck.’ They’d say, ‘Yeah, that’s my Plamondon car,’” Fontaine told APTN’s Cheryl McKenzie at the time.
APTN Investigates found Plamondon was named in 32 different lawsuits alleging physical and sexual abuse.
No criminal charges were ever laid against the now-deceased priest.
According to Fr. Ken Thorson, who speaks for OMI in Canada, Plamondon was referenced in 16 Independent Assessment Process [IAP] hearings. The hearings were held for survivors to testify about the abuse they suffered in support of their claims for compensation under IRSSA.
“The Oblates of Mary Immaculate are committed to full transparency about our role in Canada’s [Indian Residential Schools] system, including the operation of 48 schools [across Canada],” Thorson said in an email.
IRSSA was negotiated to address the harms caused by the schools. It awarded $1.9 billion to survivors, 26,000 of whom were put through IAP hearings to reveal serious physical and sexual abuses.
Leo Armbrust was never your typical Catholic priest.
Serving as chaplain to the Miami Dolphins, University of Miami Hurricanes and even briefly for the Dallas Cowboys, on weekends he was as likely to be seen pacing the sidelines shouting at trash-talking linemen as he was preaching the word of God to devout followers at Our Lady Queen of Apostles in Royal Palm Beach.
Known for his quick wit and a penchant for off-color jokes, Armbrust rubbed shoulders with famous athletes, business tycoons and community leaders. His well-placed connections helped him when he set off on a multi-million-dollar fund-raising odyssey to establish a Father Flanagan-style village for troubled and neglected teens.
However, 15 years after he founded Vita Nova, a less ambitious, but well-respected agency that provides housing and other assistance to hundreds of young adults no longer eligible for foster care, Armbrust is being accused of all manner of wrongdoing.
In a lawsuit filed this month in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, a former Vita Nova board member claims Armbrust, who left the priesthood in 2009, used agency accounts as his personal piggybank to fund a lavish lifestyle. In her lawsuit, Barbara McMillin accuses Armbrust, 63, of spending his days at the office trolling the Internet for sexual partners.
Further, she says, he harassed employees with crude behavior, obscene photos and anti-Semitic jokes. In at least one case, she says in her lawsuit, the agency was forced to pay a worker $200,000 to settle a sexual harassment complaint.
Her claims are salacious, provoking strong denials from agency officials and Armbrust supporters. However, the Wellington woman didn’t merely lay out her claims and leave it at that.
As part of her lawsuit, she attached confidential reports and internal memos that appear to shore up at least some of her allegations. They reveal Armbrust’s relationship with a hip-hop musician as well as statements from top staff that he was undermining Vita Nova’s work. Further, she said, she plans to send the information to law enforcement officials in hopes they will investigate.
‘Obviously, not happy’
Attorney Jack Scarola, who is being sued along with Armbrust, Vita Nova and several others, scoffed at McMillin’s attack. He said McMillin is simply trying to get back at him and Armbrust for filing a lawsuit against her and other board members for attempting to boot the former priest out of the agency he founded. While the other board members in February agreed to settle the lawsuit, award Armbrust an undisclosed amount in back pay and give him his job back, McMillin refused. So, he said, the litigation against her will continue.
“She obviously is not happy about that circumstance and has responded in what appears to be a very irrational fashion by suing everyone in sight,” Scarola said.
Attorney Gerald Richman, who filed a different lawsuit against McMillin and other board members on Armbrust’s behalf, voiced similar views. “Barbara McMillin has been extremely antagonistic toward Leo,” he said. “It’s almost like a vendetta.”
McMillin, a former CEO of Kids Sanctuary who has worked for children’s service agencies for decades, said the lawsuits Richman and Scarola filed prompted her to do some serious soul-searching about what she witnessed during her five years on Vita Nova’s board.
While she signed onto the settlement of the lawsuit Richman filed, she became suspicious when she said her own attorney wouldn’t reveal the full terms of the agreement that was hashed out with Armbrust to resolve the suit Scarola filed. She said she was appalled by the idea of giving Armbrust $100,000 to $200,000 in back pay and allowing him to return to his job as agency fund-raiser when he had proved so inept at raising much-needed cash.
“They can call me a mean old lady or whatever they want to do,” the 67-year-old said. “I just wouldn’t have felt I had done what was necessary for the kids if I hadn’t thrown this out there.”
And throw out she did.
As part of the lawsuit, she released an investigation the law firm Akerman Senterfitt did in 2012 in response to a grievance former employee Terry Sullivan filed against Armbrust.
In interviews with Akerman attorneys, Sullivan recounted the unprovoked tongue-lashings she received from Armbrust. He forced her to mend his clothes, wrap Christmas presents and go with him to pick out presents during the work day. On at least one occasion, she saw pornographic images on his computer, she told investigators.
When he began a relationship with hip-hop artist and rapper Jeancarlos Correa, who uses the stage name Remynd, Armbrust told her to prepare packages at agency expense to promote the struggling musician’s career, she said in the report.
In one instance, he asked her to order T shirts to promote Remynd’s album, “Sex and Computers.” Featuring a blow up doll with the word “Censored” stamped between its legs, the album cover image was so offensive to the printer that the agency used that it refused the order. Sullivan also told lawyers Armbrust once called her into the office to look at a sexually laced music video of Remynd, featuring the musician trying to bed a Sarah Palin look-alike.
“Ms. Sullivan said that the video did not make her uncomfortable. She stated that she ‘is not a prude,’” Ackerman lawyers wrote in their report. “However, she felt the video should not be shared in the office.”
Top brass at the agency agreed. Vita Nova CEO Jeff DeMario told lawyers that when he learned Armbrust was circulating the image from “Sex and Computers” among staff and officials from other nonprofits, he told him to stop. He also told Armbrust to stop asking Sullivan to do sewing for him.
DeMario said there were other lapses as well. He said Armbrust sometimes dressed inappropriately, such as wearing a T shirt with a photo of one of the cops from the 1970s TV show “Chips”and the words “Spread ‘em” on it. He said he had heard Armbrust make “inappropriate” jokes about black and Jewish people.
The real problem, DeMario said, was that there was little he or Irvine Nugent, another former priest who was then president of Vita Nova, could do to rein in Armbrust. While both were technically his bosses, as the founder, he had the upper hand.
“If this was anyone else, they would have been terminated,” DeMario told the lawyers. “We have an agency that is predicated on virtues and we are not practicing them in house. What kind of agency are we?”
Scarola said he hadn’t read the report that McMillin attached to the lawsuit. He said he advised Armbrust not to comment for this story. But he said the depiction of Armbrust as a bigot or a sexist is simply wrong.
“There is not an anti-Semitic bone in Leo Armbrust’s body — not the slightest hint of prejudice about anything,” Scarola said. As to those who might have found Armbrust’s jokes offensive, he said: “That’s more a reflection of their over-sensitivity rather than any impropriety on the part of Leo Armbrust.”
Armbrust’s natural exuberance and occasionally flamboyant behavior are part of his charm and the reason he is a successful fund-raiser, Scarola said. “He has excellent community connections with high-profile people,” he said. “He has established these connections with the force of his personality.”
However, there are questions about Armbrust’s fund-raising ability. Before Vita Nova board members agreed to settle the lawsuit Richman filed on Armbrust’s behalf, their attorney described Armbrust’s fund-raising as “abysmal.”
“As the director of development for (Vita Nova Foundation), Armbrust has performed poorly and has failed to bring in sufficient donations that would cover his high salary, his benefits and his assistant,” attorney Roy Fitzgerald wrote. “Since at least 2006, Armbrust has failed to meet the fund-raising budget, although the fund-raising budget was significantly lower than what should be expected.”
According to Fitzgerald’s short-lived counterclaim to Richman’s lawsuit, Armbrust earned $150,000 annually, plus benefits. An assistant made $60,000-a-year. According to industry standards, he should have been bringing in three or four times the $210,000 the agency was spending on his office, roughly $630,000 to $840,000 annually. Records show its investment portfolio declined from $15.7 million in 2006 to $6.2 million in 2013. The agency also gets government grants.
“Armbrust sets his own schedule and does not invest the necessary time and energy into fund-raising or into the organization to understand the programs the organization offers,” Fitzgerald continued. “As such, Armbrust has failed at getting the necessary fund-raising and could do more.”
Since that lawsuit was settled, Vita Nova board members and executives have changed their tunes. They dispute the allegations McMillin is making in her recently filed suit.
“Much of what Ms. McMillin alleges in her complaint is substantially inaccurate,” DeMario said in a statement. “As an organization, we are saddened that Ms. McMillin has taken a path that may harm the very organization that she was once affiliated with and may impact the hundreds of young adults we serve.”
McMillin said that isn’t her intention. She said the organization is a good one and praised DeMario as doing good work against enormous odds.
“I truly hope and I pray that people will support the organization,” she said. “They are doing a fabulous job for kids who need their support. But it just isn’t right to allow Leo to go on and give that man money that should go to the kids.”
Scarola said McMillin may pay a heavy price for her actions. By releasing confidential information she may have put Vita Nova at risk. “Clearly, she had a fiduciary responsibility as an officer of the corporation to preserve the confidence of the corporation,” he said.
McMillin said she’s not worried. “Protecting Leo is not part of my fiduciary responsibility,” she said.
Further, she said, she’s not done. After Easter, she said she plans to ask the Palm Beach County state attorney, Florida attorney general and the IRS to look at the records she has collected. Not all of them are in the lawsuit, she said. She said she has credit card receipts that prove Armbrust was using agency money as his own.
“I’m not trying to destroy the foundation. I am trying to save the foundation,” she said. “He has been looting it for years.”