Dolan’s Doubts, Dolan’s Dollars
[August 25, 2013]
In a late July interview during the World Youth Day event in Rio, NY’s Cardinal-Archbishop Timothy Dolan had some harsh comments about Pope Francesco’s papal management to date. As reported by Vatican watcher Sandro Magister in his L’Espresso column of July 31, and attributed to Cardinal Dolan,
“We [the cardinals in the March conclave] wanted someone with good managerial skills and leadership skills and so far that hasn’t been as obvious. It’s a little bit of a surprise that he hasn’t played his hand on that front yet.”
By Roman curial standards, that’s a direct hit on someone holding the Keys to the Throne. A friend in the Curia commented, “inopportuno,” an F-bomb in Vatican-speak. And all of a piece with Dolan’s media-grabbing behavior; whether,
a. Jumping the queue of succession, while still an arcivescovo, to the presidency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in November, 2010, by overtaking the incumbent vice president (and president-in-waiting), Tucson’s Bishop Gerard Kicanas (careful how you pronounce the surname), on a close third ballot;
b. Commenting in a February 14, 2012, interview with The National Catholic Reporter as the U.S. presidential campaign swung into high gear, that the Catholic bishops of America are not “Obama haters;”
That tepid disavowal may pass for clever commentary on cable, but it is inconsistent with the dignity of an about-to-be-elevated cardinal; however, not surprising from someone who had recently grabbed the media megaphone of the USCCB;
c. Being all-too-visible during the pre-conclave in February-March, 2013, again basking in the glow of 5,000+ accredited media types;
The eleven American cardinal electors – with Dolan very much in the forefront – had to be told bluntly (reportedly by the dean of the college of cardinals, Angelo Sodano) to stop forthwith their daily press briefings which were blurring the Vatican Press Office’s attempts to shape the message;
d. Saying about Pope Francesco during the recent July Brazil trip, amid security concerns,
“I love him and I don’t want another conclave. We just finished one so we don’t need him to be hurt at all.”
- Popping up today in the very current debate about the selection of the next secretary of state, the Holy See’s de facto prime minister, in Il Fatto Quotidiano as strongly supporting the Apostolic Nuncio in D.C., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’; but a few problems with this,
Bad form for a cardinal to lobby publicly the Pope’s eventual choice for the most important curial post, troppo Americano;
Unwelcome sequel to Dolan’s criticism in Brazil of the Pope’s management style, where he also said, about bringing in a new Secretary of State, “I thought it would come at the end of June or July, but it hasn’t…”
His robust appetite for the limelight is in sharp contrast to the treasured Romanita’ quality of discretion and self-effacement.
And some of his newsworthy comments that got prompt media pick-up (“not Obama haters”; “we don’t need [the pope] to be hurt”) can be very grating; one wonders whether a ‘denial mechanism’ is operating:
“An unconscious defense mechanism to ally anxiety by denying the existence of importance conflicts, troublesome impulses (Dictionary for Health Professions)”
Since Cardinal Dolan has expressed doubts about the Pope’s managerial skills, it is fair play to turn this around and consider Dolan’s managerial track record in the context of two ongoing judicial proceedings, one profane and the other sacred:
Dolan’s past tenure in Milwaukee, now under scrutiny in federal bankruptcy and district courts; and probably headed for appellate review; and
Dolan’s present tenure in New York, where a very peculiar parish suppression is now under review at the Holy See’s highest court, the Apostolic Signatura.
The common thread between these disputes is the large sums of money involved, a $57 million cemetery trust for Milwaukee, and a $50 million purchase-and-sale agreement for NYC parish’s property.
The Milwaukee bankruptcy saga has been reported, but for those who may have missed it, there is a brief recap below. The Signatura item has not been reported, but is based on documents licitly in the hands of yours truly.
Prelates who live in glass chanceries should not cast…etc. etc.
Bankruptcy proceedings of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee
Per The New York Times, July 1, 2013, when Dolan was Milwaukee’s ordinary “he requested permission to move nearly $57 million into a cemetery trust fund to protect the assets from victims of clergy sexual abuse.”
Lawyers for archdiocese argued in the bankruptcy proceedings that the assets of the cemetery trust could not be included in the assets available for the creditors, citing the First Amendment and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). Nothing amiss here.
The U.S. Bankruptcy judge did not accept this argument, but on appeal to the federal district court the archdiocese prevailed, with the U.S. District Court judge ruling that the cemetery trust’s assets could not go into the creditors pool, and accepting the constitutional and the 2nd amendment arguments.
Still business-as-usual. But a sweeping ruling on the issue that will probably be appealed to a federal circuit court, since the judge appears to have granted the archdiocese, and by precedent other dioceses, very broad immunity.
However, just a few days after this district court ruling, ‘some stuff happened’, i.e. credible press reports that the district court judge and his family, going back a few generations, have owned burial plots in the cemetery in question.” Accordingly, earlier this month the federal bankruptcy judge issued an emergency motion requiring the archdiocese to produce “[A]ll documents related to the purchase of graves, crypts….” for decedents with the surnames of the district court judge and relatives.” Stay tuned.
So what? Well, a few things of broader relevance:
From The Times’ July 1 article, in response to claims that the trust was created to protect assets from victims Dolan “reiterated…that these were ‘old and discredited attacks.’” But among the 6,000+ documents released during the bankruptcy proceedings there is a Dolan letter of 2007 in which he is quoted as telling the Vatican, “I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim…”
Within the Curia Romana there is a phobia about the U.S. legal system, especially during the discovery process that might bring to light sensitive correspondence between the diocese and the supervisory congregation in the Holy See. In the case of parish assets, the Congregation for the Clergy has direct oversight of the beni materiali of more than 200,000 (!) parishes across the globe.
The real fear in Rome is that some day that ecclesial veil shielding the Holy See from the litigious American tort system might be pierced. So ordinaries who get caught in the coils of the U.S. courts are not held in very high esteem. Just before Dolan came to Rome in February of 2013 for the pre-conclave, it was widely reported in the Italian media that he had spent ‘hours’ being deposed about the Milwaukee bankruptcy.
The Springfield MA ordinary is something of a world champ when it comes to profane legal systems, with at least three separate proceedings:
A suit v the City of Springfield regarding the establishment of a Historic District, which he lost in the federal district court, and on appeal in the New England circuit;
Motions to have vigilers (trespassers) evicted from the church of their suppressed parish, Mater Dolorosa in Holyoke; denied; and
Litigation over a $630 thousand bequest from a decedent to her ‘parish’ which, shortly after her passing, was put on the list of parishes to be suppressed; by suppressing the parish, the assets go to the diocese, not the new parish; case pending in a Massachusetts probate court.
Canon Appeal v Parish suppression in the Archdiocese of New York
By appearances, this is just another parish suppression, one of thousands that have occurred in the past few years. But with a few twists:
The parish in question, St. Vincent de Paul in Chelsea, is a trophy franco-phone parish with a long history going back to the mid-1800s;
The suppression has been ‘complex’; in January, 2007 there was an announcement (but no decree, which is canonically mandatory) that the parish would be suppressed, but no follow-up; the parishioners made inquiries, were told not to worry; parish life continued with baptisms and weddings, the prerogative of parochial churches;
Almost six years after the ‘announcement’, in the fall of 2012 Dolan weighed in with a letter to concerned St Vincent parishioners,
“Inasmuch as no one from the parish, yourselves included, made any remonstratio of this decision to Cardinal Egan within the peremptory time limit of ten (10) canonical days from when you were lawfully notified of it (canon 1734§2), the opportunity for a remonstratio in this matter was forfeited.”
This is canonical hogwash…no decree was ever issued, against which parishioners might have appealed. But this is not the end of the story.
Appeals were filed against the Dolan letter, and predictably turned down at lower appellate levels. But when docketed at the Vatican’s supreme-court equivalent, something very peculiar took place:
The St. Vincent parishioners were asked by the court to comment on an email sent by Dolan’s chancellor, sort of a chief operating officer. This in itself is very surprising, because communications between the court and the bishops are almost never disclosed to the parishioner/appellants. And the content of the chancellor’s email to the court’s ‘prefect’ (its head) was also startling:
“Free from any canonical restrictions, the decision was made to sell the real property owned by Saint Vincent de Paul, including the church building. A contract of sale was entered into in March, 2013 to sell these assets for $50 million, subject to the Holy See’s approval, with the purchaser ready now.”
Essentially, the chancellor, a monsignor, is telling the head of the court, a cardinal, to hurry up and decide this case, we are ready to sell for $50 million. So the cardinal asks the parishioner/appellants, “what do you think?”
This peculiar case may be decided at the court’s fall session.
During my two post-conclave trips to Rome, spring and early summer, my Vatican contacts brought up the issue of Dolan, unprompted; once in a very blunt WTF-gives form of inquiry?
His blatant politicking as a wanna-be conclave king-maker was bad enough, but leveling unveiled criticism at the Pope during a demanding and potentially dangerous foreign trip really crossed the line. And he hasn’t let up, per today’s report in Il Fatto.
Behind the bonhomie, “vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself…”
Chairman Mao, a profane source – not a sacred one – observed,
“Destruction comes by way of the mouth”