Dolan’s Doubts, Dolan’s Dollars

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.”


  1. 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.


End Comment


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




Roman Collar gets collared in Rome

Roman Collar gets collared in Rome

[August 8, 2013]




A prominent Vatican monsignor has popped into the news over the past several weeks, becoming a sideshow to the continuing Main Attraction of Papa Francesco’s effort to get a grip on the Curia Romana.


The pope’s ‘oceanic crowds’ in Brazil (reminiscent of John Paul’s rapturous reception in Poland in the summer of 1979), and his free-form 80-minute exchange with the press during his bumpy return flight to Rome on July 29-30  (“who am I to judge” gay priests), have drawn most of the media attention, but the sideshow involving the monsignor illustrates the dangerous issues facing Papa Francesco as the afterglow of Rio fades:


Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a high official in the Vatican’s holding entity ‘APSA’, has been a guest of the Italian Republic in Rome’s Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven) prison since June 28 last, and through a tantalizing letter made public seems inclined to sing in basso profondo (as in, how low does he plan to go?).


The backstory is an intensified fight over reforming the Vatican Bank





As widely reported in the Italian media, on June 28 last Monsignor Scarano was arrested at Rome’s general aviation airport, Ciampino, upon arrival from Switzerland on a private jet, in the company of a former member of an Italian intelligence agency and a financial consultant.  A search of Scarano’s personal effects produced €20 million in cash (about $27 million).  At the time of his arrest Scarano was the chief accountant for ‘APSA’ (the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See), i.e. the organizational entity for most of the Vatican’s earthly goods held directly in the name of the Holy See.  By his own account, Scarano has been at APSA for 22 years.


A self-described friend of Scarano’s going back several years, Massimiliano Marcianò, is currently under interrogation by prosecutors in Salerno, and claims that the monsignor told him that the Holy See’s diplomatic pouch was used by Scarano to move money and documents, and that “this method was used to move funds [capitali] of the great families of Italian capitalism thereby hiding the origins thanks to the Vatican’s diplomatic immunity.”  In a three-page letter to the pope, reported by the muck-raking daily Il Fatto Quotidiano on July 25, Scarano claims,


“I have never recycled dirty money, and I have never stolen,..”


The monsignor also writes that he has in his possession documentation proving his innocence, and mentions two cardinals:  Stanislaus Dziwisc (former private secretary to Pope John Paul, and current archbishop of Cracow), and Angelo Sodano (former secretary of state, and current dean of the College of Cardinals).  In the newspaper account Scarano states,


my banking operations at the Ior [the Vatican Bank] have always been made upon the counsel of the direction of the executives…Always in accordance with the canonical law of the Ior.”


The timing of Scarano’s arrest (very probably the result of a tip) was particularly inconvenient for the Holy See, coming as it did less than two weeks after the Vatican’s announcement, on June 15, of the appointment of Monsignor Battista Ricca as the pope’s watchdog over the Vatican Bank (prelato per l’Istituto per le Opere di Religione).


Here the plot thickens.  Just a few weeks after the official announcement of Monsignor Ricca’s appointment, on July 18 one of the savviest media Vatican watchers, Sandro Magister, ran an jaw-dropping column in one of Italy’s most widely-read weeklies, L’Espresso, titled La Lobby Gay.  Obviously sourced from Magister’s network of very high-level Curia sources, the column gives considerable detail about some ‘scandalous’ episodes in Ricca’s career going back to his service in Uruguay as a member of the Holy See’s diplomatic mission…while none of his behavior appears to rise to the level of a crime, and does not involve minors, the specificity of the reporting plausibly suggests imprudent behavior, ‘conduct unbecoming…’


What is noteworthy is the deep game within the Vatican now unfolding in public:  imagine (wild hypothetical example) that the President appoints a special assistant, reporting directly to him, to delve into the activities of Fannie Mae (or better still, the Federal Reserve), after the usual FBI vetting.  And then, a few weeks after the announcement, details surface about three embarrassing episodes in that staffer’s private life. 


During the long return flight from Rio to Rome, ‘Francesco unplugged’ dismissed the reports about Monsignor Ricca, saying that an investigation “found nothing.”  It is worth bearing in mind that, as reported in The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed column by Stacy Meichtry of July 30, Francesco’s ‘Who am I to judge’ quote came up in this context:


“The pope’s reports on homosexuality were prompted by a reporter who asked the pontiff to comment on a report..alleging that [Monsignor] Battista Ricca…[etc.]”


Strictly speaking, the pope’s famous quote was not a shift of position on the entire gay issue, but addressed the issue of gay clergy.  And even in that framework, it arose from a specific individual case that was awkward for the Vatican, not necessarily a blanket statement of all gay clergy.


Perhaps that is what prompted New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan somewhat dismissive comment later, that the pope’s remark about judging gays came while Francesco was “on a high” from the reception he got in Brazil.  Given developments now emerging from the bankruptcy proceedings of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, headed by His Eminence between 2002 and 2009, I would guess that Dolan will be able to keep his own euphoria under firm control.  Worth a separate post, soon.


Game on:  the next chapters in the saga of the Ior, and – probably APSA –  are sequels to the VatiLeaks story that surfaced in May of 2012.  And Francesco may be losing control over the Curia reform agenda as the focus becomes the damned Vatican bank, and the Curia’s internecine war by media proxies intensifies.


A couple of Latin quotes come to mind:


Regarding Monsignor Scarano and the money trail, there is an old adage from Imperial Rome, a slur directed at those greedy vassals, the Egyptians:

Unus illis Deus nummus est (the only God they worship is money)


Regarding Monsignor Ricca and his escapades by the shores of the Rio Plata, an old Jesuit saying:

Si non caste, tamen caute (free translation, if you can’t control your tool, at least play it cool)