Charles Dickens was quick to note that 'the dense fog is densest' and the mud is 'muddiest' at 'the very heart of the fog', which he identified as the High Court of Chancery. 'Chancery', in his sense and in mine, becomes somewhat of a double entendre.
For, I think that anyone who watched the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis press conference yesterday afternoon (filmed from the Saint Paul Chancery) will agree that there was 'fog everywhere', and very little sun.Neither the press conferences nor the documents filed as part of the Archdiocese's petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection shed much light on the current situation of the Archdiocese- financially, morally, or otherwise. However, a close reading of the documents, and in particular the 'Application of the Debtor to Employ Chapter 11 Counsel' does raise some interesting questions.1). How much has it cost?
Per the 'Verified Statement of Richard D Anderson', included as page 9 of 42 in the PDF file 'Application by Debtor
', as of the date of petition (January 16, 2015) the Archdiocese has been billed by Briggs and Morgan for $900,224.11 in fees and $3281 in expenses. The billings began with the filing of an initial retainer of $300,000 on April 29, 2014, which has been periodically refreshed to maintain a minimum trust balance of $250,000. On January 13, 2015, in advance of filing the petition, the Archdiocese deposited an additional $750,000 into the trust account.
The 'Verified Statement' indicates that Briggs and Morgan billed, from this account, 'for any matter arguably related to a potential bankruptcy filing'. However, it also specifies that 'any matter' does not include fees and expenses incurred in connection with:
- the 'voluminous' review of clergy files
- analyses of insurance issues
- 'voluntary' public disclosures of accused clergy
- police reporting
- insurance coverage litigation
- development of child protection policies and protocols
According to the 'Verified Statement', payments from the Archdiocese have been made out of its general operating fund, which goes a long way towards explaining the $9.1 million deficit
that was announced in November of 2014. At that time the Archdiocese suggested that $4.1 million of that amount went towards addressing allegations of clerical sexual abuse. 2). What happened to Brian Wenger?
In bankruptcy proceedings, the proposed attorney for the debtor (in this case the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis) must list any potential conflicts of interest (again see the Verified Statement of Richard D. Anderson). An interesting aspect to the disclosure filed yesterday has to do with the former Chair of Briggs and Morgan, Brian Wenger
. Throughout my tenure as Chancellor in the Archdiocese, Brian Wenger was an influential adviser and friend to Archbishop Nienstedt (at least to the extent that anyone could be considered a friend of the Archbishop). Wenger served as Chair of the Archdiocese Finance Council for a number of years, and was active in drawing up a plan for the reorganization of Chancery departments following the embezzlement scandal (a reorganization plan that did not include, interestingly, a Chancellors' department). The normally reclusive Archbishop would even, on occasion, have the Wenger family at his residence- a circumstance almost unheard of in other contexts. So great was Wenger's influence, in fact, the the CFO and my co-Chancellor often griped about the extent to which Wenger's advice was sought and accepted over theirs.
Because of this, I was interested to see how Briggs and Morgan responded to this potential conflict, especially given that the Archdiocesan Finance Council was, according to Archbishop Nienstedt, one of the consultative bodies that advised him to seek bankruptcy protection
. I was absolutely floored, therefore, to read this in the 'Verified Statement':
'Mr. Wenger resigned from the Finance Council in October 2013
. I have reviewed the minutes of meetings of the Finance Council during Mr. Wenger's tenure on it, and asked him specifically about his service on the council. To the best of my knowledge, upon such due inquiry, the Finance Council did not consider matters relating to this Chapter 11 case or to a potential Chapter 11 reorganization of the Archdiocese during Mr. Wenger's tenure on the Finance Council
According to this statement, Brian Wenger resigned from the Finance Council in October of 2013, shortly after the revelations began regarding the Archdiocese's mishandling of sexual abuse by clergy. Terms on the Archdiocesan Finance Council are generally for 5 years, and run July to June. So, this certainly couldn't have been an anticipated departure. Could a rift have developed between Wenger and the Archbishop? If that is true, my respect for Brian Wenger has only increased. It seems unlikely, however, given the role that Wenger played in the hiring of Greene Espel. So then, the question becomes, did anyone tell the Archdiocese about his resignation? The 2014-2015 Minnesota Catholic Directory, published and produced by the Archdiocese after Wenger's departure, still lists him as a member (see below).
Second, if Richard Anderson is to be believed (and I have no reason to doubt him) the Archdiocesan Finance Council did not consider matters relating to a potential Chapter 11 reorganization prior to October 2013. The Minnesota Child Victims Act, which opened a civil window for the filing of cases of sexual abuse that were otherwise time barred, was introduced in the Minnesota legislature on February 13, 2013
. As I have already mentioned, within a month the Archdiocese had brought attorneys from the firm of Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek, who are representing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in its bankruptcy proceeding
s, to speak to diocesan officials about strategy and preparation for a bankruptcy filing. Was the Archdiocesan Finance Council kept in the dark about both the meeting and the Archdiocese's anticipated exposure if the Act passed? Was the Council consulted at all about the appropriate response to the introduction of the bill or, after its passage, about the potential impact on the Archdiocese's financial outlook? Was it aware of the likely expenditures when it approved (in May-June of 2013) the budget for the fiscal year 2013-2014? If Richard Anderson is to be believed, the Archdiocesan Finance Council was kept in the dark about all of this, which might give some indication of the extent of the mismanagement that has brought the Archdiocese to the brink of insolvency.
3). Is Greene Espel a creditor?
Bankruptcy documents requiring disclosures of potential conflicts also include lists of those creditors and vendors of the debtor (the Archdiocese) to whom the representing attorney or firm (Briggs and Morgan) also provides or has provided representation. The potential creditors and debtors are listed in Exhibit C (see below). While the filing indicates that the Archdiocese is current or nearly current with its vendors
, and therefore the claims of those listed are 'accordingly not considered material or likely to be disputed' (p. 21), the list in and of itself is of particular interest because of the inclusion of Greene Espel PLLP. Obviously, this inclusion does not indicate to what extent the Archdiocese has been forced to squander its already insufficient resources in investigating the conduct of the present Archbishop
. However, it does serve as a useful reminder that the precarious situation of the Archdiocese (financial and otherwise) is not only due to lawsuits stemming from clergy sexual abuse in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
One final thought...
Rereading the article announcing the introduction of the bill that would become the Minnesota Child Victims Act, I was struck by the Archdiocese's response to the bill. The Archdiocese's statement, on February 13, 2013, was, and I quote:"Since 2002, the Catholic Church has taken extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of young people in its churches and schools. Few, if any, organizations have instituted the type of measures to protect young people. In this regard, the Catholic Church is now a model for other institutions to follow in the safeguarding of our youth."
Two days later, in a memo that was introduced along with my affidavit in the Doe 1 case, Father Laird instructed me not to turn over to the police
the CD-Roms of pornography belonging to Father Shelley, as I was insisting should be done, but instead to place them in a sealed box in the Chancery vault. 'Few organizations' indeed, and thank God for that.
In a move that surprised no one (except perhaps the priests, who were not notified in advance of news bulletins by the AP and others), this morning the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis became the 12th Catholic diocese in the United States to file for bankruptcy protection
. Being the twelfth to file should mean that the Archdiocese has the benefit of the hard won experiences of other dioceses. However, not all Catholic bankruptcy filings are equal. When the Diocese of Helena filed for bankruptcy in January of 2014 (becoming the 11th to file) the move was heralded by plaintiffs' attorneys as well as diocesan officials as being 'in the best interests' of the 362 victims that had filed sexual abuse cases against the diocese, the Ursuline Sisters, and the Jesuits. Described as a 'consensual, prepackaged bankruptcy' the reorganization plan filed by the diocese in November of 2014 included not only a $16.4 million settlement for victims of clergy sexual abuse, but also allowed a wrongful termination lawsuit to proceed. The petitioner in that case was a former Catholic school teacher who was fired for being unmarried and pregnant (the teacher was in a same-sex relationship). The reorganization plan was approved by a federal bankruptcy judge this week, less than a year after the diocese officially filed for bankruptcy protection.
As quick as that process was, the record for speedy exits still goes, I believe, to the Diocese of Tucson, which became the second Catholic diocese to seek bankruptcy protection when it filed in September of 2004
and the first to emerge when a bankruptcy judge approved its reorganization plan in July of 2005. That plan provided $22 million for settlements with more than 34 plaintiffs. The money for the settlements came from insurance payouts, the selling of church property (mainly land that was to have been used for new parishes for the growing diocese), and $2 million pledged by the parishes of the diocese, whose pastors promised to 'dig, scrimp and save' to make up their portion of the settlement (parish assets were not included in the reorganization plan)
On the other end of the spectrum is the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It filed for bankruptcy protection in January of 2011, and that process is still ongoing today. The reorganization plan filed by the Archdiocese in February of 2014 included only $4 million to compensate 130 victims of sexual abuse by clergy
. Victims quickly rejected the plan, and multiple attempts at mediation have failed. One of the main points of dispute remains the $55 million cemetery trust fund established by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the former Archbishop of Milwaukee, in advance of the bankruptcy filing
. Almost all commentators agree that the Milwaukee bankruptcy is unique for the hardball tactics used by the Catholic Church, and for the Archdiocese's attempts to limit the claims filed by alleged victims of abuse
The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis has been preparing for its bankruptcy since at least the early spring of 2013, prior to the passage of the Minnesota Child Victims Act. That preparation predated the Helena filing, but not the successful resolution of reorganizations such as that of the Diocese of Tucson. Nonetheless, when planning for its own bankruptcy, the leadership of this Archdiocese chose not to consult with those successful dioceses, but instead flew in attorneys from Whyte, Hirschboeck, & Dudek, the firm representing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. This meeting, which took place at the Archdiocesan Chancery in the spring of 2013, was meant to be kept 'top secret', but was accidentally broadcast over the Chancery's intercom system. Although the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is claiming that it intends to do 'the right thing' with its bankruptcy filing,
I remain skeptical, especially given the ease with which attorneys from Milwaukee were brought in for consultation, and the absence of any kind of conversation about moral obligations prior to that decision. Tough times require strong leadership, and I think we are all in agreement that such is lacking in Saint Paul.
The Archbishop's letter to priests announcing the filing, which was sent out after
the AP and other media outlets announced that the filing had occurred, is below.
With many observers anticipating a bankruptcy filing by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis sometime tomorrow or early next week, I thought it worthwhile to dust off some comments that I posted back in November regarding the Archdiocese's precarious financial situation.
I have no doubt, no doubt
, that when the Archdiocese officially declares that it does not have sufficient resources to meet its obligations we will see a press release attributing the decision to the volume of claims filed or expected to be filed under the Minnesota Child Victims Act, as well as to the Archdiocese's oft stated but frankly implausible aim of wanting to find 'a fair solution to all victim claims'.
When, in the late fall of 2014, the Archdiocese released audited financial reports showing a more than $9 million operating deficit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, the precarious financial position of the Archdiocese was already being linked to the so-called 'civil window' for the introduction of 'old' cases involving acts of sexual abuse of minors. I disagreed, and instead attributed the financial crisis to poor management and a fundamental failure of Archdiocesan leadership to govern the diocese in accord with its mission. I maintain that position.
For, it is important to remember that the passage of the Child Victims Act did not create the financial distress that is pushing the Archdiocese to bankruptcy. All the Child Victims Act did was create a window during which victims of sexual abuse could present civil cases that otherwise would have been barred by the statute of limitations. Permitting someone to introduce a case is not the same as guaranteeing that person a positive verdict, or even a monetary one.
The 'number of cases' the Archdiocese is facing is also not the result of the Child Victims Act, it is the result of decades of abuse perpetrated by clergy, often under circumstances in which the Archdiocese knew of or could have reasonably assumed the likelihood of such abuse occurring. For proof of this statement, I need only refer you to the Archdiocese's own website and its growing
list of 'Individuals with substantiated claims against them of sexual abuse of a minor within the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis'.
In addition, over the last two decades the Archdiocese further complicated its position by its aggressive and litigious response to claims for compensation by victims. Since at least the Kapoun trials in the early 1990's, the Archdiocese has aggressively defended itself against such liability claims, even in cases where it was evident that the abuse had occurred (http://caselaw.findlaw.com/mn-court-of-appeals/1112778.html
). And, it has now been acknowledged that it employed a litigation strategy designed to make potential claimants fearful of pressing their claims. In other words, the Archdiocese taxed the victims with the costs of its legal fees.
This strategy was first used in the Kapoun trial in the 1990s, but was used again as recently as 2010
These actions were taken despite the Catholic Church's explicit support for for the rights and needs of victims found in documents like ‘Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice’
, which is a policy statement issued on November 15, 2000, by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Archdiocese also often pursued ends in court that are contrary to Catholic teaching, such as forcing victims to undergo psychological testing and other procedures which the Church believes cannot be compelled because of the natural dignity of all persons.
In this context, the Child Victims Act, which the Archdiocese spent more than ten years and nearly a million dollars opposing
, can be seen as merely leveling the playing field for a category of victims that had been denied justice by a powerful organization committed to winning in court using all means available- fair or foul. For, the Archdiocese had other options available to it besides litigation and lobbying. It could have avoided its present predicament by doing as other dioceses did and voluntarily agreeing to mediate or arbitrate cases that fell outside of the statute of limitations (see, for example, the Diocese of Springfield
) prior to October 2014
. This was, of course, the position advised by Mark Chopko and the USCCB, which encouraged dioceses to consider mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution as early as 2005.
I anticipate that the coming weeks, months, and years will be unpleasant ones for Catholics in this Archdiocese. The status of some of our most cherished institutions will likely be challenged. We will need, but are unlikely to receive, strong moral leadership. In its absence, I hope that the average Catholic in the pew will be willing and able to embrace the fact that those who we will hear spoken of as 'claimants' are, in fact, individuals who once sat in the very same pews where we sit now. Rather than blaming them for the current state of affairs, we must endeavor to accept the moral obligation to see that they are compensated for the harm that they suffered.
When I first started working as a canon lawyer for Catholic dioceses, a priest told me that for years bishops and religious superiors had sent letters of introduction (the precursor to Testimonials of Suitability) for offending priests that were typed using double spacing- an indication to the receiving bishop that he should 'read between the lines'. I was never able to verify if this was true, but the idea has always intrigued me. Indeed, the ability to understand what is not
contained in the documentation belonging to a particular priest is, at times, more important than identifying what is. This is an important fact to keep in mind as we anticipate the release of additional files of priests of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and perhaps in particular with the release of the file of Father Joseph Gallatin.
When and if the Gallatin file is released, we are unlikely to see any of the psychological evaluations of Father Gallatin, and we are also unlikely to see any firsthand reports of what occurred in 1998. The former is, perhaps, appropriate. Father Gallatin, who has not been convicted of any crime, has the same rights as anyone else, including the right to have his private medical information remain confidential. The latter is likely, once again, attributable to negligence on the part of the Archdiocese. I may be wrong about this but I honestly can't remember seeing a firsthand account of what had transpired in 1998 from the point of view of the victim, or even his name.
If released, what the file will most likely contain are descriptions of what occurred, written in the form of memos, that change both over time and depending on the person writing the report. We may also see some summaries of psychological evaluations and reports, but these again will have been compiled by various individuals and reflect the authors' interests and biases, rather than being an accurate summation of the conclusions of the person who conducted the evaluation. By now, I hope everyone can agree that such summaries, especially when written by Father Kevin McDonough, are basically worthless. The only value in reading them in this case, as I see it, is for amusement. The extent to which so many adults seem confused about basic human anatomy (shoulder? chest? abdomen?) should at least cause you to chuckle.
However, that is the only thing that we should find funny about this situation, as it is one of the more serious that faces the people of this Archdiocese, and it will continue to be one that requires careful attention for many years to come. For, despite knowledge that Father Gallatin is sexually attracted to teen boys as young as twelve, and despite knowledge that he has a history- dating back further than the incident reported in 1998- of acting on those sexual impulses by taking advantage of drunk or sleeping boys, he remains a priest in the Catholic Church, and Archbishop Nienstedt intends to provide him with a ministerial rol
Keeping this in mind, it might prove to be the case that releasing the very limited information that can be disclosed about Father Gallatin causes more harm than good. As I have already said, what can likely be released will be a very muted down account of his history and issues. This is problematic because, as the file will also probably indicate, Father Gallatin was a very clever and affable priest, liked by many. Indeed, I liked him myself, and enjoyed his sense of humor (especially when it came to liturgical practices) very much. This creates a situation where many might be tempted to disregard the very real risk that he poses for the Church.
It is unlikely that the release of any personnel file will alter the opinions of those who think they have formed an accurate impression of a priest who stands accused, or of the decision makers involved. James Porter had his defenders at almost every parish he served, and even while in prison, and the same can be said of almost every priest known to have sexually abused minors
. And, I just received an email from someone who says she 'takes offence' at my descriptions of Bishop Lee Piche, who, in her opinion, is 'a priest of the utmost integrity'. People are of course entitled to their opinions, but they should also be cognizant of the need to 'read between the lines' or beyond the public persona that is presented to them. Most importantly, decision makers in the Catholic Church need to realize how their own 'knowledge' of an accused priest can result in a bias against an accuser, and how it is possible that someone may be both an abuser of children or vulnerable adults (or a weak and ineffective leader) and an engaged and seemingly effective priest.
To illustrate this point I want to share with you two emails that I have received regarding Father Gallatin (I have not altered the spelling or grammar of either). The first is from a family member of his, who I will not identify further.
I am writing to you to express my deep saddness over what has transpired in my brother's case. Your actions last fall when you took information in a manner that betrayed your former employer and violtated the Health Isurance Portability and Accountabiliity Act have certainly had a reverberating effect.
I have always known Joe to be a wonderful person but his courage in the face of this great challenge is far greater than the courage you were hailed to have when you took information from an organization that you chose to no longer work for. Though he is angry with you and could, in turn, sue you for passing on his protected health information, he would never proceed with this action. He always spoke very highly of you and our family assumes that he is just an unfortunate victim of your deception. I hope that you are paying attention to the media reports and the statements from the Archbishop Nienstedt and see that Joe is becoming the scapegoat for the diocese.
I understand that you had the best of intentions in passing on information to Jeff Anderson. If you really reported incidents and there was no action taken then that is also a travesty. However, as a mother of 4 gorgeous children, I would never have dropped my kids off at a trailer unsupervised. Could you have called the mother and urged a warning? Could you have called the authorities yourself? Perhaps you did and just like the media is covering one side of Joe's story they are not covering the full side of your story. Fr. Wehmeyer was a sick and indecent man. However, statisics show us that sexual abuse happens and it happens to 4 children in every 100 across their lives. That mother should have protected her children--it shouldn't be up to you or me to help her understand her children are vulnerable.
But I digress. I felt that I had to reach out to you as part of my grieving process. Joe is doing well and has been such an inspiration to us all. Maybe this unfortunatle situation is God's way of moving Joe in a direction he never would have before. It's all part of this great mystery of life. I hope you would consider the gravity of your actions when working through other difficult cases and situaitons in the future
The author's facts are clearly wrong. I didn’t 'take' any information about Father Gallatin, much less any information protected by HIPAA, and I didn’t disclose anything to Jeff Anderson, the Archdiocese did, as a result of a court order, etc, but you see my point. It is extremely unlikely that the author's opinion of me or Father Gallatin will change as a result of any file release or other information becoming public.
The second email I did not receive directly. Instead,it was sent to me by one of the producers of WCCO's John Williams Show
after I spoke on the program about how for me it all came down to whether I would trust Father Gallatin around my preteen nephew. My answer was an unequivocal 'no'.
The email is as follows, although again I will not include the name of the sender.
I was in my car driving between accounts yesterday and listened to your interview with Jennifer Haselberger. When you have her on today, please applaud her for her courage and guts to stand up to the house of horror's that is the Minneapolis-St. Paul Archdiocese.
While my daughter was swimming, I listened to a rebroadcast of your show again. My kids were at the school where Joe Gallatin was placed as a Canonical Administrator and priest of St. Peter's Parish in Mendota, MN. He was the priest that she was referencing that she was concerned to bring her 11 year old nephew to see. When I got home, I read all 107 pages of her affidavit. On page 34, Fr. Gallatin was referenced. I almost vomited when I read that in 2008, there were red flags on his ability to serve yet, Nienstedt placed him in my church and then placed him in a school where all 3 of my children attended. NONE of the parents, parishioners or staff knew about his background. In her affidavit, she references his feelings towards boys in the parish school. That could have been my son and his friends.
I emailed the Archbishop and Fr. Charlie Lachowitzer who are now in charge of the Archdiocese to let them know of my disgust at being a Catholic in this archdiocese. I am a 5th generation Catholic in Minnesota, have 3 kids in Catholic schools and am actively looking for another faith to worship in. I will not attend church with my family until the current leadership is gone. I have had enough of the criminals protecting the pedophiles.
Keep up your great work on the criminals abusing our kids. I listen to you everyday and enjoy your show. You make sales day go by a little better!
Anyone who has worked at a diocesan Chancery knows that these kind of contradictory emails are just a fact of life. Every priest has those who love him, and usually a fair amount that don't. Chancery officials should quickly learn that such opinions must be disregarded when considering the need for disciplinary action.
This is exactly why it is so very important that the faithful of the Archdiocese can trust those in leadership to act in the best interests of the People of God. Even when personnel files are released or names are made public, there will always be those who refuse to believe what has been alleged and who will pressure for the priest to be returned to ministry, etc. A good bishop knows that his job is not to make everyone happy, but to keep everyone safe.
Sometimes that requires an ability to read between the lines, so that he can protect his flock from the wolves.
'...when first we practice to deceive'. Or at least so said Sir Walter Scott, writing in 'Marmion
'. The quote is a particularly apt choice to introduce my reflections on today's release of the personnel file of Father Michael Keating, a priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis 'on leave' as a result of accusations of sexual misconduct with a minor
. Although much of what the file contains was known to me before today, this most recent review of its contents has left me with seven questions that I believe require a response from the Archdiocese. They are as follows:1). Where is the rest of the file?
Those of you who have read my affidavit
in the Doe 1 case know that I testified about the situation of Father Keating, and also listed several documents that demonstrate the extent of the Archdiocese's knowledge of the accusations of sexual misconduct against him and other clergy prior to
my going public in September of 2013. Some of those documents became public with today's release, including the list of priests identified as requiring monitoring under the POMS [Promotor of Ministerial Standards] program (Keating File, Part 2, pp. 276-277). So, I ask, where are the other documents that named Keating, including John Selvig's April 2013 list of POMs participants and their offences, and the 'Assignment List' created by Judy Delaney? Also, where is the memo from Andy Eisenzimmer to Archbishop Nienstedt regarding Father Keating's participating in the 'Rediscover' initiative, the Archbishop's response, as well as all the other emails and memos exchanged during the planning for such major events? I would also ask why the file contains some emails and documents regarding Father Keating's 2011 appointment to the Presbyteral Council, but none whatsoever regarding the 2009-2010 decision not to allow
him to serve the remainder of Father Laird's term as Academic Dean following Laird's appointment as Vicar General. Finally, where is the preliminary investigative report of Father Talbot, as well as the subsequent weekly reports required by the decree opening the investigation (more on this below)? 2). What punishment has been administered to Father Kevin McDonough?
This question is not the result of self-interest, as I have long believed that the only way that Father McDonough and I will resolve our quarrel is by meeting with pistols at dawn. Rather, I would like to know what punishment has been inflicted upon the former Vicar General and Delegate for Safe Environment for repeatedly undermining the efforts of his Archbishop(s).
The Keating file demonstrates McDonough working against the will of his bishop beginning in 2006, when the Clergy Review Board recommended that Father Keating be enrolled in the POMS monitoring program (Keating File, Part 1, p. 128). Emails between [Bishop] Lee Piche, Father McDonough, and Tim Rourke show that McDonough deliberately delayed taking action until May of 2010, when it could no longer be avoided (Keating File, Part 2, pp. 1-3).
A similar undermining is evident in McDonough's exchange with Father James Shea of the University of Mary in August of 2012. Although Father Keating was instructed by Archbishop Nienstedt to disclose his history to the University, Father McDonough intervened and presented Father Shea with a significantly rosier account of what had transpired (along with plenty of his own opinions) in contravention of the Archbishop's order (Keating File, Part 2, pp. 156, 158, 159-161).
Obviously, the University of Saint Thomas took conclusive steps by removing Father McDonough from its Board of Trustees. But has the Archdiocese taken any action against him? His resignation as Delegate was in the works long before I resigned, and at his request. The website for Saint Peter Claver parish in Saint Paul still lists him as pastor
, as does this weekend's bulletin from Incarnation/Sagrado Corazon
. Perhaps rumors of an investigation into Father McDonough's conduct are true, and the Archdiocese is preparing to impose some sort of penalty. Still, it would seem that leaving him in parishes in the meantime (especially given investigations by law enforcement and the questions that have been asked about Father McDonough's participation) calls into question the Archdiocese's commitment to its own disciplinary program.3) Does it matter that Father Keating was not ordained when the abuse occurred?
Canon law (including the Essential Norms which accompany the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People)
impose penalties for violations of the obligation of clerical sexual continence. By definition, then, those penalties are only to be applied for actions undertaken by men in the clerical state (nowadays, deacons, priests, and bishops). So, were it only a question of applying canonical penalties, Keating would likely be in the clear.
However, that is only a small part of what is actually at stake here. A bishop is not only responsible for determining if a canonical delict
(or violation) has occurred, but also for determining a man's fitness to be ordained for ministry, and to exercise that ministry once ordination has been received. If a bishop determines that a man is incapable of exercising ministry as the Church intends (meaning, for instance, for 'psychic' reasons such as a sexual interest in minors, or narcissism), then that bishop is to remove the man from ministry. I have spoken before about how the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis had become entirely self-referential, and this is a perfect example of that. For, by the time the allegations against Father Keating surfaced in 2006, it had long been the practice of the universal Church (especially here in the United States) to use the process of declaring a priest or deacon impeded or irregular
to resolve situations where a man had committed acts of abuse against minors prior to his ordination (frequently involving acts of incest alleged against permanent deacons prior to their ordination). This practice also had been sanctioned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Thus while certain bars exist towards penalizing Father Keating under the Charter
, it was (and is) still possible for his Archbishop to take the necessary steps to protect the public. Whether there is (or has been) the will to do so remains an open question. The decree opening the investigation into Father Keating's conduct, which limits the investigator to determining if there has been a 'delict that is punishable under canon law', suggests that there is not.4). What is Father Keating's present status?
On October 11, 2013, the Archdiocese entered into an agreement with Father Keating that he would 'voluntarily take a leave of absence'. This was the culmination of an intense few days of negotiation, spearheaded by the University of Saint Thomas, which preceded the filing of the lawsuit against Father Keating. According to the 'Memorandum of Understanding', Father Keating retains his faculties and is not being 'penalized or canonically suspended'.
Old habits die hard, especially in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. I am not sure that there is any canonical basis for such an agreement, especially given that it predates the initiation of the investigation by more than two weeks. And, the agreement follows too closely the tenor of McDonough's 'agreements' with Charter
priests to allow any of us to feel comfortable that the Archdiocese has changed its approach to these matters.
And what now? The University of Saint Thomas announced Father Keating's resignation from his faculty positio
n in September of 2013. I am not aware of the Archdiocese providing any updates regarding his status, or making any final determination, despite the fact that we know now that their investigation into his conduct was to conclude by April of 2014.5). Has the Archdiocese properly thanked the University of Saint Thomas?
A careful reading of the 'Memorandum of Understanding' proves what many of us have long known- Father Keating's 'leave' was not the result of the Archdiocese coming to its senses, but instead due to relentless pressure by the University of Saint Thomas following one of its official's review of Keating's clergy personnel file.
The University could have thrown the Archdiocese under the bus, and may still. Those University officials who were not informed of the allegations (basically, everyone but the former Director of the Center for Catholic Studies, Don Briel), have plenty to be angry about. Moreover, the few positive actions resulting from this scandal have almost all been taken by the University (starting with its investigation).
So, has the Archdiocese properly recognized the University's role in this matter, and has it looked at how it could benefit from leadership like that shown by the University's current President, the first layperson, and lay woman, to hold that role in the University's long histor
y? 6). What is the status of the POMS Monitoring Program?
In my affidavit, I described the Archdiocese's monitoring program during my tenure as Chancellor as 'pitifully inadequate' (pp. 16, 41, 42, 43, 44, 46, 47, 48). However, it would appear that such a description is generous given the way the program has operated since my resignation in April of 2013. For, the case notes (posted below) from the POMS administrator for the period from July of 2013 until March of 2014, while Keating was 'on leave' and being investigated by multiple organizations, show that the Archdiocese and its 'state of the art' monitoring program was unable to determine where Keating was living, or even whether he was in the country.
This should be a cause of grave concern to anyone interested in the welfare of children and vulnerable adults in the territory of the Archdiocese and, if the reports are true, throughout the world.7). What is going on at the Saint Paul Seminary?
Disclosures like the one that occurred today are generally devalued by officials in the Catholic Church as reflecting past events, and the 'old way' in which things were done. They are quick to claim that the issues identified in the files have all been resolved, and are no longer a matter for concern.
Never has that been less true than in the case of the release of the file of Father Michael Keating. For, pages of documents in the second part of the file demonstrate that Keating was very involved and influential in the vocational discernment and spiritual formation of many young priests in this Archdiocese and elsewhere. Given the concerns about his conduct and his ministry (identified, ironically, by the Saint Paul Seminary when he was a student) this should be a grave cause of concern for us all. It is entirely possible that these men (who names have been redacted)
also received counsel and encouragement from good, well-adjusted priests and formation advisors. We should all hope and pray that this is the case. But someone with integrity and independence should also look carefully into the claims of 'vocational turbulence' at the Saint Paul Seminary, especially in light of the allegations that have been made against Archbishop Nienstedt.
I intend to post my reflections on the contents of the personnel file of Father Michael Keating later today. In the meantime, what follows is my official statement on the release of the file.
I was surprised, and honored, to receive an email yesterday morning from a former professor of mine who says that she reads this blog and hopes that I will address the question of donations to parishes in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Specifically, she wrote:'I am troubled regarding contributions to my local parish. Because of the percentage that is automatically taken by the archdiocese, I don't feel comfortable contributing, though I am sad not to be able to support my local parish.
Reputable nonprofits with which I am familiar will allow you to stipulate restrictions on your donations. For example, the ALS ice-bucket challenge allowed you to stipulate that your donation was not to be used to support the embryonic stem cell research that the ALS Association funds. Why are we not allowed to restrict our contributions to our local parishes?'
The short answer is, you are. Canon law is very clear that donations given for a specific purpose may only be used for that purpose:Canon 1267, 3- Offerings given by the faithful for a specified purpose may be used only for that purpose
However, if you make this offering by means of the weekly collection plate or collection envelopes, the parish will have to count that donation when figuring the amount it must pay to the Archdiocese, per the assessment formula (see the Clergy Bulletin posted below
). Your dollars may not be used to pay the assessment per se
, but since your contribution will be tabulated along with other monies received, the effect will be the same.
But, there is nothing that says that you must contribute in this way. Instead, it is possible to send cash or a check to the parish office with a letter noting that your contribution is to be used exclusively for a particular ministry or purpose, and not towards the parish assessment or any other tax levied by the Archdiocese. Or, you can contribute to specific fundraising efforts, noting that a lesser tax (2%) is applied to contributions to building projects or debt reduction funds
Better yet, there is nothing to prevent you from supporting your parish by paying third party vendors or service providers directly, or providing required goods. You see this often in rural parishes where, for instance, a family might pay for the supply of heating oil for the winter months. You should speak with your pastor or parish business administrator regarding how best to make such a contribution, but I would be surprised if contributions towards heating or electric bills, snow plowing, cable/phone/internet services, software licenses, postage, liturgical wine and communion wafers, flowers for the church, printing costs, and for contracted services such as musicians and sign language interpreters are refused. You may also find that some pastors (especially those of a certain age) have become incredibly adept at receiving donations that are not counted towards the Archdiocesan assessment.
If you choose to contribute in this way, you should speak with your accountant prior to claiming such contributions as tax deductible. I would also suggest avoiding contributions to things like insurance or pension funds, which are administered by the Archdiocese. Also note that the Archdiocese intends to tax 'other income' received by parishes.
However you choose to donate, pastors of parishes, along with business administrators and finance council members, are obliged to ensure that the stipulations of donors are honored (canon 1284, 3
). If you contribute monies for a specific purpose, you should expect to receive confirmation that your contribution was used accordingly.
The same solemn responsibility binds the diocesan bishop, who is given the authority to resolve any questions regarding the application of donations. However, a donor who feels his or her intention was disregarded does have the opportunity to challenge the decision of the bishop through hierarchical recourse
.[N.B. Parishes in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and elsewhere, are audited. Some are audited yearly because of debt repayments plans or loan financing requirements. Otherwise the frequency of audits, as well as whether a certified audit is conducted as opposed to a uncertified review with accompanying management letter, is based on the size of the parish's annual budget. All parishes should undergo a full audit when there is a change in pastor.]
Can. 502, of the Code of Canon Law §1. From among the members of the presbyteral council and in a number not less than six nor more than twelve, the diocesan bishop freely appoints some priests who are to constitute for five years a college of consultors, to which belongs the functions determined by law. When the five years elapse, however, it continues to exercise its proper functions until a new college is established.
In many ways, the authority of the diocesan bishop is absolute. He has all the 'ordinary, proper, and immediate' power necessary to fulfill his pastoral office, except when the law establishes otherwise (c. 381
). It is this exception that came to my mind yesterday when I saw the announcement that attempts to settle the case of John Doe 104 had failed
One of the
innovations introduced with the 1983 Code of Canon Law
was the creation of the College of Consultors. The overall task of the
College is to assist the diocesan bishop in governing the diocese. However, a distinction is made regarding the responsibilities of the College. In some cases the diocesan bishop is obliged to receive the consent of the college, whilst in others he must merely consult with them (audire- to hear). The specific obligation is established in the canons related to the proposed acts.
For instance, the Archbishop must consult with the College of Consultors prior to appointing or removing the diocesan finance officer
(a consultation Archbishop Nienstedt overlooked prior to the forced resignation of CFO John Bierbaum in the wake of the 'discovery' of the theft by the Archdiocesan comptroller, and sought too late to be meaningful in regard to the hiring of his replacement, Tom Mertens). He must also consult them on matters of 'major importance' in light of the financial situation of the diocese (also ignored when it came to providing Archdiocesan funding to outside organizations seeking to secure a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage). A diocesan bishop is not bound to follow the advice offered by the College in these circumstances, but the law requires that such consultation occur.
The Archbishop must receive the consent
of the College of Consultors in order to alienate (usually by sale or lease) diocesan property of a value that falls between the maximum and minimum amounts
, and prior to granting permission for similar transactions at the parish level. He must also secure the consent of the College prior to placing acts considered to be extraordinary according to the criteria established by the USCCB
. Among such acts is the resolving of individual or aggregate claims by means of financial settlement.
Theoretically, this should place a necessary check on a diocesan bishop, especially when one considers that he is limited as to whom he may appoint to the College. He must select between six and twelve members, and those members can only be chosen from among the members of the Presbyteral Council. In the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, the majority of the members of the Presbyteral Council are not appointed by the Archbishop but are elected by the whole body of priests, who vote in their deaneries (generally geographic areas or ministerial categories such as retired priests, academics, or chaplains). The effectiveness of the College is directly related to the extent to which the members represent viewpoints that are diverse and otherwise unrepresented.
When I was Chancellor for Canonical Affairs, I served as staff liaison to the College of Consultors, and I can assure you of that College's diverse viewpoints and of the seriousness with which they undertook their duties. As many priests could attest, they were tough. Unlike the Archdiocesan Finance Council, which shares the responsibility of advising the Archbishop prior to the placing of certain acts, the College of Consultors was not prepared to merely 'rubber stamp' transactions at either the parish or the diocesan level. Several priests found they had to put breaks on construction projects or other transactions because of the rigorous review to which their proposals were subjected, and were taken aback when asked to submit contracts, proposals, tax information, financial data, and anything else the College felt it needed to review before granting its consent. Many were also surprised to find that transactions that had once been considered a standard means of doing business in the church (such as leasing or selling unlisted property to parish employees), would no longer receive the required approval.
Yet, none of this is surprising when one considers the make-up of that particular College. That body was composed of eleven members of which no less than four were lawyers, one was a noted curmudgeon, all had served as pastors with the exception of Father Laird (who was chosen when he sat on the Presbyteral Council as Dean of the Academic Deanery), several were late vocations who had spent years in secular professions, and one was a member of a religious order.
The Consultors were:
Father Dan Griffith
Father Bob Hart
Father Patrick Hipwell
Father Peter Laird
Father James Perkl
Father Thomas Sieg
Father Peter Williams
Father Thomas Kunnel*
Father Ralph Talbot
Father Tom Walker
Father Francis Kittock
While I have been disappointed in the conduct of several of these priests since my resignation and my decision to go public with what I knew about the Archdiocesan response to accusations of sexual abuse by clergy, my faith in their ability to advise the Archbishop (at least at that time) was absolute. Which is why I consider it a pity that the term of this College ended in November of 2013.
I consider it even more a pity when I review the list of the current College of Consultors, as published in the Minnesota Catholic Directory (see below). Don't get me wrong- I have nothing against any of these men, and I think quite highly of several of them. But, they do not have the education or the experience of the previous group, which is sad given how desperately such knowledge is needed at this time.
But, what troubles me most about the current make-up of the College is that in empaneling it the Archbishop apparently chose to deviate from the law in order to ensure that a majority of votes would always be cast in his favor. For, if the Minnesota Catholic Directory (produced and published by the Archdiocese) is to be believed, this College apparently is composed not only of men selected from the Presbyteral Council as the law requires, but also of those whose appointments to it are listed as being ex officio
(by virtue of office).
Obviously, there are no ex officio
positions on a College of Consultors. If there were, the Code
would list them. Moreover, the idea of ex officio
appointments- which would change as the holders of those offices do- goes against the idea that the College is a stable body that once selected serves for five years, even during a vacant See (when there is no diocesan bishop or he is impeded).
Even more concerning is the appointment of Bishop Cozzens to the College (ex officio). Bishop Cozzens was not ordained to the episcopacy until December 9, 2013, while the College of Consultors should have been established in October or November of 2013. As auxiliary bishop, Cozzens would have an appointment on the Presbyteral Council, but again he did not become an auxiliary until December and so would not have been a legitimate member of the Council prior to that. The only other way that he could have had a legitimate seat on the Presbyteral Council prior to his episcopal ordination was as Dean of the Academic Deanery, but that position was held by Father Michael Keating (appointed by the Archbishop with full knowledge of the accusations that had been made against him). So, it seems highly unlikely to me that Bishop Cozzens is/was even eligible for membership on the College of Consultors.
And why have him there at all? Surely Auxiliary Bishops, like Vicars General, have other opportunities to provide counsel and advice to their bishop. No, the only reason for having these 'ex officio' members is so that the Archbishop is guaranteed a certain number of favorable or unfavorable votes. Anyone who thinks I am kidding or exaggerating should just ask one of the previous Consultors how often the Archbishop himself tried to cast a vote during their consultations!
But does it matter? Should we care? Yes, most certainly. As I have already said, the College must give its consent to certain transactions, including the alienation (transfer of ownership, or turning over of the administration) of diocesan property. This means they would have likely had to approve the transfer of funds to the new Appeal Foundation, as well as the shifting of any assets prior to the Archdiocese's filing for bankruptcy. Even more importantly in light of recent events, they would have to approve legal settlements and 'any financial transaction or contractual agreement, the terms of which address matters involving an actual or potential conflict of interest for the diocesan bishop, auxiliary bishop(s), vicar(s) general, episcopal vicar(s), or diocesan finance officer'. In other words, if you want to know how much the Archdiocese paid Greene and Espel to investigate the Archbishop Ask a consultor.
*Thomas Kunnel, TOR, is the religious order priest, of course. Once a close friend of Archbishop Nienstedt (and of Joel Cycenas), that relationship soured and Father Kunnel would escape the Archdiocese before his term was up, meaning the College dropped to ten members. Interestingly, Kunnel found refuge with Bishop Pates in the Diocese of Des Moines. I suspect we will hear a great deal more about this when the investigation into Archbishop Nienstedt is finally made public.
Earlier today, the Noaker law firm of Minneapolis announced that no settlement had been reached in the case of John Doe 104, meaning that the matter is headed to trial on January 26, 2015
, before Judge Van de North. Clients of the Noaker firm were not included in the much-publicized settlement between the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and Jeff Anderson and Associates.
[The website for Jeff Anderson and Associates also notes that it has two trials set for that date, involving the priests Jerome Kern and Robert Thurner. Hopefully we will know more about this soon].
The case of Doe 104 involves allegations of abuse against the now-deceased Reverend Thomas Stitts dating back to the 1970s. In 2013, the Archdiocese identified Stitts as having credible accusations against him, although such a declaration was little more than a formality. The first lawsuits involving Stitts were filed in 1993
. At that time, the Archdiocese denied knowledge of any previous accusations against Father Stitts, although documents in his personnel file, which I personally reviewed, indicated that they were aware of acts of abuse by at least 1973
. I included my concerns about this in my resignation letter to Archbishop Nienstedt in April of 2013.
This case will be interesting for several reasons, one of which is the involvement of Dick Rice, a former Jesuit priest who served in the Twin Cities
. Rice is listed among the deponents on the Witness List
filed in court this morning. Several other priests will likely be called upon to testify to knowledge that might reflect poorly on their own behavior and/or observance of clerical celibacy, but the situation of Dick Rice has an additional degree of frisson
given how actively and aggressively Archbishop Nienstedt and former Vicar General Peter Laird attempted to limit Rice's activities in the Archdiocese in the years following his laicization.
The plaintiff's witness list also includes the 'Custodian of Records for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis'. It will be interesting to see who the Archdiocese produces in response, especially given the fact that Stitts's personnel file was one that was kept and maintained by the Meier, Kennedy, and Quinn law firm at its Saint Paul offices. When I reviewed the file, at Father Laird's direction, I actually had to do so in one of the firm's conference rooms. I do not believe that anyone on my staff outside of Andy Eisenzimmer, who was involved in the earlier lawsuits, had a similar opportunity to review the contents of the file.
Or so saith Woody Allen.
Interestingly, it was this quote (and in fact the whole 'trial scene' from 'Bananas
') that came to my mind earlier this weekend after a priest emailed me a question. Perhaps surprisingly, the question was not about the 'investigation' into Archbishop Nienstedt (although the quote would certainly be apt). Instead, the question that was posed was this: 'Why do you think Nienstedt appointed [Father Peter] Laird as Vicar General?'
I remember my colleagues and I asking the same question in November of 2009, when it was announced that Laird would be taking over for [Bishop] Paul Sirba, who had been just appointed Bishop of Duluth. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I initially greeted Father Laird's appointment with a cautious optimism, although that didn't last for long. I suspect that the same was true for Archbishop Nienstedt.
Obviously, the Archbishop never unburdened himself to me as to what motivated his choice, nor am I aware of him doing so with anyone else. However, I can provide a context with which to understand the appointment, as well as to understand what would eventually transpire. I also know for a fact that Father Laird did not enjoy the level of confidence that he (and others) probably thought he did. As the person who prepared the Archbishop's list of three (canon 413, 1
), I can assure you that Father Laird was never high on that list.
In fairness to the Archbishop, it is important to note that Father Laird was also not his first choice to serve as Vicar General. Incredibly unpopular from the moment his appointment was announced
, Nienstedt, as coadjutor, would watch as the ship in Saint Paul was scuttled before he could take command. Auxiliary Bishop Pates was transferred to Des Moines in the month prior to Archbishop Flynn's retirement, and influential and well-respected priests like Bishop Peter Christensen and Bishop John LeVoir were named to lead dioceses of their own. Even lay staff members such as my predecessor and the long-time Schools staffer and Superintendent Lori Glynn would take the opportunity to depart.
The scuttle-like situation was compounded by an absence of any type of Archdiocesan succession plan and an abysmal lack of bench strength for key roles. Whereas most dioceses of the size and [formerly] fiscal strength of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis engaged in a constant process of developing and mentoring staff and clergy to fulfill required roles, that process in Saint Paul had effectively come to an end following the succession of Father Kevin McDonough as Vicar General/Moderator of the Curia. While McDonough (and Bishops Pates, Carlson
, and Kinney
before him) had been carefully formed for those roles under the direction of Archbishop Roach (sent to study canon law in Rome and then serving as Vice Chancellor, Episcopal Vicar, Chancellor, and pastor before his appointment as second in command), there was no similar emphasis on formation following McDonough's appointment and that of Father Joseph Wajda as Judicial Vicar. Instead, clergy (and sometimes lay staff) were thrust into roles for which they were unprepared and at which they were exceedingly unlikely to succeed. In hockey terms, when it came to choosing who to send out on the ice, Nienstedt didn't have the option of rolling four lines. He had trouble fielding a complete first line.
Having said that, many people were pleased with the initial appointment of Father [Bishop] Lee Piche, who was an experienced pastor with a soft touch that seemed to provide a necessary contrast to the Archbishop's gruff style. The lack of Chancery experience was problematic, but probably seen as an asset by the Archbishop, who wasn't interested in sharing his responsibilities beyond ceremonial events and those meetings where his presence was not welcome (e.g. the Board of Trustees for the University of Saint Thomas).
Hence the Archbishop must have felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under him, when, barely a year after taking over from McDonough, Bishop Piche's assignment as Vicar General and Moderator was negated by his appointment as auxiliary bishop. In case you don't think this appointment surprised the Archbishop, consider that less than two weeks prior to the announcement, the Archbishop had me draft a letter to the Secretary of State requesting the Holy Father's congratulations to then-Father Piche on his 25th anniversary of priestly ordination (a recognition rendered superfluous in light of the papal bull appointing him auxiliary). And, the Archbishop's frustration with this turn of events was evident in his refusal to alter his previous July vacation itinerary, meaning that Piche's episcopal ordination took place so quickly following the announcement of the appointment that the ink was still wet on the parchment.
It must have pained the Archbishop (who upon appointment as co-adjutor stated that one of his priorities was recruitment to the priesthood
) to have to 'steal' from the seminary in order to fill the Chancery position vacated by Piche. But, as much as it hurt the Archbishop, it must have hurt Bishop Sirba more. Still, whatever reluctance he had towards accepting the appointment, Sirba did the job diligently and (I continue to believe this) to the best of his ability. A former spiritual director and Director of Spiritual Formation, his background was of little assistance to him in navigating the abyss of external forum violations of clerical celibacy. Moreover, he lacked the education and the experience gained from lesser Chancery roles, both things that had been considered essential in his predecessors before Piche.
My colleagues and I thought Sirba's administration promising, but incredibly short lived. For, Sirba served less than six months before he was named Bishop of Duluth. Again, the Archbishop was taken by surprise by the appointment, so much so that I remember him saying that when he received the call from Archbishop Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio
, he struggled to identify the man Sambi was telling him had been appointed (this was likely in part because of Sambi's notable accent when speaking English...).
So, for the third time in little more than a year, the Archbishop had to go looking for someone to serve as his second in command. Again, I can't tell you the mental process he used when landing upon Father Laird (Father Laird is from an influential family that is heavily engaged in the administration of the Archdiocese, he is skilled at cultivating wealthy donors, and had already been appointed Co-Chair of the Strategic Planning Task Force and Secretary to the College of Consultors), but I can tell you what external process he did not use- he didn't review his personnel file. This is probably the most inexcusable of administrative oversights, given that the file clearly identified Father Laird as a member of the 'transitional presbyterate' (clergy who view their priestly ordination as a mere stepping stone to the episcopacy), who had never served as a pastor, and who formation staff seemed to believe would not survive in ministry should his academic or episcopal ambitions be thwarted. [I know this because I was asked, in my role as Chancellor, to review Laird's file and report to the Nuncio upon it as part of the selection process for bishops. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete this task because Father Laird's suspension of my employment coincided with the time period given for providing the information. An amazing coincidence, I am sure].
Speaking of the appointment of bishops, in the case of Father Laird, I suspect that his appointment (had it occurred) would have been of no surprise to Archbishop Nienstedt. Rather, I suspect that such an appointment would have seemed to the Archbishop as the easiest way to end the ongoing power struggle between Archbishop and Vicar General. But, the lack of bench strength and succession plan remained an issue and became more of one as (in my opinion) Father Laird attempted to undermine potential rivals as he perceived his grasp on power to be waning (his failure to appoint Father Ralph Talbot to the Sexual Misconduct Task Force in the spring of 2013 is an obvious example of this).
Laird's administration was frustrating and problematic (the full extent to which he is responsible for the current crisis has not yet been revealed), but it was really a symptom of a much larger problem with the overall functioning of the Archdiocese. There is simply no excuse or justification for an organization such as the Archdiocesan Central Corporation, in an archdiocese of this size and prominence, to fail to prepare priests to fulfill these essential roles. Such appointments should be the result of careful planning and preparation, rather than haphazard reactions to chains of events.
There should also be careful attention given to the character of the men selected. In my experience, which unlike my former colleagues is based on experiences in other dioceses and archdioceses, I have come to realize that there are three essential characteristics necessary in priests who would serve as Vicar Generals and Moderators of the Curia, and these three characteristics are in addition to the aforementioned education and experience. Since it seems likely that there will be a new Vicar General appointed in the coming year, I will list them here in an attempt to be helpful.
1) The ability to apply problem-solving techniques to issues both large and small.
When one considers the simple size of the task that falls upon someone when appointed Vicar General (countless Board memberships, as well as the role of COO, clergy disciplinarian, and pastoral minister), it is easy to see how someone could prioritize tasks in terms of what appears 'big' and what appears 'small'. Yet, a good candidate recognizes that 'big' or 'small' is simply a matter of perspective. The best example I saw of this was Bishop Kagan (then Monsignor Kagan
), who I met while he was still serving as Vicar General of the Diocese of Rockford. I was visiting him at the 'Chancery' in Rockford after he had been Vicar General for more than ten years, and my visit was prompted by a penal process taking place involving a priest who had served briefly in that diocese. I took the elevator to Monsignor Kagan's office in the company of a dog, who followed me all the way in to
the office. Kagan explained to me that he had 'adopted' the dog, after careful research and consideration, to resolve the problem of the geese that populated the Chancery lawn, and which were a menace to employees and visitors
. His responses to my more tawdry questions demonstrated the same consideration and thoughtfulness, but it was the dog that impressed me. A less suitable Vicar General would have dismissed the 'geese issue' as being beneath his concern, or would have okayed the hire of a firm to poison the birds without considering all of the ramifications. Such things are disasters for employee morale, as anyone who has been near the Chancery in Saint Paul is well aware.2). A strong sense of self
For most people, it is not easy to accept that they are not in control, and this is even more true for people who find themselves so close to power they can taste it. To serve effectively as a Vicar General, however, it is essential that a man be able to say 'as you wish it, so it shall be done', and to say it several times each hour
. It helps, of course, if the man has faith in the one who is issuing orders, but our Catholic ecclesiology demands it even when that faith is lacking. And for that, a man must have a very clear sense of self, and an ability to see his role in the larger picture. He must also be able to set personal ambition aside. It is not helpful (to himself, or to the Church) if what the man says most often is 'when I get my diocese, things will be different'.
Whenever I reflect on this, I think of Monsignor Brian Donahue
, who left his position as Vicar General to serve as a military chaplain, returned to the diocese and then returned to the Army again with the blessing of his bishop. Feeling compelled to return to Iraq with his former unit, who otherwise would be without a Catholic chaplain, he submitted the decision to the prayerful consideration of his bishop, whom he knew had to consider foremost the welfare of his diocese.
3). A clear sense of his ministry
In order to serve well in the role of Vicar General, a priest also has to have a very clear sense of what he was ordained to do. Those who have this hate the job of Vicar General, and count the days, and hours and minutes, until their term is up, their successor appointed,and they can return to full time ministry to the people of God.
Careerists make bad Vicars General for two reasons. First, they find it difficult to remember that they are not in charge. Second, their desire to hold on to the job, or to advance from it, often prevents them from doing what it is that is required of them. For, a Vicar General must be willing and able to give honest, thoughtful advice to his bishop whether that bishop wants to hear it or not, and then faithfully implement whatever decision is made, even if contrary to his advice. This is much easier if the threatened punishment for failing to do so- usually the implied threat of banishment to a parish in the hinterlands- is no threat at all. When a Vicar General dreads, more than anything, being sent to minister in a parish, well that, as they say, is 'a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of two mockeries of a sham', and no good can come fr