If you have not seen our Sunday post about shouting out your appreciation for a Boston-area priest, please see “Priest Appreciation” and post a compliment today! Also, anonymous attendees at the Daughters of St. Paul event yesterday say it was a fantastic program!
We feel our post today is a very important one. Since our posts on the Letter from the Vicar General and the need for a Whistleblower Policy have drawn out a range of passionate comments, today we highlight what may be the greatest obstacle to implementing a meaningful whistleblower policy in the Boston Archdiocese. We do so in the hopes that our post will help speed progress. The sooner the archdiocese can effectively tackle this challenge, the sooner they might weed out corruption, and see more fruits of the Lord growing! (and see this blog become irrelevant and go away too). However today the archdiocese does not appear to have tackled this, so tears of blog-withdrawal grief and grief counseling from the cabinet official highly skilled in that area from his military service would be premature. Also, given how the archdiocese actually operates today, the functioning of the administrative cabinet seems like it may conflict with Canon Law in a few ways—coincidentally, for the same reason that a whistleblower policy is challenging to implement. The upcoming meeting of the Presbyteral Council might want to take up this issue among others raised on this blog—we think it is that important.
We think most people would agree that to have an effective whistleblower policy in Boston–and make it unnecessary for people to come to this blog as their outlet–means a person (or ethics panel) of impeccable integrity along with a process must exist to investigate and report on claims without being obstructed. They need to protect anonymity, ensure there is no retaliation, and drive changes–including if necessary, having the authority to recommend that people be terminated. That person or panel would be independent of the Chancellor, Vicar General, and even certain members of the Finance Council who bring their own well-documented conflicts of interest and agendas.
Comments on the Whistleblower Policy post highlight this issue very well. One person with insider knowledge said,
“In my opinion, who is to say that you submit the claim, and those in high leadership positions will continue to squash the claim. The problem really relies on top leadership and how they continue to deal with complaints that have facts to support it. Let’s wake up for once and see what is really going on in the Archdiocese of Boston. Let’s pray together and hopefully the Cardinal can get the Archdiocese back on track. This will require his own separate investigation away from the fluff that he is surrounded by every day, and that reflect off the Truth about what continues to go on in the Archdiocese of Boston.”
We responded in agreement saying the archdiocese needs an independent individual with high integrity and no conflicts of interest themselves, who is authorized, empowered, and personally motivated to drive this program. Those programs implemented in other dioceses appear to presume that the person in the role of the Vicar General or the Chancellor has the combination of high integrity, values consistent with those in their whistleblower policies, a non-retaliatory nature that encourages openness and wants to root out corruption, and the authority level over all administration and operations to “own” and drive such a program and effect the needed changes. From what we have documented here and personally experienced in the response to the blog, we do not see either person in those roles in Boston as having that combination of traits.
Why not the Vicar General in Boston? Because in practical terms, Fr. Richard Erikson does not have authority over many of the people whose actions might be the subject of whistleblower claims. Why not the Chancellor? Read past posts on this blog about cronyism and conflicts of interest. Why not certain members of the Finance Council? Read this blog. That is where we now get into the questions about possible canon law conflicts. Our in-house canon lawyer was unavailable as of press time so we consulted the Code of Canon Law on the Vatican’s website as well as SaintWiki.
1) Role of the Vicar General/Moderator of the Curia
Canon 473 §1 and §2 make clear that the diocesan Bishop must ensure everything concerning administration of the whole diocese is properly coordinated and directed to best achieve the good of God’s people of under his care, and the Bishop may appoint a Moderator of the curia, who under the Bishop’s authority, coordinates administrative matters and ensures that the others in the curia properly fulfill the offices. Canon 475 §1 says the diocesan Bishop is to appoint a Vicar general to assist him in the governance of the whole diocese, and Canon 479 §1 grants the Vicar general the same executive power over the whole diocese as that of the diocesan Bishop. It is typical that someone in the role of Fr. Richard Erikson has both of these titles. But not typical is that the reality of governance in Boston is in major conflict with the official org chart.
Notice in the above, all administrative cabinet officials are shown as reporting to the Vicar General
Reality of Governance in Boston Archdiocese
In reality, the Boston Archdiocese works more like the org chart below (click on picture to enlarge).
A number of key decisions are made by the group in the pink box in the upper right of the chart above without involvement by the Vicar General and without him being in a position to overrule them or otherwise keep the people accountable for those decisions. If you disagree with this assessment or want an example, just look at the recent reorganization of the cabinet, or look at the Caritas sale or the formation of search committees and hiring of key staff, but let us know if you think we have anything wrong and we will gladly adjust it. The pink box, which has been updated since our last version, includes those people we are repeatedly told–and publicly available information validates–comprise the primary base of power and decision-making influence in the archdiocese today. So the Vicar General in Boston does not actually have “executive power over the whole diocese” or for that matter over even the whole cabinet or over highly influential advisors like Jack Connors or John Kaneb. By coincidence, Jim McDonough, Fr. Hehir, and those who take direction from them and support their efforts (Terry Donilon and Carol Gustavson) have their offices in the central area of the 4th floor in the Pastoral Center, segregated from the Vicar General and the rest of the staff. (If anyone has a photo of Carol G, please email it to us and we will gladly add it to the chart).
This blog has already documented what can objectively be seen as ethical concerns, cronyism, and conflicts of interest associated with those in the pink box. A credible whistleblower policy would need to give someone with impeccable ethical credentials or some independent panel substantial investigative and corrective authority over all of the people whose pictures appear in the pink box, their subordinates, the Vicar General, and over the administrative cabinet that for practical purposes does report into the Vicar General.
2) Term and Character Attributes of the Finance Officer/Chancellor
Beyond the role of the Vicar General and structure of the administrative cabinet, here is a little bit from the Code of Canon Law regarding the role of chancellor and chief finance officer.
Canon 482 §2 says the chancellor and notaries must be of “unimpaired reputation and above all suspicion.”
Canon 494 §1 and §2 say “ in every diocese, after having heard the college of consultors and the Finance council, the bishop is to appoint a Finance officer who is truly expert in Financial affairs and absolutely distinguished for honesty. The Finance officer is to be appointed for a Five year term but can be appointed for other Five year terms at the end of this period. The finance officer is not to be removed while in this function except for a grave cause to be assessed by the bishop after he has heard the college of consultors and the Finance council.
This blog is not in a position to publish individual character judgments—we are primarily focused on reporting facts about situations that can be objectively verified. In view of what we have presented you may of course reach your own conclusions. Does anything of what is covered in this post and in this blog appear to you to conflict with something Canon Law prescribes? Might the Presbyteral Council wish to review the documented instances of conflicts of interest, cronyism, and lack of transparency on this blog and perhaps consider if the character attributes prescribed by Canon Law are being maintained today? If they are maintained today, that is good. If they are not, then should the Council take the step of advising the Cardinal on appropriate actions to remedy that situation in the short-term or prior to renewal of anyone’s employment term? Setting aside Canon Law entirely and the values and practices it espouses, do you agree with the need for an independent authority or ethics panel as described above to drive and execute the whistleblower policy? If that does not exist, is it even possible to have a credible policy in Boston?
Once again, please take a moment to join dozens of other readers and shout out your appreciation for an outstanding Boston-area priest by visiting our “Priest Appreciation” page and posting a compliment today! We have had a few problems with comments over the weekend, so if you cannot post, just drop us an email and we will post the comment.