Sham Search: Terry Donilon

For the benefit of newer readers who think “sham searches” is something new for the Boston Archdiocese with the soon-to-be-publicly-announced appointment of the new Secretary for Institutional Advancment, Kathleen Driscoll, we thought we would mention that the Boston Archdiocese has gotten this down to practically a science over the years (or down to an art form, depending on how you look at it).

Terry Donilon, Secretary for Communications, was the first such “sham search’ under Cardinal O’Malley.  Ann Carter, of PR firm Rasky Baerlein, led the search.  Note the immediate conflict of interest of a vendor paid by the archdiocese hiring the person who would manage their services and decide on their continuing employment.  But that is not what makes it a “sham search”–here at Boston Catholic Insider, we hold the standards for a “sham search” much higher than that.

What makes this one a sham search is that Ann Carter is CEO of Rasky Baerlein, where the founder and Chairman is Larry Rasky, who coincidentally has known the Donilon family for years from his political work starting with the Joe Biden campaign back in 1988.  Here’s a blurb from the Boston Globe giving the history.

The two older brothers and a sister-in-law of archdiocesan spokesman Terrence C. Donilon (right) are all expected to land high-ranking posts in the Obama administration. Terry is the youngest of four Donilon siblings; his brother Mike has been named counselor to the vice president, his brother Tom is expected to become deputy national security adviser, and Tom’s wife, Cathy Russell, has been named chief of staff to Biden’s wife Jill. Interestingly, the Donilons are not the cardinal’s only connection to Biden — the archdiocese retains as public relations consultants the firm of Rasky Baerlein, headed by Larry Rasky, who served as Biden’s campaign spokesman in 2007 and in 1988. (Biden will be the first Catholic vice president, but is also viewed warily by some bishops because he, like Obama, supports abortion rights.)

In Politico Friday, Alexander Burns wrote about Tom and Mike Donilon and Cathy Russell. An excerpt:

“How has this trio ended up so close to the center of an administration promising an infusion of new blood? There are a number of reasons, but the most important is Joe Biden. ‘Cathy goes back 20 years with Joe Biden, and Mike goes back even longer on campaigns; Tom goes back more than 20 years,’ said a friend of the Donilon family who asked not to be named. ‘They stayed very close over the years with the Bidens, so that’s part of it.’ In a news release, the transition team noted that Mike Donilon had advised the Delaware senator since the early 1980s, and both Tom Donilon and Cathy Russell worked on Biden’s 1988 presidential run.”

Tom Donilon was recently named National Security Advisor to President Obama, who coincidentally was in town this past weekend for a fund-raiser at the Newton home of Caritas Christi CEO Ralph de la Torre.  Everyone is asking us if we attended the event, but unfortunately we were not invited.  (Just for kicks, compare the background of Tom Donilon as National Security Advisor vs that of his predecessor, Gen. James L. Jones. But we digress…)

As we reported in Conflicts of Interest: Part I, back in 2005 Ms. Carter was on the search committee that selected Communications Secretary, Terry Donilon–the position that would determine when she was retained, how often and for how many hours she was retained, and what she and her firm would be paid. She was quoted in the Boston Globe on April 15, 2005 in their announcement of Donilon’s appointment saying, “Terry Donilon is an experienced communicator who loves the church.”   The person quoted in such announcements is usually the person who led the search.  We are told that resumes of far superior candidates interested in the job never made it to the full search committee.  People inside the archdiocese familiar with Terry’s work indicate that he is spelling-challenged and writing-challenged, and just about every press release or statement requires the attention and spin of Fr. Bryan Hehir and Ann Carter. 

In the absence of a graphic, just to recap, here is how it worked for the search.  Ann Carter worked with Larry Rasky, who knew the Donilon brothers from politics.  Donilon brother, Terry, coincidentally was looking for a job after doing PR for Shaws Supermarkets, and by coincidence, Ann Carter was leading the search for the Communications role at the archdiocese at the same time.  Other more experienced superior candidates were just never considered.  We call this a “sham search.”   See how it works?  Usually the press release announcing the result of the sham search says something about the person chosen being “an experienced blah-blah-blah…who loves the Church.”

This has been repeated and refined a number of times now. The people involved in these are the same names you have heard over and over–Fr. Bryan Hehir, Chancellor Jim McDonough, Jack Connors, and Cardinal O’Malley who is ultimately responsible and accountable over these people on his senior team.   Does this give you confidence in the direction of the Boston archdiocese?

We are interested to see how it will be spun any day now for the Secretary of Institutional Advancement with a quote from Jack Connors and the Cardinal.

13 Responses to Sham Search: Terry Donilon

  1. Anna Lynskey says:


  2. Elizabeth Anne says:

    When Mr. Donilon started working at the archdiocese, he showed a shocking lack of knowledge about the Church. Just one example, he once asked me what a permanent deacon was. I really thought that was something the director of communications should know before taking the job.

    I know this is not within the purview of this post, but you did not mention Mr. Donilon’s preferential treatment of the secular press, particularly the Boston Globe. He’s been very good friends with Michael Paulson (of Spotlight Team fame) and has seemed bemused when the Globe published negative articles about the local Church. He also seems to miss the little digs Paulson includes in even the positive stories.

    I always assumed that there was no one better for the job of communications director. I am at once relieved and saddened by the news that there were more qualified candidates.

  3. Carolyn says:


    So close to Hallowe’en, let’s review what’s scary here:

    Ms. Carter’s income and retention by her then-largest client would be determined by the person she put into the job.

    Mr. Donilon and his family wished him to have a job that would move him away from Rhode Island politics — the family “business” — and into a position where Rasky would edit everything he uttered, and fundamentally make him the Communications secretary (note small “s”) whose primary role it is to email out what other people have authored. Is there something in Terry’s background that worries them?

    The synergy/symbiosis among the DNC, Rasky Baerlein, Bryan Hehir, Joe Biden and Jack Connors has yielded a large withdrawal of patrimony from the Archdiocese of Boston that has benefited, or potentially benefited, Rasky, Partners Healthcare and the DNC. So what benefit has flowed to Bryan Hehir? Or has he helped all these entities raid the patrimony of the Archdiocese? If so, was it out of his sense of social justice?

    Did anyone ask Bryan Hehir about that at his Social Justice Forum over Columbus Day?

    Who needs vampire costumes? The little shop of horrors at 66 Brooks beats anything Hallowe’en can trot out.

    I’ll take November 1, All Saints Day. Pray to the saints, and pray fiercely for all those mentioned above.

  4. Molly says:

    I don’t doubt that the statements about the sham searches are true, but I’d be interested in knowing who these other more qualified candidates are or at least why they are more qualified to really nail the point.

  5. Jim says:

    I second Molly. How are the people you propose to do the job more qualified, and what more, free of any tangle of cronyism or conflict of interest?

    The fact is cronyism and conflicts of interest are everywhere and part of life. If the anonymous bloggers at Boston Catholic Insider were in power, you’d be choosing your friends and relatives too. It’s only human nature to favor those we know.

  6. Boston Catholic Insider says:

    Molly and Jim,
    Thank you very much for your comments. For reasons of protecting confidentiality, we are not in a position to publicly post the names of people who applied for various positions in the past. We know names and have seen resumes of qualified people. (One recent applicant for a different position in the archdiocese is so well-qualified, we’d love to post their resume and background publicly so some Catholic organization can benefit from their expertise). Regular readers of this blog see the extent to which we go to verify and document information and will have to trust us there, unless some of the applicants wish to respond anonymously or by name via comments.

    Yes cronyism and conflicts of interest are everywhere in life. However, Jim, you are sadly mistaken that if the anonymous bloggers at Boston Catholic Insider were in power, we would be choosing our friends and relatives too. Basic Management 101 and Hiring 101 says to hire the best qualified person for the job. If two people are of equal qualification level, expertise, experience, intelligence, attitude, cultural fit, etc., then if one is known and trusted vs another who is an unknown commodity, go with the one you know. That is not what we are talking about with “sham searches.”

    Without sharing the extent of our various capacities in life and past or present experiences “hiring and firing” people, suffice to say you terribly underestimate these anonymous bloggers to the point of insult by suggesting we would choose friends and relatives for positions over fundamental considerations and personal traits like competency, expertise, attitude, character, experience, aptitude, motivation, organizational/cultural fit, and in the Catholic Church, things like belief and adherence to Church doctrinal teachings, enthusiasm for the faith, evangelistic approach, and more.

    Jim, you are totally barking up the wrong tree to make that last claim/accusation. Try 66 Brooks Drive to get resonance on that one, but not these bloggers.

  7. Jim says:

    To Boston Catholic Insider:

    My statement appeared belligerent, for which I regret. The point was more rhetorical and not accusatory. I could have used anyone as an example of how we tend to favor the known over the unknown.

    Also, it’s more a statement on the way conflicts of interest are perceived, despite best intentions.

    Even if you followed your Basic Management/Hiring 101 practice to the letter, the person who didn’t get the job might accuse you of cronyism and conflict of interest because you went with a friend over a stranger.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong or right about 66 Brooks Drive. The accusations you make are strong and poignant; therefore, consideration of any possible explanation of perceived conflict of interest, (even if it’s the plain human kind), would strengthen the thesis of this blog.


    • Jim, Got it. Thanks for the additional explanation and clarification. Let me just briefly comment back.

      In the case of the Boston archdiocese, in many cases these qualified people applying for a job cannot even get an interview for the position and are not getting the same basic level of consideration as the “crony.” Sometimes applicants are told in an initial response that they will be interviewed, and then that does not happen.

      You are correct that the person who didn’t get the job might accuse the hiring manager (or head of a search committee) of cronyism or a conflict of interest because they didn’t get the job. There are many ways to avoid that risk–post a description of the job requirements or qualifications for the job publicly (as was just done for the Mass Catholic Conference position, but never done for the Development Secretary job), post a way to apply, keep people out of the interview or search process who have a built-in conflict of interest (e.g. Rasky PR as the archdiocese’s PR firm hiring the PR guy who would oversee them), phone-screen as many candidates with strong resumes as you can, personally interview 3-5 “finalists” with a team of non-biased people who are in agreement on the job requirements, and in the case of the Catholic Church, ascertain that candidates enthusiastically believe and practice what the Church teaches.

      We know this blog has made strong accusations and wish it were not necessary. We try to focus on factual information you can independently verify, but sometimes we cannot get you a hyperlink or publicly name our sources and references. On the occasions when we may have jumped the gun and erred or made too broad a statement, we have acknowledged that and corrected ourselves publicly. Watch and see what happens regarding the outcome of the Secretary for Institutional Advancement search. Perhaps that will help strengthen or weaken the thesis of this blog.

  8. says:

    Jim –

    Your point would be stronger if you were saying that “jilted finalists” thought that politics led to the person hired getting the job. I think this blog’s central point is that well qualified people (who in the opinion of many) didn’t even make it to the full committee for consideration. That is a scandal. If Donilon had worked for several Catholic dioceses with a track record and got the job, it might justify why the other finalists weren’t considered. But let’s be clear – he wasn’t a slam dunk candidate, hadn’t worked in the church, came from the realm of politics (is that what we wanted for that role in charge of communicating our faith?) and at least has a lot of family questions that raise at least the perception that this was a sham search.

    If what is being reported by this blog and discussed by priests is true – that Kathleen Driscoll is being hired when the search committee didn’t interview ANYONE, including Driscoll, we might have a new “FIRST PLACE SHAM SEARCH!”.

    How can she succeed in a job where she starts with no credibility of having earned the position? At least Donilon went through an interview process.

    For the record, several candidates expressed interest in the Advancement position according to priest friends I know who serve as the candidates’ pastors.

  9. Jack O'Malley says:

    This corrupt search process only draws into even starker relief the fatal flaw of having laymen as the top curial commissars in the local Church.

    This blog and its related ones are greatly to be commended for exposing these ongoing conflicts of interest. Until the sham regarding Terry Donilon was brought to light here, I had no idea of the cronyism that led to his appointment. Like many others, I was only aware of his public statements which did indeed seem at best solecistic and at worst borderline illiterate. No man traditionally formed in Latin literature, patristics and ecclesiology would make such outrageous gaffes.

    The fall of the Boston Church continues apace. Bernard Law, facilitator and lauder of John Geoghan, thrives in opulent digs in a Roman papal basilica. Seán O’Malley junkets about the globe, most recently righting the wrongs of the Church in the Isle of Saints and Scholars. Perhaps he will there add Irish and Polish to his lengthy list of non-Latin liturgical languages and thereby increase his papabilità. Vae Catholicis!

    Semper in tragoedia, misera comoedia.

  10. […] Donilon Sham Search: Part 2 In follow-up of our last post about the sham search that selected Terry Donilon as secretary of communications, we received a lot of emails and comments from […]

  11. […] Hmm, where did we hear that before?  Seems that when Terry Donilon was hired, we were told, “Terry Donilon is an experienced communicator who loves the church.”  If John Stroub loves Christ and the Catholic Faith, how come service to the Church is […]

  12. […] As long-time readers may recall, BCI covered the conflict of interest around the hiring of Terry Donilon by Ann Carter of Rasky Baerlein nearly a year ago, on July 19, 2010 in our post, Conflicts of Interest: Part I, and in our post of October 19, 2010, Sham Search: Terry Donilon. […]

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