St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: Chancellor Conflict of Interest and Money Grab

We are continuing our exclusive series “Seminary Squeezola” about how both the Boston Archdiocesean leadership and Boston College have been inhibiting the ability of St. Johns Seminary to be more prosperous.  Today we discuss the money grab for those seminary assets and conflicts of interest by Archdiocesan Chancellor Jim McDonough and other archdiocesan leaders.

For new readers, in our first exciting episode, St Johns Seminary “Squeezola, we reported on how Boston College is encroaching on the limited space left for St. John’s Seminary. In our second episode, St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: The 2007 Sale of Property to BC, we gave some of the history of the 2004 and 2007 sales, and how the archdiocese–and specifically Cardinal O’Malley, Chancellor McDonough, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson who serve on the seminary board–disregarded the recommendations of the Vatican’s apostolic visitation committee that no more property from SJS be sold.

In 2007, against the recommendation of the then-rector and the Vatican’s apostolic visitation committee, the Seminary trustees voted to sell the remaining property of the seminary to BC so the archdiocese could raise needed cash.  The rector’s letter opposing this sale can be found here at and has been posted there available to the public since 2007.

Here is his letter of resignation filed shortly after the trustees 2007 vote (it’s part of the same document–just the last 2 pages).  Note the passage that says, “The Chancellor stated emphatically last night that the seminary will not be recompensed according to the value of the assets conveyed, but the $65 million to be derived from this sale will be applied “where it is needed.”  Anyone else besides Boston Catholic Insider wondering why the Chancellor is even on the Board of Trustees of the seminary when his interests are directly in conflict with those of forming seminarians?  Read on:

Eminence and Trustees:

24 May 2007

The morning after yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Trustees finds me still uncomprehending and deeply distressed.

The way in which a $65 million project was presented with no advance specific information that would allow study and consultation, and then be voted favorably is incomprehensible to me. The fact that no one in the Seminary was consulted, or even informed about the proposal is incomprehensible to me. The fact that public events to announce the news were scheduled even before our meeting was held last night and are being carried out this morning is incomprehensible to me. Finally the fact that announcements are being made to the public with no vote taken at all by the Corporate Members is not only incomprehensible to me, but is contrary to law. Last night’s meeting was a burlesque of the Board of Trustees and of the ways of proceeding of any serious board.

Even more distressing to me is the substance of last night’s “deliberations.” Exaggerated statements about a projected budgetary deficit for FY08 served as the point of departure for the presentation, the explicit recommendations of the Congregation for Catholic Education were dismissed peremptorally, a proposal was made to remedy a problem that we do not have, the remedy proposed is that the seminary alienate assets that are needed to assure its future fiscal viability and all this was done in the name of assuring our financial stability and viability. In my judgment, all of this is utterly preposterous.

For the second time in three years, RCAB plunders the assets of St. John’s Seminary. In 2004, the seminary conveyed to RCAB assets worth about $56 million and received in recompense $21 million and a promissory note for $4.8 million. If the seminary were in possession of even the cash represented by the note, our financial “problems” would be greatly eased. Instead the seminary is presented as “not able to make it financially.” Now, assets of the seminary will be taken and combined again with assets of RCAB, who will in turn sell them to BC. The Chancellor stated emphatically last night that the seminary will not be recompensed according to the value of the assets conveyed, but the $65 million to be derived from this sale will be applied “where it is “needed.” Clearly, in this disposition the seminary is considered as not one of the “needs” of the archdiocese – even as a beneficiary of its own assets.

I do not wish to be associated with an organization that shows so little respect for people who have been charged with responsibility for it and so little respect for truth. After prayerful consideration and with the support of Fr. Dominic Izzo, O.P., my Prior Provincial, I hereby resign as Rector of St. John’s Seminary, effective immediately….

I ask for your prayers and promise you mine.

Sincerely in Christ,

Fr. John A. Farren, O.P.


Interesting, eh?  Does any of this way of operating sound familiar?

Here is the listing of the Board of Trustees of SJS.  (Note, this is slightly out of date in that not all of the lay people listed are still on the board–we know of at least one person who resigned after the “burlesque” since all Corporate members were not included).

The key players in this 2007 vote who had an inherent conflict of interest are Cardinal O’Malley, Chancellor Jim McDonough, and Vicar General Fr. Erikson (despite his having previously served on the SJS faculty).  They needed cash, and that need was in direct conflict with the needs of the seminary and the recommendations of the Vatican’s own apostolic visitation committee.  (Coincidentally, the USCCB chair of the secretariat for the clergy, consecrated life, and vocations who announced the visitation report summary was Cardinal O’Malley).  How does he reconcile the conflict of needing to push vocations for the U.S. bishops and for his own diocese, but then disregarding the visitation committee’s own recommendation for SJS that “in order to ensure the integrity of the seminary… no more property [on the campus] should be sold”?

How did the Cardinal, Vicar General, and the Chancellor justify grabbing the seminary land and buildings while at the same time, the Chancellor admitted that the seminary would not even be fairly compensated in return?

As part of this sale, we hear from sources that without consulting the prior rector, the Chancellor also included in the sale transaction to BC the dorm rooms that are located over the refectory, leasing them under a 99-year lease, which is effectively considered a sale.  We also are told that Chancellor McDonough bends over backward to accommodate BC in all things, and that he is one of its strongest allies.

The conflicts of interest start at the top.  We give the Cardinal due respect and credit to serve as the chairman of the board of the diocesan seminary, but it should be noted that the seminary is not Corporation Sole.  It predates Corp Sole by 15 years, and was chartered by an act of the Legislature, as was Corp Sole.  They are distinct in every way (seminary is a university technically, Corp Sole is a religion) with the exception of interlocking boards with profound conflicts of interest.  The Cardinal, McDonough and Fr. Erikson have voted according to documents online, in direct conflict with the best interest of the seminary, in order to benefit Corp Sole.  By coincidence, archdiocesan Beirne Lovely attends some of the seminar board meetings, where he states that he is not the seminary’s lawyer.  So one might ask, why is he even there?

Why are these conflicts of interest tolerated?  How do we get these people with inherent conflicts of interest off the board of the seminary?  Are any priests safe and secure enough in their role and relationship with the Cardinal that they are willing to stand up and tell the Cardinal he needs to start making some governance changes? Why do people–even those supportive of the seminary and posting to this blog supportive of the seminary–allow themselves to conclude that the final takeover of St. John’s Hall by BC is a foregone conclusion, when the seminary is prospering?  Should not the first move be to remove people from the Board of Trustees who have clear conflicts of interest with agendas other than the prosperity of the seminary and the formation of priests for the future of the Catholic Church?

ps. Speaking of burlesque, we hear through the rumor mill that the archdiocese is putting final touches on how they will spin the “sham search” for the secretary of development.  Supposedly, the curtain rises on the show with the announcement next week.  Would anyone like to place bets on which “busy news” day next week they will choose for the announcement, when it’s least likely to get a lot of attention?

13 Responses to St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: Chancellor Conflict of Interest and Money Grab

  1. Objective Observer says:

    This blog does a great service for the people of God, who might not have time to do the fact checking and research your team has unearthed. It’s enlightening, sometimes depressing, always objective, and feels at times like a hopeful discovery to cure the Archdiocese’s ills, and at other times like a grim diagnosis.

    BCI deserves everyone’s prayers. As do those who are exposed by it. What a mess.

  2. I totally agree that those on the Board of Trustees with agendas and conflicts of interests that do not have first and foremost the goal of helping in the formation of priestly vocations and the prosperity of SJS should be removed. Criteria that all members of the Board should have to meet and abide by should be drawn up just like most other Boards require. All those that do not meet those requirements or have a conflict should be removed. It is definitely time to clean house!

    To be plundering from our seminaries instead of doing all we can to assist them and support them since they are the very lifeblood of our church and vital to supplying us with well-formed vocations is diabolical at best! Even when the Vatican’s apostolic visitation committee recommended not to sell any more property, the fact they proceeded in their boldness and decided they knew better and plundered even more not even financially benefiting SJS, is totally incomprehensible and shameful. The fact that SJS is actually prospering in spite of what they have had to endure, only shows our Lord’s hand in this. God bless poor Fr. Farren who felt he had to resign as Rector of SJS after seeing what was going on behind closed doors. It must have been very hard on him.

    Praise and prayers for all involved in this blog in getting this information out as these grave errors obviously need to be brought out “into the light” so needed changes can be made to correct all these shenanigans that have been going on way too long and then we can become as our Holy Father says, a stronger, more pure and vibrant church once again!

  3. A Sad Boston Priest says:

    Congratulations BCI !!!

    Father Farren is YET another victim of SPO’s flim flam ‘support’ … one day he praises an associate and then leaves that same person ‘holding the bag’ and unsupported … Ask the pastor of St. Paul’s in Hingham, or talk to the parishoners of St. Jeremiah’s in Framingham … there are many others …Obviously there are strong influential powers + persons who can sway the decisions of the present occupant of the Cathedra … BCI has been exposing the real weilders of RCAB power … THANK YOU! … there is so much more to come … you BCI are on the right track in revealing the REAL CRISIS IN THE USA Catholic community …



  4. Tom says:

    This entire RCAB operation is beginning to sound like one big RICO case. Maybe we should pray that Jack Cardinal Connors will be able to lead us out of this mess.

  5. Michael says:

    Your excellent investigative team is doing amazing with what I am guessing are limited resources. I can’t belive that only a few bloggers can gather, organize, and disseminate all of the information in such a direct and clear fashion. Keep up the good work.

    With respect to the big news day … could it be:
    Nov. 1 All Saint’s Day,
    Nov. 2 All Soul’s Day,
    Nov. 3 Housewife’s Day,
    Nov. 4 King Tut Day, or
    Nov. 5 Gunpowder Day

    Okay, it is a tough choice but my guess is Nov 2, All Saints day, more commonly known as “election day.”

    Are you saying that the Archdiocese is that calculating? really?

  6. Quality Guy says:

    if there is anything Donilon knows about , it’s the ‘news cycle’

  7. To Objective Observer, Sounding Board, Sad Boston Priest, and Michael:

    Thanks very much for the kind words about the blog and prayers for us. We can sure use the prayers!

    As Sounding Board expressed very well, our hope is to get this information and these grave errors out “into the light” so needed changes can be made and we can become a stronger, more pure and vibrant church once again. Question is, who in the Pastoral Center is making needed changes? We see glimmers of hope, but sometimes if feels like we could use an earthquake localized in Braintree to shift some tetonic plates.

    Again, many thanks for the positive feedback on what we are doing here. It is a lot of work, so we are glad to hear people appreciate it. We hope and pray that with the grace of God, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a gust of wind by the Holy Spirit, it has whatever impact the Lord has in mind for Boston and beyond.

  8. Julius says:

    I’m glad they got rid of that guy making $225,000 per year to do what?

    • Anonymous says:

      Got rid of which guy making $225,000 per year?

      I thought they keep adding people–didn’t notice anyone at that level gone.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I just want to note that I thought Fr. Farren’s resignation, though largely symbolic, took some real guts and made a statement.
    I also must wonder aloud, the Pastor of a Parish we used to attend was a Spiritual Director there at this time and referred to Fr. Farren negatively [word redacted by Boston Catholic Insider], I must wonder if there was a smear campaign launched against him by someone.
    I should note that the used to comes from the fact that we got thrown out of the Parish after I took offense at the same Priest spreading lies about my wife, screaming at her and calling her a backstabber….I appealed to the Priest in question citing Cannon 518 pointing out that we were still Parishioners but got no response.

    Oh where oh where have all the good Priests gone, oh where oh where have they got………

  10. […] apostolic visitation committee that no more property from SJS be sold. In our third episode, Chancellor Conflict of Interest and Money Grab we reported on the money grab for the seminary assets and conflicts of interest by Archdiocesan […]

  11. A Sad Boston Priest says:

    YOU SAID : I must wonder if there was a smear campaign launched against him by someone.



  12. […] How do the conflicts in decision-making with St. Johns Seminary get reconciled?  In our series, “Seminary Squeezola” we talked about how Chancellor Jim McDonough, who is on the Finance Council, is also on the […]

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