Today the Boston Globe reported on the appointment of Msgr. Deeley as the new Vicar General. This article repeats some details and quotes from the archdiocesan announcement that we posted on yesterday. But they got a few things wrong or incomplete, so BCI felt it appropriate to respond. Here are some excerpts, followed by BCI commentary:
Archdiocese to get new vicar general in the fall
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley is getting a new top aide: Monsignor Robert P. Deeley, a Massachusetts native, will return this fall from assignment in Rome to become the vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Boston Archdiocese.
The job is like a combination of lieutenant governor and chief of staff, carrying out O’Malley’s vision while dealing with religious and spiritual issues and the nuts and bolts of running a large organization, according to the Rev. Richard M. Erikson, who has held the job since 2006.
Erikson has spent his time in office grappling with the fallout from two major crises that occurred before he arrived — the sexual abuse scandal in 2002, and the closure of dozens of parishes in 2004 and 2005. The archdiocese has struggled since then to balance its budget, deal with underfunded pension funds for priests and lay employees, keep parishioners in the pews and students in the Catholic schools, and deal with a major shortage of priests.
Erikson worked on a variety of fronts to address these problems; on his watch the archdiocese trimmed some programs and laid off employees, began a controversial transition to a 401k-style lay pension plan, and launched a campaign to bring inactive Catholics back to church.
A small but vocal group of critics have complained about high salaries paid to top lay employees, the church’s handling of its pension funds, and a variety of other financial and administrative policies.
But O’Malley had only praise for Erikson yesterday, saying in a statement that Erikson’s “contributions are many, especially in the areas of communications, transparency, and revitalizing our efforts in the area of pastoral planning and evangelization.’’
Deeley, a canon lawyer, served as president of the Canon Law Society of America while a pastor in Quincy. In September 2004 he was assigned on a temporary basis to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that oversees doctrine and handles cases involving clergy abuse of minors. The head of that department at the time — then-Cardinal John Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI — requested that he stay on as an official of the Congregation, according to the archdiocese.
“Monsignor Deeley is a well respected and accomplished priest who has served the Church with distinction in the Archdiocese of Boston and in recent years in Rome,’’ the cardinal said in a statement.
By Erikson’s description, the job at times resembles the work of the chief executive officer of nearly any big company: He has plowed through stacks of property leases to decide which to approve, dealt with budgets, and made personnel decisions. But the post also brings a spiritual component.
Erickson recalls being asked to give special permission for a terminally ill man to be wed on his deathbed because he deeply wanted to marry before he died. “My answer was an instant yes,’’ he said.
What particularly rankled BCI is the characterization of us and those who follow the blog as “a small but vocal group of critics.” We do not know why the number of critics was characterized as small, and apologize for not keeping the Globe current on our readership numbers. Since BCI started, 196,898 unique visitors have checked out the blog at least once, and more than 71,000 are repeat visitors. Most are from Massachusetts, so this represents a healthy percentage of the Mass-going Catholics in the archdiocese.
Furthermore, the characterization by the Globe that we have complained only about high salaries, pension funds, and other financial and administrative policies is incomplete. To be fair, it is true we have complained about those. But we regret that perhaps through harping on the excessive six-figure salaries and pension fund issues lately, that may have overshadowed the more systemic problems we have also complained about, such as the leadership vacuum, lack of integrity, corruption, deception, ethical breaches, cronyism in hiring, abdication of teaching and governance responsibility by the Cardinal, and possible breaches of civil law as well. We will do our best to highlight some of these other areas more effectively in the future.
The Globe article also says the job is to help carry out Cardinal O’Malley’s vision. For the sake of the new Vicar General, BCI hopes this vision is made a lot clearer going forward than it has been up to now. Long-time readers may recall that in our first post, on June 23, 2010, Inside the Boston Archdiocese, we raised the lack of clarity of the Cardinal’s vision as a key concern, along with others about Vicar General Richard Erikson in the current leadership structure:
Responsibilities: “Taking Cardinal Seán’s vision for the Archdiocese of Boston and making it a reality.
Boston Catholic Insider Comments: It is not clear to us what Cardinal Sean’s vision for the archdiocese is, and where we would find a written statement of that, so it is also not clear to us how anyone, including the Vicar General, would make it reality. In actuality, it is the Chancellor who coordinates personnel and central administration efforts in the Boston Archdiocese today. It is also not clear what key initiatives or programs Fr. Erikson has actually driven or led in his time in the role.
Lastly, because the current Chancellor, Jim McDonough, engineered an unusual reporting relationship direct to the Cardinal (rather than to the Vicar General) and grabbed enough power that he has become more influential over personnel and central administration than the Vicar General, the sad reality is that Fr. Erikson was cut out of many key decisions and was really not at all like the CEO of the archdiocese or a big company.
As BCI understands the story, when Chancellor Jim McDonough was reporting to the Vicar General early on–as virtually all other dioceses structure the reporting relationship–Fr. Erikson had called the Chancellor out on a couple of things, as he should have. In the August or September timeframe in 2006, Jim McDonough made sure that would not happen again. How? Sources tell BCI that when Fr. Erikson was out of town for a short time, Jim McDonough put a letter on the Cardinal’s letterhead decreeing that he would report to the Cardinal, and gave it to the Cardinal’s priest-secretary, Fr. Kickham, to have signed. The next time Fr. Erikson approached Jim about an issue, Jim simply showed him the letter, and the Vicar General was henceforth without any power or authority over most of the administration of the archdiocese. Almost all key personnel and administrative decisions since then were made by others, and Jim McDonough ended up being more like the CEO or COO.
BCI hopes that the Cardinal and Msgr. Deeley consider some reorganization of the reporting structure and division of responsibilities such that this situation is rectified. As suggested in comments yesterday, BCI will also start a running list of ideas and issues for the new Vicar General to consider tackling.
BCI again extends our heartiest congratulations to the highly-respected Msgr. Deeley on his well-deserved appointment!