Vicar General, Moderator of the Furious

Fr. Richard Erikson’s column in this weekend’s edition of The Pilot on the process of planning parish “re-reconfiguration” is the topic of the next few posts.  But we would be remiss to not add a few words about what we are seeing and hearing of Fr. Erikson before we get into the details.

And you should check out our latest post on sham searches before reading further if you have not read it already.

Fr. Erikson, who holds the roles of Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, is rapidly adding “Moderator of the Furious” to his portfolio based on the emails we are getting from lay people and clergy.   If we were running a contest amongst our readers for “Cabinet Official Most Eager to See Replaced” it would be a toss-up between him and Chancellor Jim McDonough right now. That is  simply reality of the many messages we are receiving.

Based on everything we hear, things at 66 Brooks Drive are careening out of control, morale is very low, and the current Vicar General –who has at least partially contributed to the sad situation—is reported to want out, so he can go back to his chaplaincy work doing grief counseling in the Air Force on active duty, full-time.

On paper (and in his Air Force biography), he is supposed to be the primary administrator of the Archdiocese, but as we have documented, that is not the case in reality. 

The archdiocese is in fact being administered and run primarily by the Chancellor, Fr. Bryan Hehir, and Jack Connors.   Add in Carol Gustavson and Terry Donilon for execution on the Connors/Hehir/McDonough regime’s vision and that is the primary administrative leadership.  If you look at his biography, aside from his degree in politics, you will see that Fr. Erikson had never been pastor in a parish previously or been in any kind of major operational role that would effectively prepare him for the political hornets nest of the Boston chancery.  Not his fault or a criticism–just fact.  How could one coming into this role be prepared for, hypothetically speaking, a situation like perhaps returning from time out of the office to find the Chancellor has maneuvered to now report directly to the Cardinal instead of to the Vicar General?  Or hypothetically speaking, perhaps being among the last people in the Cabinet “inner circle” to learn the chancery was moving from Brighton to Braintree? All hypothetical, of course.

Anyway, administration is a bit of a mess today as best as we have come to understand.  People cannot get responses from the archdiocese on basic questions.  Clergy cannot get time with the Cardinal when he is in town, and he heads to Dublin shortly.  People writing to Fr. Erikson in the past 1-2 days asking about four things—names of current members of the Archdiocesan Finance Council, the status of the whistleblower policy, status of the search for Secretary of Institutional Advancement, and the appropriate protocol for filing a complaint and getting a response—got an email back from Fr. Erikson with the Mass Catholic Conference search press release about that search, and nothing about the 4 points they had asked about.  If that is representative of how he responds to other requests, we are in for real trouble between now and when he heads back to full-time active duty with the Air Force. That timeframe is rumored to be around mid 2011.

Fr. Erikson was the spokesman/mouthpiece for major changes like the downgraded clergy retirement & benefits plan that he will never need to fully live off of, as he gets a pension from 28+ years of service in the Air Force Reserves.

Any day now, he will likely have to “spin” how people at the highest levels of the Archdiocese deceived us all about an open worldwide search for a new Secretary of Institutional Advancement–a role that on paper actually reports to the Vicar General.  See yesterday’s post on “Sham Searches” and the associated comments. Questions will be asked about what he, Cardinal O’Malley, and Jim McDonough knew–and when they knew it.

When Fr. Erikson first started, priests and chancery staff had high hopes for him because he had everything the previous strong-willed Vicar General, Bishop Richard Lennon, had lacked — a counseling approach, readiness to use email, no baggage from time in archdiocesan parishes or the chancery, and a willingness to listen.  But as soon as Chancellor McDonough began his reign and power-grabbing moves in 2006, it became clear that Fr. Erikson was completely disabled and had no authority, so Fr. Erikson has become marginalized.  We are told by several pastoral center staffers that Fr. Erikson has apparently confused military-style rank with true leadership.  Whether people liked the previous Vicar General or not on a personal basis and whether he was necessarily right or wrong on an issue, at least with Bishop Lennon  things were black-and-white, you knew his main agenda was keeping the train on the tracks.  In the interest of full disclosure, this writer was not a Bishop Lennon fan based on his communications style in brief personal interactions with him.  But that does not change the impression this writer and many other people had that he was acting from a unwavering sense of what was best for the Church and best for the salvation of souls.

That is not the case any more in this archdiocese.

Fr. Erikson is one of several people who bear some responsibility for contributing to the current situation.  We give you this as background to the “re-reconfiguration process,” so you know you will have to carefully pull-back the layers of spin or deceptive jargon in much of what you hear from Fr. Erikson and/or others.  This will take us several posts to explain, and for the benefit of those who like shorter posts, we are saving more detailed commentary for our next exciting episode on Saturday.

Meanwhile, we urge those readers who have written to the Vicar General  as we suggested two days ago and got a lame irrelevant response to send him an email back [Vicar_General(at)], and cc: his special assistant, Fr. Bryan Parrish [ReverendBryan_Parrish(at)].  If you have not yet written to him, copy and paste the text from this post, and let us know how you make out.

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I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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