Daughters’ Lawsuit Against Cardinal Settled, But…

The Archdiocese of Boston and the Daughters of St. Paul issued what was called a “joint statement” yesterday announcing that they have settled the nuns’ lawsuit against Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley and other trustees of its lay pension plan.   The Boston Globe and AP reported on the news of the settlement, and though the average reader might assume everything is now all well and good, that is far from the truth. What was not reported is the collateral damage the Daughters have suffered internally from how Cardinal O’Malley and the archdiocese reacted to the bad publicity over the lawsuit. Your prayers are needed for all parties involved.

First we will cover what has been said publicly about the settlement, and then the collateral damage.  From the Boston Globe we hear the following:

The Daughters, an international order of nuns whose North American headquarters is in Jamaica Plain, sued late last year to force the archdiocese to hand over the investments the Daughters had made in the archdiocese’s pension plan on behalf of the order’s lay employees.

The archdiocese did not disclose the amount of the settlement, but its statement said the agreement “included a transfer of the Archdiocese Pension Plan assets allocable to the Daughters of St. Paul to a new pension plan administered by the Daughters” and that it would “allow the Daughters to independently provide retirement benefits to their current and former employees.”

The Daughters claim they have been trying to extricate their lay employees’ assets from the church-run fund for years so that they could control the investments themselves. They had maintained they were owed nearly $1.4 million, based on their estimates of the value of their assets in 2007. In the lawsuit, they also claimed the archdiocese failed to maintain proper records of their assets.

Here is the “Joint Statement” issued by the Archdiocese:

May 25, 2011- Joint Statement from the Daughters of St. Paul and the Archdiocese of Boston

The Trustees of the Archdiocese of Boston Pension Plan and the Daughters of St. Paul are pleased to announce that as a result of the diligent efforts of all involved, a mutually satisfactory resolution to their differences has been reached.  As a result, on May 10, 2011, the parties jointly requested the court to dismiss the complaint filed by the Daughters in December 2010.  Click here for a copy of that joint filing.

The settlement, which included a transfer of the Archdiocese Pension Plan assets allocable to the Daughters of St. Paul to a new pension plan administered by the Daughters, will allow the Daughters to independently provide retirement benefits to their current and former employees.

The relationship between the Archdiocese of Boston and the Daughters of St. Paul, which began in the 1950s, when Cardinal Cushing welcomed the Daughters into the Archdiocese by giving them a bookstore in South Boston and a retreat house in Billerica, continues to be a strong and positive one.  Many Sisters in the community generously contribute to media initiatives around the Archdiocese, appearing on the new Catholic Radio station, WQOM 1060 AM, participating in Catholic media symposia and workshops, providing a source for Catholic media through their Pauline Book & Media center in Dedham and sharing their stories of faith on the Archdiocesan website’s Delegate for Religious home page. The Sisters also actively support the Archdiocese Pro-Life Office in countless ways.

The Archdiocese looks forward to continuing the tradition of having priests of the Archdiocese of Boston celebrate daily Mass for the Daughters at their chapel in Jamaica Plain as we work together to deepen and strengthen our common Faith.

(Interesting that no one from the Daughters of St. Paul is quoted in the “joint statement,” but we digress…)

The above represents just half the story. Though the two sides came to a mutually agreeable settlement, all but one of the provincial leadership team at the Daughters were removed from their leadership roles, apparently as a consequence of the archdiocese’s reaction to the lawsuit and media coverage of it.

In the interest of full disclosure, BCI has never requested permission or approval from the Daughters to report on this situation, and the Daughters declined to comment for this story. So here is some additional background as BCI understands it from other sources:

  • Claims by Cardinal O’Malley  to not have known about pending lawsuit are in dispute. Cardinal O’Malley has acknowledged he knew there was a problem–he received correspondence from the Daughters about the pension issue several years ago, he has said he quickly responded that the archdiocese would help them, and asked his staff to meet with the Daughters, which they did on multiple occasions.Though he has claimed to Pastoral Center employees and priests that the Daughters never let him or the Vicar General know they were dissatisfied with the progress of negotiations until they filed the lawsuit, his claim that he was unaware of the Daughters’ level of dissatisfaction is in dispute. This March 21 article in the Globe quoted the Daughters’ lawyer as saying the lawsuit was pursued only as a last resort, and “The Daughters of St. Paul are just as unhappy as they can be about having to do this.”  Several sources tell BCI that the claim by the Cardinal suggesting he was oblivious to the prospect of a lawsuit does not hold water. A reasonable person might ask any of the following questions: Did the Cardinal intentionally disengage and delegate or abdicate responsibility?  Did he not insist his staff keep him informed?  Did his staff keep this from him?  Did he know the Daughters felt they had exhausted everything but he did not accept that they were serious about the prospect of a lawsuit?  Or did he indeed know exactly what was coming, but he is just not acknowledging it?
  • Cardinal escalated situation to Daughters’ Superior General:After the lawsuit was filed and the Globe and other publications reported on it, the Cardinal

    was displeased with the negative media exposure and contacted the Superior General of the Daughters in Italy, Sr. Maria Antonieta Bruscato, to complain about the action. He had met her previously, as described in this 2008 entry on his blog. (“Then, I met with the superior general of the Daughters of St. Paul, Sister Maria Antonieta Bruscato. She is from southern Brazil, so we spoke Portuguese at the luncheon.”).  When a religious sister gets a call from a Cardinal, the hierarchical “red hat” is usually taken very seriously. That is what happened in this situation.

  • First mediation session ended without resolution. As BCI reported in “Pension Contention,” the first mediation session held March 29 ended without meaningful progress.  But substantial progress towards settlement was made in subsequent discussions through early May.
  • Superior General came to the U.S. earlier this month and removed most of U.S. provincial leadership team.  Among the things the Superior General did while in Boston was to consult with some of the other sisters here about the provincial leadership team. The provincial leadership team serves a three-year term, and the term of the 5-member team was to be ending in July. The Superior General appoints the team, and has the prerogative to renew terms if she wishes. This is objective, factual information (as evidenced here: “term is three years, with the possibility of being appointed to a second consecutive term”). Independent of the pension situation, BCI was aware of great things the provincial leadership team had accomplished during their term keeping the retail bookstores going during a down economy, releasing iPhone apps, and continuing the publishing, recording and evangelization initiatives. Despite these accomplishments, despite previous indications that the terms would be renewed and despite the level of confidence in the provincial leadership team we understand the Superior General found from the other sisters, the Superior General ignored this input and removed all but one of the team from their leadership roles effective immediately. This included the U.S. provincial superior, whose biography published upon her being named provincial for the U.S. and Toronto can be found here. (Masters in non-profit management from Notre Dame, bachelors degree from Emerson, previously was superior in Hawaii,  entered the convent at 17-years-old, spent 16 of her 30 years with the community in central governing positions, 13 as the provincial treasurer and three as a member of the provincial governing council).
  • Morale at the motherhouse in Jamaica Plain is not good right now.  Your prayers for the Daughters are much needed.

We have assembled this information over the course of several weeks and believe it to be accurate, but if anyone from the Daughters or the archdiocese has facts that dispute anything above, please let us know and we will be glad to make a correction.

It is difficult to look at what has transpired right now and feel this is a good outcome. The Daughters tried to resolve the dispute with the archdiocese over pensions for their lay employees for 5 years, as a last resort they filed a lawsuit, BCI wrote about it since it was public information on an archdiocesan website, the Globe and other papers picked-up the story, the Cardinal and his team got upset by the bad PR, he used the hierarchical “red hat” to push the Superior General to intervene, and the settlement that was nearly done before the Superior General arrived in the U.S. validated all of the merits of the Daughters’ original claim.  And by all indications, the end result of the Cardinal’s call to the Superior General complaining about the legal action was the removal of a dedicated, talented U.S. provincial leadership team 2 months before their three-year term was to have ended.  Whether an intended consequence or not, it is tough to not see the outcome for those provincial leaders as some form of retaliation by the archdiocese, the Cardinal, and his advisors.

BCI wonders if and when the Cardinal will ever publicly take responsibility for his actions and those of the archdiocese. The fact is that the Daughters of St. Paul tried for 5 years to resolve this matter with the Archdiocese of Boston and filed a lawsuit as a last resort. Yet, the Cardinal’s comments about this situation and others typically have a tone of casting blame on others.  We do not ever hear him say, something such as, “I realize that I screwed up”  or “My team did not address this issue in an expedient manner” or  “My team did not escalate this appropriately to me” or  “We mistakenly did not take seriously enough the indications the Daughters were frustrated and about to file a lawsuit.”  Instead, the tone and actions come across as casting the responsibility on others–they did not tell me, the media is to blame, etc.

BCI and thousands to tens of thousands of faithful Catholics clearly see an episcopal leadership void in the Archdiocese of Boston. For whatever reason, responsibilities for day-to-day leadership and management of the archdiocese appear to be almost entirely relegated, delegated, or abdicated to the likes of Chancellor Jim McDonough and his minions, Fr. Bryan Hehir, and Jack Connors.  What faithful Catholics see of the Archbishop of Boston is mostly travel and blogging about the travel. The organizational casualties to the Daughters are but one consequence of this situation. There are many others of even graver magnitude.

When will something change in Boston?  Will Cardinal O’Malley do something to repair the damage inflicted on the Daughters of St. Paul by this ordeal so they can most effectively continue their ministry? More importantly, will he acknowledge the governance problems under his watch and ask the Holy See to quickly help fill the void?

We urge our readers to continue to support the Daughers of St. Paul and pray for the Daughters, the Cardinal, and the Archdiocese of Boston. We suggest the beautiful words of the Memorare as a good starting point.

About abyssum

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