Lavish Spending in Archdiocese Skips Inner City
By Ralph Cipriano
National Catholic Reporter
June 19, 1998
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who celebrated his 10th anniversary in Philadelphia in February, is one of three leaders of major sees on the East Coast who have reached or surpassed retirement age. The others are Cardinal John O'Connor of New York and Cardinal James Hickey of Washington. The next appointments to those sees, coming, as they will, close on one another, are sure to figure significantly in shaping the U.S. church of the next century.
City Councilman James Kenney, an Irish-Catholic politician who marches every year with Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua in the St. Patrick's Day parade, describes the spiritual leader of the archdiocese's 1.4 million Catholics as "one of the best politicians I've ever seen."
Philadelphia is one of the nation's largest and most conservative archdioceses. It was, for example, the last diocese in the country to introduce Saturday evening Mass, which had long been opposed by the late Cardinal John Krol. The Saturday evening services were introduced only in 1983, after a new Code of Canon Law made them the rule for the entire Catholic church.
Bevilacqua has demonstrated little of Krol's instinct for raising the archdiocese to prominence on the national and international levels. Unlike New York's O'Connor, who refused to close schools and parishes in the most depressed and poverty-stricken areas of the inner city (NCR, May 29), Bevilacqua decided to act on the advice of experts and close parishes and schools. He paid a price, at least in some quarters, in popularity and credibility.
Some say O'Connor's successor will inevitably face tough decisions in areas where schools and parishes have remained open. Bevilacqua's successor, by contrast, will have the luxury of stepping into a situation where, some might say, the unpleasant work has already been done.
"I've never seen a person work a crowd like that," said Kenney, who appreciates the charismatic presence of the Italian-American cardinal. "He's out there with the people. He presses the flesh. He gets his picture taken. He goes from curb to curb. He's the star of the show."
Kenney has posted on his refrigerator a photo of his 7-year-old son, Brendan, a second-grader at St. Nicholas of Tolentine School, wearing a bishop's miter. The cardinal lent the boy his miter during a pastoral visit to the school last year.
It can be a different story for people who deal with Bevilacqua out of the public eye or for people who want to press an agenda with him.
A former veteran household employee of the archdiocese, who first worked for Bevilacqua's predecessor, Cardinal John Krol, received an $87,500 settlement from the archdiocese after the employee filed a claim with the state Bureau of Workers' Compensation, alleging that he had been subjected to Bevilacqua's "rude and abusive treatment." His treatment at the cardinal's hands, the employee said in his 1995 claim, caused him serious mental and physical distress and rendered him unable to work.
Bevilacqua's public face and private manner contrast so sharply that even after a decade of his leadership many in Philadelphia say they still can't figure him out. "He really is an enigma," said Rita Schwartz, president of the local Association of Catholic Teachers, which called an eight-day teachers' strike last September -- the first walkout in 21 years -- after negotiations with Bevilacqua broke down over such issues as a "Catholic identity" clause that requires 1,000 teachers to attend Mass and other religious events during in-service days.
"He has a public persona and a private persona," she said, "and they are so completely different. Outwardly, he's very congenial, a very warm individual," said Schwartz, who is also president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers. "In dealing with him on a business basis, he's anything but."
To many who have seen Bevilacqua in action here, he is a charismatic extrovert, a people person who holds court for hours in the parishes, lowering himself on one knee to speak to children, warmly greeting those who shake his hand or bow and kiss his ring. "Ah," he once told a devout and admiring woman, "If you kiss the ring, you've got to kiss me."
Many Philadelphians find such public warmth to be a refreshing contrast to Krol, a no-nonsense autocrat who ruled the archdiocese for 27 years and was noted for his Vatican fundraising and close ties to the pope. Krol died in 1996.
Fans and critics agree that Bevilacqua has uncommon vitality for a man who hit the mandatory retirement age of 75 on June 17. The cardinal rises at 5 a.m. most days and goes jogging around the track at St. Joseph's University or works out on the NordicTrack at his residence.
"He has indefatigable energy," marvels Fr. James E. Martinez, pastor of a suburban parish in wealthy Bryn Mawr. "He's reached out to the poor, the schools, the high schools. He's made a real effort to reach out to the Spanish community."
While some strongly contest that assessment, it's clear that Bevilacqua has made the rounds of this archdiocese. In 10 years as leader of 1.4 million Catholics here -- well over a third of the area's 3.7 million residents -- the cardinal has crisscrossed the five-county archdiocese, making pastoral visits to 277 out of 287 parishes, according to a recent interview with archdiocesan officials.
Typically on a parish visit, he spends Friday visiting every class in the parish school. Then he returns on Saturday to say Mass and meet with parishioners. He has also visited all 22 archdiocesan high schools, all 10 Catholic colleges and universities, plus soup kitchens, hospitals, nursing homes and AIDS and cancer hospices. He communicates with his flock through a weekly radio show and a column called "The Voice of Your Shepherd" in the archdiocesan newspaper.
Love for the law
Though not as stern in manner as Krol, Bevilacqua shares his reputation as a staunch enforcer of church law. Krol purged seminaries of dissidents during his tenure and would quickly discipline priests who introduced unauthorized variations in liturgy. Bevilacqua, who served as auxiliary bishop in his hometown, Brooklyn, N.Y., from 1980 to 1983, and then as bishop of Pittsburgh from 1983 to 1988, was described in NCR after his appointment to Philadelphia as a prelate "with a lawyer's penchant for enforcing the letter of the law."
In Pittsburgh, Bevilacqua angered women when he ruled in 1986 that women could not be included in the Holy Thursday foot-washing service because it is a re-enactment of the Last Supper, where scripture reports that Jesus washed the feet of men. After bishops on the liturgy committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops disagreed with Bevilacqua's decision to exclude women from the rite, Bevilacqua rescinded the ruling, leaving the decision up to individual pastors. Still, Bevilacqua himself refused to join in any Holy Thursday service that included women, despite pleas from many area Catholics that he relent.
Bevilacqua holds degrees in both civil and canon law. He chose for his coat of arms the motto, Finis legis Christus -- Christ is the culmination of the law. But critics say Bevilacqua's love for the law represents a side of him they dislike. Some archdiocesan priests find him to be aloof, legalistic and bureaucratic, and say morale, particularly among inner-city priests, is at an all-time low.
Legalism has characterized some of Bevilacqua's interventions at annual meetings of U.S. bishops as well. In a 1996 vote among U.S. bishops over implementation in the United States of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, a Vatican document calling for more attention to Catholic identity in higher education, Bevilacqua stood out as the sharpest critic of the implementation plan. The plan, praised by bishops and academics alike, had been painstakingly forged over six years by a committee of bishops and university presidents. Bevilacqua joined 224 bishops in approving the implementation plan only after the bishops agreed to add a footnote saying they would continue work to ensure the document's conformity with canon law.
Bevilacqua was subsequently appointed by the Vatican to head a new subcommittee of three to deal with the matter. Its work is underway.
In Philadelphia, priests say privately that Bevilacqua is far less approachable than Krol when they want a decision or need to talk. Bevilacqua has appointed six regional vicars to serve as intermediaries between himself and the 287 parishes. The regional vicars report to a vicar for administration, who is backed by an assistant vicar and four associates to the vicar -- so many bureaucrats, some say, that he is inaccessible to people who want to question him or engage in meaningful dialogue.
"You always knew where you stood with Krol," said Schwartz, the teachers association president. "He might not give the answer you wanted, but you could always get in to see him." She added, "I've heard countless people say, 'I can't believe I'd want to see John Krol back.' "
Bevilacqua has defended his administrative style, saying he has obeyed the pope's orders to delegate administrative responsibilities so he could "go out among the people and teach." But, said Schwartz, "by the time you swim through the channels, you feel like Florence Chadwick."
The relationship between the cardinal and the union president has deteriorated to the point where Schwartz was turned down twice this year for a visitor's pass to archdiocesan headquarters. Schwartz, who wrote about her lack of access in a union bulletin, said she's been told by a half-dozen archdiocesan officials that since the strike she's been banned from the building. Further, the association has been barred from meeting on archdiocesan property. The hostility is startling to some teachers who remember Krol as respectful of their association.
Contrasts with Krol don't end with accessibility. Krol's spokesman in Philadelphia was a single priest. Bevilacqua retains The Tierney Group, a high-powered Philadelphia-based public relations firm with $6 million in annual billings from such clients as IBM, Dun & Bradstreet, Bell Atlantic and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Bevilacqua also has his own four-member public relations staff, headed by Cathy Rossi, a former Fox TV reporter. Since 1993 the Tierney firm has managed to keep negative articles about Bevilacqua out of the press.
Much of the criticism that has become public has stemmed from Bevilacqua's refusal to deal with groups who publicly disagree with him or with the church. As a result, he has been the target of a number of bitter demonstrations, natives say -- an unusual situation, given that Philadelphia Catholics are more noted for conformity than for defiance.
In Philadelphia, the cardinal rejected requests for meetings with predominantly minority parishioners who wanted his ear after he closed 13 inner city parishes and seven inner city schools in 1993. He refused to meet with demonstrators from the Catholic Worker, who staged dramatic protests over the inner-city church closings outside his office every week for a year and a half. The protests included a Martin Luther-like posting on the cathedral door and a public exorcism, where a priest tried to cast out a "diabolic infestation" of greed.
The cardinal has refused to meet with feminist Catholics who stage a demonstration outside the cathedral every year on behalf of the ordination of women, and with gay Catholics who feel ostracized by his outspoken opposition to their concerns. A group of wealthy Catholics who met for two years to try to work out a plan to subsidize the urban church fared no better at navigating the archdiocesan bureaucracy. The group stopped meeting after a church official turned down their proposal for a national conference on the urban church.
'A big spender'
When it comes to the church's money, however, Bevilacqua's critics say he is given less to legalism than to secrecy. Among those critics is Fr. Donald W. McIlvane, a retired Pittsburgh priest who describes Bevilacqua as "a big spender and a secret spender" -- a prelate whose "fiscal management was out of touch with reality." McIlvane was appointed by Bevilacqua's successor in Pittsburgh, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl, to help deal with deficits Bevilacqua left behind. In Philadelphia, Bevilacqua has been harshly criticized for extravagant spending while churches in the inner city were being closed.
Although the Philadelphia archdiocese does not publish complete audits or comprehensive financial reports, confidential archdiocesan records obtained by NCR show that during the late 1980s and early '90s, Bevilacqua spent approximately $5 million renovating a Main Line mansion that serves as his residence, three office buildings, a parking lot, the cathedral and a seaside villa that serves as a vacation home for the cardinal and retired priests.
During the early 1990s, the archdiocese closed or merged inner-city parishes and schools, including 15 parishes in North Philadelphia that were running a combined deficit of $1.2 million a year. Bevilacqua spent the approximately $5 million without making the expenditures public, bypassing his own advisers on some projects. In one instance archdiocesan officials failed to notify city officials about renovations at archdiocesan headquarters, in violation of city law.
In contrast to his public style, Bevilacqua is remote in his private life. He reportedly has lived alone in a 30-room, stone-clad Victorian villa that serves as the archbishop's official residence.
Former employees are among those who have complained about Bevilacqua's spending at his residence where, they say, he often entertains relatives and wealthy friends. Under Krol the archbishop's residence was crowded with antiques and was in a "museum-quality state," according to a former employee who asked to remain anonymous. But the new archbishop had different tastes. Photos and videotapes of the mansion from the late 80s and early 90s, after Bevilacqua's redecorating was in place, showed new furnishings that included, according to people familiar with interior decorating, brass rails, Queen Ann chairs, gilt-edged mirrors, tasteful floral and pink draperies, pink brocade couches, poster beds with matching drapes and valances, brass chandeliers, brass sconces and polished stone statues of Italian greyhounds.
Workers dug up Krol's vegetable garden and replaced it with a formal English garden with statuary, stone seats, stone flower pots and a flagstone walkway. They bought new patio furniture and planted shade trees around the garden to give Bevilacqua more privacy. Workers installed a second metal fence and electric gates around the estate in recent years. Under Krol, anyone could drive onto the property or visit archdiocesan offices freely. Today, security officers patrol the mansion grounds 24 hours a day. Security has been tightened at archdiocesan headquarters as well. A bank of monitors greets visitors, who now need passes to visit each floor.
Two formoer employees familiar with the residence estimated that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent on redecorating the mansion and landscaping the nine-acre grounds. The changes have never been made public, and archdiocesan officials have declined to discuss the costs.
A project at archdiocesan headquarters that did become public knowledge through two stories in The Philadelphia Inquirer was a multimedia conference center on the 12th floor of archdiocesan headquarters. It was created at an estimated cost of $507,500, according to a 44-page confidential archdiocesan capital budget report obtained by NCR. The report details more than 650 capital projects undertaken between 1988 and 1995.
The multimedia center, though never used for videoconferencing as envisioned, was equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including 12 computer monitors sunk under smoked glass panels. Philadelphia city officials weren't told about the multimedia center, in violation of city law, nor were Bevilacqua's appointed advisers, avoiding the archdiocese's usual procedures.
Still unreported in Philadelphia is the $500,200 price tag for renovation of the cardinal's summer vacation home, Villa St. Joseph-by-the-Sea, a three story brick and stucco mansion on the Atlantic Ocean in Ventnor, N.J. Archdiocesan advisers were also bypassed on that project.
Deficits in Pittsburgh
In Pittsburgh, the deficits that accumulated from December 1983 to February 1988 under Bevilacqua's management totaled $6.9 million in four of the five years on a budget that averaged about $1.5 million a year. In three of the four years before Bevilacqua arrived, the Pittsburgh diocese posted budget surpluses. The cardinal said there was a simple explanation for the change in the financial picture. The reason, Bevilacqua said, was that the diocese had sold property in each of those years in order to operate in the black. "When I got there, there's no property left. It was just a matter of accounting," he said in a 1993 interview with this writer.
McIlvane of Pittsburgh sees it differently. "He certainly was a foolish spender of diocese money -- foolish, if not irresponsible," McIlvane said. For example, Bevilacqua spent about $100,000 a year to rent half a floor of office space in a new downtown office building at a time when the diocese was closing and merging parishes, McIlvane said. Wuerl, Bevilacqua's successor, terminated the lease. According to diocesan officials, Bevilacqua also spent up to $100,000 in Pittsburgh to renovate the bishop's private residence without telling people about it.
After Wuerl took over in Pittsburgh, he imposed a hiring freeze and sharply cut expenses. The $2.8 million deficit he inherited in 1987-88 was trimmed to $741,669 the following year. Wuerl called that number "a blessing" compared to the "staggering" deficits Bevilacqua had run up. Under Wuerl, the diocese has posted surpluses in the last eight consecutive fiscal years.
McIlvane said Bevilacqua was also careless about loans to poor parishes, lending money that didn't show up on the books. For example, when McIlvane took over as pastor of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Midland, Pa., in 1988, he discovered a $100,000 loan from the diocese that the parish council didn't know about. The loan -- part of $4 million in loans made to 18 parishes -- had kept the struggling parish school afloat. McIlvane was upset about the secrecy. He told parishioners about the loan and closed the school.
McIlvane was upset to hear that Bevilacqua continued to spend secretly in Philadelphia. "It makes me very sorry that an archbishop of the church is really not following the gospel," McIlvane said. "He ought to be open. He ought to be honest. And he ought to show some decency in view of the necessity of closing parishes and schools."
Robert E. Irr, who was Bevilacqua's director of finance and administration in Pittsburgh, considers negative assessments of the prelate's financial leadership to be unfair. Irr described Bevilacqua as a "forward-thinking man who bought the first computer mainframe for the diocese."
Bevilacqua declined, through his communications director, Cathy Rossi, to be interviewed for this story. Archdiocesan public relations officials also refused to answer a list of questions about specific points in the story. The list was faxed to them two weeks before deadline.
In a June 5 response, Rossi wrote, "The Archdiocese of Philadelphia respectfully chooses to decline an interview with the National Catholic Reporter. As I told you earlier this spring, the archdiocese is not interested in doing an interview with Mr. Ralph Cipriano, the freelance reporter you have chosen to use for your story.
"Just last spring, the archdiocese of Philadelphia challenged the accuracy and fairness of a story that Mr. Cipriano had written for The Philadelphia Inquirer. There is no reason for the archdiocese to purposefully place itself in the position of answering to a reporter with whom it has significant misgivings" (NCR, June 19).
NCR, which also offered to send an editor to do the interview with Bevilacqua, submitted a written request for a face-to-face interview with Bevilacqua more than three months before this article's publication date and noted that an interview with Cardinal John O'Connor had been granted for a separate article on his leadership in New York (NCR, May 29).
Some cardinals, like O'Connor in New York and Krol, Bevilacqua's predecessor in Philadelphia, wanted no part of church closings. Such moves are never easy and often generate bitter controversy. Philadelphia was no exception. In part, some Philadelphia Catholics say, their bitterness was exacerbated by the fact that they were persuaded to support a $100 million fundraising campaign, which was supposed to help struggling parishes and schools, and then were betrayed when parishes and schools were closed.
On Holy Thursday 1991, three years after Bevilacqua arrived in Philadelphia, he stood in the marble pulpit of the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul and looked out over a congregation that included 500 priests in white robes. "Beginning today, we will embark on an archdiocesan renewal," one that would take the church into the next century, the archbishop said. He said he expected lay people to play an important role in the nine-year spiritual renewal.
"I want as much as possible that those who are being affected -- that is, the priests, religious and the laity -- to have ownership even of the planning.
"Renewal is for everyone, no matter what their position is," the archbishop said. "Christ excluded no one." When the renewal was done, he said, the archdiocese would be "more beautiful, more reflective of Christ."
The renewal was built around Catholic Life 2000, the first capital projects fundraising campaign in the history of the archdiocese. The Philadelphia diocese was founded in 1808 and elevated to an archdiocese in 1875.
The archdiocese recruited volunteers to visit every Catholic home and ask for cash donations and quarterly pledges over and above regular weekly contributions. A 12-page brochure showed a smiling cardinal poised in photos with African-American and Latino Catholic school kids. The brochure trumpeted the goal: $100 million to fortify institutions of the archdiocese for the next century, including $30 million "to provide a solid financial base" for archdiocesan high schools and another $20 million for an endowment fund that would meet "future financial needs of indigent parishes." The fundraiser was supposed to "assist struggling parishes" and "guarantee the future viability of our elementary and secondary schools." Some $40 million would be returned to individual parishes, according to the brochure. "Every parish will share in the success of Catholic Life 2000," it said.
The archbishop, who was elevated to cardinal in June 1991, soon after the campaign began, said regional studies would be done to determine how the church could work more effectively in some sections of the archdiocese. The archdiocese had no plans to close parishes, and any changes affecting a parish would be made "through consultation, not through any kind of imposition from above," Bevilacqua said.
The campaign was a success, producing $101 million in cash and pledges, according to an official announcement in June 1992. Then, just four months later, the archdiocese released a consultant's report warning that due to money problems as many as eight of 25 archdiocesan high schools might be closed. At the time, the 25 high schools were running an annual debt of $4 million. Six public hearings over the fate of the schools attracted more than 10,000 people. The cardinal eventually decided to close one high school and merge four schools into two. The church paid an accounting firm $400,000 for the consultant's report.
At one of the public hearings, Ann McIntyre, a parent, stood at a church lectern, looked the cardinal in the eye and asked for an explanation. "How did this successful campaign become a failure?" McIntyre wanted to know. The cardinal watched impassively from the front pew. His spokesman said he was there to listen, not to answer any questions.
"It's unfortunate that people were given the impression that the $100 million would solve all of the problems," Jay Devine, a public relations specialist from The Tierney Group, said, "That was never the impression that was intended." Devine was formerly on part-time loan to the archdiocese from The Tierney Group -- "at a deep discount," according to the group's president Brian Tierney, who often serves personally as the cardinal's spokesman. Devine explained that of the $101 million raised, only $26 million was cash. The remaining $75 million was in the form of pledges collectible through 1997. And off the top, the church paid $1.9 million to Community Counseling Service Co. of New York City, an international fundraising firm that set up the campaign. In all, the archdiocese spent a total of $2.3 million in the early 1990s on just these two outside consulting jobs alone. While the campaign would support an endowment to secure the long-term viability of institutions, the archdiocese was restricted in the short term to using just the interest from cash on hand. That amounted to less than $1 million a year, Devine said.
Some Catholics weren't buying it. "Catholic Life 2000 was a fraud. I was duped," said Nick Kronberger, a suburbanite who was a Catholic Life 2000 fundraiser for St. Albert the Great Church in suburban Huntingdon Valley. The archdiocese rejected Kronberger's request for a refund for his initial donation of $500 on a $1,500 pledge.
Three committees of priests and lay people met in September 1991, to study 15 parishes in North Philadelphia, the poorest section of the city. The predominantly Latino and African-American churches attracted 5,725 weekly parishioners. Archdiocesan officials said the registered Catholic population in the North Philadelphia planning area, however, had declined from 54,326 in 1970 to 24,825 in 1990, a 54 percent drop, and the combined annual deficit of the 15 parishes was running about $1.2 million.
The three planning committees were supposed to deliberate 18 months before presenting recommendations to the cardinal. Then, somebody leaked to committee members a confidential report, dated July 1992, that removed the suspense. The report, written by Robert J. Miller, director of the archdiocese's Office for Research and Planning, recommended mergers and closings almost identical to plans that were submitted to the cardinal by the planning committees nine months later. He used language that offended some parish leaders. The report referred to "the virulent social problems of the inner city" and said planning among parishes in North Philadelphia had been "limited by the planning skills of the parish leaders."
The cardinal eventually left four of the 15 parishes untouched, closed eight and established three new merged parishes. He also closed five parish elementary schools. The city of Chester, which previously had six parishes, now has one parish with two church buildings, one of which is used as an alternate worship site. He also closed two schools in Chester.
Bevilacqua's decisions were especially hard for some Catholics to stomach, given that Krol, during the years of white flight to the suburbs, had adopted a policy of keeping as many inner-city churches and schools open as possible. He opened the schools to students of other faiths and taxed wealthier parishes to keep the parishes and schools afloat.
People on the planning committees felt manipulated. Elsa Maria Padilla, a member of St. Henry's Church in North Philadelphia for 22 years, wrote a bitter account: "Warning -- The Process Is A Fraud," she said in a letter circulated among parishioners. She said in her letter that she felt "used and abused because in hindsight the outcome was obviously predetermined."
Padilla's committee was told to recommend which parish schools to close and then learned, after the fact, that parishes without schools also would lose their churches. St. Henry's was a double loser. "I consider this ploy to be disingenuous and unbecoming of our spiritual leaders," Padilla wrote. The committees, she said "are merely a facade to help conceal the archdiocese's preordained decisions."
St. Henry's was a Latino parish that attracted an average weekly total of 770 parishioners to Sunday Masses and baptized 115 infants in 1992. Parishioners submitted a fundraising plan to the cardinal in an attempt to save St. Henry's. "The Lord is fair and does not show partiality," the parishioners wrote the cardinal, quoting from the book of Sirach. "He is not prejudiced against the poor." Bevilacqua refused to meet with parishioners before or after he closed St. Henry's, despite numerous requests.
Dan Geringer, columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News, proclaimed a "Pinocchio Alert" in two columns published in June 1993. One was headlined "Cardinal, It's a Sin to Tell a Lie"; the other, "Big Shepherd Pulling Wool Over Lambs' Eyes." Geringer wrote, "When it's a matter of condoms in the schools, hey, he's there. When it's a matter of gay and lesbian domestic partnerships, hey, he's there. But when it's a matter of life and death for decent Catholic families struggling to survive in a drug-devastated community, he sends a vicar."
'Don't desert the poor'
Some people had a hard time understanding how the cardinal could refuse to meet with poor people, given his own background and the church's mission to the poor. Bevilacqua was ninth of 11 children born to Italian immigrants in Brooklyn. Concern for migrant refugees and itinerant people had been a constant theme in his career and a reason, he once said, for getting a degree in civil law. During his term in Pittsburgh, he was often on the road tending to various international concerns. In Philadelphia, however, Bevilacqua has not been in the public eye as much as he was previously for his work with migrants.
A nun who works with poor people in the inner city said she wrote the cardinal a letter during the church closings to "remind him of his roots." The nun noted in her letter that nuns used to deliver food baskets to his family's door when he was a child. "Don't forget where you came from," she warned Bevilacqua. "Don't desert the poor in these parishes."
A priest who went through the downsizing process said he regrets that he and his fellow priests didn't stand together on behalf of one successful African-American parish that was closed, Most Precious Blood. The parish, among the first in the archdiocese to introduce symbols of African-American culture into worship, was self-supporting with $220,000 in assets. Parishioners had donated $9,219 to Catholic Life 2000 and pledged an additional $279,318. Weekly attendance at Mass averaged 332 people. The parish had a 20-member evangelization team on the streets bringing in new members.
"When I think of all the things that happened in North Philadelphia, that was the worst," said Jesuit Fr. George Bur, pastor of one of the other churches at the time it was closed. "We might have forced a decision," but with so many parishes closing, "we were all pitted against each other," he said.
The archdiocese sold off five churches and three school buildings from 1993 to 1996 for a total of $3.4 million. Some 200 pieces of stained glass and religious artifacts that belonged to the five closed churches in North Philadelphia were placed on folding tables and auctioned off in Dec. 1994 at prices ranging from $20 to $1,500. Some of the pieces were bought by wealthy suburban parishes like St. Monica's, which used stained glass windows from Corpus Christi in North Philadelphia in its new $1.6 million building in Chester County. Officials said sale proceeds would benefit remaining inner-city parishes.
At a new predominantly African-American parish that was created from three closed churches in North Philadelphia, including Most Precious Blood, the school is nearly full with 470 students, but church attendance is only 380, down from a former combined weekly attendance of 632.
Minority Catholics were angry. Jacqueline J. Wiggins described the cardinal as a plantation owner who had "just lynched North Philadelphia." Sara S. Kirkland, a parishioner at the former Most Precious Blood Parish, wrote in a guest editorial in The Philadelphia Daily News, "So, if ridding the system of unwanted blacks and Hispanics is his aim, His Eminence has accomplished his mission."
The belt-tightening would not affect everyone. The archdiocese downsized from 302 to 287 parishes. During the 1990s he oversaw a $70 million building campaign in the suburbs where the Catholic population was on the rise. He spent $1.5 million to renovate the 13-story archdiocesan office center in Center City, the downtown section of Philadelphia. He told few people about it. Special attention was given to the 12th floor, where Cardinal Krol's conference room was transformed into a new multimedia conference center furnished with custom-woven burgundy carpets, electronically controlled draperies and custom oak woodwork.
The centerpiece was a conference table fashioned by master carpenters from 80-year-old black cherry trees. Fifteen microphones were installed and a dozen computer monitors sunk under smoked glass panels. At 20-by-25 feet, the table was bigger than most living rooms. The list price was $58,000, but officials said they paid far less, under $40,000 for the table before the electronics were installed.
The center was equipped with a ceiling-mounted video projector and an 8-feet-by-8-feet descending screen. A smaller room for video conferencing was furnished with a smaller conference table and two 36-inch televisions wired for future satellite transmission. According to former employees in charge of maintenance and construction for the archdiocese, electronic equipment for the center cost $260,000; custom woodwork and other carpentry cost $165,000.
Brian Tierney, responding in writing to questions from The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1997, said that the actual costs were less and included more than electronic equipment and carpentry. He did not, however, provide any corrected figures. The videoconferencing capabilities remain untested.
The confidential 1993 capital budget for projects planned and underway listed the outlay for the multimedia conference room center as $507,500. A former archdiocesan financial officer said that all figures in that budget were estimates and usually fell short of actual costs. Although Philadelphia's new facility was unique in the nation, archdiocesan officials refused to let local journalists in to see it.
Some who did see it were unimpressed. "It made me sick to my stomach. It's just not right," said Bill Scarborough, a former supervisor and inspector in the archdiocesan building department. He worked for the archdiocese for 15 years, until 1992, when the department was closed by the cardinal.
The cardinal, however, argued that the center had spiritual benefits. It was so wonderful Jesus would have wanted one, he said in 1993. "If Jesus Christ were alive today, he would have used all of the electronic media of today. Absolutely no doubt about it. He would have, you know, updated everything. He would have used an automobile ... a plane ... television ... anything to achieve his purpose in the most effective way possible with the resources available. That's what I'm trying to do."
No other archdiocese contacted during the writing of this story has such a center, including Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Detroit. Some major dioceses rent conference rooms in local hotels for occasional videoconferences. Scarborough said the center had become an embarrassment. Archdiocesan officials say that's not true.
No satellite dish
In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer last year, officials said that after the center was built, they couldn't afford a $70,000 satellite dish, or even a less expensive option such as a $17,000 digital phone hookup that allows for video transmission. "The technology costs too much," said Br. Joseph J. Willard, the official in charge of construction.
Public relations executive Brian Tierney said videoconferencing was never intended as the center's main use. The center had been needed both to "accommodate and anticipate changing technology" and to "address a need for meeting space caused by a new emphasis on consensus decision-making," he said in a letter to the Inquirer. According to Tierney, the center is used regularly for committee and council meetings, though a former archdiocesan employee said it is also used for about a half dozen birthday parties a year for staff members.
Other work at archdiocesan headquarters included $400,000 for "29 projects affecting seven floors," according to the confidential capital budget. Workers hauled away three 26-foot-long truckloads of old furniture and brought in new furniture at an undisclosed cost. Philadelphia Catholics were not informed about those projects. They were also not told about an addition to the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul in 1993, budgeted at $346,075, to provide a meeting room that doubles as a changing room for priests, nor about plans to resurface and upgrade security on a private parking lot outside archdiocesan headquarters. Costs for the lot were $504,363, well over the budgeted $130,000. Br. Joseph explained workers had to install new sewers and dig up a gas tank and deteriorating vaults of medical waste left behind by a former hospital.
The archdiocese also spent $750,000 to renovate a former convent adjacent to the basilica, displacing the nuns and turning the convent into additional archdiocesan office space. The building opened in 1995 and houses the Family Services Department of Catholic Social Services.
The archdiocese spent $1.2 million in 1990 and 1991 to renovate a former school building in West Philadelphia and turn it into more office space. Tierney said it was impossible to keep parishioners fully informed about each of the 1,300 capital projects that the archdiocese undertook during the 1990s. While the building projects were not necessarily unusual for a large archdiocese and officials were able to justify some of the extra costs, many Catholics were upset that such projects were underway at a time when the archdiocese was in the process of closing poor churches and schools.
"The hypocrisy of the Catholic hierarchy is very painful," said Eileen DiFranco, a member of the parish council at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, where parishioners were asked to iNCRease weekly contributions by 10 percent to keep up with annual expenses. "They're the hierarchy, and they don't think they're accountable to their flock."
Further criticism was generated by the fact that the archdiocese failed to acquire building permits for work done on four floors of its headquarters -- including the multimedia conference center. When the omission was pointed out by The Philadelphia Inquirer last year, church officials blamed contractors for the oversight. City officials, however, assessed the archdiocese for fees and penalties amounting to "a few thousand dollars," saying church officials were responsible for the oversight.
Among the expenses for the $500,200 renovation at Villa St. Joseph-by-the-Sea, the cardinal's summer home, was a $9,200 bill for F. Schumacher & Co., an upscale Philadelphia fabric house. Devine said he didn't know the extent of the renovations other than new wallpaper, paint and carpeting. "The place was in fairly deplorable condition," he said.
Records show that all expenses for renovations during the first five months of 1993 were charged to the plant fund, a fund established by Krol and variously described by Tierney as derived from income on investments and specially marked donations.
Meanwhile, church closings were inciting some memorable protests. The leader of the demonstrations, Frank Maimone of the Catholic Worker, went on a 12-day hunger strike in 1993. Every Wednesday at noon, for a year and a half, Maimone and his wife, Susan Dietrich, led demonstrations against the cardinal. Parochial school kids, nuns and grandmothers carrying rosaries joined picket lines outside archdiocesan headquarters and the adjacent cathedral. On the feast day of Ss. Peter and Paul, protesters used superglue to post eight theses on the huge metal doors of the cathedral. The protesters accused the cardinal of betraying the gospel by "willfully neglecting the poor." Maimone's group joined forces with women staging an annual protest in favor of women priests in April 1993, on Holy Thursday. Guitars strumming, the two groups, 170 strong, stood on the cathedral steps and sang "We Shall Overcome." The demonstrators surrounded the cathedral exits after Mass, hoping to buttonhole the cardinal, who had refused to meet with them.
But the cardinal couldn't hide from Gloria Lopez, a parishioner at St. Henry's. "I just slipped through the crowd," the medical secretary said afterward. "I'm a middle-aged woman. They don't expect middle-aged women to be crazy."
Lopez's account of her meeting with the cardinal was read to archdiocesan officials before it was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer. It was never challenged. Lopez found the cardinal in a vestibule. "I was wondering if we could talk," Lopez said.
He said no.
"Did you know that the people were out picketing?" Lopez asked.
No, the cardinal said.
A year earlier, Lopez had been introduced by an archdiocesan spokesman at a news conference as a role model because of her volunteer activities with youth in North Philadelphia.
During the meeting in the vestibule, she told the cardinal that people needed to speak with him "because they were hurt."
She said Bevilacqua then told her, "When you have a problem, you don't call the president. You call the people who work for the president."
She said he told her "Nothing is going to be changed," and that she should talk to her vicar. "Then he just excused himself, patted me on the back and said he'd pray for me," she said.
The cardinal was in a public relations jam. The day of the superglue protest, the demonstrators charged that the cardinal was closing parishes at the same time workers were renovating his summer home. Two days after the protest, the archdiocesan newspaper ran a photo of Bevilacqua accepting a $1 million check from John E. Connelly, a tour boat and gambling casino owner from Pittsburgh. The Connelly donation would pay for renovations at the shore house, archdiocesan officials said.
Connelly, ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the 400 richest Americans, publicly credited his friendship with Cardinal Bevilacqua with helping him win an exclusive contract to build a $20 million hotel at the Vatican for visiting cardinals. Connelly was awarded an exclusive 10-year worldwide agreement in 1996 to market products of the Vatican Museum, including neckties and ashtrays.
Bevilacqua's advisers, the College of Consultors, were not told up front about the renovations in Ventnor. A confidential internal archdiocesan memorandum dated Oct. 30, 1992, says the expenses were "approved by the cardinal" and did not need to be reviewed. "There was no need for the College of Consultors," the memo said, and "no opinions (comments and recommendations) were needed." The college normally reviews all capital projects of more than $100,000. Spokesman Jay Devine said the seaside villa renovations were not brought to the college because the cardinal may have had advance notice of the Connelly donation.
Public relations officials representing the archdiocese appeared to be annoyed that journalists were asking questions about the projects. Devine reminded an editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, who was taking notes, that he represented 1.4 million Catholics. "We have a responsibility to make sure the newspaper doesn't tell them things we don't want them to know," Devine said. The editor reported the "amazingly stupid" comment in an internal newspaper memo.
Exorcism at headquarters
Maimone's Martin Luther-like protest was topped by a public exorcism in August 1993. Fr. Dexter Lanctot, a priest of 17 years who served as chaplain of St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, stood on the steps of archdiocesan headquarters, swinging an orb filled with incense. The priest, an old hand at demonstrations, said he intended to cleanse the building of a "diabolic infestation" of greed.
Lanctot had spent three months in federal prison after he and three other members of a group known as Epiphany Plowshares were arrested in 1987 for breaking into the Willow Grove, Pa., Naval Air Station. The exorcism would be even more costly.
Bevilacqua terminated Lanctot's assignment as hospital chaplain and ordered him not to say Mass or preach. The cardinal wanted the priest to undergo a six-month spiritual renewal. Lanctot declined and left the priesthood in 1995.
In September 1993, Maimone and another Catholic Worker, Richard Withers, were arrested after they slipped past security at archdiocesan headquarters and sat outside the cardinal's office praying the rosary. Church officials called police, but a sympathetic city judge, a Catholic, found the men not guilty of defiant trespass and conspiracy as charged. The judge said the rosary was an important prayer.
Archdiocesan spokesman Brian Tierney dismissed the protesters as a small bunch who got "more press than the Beatles."
"God strike me dead," Tierney said in an interview last year, "I've never heard any of these issues ever brought up in my parish [or] in other parishes I've visited. Never." Based on the mail that comes to the archdiocese, and the people he talks to, Tierney said, "99.5 percent" of the Catholics in the Philadelphia archdiocese approve of the cardinal's leadership.
While the archdiocese was downsizing in the urban areas, building was booming in the suburbs. The Catholic population in four suburban counties iNCReased from 712,736 to 783,221 between 1980 and 1995, a 10 percent jump, compared to a 22 percent decrease in the city. During the 1990s, archdiocesan officials oversaw construction worth more than $40 million in new churches, schools, parish halls and gymnasiums in 18 parish locations. Most were financed by successful suburban parishes. The archdiocese also built a new $30 million Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown, Pa.
As the gulf widened between suburban and city Catholics, some wealthy Catholics tried to step in. As many as 30, half of them from the suburbs, met once a month in 1994 and 1995 to try to help urban Catholics. They called themselves the Catholic Lay Alliance to Save Schools and Parishes -- CLASSP. Expressing concern that racial justice and the church's commitment to the poor had received insufficient attention in decisions about church closings, the group proposed that wealthy suburban churches adopt and subsidize sister parishes in the inner city. They suggested a national conference on urban ministry and a think tank that would attract experts with creative ideas for saving the inner-city church. The group obtained a $4,000 grant to plan the conference. Their efforts were never reported in the press.
Archdiocesan officials focused on the negatives. They replied in writing that the conference was premature and might contradict archdiocesan planning for the inner city. The group abandoned plans for the conference, returned grant money and suspended meetings. "Maybe we were naive," Mary Ann Meyers of CLASSP said.
In the five years since the archdiocese downsized, the number of Protestant churches in North Philadelphia iNCReased from 60 to 80. Many are storefront churches filling up with former Catholics. "Some of the largest churches are in areas where the Roman Catholic church closed down. This was their territory," said the Rev. Luis Cortes, a former Catholic who is executive director of the Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia.
One of those Protestant churches is Iglesia Sion, where membership has doubled since the Catholic church downsized in North Philadelphia in 1993. The Rev. Raul LeDuc, pastor of an Assemblies of God congregation, said every week he gets visits from Catholics and former Catholics looking for a new spiritual home. "The Catholic people, they're hungry for God," he said.
Susan Gibbs, former spokeswoman for the archdiocese, wondered aloud to reporters one day why the seminary had no Latino students. City Councilman Angel Ortiz, a former altar boy, said there was a simple explanation. "All I can remember is the tears of some of the parents at St. Henry's when they spoke to the priests and sought an audience with the cardinal and never got it," he said. "Now you see the Puerto Rican people going to these little storefront Pentecostal churches because obviously the church isn't talking to them anymore."
One group did get to the cardinal after their bitter protests became the subject of a story in The New York Times. When the archdiocese listed St. Hedwig's, a thriving non-territorial Polish-American parish, among those slated for closing, parishioners depicted Bevilacqua as Hitler, Pinocchio and Darth Vader on signs carried in demonstrations. They threatened to do the same on billboards along the interstate.
The Polish-Americans noted that their ancestors had built the parish with their own funds more than 90 years ago and that the present 1,800 parishioners contributed $400,000 annually to the archdiocese. They claimed the cardinal was closing their church to divert criticism that he was targeting only black and Latino parishes.
Bevilacqua modified his original decision and allowed St. Hedwig's to stay open as a chapel for a Polish parish in a neighboring town. Baptisms and marriages are not allowed at the chapel; funerals are. Parishioner David Chominski summed up the result. "They're killing us off. The young people have left," he said.
Hoping to stem the flow of converts to other churches, Bevilacqua opened the Catholic Institute For Evangelization in 1994 in the renovated rectory of the closed St. Henry's Church. The archdiocese also opened the St. Peter Claver Center in 1995 to serve as an evangelization center for approximately 35,000 African-American Catholics. According to its mission statement, the purpose of the Peter Claver Center is to "develop leadership for evangelization, liturgical inculturation and outreach within the African-American community."
Epifanio De Jesus, a permanent deacon at the cathedral, said the evangelization institute's purpose was to "help polish" lay leaders through classes on scripture and church history, to "give the a sense of net worth" and "make them feel-loved."
Not everyone was unhappy about the closings. Fr. Michael A. Chapman, pastor of St. Veronica's, a surviving Latino church in North Philadelphia, said the closings, if painful, had financially strengthened the churches that remained. "They should have done it 10 years ago," he said, noting that collections at his church had gone up.
Reorganization in Philadelphia is not over. A racially mixed inner-city parish, Assumption B.V.M., was closed in 1995. Membership had declined to only 50 registered parishioners. Another Philadelphia parish school, St. Barbara's, with 123 black students, is scheduled to close this month.
At least 10 studies are currently underway throughout the archdiocese, which may result in further changes.
The 1995 workers' compensation claim that resulted in an $87,500 settlement for a former veteran employee -- the employee who described Bevilacqua as "rude and abusive" -- was just one indication of a kind of "Upstairs, Downstairs" life inside Bevilacqua's residence. NCR agreed to protect the former employee's identity, even though his name is on public documents related to the case.
Another long-term employee who worked for a brief time as a driver for Bevilacqua, also described the cardinal as verbally abusive.
In documents gathered for a workers' compensation case, the second employee, who also asked for anonymity, said Bevilacqua "constantly screamed and abused" him.
That employee said Bevilacqua would scream at him when he arrived early at destinations and when he attempted to engage the cardinal in conversation.
The second employee said Bevilacqua would act rudely in the vehicle but upon arriving at a destination "would suddenly change, put on his game face, exit the car and begin hugging, smiling and greeting people." The driver described the cardinal's public persona as a "show-business performance."
He said the cardinal also "constantly took temper fits" regarding routes the driver chose to destinations.
The driver said in an interview that he also had witnessed tension between the two cardinals before Cardinal Krol's death. When the driver picked up Bevilacqua at the residence, Krol was often downstairs, eating lunch by himself in the kitchen. Krol would make polite conversation with the driver, the driver said.
When Bevilacqua came downstairs, he would not even acknowledge Krol's presence, the driver said. "He would walk right in front of the open dining area where Cardinal Krol was sitting, and he wouldn't even say hello."
Over the years, Bevilacqua has been outspoken on some social issues. He drew editorial praise from The Philadelphia Inquirer for speaking out against the death penalty in 1995. In 1993 and again in 1998 he made historic visits to testify before the City Council in opposition to domestic partnership benefits plans for city employees. No previous Philadelphia archbishop had appeared before the council. While gays shouted "hate-monger," the cardinal calmly testified that the proposed domestic partnership act extended legal recognition to a sexual relationship that he and most Philadelphians considered to be "immoral." When one of the measures passed in 1997, the cardinal urged Catholics to send letters of protest. The cardinal called the plan endorsed by Mayor Ed Rendell "a direct attack on the natural arrangement of family life."
Although Bevilacqua has stayed away from North Philadelphia since the closings, he recently expressed concern about some of the problems that affect the area. In a pastoral letter released early this year, 10 months after two racial incidents in another part of the city known as Grays Ferry, the cardinal issued a broad attack on racism, calling it a "horrible evil." In the first incident, in February 1997, a drunken mob of 20 to 50 white men who had just left a beef-and-beer party in the parish hall at St. Gabriel's Catholic Church were accused of attacking an African-American woman, her teenage son and nephew. Three of the alleged attackers were convicted of felonies, including ethnic intimidation and terrorist threats. In the second incident, two African-American men shot a white teenager to death.
The incidents drew national media attention. Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan came to town for an interfaith rally in April 1997 sponsored by Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell. Farrakhan held hands with the mayor and said racism was a "spiritual disease." He also took a swipe at the cardinal.
Racism 'a sin'
Farrakhan said, "These young men came out of a Catholic church to beat fellow Christians who are black. The cardinal himself must come out of the ivory tower and go where his influence is needed and bring an army of priests with him and sit those young people down and teach them from scripture."
Although Bevilacqua boycotted the interfaith rally, he attended two ecumenical prayer services in the neighborhood. In his pastoral letter, published in January, he noted that "racism and Christian life are incompatible." Racism is "a sin, an evil that can never be justified," he wrote. It is "a moral disease" that infects "through words and attitudes, deeds and omissions" and separates people from God. "Large numbers of African-Americans have not chosen the Catholic church as their spiritual home. We cannot help but ask why." He asked for God's forgiveness and apologized for all acts of past racism by Catholics.
The pastoral letter drew accolades. The Rev. William Moore, a Baptist minister and former president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, said the cardinal's statements were "refreshing" and sent a message to "people in the Delaware Valley who have been silent."
Some in his audience, however, demurred. Christine Cappo of suburban Yeadon said in a letter to the editor published in the Inquirer on Jan. 3 that she found Bevilacqua's missive "somewhat hypocritical," given that during Bevilacqua's tenure as archbishop "all of the schools that he has closed have been in predominantly black or integrated neighborhoods."
Others note the cardinal's continued absence from inner-city neighborhoods.
For example, Jesuit Fr. Bur wonders why the cardinal doesn't visit North Philadelphia. "He would be a welcome visitor in certain of the ministries that have survived," he said. "There are things he could take credit for if he wanted to."
National Catholic Reporter, June 19, 1998