Maida Gets Mixed Reviews for Shepherding Archdiocese

By Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
January 5, 2009

Three crises during his administration of the Archdiocese of Detroit tested Cardinal Adam Maida's ability to achieve the most important function of a bishop -- shepherding his flock.

Maida's decision to appropriate significant funds to build a center dedicated to Pope John Paul II in Washington, D.C., led Catholics to question his ability to administer church finances. The joint impact of urban sprawl in Metro Detroit and the dire shortage of priests challenged his capacity to organize the churches and schools of the archdiocese to best serve the faithful.

And the sexual abuse of Catholics by priests confronted Maida and the other American bishops who served at the same time with public issues about sexual predation and power that no prelates ever had faced, publicly.

The evaluation of Maida's record amid the crises is mixed, observers and local Catholics says. The financial mess at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center was largely of his own creation. But he dealt rather more deftly with the need to contract parishes and schools and the scandal of pederasty than some other bishops.

"One of the chief roles of a bishop is trying to keep everybody in the same house, to keep the people in your own diocese in communion with each other and the diocese connected with the Vatican in Rome," said the Rev. Thomas Lumpkin, who has a social service ministry in Detroit. "He tried to do that. He would tend toward tolerating differences in order to keep everybody together, and I think that is a good approach."

It worked best, perhaps, in a massive campaign to reorganize the churches and schools in the archdiocese to address the new needs of a local church that was increasingly in suburbia and served by a dwindling number of priests.

Parish closures upset many

When the Archdiocese closed parishes in 1988, Catholics throughout Metro Detroit were generally outraged and the action roiled the archdiocese for years. But when Maida announced major closures in 2006, Catholics were far more sanguine.

Some observers attributed that to Maida's leadership style and business acumen. But others said the painful transformation was smoother simply because Catholics have grown calloused to closing and consolidating schools and parishes since the 1980s.

"Early on, our efforts at planning were praised by a professor at one of our local universities who described the process as one of the best-devised planning processes he had ever seen," Maida said, announcing his program of consolidations. "It allowed for a continuous process of back and forth from the grass roots to central administration and then down back again."

But some Catholics still blame Maida and church leaders with a lack of foresight and support for educators.

"We've gotten into the marketing of Catholic schools much too late," said Mark Sirois, of Southgate, who is active in working to keep open the school at St. Pius. "That was not good foresight, 10 years ago."

John Paul II center draws fire

For everyday parishioners who are asked to contribute extra sums to pensions for priests or to pay several thousands of dollars annually in tuitions for children to attend Catholic schools, the spending on the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center seemed like rank largesse. The archdiocese loaned or guaranteed loans totaling about $40 million for the center. While Maida says it was a worthwhile investment made from funds set aside for such purposes, many Catholics disagree.

"It represents probably one of the worst conceived ideas and practices that ever have existed in a diocese," said John Kinkel, who lives in Shelby Township and also in Ohio, when he teaches religion at Miami University. "It was way out of bounds for him to do that."

Maida's decisions led to no small amount of grousing among the parishioners and among priests who privately questioned whether money from their retirement fund was used to help finance the center. In an exclusive interview with The Detroit News in 2006, Maida denied that retirement funds were used.

"This is from the patrimony of the church," he said. Whether the archdiocese is ever made whole is a matter of considerable speculation. Maida insists the funds will be recovered. Others are dubious.

"It has a big debt, and clearly the business plan was not well thought out before it was constructed," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, the former editor of America magazine, a publication of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

Sex abuse scandal hits home

As for the repeated cases of sexual abuse by priests, observers say Maida fared better than some of his fellow bishops.

In Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned in 2002 amid repeated allegations that he moved sexual predators from church to church within the Archdiocese of Boston. Maida's training as a canon and secular lawyer may have prepared him to be considerably more cognizant of the potential of legal jeopardy.

But while local Catholics generally praise Maida for not subverting justice in the cases, some activists are less positive in their appraisal.

"Cardinal Maida fought more aggressively and successfully than many of his brother bishops to keep clergy sex cases hidden and to stop legislative reform of predator-friendly molestation laws," said David Clohessy, the national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Advocates for the victims, including Clohessy and others, were upset by the decision to move the retired Bishop Thomas Gumbleton from his parish, St. Leo's, in Detroit. Many say they believe that the shift, over Gumbleton's objection, was retribution for the popular prelate's public position in favor of extending the legal limits on the timing of law suits against the predators and the church in abuse cases, to allow more time to recover damages.

But Maida and other archdiocesan officials say Gumbleton was treated no differently than any retiring bishop, who must relinquish pastoral offices when they retire.

You can reach Gregg Krupa at (313) 222-2359 or


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.