Bishop Accountability
  Brooklyn Bishop Ending Tenure amid Storm over Scandal

By Daniel J. Wakin
NY Times
August 2, 2003

Pope John Paul II has accepted the resignation of Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, the Vatican said yesterday, ending a tenure clouded by criticism of how he dealt with the church's sexual abuse scandal in Brooklyn and Boston, where he was a key official of the archdiocese in the 1970's and 1980's.

Under church rules, Bishop Daily was required to submit his resignation on turning 75 last Sept. 23. The pope frequently allows bishops to stay on past 75, and Bishop Daily will be 76 when his successor is installed in October.

[Photo captions - 1) Bishop Thomas V. Daily. 2) Bishop Thomas V. Daily as he celebrated Mass at St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn in January 2002. (Photo by Aaron Lee Fineman for NY Times)]

In July, for example, the pope accepted the retirement of Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia at 80.

To succeed Bishop Daily, the pope named Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio Jr. of Camden, a 59-year-old priest with long experience in an urban setting, and an expert on immigration -- a critical credential for a diocese where more than half its 1.8 million Catholics speak English as a second language.

Bishop Daily leaves behind a reputation as a priests' bishop, a man well-liked by the clergy who reorganized the parishes into clusters and led a successful capital campaign that raised $67 million in the 1990's.

In listing his accomplishments, the diocese said he forgave more than $100 million in parish debts and began a major study of parish elementary schools.

He brought a genial tone to a diocese often overshadowed by the powerhouse Archdiocese of New York, which covers Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and seven northern counties.

As the sexual abuse scandal spread throughout the Roman Catholic Church in the United States last year, the Brooklyn diocese -- which includes Queens -- was also sued by people alleging they were abused as minors by priests.

In one lawsuit alone, which is pending, the diocese and Bishop Daily were named as defendants by 42 people. But it was Bishop Daily's actions as a top aide to the former archbishops of Boston -- Cardinal Humberto Medeiros and, briefly, his successor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law -- that are likely to shape his legacy.

A report by the Massachusetts attorney general released on July 24 blamed Bishop Daily for worrying more about the abusive priests and the church's reputation than the victims while he served as a top aide to the cardinal.

It said he failed to investigate allegations of abuse thoroughly, preferred to move priests accused of molesting others quietly between parishes rather than remove them for good, and did not go to the police with violations.

The bishop has said he was sorry for some of his actions, but has argued he was only following procedures generally accepted at the time.

At a news conference yesterday at the diocese's chancery, Bishop Daily said he could not help but be saddened by the legacy and acknowledged that the scandal brought sleepless nights and a stomach tied up in knots.

"Some people carry heavy, heavy crosses," he said. "They do it in union with Jesus Christ. For what? For life. They hold it for life everlasting."

The bishop said he did not feel "bittersweet," and wanted to concentrate for the moment on the people of Brooklyn. "The greatest treasure that Brooklyn has is its people, good people," he said. "I know that in the streets of Brooklyn you can find evil. You pick up the papers and you can see it. But I've got to tell you, there are saints walking the streets of Brooklyn."

The Rev. Mark Massa, director of the Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University, said the fact that Bishop Daily's resignation was accepted probably "is related in some way to the Boston mess."

"The fact that it was not accepted immediately, as it was in the case of other bishops, shows Rome didn't perceive it as an immediate crisis," he said.

But, he cautioned, there was no way of determining what was behind the timing. It may have just taken that long to find a successor.

As Bishop Daily put it, "You don't tell the Holy Father what to do. You offer your resignation and he tells you what to do."

Summing up his tenure, Bishop Daily said, "I just want to say it's been a good run for me in many ways and I just want to be faithful."

Later, after the news conference, he said he had made no plans for his retirement, and might return to missionary work in Latin America, an early stop in his career. But, he added, "I'm married to Brooklyn. Where else am I going to go?"

The New York chapter of a nationwide advocacy and support group, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Bishop Daily's departure "will provide at least some comfort to those dozens of innocent children who were abused on his watch."

After 13 years under Bishop Daily, Brooklyn will have its seventh bishop in Nicholas DiMarzio. He moves from a territory of 2,600 square miles in southern New Jersey to a quintessential urban diocese of 180 square miles with 217 parishes, nearly twice as many as Camden. It is a diocese with the fifth-largest Catholic population in the country, although the smallest in area.

In Camden, Bishop DiMarzio was criticized by sexual abuse victims for vigorously fighting their lawsuits. In March, he sought to put the cases behind him by settling. The diocese admitted no wrongdoing but paid out a total of $880,000 to 23 people.

Stephen Rubino, a lawyer in Margate, N.J., who represented many of the plaintiffs, said the diocese's lawyers displayed "mean-spiritedness and venomous attacks" on the plaintiffs in the courtroom.

In a statement, the New Jersey chapter of the Survivors Network said of the bishop, "He talks a good game," but has a penchant "for legal hardball and secrecy."

Bishop DiMarzio, who appeared at the news conference before driving back to Camden for another meeting with the news media there, said he had not had a chance to study the sexual abuse lawsuits in Brooklyn and Queens, so he could not comment on what his approach would be.

Settling cases is not the issue, he said. "The issue is reaching out to victims, assuring them of the church's concern for them, making sure that these things don't occur again."

He said that to win back Catholics alienated by the scandal, "We have to show that we are protecting the youth that are entrusted to our care." He said he would put faith in the steps taken in the past year by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide lay group seeking reform in the wake of the scandal, said it looked forward to working with Bishop DiMarzio, who banned the group from church property in Camden. Bishop Daily did the same in the Diocese of Brooklyn, but later relented. The group called on Bishop DiMarzio to settle cases and to follow the lead of the new archbishop of Boston, Sean O'Malley, who has said there is a moral obligation to deal justly with victims.

The Voice of the Ordained, a New York-area group seeking more influence for priests in church administration, had urged the pope to choose a bishop from the diocese. One of its leaders, Msgr. John Powis, pastor of St. Barbara's parish in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, said the outsider status of the new bishop was disappointing.

But Monsignor Powis praised the bishop's commitment to helping immigrants.

Bishop DiMarzio is a native of Newark and a protege of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, formerly Newark's archbishop and now archbishop in Washington. Bishop DiMarzio is a past chairman of the American bishops' Migration Committee, testified before the Senate on immigration and set up parishes and offices to serve Hispanic and Haitian Catholics. He is a member of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

Bishop DiMarzio was asked about a Vatican document released Thursday calling on Catholic lawmakers to fight legal recognition of same-sex marriages, saying to support the idea was "gravely immoral."

He said he would do his best to uphold Catholic teaching that the "sanctity of marriage" between a man and a woman was the cornerstone of society. The bishop said he would not use "threats" against politicians to follow the demand of the Vatican.

"The truth is what we use," he said.

At a Glance -- Diocese of Brooklyn
The Diocese of Brooklyn covers Brooklyn and Queens.

Population: 4,689,802
Catholic population: 1,824,642
Parishes: 217
Priests: 548
Colleges and universities: 3
Students: 22,899
Elementary schools: 154
Students: 51,400
High Schools: 20
Students: 17,576
Baptisms in 2002: 18,340
Marriages in 2002: 3,523

(Source: Official Catholic Directory, 2003)


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.