Thursday, July 20

Don’t Judge an Ecclesiastic by His Appointees

Among the worst bishops, archbishops, or cardinals ever appointed to America must be ranked William O’Connell, archbishop of Boston from 1907 to 1944. He was a good administrator, bringing his archdiocese to new heights of wealth, influence, clerical discipline and lay involvement. However, as a person and as a Christian, he was a disaster.

O’Connell seldom said daily Mass; when he did, he said it at such a pace that the attendees were often shocked. With church funds, he paid for a valet, a coachman, a grand palazzo in Brighton, a private golf course, a summer estate in Marblehead, and a winter home in the Bahamas. He appointed his nephew—a priest – the Chancellor upon the nephew’s ordination. This nephew embezzled 3/4 of a million dollars and took a wife on the side. When the Pope confronted O’Connell about this situation, the cardinal lied. The archdiocesan newspaper editor was another priest, Fr. Toomey, who lived with the cardinal and also took a wife; when the wife threatened to go public, they bought her off with church funds. Fr. Toomey claimed he blackmailed the Cardinal with knowledge of the Cardinal’s own homosexual relationship to a well-known lawyer, though the only proof of this charge is that the Cardinal’s personal lawyer intervened to have the court destroy all correspondence between the Cardinal and the lawyer upon that lawyer’s death.*

O’Connel was appointed by St. Pius X. He was appointed because he was good friends with the similarly-saintly Cardinal Merry de Val, author of the amazing “Litany of Humility” which I earnestly recommend to you. The two men are by all accounts saints, yet O’Connell was appointed to Boston, and never removed from Boston, despite a great number of complaints to the Vatican from the clergy of whatsoever diocese he was leading at the time.

The precise reason why a saintly ecclesastics can have horrible appointees, I cannot say. Perhaps saintly men trust too much, dismissing rumors as lies. Perhaps they’re busy, and haven’t time for details. But, I reiterate, don’t judge an ecclesiastic by his appointees.

* cf. Charles R. Morris, American Catholic (New York: Random House, 1997) pp. 120-122, a wonderful book for the first 280 pages.

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