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A Career's Turning Point

Sep 22, 2002 | Newsday As he reaches his 75th birthday, the career of Bishop Thomas Daily is at its lowest ebb, his reputation damaged by a series of allegations that he covered up for pedophile priests.

Church law requires Daily to tender an official letter of resignation as bishop of the Brooklyn diocese to Pope John Paul II by his birthday on Monday, and it appears likely that the pope will accept it and begin to seek a successor.

While cardinals such as John O'Connor have been allowed to remain until they turn 80, there is scant precedent for retaining bishops that long.

And many Catholics from both liberal and conservative wings of the church believe it is time for Daily to relinquish his post. Among reasons they cite: his role in the sexual abuse scandal, administrative failures in the Diocese of Brooklyn and low morale among both clergy and parishioners.

Daily has said he regretted his actions in Boston, and his defenders say that disclosures over the past six months should be viewed in the context of his entire career.

"He's been here 12 years and he's done so many good things," said Frank DeRosa, the spokesman for the diocese. "These things have to be put in perspective."

Another Daily supporter, Msgr. John Antoncic, pastor of St. Mel's Church in Flushing, said Daily had "brought a good sense of hope to the diocese in a very troubled time. He cares for his priests, he cares for his people, he's a prayerful man. It's obvious when you speak to him personally, he's close to God."

Daily was once a rising star in the Catholic Church. A Massachusetts native with an affable personality, he served as an unofficial liaison between Boston's important Irish-Catholic community and the late Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, who was of Portuguese descent. Through Daily's service in Peru, where he was a missionary, he also learned fluent Spanish. The skill served him well in the nascent Diocese of Palm Beach, where he became bishop in 1984, as well as in Brooklyn, with its rising population of Spanish-speaking Catholics.

In Brooklyn, he is known for mounting a successful endowment campaign, establishing a clustering program in which parishes work together, and convening a church synod. Yet, 12 years after assuming the reins of the diocese and adopting an ambitious agenda, church insiders say he has demonstrated little vision and failed to consolidate parishes with dwindling populations. Daily's motto is, "I don't close parishes. I open them."

Fifty years into his ministry, Daily today finds himself the defendant in dozens of lawsuits by churchgoers charging he covered up for pedophile priests as vicar general in Boston, where he served both Medeiros and his successor, Cardinal Bernard Law.

Even Law recently blamed Daily for botching the case of notorious priest Paul Shanley, who is facing trial on charges he raped and assaulted four boys between 1979 and 1989.

Law testified in a deposition in June that Daily never told him that six complaints about Shanley's conduct had been filed. Law said he would not have elevated Shanley to pastor of his Newton, Mass., parish had Daily told him of the complaints.

In Palm Beach, where Daily later served as bishop, and in Brooklyn, where he took over in 1990, there are also complaints that Daily mishandled cases involving priests, despite credible allegations of pedophilia and other sexual improprieties.

One example involves a complaint by the Rev. Timothy Lambert of Metuchen, N.J., who in 1997 told the Brooklyn diocese that he had been sexually abused as a child in Douglaston, Queens, by the Rev. Joseph Byrns.

Even though the complaint against Byrns came from another priest, it wasn't until this year that Daily took action against Byrns. That action came only after the diocese received pressure from Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Its frustration growing, a group of Brooklyn Catholics met last week to organize a Voice of the Faithful chapter. Among other things, the organization promotes a greater role for the laity in church decisions.

"It seems that the information that has come out from Boston and from Brooklyn has demonstrated that he's unfit and that we should have a new bishop," said Melissa Gradel, a Boerum Hill woman who is among the group's organizers here.

The outspoken Dominican nun, Sister Sally Butler, also urged that the pope immediately accept Daily's resignation.

"Bishop Daily's time and energy will be consumed in the coming months with his legal difficulties in Boston," said Butler, who runs a teen program in Brooklyn. "It is appropriate that he step aside for new leadership, someone who will, we hope, concentrate on compassion for the victims of priest-pedophiles."

Butler has complained that Daily's office mishandled allegations of sexual abuse against three priests that she and two other nuns reported in 1996.

Another Catholic woman, lay eucharistic minister and lector Judith LaMonica of St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in Park Slope, said Daily should be replaced, but not because of the priest scandal.

She instead criticized his administrative and planning skills.

"The diocese needs a strong administrator and we have not had one for some time," said LaMonica, who said Daily has failed to plan adequately for the future. "We don't have enough priests to go around and, in my personal opinion, we're not using them wisely, notwithstanding the priest scandal."

By far the most damaging claims against Daily arose in Boston. In addition to reassigning Shanley, documents show that Daily played a pivotal role in mishandling complaints against the defrocked pedophile priest John Geoghan.

The most recent allegations against Daily, involving his role in fielding complaints about two other priests, are at the crux of more than 200 pages of internal church documents filed just over a week ago in a Boston court case. They include Daily's own handwritten notes revealing that he gave solace to the priests, who later were accused of abusing others.

In 1979, the Rev. Robert Gale in Quincy, Mass., admitted to Daily that he had pulled down the pants of a teenage male parishioner and molested him.

The boy's family had complained that Gale attacked both their sons, ages 14 and 17, and they said they knew of another victim as well.

It was the second time that complaints had been filed against Gale, yet Daily allowed Gale to speak to the families involved to "ascertain whether or not pastorally he could remain," Daily's notes say.

"I suggested to him that he put nothing in writing ... and to call me after he consults with the families," the notes say.

In July 1981, after Gale was transferred to St. Jude's Parish in Waltham, Mass., there was another complaint, this one involving a 13-year-old boy.

Confronted, Gale told Daily that he had "blacked out," and could not remember the events, the notes say. "Father Gale minimized the pastoral significance of the event," according to Daily's notes. Daily advised him to seek immediate counseling, and questioned whether he could remain.

Three months later, the family wrote to Cardinal Medeiros saying that he, his wife and the abused boy had talked with Father Gale after the 5:30 Mass, where the offending pastor was still presiding. The boy's father said he was willing to put the matter behind him, but expressed his feeling that the church hadn't addressed his concerns. Gale pleaded guilty last month to rape involving a boy he repeatedly abused.

In another case involving another Boston-area priest, the Rev. George Rosencranz, Daily offered his support to Rosencranz following his 1981 arrest for lascivious conduct in the men's rest room at a Sears Roebuck Store in Peabody, Mass.

Rosencranz, who a security guard caught engaging in a sexual act with a man in a rest room stall, claimed it was a case of "being at the wrong place at the wrong time."

"I told him in light of his protestation of innocence, I would support him," Daily said of Rosencranz.

The case against Rosencranz was later dropped, but the other man involved in the act pleaded guilty, the records show.

Eight years later - following other allegations against Rosencranz and church action to remove him - Rosencranz complained that other church leaders had not been good to him, as Daily had.

"He said that Bishop Daily had treated him much differently, standing by his side, defending him, etc.,etc.,etc.," according to notes in Rosencranz' file written by Bishop Robert J. Banks.

Rosencranz is the defendant in at least two civil lawsuits accusing him of sexually abusing minors in years past.

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