Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ongoing Archdiocese Fire Sale Exposes 19-Year-Old Cover-Up of Cardinal Bevilacqua's Lavish Spending

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is holding a fire sale after running up $11.6 million in legal bills in the fiscal year prior to the priest abuse trial. Facing a $17 million operating deficit, the archdiocese is now selling off the cardinal's mansion on City Line Avenue, and closing down the 117-year-old archdiocese newspaper, The Catholic Standard & Times.

The latest victim of the church's austerity campaign is Villa St. Joseph-by-the-Sea. The grand summer vacation home where Cardinals Krol and Bevilacqua once entertained wealthy donors will soon be up for sale. It's a three-story brick and stucco oceanfront mansion that covers an entire city block along the boardwalk in Ventnor, N.J., and is assessed at $6.2 million.

The impending sale of the cardinal's seaside villa is not only a sign of the archdiocese's changing fortunes, but it also exposes a bunch of lies told by the cardinal's PR guys 19 years ago to get His Eminence out of a public relations jam over the villa. It's an amusing saga.

It should surprise nobody that a cardinal who in 1994 would order the shredding of a list of 35 abuser priests then in ministry a year earlier, in 1993, would launch an elaborate and untruthful cover-up of his own lavish spending habits. 

But you've got to admire the resourcefulness of the cardinal's spin machine. To pull off the villa cover-up, the cardinal and his PR guys enlisted the services of a wealthy donor willing to bend the truth, and they also planted a fraudulent article and photo in the archdiocese's own newspaper. Maybe it's a good thing that they're finally closing that house organ. The archdiocese spin machine also apparently manufactured a phony alibi about a non-existing "reverter clause" on the original deed of sale of the villa to claim that the cardinal couldn't sell the place if he wanted to.

It's a pack of lies that stood for 19 years. Somewhere, Brian Tierney is smiling.

The saga began on June 29, 1993, when a group of 18 protesters held a demonstration at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Using Superglue instead of nails, the protesters attached a list of grievances to the cathedral door that accused the cardinal of betraying the gospel by "willfully neglecting the poor."

The protesters said that at the same time he was closing poor churches and schools in North Philadelphia, the cardinal was redecorating his summer home. Talk about a public relations nightmare for His Eminence. At the time, minority parishioners were picketing the cathedral every week to protest the closings. I was there the day of the Martin Luther-style protest at the cathedral, covering the story as the religion reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Jay Devine, a spokesman on loan to the archdiocese from Tierney's PR firm, claimed the cardinal's vacation home was also a summer residence for up to a dozen retired priests. "The place was in fairly deplorable condition and needed that kind of work to accommodate the priests," Devine told the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 30, 1993, in a story that ran under my byline.

Permits on file at Ventnor City Hall showed contractors at the villa in 1993 were doing $118,000 worth of interior renovations, plumbing and electrical work. Tax records listed the archdiocese as the owner of the villa since 1963, with the place then assessed at $1.7 million, and the archdiocese paying annual taxes of $30,249 in 1992.

Nine days later, Devine told the Inquirer, however, that despite tax records listing the property as owned by the archdiocese, the property could not be sold because of a restriction on a deed from a benefactor. Here's what the Inquirer printed on July 9, 1993, in a story under my byline:

The villa was donated in 1963 to the archdiocese by Hannah Gertrude Hogan for use as a residence for retired priests, Devine said. Hogan stipulated in a deed conveyed to then-Archbishop Krol that if the villa were sold, it would revert to its original owners ... No archdiocese monies were used to pay for the improvements, Devine said.

Instead, the money to pay for the improvements came from a $1 million donation from John E. Connolly of Pittsburgh, a wealthy donor who made a fortune on riverboat gambling, Devine maintained.

A few days after the original protest at the cathedral, The Catholic Standard & Times ran a photo of the cardinal accepting an oversized $1 million check from Connelly at the villa. The date of the donation was said to be the same date of the protest. Amazing coincidence, isn't it?

Back to that July 9, 1993 Inquirer story:

On the same day as the protest, Connelly donated the money at a ceremony at Villa St. Joseph-by-the-Sea, located on the boardwalk in Ventnor, the spokesman said earlier this week ...

The Connelly gift is paying for the renovation and maintenance of the villa, which is a summer home for retired priests, said archdiocese spokesman Jay Devine. Cardinal Bevilacqua uses the villa for occasional meetings, and during the summer he takes a two-week vacation with relatives at the Ventnor house, Devine said ...

Connelly said he became "very dear friends with the cardinal when he was bishop of Pittsburgh. In an interview, Connelly said he agreed some time ago to make the donation to the archdiocese ... The work at the shore was done in recent months. Connelly said he donated the money because he deeply admired Catholic priests.

"My love is overwhelming for these men who have given their lives to the church," he said. "I try to make their last days on earth a little bit more relaxing and enjoyable as possible."

Connelly, who bills himself as "America's premiere tour-boat operator," owns 18 river-tour boats and a riverboat gambling casino in Davenport, Iowa.

So what happened to that stipulation in the deed, known as a reverter clause, that supposedly prevented the villa from being sold? The principals can't help. The original owner, Hannah Gertrude Hogan, died in 1976; John E. Connelly the magnanimous riverboat gambler died in 2009.

Here's how the Inquirer addressed the factual disparity Wednesday in a story written by staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg:

Though the property -- which Hogan bought for $55,000 in 1961 -- was said to have been donated to the archdiocese, its June 2, 1963 deed shows tax stamps indicating a sale price of $100,000, according to the Atlantic County Clerk's Office. It is now one of the highest-asssessed homes in Ventnor.

The deed examined by the reporter indicated a sale to the archdiocese, not a donation. It appeared to be a standard deed that did not contain any unusual stipulation about the property reverting back to its original owners if sold.

On Thursday, an employee in the Atlantic County Clerk's office confirmed that the 1963 deed of sale by Hogan to the archdiocese for $100,000 did not contain a reverter clause.

According to the Inquirer, the 21,875 square-foot mansion features 19 rooms, 9 bedrooms, a large deck, an elevator, a grand staircase, a marble foyer, and "a spacious back lawn featuring a lily pond, a barbecue and a shrine to the Virgin Mary."

Jay Devine, now a founding partner of his own public relations firm, Devine + Partners, did not respond to an email and a phone call. In Jay's defense, he was probably busy making up new stories. A current archdiocese spokesman, Kenneth Garvin, said it would be difficult for him to comment on something that happened 19 years ago, when he wasn't there.

Meanwhile, court records from a 17-year-old workers' compensation case filed back in 1995 shed more lights on the cardinal's efforts to concoct an alibi to get him out of a public relations jam. The workers' compensation case was filed by a veteran archdiocese employee who worked in close contact with the cardinal. In the claim, the employee, a "devout Catholic," said he suffered "serious mental and physical distress" that left him unable to work as a result of the cardinal's "rude and abusive treatment."

The employee was fired after he suffered a heart attack. Records showed the archdiocese settled the claim by paying the employee $87,500. The employee and his lawyer both say that after the protest, and inquiries from the press, the employee overheard the cardinal lining up the donation from Connelly, but the cardinal wanted to backdate it, to make it look like Connelly had pledged to pay for the renovations before the protest occurred. 

In a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation of the employee done by Wolfram Rieger, a Philadelphia psychiatrist, Rieger wrote that the employee was "severely troubled by the close to $1 million in spending at the cardinal's Ventnor shore residence." The document said the cardinal and a friend, the wife of a wealthy developer, had "engaged in a redecorating and remodeling spending spree at the Ventnor home," which the employee was told "by archdiocese sources was close to $1 million."

The document continues:

On June 30, 1993, the Philadelphia Inquirer printed an article that Cardinal Bevilacqua had spent over $118,000 renovating the shore house. [The employee] was severely troubled to see the church engage in a spin control attempt to avoid bad press.

[The employee] was troubled by the church orchestrating a strategy by which the press would be told that a prominent donor, John E. Connolly, had donated the money for the renovations. [The employee] was very troubled by the fact that the newspapers had only discovered $118,000 in renovations when the church had spent over $900,000 and the church was orchestrating a press campaign to cover up the Cardinal's actual spending and making it appear that the spending was only for the benefit of retired priests who were going to use the shore house.

Sometimes it takes a while to get the story right. In this case, it took 19 years.

The cardinal's guys were always trying to spin the narrative about the cardinal's seaside villa. It wasn't the cardinal's vacation home, it was a residence for retired priests. Yeah, right.

The story I always heard was that whenever the big guy wanted the villa, those retired priests were promptly evacuated to another archdiocese-owned beach house a lot less fancy a few blocks away. Everybody got the boot whenever Cardinal Tony wanted the villa, which he often shared with his extended family.

It's a shame that when the D.A. was walking out of archdiocese headquarters with all those secret archive files, they didn't grab the PR bills from spinmeisters Tierney and Devine. If the archdiocese spent $11.6 million on legal bills in one fiscal year, you have to wonder how many millions they spent over the years to have Brian Tierney and Jay Devine lying on behalf of Cardinal Bevilacqua.

Whether it was using a couple of pedophiles to burnish Bevilacqua's image, or covering up Bevilacqua's habit of spending money like a drunken sailor, or falsely attacking the grand jury prosecutors for supposedly bullying the cardinal on the witness stand, the cardinal's PR guys were always lying about something. And getting paid millions to do it!

As Jay Devine once told a Pulitzer-Prize winning editor of mine at the Inquirer, who was taking notes, he [Devine] represented 1.4 million Catholics, and, "We have a responsibility to make sure the newspaper doesn't tell them things we don't want them to know."

14 comments:

  1. This is an act that medieval Princes always acted out but they didn't have to lie and cheat to do it. See how things are worse now?

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  2. Let's put his into perspective to see if the Catholic church is doing the work of Christ or the anti-christ.

    For about $250 a year, you can save someone from dying of hunger in a foreign land.

    The Catholic church made the conscious decision to spend $11 million to save Msgr Lynn, even though they knew that he absolutely, positively helped to hide 35 known pedophile priests from 1994 until 2011. Christ would have done anything to save the children that were raped, but the Catholic church did anything they could to save the child rapists and their protectors.
    Cost to keep Lynn, the proven pedophile protector, out of jail:
    44,000 people could have been saved from dying of hunger for one year.

    Cost of the summer vacation home for Cardinals Krol and Bevilacqua, who ordered the hiding and deployment of known child rapists, is 6.2 million
    24,800 people could have been saved from dying of hunger for one year

    Now you have to decide what Jesus Would Do and what the anti-christ would do. The Catholic church has been proven to do the following:

    - rampant child rape
    - persistent pedophile protection
    - fight the victims viciously
    - intentional , calculated lying and deception
    - keep ridiculous riches which could be spent to save people from dying today
    - teaching followers that this is all ok

    Who are Catholics following and supporting? God knows the answer, and will judge each of you on who you followed. And He doesn’t accept Catholic confessions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought he said: "Judge not"
      Oh dear I sure wish The Naz wouldn't send such contradictory directions..... one could get lost.

      Delete
    2. Neil: I always enjoy your perspectives, and the one about the millions spent, which could have been spent to aid the suffering of starving men, women and children was very telling, indeed. By accident, I discovered that good old Cardinal Bevilacqua had his own material designed for costly vestments at Gammarelli's in Rome. Is it not surprising that the fabric has two large peacocks, breast to breast in the center of the fabric. I guess they might stand for Bevilacqua's ego and alter-ego. The pattern is called "The Bevilacqua!" I wonder how many children his vestments, alone, would have fed?

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    3. Neil it's so obvious you are a born again Christian. I've no problem with that. It's none of my business. If Catholics like to pay for vestments and lawyers that's their business. I'd like them to not fund the hierarchy and give their money to the poor too. But first I'd like compensation for the raped. But I do wonder where's the Christianity in not reaching out to victims. Do you think that a wall exists between believers and victims? Who helped build that wall Neil? The Church sure but did'nt SNAP help? Before pickets go out in a labor or civil rights movement. Much conversation has taken place between the parties. Where and when did those conversations take place in this situation. I say never. We victims are still waiting for a dialog. Why were we at war with the Church without the preliminaries? Why because the Church needed a war to appear to be under attack. So it could be the "victim" not the raped kids. And who helped the Church by making war? SNAP. Any real victims' group would have organized victims first not last if ever. We would have come together first in conversation and if terms couldn't be agreed to then you decide picketing or what ever the group would collectively decide.
      With SNAP unh unh. War, vigilantism, nary a single conversation. Could someone show me how that helps victims?

      Delete
  3. Reality does not knock at the door, it knocks at your teeth. If you were in the seminary, you know the professor said this....so here is a live example.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I want to know what Aunty Mame would do.

    Fuck the anti-Christ.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Maybe Snooki will buy the mansion.

    Sorry, couldn't resist...

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  6. It is rare that I have anything positive to say about Archbishop Chaput. Very rare, in fact, but I'm glad that he has the sense enough to dump the villa to help pay the Archdiocese's debt. Unfortunately, it won't pay the Archdiocese's monstrous "Debt to Society," but that's the topic of a different post! Allowing Cardinal Rigali to get on the witness stand in the next lawsuits might be a good start!

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  7. I hope that Bevilacqua's accommodations in the after-life don't even include flushed plumbing! I doubt that as a "Prince of the Church" he's occupying a mansion and paid the deference which he received on earth!

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  8. Has Archbishop Chaput finally sold his "16" room mansion on 5700 City Line Avenue? The Press Releases in January said it was 16 rooms, yeah right. I think there is a reference to the property over thirty years ago as being "34" rooms - another Press Release. But with offices, sleeping quarters for servants etc. it may well be at least 50-60 rooms. Too bad we only have the Press Office at "222" N 17th street as the only source of truth on that matter.

    ReplyDelete
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