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Mahony's Top Chiefs All Resign

Budget cuts at the L.A. Archdiocese as well as personal factors appear to push the five managers to step down in joint announcement.

October 31, 2002|Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writer

All five of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony's top executives have resigned their posts, church officials said Wednesday, a sign of continuing turmoil in the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese.

Several church sources familiar with the departures said the moves were linked, at least in part, to a feeling among the executives that Mahony had failed to consult them last month when he eliminated or severely cut the budgets of at least seven church programs to close a $4.3-million deficit. The budget cuts have required layoffs of roughly 60 church employees.

Mahony's spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on the resignations.

All five of the executives signed an e-mail Wednesday afternoon to employees at the headquarters of the archdiocese announcing that they were leaving.

"We've come to this at different times" for varying reasons, one of the executives said Wednesday night. "The announcement is made together. We didn't make the decisions together." But the official added that Mahony did not ask for their resignations and that their decisions were their own.

Another of the five, reached at home, refused comment but said an official announcement would be made today.

The resignations caught priests and other church workers by surprise. Most declined to comment by name, but Father Vicente Lopez, pastor of St. Raphael Church in South-Central Los Angeles, called the developments stunning.

"The situation is very tenuous, and it's spooky, very Halloweenish, because it's not clear who is going to do what," Lopez said. The departure of at least some of the executives was a "logical consequence" of the budget cuts, which had left some of them with little to supervise, he added.

Another priest, who asked to remain anonymous, said, "Obviously the question is, is this a comment on the cardinal?"

Mahony and other archdiocesan officials have said that the cuts in the budget were needed to close a deficit caused by losses in the stock market. Others have pointed to the church's need to set aside money against the future costs of sexual-abuse settlements.

Many priests in the archdiocese, however, have pointed to the costs of the new $189-million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. Mahony has insisted the cathedral costs are unrelated to the budget cuts.

The five executives who are leaving oversee a broad range of church functions -- including schools, personnel, charitable giving and outreach ministries -- in the archdiocese, which serves 5 million Catholics in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Among those resigning from their posts was Msgr. Terrance Fleming, who as vicar general of the archdiocese serves, in effect, as Mahony's chief of staff.

The others are Sister Cecilia Louise Moore, who as chancellor of the archdiocese oversees its charitable foundations as well as its personnel office; Msgr. Richard Loomis, who heads the secretariat for administrative services; Sister Bernadette Murphy, who oversees the church's educational programs; and Thomas Chabolla, a layman who heads the church offices for pastoral and community services.

Church sources said some of the resignations were influenced by personal factors. Fleming, for example, had long planned to step down as vicar general to take a sabbatical, the sources said. Fleming, who is reportedly in England, was not available for comment.

Moore, who is 74, was nearing the end of her term of office and is undergoing treatment for cancer.

In other cases, the resignations appear to be tied more exclusively to the budget cuts and what some see as a distant and authoritarian style of decision-making by Mahony.

Chabolla, for example, heads the church secretariat that oversees the ministries hardest hit by the budget cuts. Those included outreach to ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, lesbian and gay Catholics, and ecumenical and inter-religious affairs.

One priest who had spoken with Chabolla said he felt he had been left out of the decision-making on the cuts. "They were left in the position of having to make these cuts and layoffs, and I think some of them felt really in a very bad position because they hadn't been part of the decision-making process," the priest said.

"There was very little consultation in a post-Vatican II church where people are consulted broadly," another priest said. "How could there be such an incredible decision of such magnitude and be such a surprise to everybody?"

Another source, who saw the e-mail, said a new management team was expected to be in place by early next year.

"Nobody knows what it's going to look like. No one wants the top job because it's too vague," he said.

Word of the resignations came less than a month after priests in the archdiocese personally confronted Mahony over the budget cuts during an annual meeting.

At the time some priests told Mahony that his management style was "paternalistic" and "unilateral." But there was no hint at the time that the cardinal's highest-ranking managers were planning to resign.

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