The FedEx envelopes landed at dawn on the doorsteps of some of Orange County’s most influential Catholic philanthropists — real estate developers, attorneys, CEOs and other church stalwarts who had raised tens of millions of dollars over the years for the local diocese.
Inside were letters from Bishop Kevin Vann that boiled down to two words: You’re fired.
Those June missives ignited a revolt inside the Orange County church that has burned all the way to the Vatican while remaining largely hidden from the diocese’s 1.3 million rank-and-file Catholics.
At its heart is a falling-out between a circle of well-connected laypeople who helped the church rebound financially from the clergy abuse scandal two decades ago, and a prelate staring down fresh money problems brought on by the pandemic and a new round of molestation lawsuits.
The benefactors have accused Vann of violating state law by removing them from the board of an independent charity after they rebuffed what they contend was an illegal plan to “invade” endowment funds and flout donor wishes.
They complained formally last month to the papal nuncio, the Vatican representative in Washington, D.C., and have alerted Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, the head of the American bishops’ conference, along with a cardinal in Rome who oversees clergy issues and charitable foundations for Pope Francis.
A spokeswoman said the bishop was on vacation for the month and unavailable for an interview. His representatives denied he or the church acted improperly, but declined to answer many questions about the situation, with the spokeswoman, Tracey Kincaid, saying the diocese “does not comment on internal processes.”
“Not one of my brethren among the board of Directors of The Orange Catholic Foundation has ever found herself or himself in the position of having to question the actions of our Ordinary in a manner such as this,” Hunsberger, the former board secretary, wrote to the nuncio July 2, using the ecclesiastical term for bishop. “Each of us has suffered under the weight of having to make this decision.”
California was in its first day of the COVID shutdown when the chief financial officer of the diocese approached the Orange Catholic Foundation and said the bishop needed a lot of money and quickly. CFO Elizabeth Jensen said the school system was short $8 million and parishes $4 million, according to correspondence reviewed by The Times and interviews with people familiar with the conversation.
In a follow-up email March 23 to foundation Chairman Stephen Muzzy, a Trabuco Canyon real estate and private equity investor, the CFO wrote that nine parishes lacked “enough cash to meet near-term basic expenses.” Parents in poor areas and “even some in South County” were unable to make tuition payments, she said.
“I believe the situation is getting to the point of being grave, which motivated me, on behalf of Bishop Vann, to ask for the resources from OCF for which I truly consider to be real needs,” Jensen wrote.
Money the foundation provided might be repaid down the road, she said, but “there is no guarantee. We are all in uncharted waters.”
The emergency funding request, which the board ultimately declined, was unprecedented in the foundation’s history. The nonprofit had been set up 20 years before in the midst of another crisis: Revelations that priests had sexually abused children and their superiors had covered it up. As the abuse crisis swept the country in the late 1990s and early 2000s, big donors cut back on their giving. Many said they did not trust church leaders who had covered up molestation and did not want their money going to pay legal bills or million-dollar settlements with abuse victims.
Story continues at The LA Times.
The Bishop of Disneyland doing something Goofy. Imagineer that.
Sorry, Bishop Vann, you can’t raid an independent charity for your needs. You can’t replace the board of directors when they rebuff you and then stack the board with people who will rubber stamp your requests. That could be considered theft.
Some parishes and schools will have to close. God works in mysterious ways. He caused the pandemic knowing full well the consequences.
Never trust a bishop when it’s a matter of millions of dollars.
Another bishop who thinks he’s entitled to the sweat off other people’s backs.
The Bishop was on vacation all month? On whose dime?
All our money is, in one sense, a gift from God. The donors have generously given part of their gift back to God. They should have some say where it goes. The foundation board probably has a secular fiduciary duty on how the money is used.
I already know that this is going to hurt future fundraising efforts in the diocese.
Tempest in a teacup. We woke Catholics all know that money grows on trees, especially other people’s trees.
Churches closed and money not coming in? Keep voting for your beloved Democrats. SD has low numbers of COVID, told schools would open Sept 1 and all know God Newsom vetoed the order.
It seems many of these Catholic foundations were set up in dioceses across the country in order to have places where Catholics could donate where the money would be safe from lawsuits resulting from sexual abuse by pervert priests, rather than simply giving to the diocese’s or bishop’s annual appeal. In every case I know of, it was clear that the money was at the bishop’s disposal and that he would direct how it was spent. Is the Orange Catholic Foundation different?
Most people giving to these Foundations think they’re giving to the Church, not some independent charity that happens to have “Catholic” in the name. Frankly, I didn’t like the idea of setting up such foundations. If the Church is liable, the Church should pay. We all, clergy and lay faithful, tolerated perverse clergy for too long. And, sometimes it seems we still tolerate perverse and dissenting priests, religious and lay Church employees. If you keep subsidizing them, it’s less likely they’ll change (or go away).
If the money were at the bishop’s disposal, his henchman wouldn’t have had to ask he BOD for the money.
Anonymous Clergyman, my reading of the article is that this was set up to offer grants outside of the bishop’s control as a result of the scandals. They rightly surmised that the hierarchy then to this day cannot be trusted with sound financial stewardship; the negative optics on this seem to elude the bishop, as do the legal requirements. I generally don’t trust the Times reporting, but their series on the abuses and scandals of the Mahony’s time as Archbishop was outstanding and still worth reading some things they do get right. All the bishops need to realize that the constant abuse of the laity’s trust and finances will not be tolerated; when this crisis is over and they are begging parishioners to come back and donate this may be a factor on how well that goes. Again how the bishop cannot see how bad this looks to the laity and the public speaks to his leadership, also the whole month vacation speaks to his priorities .
I lost a lot of respect for Bishop Vann over the past eight years.