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Bishop Thomas Daily, controversial leader of the Brooklyn Archdiocese for 13 years, dies at 89

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Bishop Daily on Holy Thursday in 2000.
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Bishop Daily at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Park Slope in 2000.

Retired Bishop Thomas Daily, the Bishop Emeritus of the Brooklyn Archdiocese, whose legacy included fund-raising triumphs, a highly publicized clash with a governor over abortion, and the taint of pedophile priest scandals in two dioceses, died on May 15 at age 89.

Daily died at the Bishop Mugavero Residence — named for Bishop Francis Mugavero, whom Daily replaced in 1990 — at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston, Queens.

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Daily spent much of his career as a parish priest and administrator in Boston before leading archdioceses in Palm Beach, Fla., and Brooklyn.

He was ordained a priest in 1952 by the Archdiocese of Boston, and served the first eight years of his ministry at St. Ann’s Church in the Boston suburb of Quincy.

Daily left St. Ann’s in 1960 for South America, where he spent five years doing missionary work with the poor in Lima, Peru. He returned to St. Ann’s in 1965, served as assistant pastor there until 1971; was named an auxiliary bishop, in 1975, then a vicar general, in 1976, of the Boston Archdiocese, before being named the first bishop of the new Diocese of Palm Beach in 1984.

Daily was appointed by Pope John Paul II in 1990 as the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, home to about 1.5 million Catholics. At the time he took the helm, the diocese was in dire straits financially, but Daily implemented an aggressive program of parish consolidation and reorganization, as well as a capital investment campaign that raised $67 million to pay for much-needed repairs to churches and schools across both boroughs.

But along with success came controversy and, later, infamy.

In his first news conference as Brooklyn Archbishop, Daily started a firestorm by saying in response to a reporter’s question that he would bar then-Gov. Mario Cuomo from speaking at parish churches in the diocese, which included Cuomo’s home borough of Queens, because of his position on abortion. Cuomo, a Catholic, had said that while he privately opposed abortion, he publicly supported abortion rights and public funding for abortions for the poor.

“I find that a contradict­ion,” the bishop said. “Politicians have to be consistent, especially when it comes to the life issue.”

And in 2002, Daily became embroiled in a pedophile priest scandal in Boston, that had begun brewing while he was serving in that archdiocese under Cardinals Humberto Medeiros and Bernard Law. Daily was named as a defendant in dozens of suits filed by people who claimed that the Rev. John J. Geoghan had molested them in his three decades as a priest.

It was Daily who allowed Geoghan to take a brief sabbatical to Italy, then placed him back into the same parish near a family Geoghan was found to have traumatized. Daily never informed local law enforcement or the parish priest of the allegations against Geoghan. Later, the Boston archdiocese settled the Geoghan lawsuits for millions of dollars.

The Brooklyn diocese was also tarnished by the scandal; in Daily’s final years there, the diocese and the bishop were named in a class action lawsuit by 42 people who claimed to have been abused by priests in Brooklyn and Queens.

A 2003 report released by the Massachusetts attorney general blamed Daily for failing to thoroughly investigate the abuse allegations, preferring to quietly move priests accused of abuse to other parishes than remove them for good. The report also criticized him for not going to the police with violations.

Asked later why he didn’t investigate the allegations against Geoghan more, Daily said: “I’m not a policeman. I am a shepherd. I am a pastor who has to go after the Lord’s sheep and find them and bring them back to the fold.”

Daily retired at the mandatory age of 75, and was replaced by current Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who called his predecessor “a man who personified the Second Vatican Council’s call for a preferential option for the poor. He never acted out of malice or to further his own self-interest. At heart he was a missionary. I suspect he wished he could have remained in the missions his entire life.”

Reach James Harney at (718) 260-2529 or e-mail him at jharney@cnglocal.com.
Updated 3:37 pm, May 17, 2017
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