THE BLOG
09/17/2012 02:15 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2012

The Prelate and The Dirty Pol (Vito Lopez and Nicholas DiMarzio): Thick as Thieves

I recently posted a piece about the not quite kosher alliance between the disgraced Democratic party kingmaker Vito Lopez and Nicholas DiMarzio, the bishop in charge of the Brooklyn-Queens Roman Catholic Diocese, in the "New York" section of the Huffington Post. It's a local politics story, but, there is an alarming religious (Catholic) aspect to Vito Lopez's fall from grace--so to speak. For years Vito Lopez and Nicholas DiMarzio have been thick as thieves. In the Brooklyn and Queen Diocese, wherein I do most of my worshipping, Vito Lopez has enjoyed liberal use of at least a few of DiMarzio's priests.

No, Vito did not slide his hands up their thighs, as he did with young women in his offices, but he has been credibly accused of using Catholic priests to electioneer on his behalf in senior citizens operations he (Lopez) managed, and both DiMarzio and the monsignor who works as his "spokesman" have openly shilled for Lopez. Given the relationship that existed between Lopez and DiMarzio and the way things are generally done among priests (who are required to obey their bishops), it is unreasonable to assume that a priest instructing elderly folks living in Lopez's housing to vote for him would not do so without the bishop's blessing, so to speak. I write "existed" and not "exist" because it is now unlikely that the relationship between the prelate and the pol will survive Lopez's tribulations. DiMarzio will no longer be kissing that pol's ring.

In one case, a few years back, a pastor was informed just before the 12:00 mass that DiMarzio's spokesman/assistant Kieran Harrington, a monsignor, would be celebrating "the twelve" that day. As mass ended Harrington electioneered for one of Vito Lopez's pet candidates from the pulpit. As mass let out, parishioners were recruited to leaflet on church grounds on behalf of the candidate, whom Harrington had earlier described as being "good for our church." Obviously neither the leafleting, nor the campaigning from the pulpit were lawful. Although I did not speak with the priest about this virtual hijacking of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, congregants who attended the service seemed to feel that the blind-sided priest scheduled to say the mass had been made an offer he couldn't refuse.

It is a bit ironic that this despicable incursion into a sacred space on the occasion of the Christian Sabbath was not even necessary. The candidate, Steve Levin, was a sure favorite in that race. The bishop had nothing to gain by sending his flak monsignor into the church on to commit this transgression, nothing, that is, beyond shame and distrust. DiMarzio's (unlawful) choice to publicly campaign for Lopez that same year tells us much (DiMarzio recorded "robocalls" for his strange bedfellow Vito Lopez.) about the kind of "shepherd" DiMarzio really is.

DiMarzio closed or shuttered four poor parishes in one area of Brooklyn a few years ago, due to lack of funding while simultaneously giving his imprimatur (allocating funds) to rebuild a gargantuan cathedral-sized church in a neighboring area. The restoration of this (St. Joseph's Church) is uncommonly extensive and and costly, and it has the added godawful feature of being conducted in a part of Brooklyn wherein many of the poor have been pushed out of their homes by mammoth real estate interests and gentrification. The pastor of this cathedral-esque church in the making is the aforementioned Harrington, DiMarzio's mouthpiece/assistant/accomplice, who very much hopes to be the next bishop of the diocese, and the hope is that the church will attract the new affluent young people whom the new, luxury housing in the area will attract.

Parishioners in parishes shuttered for their inability to cough up the diocesan vigorish, put money in the basket each week up until the time their parishes were closed. Some of that money found its way to the diocese where it is likely enough some of it paid for a few of the bricks and some of the mortar the bishop's new church, the church his flunky monsignor runs. All this anguish and expenditure despite the fact of the diocese's actual cathedral, St. James Basilica, which sits a mile away from where DiMarzio's colossus-in-progress is located. One priest with whom I spoke (not for attribution) explained the bishop's decision to approve this costly project while so many churches in its vicinity were closing: "He thinks the cathedral isn't big enough. Twice a year it isn't big enough. DiMarzio wants a bigger church for ordinations." It would seem the bishop of Brooklyn learned well from his long collaboration with Vito Lopez.

In one dispute between a community organizer priest and Vito Lopez, DiMarzio threw his support to Vito, and his priest under the bus. Lopez attempted to develop real estate in poor the community (not far, again, from the de facto-cathedral in the remaking) wherein the priest, Reverend James O'Shea ministered and worked as a community organizer. Father O'Shea challenged team Lopez-DiMarzio and wound up without a church; shortly thereafter the tag team Lopez-DiMarzio closed the church he had run.

With help from Vito Lopez, the passage of the Child Victims Act in the Assembly was blocked. Knowing what we know now, it is easy to conclude that Lopez was probably soft on abusers and not merely trading favors with the bishop. DiMarzio's decision to collaborate with Lopez in fighting legislation (for a price, on the basis that it would "bankrupt the diocese") that would protect the lives of people who were violated as children by priests is its own latter-day variation on Judas and his thirty pieces of silver, and tells us a good deal about who the man governing Roman Catholic churches in Brooklyn and Queens really is.

As a Catholic and a Christian who puts credence in the teaching of Jesus, I find it hard to square strong-arming tactics with Christian teaching. In most cases, cozying up to developers at the expense of the poor flies in the face of everything for which the Jesus of the Gospels stands.

My Temple will be called a house of prayer,' but you have turned it into a den of thieves! (Matthew 21:13)

For more information on Lopez and DiMarzio, read "Grabby Vito Lopez and the Bishop in His Pocket" and "Bishop DiMarzio Wants Your Lunch Money" on Huffington Post.