St. John’s is my alma mater and that of my younger daughter, so it pains me to see that yet another “Catholic” scandal has been perpetrated at the university. I really did love my time at St. John’s and my daughter was very well prepared for her career in medical technology. However, I am very disappointed in the latest news that president, the Rev. Father Donald J. Harrington, is retiring due to a scandal.
The back story is that a dean of the university, Cecilia Chang, was arrested and tried for stealing/embezzling over a million dollars from the university for her own personal use. Chang took the stand in her own defense, but committed suicide, by hanging herself, the following day, November 6th, 2012. However, while she was stealing the money, she was giving Father Harrington lavish gifts such as expensive suits, luxurious hotel rooms on trips, watches, etc. all which he accepted. I don’t know where he thought she was getting the money to purchase those items, but clearly he didn’t care. So now, students and their parents have been petitioning for his resignation. After all, when you are paying over $36,000 a year for an education it is more than a little irksome to learn that a dean and the president of the university are benefiting personally from that money. Money that came from loans, with interest, which will take a lifetime to pay back.
Father Harrington says he has prayed over what to do. The past six months have been very difficult for him. I wonder if he has been keeping track of the time on his Rolex watch? I guess, like all Catholic scandals, he expected that it would go away in time? Well it hasn’t. And now he, and his chief of staff, Robert Wile, will be resigning effective June 30th and his retirement will be effective July 31st, so he will still be getting a check. By the way, Wile received $370,000 in interest FREE loans from St. John’s and is being investigated. The loans were recommended by Father Harrington for a joint real-estate venture. It would be great if struggling students could get interest free loans too. Just saying.
Now what really irks me is that St. John’s prides itself on being a Vincentian University, started by priests of the order of St. Vincent de Paul. St. Vincent de Paul was known for his charitable works in helping the poor. Students are encouraged to do community service to follow his example. The virtues of St. Vincent de Paul include humility, meekness, simplicity and self denial. So how does one reconcile this lifestyle, and the commitment St. John’s has made to following the teachings of St. Vincent de Paul, with the actions of Cecilia Chang? Moreover, how is it that a priest like Father Harrington, who is so devoted and committed to those teachings in his own order, finds it okay to accept such lavish gifts? It’s really shameful and yet I am not surprised. It fit’s with the overall continuing hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. This is just a drop in the bucket compared to what has been probably covered up.
Another black mark of the Catholic Church, who supports Father Harrington, as do our Police Commissioner Kelly and our Cardinal Timothy Dolan. I don’t know how anyone can be okay with what he has done, but there you have it. St. Vincent de Paul must be turning in his grave to have his name associated with this scandal.