The Archbishop and the priest that leads the city's Jesuit university find themselves in the headlines for their positions on fundraising and religion. And it's the Masons vs. the Catholics before the Missouri Supreme Court.
A recent column in the St. Louis Post Dispatch by Bill McClellan offered a satirical take on two local Catholic leaders, something that probably wouldn't have been conceivable even a decade ago. Both are taking heat for actions they have taken relating to fund raising.
Archbishop Raymond Burke took the unusual step of withdrawing from the board of the Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital Foundation (EIN 43-1754347 Form 990) when the board refused to disinvite singer Sheryl Crow from a fundraising event for the Bob Costas Cancer Center.
Ms. Crow, who hails from Missouri's bootheel region, had appeared in a television ad during the election campaign last fall on behalf of an amendment to the MIssouri constitution to protect embryonic cell research, a position that the Catholic Church opposes on moral grounds. However, the archbishop didn't raise his objection until early March of this year.
The board, which has about sixty members, including both Mr. Costas and sports broadcaster Dan Dierdorf, refused to go along with the eleventh-hour request, which led to the archbishop's withdrawal from the board. Ms. Crow had been scheduled last year, but had to cancel to deal with her own breast cancer. The event went forward, with the fundraisers hoping to sell out the 4,300 seat Fox Theater with tickets going for $35 to $100.
The archbishop's press release explains that his position as chair is ex officio, which means that technically he can't resign without changing the by-laws of the organization. So evidently it was just a means to call attention to the issue. If so, it was not entirely successful, as an informal poll in the St. Louis Post Dispatch showed readers opposed to the archbishop's actions by a two-to-one margin.
Meanwhile, across town Lawrence Biondi, the Jesuit priest who heads up St. Louis University (EIN 43-0654872 Form 990), has successfully argued that a provision in Missouri's constitution that prevents municipalities from providing assistance to religious schools and institutions does not apply to St. Louis University.
SLU wanted to take advantage of $8 million in tax-increment financing offered by the city of St. Louis to help build a new arena for Billiken basketball. To do so, it had to contend with a lawsuit by the Masonic Temple Association of St. Louis (title-holding corporation EIN 43-0396325 Form 990). The university prevailed by convincing the Missouri Supreme Court (6-1) that it was not controlled by a religious creed.
To the press, this had the appearance that the university was denying its faith to get the $8 million. To others, like the Urban Review STL blog, it was just a power play, a case of money intended to relieve a blighted blocks on Grand Avenue being diverted to a sports complex several blocks away.
The entire project is costing $80 million, including $42 million in bonds, $30 million in contributions, and $8 million in TIF funds. The arena will be named for Richard Chaifetz, a Chicago alumni of SLU, who gave $12 million.
Rev. Biondi has also been under attack for his recent abrupt firing of basketball coach Brad Soderberg over the head of the university's athletic director Cheryl Levick, who had wanted him to stay another year. He explained to the Post Dispatch that "college athletics today is a business" and Mr. Soderberg hadn't achieved postseason play for the team over five seasons.
Rev. Biondi also took the lead in offering Rick Majerus a six year contract. Mr. Majerus, most recently with ESPN, had a career record of 422-147 with the University of Utah, Marquette, and Ball State.
One thing is clear: leaders of Catholic nonprofit institutions are no longer getting the benefit of the doubt, at least in St. Louis.