TORONTO, March 5, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – When a former Canadian ambassador to China agreed to become the interim president of the Basilians’ University of Saint Michael College (USMC), Father Thomas Rosica seemed delighted–at first.
Rosica, the Basilian CEO of Salt + Light, had been a friend of David Mulroney’s late parents, a point he made when he interviewed the new president on his “Witness” talk show in 2015.
“I can’t help but think that your parents, Don and Barbara, very dear friends of mine, are smiling right now from heaven,” the priest said, interrupting Mulroney’s description of his new role.
“I should let our viewers know that your father helped me in the beginning with World Youth Day and with Salt + Light Television. He helped me to establish this place where we are,” Rosica continued.
“He had an office right next to mine, and he got all kind of interest drummed up among his fellow Knights of Columbus. And your mom! That lovely, distinguished, beautiful woman! I’m sure that they’re very, very happy and proud with what David has done with his life and what David’s going to do for our life at the University of St. Michael’s.”
Nevertheless, within two years Father Rosica would become the leader of resistance to Mulroney’s authority as University President, castigating both him and his newly hired communications team.
“Father Rosica said the funerals of both my parents,” Mulroney told LifeSiteNews from Toronto via Skype in an exclusive interview. “[His hostility] was intensely painful.”
Canada’s Ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, David Mulroney was working at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy when he was asked by the Basilian Fathers’ then-Superior General, Fr. George Smith, to become the next USMC President.
“This was the fall of 2014,” Mulroney said. “He said there’d been a failed search for a president, and they’d been looking in new directions, and would I be interested in serving.”
The Basilians had strongly influenced Mulroney’s early life: as a boy he served as an altar server at St. Basil’s Church, and he had attended the University of St. Michael’s College as an undergraduate. He described USMC in the 1970s as a “very rich environment” and “linked to the life of the Church.”
“I said, ‘Look, if the Basilians are asking me to do something, I owe the Basilians a great deal. Of course I’ll try and I’ll do my best to get myself up to speed,’” Mulroney told LifeSiteNews.
He told Smith that he’d be willing to serve as president for three years and that his focus would be on addressing the “challenges” they had discussed.
“‘I am coming not because I want to be an academic administrator…but because I believe that St. Mike’s is an essential institution in Canadian life’,” he recalled saying.
“‘And I will come if it's agreed that the focus of my time will be to ensure that it’s living fully its Catholic mission, and one that is distinctive and heritable, so that it’s passed on through time’.”
Rich Catholic environment vs. Party school
As a Fellow of the Munk Institute, Mulroney had gleaned that USMC was now seen as a “party school.”
As president (2015-2018), he discovered that undergraduates were largely taught by sessional lecturers, and the USMC Student Union (SMCSU) was collecting about $150,000 of student fees annually without keeping accounts. SMCSU was also fostering a “toxic culture” in which students perceived to be overly religious or “conservative” were bullied.
“A student who was seen to be religiously serious was made the butt of jokes,” Mulroney told LifeSiteNews.
“Sometimes they would do quite inappropriate things to embarrass students like that at social events,” he continued.
“Not surprisingly and unfortunately, some of the older male students would use these opportunities also to behave inappropriately with younger female students.”
People came to Mulroney with stories of SMCSU-sponsored club nights, of senior SMCSU members receiving kickbacks from the clubs, and of debauched “retreats” for outgoing and ingoing SMCSU officials at the tony Blue Mountain resort. SMCSU fostered the image of the college as a fun place to be by publishing videos of students partying.
“[SMCSU] was the most organized entity on the campus,” Mulroney said. “It was also the slickest communicator.”
“It became clear to me that we had no communications capability, and our narrative was being defined by SMCSU, so [that was] the Party School.”
Mulroney set out to change that. He insisted that SMCSU record and make public its spending and forbade it from using the student levy on alcohol. He set up a blog and hired a small communications team.
“We began to talk about St. Mike’s in a different way,’ he said.
Mulroney didn’t feel that he received “profound support” from the Collegium in his attempts to improve student life. The primary focus of the governing council, the Collegium, was not the 5,000 undergraduates, he told LifeSiteNews, but the Faculty of Theology.
Although members of USMC’s founding religious orders no longer taught undergraduates, several of them were still on the Collegium, and Mulroney stepped on toes when he questioned their contemporary role and lack of interest in the undergrads.
“We never talked about undergraduate student life,” he said. “It was always university politics and the ideology of the Church..but my critique was the university had turned its back on its students.”
“That message was the message that got me into trouble, ended my relationship with the Basilians and brought Fr. Rosica on the board.”
‘There will be repercussions.’
The “flashpoint” of Mulroney’s deteriorating relationship with the Basilians was his June 19 speech to the 2017 World Catholic Association for Communication (SIGNIS) in Quebec City. His presentation, “Communicating the Mission”, dealt with the challenges he had faced at USMC including the SMCSU videos presenting the college as a “party school.” To illustrate, he showed the now-infamous “Cowboys and Schoolgirls” video.
Unbeknownst to Mulroney, a hostile witness was preparing to record his speech.
“As I got up to speak, the announcer said ‘Fr. Thomas Rosica is here, and he’s filming’,” Mulroney recalled.
The former president said that although he could have not given his speech, he decided to go ahead. Afterwards, Rosica was “furious”.
“Although a number of university presidents and folks from U.S. universities came up and said that the talk really resonated…Fr. Rosica was furious,” Mulroney recalled.
“He upbraided me and said that I had insulted the Basilian Fathers because I hadn’t thanked them and given them credit.”
Mulroney told Rosica that it wasn’t the kind of speech where he thought he could give them credit, as he was talking about problems and he wanted to stay on topic.
“While I was leaving, he said ‘There will be repercussions’,” Mulroney said.
There followed six weeks in which the president was “summoned” before different members of Collegium and, in Mulroney’s words, “really put through the wringer for having spoken like this.”
“The main thing seemed to be that I needed to apologize to the Basilians and to the [other] religious congregations that had founded St. Mike’s,” recalled Mulroney.
Spoken apologies weren’t enough, however. Mulroney was asked to sign a prepared letter of apology to the Basilian Superior General. The text suggested that some of the things the president had discussed in his speech hadn’t happened, so he refused to sign.
The Toronto Star published an open letter to Mulroney by 22 faculty, largely from or associated with the Theology department, and librarians criticizing him for not mentioning positive aspects of college life.
The president’s relationship with the Board got “very tense” and remained so for the 2017-2018 university year, his last as USMC president. For the first time a reporter from a major Canadian newspaper sat in on a Collegium meeting, and the Basilians appointed Rosica to the Board.
“You know, Fr. Rosica is very antagonistic towards me now,” Mulroney says he told the executive committee. “I think it’s unusual that the Superior General is now putting him on the Board. That seems like a rather unfriendly act.”
For the remainder of that year the feelings of the Collegium towards him ranged from “unfriendly to hostile”, and Rosica was the leader of the challenge to his authority as president.
“My relationship with Fr. Rosica, whom I’d know through my family, and thought quite highly of, became quite negative,” Mulroney said.
He considered resigning, but his wife convinced him to finish his last year and bring the changes he aimed for to fruition. Mulroney underscored to LifeSiteNews that the “party school culture” at USMC has ended, and that the Gilson Seminar in Faith and Ideas he helped Principal Randy Boyagoda to establish has been attracting serious religious students from all over the University of Toronto.
Rosica’s dramatic change in attitude toward Mulroney, the son of his “very dear friends”, is a mystery to the former president, as was the new hostility of the Congregation of St. Basil.
“One of the most painful things for me in my experience of St Michael’s was this rupture with the Basilians,” he told LifeSiteNews.
Mulroney thinks that the break came in part because the university has not yet undergone the now-common transition from a religious-led university committee to a lay-led committee. There may also be something amiss in the charism of the Basilian order.
“I began to think that if sometimes you lose your spiritual direction, all that’s left is power. And it was very much about power,” he said.
Rosica’s ire was not entirely focussed on Mulroney; the Salt + Light Media CEO also took issue with the fledgling communications team Mulroney assembled.
“I did have to protect our young communications team because he was … incendiary in his criticism of them,” he said. “They were good young lay people.”
“I said ‘This is inappropriate. We’re bringing these people along. They’re doing a good job’.”
“And I think this was largely ideological,” he concluded.
Rosica, he said, was a hero to the “Catholic Left” among the Faculty of Theology. During Mulroney’s tenure, the tradition-loving Cardinal Sarah came to the University. Thanks to the new communications team, there were two articles in the UK Catholic Herald about Sarah’s visit, and the video the team produced was seen by “thousands” of people.
“It was probably that most successful communications product we created, but Father Rosica…he was extremely negative about the group,” Mulroney recalled.
“I realized I couldn’t protect them after I left, and indeed two of them were fired.”
When it was time to announce the appointment of Mulroney’s successor, the USMC communications team was sidelined in favour of Fr Rosica’s Salt + Light. Mulroney said that this, and Rosica’s harsh criticism, eroded their confidence. Their crime, however, may have been presenting a hero of Catholic orthodoxy a little too well.
“I think it had a lot to do with the fact they’d actually been tremendously successful with the Sarah event,” Mulroney disclosed.
“So there was ideology mixed in with maybe a little bit of professional jealousy.
The role of clericalism in the Rosica plagiarism scandal
In the wake of last month’s revelations that Rosica was a serial plagiarizer, the Basilians announced that he had resigned from the Collegium. After LifeSiteNews broke the story, Mulroney’s was the sole voice associated with USMC publicly demanding an investigation.
He told LifeSiteNews that the resignation was “appropriate” and said that he believes it was the public pressure that led to the decision.
“I have not been impressed always by the readiness of some of the religious orders to be self-critical and to expose and to deal with problems,” he noted.
“I think without robust external pressure, we might have seen a different outcome,” he continued.
“I mean, look at Fr. Rosica remaining as CEO of Salt + Light !”
In a March 1 statement, Tony Gagliano, the Chair of the Salt+Light Board of Directors, said that the Board had “unanimously” pledged its support for “the continued leadership of Fr. Rosica as Chief Executive Officer… .” Since then several other examples of Fr. Rosica’s plagiarism have come to light, including in two of his published books. The earliest has now been traced by Professor Joshua Hochschild of Mount St. Mary’s University to 1985.
Mulroney believes that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has a close relationship with Rosica, should distance themselves professionally from the priest while he takes time off to reflect on what has happened.
The fact that the Catholic institutions associated with Rosica have been slow to do so is an example of clericalism, he believes.
“I honestly believe that if it had been a layperson, [the matter] would have been handled with much more dispatch, and probably it would have served the interests of all the institutions involved much better,” Mulroney stated.
“The irony is that this only contributes to concerns about governance in religious congregations and religious-led organizations,” he continued.
“It’s an issue that’s alive for all Catholic right now as we look at problems in the Church, whether they’re … sexual problems or just problems with the truth.”
The former USMC president commended LifeSiteNews for covering the story, and said it was an example of what lay people can do –”and have to do, quite frankly.”
LifeSiteNews reached out to CSB spokesman for a response to Mulroney’s allegations and received a message from the current Superior General, Father Kevin Storey.
Storey said that he had “no awareness of Fr. Rosica’s alleged comments and that he hasn’t “met Mr. Mulroney, so it would be inappropriate” to comment.
LifeSiteNews also invited USMC to respond to Mulroney’s story, but had not received a response by deadline.