Flames of the Torch: The Last Straw

If there’s something we’ve learned this year, it’s that you never know what’s coming next. As the bizarre Chang saga continues, we’ve come to learn way more than we ever expected to about Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M. – his travel itineraries, his real estate investments, his designer suits and his penchant for expensive wine.

Now we’ve learned about his trip to the Caribbean with his favorite student-turned-right-hand-man, Rob Wile, and Wile’s then-girlfriend (now wife), Gabrielle Weir.

Charging more than $9,000 to a credit card given to Wile by Chang, according to credit card statements obtained by the Torch, Harrington, Wile and Weir lived it up on St. John’s dime.

The University professes that Harrington and Wile had no idea that Chang was turning around and billing the trip’s expenses (as well as thousands of dollars in other dubious charges) to the school in her travel and expense reports. It’s not hard to believe that – Chang was nothing if not meticulous in her corruption, and fooled many people for a long time.

No, we’re not suggesting that Harrington and his sidekick Wile were aware that they were taking money from the school when they went on their little excursions.  But we do find it hard to understand how they didn’t question further into where the money for the trips (and the suits, and the watches, and the liquor, and the casino visits, etc.) was coming from, and why it was coming.

Chang, according to University officials and testimony from Harrington, always told Harrington that the money for the finer things that she was providing he and his allies was from donors, or a gift from her. Harrington should have asked for more detail, or to meet these supposed donors. But that would have risked stopping the gravy train, and what Harrington didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.

We’ve found ourselves in this position before. Should we be calling for Harrington’s resignation? Should we describe him as trusting and naïve? Should we reserve judgment for the inevitable next shoe to drop?

The breaking point is near. The University stresses that the context is key with these reports, but it gets to a point where all the context in the world won’t save him. He may have been duped by Chang, someone who predated him at the University, but he fast-tracked Wile to a position that answers directly to him.

Ultimately, he is responsible for the expense reports Wile approved, the nightclubs charged on his card and the tailored designer suits Wile received while on the delegations to Asia.

There’s a whole other, financially independent, argument to be made as well. We know Harrington doesn’t like to have to explain or reconcile his actions as president of the University and his vows as a Vincentian priest, but there are some things that just seem inexplicable. Traveling with a young, unmarried couple – including a then-University undergraduate – to the Caribbean looks pretty suspect. Why he never felt the need to check with the school about this trip is lost on us. Warning bells sound in situations far less sticky than this.

Keep in mind that this is the president of a university that doesn’t allow guests of the opposite sex into dorm rooms past 3 a.m. A university that states in its Residence Life handbook that it does not condone “cohabitation” or “sexual intimacy.”

A university that would not, under any circumstances, “recognize a gay alliance.”

A university that will not allow pro-abortion rights speakers – even a prominent alumnus like the governor of New York – an audience on campus.

In other words, Harrington presides over a school that follows a strict interpretation of Catholic teaching on all matters regarding sex, but suddenly became the cool chaperone when Wile asked if his girlfriend could join them on their Caribbean get-away.

You can give Harrington the benefit of the doubt on whether he was complicit in Chang’s corruption. You can forgive him for tiptoeing near the line when dealing with a young staffer who he had developed something of a father-son relationship with, as New York Magazine called it.

But, for how long? The point is fast approaching where we are tired of listening to rationalizations, based in plausible deniability.

We want one of two things. Either Harrington chooses to be the leader that we have been missing throughout this ordeal and in doing so, addresses this issue in the public eye or he should step down, as this issue demands strong, public leadership from the top down.