Thomas Daily, retired Bishop of Brooklyn & Queens, dies in Douglaston at age 89

Retired Bishop Thomas Daily (inset) died on May 14 at his residence at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston.
Screenshot via YouTube/JJB Films, with Inset courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

Retired Bishop Thomas V. Daily, who led the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens for 13 years until becoming ensnared in the global Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, died early on Monday morning, May 15, at his Douglaston residence at the age of 89.

Daily became the sixth Bishop of Brooklyn in 1990 after previously serving as the first Bishop of Palm Beach, FL. A native of Massachusetts, he was ordained a priest by the Archdiocese of Boston in 1952 and would serve the first eight years of his ministry at St. Ann’s Church in the Boston suburb of Quincy.

In 1960, Daily left St. Ann’s for five years and headed to Lima, Peru as part of the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle, working with the poor in the South American nation. He would return to St. Ann’s in 1965 as its assistant pastor until 1971, when he was appointed by Boston Cardinal Humberto Sousa Medeiros as his secretary and, later vicar for temporalities.

Daily was named an auxiliary bishop in 1975 and appointed the following year as vicar general for the Archdiocese of Boston. After his stint in Palm Beach, he arrived in Brooklyn in 1990 at a time when the entire diocese was undergoing financial hardship.

Over his 13 years of leadership, as The New York Times reported, Bishop Daily consolidated a number of parishes across Brooklyn and Queens and embarked on a major capital investment program to bring much-needed repairs to churches and schools across both boroughs.

He also worked with the Knights of Columbus, which he served as its supreme chaplain, to bring Pope John Paul II to Queens during the Holy Father’s October 1995 visit to the United States. The pontiff celebrated Mass before a crowd of tens of thousands gathered at Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park.

In many ways, however, Daily’s work at the diocese was overshadowed by the Catholic Church sex scandal that came to light in 2002, largely through the reporting of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team.

A July 2003 report by the Massachusetts attorney general found that Daily — while vicar general to Cardinal Medeiros and, briefly, Cardinal Bernard Law — failed to properly investigate abuse allegations against priests in the Boston archdiocese. The report also found that Daily would prefer to relocate priests accused of abuse to other parishes rather than taking them out of service entirely, and that abuse allegations were not reported to local police.

The Brooklyn diocese was not immune to the sex abuse scandal; in Daily’s final years, the diocese and the bishop were named in a class action lawsuit by 42 people who claimed to have been abused by priests in Brooklyn and Queens.

In testifying at a deposition involving one of the Boston priests in 2002, Daily would express regret for his actions in Boston, but would state that he was following the church’s protocol at the time.

Upon turning 75 in 2003, Daily submitted his resignation letter to the papacy, as required for any bishop or cardinal who reaches that age. Pope John Paul II accepted Daily’s resignation in August of that year, and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who then led the Camden diocese in New Jersey, was appointed as Daily’s successor.

In retirement, Bishop-emeritus Daily remained active in the diocese and beyond, serving as a member of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and on the board of the Society of St. James the Apostle in Boston and the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities in Washington, DC. His activity declined in recent years due to failing health.

Daily died on Monday at the Bishop Mugavero Residence — named for Bishop Francis Mugavero, whom Daily replaced in 1990 — at Douglaston’s Immaculate Conception Center.

“Bishop Daily was a man who personified the Second Vatican Council’s call for a preferential option for the poor,” DiMarzio said in a statement on Monday. “He ministered to indigenous people amidst poverty in Peru, women in crisis pregnancies, as well as new and often poor immigrants living in Brooklyn. He never acted out of malice or to further his own self-interest. At heart he was a missionary. I suspect he wished he could have remained in the missions his entire life.”

Funeral information was not immediately available.

Editor’s note: An earlier press release from the Diocese of Brooklyn stated that Bishop Daily died on Sunday; the diocese has since issued a correction, noting that the bishop passed at 12:02 a.m. Monday morning.

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