As lawsuit against Hartford’s archbishop advances, rift widens over $15 million scholarship endowment

A dispute in the Hartford archdiocese that led to a lawsuit intensified this month with the chief plaintiff accusing Archbishop Leonard Blair of “a sinister move” and asking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for help.

Blair did not comment Friday, but last month announced he was resigning from the Foundation for the Advancement of Catholic Schools board because of what he called “senseless quarrels” that distracted the archdiocese from its mission.


But Brian Giantonio, president and chairman of the foundation that raises money for scholarships, contends the argumentativeness has come from Blair and his advisors.

The archbishop “absolutely has an axe to grind with the FACS officers,” Giantonio wrote in a March 22 letter to the Conference of Bishops.


Worse yet, the archbishop appears to be trying to get control of about $16 million intended for Catholic school scholarships in Connecticut, Giantonio wrote.

Blair has “a desire to convert the FACS’s millions of dollars earmarked for education to other uses,” he wrote.

At issue is whether the all-volunteer foundation can continue operating as a nonprofit without the archbishop’s support. If Blair succeeds in having the bishops remove it from the church’s national registry of affiliated organizations, it would lose tax-exempt status.

The foundation raises money for annual scholarships for 500 to 1,000 students in Catholic schools across the archdiocese’s more than 90 towns and cities. Giantonio and the board’s executive committee argue that Blair is escalating a personal disagreement — and risking those scholarships by doing it.

After a lengthy battle for control of the foundation, Giantonio and the executive committee sued Blair in October, saying he was violating the organization’s bylaws. The case is pending in Superior Court.

An attempt at mediation this winter failed, and Blair last month resigned from the foundation’s board and moved to cut the church’s ties with it. As part of that, he called on the U.S. Council of Bishops to delist it.

The executive committee is urging the council to rebuff Blair, categorizing his actions as “hostile” and “vindictive.”

The archdiocese does not discuss pending litigation, and Blair is not taking questions. But in a Feb. 28 statement, Blair signaled that he wants to disassociate the foundation from the Hartford archdiocese.


“FACS’s lawsuit personally naming me and my fellow dedicated clergy, seeking to argue about who gets to serve on the FACS board, obviously pales in comparison to our duty to nurture and grow Catholic education,” Blair wrote.

Then-Archbishop John Whelan established FACS nearly 40 years ago to raise money to support students seeking Catholic school educations in Hartford, New Haven and Litchfield counties.

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Giantonio has served on its board for more than 20 years, the last eight as leader. It currently has an endowment of about $15 million to $17 million, and awards between $500,000 and $1 million in scholarships each year.

The founders developed bylaws to keep the organization independent from direct control by the archdiocese, but several years ago Blair appeared to want more authority over FACS and its money, Giantonio said.

“FACS’s relationship with Archbishop Blair began to sour in 2016 when he formed the Hartford Bishops Foundation and threatened, though a proxy, to crush FACS,” Giantonio told the bishops in his letter.

“Archbishop Blair took a number of actions designed to give him unfettered control over FACS, including the $15 million it currently holds for the purpose of providing scholarships for Catholic education,” Giantonio wrote.


Trying to end FACS’s tax-exempt status would ultimately hurt the children who get scholarships — and the Catholic schools that they attend, Giantonio said.

The committee is prepared to seek independent tax-exempt status if the bishops go along with Blair’s request, he said. But he’s hoping the bishops will side with FACS.

“How do you ever come to a decision that to get at us, you’d do something that would hurt your children?” Giantonio asked. ”I can tell you, I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be writing to the U.S Council of Bishops.”