DETROIT - "It was a monumental task and he did it well," said Cardinal Timothy Dolan. "They called him Shocking Szoka."
As Pope John Paul II's chief financial officer for Vatican City, Cardinal Edmund Szoka is well known for ending 23 straight years of deficits. He's also admired for bringing stability, professionalism, transparency and computers to the Holy See's books. And he did it all as a non-Italian reformer.
"He stared down people a lot tougher than the mafia. He stared down brother cardinals in the Holy See for years and told them this has got to stop," said Dolan.
Earlier, he also had to make many tough financial decisions for Detroit. One in which was closing 35 churches. By most accounts it was unavoidable, but while archbishops have since done the same, Szoka was resented for it.
"He was thought to be imperious, my way or the highway, my way or else," said Rev. Harry Cook, who has covered religion for 35 years, including a stint as the Detroit Free Press' religion writer.
Szoka was also credited for helping to heal the rift by convincing Pope John Paul II to include Detroit as a destination on his 1987 United States visit.
Teresa Tomeo from Ave Maria Radio summed up Szoka's legacy: "That says you matter, that this is a personal relationship with the top leader of your church coming to you, your neighborhood, your hometown."
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