California Catholic Conference – a history


In 1976, Raymond Hunthausen, Seattle’s archbishop, formally instituted the Washington State Catholic Conference. Hunthausen was investigated by the Vatican in 1983 over doctrinal issues and was relieved of some of his duties as archbishop a few years later. In 1987 — the same year the Vatican dispatched a coadjutor bishop to the archdiocese as a consequence of that controversy — Hunthausen named Edward (Ned) Dolejsi as executive director of the conference.

Dolejsi took over as head of the Washington bishops’ conference at a time of great turmoil in the archdiocese. Just a year earlier, Hunthausen had been stripped of some of his authority, which was turned over to Donald Wuerl, named auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese by Pope John Paul II in January 1986. The Vatican’s concerns, summed up in a 1985 letter from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to Hunthausen, included apparent departures from Church teaching regarding divorced Catholics, homosexuality, the liturgy, formation of seminarians and the role of women in the Church. In 1987, Bishop Thomas J. Murphy was appointed coadjutor of the archdiocese, and became archbishop in 1991, when Hunthausen retired at the age of 70.

Dolejsi served the bishops in Washington state for nine years until he resigned to become executive director of the California Catholic Conference in 1997.

Dolejsi was born in Seattle, attended Seattle University (Jesuit), and graduated with a major in English from Iona College (Christian Brothers) in New Rochelle, New York. When he was 21 he went to Iran as a Peace Corps volunteer, where he met Susan Hozack, also in the Peace Corps; Dolejsi and Hozack married in May, 1969 in Iran. When they returned to Seattle, they had three sons, one of whom later became a priest and serves in the Seattle archdiocese today.


In 1989, after an apparently amicable divorce, Dolejsi married Colleen Branagan, who at the time had three sons. Branagan was director of personnel for the Seattle archdiocese, and later served in a similar capacity for the Stockton diocese. In 2006 she took over as director of the Life Center in Sacramento. “The ‘seamless garment’ image has always been a wonderful metaphor for me,” said Branagan when she took the Life Center job, recalling the approach of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

According to a 2012 biographical sketch, Dolejsi was a high school teacher and director of religious education in the Seattle archdiocese. A 1991 edition of Caritas, which lists Dolejsi on the board of directors of the Sisters of Providence, states that he directed programs for Archbishop Hunthausen, including Faith and Community Development. He co-founded CHANNEL, a leadership program for young adults, which was a subject of discussion in Michael Rose’s Goodbye Good Men.


In 1997, an article titled “One of Hunthausen’s Boys,” written by Lesley Payne, was published in the San Francisco Faith. Here are some excerpts from that article:

Andrea Vangor, executive director of Washington Together Against Pornography, spoke about Dolejsi’s actions in Seattle.

“We ran a bill to protect minors from pornography,” says Vangor. “We ran it as an initiative. Bishop Wuerl… endorsed it. I spoke with Ned, who was the head lobbyist for the Washington bishops, to get their endorsement. We sent him the bill and all the analyses we had obtained. He told me they would endorse it, but then he released this half-baked statement on it, more negative than positive. He hinted that it might be unconstitutional, but he apparently did not read our constitutional law analyses and did no research of his own on it. He carried the water for some ugly people.”

A Catholic pro-life activist in Washington state believes Dolejsi was “just doing his job,” following instructions from the Washington bishops and their staffs.

“He is down there [in California] because there is a Hunthausen/Roger Mahony connection. This is one of Hunthausen’s boys. Archbishop Murphy has cancer [Murphy has since died]. We expect that our next bishop will be more like recent appointments – a strong conservative. This guy would have been out of a job soon. So they found him this job in California.”

The pro-lifer notes that the Washington Catholic Conference is aligned with the Washington Association of Churches, a strongly pro-choice organization. “They never wanted to offend the other churches by doing anything pro-life,” she complains. She says that the WCC took an officially “neutral” position toward a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to be killed by withholding food and water. “But statements made by Sister Sharon Park [WCC lobbyist] at the legislature were then anything but neutral,” she says.

“Sister Park is a liberal nun…,” says the pro-life activist. “The women are running the place. Back in the 1970s, Park was outspokenly pro-choice. Later, she toned that down, but not enough. There has never been any muscle coming from the Catholic Church on life issues in Washington. For example, we’re just now setting up a Right to Life Committee in this archdiocese, with the first meeting in September. Pro-life legislators – evangelical Christians – tell me, ‘I can’t understand why your church isn’t doing more on pro-life [issues].’”

Bishop George

“Bishop George [now Archbishop of Chicago] had run-ins with Ned when he was bishop of Yakima,” she notes. “George was able to stop the WCC from endorsing certain things, such as the Death with Dignity bill.”

A Seattle chancery insider recalls his misgivings about CHANNEL, a lay organization co-founded by Dolejsi.

“This was about the time Hunthausen came in. They were the diocesan Peace Corps. They were going to feed the poor and all that Catholic Action stuff. We never could figure out if they did anything besides collect money.” The source notes that, in the early 1980s, the archdiocese of Seattle leased its closed seminary building to the state. He recalls his embarrassment when giving state employees a tour of the seminary building, then occupied by CHANNEL. “They took the tabernacle off the altar and put a rug and a circle of cushions in the chapel. In the sacristy, all the chalices and vestments were in a huge pile in the middle of the floor.”

Next week: Part 4: blurred vision

To read previous parts of this series, click below:

Part 1: the years before

Part 2: the gay agenda, euthanasia, abortion



  1. Just the Facts says:

    This article states:

    “In 2006 she (Colleen Branagan (Dolejsi)) took over as director of the Life Center in Sacramento. “The ‘seamless garment’ image has always been a wonderful metaphor for me,” said Branagan when she took the Life Center job, recalling the approach of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.”

    The facts are that after heavy lobbying of the Sacramento Life Center Board by Edward “Ned” Dolejsi, Colleen Branagan (Dolejsi), with no known pro-life experience or previous participation in any volunteer pro-life activities, was hired as Executive Director although there were a number of experienced pro-life applicants who were rejected.

    According to publicly available Form 990 IRS Tax-Exempt Organization Reports for the Sacramento Life Center for the five years from 2006 to 2010, Colleen Branagan (Dolejsi) was paid:

    $74,910 in 2006, $86,624 in 2007, $87,142 in 2008, $87,142 in 2009,
    and $82,058 in 2010 —

    for a total of $417,876

    during her approximately five years as Executive Director of the Sacramento Life Center.

    During these same years, Edward “Ned” Dolejsi was employed (from 1997 to the present) as Executive Director of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops.

    Previous to being hired as the Executive Director of the California Catholic Conference, Colleen Branagan (Dolejsi) commuted to Stockton where she was the Director of Human Resources for the Diocese of Stockton, headed by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, who was the President of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops which employed Ned Dolejsi as its Executive Director, in Sacramento.

    NOTE: According to the 2005, Official Directory of the Catholic Church in the USA, published by P. J. Kenedy and Sons, a “Mrs.” Colleen Branagan was listed as “Director of Human Resources” for the Diocese of Stockton.

    It seems that few people were aware that “Mrs. Colleen Branagan” employed by Bishop Stephen Blaire in Stockton was married to Mr. Edward “Ned” Dolejsi, employed in Sacramento by the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, headed by its President, the same Bishop Stephen Blaire!

    Not surprising, some people who were aware, or who became aware of this “connection” thought that the use of the name “Mrs.” Colleen Branagan was intended to avoid the appearances of nepotism in the holding of these two positions — after moving from the Seattle Archdiocese where Colleen Branagan was the Human Resources Director, while Edward “Ned” Dolejsi was the Executive Director of the Washington State Catholic Conference.

    It might be noted that Bishop Stephen Edward Blaire (Consecrated May 31, 1990) was one of 13 bishops who were consecrated by Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony from 1987 to 2004.

  2. QUOTE: “We must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete function”. UNQUOTE – Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) in the ‘Ratzinger Report’ pg 59.
    QUOTE: ” No episcopal conference, as such, has a teaching mission: its documents have no weight of their own save that of the consent given to them by the individual bishops”. UNQUOTE – Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) in the ‘Ratzinger Report’ pg 60.

    Code of Canon Law: ” 454 §4. In cases in which neither universal law nor a special mandate of the Apostolic See has granted the power mentioned in §1 to a conference of bishops, the competence of each diocesan bishop remains intact, nor is a conference or its president able to act in the name of all the bishops unless each and every bishop has given consent.”

    Catholics are under no obligation to pay any attention, to a Bishop’s Conference.
    Unless their statement adhere’s – 100% and in entirety – to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition”.
    The Catechism, not any Conference is the ruling document.
    Lay persons have zero authority to tell all Catholics in any State what to do.

    Something needs to be done to stop the FORCED payment of assessments from each Parish/Diocese to State and the USCCB conferences.
    They have become bureaucracies, and like Congress their budgets are out of control. When the conferences need more money, the Bishops merely vote to raise assessments (dues) to each Diocese/Parish.

    • This is why every Catholic home must have a copy of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition”.

      We must “KNOW” fact from fiction, true teachings of the Church versus personal opinions of some Bishops and/or their conferences that have no weight.
      We must know when Church teaching is twisted by a Bishop or Priest for his own political or other views.

      If your Diocese Bishop or Parish Priest does not actively and publically promote reading of this Catechism, then we each must do his job for him by promoting it to insure TRUTH within the Church.

      Purchase the Catechism for gifts.
      Even for your non-Catholic family members –
      “….the Catechism has raised throughout the world, even among non-Christians,
      and confirms its purpose of being presented as a full, complete exposition of Catholic doctrine,
      enabling everyone to know what the Church professes, celebrates, lives, and prays in her daily life.” – Pope John Paul II (CCC pg xiv)

  3. Larry from RI says:

    “They took the tabernacle off the altar and put a rug and a circle of cushions in the chapel. In the sacristy, all the chalices and vestments were in a huge pile in the middle of the floor.”

    Sounds like the aftermath of VII.

  4. Thinking back a few years, I recall Mr. Dolejsi and Mrs. Branagan attending some Catholic-related events in Sacramento, but they seemed to be at these events separately, not socializing together and not leaving together. They were both big names in Sacramento so were noticeable. I had no idea they were married nor was did anyone I know aware of this fact. When I heard later that they were married, and were in fact referred to as Sacramento’s “Catholic Power Couple” on Catholic radio, I thought why the big secret. Maybe their past marital histories would raise questions.

    I have heard Mr. Dolejsi lately refer to his and his wife’s 6 sons. OK – 3 for him and 3 for her. That adds up to 6 – but not 6 together. Who is he trying to kid? Probably California Catholics.

  5. The CCC and Dolesji are a failed operation, sucking big money out of every Bishop.

    Can someone tell us what their record of success has been?

    It is time for each bishop to pull out of the CCC.

    • I know you are talking about the California Catholic Conference when you abreviate it as the CCC.
      But most of the Country and those outside the Country may think you are talking about the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition”, since the abreviation is universally CCC.
      The CA Bishops need to call their own political arm: “California Catholic Bishops Conference” or “California Bishop’s Conference” to avoid confusion in the media.
      Unless they want confusion.

    • Charles Teachout says:

      Ed, you ask a very important question. How much money is absorbed by the California Catholic Bishop’s Conference, and where does that money go? It is a question relevant to every chancery within the Conference. All of these programs for assisting illegal immigrants cost money, but no one seems to know how much these bishops want to spend, nor where that money comes from. How much Federal money is poured into the “immigrant” programs? Transparency from these bishops about their financial revenues and expenditures would go a long way toward lending credibility to their requests.

  6. You certainly are not a Catholic or even Christian media outlet.All you seem to revel in is slander and trashing people and even the Church as it suits you. W/friends like you the Church doesn’t need enemies.

    • sam, exposing sin is Christian.
      CCC: “2475 Christ’s disciples have put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
      By “putting away falsehood,” they are to “put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.”

      Slander is lying about someone, not telling the truth. If you think someone is lying – tell us the lie, and provide the documentation.

      Hiding sin allows sin to flourish.

      Code of Canon Law under – – –
      “212 §3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”

  7. tom in san jose says:

    “In 1989, after an apparently amicable divorce, Dolejsi married Colleen Branagan, who at the time had three sons.”

    I’d like to hear a little more about this “divorce”. Are you saying Dolejsi was granted an annulment after bearing 3 children with his first spouse, one of whom became a priest? How was the marriage ruled invalid?

    • Maybe Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, president of the Cal. Conference of Bishops can answer this question – if he knows the answer. Bishop Wilkerson’s office number in Mission Hills is 818-361-6009.

  8. IF they did get an “annulment”, it would be interesting to know in which Diocese (under which Bishop or Cardinal.)

    There should never be nepotism in any Bishop’s Conference.
    Other than to keep track of State laws that violate teachings of the Church as stated in the Catechism, and then to let all Catholics know in time to reach their elected CA STATE officials – there is no need for a State Bishops Conference at all. It is a waste of time and money $ $ $ $ $ $.

    A State Bishops’ Conference can be used to keep “Good Bishops” under control of the majority.

  9. Where in the Bible, or in Church Tradition does Christ or His Apostles teach that Bishops and Priests and Nuns should actively and publically be involved in politics?
    Isn’t their job to teach the Laity, and the Laity’s job to be involved in politics?

    I guess that most CA Bishops and the USCCB think that they have done such a great job Teaching and Saving most Souls within their own Diocese, that they have time for doing the Laity’s job as well. Yes? ? ?

    Apparently CA Bishops believe that the vast majority within their Diocese believe in Jesus and His teachings, and there is no scandal, no heresy, no schism, no relativism and no secularism within their boundaries. And that catechesis about Heaven, Hell & Sin is excellent in every Catholic home, in every Catholic School, in every Catholic University, in every Catholic Hospital, and from every pulpit.

    How do they find time to do the work of others, when their own is lacking?

    • And let’s not forget every organization that calls itself “Catholic” within a Bisbops boundaries.

    • I guess you have never heard of Canossa…and Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor.

      Ah, those were the days!!! 🙂

      • To to mention Saint Thomas à Becket and that wily king Henry II.

        It always does my heart good to see evil rulers have to do penance before good religious leaders…

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COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.