Now that Ordinariate priest Fr. Luke Reese has been sentenced for brutally beating his wife, his superior, Ordinariate Bishop Steven Lopes, has issued a letter to Ordinariate members, saying “there is no room in the priesthood” for abusive or violent priests, whether they are married or unmarried.
Lopes is the latest of many American bishops to issue a statement condemning priestly abuse and pledging a rigorous response to accusations against clergy. But questions remain about how the Reese case was handled and whether the Church will truly be more transparent about criminals among the clergy in the future.
The letter, which does not appear on the Ordinariate website, does not mention Fr. Reese by name. It includes this passage (full letter at the end of this article):
[T]here is no room in the priesthood for a man who abuses a child. In our particular context of the Ordinariate with both celibate and married clergy, I would add that there is no room in the priesthood for a man who commits an act of violence—physical, psychological, or sexual—against his own wife or children. And there is no room among those who call themselves Shepherds and Pastors for a man who would cover-up an instance of abuse.
In a February interview, canon lawyer Peter Vere said, “It is not unusual … for Catholic ecclesiastical authorities to hold off canonical action until criminal charges by civil authorities are resolved.”
Because the office of the Ordinariate, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and Holy Rosary parish have all continued to refuse to answer our calls, we still do not know any details about Fr. Reese’s status, and we cannot confirm that he will be permanently barred from serving as a priest.
Who is actually in charge of Ordinariate priests?
Bishop Lopes said in his letter that “there is no room in the priesthood for a man who commits an act of violence—physical, psychological, or sexual—against his own wife.”
But according to court documents, Holy Rosary pastor Fr. C. Ryan McCarthy allegedly saw the swollen and bloodied face of Fr. Reese’s wife, but responded by granting Fr. Reese “leave” for a time, and then announced his intention to welcome Reese back to serve at the parish at some later date.
Reese’s name was not removed from the parish directory until after we broke the story of his arrest, and it was after the arrest that Fr. McCarthy announced in the church bulletin that Reese’s “leave” would last “at least a few months.” He admonished the parishioners, “mind your own business,” and said, “I am very grateful for Father Reese’s service to our parish. He will be greatly missed during this leave.”
McCarthy’s outrageously inadequate response to Reese’s crimes are all too familiar in light of the Grand Jury report from Pennsylvania, where countless abusive priests were accommodated and returned to service, and the parishioners were kept in the dark about the crimes they committed.
Recent Holy Rosary bulletins make no mention of Fr. Reese’s arrest, conviction, or sentencing, and parishioners say there have been no announcements about him at Mass. Holy Rosary did offer Mass in commemoration of Fr. Reese’s ordination anniversary on June 29, the same day he was convicted.
Will the Ordinariate learn from the Fr. Reese debacle?
In the case of the Ordinariate, which is based in Houston, is there sufficient oversight of priests ordained under the Ordinariate and then sent out to serve in remote parishes? Is Bishop Lopes depending on priests like Fr. McCarthy to discern whether priests like Fr. Reese are fit to serve? Based on Fr. McCarthy’s handling of the Reese case, what would likely happen if a parishioner went to Fr. McCarthy to report that some other priest was abusive?
In his letter, Bishop Lopes said:
I continue to receive letters from Anglican clergy seeking to join us. I have heard from three new communities this summer trying to form Ordinariate parishes. We have admitted 3 new seminarians, young men of faith and integrity who desire to leave all to follow in the way of the Lord.
Are these seminarians and Anglican clergy being vetted more closely, in light of the Fr. Reese debacle? Before Fr. Reese was ordained in the Ordinariate, were there red flags about his temperament and history? Was his ordination hurried through because the Catholic Church desperately needs more priests? Does the Ordinariate intend to revisit its vetting process before it welcome more formerly-Anglican priests into the Catholic priesthood?
Also troubling: Why was the local media silent about a sensational story of a criminally abusive priest? Not a single news outlet covered it until after we broke the story. One news outlet told us that they were following the story but had chosen not to cover it. Why? Under whose direction?
In his letter, Bishop Lopes said, “I am confident in the policies and procedures in place ensuring that our Ordinariate is a safe environment for all of our children.” The American laity is less confident.
UPDATE August 23: According to the IndyStar:
Reese will not return to service in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Greg Otolski, spokesman for the Archdiocese, told IndyStar, but it is up to the Ordinariate to make the final decision regarding further discipline.
In a statement provided to IndyStar on Thursday, the Ordinariate said steps are being taken to change Reese’s status as a priest. The final decision will be made by the Holy See in Vatican City.
The letter from Bishop Lopes was posted Tuesday evening on the Blessed John Henry Newman church Facebook page. The entire letter is as follows:
Dear Faithful of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter,
This has been a difficult few weeks for the Catholic Church in North America. We have seen reports of episcopal negligence and malfeasance in the face of clerical sexual abuse, coupled with some reports of bishops themselves guilty of sexual predation. The report of the Grand Jury in Pennsylvania has reopened old wounds and inflicted new ones on victims, their families, the Catholic faithful at large, and indeed, the larger society.
There have been many statements and commentary about all of this, and I do not wish just to add to the multiplicity of words. I would simply echo the words of the great Saint John Paul II: there is no room in the priesthood for a man who abuses a child. In our particular context of the Ordinariate with both celibate and married clergy, I would add that there is no room in the priesthood for a man who commits an act of violence—physical, psychological, or sexual—against his own wife or children. And there is no room among those who call themselves Shepherds and Pastors for a man who would cover-up an instance of abuse.
I am confident in the policies and procedures in place ensuring that our Ordinariate is a safe environment for all of our children. All of these are publicly available on our website and they will be followed and enforced at every level. But policies do not bring about holiness, and isn’t that what we all so deeply desire? A Church that lives the faith once delivered to the Saints in integrity and in good conscience? Holiness is something that ultimately comes from God, so it is something for which we should pray and labor:
Pray for the victims of sexual abuse by clergy, so that the peace of God beyond all understanding may heal their hearts and minds in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pray for priests, that they may live their lives in integrity of heart, faithful to the vows of their ordination. Pray the Prayer of St. Michael daily, especially for priests! The Devil is never happier then when he corrupts a servant of God.
Join with me in setting aside 30 minutes of prayer before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament to pray in reparation for the sins committed by clergy and faithful alike, sins which have disfigured the Body of Christ and caused many to turn away.
Find some way to express Christian charity to your neighbor. Sin repels, but authentic love attracts and transforms.
September 21 is Ember Friday after Holy Cross Day. As your Bishop, I will offer that day in particular penance for the sins of bishops. I invite you to pray with me and offer some act of penance that day for the renewal of the Church.
The sins we have read about in these weeks have filled us with shame and with righteous anger. But one thing we should not feel is afraid. The Evil One thrives in darkness, so the bright light of truth, through painful in this moment, is purifying.
Our Ordinariate exists because men and women of great faith placed everything on the line for the adventure of truth and Catholic communion. Even in the midst of these trials, I see that the joy of fidelity still draws people to Christ. I continue to receive letters from Anglican clergy seeking to join us. I have heard from three new communities this summer trying to form Ordinariate parishes. We have admitted 3 new seminarians, young men of faith and integrity who desire to leave all to follow in the way of the Lord. May our fidelity then be our most eloquent response to the current crisis in the Church. For the one in whom we trust is the Lord! And he is risen from the dead!
Your servant in Christ,
+Steven J. Lopes
Image of Bishop Lopes is a still from a YouTube video of a homily in 2016