Did Fulton Sheen witness and cover up the sexual assault of a child?

BY DAMIEN AND SIMCHA FISHER

Did Fulton Sheen witness and cover up the sexual assault of a child?

Less than a week after Sheen’s beatification was announced,  Rebecca Bratten Weiss’ Patheos blog echoed recent chatter on Twitter, sharing text that alleges Sheen saw a priest sexually abusing a child. The text claims Sheen walked in as the abuse happened, but he merely told the priest to put his pants back on, called the victim a “slut,” and proceeded to help cover up the crime. The text alleges that the Cause for his canonization knew about the allegations and did not respond to them. 

“I knew there was something fishy about Fulton Sheen,” tweeted Mary Pezzulo, another Patheos blogger, after the documents were shared. 

We are well aware the Church has an abysmal record of abuse and cover-up. We also believe that allegations of abuse should always be taken seriously and investigated if possible. But we do not believe these allegations are credible. Here’s why.

The only reference we can find to these allegations comes from that text, which was posted on BishopAccountability.org sometime in 2007. BishopAccountability.org is an invaluable clearinghouse for documents regarding sexual abuse and cover-up in the Church, and we are grateful for its work; but it does not claim to vet or verify any documents it shares. According to the site:

“It is our goal to assemble on the Internet a collection of every publicly available document and report on the crisis …
Our standards of inclusion are broad … BishopAccountability.org makes no claim regarding the accuracy of any document we post, and we have tried to include the full range of viewpoints, so as to provide a fully documented landscape of the crisis.”

This is not a criticism of BishopAccountability.org, but merely a clarification of what they do.

The allegation against Sheen is part of a lengthy text that purports to be a lawsuit complaint prepared by New York attorney John Aretakis sometime in 2007 on behalf of former priest Robert Hoatson. Who are Hoatson and Aretakis, and what is their history?

Hoatson and Aretakis first filed a $5 million federal RICO lawsuit in December of 2005 against The New York Archdiocese, Cardinal Edward Egan, the Archdiocese of Newark, Archbishop John J. Myers, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, the Congregation of Christian Brothers, and a number of individuals. The federal complaint was amended a few weeks later. 

Neither the original December 2005 complaint nor the amended January 2006 complaint mentions Sheen at all.

In February of 2007, the RICO lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning they may not file those claims again. The court also sanctioned Aretakis and ordered him to pay $8,000 ($2,000 to each of the major defendants). 

The presiding judge, Judge Paul Crotty, had harsh words for Aretakis’ behavior and credibility when he dismissed the case, saying in his ruling: 

“Taking Mr. Aretakis’s behavior in this case as a whole, it is clear that his conduct is sanctionable because it is sloppy and unprofessional; the pleadings are so far removed from adequate that they cannot be said to have been filed in good faith or after a reasonable inquiry; the bulk of the allegations dealing with sexual abuse are wholly irrelevant to the RICO claim, and; the Title VII claim is admittedly without basis in law.”

Crotty noted in his ruling that Aretakis and Hoatson made a splash the day they filed the lawsuit, holding a high profile press conference. He also noted that Aretakis has a history of filing RICO lawsuits that get dismissed.

Crotty’s ruling did not dismiss all the legal claims Hoatson brought, allowing him to refile the lawsuit in state court. In 2007, Aretakis filed a New York State lawsuit on Hoatson’s behalf against many of the same defendants.

While we can independently verify that Aretakis did file a state lawsuit on Hoatson’s behalf, we have been unable to find a verified copy of the complaint. We do not know if the complaint text on BishopAccountability.org, where the sole public accusation against Sheen exists, is the actual complaint filed in court. It was provided to the site by writer Matt C. Abbott, who has written copiously about the abuse scandal in the Church. Abbott himself said: “It should be noted that I do not necessarily agree with every assertion/conclusion made in the complaint.” Abbott referenced the document in a column he wrote for Renew America, but the column is no longer available online

Let’s assume for the moment that the complaint that appears on BishopAccountability.org was actually filed in court. Here is the section that mentions Sheen, which is part of a long litany of allegations against several different priests:

“The plaintiff is counseling a victim of a New York Archdiocesan priest whose sexual abuse continued for over ten years. One day, while the victim was being abused in the offices of the Propagation of the Faith in New York City, Bishop Fulton Sheen walked in on the abuse, called the victim a slut, told the priest to put his pants on, and did nothing to report the incident or comfort the victim. Bishop Sheen covered-up the crime. The priest abuser remains a pastor and had a prominent role in national television coverage of the funeral of Pope John Paul II. When the plaintiff wrote to the promoter of the cause of canonization of Bishop Sheen to inform him of Bishop Sheen’s actions, his letter was ignored and went unanswered. Bishop Sheen’s sainthood is steamrolling ahead despite his cover-up of child sexual abuse, while the plaintiff continues to be harassed, retaliated against, and fired.”

There are no names, except for Sheen’s. This is not a first hand account, but claims to speak on behalf of Hoatson supposedly counseling an unnamed victim. It is hearsay, not evidence. It is precisely how one would operate if the goal were to create buzz for a potentially lucrative legal case by making accusations against a famous dead man. Judge Crotty, in his federal RICO dismissal ruling, specifically chides Aretakis for using this strategy:

“Finally, further evidence of Mr. Aretakis’s motives is the drumbeat of publicity which Mr. Aretakis has sought. The day he and his client filed this complaint, he held a press conference to announce his lawsuit. This appears to be his common practice. The immediate link between the filing of the complaint and the press conference support the inference that Mr. Aretakis’s intention was to injure. That intent is confirmed by Mr. Aretakis’s statements in which he describes himself as an activist for clergy sexual abuse victims and is quoted as intending to ‘continue to humiliate and embarrass the Church’ by bringing incidents of sexual abuse to light, even if he cannot bring them in court. This intent to humiliate and embarrass is further manifested in the amended complaint which is littered with wholly irrelevant, inflammatory, and embarrassing facts concerning defendants and non-defendants alike that have no bearing on the actions brought, such as ‘it was widely known that he [one of the defendants] was an alcoholic.”

The state lawsuit was dismissed in October of 2009, and the New York court ordered Hoatson to pay the defendants’ court costs. 

In October of 2009, a sexual abuse survivor sued Hoatson, claiming he used his position as founder of his non-profit, Road to Recovery, to extort sexual abuse settlement money from him, according to public records. The case was dismissed without prejudice, partially because the victim was seeking $10,000, while the minimum for federal lawsuits of this nature is $75,000.

Road to Recovery, an organization set up to help survivors of sexual abuse, collected  $117,907 in contributions in the last reported year, paid out more than $100,000 in management expenses, and paid another $13,000 for program expenses.  Yesterday, I erroneously stated that its tax exempt status has been revoked. It has not. I regret the error. According to the NJ Consumer Affairs, Road to Recovery is listed as “compliant” as a charity in the state.

According to public records, Aretakis’ law license suspended for one year in 2008 after he was found guilty of professional misconduct by the New York Committee on Professional Standards. Among the charges was that Aretakis made false accusations against judges, engaged in frivolous conduct, and entered into court actions meant to harass people. 

We cannot confirm independently that the accusation against Sheen is actually part of a real lawsuit. The information contained in the text which includes the allegations against Sheen appear to come solely from Hoatson’s account of what he says various sex abuse survivors told him. Hoatson was using these stories in his $5 million lawsuit.

In summary: There is no actual evidence that a crime occurred or that there is a victim, and there is no evidence that Hoatson or anyone else contacted the cause for Fulton Sheen and was ignored, as is asserted. The allegations of abuse and cover-up, and the allegations that the Cause didn’t respond, come entirely from a text that has yet to be verified, by a source and his attorney who both have significant credibility problems. 

We reached out on Friday to the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation and to Monsignor Soseman, who was delegated by Bishop Jenky to oversee the Cause, to ask if they had heard of these allegations and whether they were investigated. But the team tasked with investigating and recording information regarding a candidate for beatification are sworn to secrecy, in order to encourage people to divulge sensitive information; so we suspect the office of the Cause would not be able to tell us if an investigation had taken place, or even whether Hoatson contacted them, as he claims. If he did approach them with the same information he claims to have shared in court — that Fulton saw an unnamed priest abusing an unnamed child in an undisclosed year — it’s unclear how any investigation could proceed.

Regardless, we have not yet heard back. Since the text making allegations have been circulating, we thought it was important to follow up quickly with more information; but we will update this story if and when more information becomes available. 

We continue our call for complete transparency from the Church. Justice is not served by covering up the truth, but neither is it served by eagerly believing the worst.

UPDATE AND CORRECTION July 14, 2019 3 PM eastern:

I erroneously stated that Road to Recovery’s tax exempt status has been revoked. It has not. I regret the error.

Monsignor Soseman responded from Rome:

I do know that no such letter [as the one Hoatson says he sent] ever arrived at the office in Peoria,  nor have I ever heard of any such allegation, in any of the extensive testimonies we took.  I finished my work with the cause in 2008. Since then it has been at the Vatican. I do know that both offices of the propagation had open floorplans with very few doors. 

 

***

We will continue to update this story as necessary. 

Image: Fulton Sheen by Fred Palumbo, World Telegram staff photographer [Public domain] via Wikepedia (image cropped) 

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28 thoughts on “Did Fulton Sheen witness and cover up the sexual assault of a child?”

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  2. I’m glad for the controversy about Sheen supporting Teilhard, the lying evolutionist and Sheen not revealing the communist infiltrators in the church. At that time period many clergy were taught they could believe in evolution from a common ancestor and the Big Bang over billions of years as was Sheen. And, no one knew what to do with predators at that time including Sheen just as predators were just told to move on in those days or just ignored. It’s hardly any different now days in the church but the government is required to do something about it and financial awards are given. Such creeps are far more prevalent in the public school system too but they find themselves in jail as public schools are required to report them. The Culture of Death since 1973 is the result of believing in the mythology of evolution like believing in the many Gods of Rome and Greece . God help us!

  3. Didn’t we all find his affinity for fancy vestments and his affected accent a little…..queeer?

    Does it surprise anyone that Michael Voris has a crush on him like Burke?

  4. Two things Simcha ,that you seemed to have missed.

    #1……..Bish Fulton Sheen silenced Bella Dodd on the names of the homosexual Communist agents she planted in RC seminaries . Alice von Hildebrand reported that since Dodd came and spoke to her and Dietrch in their LI home after Dodd converted. She also said that she was following the directives of four Communist Part Cardinals in the Vatican at the time which was in the late thirties.
    #2 Bishop Sheen had a glowing opinion of Telhard de Chardin in his book “The Cosmic Christ.”
    Given the fact he de Chardin was a liar and a fraud ( Piltdown Man for one example) ……
    and the public release of the testimony against Communist Party clerics could have saved both body and souls……Sheen is no saint!

    1. Sheen would have to have known about the cabal of sodomites under Spellman’s tutelage. He said nothing.
      He knew about communist infiltration and yet persuaded Bella Dodd to stay quiet.
      Sheen served the American Empire not the Kingship of Christ.
      How fitting he would be canonized.

      Let us not forget he also loved Teilhard de Chardin.

  5. I’ll come from a different angle. Its not the first time an innocent Priest, Bishop or Cardinal has been falsely accused of sexual abuse. We have a case currently in the Supreme Court of Australia where two men who were Altar boys in a Melbourne Cathedral in 1996 (one is now deceased) have accused Cardinal Pell of abusing them straight after mass in the rectory. A rectory with no doors, an open plan layout, with people walking in and out, with the Cardinals heavy garments still on him, straight after Sunday Mass when the presiding priest is normally greeting parishioners outside. The deceased who passed away from drugs (God rest his soul) never confided in anybody that he was abused. His family is putting the allegation forward on his behalf. The other accuser, I don’t know much about him. The disgusting way in which this secretive trial has played out, the shoddy details of the accusations, the discriminatory language of the prosecutors towards Catholic clergy, the fuzzy timeline, the smear of the good Cardinals reputation and the whole credibility of the accusation shockingly resulted in a guilty verdict and Cardinal Pell is currently in a prison cell, awaiting appeal. The trial had a media black out, the accusers identities and testimonies were anonymous throughout the trial. The media delivered speculation as hard fact when reporting. Cardinal Pell the highest ranking cleric to ever be found guilty of such an accusation, was entrusted by Pope Francis to clean up the financial stink in the Vatican bank. But he is now thrown under the bus by the Vatican itself because he got too close to the truth and he is now sitting in a Melbourne jail cell waiting to prove his innocence. I take EVERY accusation with a grain of salt. I feel for real victims of horrible priests, and I feel for real victims of non-religious people who abuse children. But if you want to permanently tarnish anyones good character, the easiest way to do this is to throw the paedophile tag onto them. And to be honest, it’s frightening to think it could happen to anyone- our husbands, our sons, our brothers and our friends. Because even if they are innocent, mud sticks. And I believe (unless undeniably proven otherwise) that this is exactly what is currently being done to the late Fulton Sheen with this “cover-up” allegation. I’m waiting for the actual “abuser” allegations to surface. And putting the “cause for canonisation” aside, Fulton Sheen isn’t even here to defend himself.

    1. Legally and morally false. Children cannot consent. And in this case, there’s no indication that there was an actual victim; so you’re endangering your soul by condemning someone who may not even exist. You must be from Canon212.

      1. To ALL of the GOOD Priest, The HOLY ones the Saintly ones like Fulton Sheen who must daily endure Scandalous tongues, pointed fingers and be looked upon upon like rapists etc. From the glares of and the tongues of ignorant Non educated in THEIR faith because they Chose to walk away from GOD saying it was the priests fault as to why they did….God Bless them victims and non victims a like. Incidentally Our family was affected by this crime as well but if you stopped going to Church because of this, that is YOUR fault not the fault of ALL those sexually immoral priests because All one needs to do is pray to find the truth and it seems hundreds of times the numbers of people compared to ALL those bad priests have walked away from the Church Christ built! Who do you think said : Enough is Enough!!!! What is Self Will? You have it, I have it, everyone has Self Will.. .Evil or Otherwise. God Bless you Fulton Sheen may you rest in Holy Peace where you belong. And All you Victims and their families….Get Back and redeem yourselves

  6. There is something very odd about this piece, as though it is more aimed at tarnishing Sheen.
    The author admits there is no actual evidence and there is a credibility problem, yet it proceeds to then throw out the allegations, and for what purpose? It seems the only reason to throw out shaky allegations would be for the aforementioned motive. At the least this is shoddy journalism. The voices behind this seem to confirm something amiss- folks of dubious orthodoxy like Weiss, Pezzulo, Fisher. And presenting as some sort of evidence the comment of someone saying she thinks there was something fishy about Sheen. Really?

    1. Astonishing. You read the entire essay and somehow managed to conclude the opposite of what we actually said. Is it possible you came here from Canon212 as well?

      1. Sounds like deflection. Who cares how anyone stumbled on to this? The facts as described above remain. You even end the piece by saying “We continue our call for complete transparency from the Church.” That is, hint, hint, Sheen may have done this and he’s being covered up for. In double-speak you then counter it by commenting on not believing the worst. In other words, ‘we know something may have no truth to it, can’t be verified, yet we’re going to reprint it anyway, then justify it by reminding folks it is just speculation and not assume the worst.’ Can’t you see the double-speak there? Again, why even do such a piece if something is just speculation, which you know is only going to foster suspicion, which is evidenced by other commenters here who now believe it is probably true. In fact, this unwittingly shows others read the piece as I have. One might add this piece seems rather “anti-Francis”- that the folks at the vatican under Francis are capable of such a cover up. And surely Francis would have been informed of such a thing if true.

        1. Sir, you don’t seem to understand that there are multiple audiences reading this article. There are traditional Catholics (as you sound like) but there are also Catholics and Christians and people of different backgrounds. Some people have been deeply hurt by past cover ups. Many readers need to hear that Simcha and Damian are not condemning the accusation and alleged cover up because they don’t believe cover ups happened; rather the Fishers support transparency (c’m on, you can agree that honesty is quite important for the Church of Truth), while finding it very unlikely that these allegations are true. That’s all that line needs to mean. Sometimes words are added for clarity, or just to be tactful, without being part of a sneaky agenda.

  7. So Bishop Sheen covered up sexual abuse?! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. Well, we’ll have to ask our holy cardinals Cupich, Nighty Night Baby Tobin, Weurl, and W. Gregory to intercede for us poor stupid gullible laity and stop this abuse of power and have Bishop Sheen put back where he belongs… in Cd. Dolan’s cathedral where he can charge people to see the tomb and use the money for the gay lobby.
    Lord how long?!

  8. Hoatson’s charges about McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians appeared some (10-15???) years ago in The Record in Bergen Co., NJ. I recall going through his list of incidents and perpetrators. He seemed to have so much dirt on people, I wondered if it was all true. I read the Fulton Sheen allegation too. I was dismayed, but as scripture says, “Put not your trust in the princes of this world.” Anyway, I am suspicious of it alleged Sheen story, but also mindful that respected Church leaders have been accused, denied it, people believed the denial, and later the accusation was later confirmed. I don’t trust the Church leadership; they don’t speak out when they should, and when they do, they are inept, misleading, or plain wrong re RC Church teaching. Cf., Cardinal Joseph Tobin (Newark NJ) welcomes LGBT pilgrimage to Sacred Heart Cathedral; on TV interview, calls CCC language on homosexuality “unfortunate.” Makes you wonder.

  9. I have a female relative who was abused as a child by a neighbor (this would have been early/mid 50’s). Parents believed her, police were called, she wasn’t the only victim… and the police told him it would be best if he moved. So he and his wife did, a few blocks away. Relative wasn’t abused again, but presumably others were. No big cover-up, no victim blaming, no high-profile guy buying anyone off, but also no grasp, at that time, either of the deep scars inflicted on the victims or of the serial nature of the abuse. It was considered a bad thing for an adult to do, but it wasn’t dealt with as it is now. It’s good that that has changed, but to expect that people in the past should have (or *could* have – it was secular cops saying nothing more than “move along there, buddy” to the abuser, so one might wonder what good it would do to contact them at all) done what we would now, or to think that this was a Church problem and the rest of society was more enlightened is way off base.
    None of which really has much to do with the Sheen accusation, except that it seems very little detail to go on … Didn’t C.S. Lewis say something about charity being glad to find that even our enemy “wasn’t quite so bad as that”? Verdict first, trial after…

    1. Considering the cavalier attitude displayed by parents, bishops, police, etc., I believe that the vast majority of people fifty or more years ago–and a large number today–have thought it’s all about looking at or touching a child or other minor. Specifically, they don’t think about the fact that abusers usually try to induce an orgasm in the victim. That is what is so horrifying and traumatizing about the abuse. It is an experience the victim did not seek, usually because the victim is still in the latency period–which, at that point, is shattered.

  10. I believe the problem of sexual abuse is more prevalent than we ever imagined. Just the people I have known first hand and reliable people who have told me about family members lead me to believe this. Twenty years ago my BIL contacted the Bishop of the diocese his aunt lives in to try to tell him about his aunt and her relationship with a priest. Nobody would do anything. They just didn’t want to hear about it/deal with it. It was like all in a days work for them.

    I wouldn’t condemn Fulton Sheen yet. Did he know the abuse had been a ten year affair from the time she was under age? I really doubt he called her a “slut”. He might have told her to cut it out in a less generous way than Jesus.

    Anyway, I will throw one more controversial item into the internet mosh pit. I know four people who were sexually abused as minors (that I know of). At least two of them became spectacular sexual predators themselves. While I truly feel a profound sadness for them, their subsequent sexual history and real abuse and manipulation of others makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I can’t have any kind of a relationship with them because they are shockingly amoral and unrepentant. I forgive them, and now understand the root of their mental illness, but am not strong enough to have them in my life. I have seen them use the “abuse” card to excuse their own behavior, but not for the people that they shockingly abused. Monstrous. At the end of the day–just plain evil.

    1. Simcha Fisher’s article serves only to give fuel to insubstantial hearsay murmurings by people who are not in a position to credibly speculate; a real NON-story. Kinda like sayin’ don’t think about a clown with green hair and purple teeth. Remember, don’t think about a clown with green hair and purple teeth! Well, did you think about a clown with green hair and purple teeth?

      And Ana Lisa’s comments in the second paragraph of her response serves not only to remind us of this [highly speculative] situation (if you hear something enough times, you might begin to believe it), her reaction suggests she believes the hearsay allegation against archbishop Sheen. Her ‘amelioration’ consists of downplaying the role of bishop Sheen because he ‘might not have known the affair occurred over ten years’ (as though only one or two years of abuse would have been okay); or her opinion that Sheen might have called the victim a negative term (but most likely not a “slut”), while failing to consider that Sheen might not have witnessed, nor said, anything of the sort. There are big problems in the Church; especially in regard to the predation of sexually mature though underage boys, as well as seminarians, by homosexual priests, and the coverup of these crimes. Ana Lisa’s comments seem to me to serve as a detraction from the character of a very good man. I hope it is unintentional.

      1. I think you are mistaken about the article and its purpose. This rumor about Fulton Sheen is spreading on the internet, possibly kicked up a notch or two due to his cause now being able to move forward. This is an attempt to get to the bottom of the rumor, and its base looks suspiciously like gossip. The end result is to clear Sheen’s name, not besmirch it. Damien and Simcha have done his cause a great service, and have shown that the baseless rumor needs to stop being treated like it’s a real exposure of some evil that is being covered up by the Church or some of its members. To portray it as some kind of planting foul ideas about Sheen is to entirely miss its contents and what it set out to achieve: Sorting out fact from allegation, and showing that the allegation has no facts to support it.

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