Coming up: radio spot, FB live chat, and conference in Burlington, VT

Busy busy! Tomorrow at 1:30 eastern, I’ll be on America This Week (Sirius XM Catholic Channel) talking with Fr. Paddy Gilger, Fr. Eric Sundrup and America Senior Editor J.D. Long-Garcia about my July cover article, How the church can help (or hurt) women in abusive marriages.

What priests say to women in abusive relationships can be life-changing.

Many women in abusive marriages struggle to share their experiences with anyone. Women of faith turn to priests who often do not know how to advise them. What options are left for women in these situations? How can the church be more helpful?

In this week’s Behind the Story, Senior Editor J.D. Long-García speaks with Simcha Fisher, author of “How the church can help (or hurt) women in abusive marriages,” from our July 9th issue. They’ll be happy to address your questions during the conversation. Please comment below, send us a Direct Message or if you’d rather remain anonymous, please email behindthestory@americamedia.org.

No one wants to admit they are in an abusive marriage, but there are options available for those who are ready.

Thursday at 12:30 eastern, I’ll be on Facebook Live to discuss the topic again, and you can participate in this chat by commenting on this Facebook thread or emailing behindthestory@americamedia.org. You can click on the link to get a reminder for the live chat.

 

Finally, I’ll be at the Year of the Family Conference in Burlington, VT, on August 25. I’ll be giving the afternoon keynote address: The Family as Icon, and also an interactive breakout session: Supporting couples who use NFP: How to help, and what to avoid. The breakout session is intended for those directly involved in teaching and supporting the use of NFP. There are ten breakout sessions, and attendees may choose two. Register here ($30).

My kids have been busy, too. Here is what they did yesterday. My only contribution was to say, “No, you may not use caramel sauce and red food coloring for blood.”

How the Church can help (or hurt) women in abusive marriages

When she went looking for help from the church, she was still susceptible to the idea that everything was her fault. One priest said it was a shame she was suffering, but all she could do was offer it up. Another told her she had a demon in her.

But a third priest listened to her story . . .

Read the my latest for America Magazine.

This is one of the most important pieces I’ve ever written, and I’m very grateful to the courageous and honest women who shared their stories with me.

Photo by George Hodan (Creative Commons)

Indianapolis priest charged with beating wife inside church

By Damien Fisher

The first married Roman Rite Catholic priest in the state of Indiana is facing prison time as he heads to trial on charges he kidnapped and assaulted his wife.

Rev. Luke W. Reese, 48, the parochial vicar at Holy Rosary parish in Indianapolis is charged with criminal confinement with bodily injury, criminal confinement where a vehicle is used, kidnapping, domestic battery, battery resulting in bodily injury, and intimidation following a Sept. 24 incident in which he allegedly beat his wife* inside his church, and then sexually assaulted her over the course of an 18-hour ordeal.

Reese is a married Anglican priest who entered the Catholic Church through the Personal Ordinariate established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. Reese and his wife have been married for 25 years and have seven children.

According to court documents, Reese’s superiors already knew that he reportedly provided alcohol to minors, got intoxicated with minors, and shared white supremacist material with young people. After seeing his wife’s bruised and swollen face, his superiors suspended him.

Reese did not respond to a request for comment. His lead criminal attorney, Jeffrey Baldwin, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Mary Panszi, the attorney representing the wife in the divorce case, declined to comment in detail about the case, which has not been reported on until now. Panszi speculated as to why the case has so far garnered no media attention.

“I think that’s because the Catholic Church is extremely powerful,” Panszi said.  

Panszi did not want to cooperate with our report, and did not want to have her client contact us, because Panszi deemed us too Catholic.

“I am truly trying to distance myself and my client from the Catholic Church and those who are beholden to their faith, as I believe that they will do anything within their power to silence this matter,” Panszi wrote.

According to the probable cause affidavit filed in the Marion County Court, on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 24, Reese, wearing clerical garb, confronted his wife while she was in the backseat of a car with another man, Jay Stanley. According to the affidavit, Stanley was engaged in a romantic relationship with the wife.

Reese angrily demanded that his wife come with him. She instead got into her own car and agreed to drive to a specific location with Reese so they could get out and talk, according to the affidavit, written by Indianapolis Police Detective Erroll Malone.

Before leaving with his wife, Reese opened the door to Stanley’s car and kicked him in the face. Stanley said Monday he’s not sure why he didn’t call police after he was assaulted and the wife went away with her angry and violent husband.

“I don’t know why. I think that I just didn’t,” Stanley said. “I didn’t think any of that other stuff would happen.”

Once the couple reached the location in their separate cars, the wife got into Reese’s car so they could talk, according to the affidavit. That’s when Reese locked the car so she could not get out, and began to drive. During the drive, Reese repeatedly assaulted his wife with “backhands” while demanding the password for her cell phone.

Reese drove to Holy Rosary church and forced his wife inside the building, according to the affidavit. He brought her to the altar, and forced her to kneel. Before the altar, he assaulted her, hitting her in the face, pulling her hair, putting his hands around her neck, and continuing to demand her password, according to the affidavit.

“(He) stated he could choke her,” the affidavit reads.

On their way out of Holy Rosary, Reese threw his wife into a wall, and then brought her back out to the car, Malone writes. There, Reese allegedly slammed his wife’s head into the car’s door frame. The wife then relented, and gave up her password. Reese started reading her texts to and from Stanley, continuing to interrogate and backhand her as he drove, according to the affidavit.

Reese drove his wife out of Indianapolis, and its “temptations,” to Auburn. He wanted his wife to explain to her 90-year-old grandmother about her relationship with Stanley, according to the affidavit.

Family members told police the wife was crying when she arrived at the house in Auburn, and her face was swollen and bruised. The wife told her grandmother she had been talking to another man.

“What in the world happened to your mouth and eye?” the grandmother asked.

“I hit her, that’s what’s wrong with her,” Reese reportedly responded.

“A priest, and you beat her?” the grandmother said.

“I could have killed her,” Reese reportedly responded.

“Well, you didn’t kill her. So do you feel like a hero now?” the grandmother asked.

That’s when Reese forced his wife back into the car and began driving home. At one point, they stopped for gas, but Reese locked and alarmed the car to keep his wife inside during the stop, according to the affidavit.

They drove back to their home, when Reese forced his wife to go to bed. A short time later, after reading texts on her phone, Reese came back into the bedroom and tore her clothes off her. He then went into her closet and began tearing up her clothes that he deemed “too slutty,” according to the affidavit.

He left her for a short time, while he reportedly downloaded the text messages between his wife and Stanley onto his computer, and she got dressed. He then came back into the bedroom, and again tore off her clothes, sexually assaulted her, and took nude photos of her that he threatened to use to shame her to people in the parish community, according to the affidavit.

“(Reese) then ordered her to lay down and he then had intercourse with her,” Malone writes. “(She) stated she did not wish to have intercourse. However, she did not say no.”

These incidents started the night of Sunday Sept. 24 and continued into Monday, Sept. 25, in what Panszi described as an 18-hour ordeal.

Sometime on Monday, Rev. Ryan McCarthy, the pastor at Holy Rosary, came to the Reese’s house and saw the wife’s injured face. We could find no record that McCarthy called police after seeing her injuries. He suggested the couple take some time apart.

“(McCarthy) recommended the couple go their separate ways for about a week,” the affidavit states.

Reese agreed to leave their house for a few days. The wife eventually went to the hospital. She reported the assault to police on Sept. 27.

According to information we have developed, McCarthy gave the wife a sum of money in excess of $1,000 and helped her set up a bank account following the Sept. 24 incident, to help her with living expenses. We have not verified the exact amount or where the money came from.

Reese was arrested soon after the report was made, and was charged with felonies. He is currently free after posting $2,495 on a $25,000 Corporate Surety bond. His trial is scheduled for May. In December, Reese filed for divorce from his wife.

Holy Rosary placed Reese on six months leave in October. The archdiocesan website says only that Reese was “granted a six-month leave of absence.”

According to the affidavit, Reese’s superiors were already aware of other issues concerning Reese. The wife told police Reese was already in “hot water” over two incidents: One in which he reportedly supplied alcohol to minors and got intoxicated with them, and another in which he shared white supremacist materials with young people. Those incidents were reported by parents to church officials, according to the affidavit.

The wife also told police that Reese had been abusive to the family for quite some time before the Sept. 24 incident.

Greg Otolski, communications director for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis declined numerous requests for comment. We also reached out to officials in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, based in Houston, Texas. Bishop Steven Lopes of Houston is Reese’s bishop. The communications director in Houston has not returned our calls.

UPDATE Feb. 27, 2018: The bulletin from Holy Rosary Church on October 1 contains “An important message about Fr. Reese” on page 4. In the message, the pastor, Fr. McCarthy, says that Fr. Freese has been granted a leave of absence. He warns parishioners that it would be a sin to speculate why Fr. Reese was gone, and says “he will be greatly missed” while he is on “leave of absence.” The message was written after Fr. McCarthy saw Reese’s wife’s facial injuries.

The entire message is as follows:

“Dear parishioners, This past Monday, Father Reese notified me that he was experiencing some personal and family issues which would require a greater amount of his attention. He let me know that he had asked for a leave of absence from Archbishop Thompson, and that he hoped it would be granted. I gave him the week off and, at the end of the week, the Archbishop informed me that he intended to grant Father Reese the leave of absence. As of the writing of this note, the length of the leave had not been fully determined, but it will be at least a few months. I expect it will extend past Christmas and into the new year. I ask that we all respect Father Reese’s and his family’s privacy to allow them to deal with these personal issues. I have made it clear to him that the parish and I will continue to pray for him and for his family during this time. Unless Father Reese happens to reach out to you, please do not interrupt this time allotted to him. Please do not ask me the details of Father Reese’s situation. As his pastor, I am privy to many of the details of his and his family’s personal life, as I am of most of my parishioners. I am not free to discuss these matters, just as I am not free to discuss your personal matters. If you do ask, I will politely but firmly tell you to “mind your own business.” Additionally, do not make Father Reese and his family the subject of speculation or gossip. This is a sin. Please do remember to pray for him and his family. I am very grateful for Father Reese’s service to our parish. He will be greatly missed during this leave. Quite obviously, without a second priest active at Holy Rosary, our Mass schedule and other events will be affected. Please be patient with me and the staff as we work to adjust to the current situation and attempt to accommodate, as much as possible, all of the many activities at our parish. Thank you in advance for all your prayerful support. God bless!”

*We have chosen not to use the name of Reese’s wife in this story.

Image: Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis (Public Domain)

Guest post: I was the perfect Catholic wife. It didn’t fix my abusive marriage.

[ADMIN: Today’s post is by a friend who wants to remain anonymous. I am grateful to her and to so many survivors of abuse who want to help protect others who are suffering and who feel so alone.]

“The first affairs were only about sex,” he said. “It was the last one, where he thought he was in love, that really caused him trouble.”
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The man who said these words to me had been a confidant of my late husband. I had reached out to a number of his friends after my husband’s death to better understand what had happened to us, but I was stonewalled, and on this day I didn’t expect to learn what I did. I knew there was one affair, although I was still reeling from finding the hotel receipts as I tended his affairs (pardon the pun). He had admitted that his relationship with a coworker was “too close,” but denied, for years, repeatedly, that any sex had happened.
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Things I found in my house indicated otherwise. This man I married in a Catholic Church 25 years earlier, who told me early in our marriage that he simply could not tolerate it if I ever broke our vows, who went to Mass and presented himself publicly as a good Catholic husband and father, was a serial adulterer.
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An online support group for victims of adultery proposes that all adultery is abuse, because it requires lies, diversion of time, energy, funds, and devotion, and it exposes innocent spouses to potentially deadly diseases without their knowledge. In reading the shared stories, I saw wide patterns of abuse – ones that were more familiar to me than I had previously been brave enough to admit to myself.
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I was a Catholic wife, you see – a good one, one with steely determination to stay married no matter what. I never missed Mass, prayed for my husband every day . . . I was pleasant, cooperative and loving to him, supportive of his career and never demanding or critical. I started buying “How to have a good Christian marriage” books before the ink was dry on our wedding license. If there was a “How to be a good wife” article, I had read it and tried to followed it. We had been through terrible times including him moving away for an extended time, but I thought we had weathered the storm. It wasn’t until I admitted to myself – in the surreal safety of new circumstances – that I had suffered abuse for years.
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I am safe because I am writing anonymously and because my abusive marriage is unequivocally over, but I remember what life was like before. I was never physically beaten, although he said I deserved it. He told me that he (who was trained in hand to hand combat) could snap my neck in a second. The fact that he was holding my head in a wrestling lock at the time, and I saw nothing odd in that interaction, is eerily telling of how accustomed to abuse I was. There was rage and verbal abuse, rage driving, manipulation, and threats to abandon or divorce me. When I learned of the serial adultery, I had to reprocess twenty-five years of memories, realizing I was being lied to and betrayed the whole time.
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Why write about this? Because I believe that Catholic culture creates a dangerously optimistic expectation for marriage, encouraging people to strive and not give up, as if their effort can make any marriage thrive. For many many people, that is the best advice; but some of us live (or lived) in situations where covert abuse masked the hidden truth that one of the spouses in the marriage is too disordered (by sin, mental illness, addiction or other issues) to function in a Sacramental Union. Very often the faithful spouse suffers in isolation, feeling compelled to endure more abuse to be faithful to their marriage, family, Church.
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They need to hear that they aren’t alone, that they are loved and that they need to make hard decisions based on the situation they are actually living, not based on who they hope their spouse might turn into.
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Do you have to leave, once you recognize that your partner is incapable of being in a Sacramental marriage? I don’t think so, but I believe you are in for the discernment task of your life. There were many reasons why I never left – some of them reasonable and some of them (namely my hope and optimism) were horribly misguided and not reality based. I go from being really proud of myself for doing exactly what I vowed to do (literally until death did us part) to being very angry with myself for not being brave enough to see what was right in front of me.
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In some ways my now adult children benefitted from an intact family, but in other ways, my late husband’s negative influence on their adult personalities is much worse than I feared it might be.
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What can the Church do to help people in this situation?
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–Priests and deacons need to look for signs of adultery, abuse, mental illness and addictions when people come for counseling. A number of them missed huge red flags in our case.
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–Folks with long, loving marriages could be humbly thankful, rather than prideful, almost shaming other people who you assume “give up so easily.” You might be surprised how much it hurts the widowed and abandoned to hear bragging about how long you have been married.
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–Create safe places where your friends can share confidences about adultery. There is a lot of victim-blaming. Although forgiveness is a good goal, pressuring people to offer it up immediately allows adulterers to avoid the natural immediate consequences of their sin, and it doesn’t help real healing; and it burdens the victim more than it heals the situation.
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–If you have any influence at all in media, Catholic or otherwise, please (and I beg you from the deepest depths of my broken heart) never ever again publish anything akin to “How to Affair-Proof your Marriage.” In reality, even the very best most faithful and loving person cannot remove from their spouse the free will that God gave them. You cannot control if your spouse breaks their vows. Only they control that. Articles like these imply that we have control that we simply don’t have. I know that is frightening, and I’m sorry for that, but it’s true.
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–When people show you repeatedly who they are, believe them. The biggest long term mistake I made was believing if he fully understood how much he hurt me, then he would stop. We often think if people have the right data, they will make the right decisions. I wrote him letter after letter after letter, begging him to treat me with a baseline level of decency that he would not violate, and he simply refused.
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So I gave my whole heart to a man who abused me, lied, cheated and manipulated me, and then he died and left me to finish raising our children.
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Did I despair? Am I mad at God and resent the years I gave? No. God walked with me and guided me and helped me heal, and I have chosen to live the best life I can. In the depths, I felt great reassurance that God would bless my faithfulness. I remember saying “I wonder if God will restore my marriage or I will live as a contented single or if I will find love again.” Oddly enough, I actually received all three things (with the caveat that my “restored” marriage was lived without all the details I later learned, so it was not properly informed).
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How could I ever trust again? I decided that a willingness to trust was not something I would let my abusive husband take from me.
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For the suffering, please know that God hasn’t abandoned you, but ask Him His will and try to not be afraid of His answer. He might tell you to flee.
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Protect yourself. Protect your children. I know the horror of realizing the one you trusted the very most is your greatest danger. Be strong even when you live awful moments when people blame you. Know that what you lived scares them, because they want to feel immune from it, and distancing themselves from you helps that process. Know your Father in Heaven treasures you and you can still be a good Catholic despite life not turning out as you had hoped.

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ADMIN NOTE: Here are some resources that might be helpful to you if you think you may be in an abusive marriage.  Not all abuse is physical. Please do not assume it’s “not really abuse” if it’s not physical.
When I Call For Help: A Pastoral Response To Domestic Violence Against Women. An overview from the USCCB on the Church’s teaching about abuse within marriage, with some resources for what to do next.

What is domestic violence?

Catholic role models who escaped abusive marriages: Rose Hawthorne, founder of the hospice movement; Catherine Doherty, founder of Madonna House; St. Margaret of Cortona.

“Has he really changed?” (source unknown)

Image at top by Crosa via Flickr (Creative Commons)