Why the Fr. Luke Reese scandal is everybody’s business

This week, Fr. Luke Reese of Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis will stand trial for allegedly kidnapping, beating, and sexually assaulting his wife over the course of eighteen hours. Some of the alleged assault occurred in front of the altar of the church.

Why did we break this story, knowing that the couple’s children would read it? And why is it the business of some freelancer in New Hampshire who doesn’t even go to that church? What good can come of publicizing yet another scandal?

When Fr. Reese was arrested, the Holy Rosary pastor, who allegedly saw Mrs. Reese’s battered face, only informed his parishioners that Reese would be going on leave.  The pastor said in the bulletin:

 If you do ask [about what happened], 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.

But the Fr. Reese story is everybody’s business. Here’s why:

If a Catholic priest is accused of brutalizing his wife inside a church, it’s news. It just is. If someone who works in child protective services is accused of abusing children, it’s news, and the community has a right to know. If someone who prepares food to the public is accused of serving poison, it’s news, and the community has a right to know. If a priest whose job it is to act in persona Christi is accused of betraying his family in such a scandalous and public fashion, it’s news, and the community has a right to know.

But there’s more to these allegations than a compelling story.

Questions the parishioners of Holy Rosary Parish have a right to ask:

Is this the first time Fr. Reese has been accused of physically abusing his wife while he was parochial vicar at Holy Rosary? If not, who was aware of the allegations regarding his behavior? If there were other allegations, why did no one call the police, and why was Fr. Reese allowed to continue as priest?

The affidavit that describes the alleged brutalization of Mrs. Reese doesn’t describe a brief, intemperate lashing out in a moment of distress, but a many-hours-long ordeal wherein he allegedly drove her to various places, allegedly assaulted her in different ways, and even allegedly forced her bodily into his own church in front of the altar where he says Mass, allegedly continuing to assault her there.

In light of these accusations, we must ask what kind of advice Fr. Reese had been giving in confession? What would he say to a penitent who is beating his wife? What would he say to an abused wife? Was he involved in marriage preparation, and was he tasked with teaching young Catholics about the Church’s approach to married life? According to a statement by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in 2016, Reese’s duties included “offer[ing] pastoral counseling to people experiencing family difficulties.” Are those he counseled aware of the allegations made against him?

We ask again: Will Holy Rosary be reconsecrated, since the crimes alleged would clearly constitute desecration? The congregation has a right to know if their church and altar have been desecrated, just as they’d have a right to know what happened if someone stole the tabernacle, broke a window, or embezzled funds from the soup kitchen. It is their church.

Questions about the Church’s legal and financial responsibility:

Fr. Reese is a member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which is a relatively new and growing institution established in 2012 to enable groups of Anglicans to join the Catholic Church “while preserving elements of their liturgical and spiritual patrimony.”

As more Anglican priests join the Ordinariate, often bringing their wives and children into the Church with them, the laity may reasonably wonder what the Church’s legal and financial responsibility is to these priests and their families.

Will the Ordinariate, which has authority over Fr. Reese, pay his legal fees? When Reese was ordained, the archdiocese of Indiana said that “leaders in the ordinariate and the archdiocese have worked to make sure that he’ll be able to financially support his family through what he’ll earn through his priestly ministry.” If the couple divorces, as the Reeses plan to do, will the Ordinariate or the Archdiocese of Indianapolis be legally responsible for Mrs. Reese’s alimony? If Reese is removed from ministry, will the Church help to support the Reese’s seven children? If he is convicted, is the Church legally responsible for what their priests do, especially if they are done inside the church building?

Questions about how Ordinariate priests are formed and vetted:

The Ordinariate can ordain its own laymen as priests, but it primarily receives former Anglican priests and then forms and ordains them as Catholic priests. This was the case with Fr. Reese.

What kind of formation do these formerly Anglican priests receive before they are ordained in the Ordinariate? Is their formation as extensive and comprehensive as seminarians not in the Ordinariate?

The Catholic Church makes an effort to filter out seminarians who are psychologically or temperamentally unfit for ordination. If an Anglican priest wants to join the Ordinariate, does the Catholic Church do its own vetting process, or does it rely on the vetting the Anglican Church has already done? Are priests sometimes hurried through the process, either as a courtesy to the Anglican Church, or because there is such a dire need for vocations in the Catholic Church?

What precedent will Bishop Lopes set?

After Fr. Reese’s legal case is complete, we will be watching very closely to see how Bishop Lopes and other ecclesial authorities will respond.  Because the Ordinariate is so new, whatever Bishop Lopes does will set a precedent. There is no reason to doubt his integrity as he faces the monumental challenge of developing an entirely new canonical structure; but by definition, he is making it up as he goes along. The Fr. Reese case will put severe pressure on a system that isn’t yet fully formed.

The Anglican Church is already understandably sensitive about the Ordinariate, and there is also some resistance to it from some corners of the Catholic Church. It’s already a difficult balance to proceed “as an instrument of Catholic unity.” No one hoped that the Ordinariate would  debut with an ugly scandal; and yet this is the challenge Bishop Lopes faces.

And so the bishop has a choice. He can, in the name of unity and charity, sweep this story under the rug, so as not to tarnish the reputation of the Ordinariate and further complicate relations between the Anglican and Catholic Churches.

Or, he can take this scandal as an opportunity to show the world that the Catholic Church is done sweeping scandal under the rug.

In a statement in February of 2018, the Ordinariate said:

Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter has pledged the diocese’s full cooperation with the civil authorities conducting the investigation. The Ordinariate is committed to collaborating with authorities to ensure justice is provided for all concerned, and affirms the Catholic Church’s clear teaching that domestic violence is never justified.

It breaks my heart to say so, but in the year 2018, we do not have the luxury of assuming the Catholic Church will do the right thing. Wave upon wave of scandal still continue to break.

If Luke Reese is convicted, we hope and pray that Bishop Lopes will respond with a clear message: No more hiding abuse in the name of avoiding bad press. No more cover for predators in the name of Christ. Never again
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Mugshot of Luke Reese courtesy of Fox59 News

Will Holy Rosary be reconsecrated after desecration by Fr. Luke Reese?

Fr. Luke Reese, Parochial Vicar of Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis, dragged his wife through a violent, 18-hour ordeal in October, beating, choking and slapping her, throwing her against walls, kidnapping and sexually assaulting her, according to court records. The assaults reportedly occurred in his car, en route to her grandmother’s house, and in their home.

He also forced his wife to come inside Holy Rosary Church, and he assaulted her before the altar, his wife told police.

According to the probable cause affidavit filed in court: Still wearing clerical garb, Fr. Reese made his wife to kneel before the altar, hitting her in the face, pulling her hair, and putting his hands around her neck, and threatening to choke her as he demanded the password to her cell phone. He then threw her into a wall in the church before forcing her out of the building and back into his car. He then continued to physically and sexually assault her for another several hours.

Mugshot of Luke Reese courtesy of Fox59 News

Fr. Reese has been charged with several crimes, including criminal confinement with bodily injury, criminal confinement where a vehicle is used, kidnapping, domestic battery, battery resulting in bodily injury, and intimidation. He has been released on bond, and his trial is scheduled for May.

According to local paper The Indy Star,

the ordinariate said Reese has been barred from performing any public ministry since he was placed on leave.

“Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter has pledged the diocese’s full cooperation with the civil authorities conducting the investigation,” the statement reads. “The Ordinariate is committed to collaborating with authorities to ensure justice is provided for all concerned, and affirms the Catholic Church’s clear teaching that domestic violence is never justified.”

Reese faces jail time. But his alleged crimes leave an aftermath that is not merely a legal matter, but a spiritual and canonical one.

Fr. Reese allegedly beat, threatened, and degraded his wife while forcing her to kneel before the consecrated altar. He is a priest who offers the holy sacrifice of the Mass at that altar. Do Reese’s alleged actions inside Holy Rosary constitute desecration? Does the church need to be reconsecrated?

Canonist and author Peter Vere said in an interview Tuesday:

“Given the alleged facts that have emerged … I am not certain how one could avoid concluding that a serious violation of the church’s sacred character had taken place.”

Vere said, “Certainly the act is grave, especially coming from an ordained priest. It was perpetuated at least in part in a sacred space. And it gives rise to scandal among both Catholics and non-Catholics.”

According to Canon 1211, the local Ordinary is the one who decides whether a serious enough violation has occurred.  If he judges the acts are grave, injurious, and scandalous enough to qualify as a violation of a sacred place, the church will need to be reconsecrated.

The local Ordinary, says Vere, could be the pope, the diocesan bishop, the Vicar General, or an episcopal vicar.

On what basis does the Ordinary make his judgment? The Navarre commentary on Canon 1211 says that there are three conditions which constitute a violation of sacred space. It says:

These conditions — necessary, but not sufficient — are: 1) the act is grave and injurious; 2) it gives rise to scandal; and 3) it was perpetrated in the sacred space. In order to ascertain whether an act fulfilling these conditions gives rise to the violation of a sacred place, one must refer to the judgment of the local Ordinary, unless he himself has previously enumerated the facts that constitute a violation . . . today, the sensitivity of the faithful to the scandal that has been produced should be considered as a criterion for assessing the scope of the facts.

 

Before a church is reconsecrated, there must be reparation for the desecration.

According to Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university, “no sacred rite may be celebrated in the church” until reparation for the desecration has been carried out.

“Preaching to prepare for the penitential rite may be carried out. The people are encouraged to avail themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation, which should be celebrated in another church. To symbolize penance, the Ceremonial recommends: “The altar of the church should be stripped bare and all customary signs of joy and gladness should be put away, for example, lights flowers, and other such articles.”

Fr. McNamara says that “the Mass of reparation is the preferred mode,” and that “it is fitting that the bishop presides at the rite of reparation.” Here is a more detailed description of that rite.

Vere says it’s common for Church authorities to wait until civil authorities have completed their work. Vere said:

“Before any action is undertaken, the local Ordinary would first need to establish what happened. Right now the priest has been charged but his case has not yet gone to court. It is not unusual in Canada or the United States for Catholic ecclesiastical authorities to hold off canonical action until criminal charges by civil authorities are resolved.”

Vere said it would be unusual for reconciliation and reconsecration to take place without the inclusion of the congregation, “because liturgy is the Church’s public prayer and thus generally open to participation by the faithful,” and because the story is now public, and thus “many of the faithful have been affected.”

“Pastorally, these are the people the Church will want to reconcile by the liturgical action prescribed,” said Vere.

Fr. Ryan McCarthy, pastor of Holy Rosary Church, warned his congregation in an October 1 bulletin announcement:

Please do not ask me the details of Father Reese’s situation … If you do ask, I will politely but firmly tell you to “mind your own business.”

The current bulletin, dated February 25, makes no mention of the Fr. Reese scandal. Reese is still designated as Parochial Vicar on the front page, and his name was only removed from the parish website after our story broke. On page four is a message from Pastor McCarthy regarding the blessing of same-sex unions. McCarthy says:

All of us as human beings, whatever our strengths or weaknesses, have a right to be treated with the respect that our God-given dignity demands. We also have a right to hear the truth, whether it pleases us or not — even if it unhappily seems to complicate the unity of the Church herself.

Greg Otolski, communications director for the archdiocese, has returned none of our numerous calls, emails, and text messages. We have also received no response from the Ordinariate despite numerous requests.

 

Image: Holy Rosary Church interior, photo by Joe Grabowski.

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)