Church Militant’s board covered up for founder Michael Voris as he allegedly groomed male staffers while openly living a double life and paying staffers “poverty wages” while giving himself raises, according to several ex-employees who say they were fired for speaking out this week.
“The very cover-up tactics that Church Militant has railed against for 15 years are now being used against faithful former employees,” the group said in a fundraising statement.
Voris, who resigned just before Thanksgiving, is still a board member and is already planning a comeback, they said. Voris’ return to being in front of the camera was always part of the plan when he resigned for violating Church Militant’s morality clause, they said.
The group of eight Church Militant employees led by Dave Gordon say they were forced out of the organization’s Ferndale, Michigan offices on Friday, seven with police escorts. The group is now trying to raise $255,000 to “save the apostolate.”
As of Saturday morning they had raised $50.
Voris, who claims to have been cured of homosexuality, was allegedly actively pursuing homosexual encounters, including with employees, they said. Voris’ lifestyle was known to board members.
“Our band of brothers was formed in light of the recent revelations that our former CEO Michael Voris had re-embraced the homosexual lifestyle while the Board of Directors attempted to cover it up,” they said.
The group said they protested the layoff of one employee during a board meeting, and called for the board to step down. Their statement lays out their reasons as follows:
“1. Entertaining allowing Michael Voris, who seemingly groomed a former employee and lived a homosexual double life while posturing as a beacon of Christian virtue, to resume employment at Church Militant after he completes a 12-step program
Delaying naming a CEO beyond what is necessary to responsibly vet and appoint a successor
Advocating to deceive donors by putting out an official statement that Voris resigned due to health concerns
Turning on an employee for vigorously objecting to renewed Church Militant employment for Voris and to a deceptively worded statement explaining Voris’ resignation.
Failing to come up with a content plan that would ensure Church Militant’s future success.
Keeping Michael Voris on the board of directors as a nonvoting member.”
Gordon released a video in the early morning hours of Saturday, but made it private a couple of hours later.
“Guys, I’m overtired and mad and not thinking clearly. I want to think hard about whether posting that Church Militant video is in fact morally right. So I’ve put it as private for now. Will make the call tomorrow,” Gordon wrote on Twitter/X.
Viewers who watched the video while it was still public say Gordon alleges Voris was sending semi-nude photos to staffers, sent one such photo to a potential donor, invited an employee to his house while gay porn was playing on his computer, and groomed at least one male staffer. At least one such photo has been circulated on Twitter.
Gordon and the employees also accuse Voris of financial mismanagement. Gordon reportedly said they were paid poverty wages while Voris gave himself raises.
In the GiveSendGo appeal, the ex-employees say, “We have little doubt that St. Michaels Media / Church Militant will come at us with legal action. Two group members have already been contacted by Church Militant’s lawyer Kate Klaus.” Klaus is one of the attorneys who quit the legal case attempting to defend Church Militant against defamation, after Niles was caught hiding evidence during her deposition.
Gordon also said on Twitter/X that Church Militant “forgot to sign” his nondisclosure agreement, and that he has revoked consent to their lawyer.
Days before a morality clause violation forced Gary Michael Voris to resign his job leading St. Michael’s Media, Voris’ attorney Richard Lehmann asked United States District Court Judge Joseph LaPlante to delay the upcoming trial in the federal defamation lawsuit.
Voris is the face of St. Michael’s Media and its news outlet, Church Militant. He started the organization almost 20 years ago, and his presence on the cruise voyage is essential, Lehmann wrote in his motion seeking a delay.
“Defendant Voris is a significant draw for participants, who register in large part to hear his presentations and have an opportunity to meet him for private conversations, meals, and other events,” Lehmann wrote.
The cruise generates substantial revenue for Voris and his organizations. Lehmann wrote that last year’s voyage garnered $128,000.
With the “Retreat at Sea” scheduled for Feb. 4 through Feb. 11, LaPlante agreed to set the trial start back to Feb. 13.
“Sometimes it takes very horrible events, even at your own hand, to surface certain things that need to be faced,” Voris said.
Lehmann declined to comment when asked how the sudden change in Voris’ employment status might impact the defamation case.
The delay of the trial date might be the last bit of good news for Voris’ defense.
Both Voris former Church Militant personality Christine Niles are now personally under court order to produce evidence de Laire claims they have been hiding since the case started in 2021. Lawyers for de Laire say the two sat on incriminating texts and emails, destroyed evidence, and even interfered with the testimony of Marc Balestrieri, the key witness who has once again disappeared, according to court records.
Niles and Voris have until Dec. 5 to file statements under oath attesting they have made good faith efforts to find and hand over the evidence or face serious sanctions, like automatically losing the case and setting up a trial for the damages they will have to pay de Laire.
“Failure to comply with this court order, or failure to make the required productions referenced above, could result in entry of a default judgment against one or more defendants,” LaPlante wrote in his Nov. 16 order.
But since they’re both out at Church Militant, it remains to be seen if Niles and Voris can even comply with LaPlante’s order. Niles resigned Nov. 9, and Voris was pushed out Nov. 21. The uncertainty creates the possibility for yet another delay in the trial. Lawyers for de Laire have repeatedly accused Voris and Church Militant of stalling in order to drive up his legal costs.
As of Nov. 22, there were no disclosures on file in the United States District Court in Concord that Niles and Voris are no longer employed at Church Militant. Interestingly, the allegedly defamatory articles about de Laire no longer appear on Church Militant’s website.
Voris and Niles resignations unexplained
Voris’ ouster from Church Militant came as a shock to his legions of fans. The controversial media mini-magnate isn’t saying why he’s no longer leading the organization, other than to get help with some sort of dark and ugly secret that’s impaired his life.
The board statement, which they call “fully transparent,” simply states Voris violated the morality clause and is seeking help for his health.
But Niles, who has been with Voris and Church Militant for almost a decade, dropped hints in a video of her own put out Tuesday night. Niles claims she resigned on Nov. 9 by bringing a damning letter to the board detailing Voris’ transgressions, but she refused in the video to say what they were.
“I’m not in the business of detraction,” Niles said.
Niles did offer that Voris seemed to have undergone a personality change in recent years, including a seeming loss of fervor for his very public faith. Voris stopped attending the mandatory Church Militant prayer sessions, she claimed, as well as committing whatever misconduct that is seemingly at the center of the sudden resignations.
Niles did say Voris’ actions have hurt and scandalized people at Church Militant.
“To say that I am heartbroken and furious is an understatement. There’s a lot of anger, there is a great deal of anger over this,” Niles said.
But why now?
The resignation mystery is unfolding as the de Laire lawsuit appears to be going poorly for Voris, with new allegations surfacing that he used Church Militant money to buy Balestrieri’s testimony with an interest-free loan, and then threatened Balestrieri when it seemed his testimony could hurt the defense.
Voris and former Church Militant writer Anita Carey were scheduled to go to trial in September in de Laire’s lawsuit. Church Militant as an entity is also a defendant in the case. Voris’ attempts to hide key facts and witnesses have already delayed the start of the trial, according to court records.
Rev. de Laire, the judicial vicar for the Manchester New Hampshire Diocese, sued Voris after Church Militant published videos and articles attacking de Laire as incompetent, emotionally unbalanced, and considered a “troublemaker” by his superiors in Rome.
Balestrieri is a canon lawyer with a penchant for secrecy. In a recent deposition under oath, Voris himself called Balestrieri “squirrelly” when it comes to matters of privacy. Since he wants to protect his image with Church officials he works with, Balestrieri is loath to have it known he has been a secret Church Militant author and source for years, Voris said.
“Marc’s great overarching concern was always being worried that his providing information — sometimes extraordinarily sensitive information — on all kinds of cases — that he was always very squirrelly about any of that being found out … He was always — for obvious reasons, because of retaliation and, you know, not viewed as trustworthy by, you know, individuals in the Church who would care about that sort of thing,” Voris testified in a recent deposition.
Lawyers for de Laire used the fact Voris hid Balestrieri as one of the arguments for a summary judgment, essentially asking for a finding by a judge instead of a jury in his favor. By the time the summary judgment question was heading for a hearing, Balestrieri had already been added to the lawsuit as a defendant and found in default.
Balestrieri repeatedly dodged process servers for months, at one point actually running into the woods to evade a server, prompting LaPlante to declare him liable for the defamation last year. Assuming the case ever gets to a jury, Balestrieri will automatically be on the hook for damages no matter what happens to Voris.
But it was the June 15 summary judgment hearing that continues to cause problems for Voris. After being unfindable for months, Balestrieri made a surprise appearance at that hearing claiming he was ready to set the record straight. The day before the hearing, Balestrieri emailed the court announcing his intention to challenge the default judgment and tell his side of the story.
“(He wished to) ‘have my day in court’ to defend myself against the false accusations of fact and claims that have been asserted by more than one party against me,” Balestrieri wrote.
This spelled trouble for Voris.
Good friends make bad loans
With the disclosure that Balestrieri is the man behind the disputed articles revealed in early 2022, a mutual panic seems to have set in, according to newly released evidence.
Voris needed Balestrieri’s sources, the people he relied on to write the articles about de Laire. At the same time, Balestrieri needed to keep his name off the lawsuit. Though Balestrieri has been named as the author in court documents filed in the spring of 2022, he was not yet named as a defendant in the lawsuit. That would happen in October of 2022 over Voris’ objections.
New evidence shows Voris not only hid that Balestrieri wrote the articles, but he hid the fact Balestrieri was heavily involved in the early days of the legal defense.
When de Laire sent Church Militant a letter demanding a retraction in January of 2019, soon after publication, the Church Militant response letter was drafted by Balestrieri, according to new evidence. Balestrieri didn’t sign the letter, though. Voris signed the response sent to de Laire’s attorneys, giving the impression he wrote the letter and not Balestrieri.
Voris would later acknowledge in his August deposition that he presumed Balestrieri had been communicating with his lawyers when they drafted the original answer to de Laire’s lawsuit.
With pressure mounting, Voris and Balestrieri had a meeting at Voris’ house in June of 2022. During the heated conversation, Voris demanded Balestrieri divulge his sources. Balestrieri was hesitant, because his sources who allegedly called de Laire’s ability, competence, mental state, and general character into question were involved in delicate canonical matters like marriage and annulment cases.
“[W]ell, you know, Marc, these are your sources and if they won’t step up, well, then you have to,” Voris said, according to his August deposition.
Voris testified that he had been “forceful” in this conversation and had raised his voice at Balestrieri.
Yet, during this contentious meeting, it was Church Militant as a corporation, not Voris personally, that loaned Balestrieri the $65,000, according to the loan agreement filed in court. The interest-free loan was to be paid back by the end of 2022, but otherwise carried no restriction.
When asked under oath, Voris said Church Militant giving Balestrieri a loan in the midst of an argument about sources was simply a “coincidence of time.”
Communications between Voris and Balestrieri since handed over indicate the canon lawyer and ghostwriter was struggling to pay medical bills for his ailing mother.
After Balestrieri was added to the lawsuit as a defendant, and the matter started to attract attention on Catholic social media, a worried Balestrieri texted Voris in November of 2022. Voris’ response was to remind Balestrieri about the loan.
“Also, you should know, that what I presume is going to be a failure to repay as agreed, we are likely going to have to lay off at least one person. You agreed to pay the $70K and so far haven’t,” Voris texted on Nov. 28 2022.
The Richmond Slaves splintered from the Still River, Massachusetts Slaves in the 1980’s over disputes about watering down founder Rev. Leonard Feeney’s message. Still River leaders sought recognition within the Church, and that meant toning down their interpretation of“No Salvation Outside The Church,” which got Feeney excommunicated.
The Richmond Slaves didn’t want recognition if it meant giving up their beliefs. The group started the St. Benedict Center with an order for men and women, as well as a school. Villarubia took over as leader around 2010.
He had been part of the Richmond Slaves efforts for accommodation with the Manchester Diocese, agreeing in 2009 to disavow the open anti-semitism in the Slaves’ prior writings. In exchange, Manchester gave the group permission to have a traditional Latin Mass celebrated, assuming they could find a priest in good standing.
But “No Salvation Outside the Church” continued to cause friction for the Slaves. Villarubia appealed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, basically arguing he and the other Richmond Slaves should be free to hold to their interpretation of the doctrine.Even after the CDF rejected this argument and considered the matter closed in 2016, the group persisted in holding to the Feeneyite message.
Unbowed, Villarubia raised money to fight the precepts in Rome. His canon lawyer? Balestrieri.
Just weeks after the precepts were issued in January of 2019, Voris was in New Hampshire interviewing Villarubia, and Church Militant published video reports and stories about the controversy and attacking de Laire as an incompetent.
Among the questionable facts Voris/Balestrieri included in their articles is the fact de Laire owns a million dollar house. The articles question how the priest could afford the luxury home.
Rev. de Laire is assigned to a parish in Manchester, and lists that address as his residence. The home, in nearby Amherst, was bought for his elderly mother. The de Laire family are heirs to a French perfume fortune, a fact seemingly missed by Voris and Balestrieri.
Balestrieri worked on getting the precepts overturned. But the appeal was rejected by Rome after Balestrieri missed the deadline.
The lawsuit against Church Militant snared Villarubia, requiring him to sit for depositions with de Laire’s lawyers. The March deposition Villarubia gave under oath this year included a missile aimed at Voris.
In June of 2022, around the time a shouting Voris gave a worried Balestrieri a $65,000 loan, Villarubia learned about Balestrieri’s authorship of the alleged defamatory articles for the first time. This obvious conflict of interest unnerved Villarubia enough that he decided to fire Balestrieri, according to the deposition. That’s when Balestrieri made a stunning claim.
“And I said this is a problem, that Michael Voris said you wrote the article and you’re our canon lawyer. And [Balestrieri] said ‘I didn’t write the article.’ He vehemently denied authorship of the article,” Villarubia said during his March deposition. “I simply thought that that should be on the record. Obviously, Marc’s chosen not to defend himself, but I have this information, and I thought that this should be part of the record.”
Villarubia further speculated Voris might have written the article with Balestrieri in a collaborative effort. Either way, the question was now open if Voris lied when he originally claimed authorship of the articles, or when he later put the onus on Balestrieri.
Voris knew Balestrieri planned to say something at the June 15 hearing, and he worried it would be a denial about writing the articles.
The hearing transcript depicts an odd scene in which Balestrieri does not appear to understand the court proceedings, does not realize he is about to be served with subpoenas to give a deposition, and refuses to give the court his address, claiming to live a “nomadic” lifestyle.
Soon, however, it is agreed during the hearing that Balestrieri will sit for a July 12 deposition with de Laire’s attorneys and answer questions under oath.
A now concerned Voris, despite claiming for months he had no way to contact Balestrieri, arranged for a staffer to send Balestrieri a text he composed with a warning.
“Marc – you are committing perjury. You know you wrote that article. What you don’t know is this morning we found proof – your digital fingerprints – all totally documented – on that article. Remember the email address – TomMoore@Churchmilitant.com.? We have all the receipts. You go through with this and we will rain down on you publicly. You are a liar, and a Welch,” Voris wrote.
Knowing what Villarubbia said about Balestrieri’s denial, Voris wanted proof that Balestrieri was the original author. So on June 15 he ordered his Church Militant team, including Niles and Chief of Staff Simon Rafe, to find the Google Drive drafts, emails, text messages, and other evidence Niles and others had previously claimed could not be found or did not exist, according to court records.
Sometime between receiving the “Welch” text and the July 12 deposition date, Balestrieri had second thoughts. On July 11 he let de Laire’s lawyers know he would not show up, and he since has gone missing again.
Lawyers for de Laire argue the “Welch” text was a clear threat to the publicity adverse Balestrieri, and the prior Nov. 28 text about the loan show Voris has been attempting to manipulate Balestrieri and his testimony.
Voris denied he was threatening Balestrieri, but insisted in his August deposition that he was concerned for the elusive canon lawyer’s soul.
“[I was] troubled he was going to perjure himself,” Voris testified. “First of all, that’s a sin to take an oath before God and then lie. It’s a mortal sin, which is in the category of pretty darn bad in Catholicism.”
But in trying to save his friend from sin, and prove he didn’t write the article himself, the new evidence Voris turned over after the June 15 hearing was a double-edged sword. It showed the court Voris had been hiding evidence, and might be hiding more.
After Balestrieri skipped his deposition, the court ordered Voris and Niles to sit for new depositions, during which more evidence that had been hidden came to light.
Deposition of a law school graduate
Niles, Church Militant’s senior investigative reporter and unofficial in-house counsel, was now fully enmeshed in the lawsuit when she sat for her Aug. 9 court-ordered deposition.
Niles provided the court in June with a signed affidavit detailing the evidence she had recently found in a Church Militant Google Drive that proves Balestrieri’s authorship. In her affidavit, Niles explained she never turned over the drafts proving Balestrieri wrote the articles because she forgot to check the Google Drive.
“In all sincerity, I forgot that he did not email me the article, but shared it through his Google Drive under his alternate email email@example.com,” Niles wrote in her affidavit.
But, Niles’ affidavit also raised a new set of problems for Church Militant.
Her signed statement made clear Niles was not Church Militant’s lawyer, in-house or any other kind. But Voris had refused, in earlier depositions, to answer questions about his conversation with Niles, citing attorney-client privilege.
Niles would need to answer questions about her work status, as well as the evidence on Balestrieri she found after June 15, evidence she and Voris had previously claimed didn’t exist.
During her Aug. 9 deposition, Niles confirmed that she graduated law school, and then clerked for a state supreme court justice for two years. Then, she gave up her law practice to be a stay-at-home mom.
Niles never argued a case in court, never represented a defendant, and when she moved to Michigan, where Church Militant is headquartered, never joined that state’s Bar Association. Niles is a licensed attorney in another state, though her status is inactive.
Around 2014, Niles turned her part-time copyediting and proofreading skills into a job at Church Militant, and moved to Michigan to launch her career. In that time, she testified, she acted as a sort of informal legal adviser, but she was never Church Militant’s attorney.
But it was her next admission that really tripped up Church Militant’s defense. When asked if she had any communication with Balestrieri in 2022 concerning the lawsuit, Niles said she had sent him at least one text. She had never turned that over doing the discovery phase because she “was never asked,” even though de Laire’s team had been seeking such communication for months.
At this point, Church Militant attorneys Kathleen Klaus and Neil Nicholson called for a short break in Niles’ deposition. When they restarted ten minutes later, the lawyer handed over pages of text messages from Nile’s phone showing that she and Balestrieri engaged in multiple conversations about the lawsuit over the course of several months.
“These text messages, in addition to testimony of Niles and Voris, show that Defendants have been working and coordinating with Balestrieri concerning information to be disclosed (or, more accurately, withheld) from Father de Laire throughout the duration of this entire litigation,” de Laire’s lawyers wrote.
Klaus and Nicholson quit the case the day after Niles’ deposition.
“Recent events that have transpired in the litigation have created an unwaivable conflict between Counsel and their clients … Counsel believes this conflict bars them from taking any further action on behalf of their clients,” Klaus and Nicholson wrote to the court.
But Randazza had a reputation for more than fighting for freedom of speech. In 2018, he pleaded guilty to violating the attorney code of ethics in Nevada in a case in which he allegedly solicited pay-offs from companies his porn production client was considering suing.
“There needs to be a little gravy for me,” Randazza emailed an opposing attorney in one lawsuit. “And it has to be more than the $5K you were talking about before. I’m looking at the cost of at least a new Carrera in retainer deposits after circulating around the adult entertainment expo this week. I’m gonna want at least used BMW money.”
Randazza has gone on to represent the likes of Alex Jones and neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin.
LaPlante ordered Randazza off the case last month after de Laire objected. It is not known why Randazza is not being allowed to represent Voris, as LaPlante’s order is under seal. The court docket states there is a new, pending ethics complaint filed against Randazza in another jurisdiction.
That leaves Lehmann as the sole attorney for Church Militant. Lehmann is well-respected in New Hampshire legal circles, but he’s no stranger to culture war skirmishes. He’s the lead attorney for a mother suing the Manchester, New Hampshire School District over her child’s social gender-transitioning. Lehmann was also on former President Donald Trump’s legal team in a failed effort to keep Trump off the New Hampshire presidential primary ballot. When LaPlante agreed to reschedule the trial to accommodate the cruise, he also noted Lehmann’s need to now get up to speed as the lead attorney.
Damien Fisher is married to Simcha Fisher, who is the owner of this site. Simcha Fisher is an independent contractor for Parable Magazine, which is owned by the Diocese of Manchester.
Accused of hiding evidence, lying about on-air talent Christine Niles’ status as an attorney, and even threatening a key witness to keep him from giving a deposition, Voris saw his lawyers quit last month, weeks before the federal defamation trial over his Church Militant stories about New Hampshire’s fringe group Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was set to start.
(N.B. A quick recap of the lawsuit can be foundhere. This article focuses on the seeming melt down happening to Voris’ defense.)
Now, Voris wants to bring in Massachusetts-based lawyer Marc Randazza. The problem? Randazza’s record of double-dealing which resulted in guilty pleas and formal discipline in multiple courts.
Randazza, who got in trouble for his actions in a lawsuit involving gay porno companies, fashions himself as a First Amendment crusader and is popular with Info Wars host Alex Jones, Neo Nazi publisher Andrew Anglin, and right-wing personality Mike Cernovich.
New Hampshire priest Rev. Georges de Laire, the judicial vicar for the Manchester Diocese, is suing Voris over defamatory videos and articles Voris published, and starred in. Voris operates Church Militant and St. Michael’s Media, which produces a news website and Youtube video programs.
Attorney’s for de Laire, Howard Cooper and Suzanne Elovecky, are not amused by Voris’ antics, and told the court Randazza’s hire is another tactic to try to tank the lawsuit without a trial. They now want the court to make Voris pay.
“Defendants have engaged in numerous bad faith tactics in this case. Their actions have deprived Father de Laire of critical testimony, derailed a firm trial date, and made this matter far more expensive and emotionally draining for him than it otherwise should have been. Defendants conduct has been so egregious that Father de Laire will shortly move for the entry of a judgment of liability,” Cooper and Elovecky wrote.
Cooper and Elovecky are asking the federal judge to block Voris from bringing Randazza into the case, and they might have precedent.
In 2019, as Jones was being sued by parents of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, he tried to hire Randazza. However, the judge in the case ruled Randazza’s record of serious misconduct was too much. Randazza was not allowed to represent Jones in the Connecticut court, though his law firm stayed on the case.
The misconduct cited in by the Sandy Hook case judge is that Randazza, while representing gay porno producer Liberty Media Holdings, reportedly also worked on the side for the company Liberty was suing. Records show Randazza even solicited a bribe from the company Liberty was taking action against.
“There needs to be a little gravy for me,” Randazza emailed an opposing attorney in a Liberty lawsuit. “And it has to be more than the $5K you were talking about before. I’m looking at the cost of at least a new Carrera in retainer deposits after circulating around the adult entertainment expo this week. I’m gonna want at least used BMW money.”
A fuller picture of Randazza’s history can be foundhere. In 2018, he pleaded guilty to violating the attorney code of ethics in Nevada. This resulted in reciprocal discipline in other jurisdictions, and the fact Randazza has to disclose his past conduct when he starts a new case.
The reason Voris is even thinking about hiring Randazza in the first place might have to do with another lawyer involved in the de Laire lawsuit, Marc Balestrieri.
Balestrieri is a conservative canon lawyer who once tried to get Sen. John Kerry excommunicated.
He’s also accused of being the real author of the original anonymous article Voris published attacking de Laire in January of 2019. Balestrieri represents the Feeneyite Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary based in Richmond, New Hampshire in their fight against Church sanctions.
Balestrieri disappeared this summer before he was supposed to sit for a deposition with de Laire’s lawyers. The disappearing act came after Voris sent Balestrieri a threatening text message, according to court records.
Backing up a bit, Voris kept Balestrieri’s connection to the article hidden from de Laire and his lawyers for more than a year as the case worked its way through court. It was only in April of 2022 that Voris conceded that he himself was not the author. Eventually, Balestrieri was outed and made a defendant in the lawsuit.
Or he would have been. Balestrieri dodged process servers for months, even running into the woods to evade a server who tracked him to a conference for canon lawyers, according to court records.
The process server watched as Balestrieri called a friend who picked him up near the woods so they could drive away. Finally, in October of last year, Balestrieri was found in default in the defamation lawsuit. When the case is finally resolved, Balestrieri will have to pay damages to de Laire.
Interesting side note: according to court records, Voris loaned Balestrieri around $54,000 in June of 2022. The two would later claim this money was to help pay medical bills for Balestrieri’s sick mother.
Balestrieri stayed out of sight until he made a surprise appearance during a June 15 hearing in the United States District Court in Concord, seeking to have the default judgment lifted. Balestrieri does not have a lawyer, and did not seem to understand the way courts work.
Balestrieri was surprised when Judge Joseph LaPlante told him he was not going to lift the judgment and ordered him to give deposition as a witness. However, Balestrieri told LaPlante he was eager to clear up lies that had been told about him.
True to form, Balestrieri hemmed and hawed before finally agreeing to a date for the deposition. But, Balestrieri refused to give LaPlante or court staff his address. Balestrieri claimed he lived a “nomadic lifestyle.”
The prospect that Balestrieri would give a deposition under oath, and say he was not the author, presented problems for Voris. Voris had said in his court pleadings he did not question Balestrieri’s sources, and trusted the canon lawyer to tell the truth in his reporting.
Already, though, Balestrieri had told at least one person he never wrote the articles at the center of the defamation case. Chief of the Slaves, Louis Villarubia, also known as Brother Andre, had disclosed in his deposition that Balestrieri was claiming he was not the author.
Villarubia testified that he was concerned when he learned in June of last year for the first time that his canon lawyer, Balestrieri, had written the articles. Villarubia questioned Balestrieri about the authorship and the conflict of interest.
“And I said this is a problem, that Michael Voris said you wrote the article and you’re our canon lawyer. And (Balestrieri) said ‘I didn’t write the article.’ He vehemently denied authorship of the article,” Villarubia said during his deposition. “I simply thought that that should be on the record. Obviously, Marc’s chosen not to defend himself, but I have this information, and I thought that this should be part of the record.”
Villarubia further speculated Voris wrote the article with Balestrieri.
After Villarubia’s deposition, Voris and his Church Militant teams scrambled to find evidence linking Balestrieri to the articles. This would result in Voris tripping up himself, and Church Militant co-host Christine Niles. In June and July, Church Militant produced emails and other evidence they say proves Balestrieri’s authorship.
This new evidence backing Voris’s version of events arrived three months after the discovery in the case closed. And a lot of the evidence Church Militant produced were documents they claimed could not be found when previously ordered to do so, according to court records.
Among this new cache of documents was the threatening text message Voris sent Balestrieri on the day of the June 15 hearing. In it, Voris makes it clear Balestrieri must take the credit for the article and not claim otherwise.
“Marc – you are committing perjury. You know you write that article. What you don’t know is this morning we found proof – your digital fingerprints – all totally documented – on that article. Remember the email address – TomMoore@Churchmilitant.com.? We have all the receipts. You go through with this and we will rain down on you publicly. You are a liar, and a Welch,” Voris wrote.
The “welch” insult raises questions in light of the $54,000 loan.
On July 11, Balestrieri called lawyers for de Laire and left a voice mail informing them he would not attend the deposition. He did not give any reason.
The other problem the new evidence presents is Christine Niles’ statement and work status. Along with the June evidence Church Militant found, Niles supplied the court with a signed statement on July 13 laying out the proof that Balestrieri wrote the article. She claims they were able to link him to the pseudonymous email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as drafts of the original article using Google docs. Balestrieri had reportedly used the Tom Moore pen name for years when he wrote articles for Voris.
The excuse for why Niles and Church Militant did not hand over the information linking Balestrieri to the article as previously ordered is an oversight on her part.
“In all sincerity, I forgot that he did not email me the article, but shared it through his Google Drive under his alternate email email@example.com,” Niles wrote in her statement.
Niles’ statement is not great for Voris on another front. In it, she makes clear that she is not a practicing attorney, and does not work as an attorney for Church Militant. Niles is an investigative reporter, according to her statement. That’s new to de Laire’s attorneys who say they were given the impression Niles was in-house counsel for Church Militant.
“This comes as a surprise as St. Michael’s Media d/b/a Church Militant and Defendant Gary Michael Voris have repeatedly claimed privilege over conversations with Ms. Niles, including those that pre-dated litigation and did not include trial counsel,” Elovecky wrote in an affidavit.
(Voris’s real name is Gary.)
For the record, Niles is an attorney who is licensed to practice law in Indiana and listed as “Inactive in Good Standing,” according to court documents. Voris’ lawyers tried to refute the accusation they improperly hid Niles behind attorney-client privilege.
“Mr. Voris never refused to answer any question concerning his communications with Mrs. Niles, on the basis of attorney-client privilege, even though he could have,” Kathleen Klaus, Voris’s now former lawyer wrote.
According to the deposition transcript, it was Klaus who stopped Voris from answering a question about a conversation he had with Niles due to privilege.
By August, the new evidence was causing fallout and the trial was scheduled to start Sept. 6. Lawyers for de Laire were demanding Voris submit to a new deposition to answer under oath exactly who write the article, and that Niles also make herself available for a deposition.
Instead, Klaus and Voris’s other attorney, Neil Nicholson, quit the case. Their Aug. 10 motion to leave does not detail why they are no longer representing Voris, but gives clues.
“Recent events that have transpired in the litigation have created an unwaivable conflict between Counsel and their clients … Counsel believes this conflict bars them from taking any further action on behalf of their clients,” Klaus and Nicholson wrote to the court.
Klaus and Nicholson cite New Hampshire’s Rule of Professional Conduct for attorneys 1.7 (a). That rule, concerning conflicts of interest, states lawyers cannot represent clients when there is a concurrent conflict of interest. That’s defined as: (1) the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or (2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.
Voris does have a New Hampshire lawyer engaged for representation, Richard Lehmann.
It’s been an otherwise rough year for Voris and his crew at Church Militant. This spring, the mini-media mogul was forced to lay off 19 staffers and put the nightly program, Church Militant Evening News, on hiatus.A former staffer claims the company enacted an “austerity” program to save money.
“Phones were removed from reporters’ desks, health benefits were canceled, essential equipment such as printers were not replaced. There was a freeze in hiring and travel,” former Church Militant employee Kristine Christlieb states.
The staff cuts saved Church Militant about $1 million in salary, according to Christlieb.
“The viability of Texas Right to Life is at risk,” claims a lawsuit filed this week by Elizabeth Graham, Jim Graham’s wife.
The lawsuit claims that Texas Right to Life, which was the major force behind the controversial “Texas Heartbeat Act” (SB8), has been in tatters and is rife with infighting after Graham’s husband was forced to resign in October. Elizabeth Graham claims board member Rich DeOtte is using her husband’s disgrace to seize control of the organization, humiliate her, and force her out.
“The purpose of these efforts is to, quite obviously, elevate himself as ‘saviour’ of the organization, take over its helm, and lead its operations,” Elizabeth Graham’s attorney, Brock Akers, wrote in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday.
DeOtte did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday. Walter Pate, a Texas Right to Life board member and another named defendant, declined to comment when reached.
“There is a suit that’s been filed and I cannot speak about it. I don’t trust the press. I don’t trust the press,” Pate said.
The lawsuit includes 50 named plaintiffs: Elizabeth Graham and various stakeholders of the group. That list includes Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in his personal capacity. Miller did not respond to a request for comment.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry was also listed as a plaintiff in the original complaint, but was removed in the amended complaint filed this week.
When Jim Graham was forced to resign as president of Texas Right to Life in October after his affair with Beckman was revealed, Graham’s wife Elizabeth, who was then serving as vice president, took his place. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the organization from ousting her as president.
The lawsuit claims that DeOtte started maneuvering to get Elizabeth Graham removed as soon as she became president. He declared himself chairman of the board, a position that previously did not exist, and he put Teresa Doyle into an interim executive director’s position, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit states that Elizabeth Graham, as president, pushed for severance payments for her husband after his affair threatened both her marriage and the organization. The narrative in the lawsuit is somewhat unclear, but seems to imply that DeOtte used those severance negotiations as leverage to cement his new position as chairman.
Throughout these weeks of strife with the board, Elizabeth Graham was also dealing with the emotional devastation wrought by her husband’s affair, according to the lawsuit. Those close to her urged her to take time off.
“Plaintiff Elizabeth Graham was feeling the need and interest in taking such time off, but was nervous about the continued machinations of the Board members, much of which was going on behind her back,” the lawsuit states.
She was finally assured by Doyle and by another named defendant, human resources consultant and board member Jeff Lowery, that she could safely take time off and return to her job with Texas Right to Life, according to the lawsuit. She was directed by the board’s outside attorney, David Gibbs, not to spend any Texas Right to Life money while she was away.
Elizabeth Graham went on sabbatical from Dec. 14 through March 14. Within weeks of her departure, Lowery raised Doyle’s salary by $35,000, and also raised the salary of nearly all Texas Right to Life employees. Texas Right to Life is a non profit and is, according to the lawsuit, dependent entirely on donations.
“Without an official Board meeting, the raise for new Executive Director Teresa Doyle was put in place along with raises for all other members of the TxRTL staff. Everyone, that is, except Plaintiff Elizabeth Graham,” the lawsuit states. Graham, in fact, was demoted while she was gone.
Elizabeth Graham returned from her sabbatical and found that not only had she alone not gotten a raise, and must now report to Doyle.
“Plaintiff was dumbfounded, hurt, and left wondering how the events which came to light in October, of which she was frankly a victim not a participant, could have resulted in this turn of events,” the lawsuit states.
Before she returned to work in March, Gibbs told Elizabeth Graham that she could not go to the office until she met with Doyle and Lowery to discuss her newly demoted role. Graham was also told the annual board meeting, set for this week, would now take place offsite from the Texas Right to Life offices in Houston, which she took as an affront.
Elizabeth Graham responded by getting her own lawyer, and on March 22, Gibbs sent Graham a letter terminating her employment. The lawsuit accuses DeOtte and others of violating Texas Right to Life’s bylaws by firing her without following the correct procedures. She is seeking an injunction against Texas Right to Life over her termination. A hearing on the injunction is set for April 12 in the 165th District Court in Houston.
The struggle for control of Texas Right to Life echoes a similar upheaval at the organization headed by Kari Beckman, Jim Graham’s partner in the illicit affair that led to his own ouster.
The Legion is now allegedly using the abuse reporting process itself as a way of identifying and silencing victims:
Sources tell NH Reporter that the order has been using the process of reporting on itself to identify victims of abuse, and offer payments in exchange for silence. Center Harbor Police Chief Mark Chase has said several victims stopped talking to him after receiving payments.
An attorney who has helped Legion victims told NH Reporter that the victims are required to sign an agreement before getting the money. The lawyer said the Legion was misleading victims by telling them that their legal claims were timed out, and then it offered them each up to $10,000 in exchange for signing the agreement.
“(A) release of claims that is so broadly drafted that it would include anything the Legion would do to them in the future, such as running them over with a car,” the attorney said.
Bishop Joseph Strickland, the outspoken shepherd of the diocese of Tyler, Texas, is promoting a gargantuan new planned Catholic community calledVeritatis Splendor. The proposed compound will cover nearly 600 acres and will include “a grand oratory and seven institutes of truth.” It aims to eventually become home to dozens of Catholic families who can live, worship, and go to school together, as well as enjoying swimming, hunting, and horseback riding within a community that shares and preserves their Catholic ideals.
“There, the faithful can gather to produce the first wave of apostles, planting the seeds for other Veritatis Splendor locations nationally and globally,” said co-founder Kari Beckman.
“It is a community of true believers who work and live together to safeguard the deposit of faith through an uncompromising fidelity to Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition,” the website said.
The first phase is to be an oratory “conceived in the architecture and structure of the Italian cathedrals erected in places such as Siena, Florence and Assisi.” To build it and fund other “advancement expenses,” Veritatis Splendor ultimately wants $22 million. As of March 3, they have raised over $37,00o.
But while the website and promotional video are full of apocalyptic music and imagery warning Catholics of wolves and masks, interspersed with video of sun-drenched outdoor Eucharistic benediction and a blonde cowgirl mounting a horse, it’s short on details about how the project will be governed, how funds will be managed, who has oversight over the community of priests who will live there permanently, and how it will ensure its residents live according to Catholic ideals, as they apparently must pledge to do in order to move in.
The site also doesn’t mention that the parent company behind the proposed Veritatis Splendor development, Regina Caeli Inc., was sued in a 2016. The lawsuit alleged that Regina Caeli, Inc. defamed a whistleblower who threatened to expose RCA’s alleged fraud, tax violations, and violations of the Fair Labor Standard Act, and that they allegedly fired his wife in retaliation. The plaintiffs alleged RCA is “run like a cult.”
However, the Veritatis Splendor promotional video refers to Strickland as “co-founder.” Several of the donors thank Bishop Strickland personally for leading the project, on the fundraising site. The bishop is prominent on the project’s promotional video and on the Veritatis Splendor website, which refers to him as “the last priest to be made a Bishop under the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.”
In the video, Strickland says, “Where I come from, people speak plainly.”
The appeals email says, “Bishop Strickland and The Founders of Veritatis Splendor are asking you to join them in support of this mission through sacrificial Lenten almsgiving.” Although the email says Bishop Strickland is soliciting donations, it does not say in the email that the organization is private and not an official diocesan project.
Kevin Wandra of Carmel Communications, which handles public relations for Veritatis Splendor, said, “This is not a diocesan effort.” But the bishop is indisputably using his name and his office to direct donations and support to the project.
Donors who contribute $25 will receive his book, Guard the Deposit of Faith, but donors who contribute $10,000 are entitled to a tour and a private dinner with the founders, and it says “Bishop Strickland will also celebrate Mass for all those in attendance.”
It is common practice for priests to accept a voluntary stipend when they say Mass by request, and the typical amount is $5 $10. No stipend is required, though, so as to avoid even the appearance that Mass is being sold for money. The voluntary collection of a stipend is distinct from the practice of simony, or collecting temporal goods for spiritual services.
Mass with Bishop Strickland is only listed as a perk for donors at the $10,000 level; it is not offered as a perk to those who contribute $5,000 or less.
Wandra disagreed that listing Mass as part of a perk might possibly be perceived as simony.
“It is very clear that the donation is for Veritatis Splendor, regardless of whether one gets to receive a gesture of appreciation for that gift. For those who donate more than $10,000, we will be having a special dinner to thank them and show them in person the plans for the property. And Mass will be celebrated for anyone who attends as a courtesy since these will be planned for Sundays on the property,” Wandra said.
Priests who stay put
In a typical diocesan parish, the bishop assigns parish priests according to the changing needs of the community in which they live. Assignments generally last 5-7 years, but are rarely permanent, so that the needs of the entire diocese can be taken into account, and to discourage congregations from forming unhealthy attachments to individual priests. But in Veritatis Splendor, when the priests arrive, they will stay put.
“At the center of Veritatis Splendor will be a grand Oratory, led by a community of Catholic priests under a particular charism of apostolic life. These priests will reside in the community and be permanent members of Veritatis Splendor in East Texas and not subject to transfers or re-assignments,”the case statement says.
Wandra clarified that these priests will be Oratorians in the tradition of St. Philip Neri. Oratorians are not a religious order; they are secular priests (i.e., they have not made religious vows). Oratorians must have permission from the local bishop to found an Oratory (which is not a parish church), such as the one proposed for Veritatis Splendor; but the community of priests is relatively autonomous. They answer not to the bishop of the diocese in which they live, but to Rome. The bishop has, according to canon law, a duty to be “vigilant” about their spiritual well-being and about the effects of the community in his diocese, but the relationship between the diocese and such communities is not clearly defined.
The Veritatis Splendor site gives no information about the proposed community of priests or who would have authority over them. It does not specify that they are Oratorians in the tradition of Philip Neri (the word “Oratorian” does not always refer to this specific community of priests and laymen).
Laymen may not be aware that priests who live and work within their diocese are not necessarily under the authority of their local bishop; and that the diocese would not be obligated to disclose the same information about Oratorian priests that it would about diocesan priests.A confusion of this type occurred in the diocese of Manchester, NH,where the diocese disclosed the names of 73 priests accused of abuse, but did not include the community of Legion priests who lived and worked at a private Catholic school in the diocese, because those priests answered to their superiors in the Legionaires of Christ, and not to the bishop. Many NH residents assumed that the list disclosed by the diocese included all priests who lived and worked in that diocese, but it did not. (The Legion later disclosed its own list, but this, too was not comprehensive.)
The project’s stated goal is to raise $22 million to “build the St. Joseph oratory and more.”
Although the fund drive has already raised nearly $40,000, it does not include any information about the proposed oratory, other than that it will be dedicated to St. Joseph and will be “fashioned to reflect the great Cathedrals you find in the beautiful villages across Italy.” The “statement of intent” form for donors simply says “I/We understand that my contribution will used [sic] for Advancement Expenses.”
“This is a brand new mission and much depends on raising money to make it possible like any good mission. So there are things that we just don’t know,” said Lisa Wheeler, one of the co-founders of the project.
Kari Beckman, founder of Veritatis Splendor, is also the co-founder of Regina Caeli Academy with her husband Rich Beckman. The donation form for Veritatis Splendor asks that checks be made payable to “Regina Caeli Academy for Veritatis Splendor” at Regina Caeli Academy’s address in Roswell, Georgia. Veritatis Splendor is listed on its site as “a division of Regina Caeli, Inc.”
According to Wandra, the governing board of Veritatis Splendor is the board of Regina Caeli, Inc. According to RCA’s website, board members are: Rich Beckman, Fr. Peter Idler, Daniel Saegaert, Fr. Augustine Tran, James Faber, Jim Graham, Frank Scarchilli, and Fr. John Paul Walker.
In 2016, Regina Caeli Inc. (RCA), Rich Beckman, Fr. Peter Idler, Daniel Saegaert, Fr. Augustine Tran, as well as Steven Konsin, Norbert Maduzia, and Joshua Allen were sued by former members. The suit alleges that RCA defamed a whistleblower who threatened to expose RCA’s alleged fraud, tax violations, and violations of the Fair Labor Standard Act, and that they allegedly fired his wife in retaliation.
Regina Caeli is a homeschool hybrid tutoring program in which paying members homeschool their children for three days a week, using a standardized curriculum, and the school provides support and access to tutors and extracurricular activities. Parents who are also tutors receive a discount on the entire program, and all members are expected to fundraise and to recruit new members, in addition to paying tuition. Tuition, which covers two classroom days (for which uniforms are required), ranges from $2,800 per PreK student for a half day to $4,500 per high school student.
Many members describe Regina Caeli as the best of both worlds, and praise the supportive, close-knit community and structure it provides. But according to the two former members who sued Regina Caeli, Inc. and its board members in 2016, it’s “run like a cult.”
John and Marie Kruse of Michigan alleged that their family of eight children was kicked out of the program shortly before Christmas after John Kruse threatened to expose Regina Caeli’s alleged financial irregularities.
The suit alleged that, when John Kruse asked to review financial information so he could determine how the school was spending the money their group raised and solicited, the director responded that “it was not RCA’s ‘style’ to provide any financial information, other than the IRS form 990’s,” and then allegedly attacked Kruse’s motive for inquiring.
The suit alleges that, when John Kruse sent a letter threatening legal action if RCA did not provide more transparency, Marie Kruse was locked out of her tutor account so she could no longer work, and that the entire family was abruptly dismissed from the program. The suit alleges RCA threatened to sue John Kruse for communicating with other families in the program, damaging his reputation.
The Kruses alleged that “complete, blind, unquestioning obedience to RCA’s officers and the Directors is demanded or the family is subjected to humiliation, ostracization and expulsion.”
The suit alleged the RCA was not in compliance with Michigan’s laws covering charities who solicit funds, and that it misled parents about whether their donations would be tax deductible. It also alleged that Marie Kruse invested significant time and money in an intensive “Master Tutor Certification” program, but was denied the alleged promised raise in pay and choice in tutoring assignments.
The lawsuit was settled out of court.
I asked Wandra whether Veritatis Splendor will be more transparent than Regina Caeli in how it manages and allocates its funds, to avoid similar legal battles in the future. Wandra responded,
“Veritatis Splendor, as a project of Regina Caeli Inc., will be as transparent as a non-profit endeavor is required to be, and has done so explicably in all the ways expected. Regina Caeli Inc. already files its Yearly 990, issues an Annual Report made available to the public on its website and follows all the requirements of the IRS and the guidelines of the 501 (c) 3 tax code.”
Regina Caeli’s most recent tax forms list their total assets in 2018 at $4.2 million, with $3.4 million in liabilities.
“Any parent who questioned RCA’s lack of proportionate financial support for the Detroit Program was harshly criticized by RCA staff and accused of attacking RCA and pressured to leave the program,” the Kruse suit alleged.
The lawsuit alleged that RCA claimed they ejected the Kruse family for their “effort to ‘create discord and disunity in the community.'”
RCA denied the allegations and threatened to countersue the Kruses for defamation before the suit was settled out of court.
“Regina Caeli Inc. was not sued for fundraising fraud,” Wandra clarified.
When I called Veritatis Splendor co-founder Kari Beckman for comment, she declined to respond, but said that I should direct my questions to co-founder Lisa Wheeler at Carmel Communications, whose name and contact information are listed on the site’s case statement as the person to call for questions about Veritatis Splendor.
I told Beckman’s office that I had already left two voicemails for Wheeler and that she had not responded; but they said again that I should contact Wheeler. I then sent Wheeler, who is a Facebook friend, a private message via Facebook messenger. Receiving no response, I then wrote on Wheeler’s Facebook wall to ask her to check her messages and voicemail. She responded by denying that she had received any voicemails. She also denied that her name was on the Veritatis Splendor website, and denied that she was the point of contact for media inquiries. Wheeler also claimed that someone from Carmel Communications had already responded to the media inquiries I had submitted through the form on the site. (I had not received a response.)
Wheeler told me, “no one is avoiding answering your questions,” and then furnished me with Kevin Wandra’s name and contact information, which do not appear on the Veritatis Splendor site. Then, about an hour after Wheeler’s response, I received a response from the site’s media inquiry form.
Bishop Strickland declined to respond to questions either by phone or email. When Wandra responded, he indicated that he had seen the questions I sent directly to the bishop’s office, and “in order to streamline things” Wandra took the initiative of adding a response quoting the bishop to one of those questions. When I asked if he was speaking for the bishop, since the bishop had clearly shared my email with him, he did not respond.
*** Image with VS logo is a still from the promotional video embedded above. All other images are screenshots from the site, from the case statement, and from the fundraising site.
EDIT 7:25 PM March 3: I stated: “It is common practice for priests to accept a voluntary stipend when they say Mass by request, and the typical amount is $5.” The correct amount of a typical stipend is $10.
Judicial Vicar Rev. George de Laire filed a federal lawsuit against the far-right news outlet Church Militant this week, claiming the outlet published “recklessly false” statements about de Laire after a notorious radical sect was disciplined by the New Hampshire diocese.
Gary Michael Voris, who goes by Michael Voris in his internet videos, runs Church Militant, a website that reports on Catholic news and politics. The outlet published videos and articles calling de Laire “emotionally unstable,” stating de Laire is incompetent, and implying he’s corrupt, according to the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in Concord on Friday.
Michael Voris and Church Militant have a long history of targeting Fr. de Laire after he began working with the diocese to try to bring the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary into compliance with Rome.
Damien Fisher broke the story with exclusive details and background at NHReporter. Read the rest here.
Disclosure: Damien Fisher is my husband. I did not work on this story with him.
When asked why the list does not include specific accusations, diocesan spokesman Thomas Bebbington said, “The status is intended to provide enough information so the public is aware that the person is not in ministry and why.”
When asked for clarification as to why there were no Legion of Christ priests named on the list, Bebbington said, “The Legionaries of Christ is a religious order and its members are not incardinated in the Diocese of Manchester. The list only includes members of religious orders assigned to ministry by the bishop of the Diocese of Manchester. ”
“Incardinated” means “under the bishop or other ecclesiastical superior.” I asked Bebbington if the bishop has any control over whether unincardinated priests work in his diocese, if he has not assigned them to ministry there. He has not yet responded.
UPDATE: Bebbington clarified: “A bishop does not have control over priests and religious who are not incardinated in his diocese. They report to the superiors in their own orders, rather than to the diocesan bishop.” He also said that a bishop does not have control over who is assigned to institutions such as private high schools or colleges.
Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor and the Legion of Christ, Inc., were named in a lawsuit in Connecticut in 2017. The plaintiff said that, when he was a student at ICAS in NH, Fernando Cutanda, or “Brother Fernando,” a “supervisor, mentor, and spiritual leader” employed by the Legion-run school, repeatedly raped him in several locations on the school property. The lawsuit says that, feeling guilt and shame, the alleged victim told a Legion of Christ priest, Fr. O’Carroll, what had been happening. Fr. O’Carroll, whom the legal documents describe as “in charge of I.C.A.S. at the time,” allegedly told the boy to say five rosaries “for his sins” and told him “God will take care of things.” According to the lawsuit, “Brother Fernando” allegedly raped the boy again after Fr. O’Carroll allegedly heard of the abuse. The school was dismissed as a defendant in 2017, and the Legion settled with the victim in October of 2018. Although the school is in New Hampshire, the lawsuit was filed in Connecticut since the Legion of Christ, Inc., is headquartered there.
The list of accused sexual offenders published by the Diocese of Manchester does not include monks or religious brothers who are not priests.
“This is meant as an act of ownership and accountability. It is my hope that by making this information available, we are holding ourselves accountable to the evils of the past, and offering timely assistance, support and resources to those individuals and families who have been affected by the sexual abuse of a minor.”
He also said “On behalf of my predecessors and the Church in New Hampshire, I am sorry. I seek your forgiveness for the grave sins of abuse and betrayal of trust that representatives of the Church committed.”
The Diocese of Manchester is the 136th American diocese to release a list of accused priests (there are 197 dioceses in the U.S.). But in 2002, the diocese was among the first to undergo an investigation by state prosecutors of decades of sexual abuse and cover-up in and by the diocese, just after the Boston Globe exposed a similar, even more widespread scandal in the neighboring Archdiocese of Boston.
According to the report, McCormack acknowledged that the diocese of Manchester paid for the legal defense of Gordon MacRae, and said he thought MacRae’s sentence was disproportionately harsh and that the priest wasn’t much of a threat. MacRae was convicted of sexually assaulting several boys, including during a pastoral counseling session inside the St. Bernard church in Keene.
Before McCormack was bishop, Bishop Odore Gendron served from 1975-1990. According to the Attorney General’s report, Gendron worked with police to keep secret reports of sexual abuse. According to the report, one of the abusive priests, Paul Aube, personally asked Bishop Gendron not to be assigned to work with youth after he was caught, but the diocese went on to assign him to work in youth ministry in a different parish. He then assaulted other minors, according to the report.
Each and every day, I pray that victim-survivors find healing. I also fervently pray that we never allow such darkness to enter our Church again. With these new efforts, I hope to continue on a path to restoring your trust.
Bishop Libasci, who was appointed in 2011, has spoken several times on the issue of the sex abuse scandal, and has struck a notably different tone from his predecessors. In October of 2018, after the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was made public, he wrote:
“These revelations have left me sickened, shaken, embarrassed, and heart-broken. I have heard from many of you, either directly or indirectly, that you are justifiably angry, discouraged, and saddened that Church leadership has breached your trust and failed to protect children, youth, seminarians, and vulnerable adults adequately.”
He acknowledged at the time that the steps the diocese is taking “are only the first steps” that the diocese needs to take.
“I will rely on my consultation with you, the People of God, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to identify the best path forward,” he said.
“I have committed myself to the Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart,” Libasci said.
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.
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)
We have taken down our article about Raiger and Ave Maria for now. We do not think the threat, below, has legal merit, but because it is a Saturday afternoon and we are currently at the beach celebrating our 21st anniversary and do not need this horseshit, we will return to this issue after we have had time to consider our legal options.
Here’s the letter we received today from Ricardo Reyes on behalf of Ave Maria University:
Simcha Fisher and Damien Fisher:
Please be advised that that our law firm represent Ave Maria University, Inc. (“University”). This correspondence is addressed to you as operators of the blog located at www.simchafisher.com and as the authors of the libelous article published on the blog entitled “Ave Maria prof’s pattern of sexual slander exposed”. Demand is hereby made that the entire article be retracted and removed from the internet, and that you cease and desist from publishing any further libelous remarks.
While the article contains the self-serving claim that Michael Raiger did not “cooperate with the story”, it is obvious someone acting on Raiger’s behalf provided his prior statements to you, and the article is intended to disparage the University during the pending litigation. Also, the reference to “sexual slander” is an irresponsible and outrageous attempt to sensationalize Raiger’s false claims. We understand that Mrs. Raiger’s have been in communication with defrocked former priest Mark Gruber (a person known to have made similar assertions when accused of possessing child pornography) as part of their continued confrontation against the University. We intend to investigate Gruber’s involvement in the publication of this libelous article.
In the article, you have republished several defamatory remarks made by Raiger against the University and professor Travis Curtright. Even more troubling is that you have published a number of false claims as fact, beyond the quotes attributed to Raiger. For example, your assertion that the University’s counsel acknowledged the claims against Curtright is false and a complete fabrication on your part. As you are aware, Raiger’s allegations against professor Curtwright were never proven or corroborated (even though, under Florida law, to suggest someone may or may not be homosexual does not constitute slander). By publishing Raiger’s false claims as your own factual statements, you are liable for defamation per se.
It is evident that you seek to assist Raiger in tortuously interfering with the University’s affairs. Raiger’s false claims against Curtwright are part of a continuing effort to injure the University’s reputation because of Raiger’s long standing opposition to the University’s administration, in particular, President Jim Towey. If you had actually undertaken any investigation, you would have discovered not only that Raiger’s self-serving claims against Curtright were never substantiated, but also that the professor who Raiger was supposedly protecting admitted to having inaccurate information on his CV, and had allowed a male student who stayed at his home to grade his exams. Also, you would have learned that Raiger engaged in a series of overt acts of insubordination designed to undermine the administration before his employment ended with the University. Moreover, the debt secured by the mortgage on Raiger’s home matured upon the termination of his employment and is properly due to the University. There was no retaliation against him. By omitting these facts from the article, and juxtaposing facts to create false impressions, you are also liable for defamation by implication.
Accordingly, if you fail to retract the libelous article or refuse to cease and desist from further conduct, will proceed to bring legal action against you for libel and tortious interference. If such an action is brought, you may be liable for compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief.