NH Reporter: 7 sex abuse lawsuits filed against Legion, more ahead; Payoffs allegedly continue

Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, NH, was a sexual smorgasbord for the Legion of Christ, according to lawsuits.

The disgraced Legion only acknowledged two abusers in New Hampshire, but seven new lawsuits have named more, and there are more lawsuits forthcoming, according to reporting by my husband, Damien Fisher. Not all the alleged victims are male.

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.

Damien will continue to follow this story as it unfolds. Read the full article in NHReporter.com

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Image copyright Damien Fisher

Catholic Megadevelopment VERITATIS SPLENDOR is long on rhetoric, short on details

Bishop Joseph Strickland, the outspoken shepherd of the diocese of Tyler, Texas, is promoting a gargantuan new planned Catholic community called Veritatis 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.

“We are building a viculus, a little village, and we want you to join us,” the Veritatis Splendor fundraising site says

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.” 

In the diocese but not of the diocese

According to the National Catholic Register’s promotional interview, Veritatis Splendor “is not an official diocesan project; rather, it is an independent, lay-inspired Catholic organization.” 

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.

Also, his services as priest are included in the highest tier of perks offered to donors

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.)

 

Financial opacity

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.  

 

Communication

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.

 

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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.

NH Judicial Vicar sues Michael Voris for “recklessly false statements”

According to NHReporter:

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.

Photo of Voris by Clarissa Swan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

NH Diocese of Manchester publishes names of 73 accused priests; questions remain

The Diocese of Manchester in NH has published a list of 73 priests accused of sexual abuse of a minor since 1950. The list includes names, ordination date, status, and assignments of accused priests, but it does not include the accusations. 

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.”

The list includes more names than are listed on the bishop-accountability.org website, which includes 62 names. Bishop-accountability.org does include details about accusations in most cases.  

The diocesan list includes several categories: Cases concluded canonically or criminally, cases in process, priests accused after laicization, deceased priests, and religious orders/other.

Notably, none of the priests named are affiliated with the scandal-ridden Legion of Christ, which ran a private boarding school for high school boys from 1982 to 2015 in Center Harbor, NH.

The Legion was founded by the late Marcial Maciel, a pedophile priest who allegedly raped some of his own illegitimate children, and it has been perpetually rocked with scandals and accusation of institutional sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse. As recently as January of this year, the Legion continued to extol Maciel.  

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.

The Union Leader reports that Bishop Peter Libasci said in a statement about the list:

“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. 

In 2003, the Attorney General released a report on their findings, and the Diocese paid $5 million in settlements to 62 victims who were abused in the time period between the 1950’s and the 1980’s.

The Attorney General’s report was not an exhaustive list of accusations, but was meant to highlight only details of a much broader and deeper scandal. 

According to the report, John McCormack, who was bishop at the time of the investigation, had a long history of reassigning priests who were known pedophiles and of keeping secret the names and actions of known molesters. McCormack served as Bishop from 1998 until 2011. In 1984 he worked closely with Cardinal Bernard Law in managing accusations of sexual abuse in the 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.

In today’s statement, Bishop Libasci said:

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. 

 

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

BY DAMIEN AND SIMCHA FISHER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE AND CORRECTION July 14, 2019 3 PM eastern:

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

Monsignor Soseman responded from Rome:

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

 

***

We will continue to update this story as necessary. 

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

UPDATED: Ave Maria prof’s pattern of alleged sexual slander exposed

Updated Oct. 6, 2018:

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.

If you value the work that independent writers do, please consider supporting us through Patreon. Thank you!

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.

GOVERN YOURSELVES ACCORDINGLY.

 

Ricardo A. Reyes

225 N.E. Mizner Boulevard

Mizner Park Office Tower, Suite 510

Boca Raton, Florida 33432

561 620 0656 office

561 620 0657 fax

561-416-1442 direct

561-716-6434 cell

 

 

 

Oh, such depravity. Tell me more!

What interests me is how eager so many people were to believe that the sick, twisted, evil of California just got a little sicker, more twisted, and even eviller. There is a very fine line between drawing back in horror and swooping in with glee, and thousands of outraged readers, bloggers, pundits, and shock jocks vaulted right over that line.

Why? Because evil isn’t content with prowling around like a ravening lion, looking to devour this and that. It wants us to sit on the sidelines and cheer it on, munching popcorn as we enjoy the spectacle.

Read the rest of my latest for the Catholic Weekly here.

Will the Catholic Church be hurt by the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage?

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Hats off to everyone who was surprised by today’s Supreme Court ruling that states cannot constitutionally ban gay marriage. Hats off for your optimism and your faith in the judicial branch!

Those of us with a more jaded view knew that this ruling was inevitable, and that the seeds for this decision were sown decades ago, when contraception and no fault divorce became the norm.  If marriage is just a financial and emotional arrangement to make adults happy, why not gay marriage? If marriage is just an official pronouncement that some people love each other, then why not? Gay people can love each other.

 

Of course, Catholics don’t believe that marriage is just an official pronouncement that some people love each other. And of course our job remains what it has always been: to faithfully, doggedly, charitably continue to explain that a sacramental marriage is between one man and one woman for the benefit of their children, for the benefit of society, and for the benefit of each other. It’s not that we will not accept gay  marriage, it’s that we cannot.

If we Catholics are clear on what marriage is, how much will it affect us when the rest of the country is all mixed up? I don’t believe that priests and ministers will be prosecuted – jailed, fined, or strung up in the public square – for refusing to officiate at gay marriages. But I do believe that churches are in immediate danger of losing their tax exempt status if they are found to discriminate against people in gay (and other non monogamous, non hetero) unions.

If you read the bottom of Huffington Post or any typical American combox, you’ll get the impression that churches are exempt from paying taxes because, in the bad old days, religion was in control and the poor taxpayers didn’t know any better than to fork over their hard earned dollars to a bunch of corrupt prelates who spent it on fancy robes, wine, and cages in which to imprison women and the occasional altar boy (and if we’re talking about Los Angeles, this was more or less true. It’s getting better!).

But now we know better, says the bottom of the internet, So tax ‘em, but good! Seem fair, especially if you’ve been taught that religion is mainly a giant oppression machine.

But the truth is, churches are tax exempt because they are good for the community. They serve the people, and the revenue they take in shouldn’t be taxed by the government because it’s used to do the work that government isn’t able to do on its own. Even if you think there is no God, you have to admit that churches do good for the community even while teaching and believing things that the community isn’t always happy to hear. This has always been the case.

In my state of New Hampshire, nearly every charitable organization is run by Catholic Charities. Food, shelter, counselling, services for homeless people, abused women, and immigrants — Catholic Charities does it all. They run under names like “NH Food Bank,” but it’s all Catholic Charities; and Catholic Charities is, of course, inseparable from the Catholic Church.

So what would happen if churches lost their tax exemption? Poof goes Catholic Charities (and all the fine organizations manned and funded by non-Catholic churches, as well! The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, but it is by no means the only one). Poof goes their ability to serve the poor, the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the nuts, etc. etc. Poof go the vulnerable.

Goodness knows we’ve already seen how this works. When Catholic organizations declined to place children with gay couples for adoption and foster care, they lost their contract with many states. They were unable to comply with a law that violated their faith, and so they were forced to shut down. This secular media portrayed this as “evil Catholics would rather abandon helpless children than make a loving couple’s dream come true” rather than “society would rather see children go without parents if it means that gay couples won’t be able to work with every agency in the state.” So we know that the Tolerance Inc. has no qualms about sacrificing the helpless if they think they can make Christians hurt; and we know that these injuries will be portrayed as self-inflicted.

What to do about it? I have no idea. It makes some sense to get churches altogether out of the business of offering civil marriages. If the state wants to define marriage, let the state performs all those marriages, and let people pursue sacramental marriages in the churches as a separate thing. I suspect that even then, if sacramental and civil marriage are decoupled, churches will face discrimination lawsuits, just like bakers and inn owners faced lawsuits for refusing to facilitate gay couple’s weddings. They’ll win some and lose some. There is no legal coherence in this country anymore.

People have no idea how much our nation depends on the Church. Well, they’re about to find out.

***

Supreme Court will not hear confession confidentiality petition

confessional

By Ib Rasmussen (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Not good: U.S. Supreme Court will not hear Baton Rouge Catholic confession case.

Backstory: A young woman is going to testify in a civil suit against the Diocese of Baton Rouge. She says that, when she was a girl, she revealed during confession that a member of the parish (who has since died) was molesting her, and that the priest told her she should hush it up.

Every priest who hears something during confession is morally obligated not to reveal what he heard during that confession. So if this woman testifies that he told her not to speak about her abuse, he may neither confirm nor deny that she said what she claims she said, or that he responded the way she says he did; and he may go to jail for refusing to testify.

So the diocese asked the federal Supreme Court to consider their petition to prevent her from testifying about what was said during the confession, and to prevent the priest from being compelled to respond to her testimony. Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to hear the diocese’s petition.

I previously didn’t understand why it was dangerous for the woman to be allowed to testify about her confession, because I erroneously believed that a penitent may release a confessor from the seal of confession. I thought that she would simply have to give her permission for him to testify, and that he would then be free to confirm or deny what she said in the confession; but this is not so:

Can.  983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.

If a penitent wishes to discuss something he or she revealed during confession, he or she must have the conversation again, restating the issue outside of the sacrament. That is the only way that a confessor may morally discuss the topic that was confessed: if he hears the information outside of the seal of confession.

The young woman is, of course, still free to have a second conversation with the priest, and the priest would then be free to testify about that second conversation; but what is at issue is what happened in the original conversation, years ago.

Please note that there is no reason to believe that the young woman is lying about what she told the priest or about what he told her. The diocese is not trying to impugn her reputation, and we should not assume that its goal is to protect a guilty priest. The point is that the seal of confession is there to protect both the priest and the penitent. If the seal of confession may be legally violated, it would prove disastrous both for priests and for penitents, who have both always understood that what they say in the confessional is known only to themselves and to God. Jen Fitz explains, with her usual clarity and concision, why the seal of confession is vital for the safety of both the priest and the penitent.

If the woman’s testimony is allowed, then priests will constantly be in danger of having to remain silent in the face of accusations against them. I could make up any dreadful story about what happened inside a confessional, and a priest would not be able to defend himself. They would have to choose between going to jail and endangering their own souls by betraying their vows.

A well-trained confessor can find a way to get help for someone who has been victimized. It is not necessary for anyone’s safety to destroy the long-standing legal respect for the seal of confession.