Jonathan Weyer no longer employed at parish

Jonathan Weyer, a.k.a, Jonathan Ryan, no longer works at St. Alphonsis Luguori parish, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

Weyer, who was pastoral associate of evangelization at the Zionsville, IN church, was co-founder of the Sick Pilgrim blog and had just released a book, but he came under sudden national scrutiny after several woman accused him of sexually and psychologically exploitative behavior and spiritual abuse. The blog’s other founder and his co-author, Jessica Mesman Griffith, also accused Ryan of sexual assault.

As of Wednesday evening, ten women, including this anonymous blogger, have reported predatory sexual behavior by Weyer. One of those women is Donna Provencher, who first revealed to Griffith that Weyer was using Sick Pilgrim’s Facebook community as a place to meet, groom, exploit, and isolate vulnerable women.

Griffith immediately met with the blog’s administrative board, and they determined that Weyer should be removed from any involvement with the site. Griffith also decided to halt production of the book they had just released together.

Weyer posted a statement on his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon, saying he would leave it up for twenty-four hours, then deleting it within half an hour. Weyer denies that he sexually assaulted Griffith, and claims he thought their contact was “motivated by mutual desire.” He says he was sexually abused as a child.

Provencher, and other women who wish to remain anonymous, say that Weyer deliberately targeted them for their psychological and spiritual vulnerabilities and used his position of alleged spiritual authority to exploit them sexually, then made wedding plans with them, abruptly announced the relationship was over, and gaslit them about their accounts of what happened, all the while simultaneously propositioning and grooming other women online and over the phone.

Weyer says, “I admit I misread emotional cues in my adult, consensual relationships” and that he “sought to make genuine connections with women.”

Shortly after deleting his published statement, he told Donna Provencher via text that their relationship had been a “stupid-ass drama,” and he berated her for making him look bad.

Donna Provencher, who shared her complete account of her interactions with Weyer on Saturday, responded with her own public statement, which she shared on her Facebook page. Her statement is as follows:

I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say,” Servant of God Dorothy Day once wrote, “and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.”

That Mr. Weyer was molested as a child is tragic, and for what he has suffered I am truly sorry. But it is at our sacred behest as Catholics to create beauty from broken things: out of suffering, redemption. To use one’s childhood wounds as any sort of diversion or scapegoat for a prolonged and pernicious pattern of abuse toward women is unconscionable.

Many of us – including many of Mr. Weyer’s now-ten known victims – were sexually abused as children or adults, and it is precisely because of our experiences that we stand, as with one voice, to denounce and decry Mr. Weyer’s sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse of the vulnerable in our midst. This is not at our option; it is our moral imperative.

Whenever we make an act of contrition, our prayer is threefold: “I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more, to do penance, and to amend my life.” By this standard, Mr. Weyer in his statement demonstrates no true penitence; he vehemently denies allegations of sexual assault against Ms. Griffith, and vaguely alludes to possessing proof of innocence which he has failed to produce. He reduces the trauma he inflicted upon a friend and partner to a “terrible misunderstanding,” and in a stunning display of cognitive dissonance, in the next breath claims he “recognizes [he] caused her deep emotional pain” and is “truly sorry.”

He relegates me, along with the other unnamed victims, to a subordinate clause about two-thirds of the way through his statement – telling, perhaps, of the value in which Mr. Weyer holds the unique, precious, unrepeatable, irreducible human beings whose lives he has shattered by his actions. He speaks of “landing himself in this mess,” as if he were an innocent bystander or passive participant in his own contemptible abuses, manipulations, and deceptions.

Mr. Weyer has demonstrated no sincere regard for the good of his victims. On Nov. 21, he attempted to call me and texted me asking if we could talk, and when he received no response later texted me an apology for his actions. He then forwarded me his public statement, which he also posted to his Facebook (where it was not visible to his victims) and then took it down within the half hour. A few hours later, he sent me rage-induced text messages in which he referred to the duration of our relationship as a “stupid-ass drama,” lamented that he has “paid dearly for [his] sins,” and accused me of making him “look like a devil in the press.”

On more than one occasion, Mr. Weyer has admitted the facts as presented in my case to be factually true, most notably to the administrators of Sick Pilgrim upon his dismissal Nov. 14. These facts are what I have presented to the media, and I stand unequivocally by my previous statements. If Mr. Weyer finds the facts of the narrative so damning, perhaps he should examine more closely the lifestyle they reflect.

Lastly, Mr. Weyer writes: “Despite news reports, my faith is real; I’m just terrible at practicing it.” Yet Aristotle counsels us that a man is what he repeatedly does. And in the Holy Scriptures, we read: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith – apart from works – is dead.” (James 2:19, 26)

We bear no ill will against Mr. Weyer, and as a child of God, we wish salvation for him. We hope that he receives the psychological help and spiritual counseling he so urgently needs, and we pray that he may someday have the humility and grace to make a genuine act of contrition and, acknowledging the enormity of the sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse he has inflicted upon women, do penance and amend his life.

St. Kateri, pray for us.

–Donna Provencher, Nov. 22, 2017

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Image: Jonathan Ryan, detail of photo by Michelle Sterling, used with permission

Four major Catholic journals: End the death penalty

Interior_of_Cellblock_Housing_Death_Row_-_Eastern_State_Penitentiary_-_Philadelphia_-_Pennsylvania

I used to favor the death penalty. It feels right, bracing, and perfectly just. When people commit intolerable crimes, they should be removed from society, cleanly and permanently. It just feels right.

But as civilized people, the powers we grant to the state must be based on facts, not on feelings. Here are the facts about the death penalty in the United States:

  • It does not decrease crime.
  • It does not bring closure to the families of victims.
  • It is not the only way, in this country, to ensure the safety of other citizens.
  • It is often administered cruelly.
  • And it is sometimes imposed on the innocent.

A few years ago, my husband Damien Fisher interviewed Kirk Bloodsworth, a man who was convicted of raping a nine-year-old girl, strangling her, and beating her to death with a rock. Five witnesses placed him at the scene, he matched the description of the killer, and he made statements to police which seemed to incriminate him.

He spent nearly nine years in prison, two years on death row. And then, after urgent demands from the defense team, investigators discovered the physical evidence for the murder case, which had gone missing. It was in the bottom of a judge’s closet, inside a paper bag inside a cardboard box, and it had never been tested.

The state did a DNA test, and discovered that Bloodsworth was innocent. Another inmate, who looked nothing like Bloodsworth or the description given by the five witnesses, had raped and murdered the little girl. The case had gone through all the right legal channels, but the conclusions was disastrously, criminally wrong.

In the interview, here reprinted by an anti-death penalty advocacy group, my husband says:

A bad prosecutor, a bad judge, bad police work, bad forensics, shaky witnesses, all contribute to death penalty cases on a regular basis. Bloodsworth said one in every eight death row cases are overturned because the person convicted is innocent, and yet all of those cases went though trial and appeals and were reviewed by investigators, lawyers, and judges. In his case, at least 50 people looked at the supposed facts before he was sentenced to death.

And because of this, an innocent man lost nearly a decade of his life, and almost died at the hands of the state. This is intolerable.

But what about the guilty? Don’t they deserve to die, when they commit heinous crimes?

Not according to Catholic teaching. Today, the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, the National Catholic Reporter, and America magazine have simultaneously released a strongly-worded joint editorial statement calling for an end to the death penalty in the United States.

The Catholic Church in this country has fought against the death penalty for decades … The practice is abhorrent and unnecessary. It is also insanely expensive as court battles soak up resources better deployed in preventing crime in the first place and working toward restorative justice for those who commit less heinous crimes.

The editorial quotes Archbishop Chaput’s statement on the reprieve of death row inmates in PA, and challenges us to face our moral responsibility as citizens:

Archbishop Chaput reminds us that when considering the death penalty, we cannot forget that it is we, acting through our government, who are the moral agents in an execution. The prisoner has committed his crime and has answered for it in this life just as he shall answer for it before God. But, it is the government, acting in our name, that orders and perpetrates lethal injection. It is we who add to, instead of heal, the violence.

Note, my fellow Catholics, the significance of the four papers who came together for this project: The National Catholic Register and OSV lean right, and the National Catholic Reporter and America lean left. The clear message is this: opposition to the death penalty should unite Catholics, rather than polarizing them. It is not a political issue; it is a moral one. The teaching of the Catholic Church is that the death penalty in 21st century America is almost never just, nor moral, nor necessary:

2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”68

This is the teaching of our Faith. If this teaching feels wrong to us, then we are the ones who must come into conformity with the mind of the Church. Because we have the guidance of the Church, Catholics should be at the forefront of the push to end the death penalty in this country.

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Further reading from my fellow Patheos bloggers:

An endorsement from Elizabeth Scalia on behalf of Patheos Catholic: We Are Catholic
Tom Zampino: 
3 Reasons Why I No Longer Actively Support the Death Penalty
Dwight Longenecker: 
C.S. Lewis and the Death Penalty
Kathy Schiffer: 
Last Meals and Redemptions
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