Fr. Luke Reese, Parochial Vicar of Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis, dragged his wife through a violent, 18-hour ordeal in October, beating, choking and slapping her, throwing her against walls, kidnapping and sexually assaulting her, according to court records. The assaults reportedly occurred in his car, en route to her grandmother’s house, and in their home.
He also forced his wife to come inside Holy Rosary Church, and he assaulted her before the altar, his wife told police.
According to the probable cause affidavit filed in court: Still wearing clerical garb, Fr. Reese made his wife to kneel before the altar, hitting her in the face, pulling her hair, and putting his hands around her neck, and threatening to choke her as he demanded the password to her cell phone. He then threw her into a wall in the church before forcing her out of the building and back into his car. He then continued to physically and sexually assault her for another several hours.
Fr. Reese has been charged with several crimes, including criminal confinement with bodily injury, criminal confinement where a vehicle is used, kidnapping, domestic battery, battery resulting in bodily injury, and intimidation. He has been released on bond, and his trial is scheduled for May.
According to local paper The Indy Star,
the ordinariate said Reese has been barred from performing any public ministry since he was placed on leave.
“Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter has pledged the diocese’s full cooperation with the civil authorities conducting the investigation,” the statement reads. “The Ordinariate is committed to collaborating with authorities to ensure justice is provided for all concerned, and affirms the Catholic Church’s clear teaching that domestic violence is never justified.”
Reese faces jail time. But his alleged crimes leave an aftermath that is not merely a legal matter, but a spiritual and canonical one.
Fr. Reese allegedly beat, threatened, and degraded his wife while forcing her to kneel before the consecrated altar. He is a priest who offers the holy sacrifice of the Mass at that altar. Do Reese’s alleged actions inside Holy Rosary constitute desecration? Does the church need to be reconsecrated?
Canonist and author Peter Vere said in an interview Tuesday:
“Given the alleged facts that have emerged … I am not certain how one could avoid concluding that a serious violation of the church’s sacred character had taken place.”
Vere said, “Certainly the act is grave, especially coming from an ordained priest. It was perpetuated at least in part in a sacred space. And it gives rise to scandal among both Catholics and non-Catholics.”
According to Canon 1211, the local Ordinary is the one who decides whether a serious enough violation has occurred. If he judges the acts are grave, injurious, and scandalous enough to qualify as a violation of a sacred place, the church will need to be reconsecrated.
The local Ordinary, says Vere, could be the pope, the diocesan bishop, the Vicar General, or an episcopal vicar.
On what basis does the Ordinary make his judgment? The Navarre commentary on Canon 1211 says that there are three conditions which constitute a violation of sacred space. It says:
These conditions — necessary, but not sufficient — are: 1) the act is grave and injurious; 2) it gives rise to scandal; and 3) it was perpetrated in the sacred space. In order to ascertain whether an act fulfilling these conditions gives rise to the violation of a sacred place, one must refer to the judgment of the local Ordinary, unless he himself has previously enumerated the facts that constitute a violation . . . today, the sensitivity of the faithful to the scandal that has been produced should be considered as a criterion for assessing the scope of the facts.
Before a church is reconsecrated, there must be reparation for the desecration.
According to Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university, “no sacred rite may be celebrated in the church” until reparation for the desecration has been carried out.
“Preaching to prepare for the penitential rite may be carried out. The people are encouraged to avail themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation, which should be celebrated in another church. To symbolize penance, the Ceremonial recommends: “The altar of the church should be stripped bare and all customary signs of joy and gladness should be put away, for example, lights flowers, and other such articles.”
Fr. McNamara says that “the Mass of reparation is the preferred mode,” and that “it is fitting that the bishop presides at the rite of reparation.” Here is a more detailed description of that rite.
Vere says it’s common for Church authorities to wait until civil authorities have completed their work. Vere said:
“Before any action is undertaken, the local Ordinary would first need to establish what happened. Right now the priest has been charged but his case has not yet gone to court. It is not unusual in Canada or the United States for Catholic ecclesiastical authorities to hold off canonical action until criminal charges by civil authorities are resolved.”
Vere said it would be unusual for reconciliation and reconsecration to take place without the inclusion of the congregation, “because liturgy is the Church’s public prayer and thus generally open to participation by the faithful,” and because the story is now public, and thus “many of the faithful have been affected.”
“Pastorally, these are the people the Church will want to reconcile by the liturgical action prescribed,” said Vere.
Fr. Ryan McCarthy, pastor of Holy Rosary Church, warned his congregation in an October 1 bulletin announcement:
Please do not ask me the details of Father Reese’s situation … If you do ask, I will politely but firmly tell you to “mind your own business.”
The current bulletin, dated February 25, makes no mention of the Fr. Reese scandal. Reese is still designated as Parochial Vicar on the front page, and his name was only removed from the parish website after our story broke. On page four is a message from Pastor McCarthy regarding the blessing of same-sex unions. McCarthy says:
All of us as human beings, whatever our strengths or weaknesses, have a right to be treated with the respect that our God-given dignity demands. We also have a right to hear the truth, whether it pleases us or not — even if it unhappily seems to complicate the unity of the Church herself.
Greg Otolski, communications director for the archdiocese, has returned none of our numerous calls, emails, and text messages. We have also received no response from the Ordinariate despite numerous requests.
Image: Holy Rosary Church interior, photo by Joe Grabowski.