By Damien Fisher
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.
The reason? The anticipated February trial in the long-delayed lawsuit brought by New Hampshire priest Rev. Georges de Laire conflicts with St. Michael Media’s “Retreat at Sea,” the Catholic media non-profit’s 9th annual lenten cruise.
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.
Voris was ousted from the apostolate he founded on Tuesday, Nov. 21 and the St. Michael’s board put out a statement naming a breach of the group’s morality clause as the reason. His presentations are still listed on the $1,200-per-person cruise itinerary, though it’s unclear if he’ll be making his presentations as planned.
In a video statement, Voris told his audience he needs time to deal with an ugly past that has been causing him to act out. He’ll be seeking professional help.
“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.
The priest became Voris’ target in January of 2019 when the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Feeneyite fringe group in rural Richmond, New Hampshire, were disciplined by Manchester Bishop Peter Libasci. As judicial vicar, de Laire was the diocesan point man who issued the Precepts of Prohibition to the Slaves.
According to court records, Voris hid that he himself did not write the allegedly defamatory articles, as de Laire had been led to believe. Rev. de Laire filed his lawsuit in February of 2021, and did not discover until December of that year that Voris and Carey did not write the articles. After pushing, Voris’ attorneys conceded in February of 2022 that Balestrieri and not Voris is the author, according to court records.
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.
Brother Andre’s choice
Whatever else can be said about “Brother” Andre Marie Villarubia, head of the Richmond Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, he is a man of conviction.
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.
It was de Laire who was tasked with nudging the Slaves away from their Feeneyism, but after three years of frustrated dialogue, the Diocese issued the precepts banning them from calling themselves Catholic and prohibiting any priest from celebrating Mass in their chapel.
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.
New lawyers, same clients
Faced with a potentially ruinous lawsuit and no lawyers, Voris turned to an unusual advocate, at least for a Catholic crusader. Voris hired Marc Randazza, a First Amendment lawyer who made his reputation as a lawyer for gay porn producers.
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.