Indianapolis priest charged with beating wife inside church

By Damien Fisher

The first married Roman Rite Catholic priest in the state of Indiana is facing prison time as he heads to trial on charges he kidnapped and assaulted his wife.

Rev. Luke W. Reese, 48, the parochial vicar at Holy Rosary parish in Indianapolis is charged with criminal confinement with bodily injury, criminal confinement where a vehicle is used, kidnapping, domestic battery, battery resulting in bodily injury, and intimidation following a Sept. 24 incident in which he allegedly beat his wife* inside his church, and then sexually assaulted her over the course of an 18-hour ordeal.

Reese is a married Anglican priest who entered the Catholic Church through the Personal Ordinariate established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. Reese and his wife have been married for 25 years and have seven children.

According to court documents, Reese’s superiors already knew that he reportedly provided alcohol to minors, got intoxicated with minors, and shared white supremacist material with young people. After seeing his wife’s bruised and swollen face, his superiors suspended him.

Reese did not respond to a request for comment. His lead criminal attorney, Jeffrey Baldwin, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Mary Panszi, the attorney representing the wife in the divorce case, declined to comment in detail about the case, which has not been reported on until now. Panszi speculated as to why the case has so far garnered no media attention.

“I think that’s because the Catholic Church is extremely powerful,” Panszi said.  

Panszi did not want to cooperate with our report, and did not want to have her client contact us, because Panszi deemed us too Catholic.

“I am truly trying to distance myself and my client from the Catholic Church and those who are beholden to their faith, as I believe that they will do anything within their power to silence this matter,” Panszi wrote.

According to the probable cause affidavit filed in the Marion County Court, on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 24, Reese, wearing clerical garb, confronted his wife while she was in the backseat of a car with another man, Jay Stanley. According to the affidavit, Stanley was engaged in a romantic relationship with the wife.

Reese angrily demanded that his wife come with him. She instead got into her own car and agreed to drive to a specific location with Reese so they could get out and talk, according to the affidavit, written by Indianapolis Police Detective Erroll Malone.

Before leaving with his wife, Reese opened the door to Stanley’s car and kicked him in the face. Stanley said Monday he’s not sure why he didn’t call police after he was assaulted and the wife went away with her angry and violent husband.

“I don’t know why. I think that I just didn’t,” Stanley said. “I didn’t think any of that other stuff would happen.”

Once the couple reached the location in their separate cars, the wife got into Reese’s car so they could talk, according to the affidavit. That’s when Reese locked the car so she could not get out, and began to drive. During the drive, Reese repeatedly assaulted his wife with “backhands” while demanding the password for her cell phone.

Reese drove to Holy Rosary church and forced his wife inside the building, according to the affidavit. He brought her to the altar, and forced her to kneel. Before the altar, he assaulted her, hitting her in the face, pulling her hair, putting his hands around her neck, and continuing to demand her password, according to the affidavit.

“(He) stated he could choke her,” the affidavit reads.

On their way out of Holy Rosary, Reese threw his wife into a wall, and then brought her back out to the car, Malone writes. There, Reese allegedly slammed his wife’s head into the car’s door frame. The wife then relented, and gave up her password. Reese started reading her texts to and from Stanley, continuing to interrogate and backhand her as he drove, according to the affidavit.

Reese drove his wife out of Indianapolis, and its “temptations,” to Auburn. He wanted his wife to explain to her 90-year-old grandmother about her relationship with Stanley, according to the affidavit.

Family members told police the wife was crying when she arrived at the house in Auburn, and her face was swollen and bruised. The wife told her grandmother she had been talking to another man.

“What in the world happened to your mouth and eye?” the grandmother asked.

“I hit her, that’s what’s wrong with her,” Reese reportedly responded.

“A priest, and you beat her?” the grandmother said.

“I could have killed her,” Reese reportedly responded.

“Well, you didn’t kill her. So do you feel like a hero now?” the grandmother asked.

That’s when Reese forced his wife back into the car and began driving home. At one point, they stopped for gas, but Reese locked and alarmed the car to keep his wife inside during the stop, according to the affidavit.

They drove back to their home, when Reese forced his wife to go to bed. A short time later, after reading texts on her phone, Reese came back into the bedroom and tore her clothes off her. He then went into her closet and began tearing up her clothes that he deemed “too slutty,” according to the affidavit.

He left her for a short time, while he reportedly downloaded the text messages between his wife and Stanley onto his computer, and she got dressed. He then came back into the bedroom, and again tore off her clothes, sexually assaulted her, and took nude photos of her that he threatened to use to shame her to people in the parish community, according to the affidavit.

“(Reese) then ordered her to lay down and he then had intercourse with her,” Malone writes. “(She) stated she did not wish to have intercourse. However, she did not say no.”

These incidents started the night of Sunday Sept. 24 and continued into Monday, Sept. 25, in what Panszi described as an 18-hour ordeal.

Sometime on Monday, Rev. Ryan McCarthy, the pastor at Holy Rosary, came to the Reese’s house and saw the wife’s injured face. We could find no record that McCarthy called police after seeing her injuries. He suggested the couple take some time apart.

“(McCarthy) recommended the couple go their separate ways for about a week,” the affidavit states.

Reese agreed to leave their house for a few days. The wife eventually went to the hospital. She reported the assault to police on Sept. 27.

According to information we have developed, McCarthy gave the wife a sum of money in excess of $1,000 and helped her set up a bank account following the Sept. 24 incident, to help her with living expenses. We have not verified the exact amount or where the money came from.

Reese was arrested soon after the report was made, and was charged with felonies. He is currently free after posting $2,495 on a $25,000 Corporate Surety bond. His trial is scheduled for May. In December, Reese filed for divorce from his wife.

Holy Rosary placed Reese on six months leave in October. The archdiocesan website says only that Reese was “granted a six-month leave of absence.”

According to the affidavit, Reese’s superiors were already aware of other issues concerning Reese. The wife told police Reese was already in “hot water” over two incidents: One in which he reportedly supplied alcohol to minors and got intoxicated with them, and another in which he shared white supremacist materials with young people. Those incidents were reported by parents to church officials, according to the affidavit.

The wife also told police that Reese had been abusive to the family for quite some time before the Sept. 24 incident.

Greg Otolski, communications director for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis declined numerous requests for comment. We also reached out to officials in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, based in Houston, Texas. Bishop Steven Lopes of Houston is Reese’s bishop. The communications director in Houston has not returned our calls.

UPDATE Feb. 27, 2018: The bulletin from Holy Rosary Church on October 1 contains “An important message about Fr. Reese” on page 4. In the message, the pastor, Fr. McCarthy, says that Fr. Freese has been granted a leave of absence. He warns parishioners that it would be a sin to speculate why Fr. Reese was gone, and says “he will be greatly missed” while he is on “leave of absence.” The message was written after Fr. McCarthy saw Reese’s wife’s facial injuries.

The entire message is as follows:

“Dear parishioners, This past Monday, Father Reese notified me that he was experiencing some personal and family issues which would require a greater amount of his attention. He let me know that he had asked for a leave of absence from Archbishop Thompson, and that he hoped it would be granted. I gave him the week off and, at the end of the week, the Archbishop informed me that he intended to grant Father Reese the leave of absence. As of the writing of this note, the length of the leave had not been fully determined, but it will be at least a few months. I expect it will extend past Christmas and into the new year. I ask that we all respect Father Reese’s and his family’s privacy to allow them to deal with these personal issues. I have made it clear to him that the parish and I will continue to pray for him and for his family during this time. Unless Father Reese happens to reach out to you, please do not interrupt this time allotted to him. Please do not ask me the details of Father Reese’s situation. As his pastor, I am privy to many of the details of his and his family’s personal life, as I am of most of my parishioners. I am not free to discuss these matters, just as I am not free to discuss your personal matters. If you do ask, I will politely but firmly tell you to “mind your own business.” Additionally, do not make Father Reese and his family the subject of speculation or gossip. This is a sin. Please do remember to pray for him and his family. I am very grateful for Father Reese’s service to our parish. He will be greatly missed during this leave. Quite obviously, without a second priest active at Holy Rosary, our Mass schedule and other events will be affected. Please be patient with me and the staff as we work to adjust to the current situation and attempt to accommodate, as much as possible, all of the many activities at our parish. Thank you in advance for all your prayerful support. God bless!”

*We have chosen not to use the name of Reese’s wife in this story.

Image: Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis (Public Domain)

The wheat and weeds in my heart

I was startled to realize that even some of the things I think of as wheat are really weeds.

What kind of things? Righteous indignation that goes on too long, feeding on itself, delighting in itself. Vigilance that turns into paranoia and unseemly scrutiny of friends. An important political argument that takes so much time and energy that I have nothing left for my family. Whistling in the dark that finally stops hoping for comfort and starts revelling in the darkness.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Is silence consent? Virtue vs. virtue signalling

Yesterday, I tussled with some friends over the issue of “virtue signalling.”

In the immediate aftermath of the hideous events in Charlottesville, my social media was flooded with friends passionately denouncing racism and white supremacism. Some of the denunciations included an exhortation for all decent folk to do the same: You must speak up. You must take a stand. You must say something. Silence is consent.

Then followed a wave of irritable scoffers who refused to join in the mass denunciation. Their arguments were pretty solid: Of course we reject racism. Of course we’re anti-Nazi. It doesn’t do any good to say so on social media. The only reason you’d do so is to get your social piety card punched, and that’s just cheap and gross. Tomorrow it’ll be another thing that we’re all required to say. Who can keep up? Let’s just talk about what interests us, and refuse to be pushed around by a mob, even if the mob is correct.

Let’s untangle this a bit.

There are most certainly some folks who latch on to every cause, and their passion never rises above virtue signalling. They never act, but they never stop patting themselves on the back for saying the right thing when it’s popular to say it (and somehow, they never feel the urge to speak up when their cause is unpopular). One day, they’re slapping a flag overlay on their profile picture; the next day, they’re wearing safety pins; the next, they’re insisting that everyone stop what they’re doing and sign a useless change.org petition. And that’s all they do. They endlessly congratulate themselves as they flit from one cause to the next, from passion to passion, never seeming to notice that they stopped talking about yesterday’s all-consuming cause as soon as the hashtag stopped trending.

This is pure virtue signalling, and it’s gross. It changes nothing, it means nothing, and it’s actually counterproductive, as it relieves us from truly thinking, engaging, and acting. It’s the ultimate participation trophy: Hooray, you had the courage to be on Twitter and retweet something popular! Go put your feet up, you warrior, you.

So, phooey on this.

There is, however, another large group of people who were saying things very similar to what the virtue signallers were saying: I reject racism. I denounce Nazis. They don’t belong here; they don’t speak for me. America is better than this.

These folks felt like that had to say something, because they were confronted with something so monstrous and incomprehensible, they could not be silent. They wanted to do something, and there was nothing to be done — nothing but saying something. So they said something.

This isn’t virtue signalling. This is the normal, healthy response of a human being who feels appropriate sorrow, appropriate outrage toward aggressors, and appropriate compassion toward victims. It would be best, and truly virtuous, to follow up a public statement with some kind of action —  praying, perhaps, or getting more involved in local politics, or sending a note to someone who identifies with the victim. But there’s nothing inherently odious or insincere about responding to evil with a loud, public “Hell, no.”

I have heard from people who identify with the victims — from people raising black kids, for instance — that it gives them great comfort to hear a crowd of people loudly defending them. It would hurt, and be frightening, not to hear it. That in itself is good reason to speak up.

I have also heard from people who’ve said, “I have been too timid to speak up in the past. I’ve let racist jokes slide, and I’ve let insults go unchallenged. Now I see where silence leads, and I’m not going to be silent anymore.” This isn’t posturing; this is conversion of heart. Not virtue signalling, but a sign of actual virtue.

Mere words aren’t always empty, even if they’re popular words.

But what about the claim that silence is consent? This is more complicated. We have heard over and over that evil triumphs when good men do nothing. If an individual is silent, that may not mean that he consents to evil, but if every single individual decides that he’s going to sit this one out because everyone already knows that racism is bad . . . well, if that worked, we’d have a lot fewer names to remember on Memorial Day. And Holocaust Remembrance Day. And so on. If everyone is silent except the ones chanting, “Sieg heil,” then yes, silence is consent.

At the same time, when everyone is shouting at the same time, very little gets heard. When the crowd is screaming at you to start screaming, too, it’s hard to think, and impossible to say something more nuanced than “HELL NO.” And sometimes we expend all our energy in screaming, and then it’s hard to feel we have to do something else, such as actually doing something.

So, sometimes thoughtful, reasonable, courageous people don’t say anything in public. This doesn’t mean they’re cowards, and it doesn’t mean they’re complicit. It doesn’t mean they’re privately rooting for evil.

At the same time, sometimes thoughtful, reasonable, courageous people feel like they cannot be silent in public. This doesn’t mean they are smug, shallow, social justice warriors who are only in it for the applause.

If it’s wrong to demand that Every0ne Use the Hashtag Now Or Else You Are the Problem, it’s also wrong to demand that Everyone Shut Up Because We Know Why You’re Flapping Your Useless SJW Lips. We would all do well to give each other a little clearance when something horrible happens. People respond differently to trauma. This is a feature of social discourse, not a bug.

When we demand unanimity — either of speech or of silence — we’re making ourselves weaker, not stronger. When everyone is saying (or refusing to say) the same thing, we’re like a flock of cloned sheep: A single superbug can take us all out, bam.

Of course, all of the above applies to private people. But if it’s your job to speak out, like if you’re the president of the United States, then you have a clear obligation to condemn specific evil acts and specific evil groups, and silence or vagueness is rightly construed as consent. Damn.

But for the rest of us? You could always just split the difference and let your sousaphone do the talking.

God bless the sousaphone man. More like him, please. And more wiggle room for each other, please, as we hash out our response to the intolerable.