Persecuted Priests: Growing Problem in U.S.

By Mary Ann Kreitzer

During the civil war many soldiers suffered such severe wounds that surgeons had to remove limbs to save lives. Eye witnesses describe piles of arms and legs outside makeshift hospitals near the battlefield. Doctors mutilated men to save their lives. But what if the surgeons wouldn’t cut? Suppose they ignored infections because they feared the attitudes of those who saw men disfigured by the knife? Even worse, what if they were quacks selling snake oil cures with no concern for their patients at all? The men would die, of course, victims of lethal bacteria.

That’s our plight in the Church in the United States. The patient is the bride of Christ, and her diseased limbs are the many dioceses infected with the corruption of dissent and homosexuality. The doctors are bishops and clergy. Those who cover up the rot are the quacks. They apply false remedies like touching programs and mandatory fingerprinting while covering up and enabling corruption. The true doctors are faithful priests who love the Church and want to purify her. Instead of thanking their loyal sons, bad bishops persecute and vilify them. Meanwhile the quacks and charlatans flourish.

How many ways do bad bishops punish good priests? Take your pick: exile, silencing, mandatory evaluation at pseudo-psychiatric facilities like St. Luke’s, frequent reassignment, making them permanent parochial vicars with no hope of becoming pastors, marginalization, driving them out (to other dioceses or the military vicariate), whispering campaigns that designate them “mentally unstable” or “unfit for ministry,” etc. The ultimate punishment, the bishop’s sword of Damocles, so to speak, is suspension. It hangs over the head of a good priest who knows his “spiritual father” will use it. How many orthodox priests hear variations of the threat, “You have no idea what I can do to you!” But the good priests do know. They’ve seen the sword fall on their brothers.

Many orthodox priests live in fear that their bishops will remove their priestly faculties. Why? Because they are having an affair with a parishioner’s wife? Because they’re hoarding porno flicks in the closet? Because they’re letting a homosexual buddy live in the rectory? No! Because they defend the faith vigorously against the evils of modernism and the homosexual subculture.

Recently a priest in Florida, Fr. John Pasquini, e-mailed me asking for help. He’s in trouble because he wrote to a local newspaper criticizing homosexuality in the Episcopal Church. But I’ll let him tell the story in his own words.

“I was assigned as a parochial vicar at St. Juliana’s Church in West Palm Beach when the Episcopalian Bishops voted to consecrate an openly homosexual bishop and approve the blessing of gay marriages. I wrote an editorial arguing that this was contrary to 2000 years of Christianity, that homosexual actions are contrary to God’s law, Scripture, natural law and the complimentarity of the sexes. Shortly after my editorial, the Episcopalian bishop for the region of Florida wrote a letter to the chan-cery arguing that my statements were harmful to ecumenism.

“Rev. Alfredo Hernandez wanted me out of his parish after this incident. His friend, the Vicar General, Charles Notabartolo, called me out of nowhere and asked me if I wanted to serve as the chaplain of St. Mary’s Hospital. I knew immediately what that meant and so I challenged him on the move. He responded that my editorial letter “was way out of line.” This now makes sense, since Rev. Notabartolo was accused and settled out of court a case regarding his alleged sexual advances on another priest that were rebuffed. Fr. Charles told me that I would never be a pastor in this diocese. (our emphasis)

“From there I went to an interview at St. Mary’s hospital. I was kept waiting in the lobby for two hours and then drilled for one hour in [the interviewer’s] office. He argued that some on the staff felt that my position on homosexual actions was troubling. What was supposed to be a formality clearly was not. I left after being informed they were intending to interview other applicants.

“At that time I knew I had no place to go. Fr. Alfredo wanted me out of his parish and St. Mary’s thought I was too controversial. An interesting side issue: I once came home early from my day off and there at the dinning room table playing cards was a legendary group of pro-homosexual priests. It now all made sense!

I made inquiries at Ave Maria University, and Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., hired me in January 2004 to serve as an assistant chaplain. I will be eternally grateful to him. After a short period of time I realized that I missed being a parish priest and so asked Bishop Barbarito to find me a place. I have been at St. Jude’s in Tequesta ever since. But I have clearly been “blacklisted” and “ostracized” by a strong homosexual subculture and/or pro-homosexual priests. I have applied for pastorates at least 11 times and have been turned down. I once was the only one to apply for a parish that no one wanted. The personnel board went out and asked another priest to take the parish, so that I would never be a pastor. Just recently, they gave a parish to a priest who was ordained only two years. I have given up on applying.

“This hatred echoes amongst many of the pro-homosexual agenda priests. I was giving a talk at a parish recently. Afterwards the priest came out and confronted me with the most vile and vulgar of curse words. He literally kicked me off his property, threatening to call the police if I didn’t leave!”

Fr. Pasquini lives in constant fear of removal as do many of his faithful brothers around the country. Few speak out. Our readers know the pitiful saga of Fr. James Haley, removed from ministry in Arlington in 2000 for asking Bishop Paul Loverde to take action against a succession of immoral pastors with whom Haley was assigned. They included an adulterer and two porn addicts, one of whom embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from St. Lawrence. Fr. Haley’s case remains unresolved. Fr. Joe Clark, suspended by Bishop Loverde for correcting the liturgical abuses of a permanent deacon, also remains in limbo after nearly ten months. It seems unlikely these priests will be reinstated without outside intervention.

Farther north, in the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Bishop Joseph Adamec has targeted at least three good priests: Fr. John Nesbella, Fr. James Foster, and Msgr. Phillip Saylor. In 2003 the “Priests Federation,” an anonymous group claiming to represent 26 diocesan clergy, distributed a letter calling for the immediate suspension of Frs. Nesbella and Foster for “repeated and constant acts which threaten the unity of our community of faith,” i.e., addressing the scourge of homosexuality in the diocesan clergy. This lavender cabal demanded the diocese settle all cases against homosexual abusers out of court to protect their reputations, a move designed to maintain the status quo of cover ups. They also called for seminary gatekeepers to screen out candidates unable “to serve in the church of Vatican II.” It is ironic to note three years later that the demand of homosexuals to lynch two orthodox priests was carried out. Both Fr. Nesbella and Fr. Foster are gone. Fr. Nesbella’s case is a little murky. He sued the diocese in civil court because he was molested by a priest as a teenager. Sadly, the suit lent justification to Adamec’s suspension. Orthodox priests have little recourse. They’re damned whatever they do. Unlikely to receive justice in canon law courts, they are condemned if they turn to the civil courts.

Msgr. Saylor got in trouble in 1994 for telling the truth when he testified in the trial of homosexual predator, Fr. Francis Luddy, who was convicted of abuse. Under oath, Saylor said he informed superiors of priestly pederasty in the diocese, a fact conflicting with statements of Bishop James Hogan and other Church leaders. In 1999 Adamec retaliated by imposing a precept of silence on Msgr. Saylor under threat of suspension and excom-munication. Adamec told the priest he, “may not publish any writing or take part in any radio or television program without the permission of the Diocesan Bishop.” Rod Dreher of The Wall Street Journal, Paul Likoudis of The Wanderer, and Catholic World Report Editor, Domenico Bettinelli, have all written about Adamec’s disgraceful record in Altoona. Cases in other dioceses include Fr. Paul Weinberger in Dallas and Fr. Robert Altier in Minneapolis both of whom we wrote about last issue. (See for updates on Fr. Altier.) Other shameful cases include Fr. Andrew Dowgiert in Miami, Fr. George Parker in Norwich, and Fr. Joe Baca in Fresno.

These public cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Most persecuted priests fly under the radar screen. Their bishops deny them pastorships, forbid them to engage in media apostolates, post them to jails and nursing homes, and generally make them outcasts. In dioceses with a heavy concentration of homosexual priests persecution by their clerical brothers adds to the stress. These situations get little or no publicity and abused priests often avoid attention for fear of even greater retaliation. This contributes to the “damaging culture of silence” Fr. Jerry Pokorsky described in the August/September 2005 issue of Catholic World Report.

Faithful priests sometimes see the writing on the wall and get out. E.g., Bishop Loverde hired a professional fundraising company, Community Counseling Services (CCS) at the cost of several million dollars, to run his Rooted in Faith Capital Campaign. Pastors were obliged to add to their daily duties onerous fundraising calls and meetings. Laity in each parish were identified and trained with elaborate marketing techniques to put the financial touch on fellow parishioners. Most pastors did it by the book. One administrator did not. Instead, he made a direct pulpit appeal to his people. Without all the folderol he surpassed the campaign goal at his parish proving one can raise money without paying millions to a professional fundraiser whose other clients include a broad range of dubious environmental groups. In a bureaucracy, however, it’s a capital crime to deviate from the rules. Bishop Loverde transferred Father and demoted him to parochial vicar, making him the only member of his seminary class not to lead a parish except for another priest casualty who ended up leaving the priesthood altogether. Father is not currently serving in the diocese. Will he return? Who knows?

Some persecuted priests have filed recourses in Rome, but the Vatican has two speeds: slow and stop. Fr. Haley has been fighting his situation for five years with no end in sight. After ten months and a visit to Rome, Fr. Clark’s case appears no nearer to resolution. As a good solid priest said recently when I expressed frustration about the many injustices to our clergy, “If the Holy See won't come to the rescue, who will?” Who indeed?

One thing is evident. Our good priests need to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves. So do the laity. We need to protect priests by acting like Joseph during the years of plenty in Egypt. Fill the granaries when the harvest is good. Most of us only make noise when things are a mess. We need to praise good priests before they’re in trouble. Does Father preach well? Tell the bishop. Are his Masses reverent? Does he offer frequent hours of Confession? Does he work untiringly for the parish? Tell the bishop. In fact, thank the bishop for assigning him to your parish. Gratitude not only builds up our good priests, but writing it down protects them from being accused of having “issues” or being “unfit for ministry.”

Finally, to put persecution in perspective we need to remember Jesus’ words. “If you find that the world hates you, know it has hated me before you. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own….Remember what I told you: no slave is greater than his master. They will harry you as they harried me….I have told you all this to keep your faith from being shaken.” (John 15)

It’s a tragedy when persecution comes from within, but we should expect it. Jesus was betrayed by the religious elders who viewed life, not from Yahweh’s perspective, but from the world’s. Even for pagans, the most acute suffering always comes from the betrayal of friends. “Et tu, Brute?” But suffering is also redemptive. It may well be the suffering of our good priests under unjust persecution that ultimately brings a deluge of grace and a new Pentecost for the Church. As Pope John Paul II wrote in Veritatis Splendor, “All Christians must be ready to give every day even at the price of suffering and great sacrifices. One needs, at times, a truly heroic determination, also in daily life, not to give in to the difficulties that push one to compromise, and to live the Gospel ‘sine glosa.’”

May the wounds of our faithful, persecuted priests shine like those of our Lord after the Resurrection. On the road to Emmaus, the brothers recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Wasn’t it because they saw the holes in his hands as he offered the blessing? God will ask on judgment day to see the injuries we suffered for love of Him. Our wounds, like those of the Civil War soldiers, testify to our service. Those in the Church Militant who engage the enemy can’t avoid them. Our good priests are the battalion leaders on the front lines. May they bear their wounds (especially when they’re stabbed in the back) with courage and fidelity as a powerful witness to the Savior they so faithfully serve.

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