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At the end of August, the attorney general of Missouri announced a statewide investigation of the Catholic Church, and Abp. Robert Carlson of St. Louis responded by volunteering to open the archdiocese's secret archives for review. As a priest with knowledge reports, Carlson has a checkered history during his time in Sioux Falls. Church Militant reached out to the archdiocese of St. Louis for comment but has received no response.
By Fr. Peter Damian
Archbishop Robert Carlson, then-Bishop Carlson, came to the diocese of Sioux Falls after being an auxiliary in St. Paul and Minneapolis. I have known personally a couple of men who, when they were in college, were roommates with him as a priest and eventually as an auxiliary bishop living on the campus of a Catholic University. One of these men eventually came to the diocese and was ordained to the priesthood.
Bishop Carlson made a special exception for him to be ordained without having obtained a Master of Divinity. This priest, Fr. James Mason, eventually became Carlson's right-hand man, holding many positions in the chancery. He was put on the fast track for eventually obtaining a position of even more power. After Carlson eventually was moved to St. Louis, in a move that was not at all surprising, Carlson brought him to St. Louis to be the rector of the Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, where he is currently. Father Mason is also highly involved in the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF) — a known refuge for "troubled" seminarians and homosexuals.
I was subjected to a summer of IPF where there were openly homosexual seminarians — one of whom proudly displayed a rainbow flag in his room with no negative repercussions. Also of note, is that one of the founders of IPF, Fr. John Horn, S.J. was the first rector named to Kenrick-Glennon Seminary after Carlson came to "reform" the seminary after the work Cdl. Raymond Burke did to make it a solidly orthodox seminary. Horn was hastily removed as rector for an unknown reason. He since has stopped working for IPF and has fallen off the radar.
It would be good to find out exactly what happened that would cause such a hasty dismissal and quick disappearance on the part of Horn. What did Abp. Carlson know, and when did he know it? It would also be good to know what exactly went on with these college-age men that Carlson lived with in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Carlson was, in Sioux Falls, known to be "conservative" on moral issues. He was also a genius fundraiser. He could, it seemed, make money appear from nowhere. He was very good friends with many affluent members of the diocese. He also brought about a boom in vocations. The reason for this is that he would "import" young, mostly handsome, men from other parts of the country. One such young man was Denis Heames. He came here at the invitation of Carlson.
When Carlson was moved to Saginaw, not surprisingly, Heames followed him there, where he was eventually ordained. A simple Google search will reveal the numerous violations of chastity and lawsuits filed against Fr. Heames and how his spiritual director, Trudy McCaffrey (a woman who works closely with IPF), covered up, hid and lied about this sinful activity. Dennis Heames has since left the priesthood. These are the kind of candidates Carlson brought to the diocese of Sioux Falls. Among the priests and people, he is still considered a great bishop who did a great deal of good for the diocese. Sadly, they do not know the truth because it has been well hidden.
I myself first came in contact with Carlson when I entered the seminary. One of his policies was that all seminarians had to live at least one summer at the bishop's residence. His favorites would live numerous summers there. The summer I lived in the bishop's residence, I learned about and saw with my own eyes some very suspicious behaviors.
I learned that Carlson had a "live-in" lawn care boy by the name of Anthony Wachs. This young man was a minor. He was frequently seen mowing the lawn shirtless. His room was only a few steps from Carlson's room. I can testify that Carlson served him and the other seminarians living there copious amounts of alcohol — even though some of them were minors. Carlson drank heavily and encouraged Wachs to drink heavily as well. As a seminarian, this was scandalous, to say the least.
Anthony Wachs, interestingly enough, is brother to Fr. Justin Wachs. Father Wachs was the right-hand man of the current bishop, Paul J. Swain. Shortly after being named as our bishop, the family of Justin Wachs presented a very expensive crosier to the bishop. Justin, shortly thereafter, became the bishop's closest advisor even though he was young and inexperienced.
He held many, many positions in the chancery. He was the bishop's master of ceremonies, private secretary, moderator of the curia, head of the diocesan liturgy office, head of Catholic education, member of the priest council, member of the college of consultors, defender of the bond in the tribunal and promotor of justice in the tribunal and lived with, ate with and vacationed with the bishop. He also accompanied the bishop on numerous international trips — all funded by the diocese.
In time, in addition to all these other positions, Justin was made pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. It was during this time that he sexually harassed his secretary. To give you an idea of the kind of sexual harassment we are talking about, here are just a few examples: He would force her to drink wine at lunches which she was required to have with him in the rectory, he forced her to hug him in a very close way, he forced her to hold hands, he forced her to move her office from the parish center into the rectory, he forced her to cover the windows of the office with bookcases, he would call her late at night and cry, he would text her at odd hours, he told her she should leave her husband and he would buy her and her children a house, he called her pet names — and much of this was done in the presence of her children, who complained to their mother that they didn't think a priest should be doing these things.
When the victim filed a complaint with the chancery, she was ignored. Eventually, she became so frustrated that she sent copies of documentation proving all of this as well as her testimony to the priest council, and something happened — but not what should have happened. After the bishop became aware that this information had been given to the priest council, he instructed them to destroy it. Still, little happened.
Eventually, Fr. Wachs resigned as pastor of the parish and was shortly thereafter named to work in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the office that deals with priest abusers. This angered the victim and others. This led to a campaign of letter writing on the part of some anonymous person to the nuncio, the priest council and the college of consultors.
When it became clear that the bishop was still not willing to do anything, the information was made public, including damning audio recordings of Fr. Wachs, Mr. Matt Althoff, the diocesan chancellor and the director of safe environment, in which he admits to the victim that she was sexually harassed, that the bishop didn't do what he should have yet he threatens her with loss of her job if she doesn't drop the issue.
The local station KELOLAND News did a series of stories, but the diocese would still not be transparent, and Fr. Wachs kept his job in Rome, including being on the panel that interviewed victims in Guam.
In time, Fr. Wachs "resigned" from his position and is now on a "leave of absence." Some internet research will provide you with the news stories, including copies of all the information the media obtained, as well as an interview with the bishop where he is uncooperative and the epitome of a lack of transparency. Father Wachs now lives in Albany, New York where, according to sources, he has contracted a civil marriage with a woman who has small children — the same kind of woman he sexually harassed.
As you can see, there is a history of malfeasance, corruption and cover-ups in the diocese of Sioux Falls. It began with Carlson and his weird living arrangements with minors and continued under the current bishop. One can imagine, in light of recent revelations out of Pennsylvania, that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
What needs to be answered is: What did Carlson himself do? What did he know about and when? What did Swain know and when did he know it and why did he not act? What else is hidden? Why didn't diocesan officials voice concern about the living arrangements of the Carlson? Why are people like Matt Althoff, who shamed and intimidated the victim, still in power? Why are the leaders of the diocese the same leaders put in power by Carlson? What do they know, and when? Why didn't they act?
When people ask these questions in Sioux Falls, they are shut down, told that these issues are "personnel issues" and thus confidential. Sometimes, they are also visited by diocesan lawyers and intimidated — including when these questions come from priests of the diocese.
I hope, in light of recent events, that Abp. Carlson, Bp. Swain and those in authority will come clean so that the priests and people of the diocese of Sioux Falls can move on.
*9/5/2018: The article was updated to remove mention of lawsuits that involved Trudy McCaffrey, who was dismissed out of one of the lawsuits. It was also updated to reflect the fact that the St. Louis archdiocese has not responded to our media query.