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I am a 68-year-old university lecturer and administrator who has been away from the Church for half a century. But once, I was a 16-year-old Roman Catholic, fervent in the Faith.
My #CatholicMeToo story comes from that time. In the spring of 1966, I was a student at the now-defunct seminary of St. Francis de Sales in what was then the diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa. In late April, while home on break after my sophomore year in the seminary's high school program, I was introduced to Fr. Francis Albert Mantica, the predator whose self-indulgence shattered my innocence and flatlined my faith.
An unconventional priest in his late 30s, Fr. Mantica hailed from the diocese of Albany, New York, but had moved around through incardination in other dioceses before his assignment to my home parish, St. Patrick's, as assistant pastor.
He first marked me for prey inside the confessional.
I had confessed I was struggling with a lustful hankering for the next-door neighbor girl. But Mantica made light of my sin by joking about it — the first and only time I recall a humorous comment inside the confessional. He then asked me my name — also a singular moment in my confessional life.
It was then he first employed his recurring thematic phrase of "You wanted me to ask you that, didn't you?" In the conversation that followed, I revealed that I was a minor seminarian of the parish, and he convinced me that we should meet later to discuss whether I would consider working with him on his pet project.
Father Mantica was in the process of establishing "Youth Village," a (short-lived) halfway house of sorts for troubled young men. After meeting with him, I agreed to help out over the summer break before beginning my third year at St. Francis de Sales. Once work began, I quickly came to know the predator behind the collar; over the next few months, Fr. Mantica repeatedly propositioned me, exposed himself and badgered me to fondle him. In short, he was relentless.
The harassment began in May after I had joined in efforts to start up the Youth Village project (at that time located in a house at S.W. 29th and Portland in Oklahoma City). His overtures ranged from attempts to "French kiss" me to groping to demands I touch his genitals. An especially traumatic incident occurred in midsummer.
While driving to a location southwest of Oklahoma City, Fr. Mantica exposed himself and pressured me to perform oral sex on him as he drove. When I refused, he insisted I grasp his exposed penis firmly (because it wasn't masturbation, he said). I regret to say that I complied, and he quickly ejaculated. He tried to normalize the act, saying that when he was in the military, he had engaged in both oral and anal sex many times. As horrific as that instance was, the worst moment, by far, was still to come.
In August, my father died. In his final moments at St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City, Fr. Mantica arrived to administer the sacrament of extreme unction. After my father died, I was overcome by grief, and at that moment, Mantica lunged. He sought to "console" me by attempting to kiss me, to fondle me — to assault me. Pawing at me just steps away from my father's body, he urged me to reciprocate. But I challenged him, asking if his homosexual behavior was morally right. Without batting an eye, he responded, "It's not as right as it should be," and went on to speak of Christ's love for St. John, "the apostle who Jesus loved."
Though annihilated psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, I resisted him. That was the last incident of abuse.
Still, I had been gravely wounded by all that had happened to me since May. Shortly after my father died, the high school department of St. Francis de Sales abruptly closed; reeling from the loss of both my innocence and my father, I decided to take a "leave of absence" from seminary and stay with my mother rather than accepting a transfer out of state.
I enrolled in a public high school, and, for two months, I stewed over what Mantica had done to me. Finally, I resolved to act. I decided to report the whole sequence of abuse to Fr. James Kastner, who had been my spiritual advisor at the seminary. To his credit, he took extensive and accurate notes of my disclosure and took them to Bp. Victor J. Reed.
In October, I accompanied Fr. Kastner to the chancery in Oklahoma City where I met with the diocesan chancellor, Fr. William Garthoeffner. Also in attendance was a St. Patrick's parishioner who had assisted Mantica in founding Youth Village.
Father Kastner accurately read from his notes, and I answered his questions clearly. I concluded by saying I had no personal animosity toward Fr. Mantica nor a desire for vengeance, but in conscience, I felt that if he was plagued with this particular challenge, he should not be assigned to deal with young men.
After that meeting, I was never informed of any result. Several months later, I asked Fr. Kastner about what happened. His response was vague — something like, "Well, you know, the Church has its own ways of dealing with these things." And that was the last of it.
Meanwhile, word of my allegations got out, and I became a pariah among many St. Patrick's parishioners — injury heaped upon injury. I was devastated by the shunning of my fellow parishioners, who refused to believe a priest would do such a thing. It was my first experience with real opprobrium.
Though my pastor and other clergy were very decent to me and ready for me to be transferred to another seminary, within a year, I drifted away from attending Mass. I had already felt like a relic of the past, owing to my love of the Tridentine liturgy, and my rejection by fellow laity proved to be too much. Of course, it would be simplistic of me to blame all my character and behavioral flaws on the events of that summer and the ensuing contempt my disclosure elicited, but somewhere in the stewpot which is me, it is an ingredient.
As for Fr. Mantica, he refused to affirm or deny my charges against him. Apparently, behind a curtain of ecclesiastical silence, the matter was dealt with in a sadly typical fashion. In 1967, Mantica quietly "disappeared" from Oklahoma City. Soon after, he resurfaced in his native diocese of Albany, which in the coming years would develop a reputation as a haven for homosexual clergy under Bps. Edwin Broderick and Howard Hubbard.
Back in New York, Fr. Mantica was allowed to continue working among minors. In May 1968, he launched another "Youth Village" project. Within months, a dozen young men ranging in age from 11 to 23 were living in close quarters with him at a former horse-riding academy in Duanesburg, just outside Schenectady. Some were fatherless; others were from broken homes. All were vulnerable.
In an interview with The Schenectady Gazette in October of that year, Fr. Mantica declared: "I'm concerned about the youth. I always have been."
"I'm communicating with them," he added, "trying to have them understand the meaning of brotherly love. These boys are so sensitive, but they're so beautiful underneath."
Like its Oklahoma City forerunner, Duanesburg's Youth Village was short-lived; it closed the next year.
After returning to New York, Fr. Mantica soon developed a reputation for "difference of opinion" with the local hierarchy. By 1968, he had been granted a leave of absence by the Albany diocese.
In the ensuing years, Mantica's sabbatical became permanent. He wandered away from his priesthood, deeper into darkness; though details are scarce, what is known points to a continuing devolution of his character.
At some point, Mantica embraced New Age/occultic thought. He immersed himself in the work of former Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a New Age pioneer silenced for his heretical teaching that man is evolving spiritually toward godhood. Mantica became a member of the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research, an organization focusing on the "intersection" of religion and parapsychology.
Additionally, he eventually involved himself with the Kundalini Research Foundation, a diabolical vehicle for New Age thinking. Reportedly, he went on to author a book titled Corology: The Phenomenon and Evolution of Love as well as other works on human sexuality.
It seems apparent that Mantica must have adopted his own syncretic approach, employing some tortured logic and demented theology to absolve his disordered sexuality — to fulfill his wish to make it "as right as it should be."
Mantica died in 1997 at the age of 69.
It is no easy task to sort the effects of those months of 1966 in a man closing in on 70. I recall a brief emergency hospital stay when I was diagnosed with gastroenteritis at 18. The doctor suggested I needed to learn to not keep things in, but become more assertive; otherwise, I could likely be subject to other medical issues.
In failing to find a "golden mean," I became more self-absorbed, more explosive, more judgmental. I took up the martial arts and, despite not being naturally adept, persisted through some tough years to earn a black belt. A failed marriage of five years, a stretch of more beer-drinking than was reasonable and foolishly fortified by my relationships with women, I eventually settled in to a sort of modus vivendi with myself.
In those early, rather unfortunate efforts to define "manhood," I took some wrong paths in the labyrinth; somehow the remnant of faith has served as Ariadne's thread to see me back to the light of day.
I have been away from practicing my faith for a half century. But in the past three years, I have spent a good deal of time following Church Militant, LifeSiteNews and other faithful Catholic websites. In spite of the appalling treachery and duplicity of the hierarchy and the mistreatment of faithful clergy and laity, I have the growing conviction I will again be in communion with the authentic Catholic faith which has remained dormant within me for so long.
I have tried not to make this a story of "poor me," but rather, despite the scars, to add my account to a growing compilation of testimonies that will carry significant weight in the "house cleaning" which is in order. I am grateful for the opportunity to join with others in the #CatholicMeToo movement. For me, it is a moment when I can once again feel a part of Catholicism, experience a sense of healing and offer this as a prayer for the repose of my father's soul after 52 years.
Church Militant contacted the archdiocese of Oklahoma City for comment on M.H.'s allegations. An archdiocesan spokesperson responded with the following statement:
Fr. Francis A. Mantica was a priest for the Diocese of Albany, N.Y. He worked briefly in the then-Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa from June 1965 to March 1967. In late 1966, the diocese received an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. After investigation and substantiation of the allegations, Bishop Victor Reed revoked his facilities to serve as a priest in the diocese and asked him to leave the diocese. By letter, Bishop Reed informed Bishop [Edward] Maginn, Auxiliary Bishop of Albany, of the action taken to terminate Mantica's faculties.
We encourage any victim of past abuse while a minor by clergy or church personnel in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City to contact the victim assistance coordinator at (405) 720-9878.