St. John’s Seminarian Endured Campaign of Sexual Harassment

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by Church Militant  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 15, 2018   

Molested by a priest, ignored by Church officials

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As part of the #CatholicMeToo campaign, Church Militant has asked adult victims of clerical sexual harassment to write in and share their stories. This is one of the stories.

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By H.R.

I am 46 years old, married, have four kids and in my case, I am a "Me Too" candidate both as a minor, as well as a young adult. Let me explain. 

From a very early age, I was convinced I'd become a priest, and although I was ready to join minor seminary at the age of about 11, political situations and Church persecution which affected my family as well forced my parents to send me instead to Panama, since they had the "help" needed by a trusted friend (a priest). I was 12, alone, and, while I was pressing on with school and my personal relationship with the Lord, the priest I admired, and who was in many ways my mentor, began to molest me.

My family rejoined me in Panama and shortly after my parents felt Canada was the country to travel to in order to secure a total reunification of the family. I arrived in Canada at the tender age of 15.

As a young adult, while still wrestling with whether or not I still felt the calling, I confided in a priest (Franciscan) who had done ministry back in Panama and knew my assailant well. I was very disappointed with his response basically brushing it off as a possible isolated case of "drunkenness." Needless to say, I couldn't muster any respect for this priest ever again after that.

Needless to say, I couldn't muster any respect for this priest ever again after that.
After several years of reaching out to other priest friends back in Panama, hoping to get direction on how to go about reporting this abuse mainly so that it didn't have to happen to others, I gave up. I simply didn't know whom to go to, or where to get the information in order to report it. I was a personal friend to a priest who I heard had become the vicar general, and although very hesitant (this priest was good friends with my assailant) I managed to ask for the special favour of handing a private later to the archbishop there, Jose Domingo Ulloa Mendieta; I never heard anything back from them.
 

In the meantime, I continued my life as a university student, went on several mission trips, all the while still wondering if a life in the priesthood drove people to the kind of behavior I had experienced.
 
I became a teacher, and since I was at a point where I felt very serious about a girl, I began the process again to enquire and to bring some closure to my wondering about the vocation in my life or not.
 
I decided to take one last "shot" at the vocation, visited and wrote to a few religious orders, and the only ones who opened up the process were the Order of Friars Minor Immaculate Heart of Mary Province, whose house of study was in Boston. I quit my teaching profession, broke a serious relationship with a woman I loved very much — left it all behind — in order to really take that step and see.
 
I quickly realized that out of the 18 postulants in the house only three — including me — were heterosexual. Then, only one of the two religious in charge, one could say, was a real man.
 
I quickly realized that out of the 18 postulants in the house only three — including me — were heterosexual. Then, only one of the two religious in charge, one could say, was a real man.

The campaign of harassment, secret visits to my room whenever I wasn't there to do who knows what in there, as well as the overall gay-infested St. John's Seminary (where I was appointed to attend) in Brighton, Massachusetts in the middle of the sexual scandal that broke in the Church at the time in 2002 made it clear to me that this situation of fellow discerning "men" being paid by "priests" to "study" were basically boyfriends supporting boyfriends, and even paying for trips during March break to Martha's Vineyard and other well-known gay hubs.

My time there came to an abrupt end (although I had already decided in my mind) that I'd leave by the end of the academic year, since I was doing very well in my studies. Owing to the fact that a fellow postulant was becoming physically sick due to the situation of harassment, he had decided to leave in secret by renting a car; but when at the car rental place, his credit card (his mom's) did not match his license, he was stuck. I volunteered to drive him to his hometown in New York.

We left without permission, although I persuaded him to let the superior know of his decision (who I thought was a good guy) via a letter as to the situation and his wishes. He did, but I was still breaking religious order's norms. I telephoned while in New York, and in that conversation I was told I'd need to pack my bags when I returned. I then booked a flight home and the only thing left for me to do was to drive back, return the car and make my way over to the airport.

My last day at the house was a Sunday night. The superior came into my room as I struggled to pack my belongings (too much, since I brought back more belongings from a previous Christmas vacation back home) in garbage bags. The superior told me that he understood what I had done and why, and told me I could stay. I had already booked my flight, however, and I had to return the car. I had no money for a taxi. (An angel — an off-duty taxi driver — took pity on me at the car rental place and took whatever little bit of money I had — much less than the actual fare — and drove me to the airport.)

After I left, two others I know who were good men left as well, leaving the house of study at a 100-percent gay men capacity.

The life in St. John's Seminary was also riddled with innuendos and sexual advances.

The life in St. John's Seminary was also riddled with innuendos and sexual advances. I was not personally invited to their parties, perhaps because I didn't actually take too many courses at the site, but at Boston College across the way (my level of education was already higher than the others') but I knew of the "invitations" and the like.

After being approached by yet another victim from Panama, I relaunched my efforts to find out the right channels to report my past abuse. By this time, the Benedict-led updates on the mechanisms a person like myself could use and the fact that I found out the "statues of limitations" had been lifted, I felt encouraged that I could officially report this. In 2013, I had the help of a good priest who finally put my letter/case in the hand of my home diocesan cleric in Hamilton, Ontario. Although the events had taken place outside of the diocese, they reassured me the Vatican would know and the process would be commenced.

To this day, I don't know what came of my letter and what, if anything, was done. I only got as far as an interview with the bishop — period. While the bishop seemed genuine in caring,  my overall impression was that the interview was simply a way to filter whether or not I, as a "victim," was not mentally ill, etc. and also perhaps to find out what I wanted. I wanted to keep things confidential, especially because my parents are still alive — their knowledge of them being the ones who sent me to this sick priest is a pain I choose to save them from. I hope you can respect that.  

I have been a religion teacher at a local Catholic high school for 14 years, and although I do enjoy teaching the Faith, the burden of seeing the hypocrisy, lack of orthodoxy by leaders and the overall "silent persecution," as I call it — since I know for a fact I have been denied other positions, and on more than one occasion I've been called "too orthodox" for our system — saddens me and is quite painful. 

I still don't know why God led me to places and met people and experienced various events, such as World Youth Day in Toronto, where, because of my involvement being in charge of the leading group at my parish, as well as being in charge of the logistics for 3,000 participants and the priesthood vocations (part of the "Vocations Concert" that took place at the vigil prior to the closing Mass), which gave me the chance to meet Fr. Thomas Rosica, who, on at least one occasion, I questioned about the Church's choice at a rally event in Toronto.

I asked Rosica why on earth someone like pro-abortion Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be invited to a Catholic event. His response was astonishing. He said to me he thought it was logical to have a young "Catholic" Canadian leader as a model for the youth.

At the end of the day, this is a huge crisis all clerics know about. They're lying if they don't have an idea.

My departure from the Franciscan discernment happened to coincide with a few others who left too. I heard soon after that the congregation was quite alarmed and a statement was circulated giving some kind of explanation that put the integrity and sincerity of our vocations in doubt, neglecting ever to mention the real root of the problem. I feel that I was quite vocal in the house in conversations in the community asking the superior about the prudence of admitting in these houses and the priesthood as a whole men who actually have these inclinations

Out of concern that my good name would not be tarnished, I asked in writing that the superior would verify that I had left in good standing. I got a positive email back.

At the end of the day, this is a huge crisis all clerics know about. They're lying if they don't have an idea — from cardinals on down to the very altar servers in many places who have at least the notion of this problem.
 

*8/15/2018: This article was revised to include the correct name of the archbishop of Panama.

 

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