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SCRANTON, Penn. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The dioceses of Scranton, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. are both investigating allegations of homosexual misconduct by Msgr. Walter Rossi.
In a public statement released Wednesday, the diocese said that about one year ago, "concerns were raised in the public sector regarding Monsignor Walter Rossi," who served in the diocese of Scranton before being appointed rector to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Journalist George Neumayr was the first to expose Rossi in 2018 in a series of American Spectator articles, his reporting vindicated by whistleblower Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò, who confirmed that he received complaints as papal nuncio about homosexual predation by Rossi.
The Scranton diocese's statement makes clear it has referred initial concerns to the Washington archdiocese, "which investigated certain specific allegations and determined them to be unfounded." The statement continues:
Additional concerns have now surfaced, however, requiring a broadened investigation.
As a result, Bishop Joseph Bambera, Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, has commenced the process of launching a full forensic investigation into the concerns that have been raised.
Bishop Bambera has spoken with Archbishop Wilton Gregory and they have agreed that the Diocese of Scranton and Archdiocese of Washington will work jointly and cooperatively on undertaking a comprehensive investigation.
Archbishop Gregory responded to questions about Rossi at a Theology on Tap event Tuesday night.
"My question calls for accountability, which in the past you have committed to," said a male adult at the event, while Gregory looked away and began wiping his bench with a cloth. "Monsignor Walter Rossi has been openly accused of abuse and of aiding other predatory priests in their abuse by multiple sources, including victims in high-level clergy."
"I'm wondering why in that sort of situation he hasn't been removed from active ministry until an investigation can be completed?"
Gregory appeared to defend Rossi in his response: "First of all, in our society, people can be 'proven guilty' by innuendo or by common conversation," going on to say that no victim of Rossi has complained he was harmed by the monsignor.
A follow-up question noted Rossi's connection to Fr. Matthew Riedlinger, caught in a sexting scandal in which he sent more than a thousand sexually explicit texts to a male he believed was 16 years old. Riedlinger was removed from ministry and eventually left the priesthood.
"That's news to me," said Gregory, claiming to have no knowledge of the case. "And I am not doubting it, but I have not heard about [it]."
He went on to say he hopes for a forensic investigation into the Rossi allegations, adding the caveat, "But in today's environment, even a forensic investigation that either proves or disproves, will not satisfy the people."
In comments to Church Militant, George Neumayr said Gregory's comments indicate how he hopes the investigation will go.
"He's telegraphing how he wants this investigation to end — with a clean bill of health," Neumayr said.
"I'm sure it'll be largely a whitewash," he added, referring to the investigation, "but the very fact that it's started is good news."
"It places pressure on Rossi to quit," said Neumayr. "Who's going to want to donate to the basilica when its rector is under such an enormous cloud of scandal?"
Gregory made clear he had no intention of removing Rossi from active ministry at the moment.
"It seems to me that the investigation has to come from his bishop, he's a priest of Scranton," said Gregory. "Until that kind of investigation is done, a forensic one, outside investigators — I don’t know how we can make a decision until those kinds of investigations are completed."
Scranton's announcement comes weeks after Catholics launched a petition demanding an investigation into Rossi.
"Whereas Monsignor Walter Rossi has been credibly accused of sexual harassment by a former Catholic University of America (CUA) student, we strongly urge President John H. Garvey to open an investigation to determine the veracity of these allegations," states the petition, launched by the group Catholic Laity for Orthodox Bishops and Reform. "In the meantime, we call on Monsignor Rossi to step down from the CUA Board of Trustees while the result of the investigation is pending."
Church Militant contacted CUA to ask for their reaction to the investigation and whether they would keep Rossi on the board of trustees. Karna Lozoya, spokesperson for CUA, responded without directly answering the question:
The Catholic University of America takes allegations of sexual misconduct and assault on our campus seriously. We have robust reporting policies and procedures. If any member of our community would like to come forward and make a report of sexual misconduct or assault, please contact us. For a complete list of reporting options, go here.
Neumayr discussed Rossi's attempts to keep him out of the basilica.
"Rossi put me on a wanted poster, not because I had done anything at the basilica, but because I was investigating Wuerl's embassy row lifestyle," Neumayr said. "He was doing Wuerl's corrupt bidding by trying to take me out."
Neumayr was forcibly escorted by security out of the basilica earlier this summer during Mass, told he was put on a barring list by Rossi for five years owing to "inappropriate behavior." Church Militant asked the basilica for details into his "inappropriate behavior," but the basilica failed to clarify.
After media exposure, the basilica reversed course, claiming there was no barring notice against Neumayr and that he was welcome into the basilica any time, contradicting its previous statement.
"Monsignor Rossi is, without a doubt, a member of the 'gay mafia,'" Viganò said in remarks to Italian journalist Marco Tosatti on June 15.
"I can say that, while I was a nuncio in the United States, I received the documentation that states that Monsignor Rossi had sexually molested male students at the Catholic University of America," Viganò confirmed. "The Vatican, in particular Cardinal Parolin, is well aware of the situation of Monsignor Rossi, as is Cardinal Wuerl."
In addition to evidence of a double life as an active homosexual, Rossi has never answered questions about his finances, namely, how he acquired money to purchase a condo in Florida for half a million dollars in 2012, which he co-owns with his alleged homosexual partner, Fr. Andrew Hvozdovic.
Church Militant sent a number of queries to Rossi, including the request for the sake of transparency that Rossi publish his salary, along with any benefits, for the public to see. Rossi failed to answer that query.
Viganò has noted Rossi's connection to two proven homosexual predators: Bp. Michael Bransfield, his immediate predecessor as rector of the basilica — suspended after evidence that he sexually assaulted seminarians and also misappropriated millions of dollars for personal expenses; and then-Cdl. Theodore McCarrick, who handpicked Rossi to replace Bransfield.
"In fact, his successor as rector of the Basilica, Msgr. Walter Rossi, he was appointed there by McCarrick the same year that Bransfield was appointed bishop," Viganò went on to say.
This fact is confirmed by the Arlington diocese in its newspaper, The Catholic Herald, in a July 8, 2009 article: "In 2005, he was chosen by Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick to succeed Msgr. Michael Bransfield as rector, when Msgr. Bransfield was named Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston."
In an American Spectator article, authored by George Neumayr, multiple sources alleged that Rossi had carried on a number of homosexual relationships and had sexually harassed seminarians and students from Catholic University of America (CUA), on whose board of trustees he sits.
"I can finally testify that Rossi's name was proposed for promotion to my predecessor, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who blocked his progress,"said Viganò. "These facts clearly show how the 'gay mafia' operates."
Church Militant contacted Rossi to ask him to respond to Viganò's claims. Spokeswoman Jacqueline Hayes, director of communications for the basilica, responded with an evasive statement:
The National Shrine has never received any credible allegations of improper conduct by Monsignor Rossi. To the contrary, in 2018 Monsignor Rossi publicly condemned the issues of abuse that have plagued the Catholic Church (statement attached). The recent claims by Archbishop Vigano are baseless and without merit or substantiation.
Follow-up queries asking that Rossi directly deny Viganò's claims again went unanswered.
Located in Regency Tower South along Galt Ocean Mile in Fort Lauderdale, the prime piece of real estate, purchased by Rossi and Hvozdovic in 2012 for $470,000, is now worth more than half a million dollars.
Rossi sits on the board of directors for Regency Tower South and serves as treasurer.
According to a source who spoke with Neumayr, "We all know that Rossi and the priest with whom he owns that place are an old gay couple."
"He has photos of himself with Rossi looking like a married couple, and people have seen them walking the beach in Fort Lauderdale together in speedos," the source said.
Church Militant contacted Hvozdovic to ask why he and Rossi chose to buy the condo together and where they obtained the money to purchase it, but never received a response.
Rossi was linked to Fr. Matthew Riedlinger, ousted from the priesthood in 2013 after being caught in a sexting sting. Riedlinger's name has appeared as a resident of Rossi's condo in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Timothy Schmalz had been a student at CUA, and met Riedlinger through Rossi at the National Basilica, who encouraged young men to seek out Riedlinger as a mentor. Schmalz and another male friend were the target of Riedlinger's sexual harassment. When they reported it to the bishop of Trenton, New Jersey, David M. O'Connell, he did nothing.
Frustrated with the bishop's inaction, Schmalz set up a sting operation in which he pretended to be a 16-year-old male online, in the hopes of getting evidence of Riedlinger's active homosexuality. Schmalz (as the 16-year-old persona) befriended Riedlinger, who then began sending him vulgar and explicit messages.
"Within two weeks of the first contact, Riedlinger talked about pornography, mutual masturbation and sexual encounters," wrote Schmalz in a 2013 article. "And, he wanted to meet 'me.'"
In total, Riedlinger sent Schmalz more than 1,000 text messages.
When the texts were turned over to the bishop, Riedlinger was finally removed — but the bishop refused to tell parishioners why.
"The people deserved to know," Schmalz wrote. "Why did O'Connell deliberately withhold this information from parents whose children had close contact with Riedlinger and who may have fallen victim to his manipulation?"
According to a source who spoke with Neumayr, "Riedlinger was a homosexual who had been kicked out of the seminary in Ohio. He then turned up at Catholic University. Riedlinger would brag about his sexual relationship with Rossi, who helped him become a priest in the diocese of Trenton."
Riedlinger is no longer a priest, and now lives with his male partner in New Jersey, where he runs a furniture store.
Church Militant contacted the archdiocese of Washington with questions about the Rossi investigation, but received no response as of press time.
8/16/2019: This article was updated to include the response from CUA.