ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Bishop James Checchio of the diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey maintained an elite group of seminarian friends when rector of the Pontifical North American College (PNAC), one of whom left the priesthood and entered a so-called same-sex marriage.
Church Militant spoke with numerous priests and former seminarians, all of whom preferred to remain anonymous and who attended PNAC when Checchio was the rector.
"At the North American College, it was evident that the then-rector, Msgr. James Checchio, affiliated himself with an elite group of seminarians, who were treated with great benignity by the faculty," said one priest. "These enjoyed special privileges and treatment, and even drank together. One of these seminarians was Michael Cassabon."
Church Militant verified with multiple sources who were there at the time that Checchio "affiliated himself with an elite group of seminarians" with whom he drank "and smoked cigars," added another priest.
"It was apparent to anybody paying attention that Checchio had his own group of seminarian friends with whom he'd hobnob and sip cocktails," said one former seminarian. Asked about Cassabon, he said: "I did not know Cassabon well. I recall he lifted weights a lot and was one of Checchio's inner-circle guys."
Michael Cassabon began as a seminarian at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio and transferred to PNAC, where he continued his priestly formation from 2003–2006 under rector Msgr. Kevin McCoy (2001–2005) and then under rector Checchio (2005–2016).
Cassabon was ordained to the priesthood for the diocese of Charleston in 2007 and remained in active ministry for almost nine years until leaving in May 2016 and entering a so-called same-sex marriage on Sept. 9, 2016.
He currently works as the Manager of Major Gifts and Legacy Giving for the Anglican diocese of Toronto, where he "is responsible for donor relations, major gift contributions and legacy giving for the Anglican Diocese of Toronto Foundation."
When Cassabon arrived at PNAC in 2003, McCoy was rector and Checchio was the "economo," or bursar.
One source told Church Militant that Checchio and Cassabon were once seen leaving Checchio's room with drinks in their hands at the time, but Church Militant was unable to verify that with a second source.
Two priests who were both at PNAC under McCoy and Checchio told Church Militant that McCoy did not permit anything that smacked of homosexuality.
"McCoy had no tolerance for the lobby [what Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò has referred to as the 'gay mafia']," said one of the priests. "He kicked people out guilty of passing suggestive notes or pictures around. He was no-nonsense with that kind of stuff."
He added that he thought McCoy was a great rector but had no time for Checchio, saying of McCoy: "He was a good father. The people that worked at the seminary loved him; he was like a pastor to them."
McCoy left as rector of PNAC mid-year in 2005 and was replaced by Checchio, leading multiple Church Militant sources to wonder if there had been a "lavender mafia" coup that year.
According to canon law [canon III.8.7(b)(2)], the rector of a major seminary must endorse a seminarian deacon for priestly ordination.
The Vatican has also made clear that men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies should not be ordained to the priesthood.
In a 2005 instruction approved by Pope Benedict, the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education made clear that the Church "cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture.'"
Based on Checchio's endorsement of Cassabon, who was apparently one of his "elite friends" at PNAC, Cassabon went on to be ordained to the priesthood in 2007 — ultimately leaving the priesthood to enter a gay "marriage."
It is unclear if the two are still in contact.