The upcoming Synod on the Amazon just won't be the same without one familiar figure on the dais of the Holy See's press office, lying to the assembled international media. Father Thomas Rosica of the Congregation of St. Basil (C.S.B., known as the Basilian Fathers) is taking some time for reflection and healing at Southdown Institute, a facility for troubled clergy and religious located in Holland Landing, north of Toronto, Ontario.
Rosica has long served as a communications adviser to the Vatican and the foremost English-language media attaché to the Holy See Press Office. Until quite recently, Rosica has been regarded as a figure close to Pope Francis and was touted by various sources in Canada as a likely candidate for episcopal promotion, even to the archdiocesan see of Toronto, the largest English-speaking diocese in Canada.
Born in 1959 in Rochester, New York, Rosica entered the Congregation of St. Basil and was ordained in 1986. After theological studies at Regis College, Toronto, he studied abroad for several years, although he never obtained a terminal degree in any branch of theology. In 1994 he returned to Toronto to take charge of the Newman Center, the Catholic chaplaincy for the University of Toronto. He administered the Newman Center until 2000, when he assumed the task of preparing and organizing World Youth Day 2002.
His foundation in 2003 of Salt + Light Media Foundation considerably heightened his profile and gave him a bully pulpit for disseminating news and views, showcasing items and personalities of particular interest to Rosica.
Among the more notorious figures to gain further publicity by an interview on Salt + Light was dissenter Gregory Baum (1923–2017). A communist refugee who fled Nazi Germany to Britain and thence to Canada, Baum was converted in 1946 to the Catholic religion, joined the Augustinian monks at Marylake, north of Toronto in 1947, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1956. After gaining a faculty position first at the University of St Michael's College, Toronto, then later at McGill University, Montreal, Baum wielded astonishing influence in theology and sociology inside and beyond the Church.
In the 1960s, Baum was sent to Vatican Council II as a peritus, or expert, for the Canadian bishops, and then afterwards, through his public dissent from the Church's teachings on morality, incited unparalleled division and conflict within the Church in Canada. By the 1970s Baum had left the priesthood and married an ex-nun on the sly in Montreal, where, after 1986, he fomented further controversy from his chair at McGill.
Shortly before he died in 2017 at age 94, Baum admitted that, since his forties, he was a practicing homosexual who hid his proclivities in order not to undermine his influence on Catholics: "I did not profess my own homosexuality in public because such an act of honesty would have reduced my influence as a critical theologian."
Rosica's interview of Baum on Oct. 11, 2012, remains an embarrassing study in obsequious pandering. His fawning introduction sets the tone for a session of more than usually saccharine homage: "Gregory, we've known each other for a long time. ... I've certainly admired very much your theology, your writings, but also your love of the Church, your love of Christ and you help to keep alive not only the spirit of the Second Vatican Council but the authentic teaching of the Council."
The nonconformist interviewee smiles wanly as he inhales the fragrant incense of Rosica's adulation.
Rosica, already widely known in Canada as the chief executive officer and director of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, soared to international prominence a decade later during the transition between the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis in 2013, and then sprang again to even higher prestige during the October 2018 Synod on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment. Rosica covered both events, as did his Salt + Light Media Foundation, which he had founded in 2003, just after his participation in WYD 2002.
Catholics following the October 2015 Synod on the Family will recall Rosica, as official English-language spokesman for the bishops, announcing at the outset of that synod a shift in attitude and nomenclature in reference to homosexuals and homosexuality: "There must be an end to exclusionary language and a strong emphasis on embracing reality as it is. We should not be afraid of new and complex situations."
Moreover, citing the bishops, he insisted that the forthcoming Jubilee of Mercy requires "a new form of language," in particular in speaking of homosexuals: "[W]e do not pity gay persons but we recognize them for who they are. They are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and our colleagues."
Rosica's emphatic defense of causes involving homosexual identity and a greater acceptance of homosexualism by the Church earned him a reputation for advancing among Catholics what has come to be called the "gay agenda." His admiration and promotion of James Martin, S.J., for instance, have contributed to the impression that Rosica favors the advancement of homosexualism in Church quarters.
In February 2019, Rosica was exposed as a serial plagiarist. Around that very same time, it was revealed that he did not in fact hold advanced degrees, as had been alleged for decades, from the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome, or from the École Biblique et Archéologie Française de Jérusalem.
The claim to such advanced degrees is published by Canadian publishing house Novalis in its promotion of Rosica's monograph Stay with Us: Encounters with the Risen Lord. His book from the previous year, The Seven Last Words of Christ: Reflections, features a foreword by Cdl. Donald Wuerl, the disgraced former archbishop of Washington, D.C.
After the exposure of his serial plagiarism, for which he subsequently apologized, Rosica resigned as CEO of Salt + Light Media Foundation, which accepted his resignation in June 2019.
The manifestation of Rosica's long-time plagiarism resulted in his resignation likewise from the boards of the University of St. Michael's College, Toronto; St. John Fisher College, Rochester, New York; and the University of St. Thomas Houston. His participation on such boards of Basilian-run institutions of tertiary education reflect the influence that Rosica wielded, at least within his own religious congregation.
Even more galling, he had served actually as president and vice chancellor of Assumption University in the University of Windsor from Dec. 1, 2011, to June 1, 2015. That institution promised to review all Rosica's speeches, addresses and publications made during his tenure there.
In a Notice of Retraction issued June 21, 2019, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops withdrew its erstwhile support of Rosica's publications under its aegis, in view of their "failure to provide all the appropriate citations, as well as bibliographic references, and … a number of original sources." Novalis, which published several of Rosica's books, is generally considered an unofficial organ of the Canadian bishops' national conference.
The Jesuits of Canada, who had named Rosica as the recipient of their Magis Award in April 2019, announced "with great sorrow" their decision in February 2019 to rescind the award.
Southdown Institute, which advertises its mission as promoting "Healthy ministers for a healthy Church," treats "religious leaders" among clergy and religious (priests, brothers and sisters) in need of personal care and attention. In 2017, Accreditation Canada awarded Southdown a "Commendation for its commitment to providing safe and high-quality health services."
Clergy in Canada and elsewhere are divided in their estimation of Southdown. Some have expressed gratitude for the help provided by the institute. Others cast a gimlet eye, dismissing it as a place where bishops and superiors send those who pose a threat to their authority or whose attachment to their vocations has been deemed "rigid" or "compulsive." In any event, Southdown has opened its doors for yet another inner journey.