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EXCELSIOR, Minn. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Two New England priests have left active ministry to concretize their homosexual relationship in a so-called "same-sex marriage" and apparently used the maiden name of one of the priests' mothers as their mutual surname.
Father Joseph Cooper and Fr. Michael Clements recently "married" and moved to Minnesota, leaving behind a trail of hurt and betrayed parishioners as well as financial questions of a possibly criminal nature.
Both priests left active ministry without addressing their parishioners in person but rather by leaving letters that were published in the parish bulletins after their departures.
Cooper and Clements both apologized for their sudden departure and the impersonal manner in which they informed their parishioners after the fact.
Cooper wrote that he was angry with himself for leaving how he did, citing his own weakness and human flaws:
With this said, I do ask forgiveness of anyone whom I have hurt. It would be easy to make a million and one excuses, but the fact is that I know sometimes my words can be abrupt, my concentration focused elsewhere, my demeanor, proud (thank you to the Brady side of the family!). If I have hurt you, I do apologize. If you are angry with me for leaving so suddenly, I understand. I'm a bit angry with myself that I'm not a stronger person in this regard. Welcome to my own human flaws!
Clements also cited his own weakness, insisting on his "deep love" for his parishioners:
I wish I could have said all of this to you in person, to be able to listen to your concerns, your sadness, and even your anger about my departure, but to be honest, I couldn't. I know that I wouldn't have the strength. Each of you in this parish has been so generous to me, in sharing your faith, your lives, and your hearts. You enabled me to be a pastor for the first time. … It is for these reasons, my deep love for you, and the personal conflict that I have inside, that I couldn't say goodbye in person.
The two former pastors now live in Excelsior, Minnesota, and go by the surname "Brady," which is apparently the maiden name of Cooper's mother, as evidenced from his departure letter published in the bulletin: "[T]hank you to the Brady side of the family!"
Catholics from the diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, have also confirmed with Church Militant that this is the case.
Cooper was pastor of St. Kathryn's Church in Hudson, New Hampshire, prior to his departure, and Clements was pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Winchendon, Massachusetts, prior to his.
Cooper left active ministry in June 2019 and Clements in August 2018.
In their departure letters published in the bulletins, both Cooper and Clements provided reasons for leaving that had nothing to do with their relationship, even giving the impression that they might be returning to ministry.
Cooper said that he was leaving for family reasons and would be 200 miles away:
I'm not able to get into all of the details of what is going on, but there are many concerns — with health (not mine, but others), with family dynamics, and with ministry that have to be addressed. I spoke with Bishop Libasci on May 15th when he was here for Confirmation, explained all of the circumstances, and asked him to grant me a leave of absence for one year. … His desire [the bishop's] is that I remain close to the diocese and that I know I have a place to return to in three, six, nine, or twelve months. In doing this, the Bishop is ensuring that I remain close to the diocese although physically I will be 200 miles away.
Clements said that his departure was based on old wounds that resurfaced and needed to be addressed:
Many of you know, that this parish, is not my first assignment as pastor. In that prior experience, about which I have been silent, it was emotionally, physically, and spiritually draining. Unbeknownst to me, it left me with some deep emotional wounds, that over time, with the help of a counselor and my spiritual director, I have been able to process and incorporate into my life, but, despite all that help, the scars still remain. Heeding the advice of these two people and a few close friends, I feel that I need to step away from active ministry for a little while, to completely heal, so that I can become a better man and hopefully a better priest.
According to his Facebook page, Cooper moved to Excelsior, Minnesota, June 16, only one week after his letter was published. Excelsior is 1,400 miles away from Hudson, New Hampshire.
Clements talked about old wounds but never mentioned anything about Cooper, who seems to be the main reason for his departure.
After Clements' sudden departure, the diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, conducted a routine audit that revealed an "unauthorized bank account" at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish where Clements was pastor.
Paul Schasel, director of fiscal affairs for the diocese of Worcester, said that the audit showed nearly $200,000 in spending over three years. Some of the spending included repair work on the church building.
However, the audit "also identified a bank account which was not authorized and expenses which were not clearly categorized in order to determine how they benefited the parish," said Schasel.
"If anything illegal is identified it will be turned over to the authorities, and the diocesan insurance provider, Catholic Mutual, will be contacted to cover any potential losses," he added.
Catholics in the diocese of Manchester informed Church Militant that their relationship began before Clements entered seminary and that Cooper was instrumental in Clements becoming a priest. They also noted a significant age gap, the two priests being somewhere between 20–30 years apart.
Clements was ordained in 2012. Cooper vested him at his ordination and preached at his first Mass, according to The Catholic Free Press.
Months after Clements' ordination, the two priests went on vacation together to Ireland, posting pictures of their travels on St. Kathryn's Facebook page, where Cooper was pastor.
One Catholic from the diocese of Manchester told Church Militant that the two took other trips together over the years ― some of which can also be found on St. Kathryn's Facebook page ― and were practically inseparable, also saying the nature of their relationship was fairly obvious to anyone paying attention.
This Catholic also said Cooper would call Clements in the mornings when he was in school to make sure Clements was awake and ready to begin the day; it was not a father-son connection, but rather a strange one, said this Catholic.
Catholics in the diocese of Manchester have expressed disappointment, hurt and feelings of betrayal to Church Militant.
Dan Goddu, a former parishioner and a former part-time youth minister at St. Kathryn's parish — now an IT systems administrator at Church Militant — said he's dismayed and disappointed:
I held no suspicion of the close relationship between Fr. Cooper and Fr. Clements. Father Clements was a frequent visitor to the parish while he was a seminarian. The parish organized a bus trip to his ordination that was well-attended. Father Clements also presided at a Mass at St. Kathryn soon after his ordination. I'm saddened by this news and pray for their repentance.
The vocations website for the diocese of Worcester removed Clements' ordination information; however, that he was once on the site is clear from Google's indexing.
Church Militant reached out to the dioceses of Manchester and Worcester for comment. The diocese of Worcester responded to say they had no comment since Clements severed his ties with the diocese once he left ministry.
The diocese of Manchester did not respond as of press time.