Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Euteneuer Story: Right-Wing Catholic Websites in Uproar Over Pro-Life Priest's Confession (Part 2)

What follows is by no means an exhaustive list of right-wing Catholic websites (and other websites with pertinent information) on which I find the Fr. Thomas Euteneuer story being discussed in the past several days.  It’s a sampling, but a sampling chosen to illustrate three points that, in my view, deserve serious attention as this story unfolds.  These websites are

1.    Questioning the accuracy of Fr. Euteneuer’s story;
2.    Raising serious questions about how he conducted his “ministry of exorcism,” and how he was permitted by both HLI and church authorities to do so; 
3.    And suggesting that both HLI and church officials have, for some time now, known more details about the situation than they have been willing to admit, are still not entirely forthcoming, and have been negligent in dealing with a situation about which they have known more than they are willing to admit.

To understand the significance of these three points, it’s important to look carefully at what Euteneuer said in his confession yesterday.  The confession itself states explicitly that, in making it, he was responding to a context of controversy that had arisen due to information circulating at various internet sites.  Euteneuer states:

I regret having to address the malicious falsehoods that were published this past week on various internet sites. I can only say that I am shocked to the depths of my being at the malicious efforts by supposedly faithful Catholics to destroy a priest who has served the Church faithfully for 22 years.

Against that backdrop, he also claims,  

•    My violations of chastity were limited to one person only, an adult woman;
•    The violations of chastity happened due to human weakness but did not involve the sexual act;
•    The accusation that I “targeted” vulnerable women or otherwise sought them out for spiritual direction is utterly false and a serious defamation of my character and ministry;
•    With rare exceptions, my exorcism/prayer ministry was always conducted with prayer helpers (third parties) present; situations where prayer or pastoral care occurred without helpers present were exceptional situations where I believed it was necessary for me to act quickly in order to help the afflicted person; while not proper protocol, these departures from the norm were never done with a motive to be alone with vulnerable women;
•    I repudiate any allegations of financial impropriety in conducting my prayer/exorcism ministry; I never, under any circumstances, solicited money for the ministry other than travel-related reimbursements, nor did I use HLI donor funds to carry out this work; any gifts offered to me were unsolicited and only accepted so as not to offend the giver and in most cases immediately given to those more needy than myself;
•    I have no knowledge of any persons who received any financial settlement in this matter, nor have I asked for that to be given.

His confession stresses that there was “one particularly complex situation” that “clouded my judgment” and led to “violating the boundaries of chastity with an adult female who was under my spiritual care.”  And Euteneuer exonerates church officials of all blame, saying that they have been “unjustly criticized by those writing and speaking in ignorance of the facts.”  

He notes that his “bishop . . . has allowed me to make this statement.” The bishop to whom he is referring is Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach, who has now issued his own statement (to which I’ll return in a moment).  As with Euteneuer’s confession, this statement has been published at LifeSiteNews.  And this in itself is exceptionally curious, because, to the best of my knowledge, this news site has no official connection at all to the Catholic church, though the site has for some time now been carrying a scrolling ad across the top of its homepage promoting a Catholic college in North Carolina, Belmont Abbey College.

All “official” statements about this story—from Euteneuer to Bishop Barbarito to HLI—have appeared on this news site, as if it is now some official venue for announcements about intra-ecclesial Catholic news.  This use of an anti-abortion news site that is not an official Catholic news site to make such announcements is unprecedented, and suggests to me the extent to which the “pro-life” movement now owns and controls the Catholic church in the U.S. 

To return to the narrative: and so we see Euteneuer’s claims—“violations” of chastity with a single adult female; no targeting of vulnerable women in his “ministry of exorcism”; third parties always present when he engaged in that ministry (“with rare exceptions”); no fiscal improprieties and no payments of hush money; and no blame for anything in whatever happened to be borne by church officials.  Why is he stressing these points?

He’s doing so to address statements made on a number of Catholic (and other) websites in the past several days, which contradict almost every point he eventually made in the confession released yesterday.  On 29 January, Tom O’Toole wrote on the Renew America website:

Let's start with what has already been made known about the fall of Fr. Tom. The Diocese of Palm Beach has acknowledged (privately) "at least one inappropriate relationship," while the HLI side said (off the record) that "Father [reportedly] admitted to having 'an inappropriate relationship' with an employee in his letter of resignation [and] a second woman [apparently] came forward to say that Father had engaged in sexual activity with her — not intercourse, but close to it — while he was performing some type of exorcism prayer(s)."

In addition, a culture of negligence (as far as Church authority goes) developed, in which Father Tom, apparently without the official blessing of either the diocese or HLI, flew around the country for years performing prayers and exorcisms on vulnerable women on his own, fueled by cash or checks made out to Fr. E rather than the diocese or HLI. After some initial success with healing, many of these relationships went on for years with minimal positive results; either because exorcism, unlike the Consecration at Mass, is not a sacrament and thus depends on the holiness of the priest for its success, or worse, because (according to another lady who knew him), Father was [sexually inappropriate] with "more than one woman...many women...targeting confused, vulnerable women, often under the guise of spiritual director." Thus, while Fr. Tom might have a case for invoking CCC #2477 if it was just the one or two women HLI acknowledges (since they apparently were paid off and their settlement involved silence) it is for these other women, other victims, that the Catechism allows us to speak out. And if that last scenario allows us to speak out, the following case nearly compels us to.

And the following day, Carol McKinley wrote on her Tenth Crusade website:

UPDATE - A blogger who says that Fr. Euteneuer was Godfather to three of her children has blog posts up HERE and HERE that indicates she was told the story by an HLI Board member and she had a troubling experience (though not sexual) with him herself.

As you'll discover if you click on the two links embedded in McKinley’s posting above, they point to postings dated 25 and 29 January by a blogger named Adele at the Journey to Therese website.  In the first of these postings, Adele states that “three of us at least” had written to Euteneuer's bishop to make complaints about him.

It’s in the second of the two postings that Adele notes Euteneuer was godfather to three of her children.  She then states, 

The betrayal came when we were courageously informed  by one of the Board Members of Human Life International on December 23,  that "Fr. Tom" had sexually abused vulnerable women, and then said that in "Fr. Tom's" resignation letter that he had cited an "inappropriate relationship".  This last phrase is a huge abuse besides the other, as it is unfair to any of the women in question.  It was not a relationship, it was abuse.   My husband and I feel so betrayed by one whom we considered a Spiritual Father and a man of God.

She then goes on to say that she wants to challenge HLI board members and others who have information about this story to “come forward and reveal the truth.”  She issues this challenge for the following reason:

If there is one woman abused, you can be sure that there are many more out there that are hurting, and no one is sticking up for them.

Place the preceding statements—and I want to stress that these are all being made on conservative pro-life blogs by former friends and allies of Fr. Euteneuer—side by side with what Euteneuer states in his confession yesterday, and a disturbing disconnect between what he says and what they say is evident:

1.    Euteneuer insists that his violations of chastity occurred with one woman; Adele and O’Toole speak of multiple women, and Adele cites an HLI official speaking off the record as her source.  O’Toole also says that HLI has revealed—off the record, of course—that more than one woman has made allegations.
2.     Euteneuer says his “ministry of exorcism” was almost always conducted with supervision and third parties present.  O’Toole reports that there was “a culture of negligence” around this ministry, insofar as church officials are concerned, and that Euteneuer “flew around” the country for years conducting exorcisms on “vulnerable women,” with a source who has inside information stating that he “targeted” many women under the guise of offering them pastoral support.  And was “sexually inappropriate” with more than one of these.
3.    Euteneuer states that there was never any fiscal impropriety in any of this, and no payoffs were made.  O’Toole says that the exorcism trips were funded by cash and checks given directly to Euteneuer, without knowledge of HLI or his bishop.  And that hush money was paid out, according to his sources.
4.    Euteneuer exonerates church officials of all blame.  Adele states that she and at least two others had written to his bishop to complain about his abuse of his pastoral authority.  And so, at some point, church officials were informed directly by various people of a situation demanding their response.

And then there’s this: following the release of Euteneuer’s confession at LifeSiteNews yesterday, HLI officials finally broke silence.  As Roger Bianchini notes at this Warren County (Virginia) news site, journalists have been trying to obtain information about the story from the time Euteneuer left HLI last August, and neither HLI nor church authorities have been willing to disclose any information.  

And what the board of directors of HLI say in response to Euteneuer’s confession (again, they released their statement at the LifeSiteNews site) is revealing: they admit that HLI had received allegations in addition to those about the single case Euteneuer disclosed yesterday.  And they state explicitly that they are releasing this information in response to Euteneuer’s confession of the day before.  

This official statement by the organization Euteneuer formerly headed is extremely serious, because it flatly calls into question the veracity of the information he released in his confession at the same site the day before.

Bishop Barbarito of Palm Springs also provided an official statement to LifeSiteNews in response to Euteneuer’s confession.  It states that the diocese had previously known of “inappropriate crossing of adult heterosexual boundaries on the occasion of carrying out his priestly ministry.”  (Note the interesting insistence on "adult" and "heterosexual" running through both Euteneuer's and Barbarito's statements: does this imply that it is acceptable or thinkable to violate one's role as a pastor, if one does so with a member of the opposite sex who is an adult?  This insistence seems to me to overlook--it seems deliberately to mask--what is extremely disturbing in this story: that Fr. Eueteneuer violated the relationship of pastoral trust that ought always to exist between pastor and parishioner.)

And, as usual, Survivors Network of Abuse by Priests (SNAP) is right on the money when it notes, through Barbara Dorris, the SNAP Outreach Director,

We hope Fr. Euteneuer is telling the truth but we suspect he's not. Rarely do clerics who abuse their power do so only once.

Given the response of Euteneuer’s own organization, HLI, to his confession yesterday, I think it is almost impossible to doubt that at least some of the information about other women “targeted” by Fr. Euteneuer in his “ministry of exorcism” is accurate.  And that we will be hearing further disclosures down the road.

And if this is the case—if there have been other violations of pastoral authority in this case—how can one disagree with Barbara Dorris’s conclusion about the behavior of Bishop Barbarito and other church authorities in this situation:

We are disappointed that Bishop Barbarito and HLI have kept secret for months about this admitted violation and are keeping silent even now. It's irresponsible for church and non-profit officials to let an admitted wrongdoer "spin" his own wrongdoing. Barbarito and HLI are abdicating their responsibility.

And as more stories come out down the road, what’s going to become, I wonder, of a significant aspect of the “ministry” of Human Life International—to promote chastity and attack gays, with very specific accusations that gay priests are responsible for the sexual abuse in the Catholic priesthood?  HLI has a whole section of its website dedicated to disseminating “research” on precisely that point.

And, as Laura Esquivel reports at Right Wing Watch, when the Mark Foley scandal developed several years ago, this is what one HLI official, Jason Jones, had to say about Foley’s statement that he had been molested by a priest in his youth.

If his claim that he was the victim of sexual molestation by a clergyman, it only further proves that known homosexuals should not be admitted to the priesthood. Foley's actions were that of homosexual predator, not a pedophile. Homosexuals reproduce sexually by molesting children. This creates a cycle of violence and disordered behavior that creates future generations of abusers and predators. 

This case of sexual molestation by a clergyman “only further proves that known homosexuals should not be admitted to the priesthood”: singing that hateful song (with its next hateful verse about gays as sexual predators) is going to be a bit more difficult to do now, after the group doing the singing has had to admit that its priest-leader for the past decade has abused his pastoral authority by luring a woman or women under his authority into sexual relationships.  

Slamming the gays and keeping them out of the priesthood wouldn’t have screened Tom Euteneuer out of the priesthood, would it?  Maybe we’ve been on the wrong track for some time now, in our analysis of where the problems lie in the abuse crisis, and how to solve them. 

(And as a side note: Esquivel links to a Christian News Wire article for the preceding statement by Jason Jones.  That article is now gone from the link to which Esquivel points.  I do find it still online, however, at this Standard Newswire site.  It will be interesting to see how much scrubbing of information about Euteneuer and ties to him occurs at various websites in coming days.  If you want to read about this story, now might be the best time to obtain as much accurate information as is out there.)

Addendum: I'm just now seeing this late in the day.  Roger Bianchini has revised his blog posting to which I link above and has now published it on Huffington Post.  This story is not going to go away anytime soon, with coverage at such widely read media sites.  A disturbing tidbit in Bianchini's reporting on this story: he states that the blogger named Adele who revealed information about Euteneuer on the Journey to Therese website has received threats that she considers death threats.

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