Ousted deacon resurfaces here
Two other bishops rejected him
In 2007, one diocese refused to ordain him
Two clerics he supervised were sued for abuse
The group he headed also faced financial allegations
It may cost church “several million dollars,” PA bishop says
Still, Oregon prelate now lets him quietly work at Bend parish
SNAP discloses an e mail from local bishop defending his actions
Support group asks Vasa to reconsider and warn church members about him
A Catholic deacon who was refused ordination two years ago by a New Jersey bishop and was ousted by a Pennsylvania bishop now works at a parish in Oregon. A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is urging an Oregon bishop to publicly explain why he’s given a job to the controversial deacon and to reconsider that decision.
Deacon Joseph Levine is the former head of a troubled group called the Society of St. John, which was shut down by Scranton’s bishop in 2004 after charges of financial misdealing and after two of the group’s priests were sued for alleged child sexual abuse. Levine was accused by Jeffrey Bond, Ph.D., of concealing clergy sex crimes.
In 2007, Levine was within a week of becoming a priest in the Paterson NJ diocese. But the diocese suddenly announced that it was refusing to ordain him and admit it had received “questions about Levine’s suitability for the priesthood,” according to the Scranton Times-Leader.
He now works at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in the Baker Diocese, and is listed on the parish website as a “pastoral year seminarian/deacon.” The church is at 2450 NE 27th Street in Bend (541-382-3631). The pastor is Fr. Joe Reinig (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the associate pastor is Fr. Daniel Maxwell (email@example.com)
“Levine’s never been charged or convicted in any criminal, civil or church proceeding,” admits David Clohessy, national director of a self help group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “But two bishops have rejected Levine, both of whom no doubt know him better than Oregon church officials do. And the public and parishioners in Oregon have been told little, if anything, about the disturbing allegations that he concealed child sex crimes and that his group essentially committed financial fraud.”
“At worse, Baker Catholic officials are being reckless and at best, they’re being secretive,” said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis. She’s SNAP’s outreach director.
“We see no evidence that the Oregon church hierarchy has warned anyone about Levine’s troubling past,” Dorris said. “We hope that’s been done, but it sure doesn’t look like it. And that kind of honesty is what bishops have repeatedly promised since 2002 regarding clergy sex crimes and cover ups. It’s the kind of honesty that Catholics deserve and families need.”
SNAP is sending a letter today by fax and e mail to Baker Bishop Robert Vasa with their concerns about Levine.
But in a Jan. 7 email to a local Catholic obtained by SNAP, Vasa defends his actions, referring to Levine’s “good reputation.”
Levine “was aware of (one accused predator priest’s) eccentricities but whether he was in fact an abuser of teenagers has never been proven though (we) certainly have our grave suspicions,” Vasa wrote. “Levine was never implicated in the abuse matters. . .and even now (the priest) has not been charged with any crimes. Levine was caught up in a scandal, not of his making, which he was quite ill-equipped to deal with and he now admits that he did not deal with it well.”
“Corresponding with an accused wrong-doer isn’t the best way to get accurate information,” countered Dorris.
According to one Pennsylvania news account, in 2002,“Levine became (head) of the Society of St. John, the same year a former student filed a sexual abuse lawsuit against two society priests, Carlos Urrutigoity and Eric Ensey, and the Scranton Diocese.” A second, similar lawsuit was also filed later.
According to the Catholic News Service, “three other former students (gave depositions in 2004) testifying that Father Urrutigoity sexually fondled them or slept with them when they were minors.”
In 2005, one of the suits was settled for $455,000.
A former member of the SSJ told Internet columnist Matt C. Abbott (firstname.lastname@example.org) that Levine “actively sought to protect those in the SSJ who engaged in these perverse deeds.”
There were also allegations of financial irregularities leveled at the Society, leading Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino to say it caused “grievous financial burdens for the diocese” that could amount to several million dollars, according to the Catholic News Service.
In 2002, a separate lawsuit filed against the society claiming that it raised $5 million from donors to build a Catholic college. But little money was spent on that project, the suit said, which has since been abandoned.
In 2006, another Pennsylvania newspaper reports that the controversial group “has reestablished itself in Paraguay.” Urrutigoity and Ensey are reportedly there too. Two years earlier, in 2004, Ensey filed for personal bankruptcy.
According to the Wilkes-Barre daily newspaper, some 25 Scranton diocesan priests have been accused of molesting children.
“We must caution against ‘guilt by association,’ but at the same time, it’s hard to believe that Levine was in the midst of all these alleged clergy sex crimes and cover ups and financial misdeeds but knew nothing or responded perfectly,” said Clohessy.
A copy of SNAP’s letter to Vasa is below.
Dear Bishop Vasa:
For years, Catholic bishops have
— accepted ordination candidates rejected by other bishops,
— believed accused clerics when those clerics professed their innocence,
— quietly moved alleged, proven, and admitted wrong-doers to new dioceses, and
— warned no one (or few people) about their troublesome pasts.
Supposedly, in 2002, all that stopped. America’s bishops pledged to put the safety of kids first and to be “open and transparent” with their flocks.
So then why have you quietly accepted Deacon Joseph Levine into your diocese, and apparently warned no one or few people of his past? That past includes allegations
– that he helped conceal those abuse accusations involving priests he supervised, and
– that his group engaged in serious financial improprieties, and
– that his group didn’t cooperate with their local bishop.
Beyond these accusations, there are a number of disturbing and undisputed facts:
– a New Jersey bishop suddenly refused to ordain Levine as a priest,
– a Pennsylvania bishop ousted Levine’s group from his diocese,
– that two members of his group, whom he alleged supervised, were sued for child sex abuse,
– at least one child sex abuse lawsuit involving two priests under his supervision was settled,
– that settlement was substantial (which enhances the credibility of the accusers),
– both accused predator priests have now left the country, and
– Levine’s group has also left the US.
All of this is very worrisome to us, especially in light of your similar secrecy and recklessness in other recent situations:
-Fr. Jose Joaquin Estrada Arango, who pled guilty to molesting a teenager. (As you know, you hid his entire criminal process – being charged, admitting guilt and being deported – from your flock.)
-Fr. Richard Edelin, who was accused of sexually abusing a teenage girl in Texas in the 1980s. (As you know, church officials there paid her a settlement and gave her an apology.)
-Last year, you were one of only two US bishops (out of nearly 200) to refuse to “participate in a nationwide audit of child safety practices” (according to the Bend Bulletin).
-In 2003, a Portland attorney accused you of a “calculated, transparent, unlawful and devious” transfer of church property so clergy sex victims would get smaller settlements.
Given these facts and charges, you can surely understand our dismay about your honesty and our doubts about the Levine matter. In a nutshell, we are worried about the well-being of your flock and of eastern Oregon citizens.
Here’s something to ponder: if Levine did, in fact, conceal child sex crimes, and yet is welcomed into your diocese, there’s certainly a chance that he’ll do it again. And if he, in fact, was involved in any financial impropriety, there’s a chance that he’ll do that again as well.
Frankly, we’re not comforted by your claim that you’ve written several letters over the past few months to two individuals about Levine, one of whom is Levine himself, the alleged wrong-doer. That doesn’t seem like a very thorough investigation.
In light of all this, we have three simple requests, Bishop.
First, we ask you to publicly explain why you’ve given a job to this controversial deacon.
Second, we ask you to reconsider your decision. (Ministry is a privilege, not a right.)
Third, we ask you to hold an open public meeting at Levine’s parish, and give citizens and Catholics a chance to directly ask you questions about your troubling move.
These actions would be small steps toward the caution, compassion and openness that you and your colleagues have promised your flock and toward a more prudent stewardship.
We look forward to hearing from you.