A cardinal at the Vatican and eight other Catholic clerics pledged on Friday to return money to the diocese of West Virginia after revelations that the bishop there used church funds to give cash gifts of $350,000 to fellow clergymen.
Over 13 years, until his recent ouster for alleged sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield wrote personal checks to clerics and was reimbursed with church money, according to a Washington Post investigation published Wednesday. Bransfield sent the checks, many for amounts in the four figures, to 137 clergymen, including two young priests he is accused of mistreating and more than a dozen cardinals.
Among those returning money is Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who said through a Vatican spokesman Friday that he would give back $29,000 that Bransfield sent for renovations to his apartment in Rome.
The checks have angered many parishioners in West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation. They have also raised concerns about the prevalence of clerics giving such gifts to those who hold sway over their careers, as well as about the propriety of accepting those gifts. The gifts were given during years when Bransfield was building a reputation in West Virginia for living a life of opulence and allegedly sexually harassing young priests and seminarians.
“The first thing I feel is just anger and that it suddenly makes sense why there was no ability to have accountability here,” Molly Linehan, a Catholic school administrator in Charleston, W.Va., said Friday about the cash gifts clerics received from Bransfield. “And although anger is the immediate thing, almost just as immediate is sorrow.”
Several recipients of the checks denied in interviews that the money was intended to buy their silence or pliability. Some said they received checks — described in diocese records obtained by The Post as gifts — after delivering sermons or writing speeches. Other checks marked special occasions, such as birthdays or holidays, they said.
Their decisions to return the money followed Archbishop William E. Lori’s announcement Wednesday, after receiving questions from The Post, that he would return $7,500 he had received from Bransfield.
Lori oversaw an investigation of Bransfield that was ordered by the Vatican in September after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. A team of lay investigators detailed their findings in a confidential draft report to Lori in February, recommending that Bransfield be removed from ministry for alleged sexual harassment and financial abuses.
Lori ordered that the names of senior clerics who received gifts — including himself — be edited out of the final report to the Vatican, The Post reported Wednesday. He said he thought inclusion of the names would be a distraction.
On Friday, Lori said he regretted that decision.
“If I had to do it over again, especially at a time when we’re trying to create greater transparency and accountability, the report would have included the names of those bishops who received gifts, including my own, with some notation that there was no evidence to suggest that those who received gifts reciprocated in any way that was inappropriate,” he said in a video statement posted to the archdiocese’s website. “Transparency also includes admitting when a mistake in judgment has been made and that is certainly the case here.”
In an interview with The Post, he said such gifts are unusual. “I don’t get a lot of gifts like that,” he said.
Several recipients said they believed Bransfield was sending his own money.
“I had absolutely no idea that he was submitting these checks to people and getting reimbursed by the diocese,” said Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, who received three checks totaling $3,000 from Bransfield, money he said he would return. “I thought it was a kind thing to do. I just assumed it was from his account.”
Murry said he does not send checks to fellow clerics as gifts.
Bransfield, 75, drew on revenue from oil-rich land in Texas that had been donated to the diocese more than a century ago and that has generated annual revenue averaging nearly $15 million in recent years. Bransfield spent lavishly on chartered jets, luxury hotels, a private chef and a $4.6 million renovation to his church residence, the investigators found.
Bransfield has denied the allegations, telling The Post in a brief interview that “none of it is true” and that critics are “trying to destroy my reputation.”
It is Bransfield’s cash gifts that are raising questions about prelates outside West Virginia.
Through a spokesman, Farrell told The Post that, in addition to Bransfield’s gifts, he received “voluntary donations” from laity, priests and bishops for the renovation of his apartment in the Vatican.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò — who served as the apostolic nuncio, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, from 2011 to 2016 — said he received checks from Bransfield and a handful of other bishops during his tenure. He described the practice as unique to the United States in his experience.
“Around the Christmas holiday, I started receiving gift checks from several bishops in the United States,” he said in an email, recalling his arrival in 2011. “I had worked in nunciatures around the world and had never seen anything like that.”
The checks were typically between $100 and $1,000, he said. Aides told him “money gifts among bishops were customary in the United States, and not accepting them would be an affront to the donors,” Viganò told The Post.
Viganò received $6,000 from Bransfield. He said he donated the money to charities shortly after he received it.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who the report says was given $23,600, said through a spokesman Friday that he received honoraria for speaking invitations and other events, in addition to gifts to mark personal celebrations. The biggest single gift to Wuerl — $10,000 — was for the renovation of a church in Rome, he said.
Wuerl has not said whether he intends to return the money, the spokesman said.
The spokesman did not respond to questions about whether Wuerl has given any cash gifts or received them from other clerics.
Monsignor Kevin Irwin, former longtime head of the theology department at the Catholic University of America in Washington, received $6,500 from Bransfield, according to diocese records. Irwin said Friday that the money was in exchange for writing and teaching he did and that he didn’t feel obliged to return it.
Irwin said Bransfield’s large gifts to clerics who apparently performed no service seemed out of the norm.
“I was sickened by it,” Irwin said, describing his reaction to disclosures in The Post’s report.
“Money corrupts. If you follow the money, whether in the church or out of the church, it can corrupt. A big check for doing nothing? Use it on yourself? I don’t know where that came from. Mine came from working in my office. And I’ve never been given a check for something I didn’t do.”
The Rev. Michael Weston and monsignors Walter Rossi and Vito Buonanno at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Bransfield was stationed before he was sent to West Virginia, are returning $10,800 collectively, a spokeswoman said.
“Over the course of the past few years, the priests of the Basilica have received modest financial gifts from Bishop Bransfield for their assistance with diocesan pilgrimages and to celebrate significant days such as birthdays and anniversaries,” said spokeswoman Jacquelyn Hayes.
“The priests have never had cause to question the source of the funds,” she wrote in a statement. “As other clergy have pledged, the priests at the Basilica will return the personal gifts from Bishop Bransfield to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, where the money can be used to serve the needs of the community.”
The most frequent recipient of checks, the Rev. Richard Mullins of the District of Columbia, said Bransfield had encouraged him to become a priest and was a longtime friend. Mullins, who received 38 checks from 2013 to 2018, said they were generally for birthdays or holidays, according to the records obtained by The Post.
“I’m deeply saddened that church funds would be used for personal activities,” he said.
In the years before he was ousted for alleged sexual harassment and financial abuses, the leader of the Catholic Church in West Virginia gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to fellow clergymen, including young priests he is accused of mistreating and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States and at the Vatican, according to church records obtained by The Washington Post.
Bishop Michael J. Bransfield wrote the checks from his personal account over more than a decade, and the West Virginia diocese reimbursed him by boosting his compensation to cover the value of the gifts, the records show. As a tax-exempt nonprofit, the diocese must use its money only for charitable purposes.
The gifts — one as large as $15,000 — were detailed in a draft of a confidential report to the Vatican about the alleged misconduct that led to Bransfield’s resignation in September. The names of 11 powerful clerics who received checks were edited out of the final report at the request of the archbishop overseeing the investigation, William Lori of Baltimore.
Lori’s name was among those cut. He received a total of $10,500, records show.
The Post obtained both versions of the report, along with numerous emails and financial records.
On Wednesday, in response to inquiries from The Post, Lori said he is returning money he received from Bransfield, and asking that it be donated to Catholic Charities, “in light of what I have come to learn of Bishop Bransfield’s handling of diocesan finances.”
He acknowledged that the names of senior clerics were cut from the final report. “Including them could inadvertently and/or unfairly suggest that in receiving gifts for anniversaries or holidays there were expectations for reciprocity,” Lori wrote. “No evidence was found to suggest this.”
The investigation was launched by the Vatican last fall after clerics in West Virginia raised concerns about Bransfield’s behavior. Five lay investigators concluded that the cash gifts were part of a broader pattern of abuse of power by the bishop, including harassing young priests and spending church money on personal indulgences.
“Bishop Bransfield adopted an extravagant and lavish lifestyle that was in stark contrast to the faithful he served and was for his own personal benefit,” they wrote in the final report.
During his 13 years as bishop in West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation, Bransfield spent $2.4 million in church money on travel, much of it personal, which included flying in chartered jets and staying in luxury hotels, according to the report. Bransfield and several subordinates spent an average of nearly $1,000 a month on alcohol, it says. The West Virginia diocese paid $4.6 million to renovate Bransfield’s church residence after a fire damaged a single bathroom. When Bransfield was in the chancery, an administrative building, fresh flowers were delivered daily, at a cost of about $100 a day — almost $182,000 in all.
Bransfield, 75, drew on a source of revenue that many parishioners knew little about, oil-rich land in Texas donated to the diocese more than a century ago. He spoke of church money as if it were his to spend without restriction, according to the report.
“I own this,” he is quoted as saying on many occasions.
In an interview with The Post, Bransfield disputed the allegations, saying “none of it is true,” but declined to go into detail because attorneys had advised him not to comment. One of his attorneys said Lori has not responded to Bransfield’s request for a copy of the report.
“Everybody’s trying to destroy my reputation,” Bransfield said by phone without elaborating. “These people are terrible to me.”
According to the report, he spoke with investigators in February and “emphatically denied engaging in any sexual harassment or sexual activity with any priest or seminarian, either verbally or suggestively by his conduct.” The report does not include responses from Bransfield to many of the spending allegations, but he told investigators that aides oversaw the renovations at his residence and that back problems left him unable to fly in economy class.
Lori told members of the diocese in a statement Wednesday that he received permission “as of today” to sell the bishop’s residence in Wheeling and use the proceeds to support victims and survivors of sexual abuse.
Just hours after The Post’s inquiries, the statement also addressed the gifts he received from Bransfield. “In the spirit of full disclosure I feel it necessary to acknowledge that I was periodically a recipient of financial gifts in varying amounts by Bishop Bransfield,” Lori wrote.
The documents obtained by The Post provide a rare inside look at the finances of one diocese at a time when Catholic leaders, buffeted by criticism over their handling of clergy sex-abuse cases, have pledged to reform a church hierarchy that gives virtually unchecked power to bishops and cardinals. The records also offer the deepest insight yet into the circumstances surrounding Bransfield’s resignation in September — when church authorities announced an investigation into unspecified sexual harassment allegations — and his subsequent suspension from ministry in March.
Bransfield wrote at least 565 checks that were recorded as “gifts” and made out to the clerics by name. The documents obtained by The Post do not make clear why Bransfield gave the gifts, though the recipients of the largest amounts were among the most influential members of the Catholic Church, clerics whose opinions carry weight with the Vatican.
Among them was Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who recently retired as Washington’s archbishop; Cardinal Tim Dolan of New York; Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who sits on the Vatican Supreme Court, and Archbishop Carlo Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States known for his calls for more accountability. Cardinal Kevin Farrell, a high-ranking Vatican official who served for years in the District, received two checks totaling $29,000 for expenses related to an apartment in Rome, documents show.
The report does not comment on the propriety of accepting such gifts.
The gifts came as a succession of younger male clerical assistants complained to church officials in West Virginia that Bransfield was sexually harassing them. Similar concerns were raised about Bransfield’s conduct in Philadelphia, where he taught at a Catholic high school, and in the District of Columbia, where he was head of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception from 1990 to 2005, the report says.
At least six of Bransfield’s clerical assistants in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston “were broken by the experience,” Vicar for Clergy Anthony Cincinnati told investigators. Seminarians or young priests appealed to leaders in the diocese, to no avail, the report says. They were instructed to “make your boundaries clear,” it says, or told that they had no choice but to join Bransfield in such activities as sleepovers at his residence and on trips.
“Your presence is required,” the report quotes another of Bransfield’s top aides, the Judicial Vicar Rev. Kevin Quirk, telling a young priest.
In a statement, a spokesman for Wuerl said the cardinal had “received honoraria for speaking invitations in the Diocese of Wheeling and other commemorative events, as well as modest gifts to mark personal celebrations, such as an ordination anniversary.”
A Vatican spokesman confirmed that Farrell received “voluntary donations” from Bransfield and others for the renovation of his apartment in the Vatican and said that Bransfield “received nothing in exchange.”
“Cardinal Farrell was not aware of the accusations against Bishop Bransfield for abuses and mismanagement of the financial funds of his diocese,” the spokesman, Alessandro Gisotti, said in a statement.
Spokesmen for Dolan and Burke did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Nor did Vigano.
Cincinnati declined to comment.
Asked for comment on behalf of him and Quirk, a spokesman for the diocese forwarded the statement from Lori. The statement cast blame on Bransfield, claiming that the judgment of some diocesan personnel was “impacted by the culture of fear of retaliation and retribution that the former bishop fostered.”
The roots of the West Virginia diocese’s unusual wealth date back to the late 1800s, to a friendship struck on a transatlantic cruise ship between a bishop from Wheeling and a New York heiress. When she died in 1904, Sara Catherine Aloysia Tracy left the majority of her estate to the diocese, including a large tract of land in west Texas. Oil was discovered there decades later.
The income from the mineral rights generates annual revenue averaging nearly $15 million in recent years and has funded an endowment now valued at $230 million, according to financial documents. As a result, West Virginia’s parishes are largely supported by the diocese — unlike across the rest of the country, where dioceses must be supported by local parishes.
The state has 78,000 Catholics — just 4 percent of the population, among the lowest per capita in the country.
Bransfield arrived at the Wheeling-Charleston diocese in 2005. He was known to prefer an opulent lifestyle, the report says. Investigators wrote that “a reputation for a party atmosphere attached to Bransfield’s tenure” in Washington.
Three months into his time in West Virginia, documents show, Bransfield began dipping into the diocese’s fortune, sending to some clerics what would be the first of many checks.
In 2006, Bransfield gave $4,800 to Cardinal Bernard Law, who had by then been ousted from Boston for his role covering up clergy sex abuse. Cardinal Edmund Szoka got $500 after retiring that year as a top Vatican administrator.
In 2011, shortly after Wuerl was elevated to cardinal in the Archdiocese of Washington, Bransfield appeared with him at a ceremony in Rome. Bransfield walked just behind Wuerl in a procession of global dignitaries, video of the event shows. Two weeks later, Bransfield wrote a check to Wuerl for $10,000.
The following year, Bransfield sent a $5,000 check to the newly appointed archbishop of Baltimore, William Lori.
The Rev. Pietro Sambi, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, known as the Apostolic Nuncio, received checks totaling $28,000 before his death in 2011, the draft report shows. Vigano, his successor, got checks worth $6,000, it shows.
Checks totaling $9,175 were sent to his nephew the Rev. Sean Bransfield, vice chancellor of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, financial records show. His cousin Monsignor Brian Bransfield, general-secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, received $1,350, the records show.
During these years, fellow clerics elected Michael Bransfield president of the Papal Foundation, a nonprofit that distributes millions of dollars to charitable projects on the pope’s behalf. The foundation is run by U.S. cardinals, and its board included Wuerl and Theodore McCarrick, both recipients of Bransfield’s cash gifts.
Bransfield also became a regular visitor to the Vatican. In 2010, he presented a cake to Pope Benedict on the pontiff’s 83rd birthday.
Law, Sambi and Szoka are deceased.
An attorney for McCarrick said he has no immediate comment.
In separate statements, Brian and Sean Bransfield said they were unaware that Michael Bransfield had been reimbursed for the checks. “They always seemed like a typical gift from a family member,” Brian Bransfield said.
Records show that the diocese’s finance officials adopted a method to reimburse Bransfield for the checks. His compensation was increased by an amount that covered the gifts, plus the tax burden that resulted from the increased compensation, a practice known as “grossing up,” according to the report and emails among top diocesan officials. The documents do not describe who initiated the arrangement, but internal emails indicate it became common practice.
“His Excellency would like to receive a check in the amount of $500.00 prepared according to the usual gross-up method,” Quirk wrote to diocese financial officials in a 2016 email regarding a gift that Bransfield sent to Vigano’s successor as nuncio, Christophe Pierre.
In the six years before Bransfield left West Virginia, the same method was used to reimburse him $324,129 for a portion of his personal expenses — clothing, jewelry and “personal services,” the report says. Among the charges paid for by the diocese were 87 purchases totaling $61,000 from Ann Hand, a D.C. jewelry boutique specializing in patriotic items such as gold and sapphire eagles, records show. The report does not say whether the church paid for the jewelry directly or reimbursed Bransfield to cover the cost.
As Bransfield lived in opulence, seminarians and young priests who assisted him complained to church officials that he was sexually harassing them.
The report cites nine men in the Wheeling-Charleston diocese who accused Bransfield of touching or groping them, kissing or exposing himself to them or of commenting on their bodies. Diocesan leaders witnessed Bransfield’s “predatory” behavior toward altar servers, behavior troubling enough that one church leader tried to make sure no altar server was left alone with him, the report says.
The text of the report does not name the alleged victims, and it is often vague about when the incidents took place.
There were “troubling hugs” from Bransfield, the seminarians and young priests told investigators. On some of these occasions, they alleged, Bransfield appeared to be intoxicated. Others said he warned them not to “get fat.”
One said Bransfield slapped him on the buttocks at Castel Gandolfo in Italy, the summer residence of the pope. On another occasion, the alleged victim said, Bransfield summoned him into his bedroom and began kissing his neck.
Another said Bransfield let him drink alcohol before he was legally of age, exposed himself, pulled the young man against him and ran his hands over the seminarian’s genitals.
One seminarian recalled sitting on Bransfield’s lap, being kissed by the bishop and thinking: “I either do this, or I have to completely reinvent my life.” Bransfield asked him to take his pants off, but he refused, the seminarian told investigators. The seminarian later suffered an emotional breakdown and became deeply depressed, the report says.
At least two of the men now accusing Bransfield of misconduct received checks from him, typically for between $50 and $300, according to the report and financial records. Those gifts were given during and after the alleged misconduct, the records show.
Throughout his tenure, Bransfield abused alcohol, oxycodone and other prescription drugs, which “likely contributed to his harassing and abusive behavior,” the report says. The report does not include a response from Bransfield on the drug use allegations.
In the interview with investigators in February, Bransfield denied sexual misconduct with the seminarians or young priests, the report says. “He said that at most he would hug these individuals (using the term “embrazzio” to describe the hugs), but there was never any sexual intent with anyone he came into contact with while bishop or during his time at the National Shrine,” it says.
Despite the growing number of people in the diocese who had concerns about Bransfield’s conduct and spending, the few internal checks that existed failed to stop it, according to the report.
The diocese had a finance board made up of officials and lay people who were responsible for overseeing spending, including Bransfield’s compensation. The board was “extremely passive,” the report says.
“There was an almost complete absence of any meaningful review of financial decisions,” the investigators wrote.
Told of the findings, Dwight M. Keating, a longtime member of the finance board, said: “Wow. I didn’t know any of this.”
Keating said the board never discussed or approved reimbursing Bransfield for cash gifts. “Why would we be giving gifts to people outside the diocese? We have enough poor people in the state,” he said.
In 2013, a new finance director, Michael Deemer, noticed the “extreme level” of Bransfield’s spending and concluded that it might violate IRS rules, the report says.
Instead of confronting Bransfield, Deemer arranged for some of those personal expenses to be added to the bishop’s compensation, using the “gross-up” method that had been in place for years to reimburse him for cash gifts.
Tax experts contacted by The Post said the decision to reimburse Bransfield by boosting his income could raise questions at the IRS about whether there was an effort to mask the true source of the money.
Outside auditors also avoided addressing the spending patterns, the report says. A partner at the auditing firm hired by Bransfield told investigators he was “afraid to challenge Bishop Bransfield’s decisions because of the Bishop’s position and his overall demeanor.”
Quirk and Bransfield’s most senior aide, Vicar General Rev. Frederick P. Annie, discussed concerns about the bishop’s conduct with young men but did nothing to stop it, the report says.
“Tell it to the Nuncio,” Annie said when Quirk raised the issue, according to Quirk, referring to the conduit for complaints to the Vatican about bishops.
During his time in West Virginia, Bransfield gave three people who held that role checks totaling $38,000, records show. Annie told investigators that taking a complaint about the bishop to the nuncio would have been “career ending.”
In the spring of 2018, two young priests who had worked as assistants to Bransfield, along with a third priest who had been offered that job, delivered incendiary letters to Quirk. They alleged that Bransfield “had subjected them to unwanted sexual advances, sexual contact, and sexual harassment,” church documents show.
Quirk took the allegations to Lori, along with documents detailing Bransfield’s cash gifts. The Vatican launched an investigation.
On Sept. 13, Pierre, the nuncio, announced that Bransfield had resigned. On the same day, the Archdiocese of Baltimore released a statement saying Pope Francis had directed Lori to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against Bransfield. The statement offered few details.
Within days, Lori named a team that included two attorneys from the law firm Zuckerman Spaeder: former Baltimore prosecutor Gregg L. Bernstein and Caroline Judge Mehta. The team also included Diane Barr, the chancellor of the Baltimore diocese; Christopher Helmrath, a financial consultant; and John Moore, a retired lay person in West Virginia. Lori gave them permission to access any relevant documents.
They all declined to comment, referred questions to Lori or did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The team began interviewing dozens of people and waded through years of credit card reports detailing Bransfield’s purchases, as well as personal banking records maintained on his computer.
On Feb. 13, the lay investigators delivered a scathing 60-page report recommending that Bransfield be stripped of his powers as bishop, removed from ministry and forced to pay unspecified restitution.
It also recommended that his three closest aides — Annie, Quirk and Cincinnati — be removed. “By failing to take any action, the Chancery Monsignors enabled the predatory and harassing conduct of Bishop Bransfield, and allowed him to recklessly spend Diocesan funds for his own personal use,” the report said.
The investigators suggested reforms that would enable priests, church workers and parishioners to report sexual and financial abuses without fear of repercussions. They also recommended that the diocese’s external auditors be fired.
Bransfield was removed from ministry in March. Only his successor would be able to remove the three Bransfield aides, Lori said Wednesday. And he said only the Vatican can make a decision about forcing Bransfield to pay restitution.
“My focus is on the healing of the people of the diocese and on preventing such abuses from occurring in the future,” Lori wrote.
The U.S. Catholic Church spent more than $10 million on lobbyists over seven years to delay statute of limitations reforms from going into effect in eight states, according to a new report.
The church paid for lobbying efforts in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island between 2011 and 2018, the report, which was reportedly commissioned by law firms representing survivors of church sexual abuse, found. Each state’s legislature was either considering or passed legislation that broadened statute of limitations laws, the time period in which victims of crimes can come forward with legal action.
“This report lays out what we have known all along — that the Catholic Church refuses to take responsibility for the decades of abuse that took place knowingly under its watch,” attorney Stephen Weiss, who works for one of the law firms, told NBC News.
In Pennsylvania, the church reportedly spent $5,322,979 to keep existing statute of limitations laws in effect. Victims of child sexual abuse currently can bring criminal allegations until the age of 50 and file lawsuits until age 30.
“Statute of limitations reforms give survivors more time to obtain some measure of closure on the atrocities committed against them,” attorney Gerald Williams told NBC News. “The church has yet to implement meaningful reforms, and by working to prevent these laws from passing, the church is clearly demonstrating that it does not stand with survivors.”
The church spent nearly $3 million dollars in lobbying efforts to prevent the Child Victims Act from going into effect in New York, according to the report. The measure, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law on Feb. 14, allows child sexual abuse victims to sue institutions and specific perpetrators until age 55, up from the previous age of 23.
Eighty percent of the money spent in New York went to the Catholic Conference Policy Group Inc., which the report states was asked to lobby on “statute of limitations, legislative issues and liability issues.”
“I think it’s incredibly troubling that parishioners who on Sundays contributed to the church collections may have been inadvertently funding lobbying efforts against victims of sex abuse seeking legal redress,” New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D) said, according to NBC News. “Three million dollars that went for lobbying could have done a lot of good elsewhere, including soup kitchens, after-school programs for children, support for seniors. In my district, a Catholic school that is closing might perhaps have stayed open if that money had been used for better causes.”
The church reportedly spent $875,261 in Connecticut, $633,458 in New Jersey, $537,551 in Massachusetts, $124,260 in Maine and $61,961 in Rhode Island.
In New Hampshire, where legislation to amend the statute of limitations laws has not yet been introduced, the church spent $134,345, according to the researchers.
The Hill has reached out to church officials in each state and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for comment.
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference said in an email to The Hill that officials had not reviewed the report.
“For more than a half century, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has lobbied on a myriad of issues that are important to people of the Catholic faith,” the spokesman added.
When Cardinal Daniel DiNardo first met Laura Pontikes in his wood-paneled conference room in December 2016, the leader of the U.S. Catholic Church’s response to its sex abuse scandal said all the right things.
He praised her for coming forward to report that his deputy in the Galveston-Houston archdiocese had manipulated her into a sexual relationship and declared her a “victim” of the priest, Pontikes said. Emails and other documents obtained by The Associated Press show that the relationship had gone on for years — even as the priest heard her confessions, counseled her husband on their marriage and pressed the couple for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.
She says she was assured that the priest, Monsignor Frank Rossi, would never be a pastor or counsel women again.
Months after that meeting, though, she found out DiNardo had allowed Rossi to take a new job as pastor of a parish two hours away in east Texas. When her husband confronted DiNardo, he said, the cardinal warned that the archdiocese would respond aggressively to any legal challenge — and that the fallout would hurt their family and business.
On Tuesday, three years after the meeting with DiNardo and after written inquiries by the AP last week, the church temporarily removed Rossi, announcing in a statement from his new bishop that he was being placed on administrative leave.
Laura Pontikes, a 55-year-old construction executive in Texas, had been at a low point in her life when she sought spiritual counseling from Rossi, the longtime No. 2 official in the Galveston-Houston archdiocese DiNardo heads. Instead, she said, Rossi preyed on her emotional vulnerability to draw her into a physical relationship that he called blessed by God.
“He took a woman that went into a church truly looking for God, and he took me for himself,” she told the AP.
Rossi’s sexual relationship with Pontikes is now the subject of a previously undisclosed criminal investigation in Houston. Yet it is DiNardo’s handling of the case that poses far-reaching questions for the church in the #MeToo era, when powerful men and institutions are being called to account over sex abuse.
As the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, DiNardo will lead a meeting next week in Baltimore to address the church’s credibility crisis over its failure to fully reckon with sexual abuse, 17 years after it committed to cleaning house. DiNardo is expected to present his brother bishops with new proposals to hold one another accountable for sexual misconduct or negligence in handling abuse cases.
But Pontikes’ case lays bare that even leaders in the Catholic hierarchy who have vowed to do right by victims continue to fail them. Pontikes said DiNardo has been negligent by keeping in ministry a priest who “seduced, betrayed and ultimately sexually victimized” her, Pontikes’ therapist told Texas prosecutors.
The June 11-14 meeting in Baltimore is part of the church’s effort to confront sexual abuse worldwide. In a little more than a year, Pope Francis admitted he made “grave errors” in Chile’s worst case of cover-up, an Australian cardinal was convicted of abuse and a French cardinal was convicted of failing to report a pedophile.
In the U.S., a Pennsylvania grand jury blasted church leaders for following “a playbook for concealing the truth,” and attorneys general in at least 15 states are investigating sex abuse by Catholic clergy and its cover-up.
The Galveston-Houston archdiocese acknowledged an inappropriate physical relationship between Rossi and Pontikes, but asserted that it was consensual and didn’t include sexual intercourse. In a written statement to The Associated Press, it defended its handling of the case, saying Rossi was immediately placed on leave and went for counseling after Pontikes reported him.
Rossi returned to active ministry, without restrictions, based on recommendations from an out-of-state “renewal” program for clergy he completed, the statement said.
Pontikes filed a police report in August. Under Texas criminal law, a member of the clergy can be charged with sexual assault of an adult if the priest exploited an emotional dependency in a spiritual relationship.
Rossi’s attorney, Dan Cogdell, said Rossi is cooperating with the investigation and has met with police. He declined further comment.
Pontikes’ allegations against DiNardo add to questions about how he has dealt with abuse in the past. SNAP, a national group of survivors of clergy abuse, has called for him to resign as head of the bishops conference because he allowed predator priests to remain in ministry in Houston, as well as in his previous diocese in Sioux City, Iowa.
And when law enforcement raided DiNardo’s offices in November as part of an investigation into an alleged abuser, they found files locked away in a bank vault that the archdiocese had failed to turn over, according to police documents released last month.
Rossi previously helped handle Galveston-Houston’s abuse cases for more than two decades. But in a church bulletin in February, he minimized the number of abusers nationwide, accused the media of hyping the scandal and insisted that while even one case of abuse was too many, the vast majority of accused were “good men” who simply made a “terrible single decision.”
Pontikes provided the AP with seven years of her email correspondence with Rossi, therapists, priests and friends, along with financial data and communications with the archdiocese. She told the Vatican in April that Rossi heard her confessions after their relationship became physical — a potentially serious crime under church law that DiNardo never asked her about. The Vatican said her complaint was under review.
The church, which has been grappling for decades with the sexual abuse of children, is now being forced to reckon with the idea that adults too can be sexually exploited by clergy. Last summer, amid revelations that ex-
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had preyed on adult seminarians, DiNardo used his pulpit to apologize for the leadership’s failures. “This is especially true for adults being sexually harassed by those in positions of power,” DiNardo said Aug. 27. “We will do better.”
That statement gave Pontikes hope, but nothing changed, she said. She said she came forward to protect other women and expose DiNardo’s handling of her case, which has left her so distraught that she can barely sleep or work.
“They’re not going to play with my life like this,” said Pontikes. “They just can’t get away with it…Somebody had better stand up and tell the damned truth.”
Pontikes first met Rossi in the confessional at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in December 2007. At the time, Pontikes sought to fill the void of an emotionally distant husband and mounting pressures at the family business by throwing herself into her faith, giving sizeable weekly donations at Mass.
Rossi’s easy manner and laughter broke the ice.
Soon the coiffed and charismatic preacher was calling her “Laura dear” and attending family dinners. In 2008, while she showed him a religious painting in their downstairs wine cellar, Rossi slipped his hand under her jacket and rested it on her bare waist, she said.
She froze, embarrassed, but didn’t know what to do, she said. So she did nothing.
During a 2009 dinner, Rossi asked the couple to give to an ambitious capital campaign that included rebuilding the St. Michael rectory where the parish priests lived. Their firm built the new rectory for $900,000, more than half of which the couple donated themselves. In addition, Laura Pontikes donated nearly $250,000 in religious art and furnishings, including $20,000 for an 18th-century scroll depicting the Virgin Mary as the Good Shepherdess, according to a list of vendors provided to AP.
In all, the Pontikeses said they gave the church about $2 million over nine years, and Rossi asked for more, including $750,000 for a new school chapel they couldn’t afford. The archdiocese countered that their construction firm benefited from contracts worth $24 million over that time.
Pontikes began seeing Rossi for regular spiritual direction in 2010, at the same time her husband was trying to get an annulment for his first marriage. The couple wanted their civil marriage of two decades to be recognized by the church.
Rossi married the Pontikeses in a religious ceremony at St. Michael’s in August 2012. Less than four months later, during a session of spiritual counseling in his office, Pontikes said, Rossi started their physical relationship with an intimate, sexual embrace. The next day, Rossi wrote her an email with the subject line “blessings.”
“It was wonderful to visit with you yesterday and continue to unfold the love of God in your life,” he wrote.
She felt blessed and special to him, but also conflicted, knowing a boundary had been crossed. That same confusion tormented her during the many times he induced her to perform sexual acts in his office during spiritual direction, she said.
Pontikes phoned and emailed Rossi several times a day with spiritual musings and work and family problems, and he responded with the attention she sought. In time, she was increasingly questioning her feelings for him.
“I have blocked my faith mightily over my fear of my love for you,” she wrote him Jan. 5, 2013.
Rossi assured her that such feelings are common in spiritual direction and that “holy touches” were not only sanctioned but encouraged by St. Paul the Apostle.
Houston architect Ken Newberry was dismayed at seeing his longtime friend and client fall under Rossi’s spell. “She was like someone that was hypnotized or mesmerized,” Newberry said.
Newberry recognized a process of grooming that he went through when he was abused by a Catholic priest at the age of 15. He eventually told Pontikes he couldn’t bear to hear any more, because it was triggering his own trauma.
“Someone is talking to you about God,” he says, “and they’re pulling you in and telling you that this is right…It is very, very confusing and overwhelming.”
Throughout the relationship, Pontikes said, Rossi was her confessor. On Dec. 20, 2012, about two weeks after their first sexual embrace in Rossi’s office, he agreed to hear her confession: “I would be most happy to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation with you if you would like.”
A few months later, Pontikes was rushing to catch a flight to visit a friend whose husband had died. Guilt-ridden about her growing intimacy with Rossi, she wanted to ease her conscience with confession before leaving town.
He was not happy with her request and said he didn’t have time. But she chased him down, followed him out the side chapel and made him hear her, according to Pontikes. She confessed that she had been inappropriate with her priest. He absolved her of their sin, she said, and told her, “Go forth and sin no more.”
The so-called “absolution of an accomplice” crime, one of the most serious in canon law, must be reported to the Vatican and can carry the penalty of excommunication. It occurs when a priest absolves someone with whom he has engaged in a sexual sin, including merely a lustful touch.
The archdiocese claims Rossi never heard Pontikes’ confession during or after their physical relationship, but the emails Pontikes turned over to church officials include several references to confession.
Edward Peters, a leading U.S. canon lawyer and consultant at the Vatican high court, says that “as a matter of good governance” the bishop in question — DiNardo — should have asked Pontikes about possible confession-related crimes. Pontikes said neither DiNardo nor his subordinates ever did.
The sexual relationship grew during a March 2013 trip to Taormina, Sicily, one of several family vacations Rossi joined at the Pontikeses’ invitation and expense. The family also had begun building a guest cottage for him at their weekend retreat on Trinity Bay.
George Pontikes, who knew nothing of the sexual encounters with his wife, reached out to Rossi for advice after the trip. She was growing more distant, irritable and distracted, he said, and the couple was on the verge of separation.
“I don’t know whether I’m asking for help or sympathy,” he wrote on April 3, 2013. “I know Laura listens to you.”
Rossi responded that she was going through strong mood swings. “My gut feeling is that she is on the verge of a breakdown due to the stress,” he wrote.
George Pontikes reached out again two weeks later.
“Frank: Laura is close to losing it,” he wrote Rossi. “I want to help. She does not want it. I think you should give it a try. She trusts you.”
Four days later, on a Friday night after George had gone to bed, the priest and parishioner consummated the relationship in the pool house bathroom of her Houston home, Laura Pontikes said. It was the first of up to half a dozen such sexual encounters over more than a year, according to Pontikes.
“I wish I could have walked away from it, but I just didn’t and I just couldn’t,” she said.
The archdiocese denied key portions of Pontikes’ claim, saying the relationship included encounters of a sexual nature but not intercourse. It also said Rossi ended the physical relationship, but Pontikes continued sending him “hundreds of unsolicited messages primarily by email and phone.”
Although Pontikes acknowledged the continued correspondence, she said she was desperate to hold onto the spiritual relationship because she believed it an essential part of her faith. Rossi assured her that their relationship was “a blessing from God.”
“I am praying fervently and digging deeper and deeper into my own soul,” he wrote her in 2015, after the physical relationship had ended. “I ache at my very core.”
The turmoil tore Pontikes up so much that she sought therapy. Gradually, painfully, she came to believe that Rossi had preyed upon her. Her suspicions were confirmed when she watched him interact with other women, and she remembered seeing him touch one on the bare shoulder at her wedding.
Then two friends told her about his inappropriate attentiveness to yet another woman on a Holy Land pilgrimage. It was the tipping point. She confided in her friends, and they urged her to turn him in.
Pontikes reported Rossi to the archdiocese April 7, 2016. She met with Auxiliary Bishop George Sheltz and Sister Gina Iadanza. They didn’t ask questions, Pontikes recalled, but Iadanza wrote down everything she said, and she left them with a stack of email correspondence.
That night, as she sat in the prayer chair in her living room, she finally told her husband. “What have you done?” George Pontikes asked his wife in shock.
Over the next few days, Laura checked herself into a residential clinic to cope with the trauma. George spoke with her therapists, read the emails between Rossi and his wife and began to realize that the priest had manipulated and betrayed them both. He was livid.
Less than a month after reporting Rossi, Laura Pontikes said, she got a phone call from Iadanza. She and her husband listened together.
“She said they had completed their investigation and that a committee had determined that he must be turned over to the authorities,” Pontikes said. “I panicked. I did not want to ruin anyone’s life, even as mine appeared to be in shambles.”
The archdiocese maintained that it was not legally obliged to report Rossi to police at the time, and that Pontikes “vehemently resisted” their suggestion that she do so. However, Joe Bailey, a onetime assistant district attorney in Harris County who is now advising the Pontikeses, said Rossi’s wrongdoing is clear and should have been reported immediately. The archdiocese did report the case last year, and said it is cooperating with the investigation.
For Pontikes, this case is as much about DiNardo as it is about Rossi.
DiNardo’s archdiocese is known for its secrecy among victim advocates. In the November raid on the diocese, prosecutors backed by 60 members of the Texas Rangers and federal agents seized records related to the Rev.
Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who has been charged with sexually abusing minors. Two of LaRosa-Lopez’s alleged victims have accused DiNardo of downplaying their claims and keeping him in ministry, around children, until his arrest in September.
DiNardo also allowed the Rev. John Keller to celebrate Mass on the same day his name appeared on the archdiocese’s list of accused priests, even though allegations that he fondled a 16-year-old boy had been public since 2003.
In 2002, during his tenure as bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, DiNardo apologized for allowing the Rev. George McFadden to continue working as a priest after he molested at least 25 children.
Rossi, for his part, helped handle Galveston-Houston’s abuse cases as vice-chancellor, chancellor and vicar general of the archdiocese. Pontikes recalls he boasted that his bosses couldn’t take action against him since “I know where all the bones are buried.”
In 1998, Rossi signed a form letter stating that the Rev. Jesse Linam was a validly ordained priest who had been granted “complete retirement for medical reasons,” according to documents obtained by AP. The letter didn’t mention that Linam had been removed from ministry five years before after admitting to sex abuse. In a 2003 letter with a $2,000 loan to Linam for legal fees, Rossi wrote, “Jesse, I realize that this has been a very difficult time for you. It has been for Bishop (Joseph) Fiorenza and myself as well.”
In his new posting in east Texas, Rossi continues to express sympathy for accused priests.
“These men need our prayers, as they too are suffering due to the harm they know they have caused,” he wrote in the Feb. 2-3 parish bulletin.
A month after Pontikes reported him, Rossi sent an email to the staff of St. Michael’s with a letter to parishioners announcing his resignation as pastor, effective May 7, 2016.
“I am being faced with some very difficult personal issues affecting my priesthood which require my full and single focused attention;” Rossi wrote. He vowed to return after “a period of renewal.”
Pontikes said Iadanza later told her that Rossi would never be a pastor again, and that the archdiocese was looking for a position for him as a port chaplain or in prison ministry — where he wouldn’t have access to women. The archdiocese said Pontikes’ account of Iadanza’s comments is “not accurate,” but did not elaborate.
The Pontikeses found out about Rossi’s return to Houston when they learned a parishioner had invited them all to the same Christmas party. George Pontikes pressed DiNardo in a subsequent meeting to hold Rossi accountable, but said he came away feeling threatened.
“He told me that this could be headed for some type of civil or criminal matter and that we should resolve this problem because ‘Laura can’t handle it, you can’t handle it and your business can’t handle it,’” George Pontikes recalled DiNardo warning him.
“I told him, ‘Neither can you.’ He said, ‘You’re right. I’ll put money, art and everything on the table. Let’s have a mediation.’ “
Scott Allen, an attorney representing Pontikes, also thought the church was bullying the couple. After a May 31, 2017 meeting, he wrote that archdiocesan lawyer Robert Schick had tried to warn them off litigation by mentioning the “public domain exposure to Laura, George their business” as well as the potential for “St. Michael’s community fallout.”
“Despite attempt at ‘cordiality,’ I found the tone and content purposefully vaguely & opaquely threatening and somewhat insulting,” Allen wrote.
The archdiocese didn’t respond to questions about the exchanges.
Rossi’s “retirement” from the archdiocese was announced that spring, along with his new appointment as pastor of Our Lady of the Pines in Woodville, Texas, a humble parish that seats about 100 people. Laura Pontikes said Iadanza assured her Rossi would be under a strict monitoring protocol. In the meantime, DiNardo defended his actions to George.
“They started telling me things like, ‘His life is ruined, George. We’ve already punished him,’” George Pontikes said. “‘We’ve sent him out to east Texas… He will never ever be looking at an upward mobility anymore.’”
By October 2017, Dr. Ken Buckle, Laura Pontikes’ Catholic therapist, had outlined mediation proposals. They included a formal apology for actions by Rossi and by the archdiocese; ongoing monitoring of Rossi along with five years of therapy, with annual reports to the couple; and “more compassionate” policies in cases of inappropriate conduct.
But Pontikes said that during two years of mediation, the church focused exclusively on a financial settlement.
What happened between Pontikes and Rossi is under investigation by the Houston police department, and Harris County prosecutors have subpoenaed her therapists in the name of a grand jury.
In an affidavit seen by the AP, Buckle wrote that Pontikes was in crisis as a result of “sexual and religious abuse” and that the decision to relocate Rossi to another parish was “highly distressing” to her. Texas law states that sex is without consent if a clergyman exploits a person’s emotional dependency on him.
“It’s recognized that the person really can’t give consent,” said Tahira Khan Merritt, a Dallas lawyer who represents abuse victims. “And the church knows that.”
The archdiocese said it informed Rossi’s new bishop of his violation of his vow of chastity and time in a renewal program.
Beaumont Bishop Curtis Guillory didn’t respond to questions about what other information or monitoring recommendations DiNardo had provided. He told AP that he accepted Rossi into his diocese as a retired Houston priest “in good standing,” and that he has received no allegations of misconduct in his parish. In a press release Tuesday put on the Beaumont website, he announced Rossi had been placed on temporary administrative leave pending the investigation.
Until the suspension, neither the criminal investigation nor the years-long mediation with the archdiocese appeared to have crimped Rossi’s ministry. As usual, he led a 13-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Jordan in early November. The pews at his new parish were full on Palm Sunday, when Rossi celebrated Mass and then greeted visitors in near-perfect Spanish.
“At times, we betray the Lord, through our evil acts of sin,” Rossi said in his homily. “And then we regret our sins.”
Rossi’s parish bulletins included posts on spousal love and sexuality, including how husbands and wives should communicate. Laura Pontikes read them in disgust, seeing them as an attempt by Rossi to find women in troubled marriages who might seek counseling.
She enclosed the bulletins in her April letter to the Vatican, including one from November that read: “Holding hands, kissing, embracing and sexual intimacy are all ways of communicating marital love… For a person whose primary love language is touch, physical contact with their spouse is essential.”
He was a priest just out of seminary. She was a nurse. They were both from the slopes of Mount Kenya, but their paths improbably crossed in Rome
He became unshakable in his desire to marry her, even though he had taken the Catholic Church’s mandatory vow of celibacy for priests
When he returned to preach in Kenya, Peter Njogu was shocked when fellow priests told him that many of them had broken that vow, marrying and having children. In hushed tones, they spoke of their “secret families,” kept hidden in distant homes. The thought of doing so pained him
As the Catholic Church goes through a global crisis brought on in part by the revelation of widespread sexual misconduct by its clergy, self-proclaimed Bishop Njogu believes he has figured out how to save Christianity’s largest church from its own sins: Let priests marry and raise families.
Njogu’s breakaway faction, the Renewed Universal Catholic Church, is Catholic in every way except in having optional celibacy for its priests. Its growth in Kenya is rooted in opposition to the practice of keeping secret families but reflects a growing worry among some Catholics that the celibacy requirement — to many an nonnegotiable tenet of the priesthood — creates a harmful culture of sexual secrecy.
The Vatican has shown no interest in reexamining the issue for all priests, and Pope Francis has called celibacy a “gift to the church.” But the pontiff has also signaled that he is open to ordaining married men in remote parts of the world with a severe shortage of priests. More radical voices in the church have called for the church to rescind the requirement altogether.
“Most of our members are ex-Catholics,” said Njogu. “They are tired of the hypocrisy. Some of our people call us the ‘Church of the Future.’ ”
Nearly 20 priests and more than 2,000 parishioners have joined Njogu since 2011, he claims, mostly in the towns and villages that dot the fertile slopes of Mount Kenya, the 17,000-foot-high extinct volcano right in the center of this country.
“Now that I’ve come out, these other priests tell me, ‘The problem with you is you went public,’ ” he said on a recent Sunday after celebrating Mass. “And I say, ‘I am not the problem; I am the solution. Join me.’ ”
To his flock, he said: “This is where you find your freedom from all that hypocrisy.”
The church in the hilltop village of Gachatha where Njogu preaches his reformation is a far cry from a cathedral. The pews, pulpit and church itself are all made of wooden planks nailed together. The floor is sawdust atop dirt. On a clear day, the ice-capped peak of Mount Kenya glimmers through a glassless window.
While Catholicism has declined in numbers in some former bastions in the West, such as Ireland, it is growing more rapidly in Africa than anywhere else. Africans make up nearly a fifth of the world’s Catholics. Njogu’s sermons hark back to Catholicism’s pre-celibacy era while appealing to the faith’s future in Africa, where he believes it will have to reconcile with local customs as it grows.
“No one in the Vatican understands the African soul. They do not understand that for the African man, priest or not, the worst sin is to leave this world without siring a child,” said Njogu. “Mandatory celibacy is thus the root of priestly sin, but they pretend all is well while their house is burning to the ground.”
The Catholic Church excommunicated Njogu after he defected for alleged “unbecoming behavior,” including purchasing land and speaking openly about his intention to marry Berith Kariri, who remains his wife.
“These priests are not sincere, they are pursuing personal interests,” said Father Daniel Kimutai Rono, general secretary for the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops. “There is nothing about ‘African-ness’ or ‘European-ness.’” The vow of celibacy, he said, “is about the vocation, about the call to serve God and the sacrifice which entails in serving God.”
Dozens of Njogu’s followers said in interviews that they left the mainstream church because they doubted their former priests’ devotion to the vocation.
“As a parent, I had to fear that a priest would impregnate my daughter if I took them to my old churches,” said Margaret Kimondo, who was one of Njogu’s first converts. “In front of the altar they may look one way, but at night, you don’t even want to hear those stories.”
Philip Muiga, 78, had been a Catholic priest for decades before joining the Renewed Universal church last year.
“One day I met a priest in the street who I have known for a long time, and he was drunk,” he said. “When I went home and looked at myself in the mirror, I just saw darkness. I could not justify continuing to call these men my colleagues.”
Rono, who represents the Kenyan Catholic Church, denied any sort of systemic abuse or existence of “secret families” but acknowledged a global churchwide “trend of infidelity to the priestly vocation” and said priests should avoid any kind of “coverup.” The Vatican deferred to its Kenyan representatives for comment.
Celibacy has been expected of Catholic priests since its origins in the first century after Jesus Christ’s death, but the 12th-century imposition of a celibacy vow was necessitated primarily by a priesthood that had begun using the church as a family business, said Chris Bellitto, a professor and church historian at Kean University in New Jersey.
“Priests were handing their parishes along to their illegitimate sons as if they were training them as cobblers, who inherited your shop and tools when you died. This complicated the integrity of the sacraments — what if the son didn’t have a vocation or disposition as a spiritual leader? — and the independence of the church, since the bishop was supposed to be naming parish priests,” said Bellitto.
But the vow always seemed at odds with certain parts of the Bible’s teachings, leading many within the church to question its purpose. Njogu’s faction is certainly not the first to try charting a new course without the celibacy vow, said Kim Haines-Eitzen, a historian of early Christianity at Cornell University.
“In Catholicism, there’s always been a pronounced preference for asceticism to prove devotion. But how do you square that with, say, ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ from Genesis? Are priests expected to be separate from all other humans?” she said.
That enforced detachment from the lives of their flock is what drives priests in Kenya to adopt “secret families,” said Father Matthew Theuri, 73, who was a catechist for nearly four decades before joining Njogu’s church as a priest. But it also presents a quandary in being a good priest, he said.
“Our churchgoers come to us with questions about wayward children, trouble paying school fees, marital issues — how can we help them if we know nothing of that life?” he said, while sitting at home with his wife, Jane, and two of his grandchildren.
After Njogu’s Mass on a recent Sunday in Gachatha, Joseph Macharia, a coffee farmer, said he thanked God every day for the new church.
“This is a more open way of being,” he said. “The others, the ones who keep secret families, they come to the pulpit to lie. Maybe they think we are stupid.”