A Roman Catholic priest in Alabama who was investigated by law enforcement after fleeing to Europe with a recent high school graduate he met through his ministry legally married her after he returned to the US with her, a document provided to the Guardian showed.
According to a marriage license filed in Mobile county, Alabama, Alexander Crow, 30, married the 18-year-old former McGill-Toolen Catholic high school student on Friday.
In late July, Crow – an expert in the theological study of demons and exorcism – had his clerical duties removed by the Catholic archdiocese of Mobile, after going to Italy with the teen and indicating he would never return to the US.
The archdiocese told him he “abandoned his assignment” and was accused of behavior “totally unbecoming of a priest”.
Though the archdiocese did not elaborate, priests take a vow of celibacy and amid a worldwide, decades-old clerical molestation scandal, Catholic officials have implemented guidelines meant to establish boundaries between clergymen and vulnerable adults.
The parents of the teen – who attended McGill-Toolen while Crow volunteered there – were not aware she was going to Italy with him.
The Mobile county sheriff’s office reviewed allegations that Crow engaged in sexual misconduct and groomed multiple girls at McGill-Toolen. However, on 7 November a Mobile TV station, WKRG, published a statement from the local district attorney saying prosecutors would not pursue charges.
The statement said that after being summoned to meet with investigators through a subpoena, the teen “declined to answer any questions” about her trip with Crow.
“She appeared in seemingly good health and said that she is safe,” the statement said. “Without being able to speak with the young lady about these events, we do not have sufficient admissible evidence to charge a crime at this point. Therefore, this investigation is currently closed.”
Investigators found a letter Crow sent to the girl on Valentine’s Day, when she was still 17. The missive expressed strong love and declared they were already married. But the marriage license filed jointly in their names in Mobile listed the wedding date as Friday.
The document, which prominently lists Alabama’s minimum age of marriage as 16, affirms: “Each of us is entering into the marriage voluntarily and of our own free will and not under duress or undue influence.”
Attempts to contact Crow, the girl or their families were not immediately successful.
The Mobile archbishop, Thomas Rodi, has said he intends to seek Crow’s permanent removal from the clergy, an extremely rare measure not often used against clergymen criminally charged with – or even convicted of – sexual abuse.
The process, controlled by church law, would not start until the beginning of next year, WKRG has reported.
Rodi was a high-ranking official in nearby New Orleans in 2000, when that city’s archdiocese included him on a letter reinstating a priest who had gone on sabbatical after having admitted sexually molesting or harassing multiple children.
That priest, Lawrence Hecker, has not faced expulsion from the clergy. He retired quietly in 2002 but was recently indicted on charges of child rape, kidnapping and other crimes.
Rodi has repeatedly rebuffed insinuations that the Mobile archdiocese was slow or reluctant to cooperate in the investigation of Crow.
What many will take away about the Synod on Synodality, the monthlong summit on the future of the Catholic Church, is that the 450 clergy and lay faithful called to the meeting skirted the key agenda items of women’s ordination, marriage for priests and acceptance of LGBTQ Catholics.
On Saturday, after the synod released a tepid summary of its work, the Women’s Ordination Conference pronounced itself “dismayed” by the failure of the synod to allow women to become priests.
“A ‘listening church’ that fails to be transformed by the fundamental exclusion of women and LGBTQ+ people,” a statement read, “fails to model the gospel itself.”
The term LGBTQ did not make it into the final document at all, earning the “disappointment” of New Ways Ministries, a network of gay Catholics and their allies, in its statement on Sunday, though it noted that the group drew encouragement from some of Pope Francis’ words of support.
But for the synod’s organizers, the event was never about providing definitive answers on these topics but about promoting dialogue and overcoming division. “Many ask for results. But synodality is a listening exercise: prolonged, respectful and humble,” Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the synod, said Saturday evening.
In the final 42-page document, titled Synthesis Document for a Synodal Church in Mission and approved by 364 voting participants in the meeting, the summit is portrayed as a success, with most of the 20 separate points passing by overwhelming majorities, even if no single paragraph obtained full consensus.
During the event, which opened Oct. 4 with a Mass presided over by Pope Francis, participants talked about the spirit of friendship, respect and dialogue overcoming polarization even in the most divisive debates. Even conservative clergy who were initially critical, including German Cardinal Gerhard Müller and the Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn agreed the synod was a positive experience.
Divisions were, nonetheless, evident: In votes on the individual points in the final document, 69 attendees voted against a paragraph on the possibility of women becoming deacons, who are ordained to preach at Mass but not to celebrate the Eucharist or hear confessions. Mentions of considering the possibility of married priests drew 55 negative votes, or 15% of the voting membership.
Attendants wrote that they are aware that the term synodality awakens “confusion and concern” among many that the teaching of the church will be changed. Since its start, the synod has been accompanied by vocal criticism of conservative prelates who believe the summit is a Trojan horse aimed at forwarding progressive agendas in the church.
Some of those conservatives had bridled at the portrayal of this year’s synod as a completion of the work of Vatican II, the meeting called by Pope John XXIII in the early 1960s seeking to reconcile the church with the demands of changing society. Since then, many progressives have felt that those reforms have been muted or ignored and looked to the synod to make good, increasing conservatives’ fears regarding the dilution of tradition and the power of the hierarchy.
The document’s opening section indeed presents the Synod on Synodality as a “further reception” of Vatican II, but while it recognized the almost familial conflicts posed by the small discussion groups — “We also share that it’s not easy listening to different ideas, without immediately giving into the temptation of answering back,” the document read — participants said that through prayer the effectiveness and primacy of synodality in the church eventually came through.
“A substantial agreement emerged that, with the necessary clarifications, the synodal prospective represents the future of the church,” the document read. The document, drafted with the assistance of theologians, describes synodality as “a journeying of Christians toward Christ and the Kingdom, together with all of humanity.”
In his speech to the synod assembly Wednesday (Oct. 25), Francis further laid out a view of a Catholic Church centered around the “infallibility of faithful people.” The faithful, the pope explained, share an intuition of the beliefs of the church that needs to be interpreted and adopted by the church as a whole.
The closing document proposes that updates to canon law be made to enlarge the participation of people in the church.
Adding to the document’s vision of a more open power structure is its call for the church to be more receptive to individual cultures around the Catholic world, and it urges the church to combat xenophobia and racism.
The document also emphasizes the need to promote relationships with other churches and denominations, suggesting that a council of Roman church patriarchs and archbishops be formed to advise the pope on ecumenism, and even proposing a synod on the Eastern churches. Attendees voiced the hope that Easter 2025, when all Christians will celebrate the paschal feast on the same day, may foster further communion among believers.
The spirit of openness infused the synod participants’ recommendations about the hierarchy, calling on bishops to be “examples of synodality.” Among the proposals were the strengthening of lay and clergy councils at the parish and diocesan levels, allowing lay people to have a voice in selecting bishops and reducing the role of the papal nuncio, the Vatican’s ambassador in a given country.
At the top of the power structure, the document said, the council of cardinals that advises the pope, known as the C9, should take on more responsibilities and suggested reforming canon law to offer “dispositions for a more collegial exercise of the papal ministry.”
But there are limits to how democratic the church hierarchy is willing to become. While the presence of lay people at the synod was welcomed in the document, it also warned that “the criteria allowing nonbishops to participate in the synod will have to be clarified.” When the synod rejoins after a year, it stated, “some suggest that there should be a meeting of exclusively bishops to complete the synodal process.”
And synodality seemed to dictate that where the deepest divisions lie, more discussion is needed. On the question of female deacons, which some say would signify a return to early church practice and others call a break with tradition, the document simply acknowledged that women experience inequality in the church but left any decision to already existing commissions created by Francis, promising theological study in time for the next synod assembly.
Participants also asked for further discussion on the issue of celibacy for priests.
In its final section, the document took up the problem of clergy sex abuse, which Catholics around the world, meeting to air their concerns in listening sessions in their dioceses, had asked the synod to address. But apart from recognizing the need to listen to victims of clergy abuse, it did not offer specific proposals on how to prevent abuse or increase clergy accountability.
The document will now be circulated back to those dioceses for consideration by Catholic leaders and congregants. According to German bishops who attended the synod, “It is now up to the local churches, and thus also up to us, to use these spaces which the synod has opened up in order to continue to work on a synodal church, to advance along the synodal paths, and thus to translate the momentum into concrete reflection and action.”
Despite its multitude of proposals and challenges, the first synod closed with more questions than answers. Regarding those Catholics who might be left still “in a situation of solitude” if they obey the church teachings on “questions of marriage and sexual ethics,” the synod’s participants offered “closeness and support.”
“A profound sense of love, mercy and compassion” was shared by participants for those who “feel wounded or cast aside by the church, who desire a place to return ‘home’ where they can feel safe, feel listened to and respected, without fear of feeling judged.”
But the participants declared themselves often caught between the Christian principle of mercy and the need to defend the doctrinal beliefs of the church.
“If we adopt doctrine harshly and with a judging attitude, we betray the gospel,” the document read, “If we practice cheap mercy, we don’t transmit God’s love.”
A Polish bishop whose diocese has been badly tarnished by reports of a gay orgy involving priests and a prostitute resigned on Tuesday, the latest in a long series of sexual and financial scandals in Poland’s Roman Catholic Church.
Grzegorz Kaszak, the bishop of Sosnowiec in southwestern Poland, announced his departure after one of his priests was placed under criminal investigation in connection with reports last month that he had organized a sex party during which a male prostitute lost consciousness from an overdose of erectile dysfunction pills.
Gazeta Wyborcza, a liberal daily newspaper, reported in September that one of the priests at the gathering, held in a building belonging to the parish of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Angels in the town of Dabrowa Gornicza, had called an ambulance. Others at the party prevented paramedics from tending to the unconscious man, the paper reported, but the paramedics called the police and the priests relented.
The priest who organized the gathering in his church apartment, identified by the diocese only as Father Tomasz Z., gave a statement last month to Polish media that disputed details of what had happened, quibbling over the number of priests present at the time of the alleged sex party and saying that “it is worth reading what the definition of an orgy is.”
He dismissed the uproar over events in his apartment as “an obvious attack on the church, including the clergy and believers,” and claimed that nobody would have raised a fuss if “something similar had happened” to a person outside the clergy.
The diocese, in its own statement last month, said that the “participation” of Father Tomasz “in what happened on the night of Aug. 30-31 is not in doubt.” It said he had been barred from celebrating Mass, stripped of all other functions and “sent to live outside the parish.”
Announcing that the church had set up a commission to investigate “the scandalous event” reported by the press, the diocese asked media outlets to keep in mind that “almost all” priests in the parish were good and had themselves, by reporting what had taken place, “become victims due to this deplorable crime.”
Bishop Kaszak announced his departure Tuesday in a message posted on his diocese’s website but gave no reason. The Vatican said on Tuesday that it had accepted the bishop’s resignation. It, too, gave no explanation.
The departing bishop has not been accused of taking part in the reported orgy but is held responsible for the behavior of priests in his diocese.
“I ask everyone to forgive my human limitations,” he wrote in his farewell message. “If I have offended anyone or neglected something, I am very sorry.”
“The church’s internal difficulties constitute an excellent breeding ground of accelerating trends of secularization,” the report, Polish Church 2023, said.
Trust in the church, according to experts, has also been damaged by its close alliance with Poland’s nationalist governing party, Law and Justice. In a critical general election on Oct. 15, the party lost its majority in Parliament to centrist and liberal opponents who have often criticized the church for aligning with right-wing political forces in pursuit of its agenda on abortion and other issues.
Law and Justice in 2018 banned Sunday shopping, and in 2020 pushed through a near-total ban on abortion, a move that delighted the church but alienated many young people, who mostly no longer attend Mass and voted overwhelmingly for parties opposed to Law and Justice.
Long seen as a Catholic stronghold that, in contrast to Ireland and Spain, had managed to hold back a tide of secularization that has swept across most of Europe, Poland has over the past decade seen a sharp decline in church attendance, though most still declare themselves Christians. Enrollment in seminaries has also plummeted, forcing several to shut down.
Lamenting that a process previously referred to by experts as “creeping secularization” was now “galloping,” the church report warned that “the church in Poland is entering a rather dangerous ‘twist’ in its history. Much depends on how it will be able to defeat this.”
Conservative Catholics in the United States — home to perhaps the wealthiest and loudest concentration of Pope Francis’s right-wing critics — are watching the major Vatican meeting opening this week with dread and deep mistrust. Concrete organizing against the “Synod on Synodality” or against Francis is rare, but lobbing of the word “schism” is not.
From the most radical traditionalist to the mainstream conservative, many U.S. Catholics are wary about the opening Wednesday of the synod, which has been planned for more than two years. Despite worldwide listening sessions offered at every level of the Catholic Church, many conservatives feel that the long process of gathering opinions and representatives for the synod was stacked against them.
They see the free-flowing synod structure, which involves laypeople and women in equal roles to clergy, as un-Catholic, and they see as dangerous program documents such as those asking for “concrete steps” to better welcome LGBTQ Catholics and people in polygamous marriages. They feel that Jesus’ name was downplayed in synod documents.
“The primary concern is that the pope will authorize things that are not contained in Catholic doctrine or that will contradict it such as women deacons, blessing gay unions” or weakening Catholic teachings against contraception and abortion by emphasizing individual conscience, said the Rev. Gerald Murray, a New York City priest who will be in Rome during the synod doing commentary for several conservative media outlets. “We’re not Protestants.”
Such anxieties may have grown Monday with the Vatican’s release of a letter from Francis suggesting an openness to Catholic blessings for same-sex couples — so long as the ceremonies were not confused with sacramental marriages — and to further study the idea of women’s ordination to the priesthood.
Francis was responding to a letter from five conservative retired cardinals, asking him to reaffirm traditional teachings ahead of the three-week synod. The five asked him to reaffirm that sex outside marriage between man and woman is a grave sin, and to answer whether the synod will have powers that have been understood to belong only to the pope and bishops.
In addition to the involvement of women and laypeople, the synod is different from similar past events in how it has been organized. Instead of being divided into language groups, the makeup of conversation groups will be regularly changed through the weeks. Supporters of this approach see a chance to expand perspectives; conservatives see something more like speed-dating or the chaos of a preschool classroom.
“Why has it gone from a synod of bishops to include others? Bishops have a divine role in the governance of the church. Bishops’ powers are priestly power, governance power, teaching power. It’s by virtue of that power that they have the authority to tell us what to do, what to believe, tell us how to act. Laypeople can give opinions but don’t have an authoritative voice,” Murray said. “It changes the nature of the church.”
Alejandro Bermudez, a longtime journalist covering the Catholic Church in English and Spanish, said conservatives fear “that the whole thing is a bait and switch,” he said. “The synod is on ‘synodality,’ meaning discussion, is supposed to be how the church can function better, how to govern the church. But the questions are related to gay blessings, women priests, married priests. How is that related to synodality?”
Conservatives have also been offended by Francis’s at times scolding his U.S. critics. Last month, the Catholic publication La Civilta Cattolicà quoted him as saying there is a “strong reactionary attitude” among American Catholics. He characterized them as backward-looking, closed.
>“Instead of living by doctrine, by the true doctrine that always develops and bears fruit, they live by ideologies,” Francis was quoted as saying.
Conservatives are conservative by nature, and the prevailing mood could be described by those who are paying attention as an angry wait-and-see. Several close watchers of the ideological span of this group say the vast majority in it are unaware of the synod or are indifferent to it. They are said to be consoling themselves with the knowledge that Francis’s liberalizing talk has not yet resulted in change to doctrine and are looking ahead to the next conclave — the selection of a pope — where they hope Francis’s ethos will be stamped out.
“We’re leading to the next conclave. When Pope Francis dies or resigns, it’ll be a clear choice,” Murray said. “That’s the unstated thing in where this struggle is leading. If there are major changes [at the synod] and they elect someone like Francis [at the next conclave], then there will be a split. But not before that.”
Use of the word “split” or “schism” is not uncommon when the U.S. Catholic right wing is asked what the stakes of the coming years are. What exactly that would look like, however, isn’t clear. It is not new for Catholics to have sprawling disagreements, but recent years have seen more overt challenges to the church’s hierarchy.
Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, an Argentine who is the Vatican’s new chief of doctrine, said in an interview last month that bishops on the right and the left who think “they have a special gift of the Holy Spirit to judge the doctrine of the Holy Father, we will enter into a vicious circle and that would be heresy and result in schism.”
The activism for now among conservative U.S. Catholics is primarily talk online, on huge media channels like EWTN and on popular blogs or YouTube channels including “First Things” and “Return to Tradition,” whose tagline is, in part, “Dealing with Modernism, Vatican 2, and all the rest of the mess that is the present state of the Church.”
“There is no unified action of movement that people will take or follow. A lot depends on the next conclave, which people shouldn’t try to predict the outcome of ahead of time,” Anthony Stine, who runs Return to Tradition, which has about 150,000 followers, wrote to The Washington Post.
“Catholics all want the same Catholic faith as their ancestors,” Stine said. “They don’t want the tough moral teachings of the Church changed to reflect the whims of a secular culture that is increasingly hostile to the faith and increasingly unstable.”
Stine has said in interviews that he doubts the synod will lead to changes such as a full embrace of homosexuality or female deacons. He said his main concern is that it may produce a document that is vague, allowing breakaway liberals to implement changes.
“So, the circus won’t be over,” he told the Catholic YouTuber Joe McClane this summer.
But some are not waiting.
Conservative activists and experts on the Catholic Church say some people are lobbying and advocating to like-minded U.S. clerics who are going to the synod. They include Winona-Rochester Bishop Robert Barron, the founder of the mega-ministry Word on Fire, whose recent chat with the right-wing activist and writer Chris Rufo drew 46,000 views; Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
Stine says some Catholics are preparing to have “independent” traditional priests offer Mass in homes and businesses on Sunday mornings, as happened in the years after Vatican II.
Since Francis took office, there have been other signs of fed-up conservatives taking matters into their own hands — if not breaking away, then taking unprecedented steps.
In 2018, a group of laypeople aimed to raise $1 million and hire dozens of workers to create dossiers on every cardinal, reportedly in an effort to influence the next conclave. This year, The Post reported that a group of wealthy conservatives in Colorado had poured millions into buying mobile app tracking data that identified priests who used gay dating and hookup apps and then shared the data with bishops around the country — feeling that church leaders were not doing enough about the issue of gay priests.
Some high-profile conservative priests have sharpened the rhetoric ahead of the synod. They include the Rev. Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Tex., who in recent weeks tweeted that he “rejects” Francis’s program and that Catholics should “follow Jesus.” In a letter to his diocese, he said people who propose changes to “that which cannot be changed … are indeed the true schismatics.”
Strickland has become a hero to many conservative Catholics.
Last week, a further-right critic, the Rev. James Altman of La Crosse, Wis., posted a video calling for Francis to be killed. Altman’s bishop barred him from saying Mass in 2021 after he criticized coronavirus vaccines and said that victims of lynchings were criminals and that Catholics cannot vote Democratic. Some conservatives took to social media in recent days to ostracize Altman, but others have cheered him on. Altman also drew attention in September with a video saying Francis is not a legitimate pope.
Stine said the reactions to Altman’s declarations show that conservative Catholics “are as fractured as anything else in society.”
“Every traditional Catholic I know, as well as more mainline conservative Catholics who oppose [Francis’s] program for the Church, all pray for him daily. That’s the biggest mark of support you can offer to anyone, honestly,” Stine wrote to The Post. That said, most traditional Catholics with whom he speaks “think we’re in a state of de-facto schism and have been for a long time now,” he said. “If anything, the state of the Church will be made more obvious at the end of the synodal process.”
A bishop has issued a letter apologising for recent “painful events” in his diocese, where media reports suggest that a group of priests were involved in a “sex party” at which a male prostitute lost consciousness and was initially denied medical assistance.
Though the church has acknowledged an incident took place and prosecutors have announced an investigation, neither have confirmed the precise nature of what took place and the local diocese says some aspects of media reports are inaccurate.
Last week, Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading liberal daily, reported that priests in Dąbrowa Górnicza, a city in southern Poland, had organised a party in a building belonging to the parish to which a male prostitute had been invited.
“The event was purely sexual in nature,” an unnamed source with knowledge of the incident told the newspaper. “Its participants took potency enhancement drugs.”
Gazeta Wyborcza reported that “the party got out of control and the male prostitute lost consciousness”, resulting in an ambulance being called. However, when paramedics arrived, they were refused entry to the premises. The paramedics then reportedly called the police, who helped them gain access to the unconscious man.
A spokesman for the local prosecutor’s office told Gazeta Wybrocza that an investigation has been initiated into the possible failure to provide assistance to a person whose health is endangered, a crime that can carry up to three years in prison.
In response to the newspaper’s enquiries, the local Catholic curia confirmed that there had been an incident involving the “intervention of an ambulance and police in a building belonging to the parish”. It said the bishop had appointed a commission to urgently explain what had happened.
In a subsequent statement, the curia announced that the commission’s “findings so far differ from the information presented by some media”, though it did not provide any further details.
Events then took a further dramatic turn when, on Thursday night, someone set fire to the doors of the basilica in the parish where the alleged incident had taken place. Firefighters extinguished the blaze and no one was injured. Police later detained a man suspected of starting the fire.
On Friday, the curia announced that the priest in whose apartment the alleged incident had taken place – who can be named only as Tomasz Z. under Polish privacy law – had been removed from all ecclesiastical duties “until the matter is clarified”.
Meanwhile, Niedziela, a weekly Catholic news magazine, announced that it had terminated its cooperation with Tomasz Z., who had previously been the editor-in-chief of its local Sosnowiec edition.
Yesterday, a letter from the bishop of Sosnowiec, Grzegorz Kaszak, was read in all churches in the diocese. He referred to the “painful events in Dąbrowa Górnicza” and the “ashamed priests” involved, but without providing any details of what had taken place.
“I apologise to all those who were affected and saddened, or even scandalised, by the situation,” wrote the bishop. “I would like to emphasise emphatically that there is no consent to moral evil. Anyone found guilty will be punished according to canon law, regardless of the verdict of a civil court.”
“Today I turn to you, beloved in Christ the Lord, with a request for prayer and fasting – tools of victory over the particularly strong evil that destroys man,” he continued. “Let us pray for the conversion of our brother who has committed a scandalous act.”
Meanwhile, the parish priest at the church where the alleged incident took place said during Sunday mass yesterday that he “condemns the act committed by Father Tomasz Z.” But he also appealed to people to not “act to intensify the spiral of hatred: evil must be overcome with good”.