New York City's faithful Catholics were disheartened yet again as they picked up their daily newspapers December 11th to read the front page headlines--replete with pictures--of a priest accused of involvement in a sex scandal. Sensational banners like New York Post's "Hot Under the Collar," and "Sex Slave Priest's $50 Shades of Pray," along with the New York Daily News headline: "Exclusive: Bronx Priest Stole More than $1 million from Two NYC Churches, Used the Cash on Wild S & M Romance with Beefy Boyfriend," cannot help but demoralize the faithful.
The revelations surfaced last week when a lawsuit was filed by parishioners from St. Frances de Chantal Church in Throgs Neck naming their pastor, the Rev. Peter Miqueli of theft and misconduct. They were joined in the lawsuit against the pastor by parishioners from his former parish, St. Francis Cabrini, on Roosevelt Island. The lawsuit also names the Archdiocese of New York for failing to protect parishioners from the theft. Also named is a Bronx doctor, who is also a Church trustee, who allegedly provided the pastor and his alleged partner with more than $60,000 worth of Dilaudid, club drugs, and other illegal drugs.
According to Michael Dowd, the attorney representing the parishioners, "These charges of theft and misconduct have been made for at least 10 years...It is unbelievable that the diocese can't come to a conclusion about the misconduct of Misqueli when there is money missing that may be a million dollars."
The lawsuit suggests that the Archdiocese has been reluctant to respond to their complaints--Timothy Cardinal Dolan and the Archdiocese of New York are also named as defendants in the Manhattan court papers. Jack Lynch, a Bronx parishioner told a reporter , "We can't understand it. It seems they are going out of their way to protect him, and for years. We suspect a scandal behind the scandal."
Continuing the story, December 12th's front page New York Post article ("Sermon of the Mount") reveals claims by Tatyana Gudin, a spurned ex-girlfriend of Keith Crist, Fr. Miqueli's same sex paramour, that she sent emails to Cardinal Dolan last summer detailing the lurid details of the scandalous affair and suggesting that Fr. Miqueli was stealing money from the parishes he pastored. Fr. Miqueli finally resigned later that day.
Defending the Archdiocese, Joseph Zwilling, media director for the New York Archdiocese issued a statement to parishioners claiming that: To date we have found nothing to substantiate the allegations that have been raised and in fact with regard to parish finances, we know that the allegation that Fr. Miqueli stole $1 million from each parish, as was alleged by the plantiff's [sic] attorney, is completely false. We did find that Father Miqueli had deficient management and administrative practices, and have put forward several directives to remedy those deficiencies." Zwilling concluded his letter to parishioners to ask that "if anyone has information or documentation to substantiate the allegations, we would invite them to bring that information forward, or to contact the D. A."
Cardinal Dolan has acknowledged receiving the emails last summer--and turning them over to the prosecutor's office. But, he did not remove Fr. Miqueli from his position as pastor. According to the Post, Cardinal Dolan said he was "upset the allegations against Miqueli were outed before a probe could be completed. What distresses me, is the innuendo that the archdiocese is taking this with anything less than the gravity it deserves...We've been cooperating with these people. We've had a number of audits. And we're prepared to arrive at a resolution within the first of the year."
It is becoming ever more difficult for Catholics to know what to believe about these kinds of issues--especially when some Catholic leaders seem so reluctant to share information. Just last summer, a popular and highly respected priest, Monsignor Michael F. Hull, the pastor of the Church of the Guardian Angel in Chelsea, Professor of Sacred Scripture at St. Joseph's Seminary, and Executive Director of the Sheen Center, a 25, 000 square foot arts center in New York City abruptly left the priesthood. In March, 2014, Hull had been the subject of a laudatory Wall Street Journal article on the magnificent Sheen Center. Several bloggers have reported on what they called his "disappearance," including Matt C. Abbott at RenewAmerica, and Maureen Mullarkey at First Things. In "The Case of the Missing New York Monsignor," Abbott writes that phone calls to the the Seminary at Dunwoodie and the parish "elicited only the comment that Monsignor Hull was no longer there." In First Things on July 27th, 2015, Mullarkey charged that "Monsignor Hull misspent parish funds on a palatial renovation of his rectory only to go AWOL with a young intern at the newly created Sheen Center. Now, married, he is a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Once the darling of Cardinal Egan, Hull was sheltered behind institutional silence. No word of his canonical status appeared in letters to priests or in Catholic New York, the Archdiocesan house organ."
Unfortunately, during the same month that Mullarkey published her column on Monsignor Hull in First Things, and Tatyana Gudin was sending the incriminating emails to the Archdiocesan offices, Cardinal Dolan began his Annual Report (published in Catholic New York on July 23, 2015), with the statement that: "The Archdiocese of New York is joyful, alive, and growing."
Indeed, it is what Mullarkey has called the "institutional silence" that has most angered faithful Catholics in these cases. While we all understand the need for confidentiality, and appreciate the willingness of Archdiocesan offices to fully investigate these kinds of horrific allegations, it is difficult for Catholics to understand the lack of communication from Church officials on issues that directly affect them. Faithful Catholics understand sinners--we are all sinners. Our Church will survive our sinfulness. But, the Church cannot continue the silence surrounding the kind of allegations that have been made against Fr. Miqueli for more than ten years. A lawsuit is not the way to begin the conversation. But, it is clear that parishioners believed there was no other way; and that is the real sadness surrounding this story.