A Second Lincoln Seminarian Comes Forward to Detail Abuse

Within 24 hours of the exposé published by laicized priest and former seminarian of the Lincoln Diocese Peter Mitchell, the diocese admitted that its late longtime vocations director. Msgr. Leonard Kalin, had been reported for “conduct contrary to prudence and moral law” – allegations the diocese claims it addressed “during his time in priestly ministry.”

In a further vindication of Mitchell’s story – viewed as highly controversial in its focus on arguably one of the most touted conservative dioceses in the country with an unusually high number of vocations – another man formerly involved with Msgr. Kalin at the Newman Center of the University of Nebraska posted a comment in a public Facebook thread about Kalin had “tormented” him and another “fellow-seminarian (now-priest).” Questioned on the specifics, he said that the Msgr. had “repeatedly” asked “to touch and be touched in inappropriate places,” had asked for “French kisses,” and had done these actions “without being given permission.” A screenshot of that thread was posted here and on Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative, prompting the Facebook poster, Wan Wei Hsien, to write a follow-up open letter to Bishop Conley of Lincoln. Wan seems somewhat taken aback at his comments being published, but as Dreher notes (and I fully agree):

I published on my blog yesterday Wan’s Facebook comments because Facebook is an open, public platform, accessible to anyone. I don’t know Wan or the man on whose account he published his initial comments; I was directed to them by someone in Lincoln. Anyway, I’m glad all of this is coming out, and I regret that Wan was inadvertently dragged into it, but I want to emphasize that I didn’t do anything unethical here, or in any way intend to sandbag him.

With that in mind, here is the text of Wan’s letter, also published to his Facebook page and reprinted at TAC:

Letter to Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, regarding Msgr Leonard Kalin

Wan Wei Hsien·Friday, August 3, 2018

NOTE: Since my name has been, without my permission, dragged into public conversations by Rod Dreher’s second exposé, I am making my letter to +James public as well. My intention here is not only to give an account of what happened, but also to let people know what I have disclosed to the bishop, so that there are no occasions for further secrecy or speculation. The names of other affected individuals have been withheld out of respect for their privacy.

Bishop James,

Greetings. I suppose that this will be only one of many emails you are receiving at this point, especially now that Rod has published another article on the matter of Msgr Leonard Kalin and the broader structures of abuse within the Diocese of Lincoln.

I’m writing to give you an account of some of the things that happened while I was a student (and sometime seminarian, for a few months) in Lincoln. My primary purpose here is to lend support for Peter’s Mitchell recent disclosure on the subject, as well as for the other witnesses who are coming forward now. Very understandably, the matter has shocked many people, given Msgr Kalin’s reputation and contributions to the Diocese. Nevertheless, my concern is that you give those who are speaking up now due hearing, particularly if their lives continue to be affected by what has been so long held secret. Already, as I’m sure you’ve seen, Peter’s credibility has been called into question. For many, the fact that he is a laicized priest is simply an easy target.

Between 1998 and 1999, I was one of a few young men at the Newman Center who regularly assisted Msgr. Kalin in his daily activities, increasingly debilitated as he was by Parkinson’s. These tasks include helping him get ready in the morning, assisting his movement during the day for various duties, taking him for walks in the evenings at Memorial Stadium, and helping him get to bed at night. This last task was only done by a few people, and I was among them.

To put the matter baldly, Msgr. Kalin made unwanted sexual advances toward me and a fellow-seminarian who shared these responsibilities, who is also now a priest in your Diocese. (I will withhold his name and his account to honor his privacy and freedom to speak as he deems fit.) These gestures included verbal sexual compliments, asking to be touched in inappropriate places, and molestation, including repeated requests for French kisses. They were not made all at once, but after I’d known him for several months, and even then, only gradually, in increasing degrees of intimacy. In retrospect, this followed a rather standard pattern of grooming, though I did not know it at the time. The incremental nature of these requests numbed me slowly to their graduating severity: from insisting that I shower next to him after walks (even though I offered to help him wash while he was seated on a chair), asking for goodnight kisses after I helped him get into bed, and, towards the end, reaching for my genitalia, asking if I had a hard-on (and telling me that he did), and turning the goodnight kisses into French kisses.

Over the years, I’ve turned these memories over and over again, wondering what it was that made me acquiesce on numerous occasions, and perhaps worse, only feeling “uncomfortable” but not realizing that there was something deeply wrong with all of it. I’ve found no satisfactory answer, except for the realization that he wielded much power over me, much of which was legitimized in spiritual terms. When I was briefly a seminarian, he had, after all, made himself my confessor and spiritual director. He certainly knew that I was gay from hearing my confessions, and I continue to suspect that he identified me as a “safe” target of these advances. After all, we had mutual secrets to keep.

It was not until one afternoon, when I was praying in the Newman Center chapel, that I realized how screwed up matters really were. My friend (a fellow-seminarian) walked in, knelt down in a pew behind me, and began to pray. For the first and only time in my life, I was able to physically sense his anxiety. It was as if the air in the chapel vibrated. Still, I said nothing. After a few minutes, he asked if we could talk, and I knew something was terribly wrong. We stepped outside, and he said, while assisting Msgr. Kalin moments ago, he had asked him for a French kiss. It was really at that moment, hearing it from another person, that I realized how wrong it was—what Msgr. Kalin had done to him, and to me on several occasions earlier.

It was after this incident that I approached Fr. Z [name in original text withheld]. … He said that he would confront Msgr. Kalin about this. Nevertheless, this happened on one more occasion after that, and I brought it up with Fr. Z in the confessional. He then asked me for permission to bring this up to other authorities, and I told him that was ok. (I don’t remember anymore why I didn’t completely cease contact with Msgr. Kalin after the first time I talked to Fr. Z, as I remember being terrified about its repercussions. Nonetheless, I must have, foolishly, agreed to help him with his nightly routine on at least one more occasion – the one leading to this second conversation.) After this, I ceased contact with Msgr. Kalin beyond cordial exchanges (“cordial” because he was still living at the Newman Center at the time). I learned, from my friends, that Bishop Fabian had then ordered that at least 2 other men accompany Msgr. Kalin on his walks at the stadium. Shortly thereafter, Msgr. Kalin moved into a private residence. I didn’t know how to say “No” to friends who asked me to join them in visiting him, and went along once or twice. This, as one might expect, always resulted in awkward silence.

It is important, I think, to note that, on numerous occasions, Msgr. Kalin told me that his libido was affected by his medications[.] … To what extent this was true, I don’t know. But what is crucial here, I think, is that he was able to use the power he had to act on these desires. This power was constructed within a framework of the webbed dynamics that Peter outlined in his article –the authority he exercised over seminarians, his ability to alienate those who did not conform, and the ways in which people were made to feel dependent on him. Sexual desires fluctuate – and for various reasons. The pivotal difference in this case was that Msgr. Kalin had the power to bend others toward his desires. From our interactions, he was clearly cognizant of how his libido was affected. The key here is that he chose to act on them, rather than to seek help and protect others.

When I read Peter’s article, I thought that an investigation had been conducted and the matter had been made public – which was why he spoke openly. I didn’t know that it was a breaking piece. My comments on Facebook were written in this context. Because of the time difference, I only realized the next day that the news had come as an initial shock to so many of my friends. Rather accidentally, I’ve been drawn into the s‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑, especially now that Rod has published, without my permission, the screenshots of my comments.

My friend (who was also Msgr. Kalin’s victim, as I wrote above) – let’s call him Fr. A – asked me what I hoped would happen after this. After some thought, this is my conclusion: I hope that you, Bishop James, will listen to the witnesses that are coming forward, not only about Msgr. Kalin but also about the others who are implicated in this entire practice of secrecy and abuse. These abuses are not independent of the structures of power and authority within the Catholic Church and its theological discourse regarding the value of the priesthood, celibacy, obedience, etc. In fact, these abuses were precisely enabled by them. This is a point which I feel the Catholic Church in the US has never fully confronted in its dealings with sexual abuse since 2001. The abuses are systemic, thriving within practices and ideas nurtured, not in “liberal” seminaries (as I was so often told when in Lincoln), but within an entire world of practices and ideas (often coherently water-tight) in which they have been legitimized, sanctioned, and silenced. It is easier to think of them as aberrations – except that the evidence shows that abuse is often integrated, deeply, into the fibers of church life.

I will leave you to make decisions, but I hope that you will take seriously the accounts that are now arising. As you investigate the pervasive rot that affects the Diocese, I hope also that we will find in these stories occasions of deep repentance for those actions and words, many well-intended, that have made this whole scandal possible – and protected it from earlier disclosures. Perhaps, once and for all, that self-righteous “fidelity to the Magisterium” that has so often characterized Catholic discourse in Lincoln can be abandoned, and that culture of non-judgmental repentance that was the spirit of the Desert Fathers and Mothers reborn. The time is for reparation to those whose lives have been damaged, not for explaining away what has happened.

Should you wish, I’m happy to be contacted by you or another representative of the Diocese in forthcoming investigations.

Wei Hsien

This should, I hope, help put doubts about Mitchell’s testimony to rest.

But if that isn’t enough, there’s more.

Dreher asks a series of important questions after his reprint of the letter, all of which should be read. But for now, I want to focus on this:

Kalin was for many years the vocations director of the Lincoln diocese, and was responsible in large part for the large number of vocations there. How many seminarians did Kalin sexually abuse or otherwise groom? How many of the men who were recruited into the priesthood and formed under Kalin were sexually compromised by him, if any? Of those priests, how many, if any, went on to be part of a sexually active gay priests network?

I mentioned in my post yesterday that I had “already heard credible reports that predatory grooming behaviors have continued with at least one priest of the Lincoln Diocese who is still in active ministry – this from multiple sources – and that those who have attempted to get the diocese to act have had their concerns essentially dismissed.”

Yesterday evening, in a follow-up post, Dreher disclosed what I had also heard from multiple sources:

Just before midnight, as Tuesday passed into Wednesday, I approved a comment from a “Liam,” offering a detailed account of a purported 2017 incident with Father Charles Townsend, a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, and a protegé of Kalin’s. “Liam” was quite specific about the incident, which — I’m going to generalize here — involved Father Tim Danek, a young assistant priest in Father Townsend’s parish, discovering that the pastor had provided alcohol to an 18-year-old altar server, gotten him drunk, and was behaving inappropriately with him. “Liam” provided specific details, which were scandalous but did not involve actual sex. I approved the comment, appending a note reminding readers that these are only allegations.

Reviewing the comment early this morning, though, I took it down, because “Liam” mentioned that his knowledge of the incident comes through the priestly grapevine. Even with the disclaimer I added, I judged it wrong to leave such explosive allegations online without meaningful corroboration. I spent all day today seeking that out.

I found it.

The most important thing is the response of the Diocese of Lincoln to my request for an interview on the “Liam” allegations. After some hours, I received this from Monsignor Timothy Thorburn, the vicar general of the diocese:

Thank you for providing this anonymous posting to [the priest I initially sent it to, having found his name on the diocese’s website].  The Diocese of Lincoln has shared this anonymous posting in the American Conservative blog to proper law enforcement authorities. Any other inquiries may be directed to Richard Rice or Andrew Pease, Diocesan legal counsel, at [phone number].

Dreher continues to detail his investigation of the matter for two more paragraphs. Then:

I also learned today from multiple sources, both clerical and lay, that Father Townsend was put on leave in St. Peter’s parish for months, after the alleged incident witnessed by young Father Danek. According to these sources, parishioners were led to believe that Father Townsend had been sent away for some sort of non-specific treatment. After his treatment, the diocese returned Father Townsend to his parish, where, incredibly, he now supervises the very priest who turned him in to the bishop.

“Liam” alleged that the diocese told Father Tim Danek to stay quiet about the matter. I confirmed that with two sources who know Danek personally. One source, a priest I’ll quote below, spoke with Danek this week, and reports that Danek is exhausted, but still not talking about the case. I texted Father Danek’s personal number to ask if he was willing to talk to me about it. He texted back only one word: “Unavailable.”

One of the two sources who knows Danek personally is Peter Mitchell, the former priest and author of the essay that started this controversy. Danek is a former prize pupil of Mitchell, who calls him “my finest student, and one of the finest men you’d ever want to meet.”

Danek never told Mitchell directly what he saw Father Townsend do, according to Mitchell. But Mitchell, who was for years a Lincoln priest, says he has been hearing the same story from many priest sources there: that Tim Danek was silenced by the chancery, and is gagged by an order to obey.

But that’s not all:

There’s more. A Nebraska Catholic couple read about Father Townsend in Liam’s comment, and decided to come forward. They went today to the chancery to hand-deliver to Bishop James Conley a written account of the story I’m about to tell here. I have agreed to keep their name out of this account, but they are known to the bishop, who, the husband told me, received them graciously and compassionately today.

Here is the couple’s story:

In 2008, they moved to a town in the Lincoln diocese in which Father Townsend was the pastor of the local parish. He became their priest.

At the end of 2008, the husband joined a gym in town, and started working out in the morning. When he first started doing this, he’d see Father Townsend there. They fell into the habit of talking as they exercised side by side on the treadmill. For a time, the assistant priest of the local parish would work out with them too.

After working out, the husband would shower at the gym, then head to work. The only facility was a communal shower in the men’s locker room.  According to the husband, after Townsend’s assistant priest stopped coming to the gym, Townsend made a point of ending his workout and showering alongside the husband.

“After a couple of weeks of this happening, I started questioning what was going on,” the husband told me. “One day I decided to shower 15 minutes earlier than usual, and sure enough, Father came in.”

Another day, Townsend arrived late for exercise, but when the husband got in the shower, the priest followed him. The husband said this went on even though the rectory was less than a block away. The implication is that it would have been easy for the priest to shower at home instead of in a communal shower at the gym.

Said the husband: “It felt wrong, but I brushed it off.”

Townsend was later transferred to another parish, and the couple forgot about him. But after reading the allegations from “Liam,” the husband and wife decided that they had a duty as Catholics to speak out, both publicly and in writing to Bishop Conley. They were both anxious not to be seen as slandering anybody, or bringing their diocese into disrepute. But they say the custom of staying silent in the face of clergy problems for the sake of keeping up Lincoln’s image is wrong.

“We don’t want this to happen to someone else,” the wife told me.

Said the husband:

The true point of Peter Mitchell’s article is not to condemn Monsignor Kalin. It’s to say that the church has a real problem that it won’t deal with. It’s all about image. They hide under “for the good of the church.” That’s the problem. That’s what needs to come out.

Dreher has additional commentary on the matter from a pseudonymous priest – formerly a Lincoln seminarian under Kalin who observed things amiss – but for the purposes of space I’ll encourage you to just read the whole post.

Commenters yesterday were questioning me on my choice to publish the Mitchell testimony, as well as my oblique reference to this matter – one even going so far as to accuse me of being part of the problem for not naming names – and they got an earful from me. I am angry, yes. I have an axe to grind, yes. I want this garbage out of my Church. But that doesn’t give me license to act without prudence, to report everything I hear without an on-the-record source, or to name names without a person willing to give a testimony in his own name. I’m not even a trained journalist, but I can tell you that I understand the ethics of the profession at least that well.

I also often have reasons for believing a testimony that I can’t disclose. I can’t report everything I am told in confidence. I hope my judgment in all of this will prove trustworthy, as it has in this case. It’s a big story, and not many people would have put their neck out to take a swing at Lincoln. (We’re more often known for promoting it.)

These are dangerous, choppy waters. People want to tell their stories. Some are willing to divulge identifying information, and some aren’t. It is up to the prudence and discretion of those who hear their stories to decide what is fit to print and what isn’t, and I ask for your prayers for me and Rod Dreher and others involved in getting these stories into the light that we can navigate these minefields with charity and wisdom. We want to see these problems fixed, not to become a clearinghouse for accusations. We certainly don’t want to be falsely accusing anyone.

I’m sure that next week will bring more of the same. But for now, I’m going to be taking a couple days to recoup from a long week and attend to some other projects in need of my attention.

We’ll see you on Monday.

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