This morning, at the Catholic Herald, in a piece about laicization of priests as a means of avoiding canonical trial, Chris Altieri sets his sights on Peter Mitchell, a former priest of the Dioceses of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Lincoln Nebraska.
Altieri says that Mitchell was laicized following an investigation that involved “five discrete charges…some of which were crimes reserved to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. These included serious offenses against chastity, spiritual abuse, abuse of the Sacrament of Confession, and other misconduct.”
It is not my purpose here to examine in detail the accusations against Mitchell as presented by Altieri. Rather, it is my intent to address another concern.
In the piece, Altieri mentions that, “Several sources have told the Catholic Herald that Peter Mitchell works as a translator under a pseudonym, Giuseppe Pellegrino, credited with translating works of several prominent voices not universally well-disposed to Pope Francis.”
Although I declined to confirm this information with documentation when asked to do so by Altieri, the cat is now out of the bag. Long-time readers of 1P5 will recognize the pseudonym Giuseppe Pellegrino. A search of our site turns up dozens of pieces translated by him, as well as some original contributions. In fact, ours is the site he wrote for first, and for which he developed his pseudonym.
And yes, Mitchell and Pellegrino are one and the same.
Today, in the interest of transparency, I want to disclose the nature of our relationship as a publication with Mitchell.
In October of 2017, 1P5 received a donation from a man named Peter Mitchell, along with a note:
Steve, I would like to talk to you sometime. I am a priest who resigned after I wrote this article…
The note include a link to a page on LifeSiteNews. The article was still up on their site this morning — I still have it open in my browser — but has now been removed, likely because of Altieri’s reporting. Here’s an archive of the link – it’s a 2016 essay critical of Pope Francis at a time that still wasn’t a very popular thing to do yet. (UPDATE: The article is working again at LifeSite; the editor assures me it wasn’t pulled down. I don’t know why I was getting a page not found error.)
Mitchell told me, in a follow-up email, that he was no longer in active ministry, but wanted to assist our work in any way that he could. He was a translator, fluent in Italian, had worked for the Holy See, and was capable in several languages. He was proactive and eager and refused to take payment of any kind.
In another follow-up email, he conceded that he had been laicized. He admitted, without detail, that an allegation by an adult woman had been brought against him; he didn’t say whether it was true, and his phrasing implied, to my mind at least, that it was not. His emphasis in explaining his story seemed to be on the trouble he had gotten into stemming from his dissent from current papal politics. I took for granted that I knew enough, and decided to work with him on Italian translations. We didn’t have anyone who could do the kind of work Peter could do – high quality, fast turn around, and all on a volunteer basis. Over the next couple of years, 1P5 published a good deal of content from “Giuseppe Pellegrino,” the pen-name he came up with when I asked how I could give him attribution for his work. He later went on to translate, using the same pseudonym, entire books for authors like Antonio Socci. He also did some translations for Archbishop Vigano, and other prominent Italian Catholic figures and publications.
In the summer of 2018, I got more of the story. As he worked on his expose of abuse in the seminary in Lincoln, Mitchell asked me to help him get his story to Rod Dreher at the American Conservative. Rod and I had exchanged friendly correspondence, and he had a larger audience and credibility as a journalist who had exposed clerical abuse. I was happy to connect them. But I revisited the question of the allegations, because my doubt about the details of the situation lingered.
“I am happy to put you in touch with him,” I wrote. “But I need to know how to explain your situation. The one thing I would find really helpful if you could explain more to me are the allegations that were brought against you. It’s the only part of the story I don’t actually understand.”
He did explain the situation. Although his conversations with me about it were longer and more in-depth, he disclosed the substance of what had happened in his public testimony:
My own life as a priest was undoubtedly affected by the totally inadequate and abusive formation I received in terms of preparing me for a healthy life as a celibate heterosexual male. In 2017, I accepted laicization from the priesthood as a consequence of having violated my vow of celibacy as a priest on more than one occasion. I lived an unhealthy life as a priest, and I hurt people. I never intended to become such a person, but I did. What I did was wrong. I deeply regret having hurt people who looked up to me as a spiritual leader, and I take full responsibility for my actions.
Mitchell told me of these violations of his vow — with adult women — and I concluded that although he had been somewhat cagey with me in the beginning, he was taking ownership of his sins, made no excuses for them, and was sincerely repentant. He was living a very difficult, arguably penitential life. For a man with a PhD, already a published author, to be unable to get work at anything but menial jobs was clearly a cross he had to carry.
Still, he told me that he was attending Mass daily, still praying his breviary, still trying to cope with the loss of his priestly identity. I saw no reason why his sins, which he told me were of a consensual nature, should impact his ability to translate texts from Italian into English. He wasn’t writing a guide to the moral life for priests. And he clearly still cared about what was happening in the Church.
I told him that I wasn’t going to stop working with him. If, after all, we all became outcasts because of our sins, who could work with any of us?
And so our collaboration continued until early 2020, when ideological and editorial differences led to a mutual agreement to cease our work together, with only a couple of subsequent exceptions.
Altieri claims in his piece today that “Interviews with Green Bay officials and with women involved in various ways with Mr. Mitchell, as well as documentary evidence related to the case obtained by the Catholic Herald have revealed that the narrative Mr. Mitchell offered to the public omits significant details.”
I can’t speak to those details. I am unable to confirm or deny them. The story he told me in 2018 is the only one I know.
I spoke on the phone with Peter Mitchell today, and he told me he doesn’t want to provide any comment beyond that which was contained in his 2018 essay at The American Conservative. He has said his piece.
I don’t know — I don’t even know how to know — the full extent of the damage his violations of priestly celibacy may have caused. I don’t know the alleged victims. I don’t know their stories. I hope that they can find the healing and consolation that they need.
As I said to him in our conversation today, “I’m not a human polygraph.” I can only do my best to discern what is true from what is false. Chances are, I’m going to never get that 100% right.
Since I have begun my work here at 1P5, the one thing I have become convinced of, more than anything else, is the reality of our sinfulness, and the suffering associated with it. Of man’s capacity to be seduced by evil, and to betray even the beliefs and people we hold most dear.
My naïve, childlike understanding of the priesthood as something objectively higher and better has long since been shattered. Ontologically, sure. The Council of Trent would anathematize me for saying anything less. But people are people, and sin is a reality for us all.
I didn’t want to write this today. I am torn between loyalty to a man I know cares deeply about what is good, and who has, as far as I can discern, sincere sorrow for his sins, and to my commitment to expose and correct any clerical abuse – not just against minors, but against adults. After all, it was the failure to take the latter seriously that allowed McCarrick to continue doing what he did.
But I owe it to all of you, the readers who choose to put your trust in me, and in this publication, to address it the best I could. When I look back at the decisions I made, knowing what I knew, I still believe I acted in good faith.
I ask you to pray for Peter Mitchell, whom I know to be a man who desires God’s will, despite his grave failings, and for the women that he was involved with. Pray for all of them. Pray for everyone in this mess.
And if you have an extra couple of seconds, please put in a good word for me, too. I could certainly use it.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.