Recently, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati suspended two priests from active ministry. The details surrounding both suspensions are disturbing and make clear that secrecy, corruption, and a lack of faith still prevail within the Catholic Church. Below is an open letter to my ordinary, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, regarding his handling of these suspensions.
I am writing this open letter to express my disgust at your recent handling of the suspension of two priests of the Archdiocese, Fathers Geoff Drew and Clarence Heis.
You suspended Fr. Geoff Drew, pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola parish, for “inappropriate” texting with a male student at the attached St. Ignatius school. No details have been given of these texts, but they were obviously “inappropriate” enough to warrant the serious action you took. Furthermore, it came to light after his suspension that Fr. Drew had been under monitoring at his last assignment at St. Maximilian Kolbe parish for similar concerns, including complaints of hugs, shoulder rubs, patting of knees, comments of a sexual nature, and texting. The principal of St. Ignatius school stated that he had not been informed of these concerns when Fr. Drew was assigned to St. Ignatius last year. The complaints from St. Maximilian Kolbe parish apparently were shoved under the rug because Fr. Drew’s actions weren’t technically criminal. With the focus strictly on legality instead of the salvation of souls, a wolf was allowed to roam among the sheep.
But your handling of Fr. Clarence Heis might be worse than the negligence shown in the Fr. Drew case. Fr. Heis, the director of health and hospital ministries for the archdiocese, was recently suspended, yet the archdiocese has given no reason for this suspension, nor even any public announcement other than his inclusion on a list of currently suspended priests on the archdiocesan website. As you know, this is not Fr. Heis’s first suspension.
Fr. Heis was arrested in 2005 on charges of “disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.” These generic-sounding charges hide a sordid affair. Fr. Heis was found in a public park near Dayton engaging in sexual acts with two other adult men. After a police officer approached them, Fr. Heis fled the scene and was later picked up and arrested. Let me repeat that: this Catholic priest was engaging in sodomy with multiple men in a public park. Fr. Heis pleaded no contest to the charges, and none of the facts of the case has been disputed by him or by the archdiocese.
To anyone with even an ounce of knowledge of the Catholic faith (or even an ounce of common sense), such actions should signal the permanent end to Fr. Heis’s priestly ministry. Yet less than four years later, Fr. Heis was reinstated to the priesthood and active ministry in the archdiocese. This happened when you were coadjutor bishop of the archdiocese, so you might not have made this decision, but you kept Fr. Heis in ministry after you were elevated to archbishop, and for the past ten years, he has been a priest in good standing in the archdiocese under your leadership. For the past few years, he has even held a director’s post in the archdiocese. His recent suspension likely demonstrates what anyone could have told you a decade ago: a man who commits public sodomy with multiple partners is not fit to be a Catholic priest.
It is hard not to draw some troubling conclusions from how you and the archdiocese have handled both Fr. Drew and Fr. Heis. First, the culture of secrecy and cover-up is obviously still rampant in the chancery. Few details have been given about either suspension, and in the case of Fr. Drew, the archdiocese transferred him to another parish after troubling accusations were made — without informing his new parish and school of those accusations. Second, it’s clear that homosexuality is still considered normative among the Catholic hierarchy and not grounds for concern among Catholic clergy. This is in spite of the fact that homosexual activity is always and everywhere sinful, it is one of the sins that Scripture says “cries to heaven for vengeance,” and overwhelming evidence exists that homosexual clergy constitute the vast majority of priests (and bishops) guilty of crimes of abuse. Yet a priest can apparently commit sodomy in a public park with the only result that it slightly slows down his career path within your archdiocese. Before his most recent suspension, Fr. Heis was a high-ranking cleric in the archdiocese, so clearly his public homosexual escapades didn’t diminish him in your eyes or the eyes of your staff.
I don’t know if your turning a blind eye to homosexual behavior in the priesthood is because you don’t believe that such activity is truly troubling or if you simply fear the cultural backlash you would receive for defending traditional Christian teaching and opposing today’s gay zeitgeist. Or perhaps you fear you won’t have enough priests in the archdiocese if all those who engage in homosexual activity are removed. Regardless of the reason, your inaction simply deepens the depravity and corruption plainly evident within the Church…at least plainly evident for those who have eyes to see (cf. Matthew 13:15).
As a layperson, there is almost nothing I can do about your disturbing actions. I cannot leave the Church, for even in its current state it is still the Ark of Salvation. Letters to the chancery have no impact upon the actions of archdiocesan officials. I can withhold my donations (and I do withhold them from your annual archdiocesan appeal), but I support my own parish and don’t want it to be punished for the moral crimes of the archdiocese. So all I can do is make your actions and those of your staff as public as possible so that people of goodwill everywhere might know that the Catholic Church harbors deviants and criminals in its midst with few consequences.
If someone wants salvation in Jesus Christ, he should look to the Catholic Church, but if he wants a safe environment for his children and a place where leaders actually live out and believe what they preach, then he needs to look anywhere but the Catholic Church. What a terrible predicament you and your fellow bishops have put people in. I cannot help but believe that the terrible words of Christ apply a hundredfold to you and your episcopal brothers: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all filthiness. So you also outwardly indeed appear to men just; but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23:27–28).
But perhaps you don’t even recognize the depths of corruption and depravity within the Church. I myself used to work for a diocese, so I know how insular life within a chancery can get. Perhaps you don’t realize the level of anger and disgust among the Catholic faithful toward our shepherds. Perhaps you don’t see how little respect the Catholic Church commands in our society due to the crimes and corruption of her leaders. Few Catholics take their bishops seriously anymore, and we now assume they are either corrupt or complacent. There has been no evidence to the contrary in recent decades.
What would I, and many Catholics, like to see from our shepherds? True repentance and a real embrace of the fullness of the Catholic faith. I am not being hyperbolic when I say I would like to see you in sackcloth and ashes in front of the cathedral, begging for forgiveness from God and from your sheep. Further, I want to see a clear denunciation of homosexuality in the priesthood and a removal of all priests who are known (either publicly or within the corridors of the chancery) to engage in homosexual activity. Then I would know that you are serious about actual reform, instead of being yet another bishop surrounded by lawyers giving the same “CYA” advice we’ve seen for decades. Programs and charters don’t convert hearts or lead people to Christ, yet that is all that is offered from our Church officials, who don’t seem to recognize sin and its destructive force.
For years I have prayed daily that you would be a wise, holy, and courageous shepherd of souls, but in God’s divine providence, this has not happened, as your handling of these two priests shows neither wisdom, a desire for holiness, nor courage. But I will persevere in my prayer. I know that in His time, God brings justice to His people, and I can only hope that He will bring it soon to those who have caused the faithful to stumble due to their cowardice and lack of faith.
Eric Sammons, a former Evangelical, entered the Catholic Church in 1993. He is the father of seven children and author of seven books, including The Old Evangelization: How to Spread the Faith Like Jesus Did.