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An Open Letter to Cardinal O’Malley Regarding the Seminary Investigation

Your Eminence, Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley,

It is with a spirit of faith, hope, and love that I write this letter to you, the shepherd of all Roman Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston. During his apostolic journey to the United States, our Holy Father Pope Francis exhorted you and all of the U.S. bishops in attendance to be “close to people,” becoming “pastors who are neighbors and servants.” Citing the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Holy Father asked that you and your brother bishops be men of pastoral sensitivity, examples to the priests under your care, so that they too may “be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, ‘by chance’ find themselves stripped of all they thought they had” (Lk. 10:29-37).

As a victim of sexual abuse and misconduct, I, like the man in the parable who was attacked by robbers, found myself stripped of all I thought I had. I thought I had security and safety within the walls of an institution dedicated to forming men after the Heart of Jesus. I thought I had trust in those in power to promptly address issues of misconduct, especially seeing how past failures in this area damaged Catholics worldwide. Lastly, I thought I had a priestly vocation – something I have now given up in exchange for a prophetic one.

As you know, news of the abusive “Uncle Ted” McCarrick caused a firestorm among the Catholic faithful in this country. Many of us faithful Catholics find ourselves baffled at how the public face of the Catholic Church in America could have gone on to enjoy a successful episcopal career despite common knowledge among the Church and media that he was a predator. Reflecting upon the way McCarrick and other clerics with power were allowed to commit abuses and cover them up, I realized that silence was what allowed additional violence to be committed against more and more victims. So I decided to write about my experiences of wrongdoing, first published here by One Peter Five.

Out of courtesy, I declined to disclose the names of these seminaries I attended and faculty members guilty of misconduct, preferring to focus on the troubling issues themselves. However, as my story spread across social media, former seminarians spoke out publicly and confirmed that I was telling the truth – and went so far as to give the name of the seminary itself. It is now public knowledge that my tragic experiences took place at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary from 2010 to 2011 and at Saint John’s Seminary from 2014 to 2016, the latter of which is directly under your care.

Please allow me to make a few important distinctions that can hopefully help the investigation. First, my complaints regarding Saint John’s Seminary were not specifically about sexual abuse; they were about general misconduct, scandalous behavior by faculty and students, and an overall unhealthy seminary culture. Such misconduct includes former seminarians engaging in sodomy and a “sexting” scandal that disturbed many of us in the house. However, should the investigation focus exclusively on the issue of sex and sex abuse, it will be a relatively easy case to dismiss. On the one hand, the two seminarians were rightly expelled – but on the other hand, the sexting scandal was improperly addressed by priests on the faculty and outside the faculty alike. These two instances are not enough to address the many issues plaguing Saint John’s. Sexual misconduct is not the main problem – it is symptomatic of larger issues regarding immorality and accountability.

Secondly, as I have consistently stated, my motivation for speaking out was out of a sincere love for the Catholic Church. I am not a “disgruntled seminarian,” nor am I a seminary “failure.” I received a positive vote to advance in major seminary both years; it was my free and honest decision to leave the toxic environment. I, along with others, have seen the way silence has allowed sin to spread more pervasively. I have heard whispers that my story was “slanderous” and “dishonest.” Let it be known that I have corrected multiple news outlets in their erroneous reporting of important details of this investigation, which should testify to my claim that I care only about truth and justice, not sensationalism and embellishment. Should anyone doubt my honesty, I urge you to note how part of my testimony has already been confirmed through Pennsylvania’s recent grand jury report. Moreover, I have proof and witnesses of the misconduct at Saint John’s.

In speaking the truth, I sacrificed everything – my name, my reputation, my family, my friends, potential future jobs, connections, and more. I now understand what Our Lord meant when He said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25).

Thirdly, this investigation must address the disturbing reality that these allegations were brought to the public eye precisely because they were previously ignored. As I mentioned in my story, I went through the proper channels in my attempt to address the misconduct. I brought my concerns to my formation adviser and my vocation director multiple times. There are only two options with regard to my allegations about the culture at Saint John’s Seminary – either the seminary faculty were so obtuse that these complaints went unnoticed, or worse, those in power are lying about their ignorance of my allegations. Either of these options is damning; in either scenario, those entrusted with proper leadership failed in their duty to uphold (in your words) the “moral standards and requirements of formation for the Catholic priesthood,” whether by sins of commission or sins of omission.

I hereby request that the investigation focuses on three major areas:

  1. Immoral and unprofessional misconduct by faculty and students alike, including, but not limited to:
    • “Private parties” where certain faculty members would invite an exclusive clique of seminarians into their room late at night.
    • Widespread alcohol abuse, including a bachelor party hosted at the seminary in which a faculty member, drinking with seminarians until 2 A.M., fell out of his chair.
    • Allegations of grooming and its subsequent cover-up.
    • A mismanagement of seminary finances.
  2. A toxic culture of fear, intimidation, and discrimination at Saint John’s Seminary:
    • Bullying by certain faculty members.
    • Threats of a lawsuit against those exposing the misconduct.
    • Certain faculty members seen as “untouchable” and who survived over a decade of credible allegations.
    • Fear from seminarians, priests, and laity of speaking out.
  3. Subsequent cover-up of such misconduct and unhealthy culture by leadership:
    • The fact that my complaints – and others’ – went ignored and mishandled.
    • The insistent denial by leadership regarding the basis of these allegations.

Since this is an open letter, I sincerely hope that anyone who is reading this who has experienced, witnessed, or heard of misconduct in regards to Saint John’s Seminary will come forward – publicly or anonymously – so that additional light may shine on the darkness that has been hidden. Since coming forward, I have received dozens of messages from seminarians, former seminarians, and Catholic laity across the country. Some of these messages include their own experiences of abuse and misconduct at the hands of the Catholic Church; others include their own suspicions about Saint John’s Seminary, which my testimony confirmed. Many, including priests, are afraid to speak publicly because they are afraid of the repercussions. Such is the culture of our Church today – those who speak truth to ecclesial power find themselves ostracized and hated.

Your Eminence, it is my sincere hope that you continue to take seriously these allegations and guide the investigation accordingly. Admittedly, I am perturbed that you appointed a former member of the seminary faculty (who was on the faculty during my time at SJS) to lead this investigation. The Catholic faithful have seen how bishops policing themselves and conducting internal investigations can jeopardize the objectivity so desperately needed for the pursuit of justice. That stated, I trust in your judgment, as I know that Bishop Mark O’Connell is a true shepherd and a man of integrity.

I witnessed and experienced improper behavior by those entrusted with forming men to the Catholic priesthood, and I pray that others may not have a similar experience. You have my utmost support and prayers during the days ahead. May this investigation result in the light of truth and the freedom that only Truth Himself can give.

In the Sacred Heart,

John A. Monaco

Editor’s note: This letter was originally published at Medium. It is edited and republished here with the author’s permission.

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