Yesterday, we reprinted an essay by Peter Mitchell at The American Conservative about his experiences with the seminary culture in Lincoln, Nebraska under vocations director Msgr. Leonard Kalin. Mitchell, a heterosexual priest who accepted laicization after his own admitted failures in keeping his vow of celibacy, spoke of an environment of “totally inadequate and abusive formation” for the celibate priesthood and “profound discrimination” against heterosexual seminarians and priests. He also spoke of a climate of fear, protection of abusers, and reprisal for speaking out. And it didn’t take long for that to be proven right.
In the 24 hours or so since that post went live, Mitchell did receive a couple of supportive comments thanking him for speaking out about the problem. He also received much more lengthy negative comments accusing him of “libel,” “calumny,” “distortions,” and “fabrications.” (Rod Dreher has been posting some of the incoming here.) I’ve even seen suggestions that Mitchell and Dreher (and anyone who published his testimony) owe an apology to the Lincoln Diocese.
And yet today, the Lincoln Diocese admitted Kalin’s wrongdoing in a statement to the Catholic News Agency (CNA):
In an Aug. 1 statement, the Diocese of Lincoln said that it “is aware of past reports of conduct contrary to prudence and moral law by Monsignor Leonard Kalin, deceased in 2008.”
“The diocese addressed these allegations of misconduct directly with Msgr. Kalin during his time in priestly ministry,” the statement said, adding that the diocese is not aware that Kalin violated any civil laws.
I commend the diocese for taking this step. It’s a significant concession, and the diocese hasn’t even contested any specific point of Mitchell’s account.
This is not to say the spokespeople’s statement demonstrates compassion toward their former seminarian who has finally spoken out about what he experienced. Instead, they have attempted to equate what Kalin did with Mitchell’s own admitted failures in priestly continence, using almost identical language in reference to him:
The Diocese of Lincoln is also aware of past reports of conduct contrary to prudence and moral law by former Diocese of Lincoln priest Peter Mitchell. The diocese addressed these allegations of misconduct directly with Mitchell during his time of ministry in the Diocese of Lincoln.
Reading the two statements side by side, one is given the impression of a parity of moral gravity in the sins of these two men. But whereas Kalin stands accused of cultivating a number of sexual encounters and other inappropriate behaviors over a long period of time with men being formed for the priesthood under his leadership, here’s what Mitchell admitted to, having first qualified himself clearly as a heterosexual:
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 does not offer any specifics about his failings, but nothing in his remarks indicates that they were acts of sodomy, crimes against nature, or crimes against boys or young men*. His insistence that he “experienced profound discrimination as a seminarian and later as a priest because I was a heterosexual in an overwhelmingly homosexual environment where sexually active gay priests protected and promoted each other” portrays a man who wasn’t having anything to do with that scene.
Whatever he is guilty of, it was clearly wrong, and he has expressed regret and accountability for it. But this attempt at conflating the actions of Mitchell and Kalin strikes me as a gross misrepresentation by insinuation and an attempt to diminish Mitchell’s credibility by association.
I have 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. It is my hope that those who know of such instances will, rather than being afraid of whatever institutionalized smear campaign the diocese might fire up, continue to speak on the matter. I don’t want to see anyone falsely accused, but at some point, the “everyone knows but everyone is afraid to say it” thing has got to stop. If the Church is really interested in zero tolerance, it needs to be possible for people who have had these experiences to come forward without retribution.
It also seems important to highlight that subjective experiences with a given priest that indicate he’s “one of the good guys” mean absolutely nothing. Testimonials from people who have never experienced anything out of place can simply mean that they were not subject to the very selective grooming that predators engage in. As I related in my blog post yesterday, I have two friends who both spent years in the spiritual care of Fr. Donald McGuire, S.J. – who also served as confessor to Mother Teresa – and never did they or any of their family members experience anything but positive spiritual direction and growth in their interactions with a man who is now serving out the rest of his life in prison for grooming and molestation.
It is entirely possible for these people to be very, very convincing deceivers. And it is also possible for these bad trees to bear enough good fruit that most people never see the rot.
At this point, our skepticism of all cover stories must, by necessity, be turned all the way up.
UPDATE: Via Rod Dreher,I came across a thread on Facebook in which a man claiming to be a former Lincoln seminarian has this to say about his time under Msgr. Kalin (MK). I removed the intervening comments so that both of his comments could be seen together in this screenshot:
*Correction: In my original post, I wrote that “nothing in his remarks indicates that they were homosexual or abusive or predatory in nature”. It was brought to my attention, however, that because of the spiritual fatherhood of a priest, even in the case of a consensual relationship with an adult woman, such a violation of clerical continence would be properly viewed as spiritually abusive. I’ve amended the language of the paragraph to better reflect what I was trying to express.