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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Release
For immediate release: Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010
Controversial deacon defends himself
He puts long statement in Sunday’s parish bulletin
Church official acknowledges relocating here due to allegations
His “reputation” was “destroyed” in two other dioceses, he admitsA Catholic deacon who was refused ordination two years ago by a New Jersey bishop and was ousted by a Pennsylvania bishop now works at a Bend Oregon church and is defending himself in Sunday in St. Francis parish bulletins.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are unmoved by Deacon Joseph Levine’s missive.
“It’s deceitful and wrong for Levine to basically blame one individual for his own recklessness and cowardice,” said David Clohessy of SNAP. “And he did tremendous hardship by publicly and repeatedly defending pedophile priests. If he’s made peace with one former colleague, that’s wonderful. But he’s evidently done little or nothing to ‘un-do’ the real damage he’s done to Catholic families, Pennsylvania citizens and clergy sex abuse victims.”
Below is a copy of 1) Levine’s defense, 2) SNAP’s recent news release about Levine and 3) SNAP’s letter to Baker’s Catholic bishop about Levine. SNAP has not heard back from the bishop.
1) The following will appear by way of a bulletin insert:
When a man has been subject to vicious calumnies and been forced to relocate on account of them, he does not want to introduce himself to his new acquaintances by saying something like, “Hello, my name is John Doe and these are all the nasty things people are saying about me.” Anyone who reflects for a moment on the embarrassing events of his own life will, I think, agree that he would prefer not to have to introduce himself by making reference to those incidents.
I came to the Baker Diocese after my reputation had been destroyed in two other dioceses where I had worked despite the fact that in those dioceses the Bishops were very pleased with my faithfulness and dedication. In fact, both of them would have very willingly ordained me. Bishop Vasa and Fr. Joseph Reinig were fully informed of the circumstances. Now, however, it has come to my attention that half-truths are circulating in the parish and so it has become necessary to address the matter publicly. I am grateful that I have been allowed to work among you for the past five months without having to explain my past association. I hope that you now have some personal experience of me which will allow you to consider more objectively the worth or value of that which is now being said about me. You have the living man before you.
It is now more than six years since I was a member of a community called the Society of St. John that was established in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1998. I joined the community the same year because I thought the purpose was good and, to my knowledge, the men involved were good. Nevertheless, a scandal arose in which the priest-founder, Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, another priest, Fr. Eric Ensey, were accused of sexual abuse. Though I was only a deacon I was placed in a position for which I was little prepared and succeeded the priest-founder as Superior of the community, even though the priest-founder’s charismatic influence remained dominant. I mistakenly believed that the priest-founder was innocent and defended him as such. In retrospect, I now know I was very naïve in my judgment. That naïve judgment has plagued me ever since. I have been repeatedly accused of having knowingly participated in a ‘cover-up’. That is the most serious allegation that has ever been made against me.
One man in particular, Dr. Jeffrey Bond, made an issue of these things and succeeded first in pressuring the Bishop of Scranton not to ordain me to the priesthood and then he succeeded in pressuring the Bishop of Paterson, New Jersey. Dr. Bond is highly credible because he had both firsthand knowledge and had made a diligent investigation. In the end, I have come to admit that he was substantially correct in his assessment of Fr. Urrutigoity. Before I came to Bend, Bishop Vasa acted as mediator between myself and Dr. Bond. The Bishop made reconciliation with him a condition for my acceptance into the Diocese. As a result of that mediation I wrote a lengthy explanatory letter and apology to Dr. Bond. That explanation and apology was accepted and Dr. Bond, who was almost singlehandedly responsible for the previous cancellation of priestly ordination plans, withdrew his objections to my ordination. My letter and Dr. Bond’s reply will be available in PDF format to any who wish to read it. Dr. Bond has the fullest knowledge of the serious problems with the Society of Saint John and they were extensive. Thus his withdrawal of objections speaks to the sincerity and seriousness of my apology and acknowledgment of error. Unfortunately, it is much easier to focus on events at the Society than the very significant journey I have been on since my departure from and the subsequent collapse of that community.
Deacon Joseph Levine, firstname.lastname@example.org
2) For immediate release: Friday, Jan. 15, 2010
Ousted deacon resurfaces here
Two other bishops rejected him
In 2007, one diocese refused to ordain him
Two clerics he supervised were sued for abuse
The group he headed also faced financial allegations
It may cost church “several million dollars,” PA bishop says
Still, Oregon prelate now lets him quietly work at Bend parish
SNAP discloses an e mail from local bishop defending his actions
Support group asks Vasa to reconsider and warn church members about him
A Catholic deacon who was refused ordination two years ago by a New Jersey bishop and was ousted by a Pennsylvania bishop now works at a parish in Oregon. A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is urging an Oregon bishop to publicly explain why he’s given a job to the controversial deacon and to reconsider that decision.
Deacon Joseph Levine is the former head of a troubled group called the Society of St. John, which was shut down by Scranton’s bishop in 2004 after charges of financial misdealing and after two of the group’s priests were sued for alleged child sexual abuse. Levine was accused by Jeffrey Bond, Ph.D., of concealing clergy sex crimes.
In 2007, Levine was within a week of becoming a priest in the Paterson NJ diocese. But the diocese suddenly announced that it was refusing to ordain him and admit it had received “questions about Levine's suitability for the priesthood,” according to the Scranton Times-Leader.
He now works at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in the Baker Diocese, and is listed on the parish website as a "pastoral year seminarian/deacon." The church is at 2450 NE 27th Street in Bend (541-382-3631). The pastor is Fr. Joe Reinig (email@example.com) and the associate pastor is Fr. Daniel Maxwell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“Levine’s never been charged or convicted in any criminal, civil or church proceeding,” admits David Clohessy, national director of a self help group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “But two bishops have rejected Levine, both of whom no doubt know him better than Oregon church officials do. And the public and parishioners in Oregon have been told little, if anything, about the disturbing allegations that he concealed child sex crimes and that his group essentially committed financial fraud.”
“At worse, Baker Catholic officials are being reckless and at best, they’re being secretive,” said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis. She’s SNAP’s outreach director.
“We see no evidence that the Oregon church hierarchy has warned anyone about Levine’s troubling past,” Dorris said. “We hope that’s been done, but it sure doesn’t look like it. And that kind of honesty is what bishops have repeatedly promised since 2002 regarding clergy sex crimes and cover ups. It’s the kind of honesty that Catholics deserve and families need.”
SNAP is sending a letter today by fax and e mail to Baker Bishop Robert Vasa with their concerns about Levine.
But in a Jan. 7 email to a local Catholic obtained by SNAP, Vasa defends his actions, referring to Levine’s “good reputation.”
Levine “was aware of (one accused predator priest’s) eccentricities but whether he was in fact an abuser of teenagers has never been proven though (we) certainly have our grave suspicions,” Vasa wrote. “Levine was never implicated in the abuse matters. . .and even now (the priest) has not been charged with any crimes. Levine was caught up in a scandal, not of his making, which he was quite ill-equipped to deal with and he now admits that he did not deal with it well.”
“Corresponding with an accused wrong-doer isn’t the best way to get accurate information,” countered Dorris.
According to one Pennsylvania news account, in 2002,“Levine became (head) of the Society of St. John, the same year a former student filed a sexual abuse lawsuit against two society priests, Carlos Urrutigoity and Eric Ensey, and the Scranton Diocese.” A second, similar lawsuit was also filed later.
According to the Catholic News Service, “three other former students (gave depositions in 2004) testifying that Father Urrutigoity sexually fondled them or slept with them when they were minors.”
In 2005, one of the suits was settled for $455,000.
A former member of the SSJ told Internet columnist Matt C. Abbott (email@example.com) that Levine “actively sought to protect those in the SSJ who engaged in these perverse deeds.”
There were also allegations of financial irregularities leveled at the Society, leading Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino to say it caused "grievous financial burdens for the diocese" that could amount to several million dollars, according to the Catholic News Service.
In 2002, a separate lawsuit filed against the society claiming that it raised $5 million from donors to build a Catholic college. But little money was spent on that project, the suit said, which has since been abandoned.
In 2006, another Pennsylvania newspaper reports that the controversial group “has reestablished itself in Paraguay.” Urrutigoity and Ensey are reportedly there too. Two years earlier, in 2004, Ensey filed for personal bankruptcy.
According to the Wilkes-Barre daily newspaper, some 25 Scranton diocesan priests have been accused of molesting children.
“We must caution against ‘guilt by association,’ but at the same time, it’s hard to believe that Levine was in the midst of all these alleged clergy sex crimes and cover ups and financial misdeeds but knew nothing or responded perfectly,” said Clohessy.
3) Dear Bishop Vasa:
For years, Catholic bishops have
Supposedly, in 2002, all that stopped. America’s bishops pledged to put the safety of kids first and to be “open and transparent” with their flocks.
So then why have you quietly accepted Deacon Joseph Levine into your diocese, and apparently warned no one or few people of his past? That past includes allegations
Beyond these accusations, there are a number of disturbing and undisputed facts:
All of this is very worrisome to us, especially in light of your similar secrecy and recklessness in other recent situations:
Given these facts and charges, you can surely understand our dismay about your honesty and our doubts about the Levine matter. In a nutshell, we are worried about the well-being of your flock and of eastern Oregon citizens.
Here’s something to ponder: if Levine did, in fact, conceal child sex crimes, and yet is welcomed into your diocese, there’s certainly a chance that he’ll do it again. And if he, in fact, was involved in any financial impropriety, there’s a chance that he’ll do that again as well.
Frankly, we’re not comforted by your claim that you’ve written several letters over the past few months to two individuals about Levine, one of whom is Levine himself, the alleged wrong-doer. That doesn’t seem like a very thorough investigation.
In light of all this, we have three simple requests, Bishop.
First, we ask you to publicly explain why you’ve given a job to this controversial deacon.
Second, we ask you to reconsider your decision. (Ministry is a privilege, not a right.)
Third, we ask you to hold an open public meeting at Levine’s parish, and give citizens and Catholics a chance to directly ask you questions about your troubling move.
These actions would be small steps toward the caution, compassion and openness that you and your colleagues have promised your flock and toward a more prudent stewardship.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests