What the McElroy Appointment Says About the Church’s Commitment to Sex Abuse Victims
SAN DIEGO (CA)
Crisis Magazine [Manchester NH]
June 13, 2022
By Janet E. Smith
It wasn’t long into my study of the sex abuse crisis in the Church that I realized that many or even most bishops customarily respond to a report about abuse 1) by feeling sorry for themselves that they have another mess on their hands; 2) by feeling sorry for the priest whose priesthood may be ruined; and 3) by trying to figure out how to get the victim to remain silent and go away. There is rarely, if ever, any true concern shown for the victim; sometimes counseling is offered but more often as a way to appease than to help the victim.
It can take decades for a victim even to begin to seek justice for the abuser. And most often it is done out of a concern to prevent the abuser from continuing to abuse. Victims long to put the abuse “behind them” (as much as that might be possible) and get on with their lives. They also need to face being triggered by reports of abuse similar to theirs and sometimes need to deal with reemergence in the news of their own case.
One such victim is Rachel Mastrogiacomo, who suffered devastating life consequences because of Satanic Ritual Sexual Abuse by former priest Jacob Bertrand of the Diocese of San Diego. Bertrand ultimately confessed to abusing Mastrogiacomo and was convicted of ritual rape. The judge was very hesitant to consent to the “no jail time” agreement, but because Rachel became aware that some false narratives of the abuse would be introduced into trial she consented to extended probation for Bertrand. Bertrand’s admission of guilt became her priority.
Recently, Rachel learned that Bertrand, despite being a registered predatory offender, is a part of a Bible study in an evangelical church where he has contact with vulnerable individuals. That, of course, has terribly shaken her and has led her to consider what more she must do to protect the vulnerable. Clearly, the Diocese of San Diego is not monitoring Bertrand for who knows what reason—indifference to abuse? Fear that Bertrand could expose more of the corruption in the diocese if he is reined in? I don’t know the reason, but can there be any good reason? Sadly, the least objectionable explanation would be neglect; but it would be criminal neglect.
What triggers Rachel now and provokes revictimization is the promotion of Bishop McElroy from San Diego to the cardinalate, for he failed to act when she reported Bertrand to the diocese and is failing to protect the vulnerable from Bertrand.
Retelling Rachel’s full story would require a book. A rather full accounting of the abuse she experienced (although some of the most disturbing details are omitted) is available in an article on Crux. It is a must read.
Here, I am interviewing Rachel about the absurdly difficult steps she needed to take to get some modicum of justice regarding her abuse, about the ongoing trauma she experiences from the mishandling of her case, and about the failure of the diocese to monitor convicted ex-priest Jacob Bertrand.
The story makes quite inexplicable the appointment of McElroy to the cardinalate for a Church that claims to care about victims.
Janet Smith: Rachel, I am so sorry that you have been reminded again of your horrible experience of Satanic Ritual Sexual Abuse by Jacob Bertrand (a priest of the diocese of San Diego). Learning of the elevation to the red hat of Bishop McElroy, who covered up for this priest, must have been terribly triggering. I am sorry that you will need to revisit the experience, and I appreciate your generosity in being willing to do so in order to help people understand who McElroy is, the state of the Church today, and how abuse and neglect affects victims—for the whole of their lives.
Let me begin by asking you, when did you report Bertrand to the Diocese of San Diego? The ritual rape happened in 2010, what led you to report him in 2014? What precisely did you report and what evidence did you offer?
Rachel Mastrogiacomo: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this opportunity, Janet. While retelling my story is hard, it is healing to have people take you seriously and, more importantly, it may save others from being victims.
Indeed, in 2014, I formally reported the crime to Catholic Church officials primarily for the protection of others and for financial help for therapy. I was newly married and hoped I was finally stable enough to face the trauma involved in reporting the ritual rape that had happened in the summer of 2010. With the loving support of my husband, I reported the crime to John Pendergrass, the Director of Child and Youth Protection for the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, where we were living at the time. He sent a detailed report to the Diocese of San Diego, which is essentially what was reported in an article published in Crux.
In short, Fr. Jacob found in me the virgin he was looking for, for his evil purposes. Fr. Jacob Bertrand carefully groomed me over a period of ten months while I was studying in Rome and discerning my vocation. He managed to convince me that because I was so pure and resembled the Virgin Mary in a particular way, I was called to a secret mystical marriage to be contracted during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Bertrand convinced me that my perfect cooperation in this oblative work would result in me becoming a special bride of Christ and also a spiritual mother to a select group of priests. Of course, I had no idea that he was going to ritually rape me during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass while acting In persona Christi.
The Diocese of San Diego has had Pendergrass’ detailed report describing Bertrand’s Satanic crime since 2014.
When Pendergrass sent the report to the Diocese of San Diego, it was received by Msgr. Steven Callahan, who was serving as apostolic administrator at the time because the bishop, Cirilo Flores, had just passed away. Pendergrass informed me that Callahan had presented Fr. Bertrand with the report and Bertrand admitted guilt in the presence of Callahan.
JS: Yours clearly was a very unusual experience. How did Bertrand manage to get so much control over you? What diabolical means did he use?
RM: How did Bertrand manage to get so much control over me? As I mentioned, he cleverly groomed me for months. Did he drug me? Perhaps. Did he hypnotize me? Perhaps. I do not know exactly what he did to cause me to enter into trances, but I firmly believe it involved occult witchcraft. The first trance that I can recall occurred near the Vatican obelisk in St. Peter’s Square on December 12, 2009. As he and I were speaking, I entered an altered state. It seemed the world froze, and when I told him what was happening, he insisted that I was having a “mystical experience.”
That was the type of thing that occurred while he was programming me throughout my ten months in Rome. He weaponized Catholic mysticism and deceived me into believing these “hidden” realities were from God. At this point, I can say with absolute certainty that he was exposing me to the diabolical, as confirmed by the exorcist with whom I eventually worked. The powers and principalities through which Bertrand was operating were Luciferian, a part of his program that involved ritually abusing me and also priming me to eventually recruit other priests into his dark enterprise.
JS: Did the diocese ever interview you or try to determine if there had been other victims?
RM: The Diocese of San Diego never interviewed me, nor did they ask for names of others who might give evidence. When I read the criminal investigative file, I found other police reports that had been made by women from San Diego to the police in Minnesota, reports made in support of my accusations.
One of these women had previously made her complaint to the Diocese of San Diego in 2014, at exactly the same time I made my report to the diocese. It then became overwhelmingly clear that the diocese had additional complaints that were being made against Bertrand, which they never shared with me. I was the enemy; not one to be helped in any way.
The Diocese of San Diego has never been transparent about the files they have. They did not seek to find the truth; rather, they sought to hide the truth.
JS: The Diocese clearly did not want to get the full picture about Bertrand, but since Bertrand confessed, they had to do something. What consequences did Bertrand face?
RM: He was removed from ministry, and I believe he was sent to St. Luke’s. I was not told that by anyone from the Diocese of San Diego; in fact, no one from the diocese has ever contacted me. It was Pendergrass, from North Carolina, who told me about Bertrand’s removal.
Naively, I trusted that everything was being handled properly and was grateful to move on with my life. Though, of course, I was deeply disappointed at how the diocese had treated me.
Bertrand’s removal from ministry was misrepresented and brief. In a parish bulletin for November 30, 2014, Bertrand stated that his leave of absence from Santa Sophia parish was the result of emotional trauma related to an arson attack on the parish rectory. The people of San Diego were kept in the dark, and the real reason for his leave of absence was shoved under the rug.
He resurfaced less than six months later, with a March 29, 2015, bulletin announcing his transfer to another parish.
In the spring of 2016, to my deep disappointment, I discovered that Bertrand was continuing to exhibit predatory behavior. This discovery compelled me to file a police report to legal authorities in Dakota County in Minnesota where the ritual rape of 2010 took place.
JS: All that took place before McElroy was installed as bishop. What action regarding Bertrand did Bishop McElroy take when he was installed as bishop?
RM: In April 2015, Robert McElroy became bishop of San Diego but did not remove Bertrand from ministry until more than a year later, in August 2016. It is hard to imagine that McElroy did not know the charges against Bertrand.
McElroy took a swift and strong stand against abuse. As a Wall Street Journal article of 2018 reported,
In April 2015, Robert McElroy became bishop of San Diego. During his first press conference he announced: “Anyone who is involved in the abuse of a minor, simply, even in one case, cannot be allowed to be in ministry.”
As the WSJ article observes, confining concern to minors neglects abuse of vulnerable adults:
It seems this policy did not extend to priests who abused adults. Bishop McElroy did not remove Father Bertrand from ministry until August 2016, after he learned that the priest was being prosecuted.
I believe Bertrand would never have been removed from ministry if I had not taken legal action.
The concern of the Diocese only with the abuse of minors is reprehensible and shockingly pervasive; abusers, even convicted abusers, such as Jacob Bertrand, are not even identified as such on the Diocese of San Diego website. Do the authorities of the diocese not realize that many adults are also vulnerable to predation? Or do they not care? Do they not care that Bertrand may be abusing others?
JS: And how did McElroy’s Diocese respond to the legal proceedings?
RM: The piece in the WSJ just cited reports the facts well:
According to Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, whose office prosecuted Father Bertrand, the Diocese of San Diego refused to turn over key files. “The attorney for the San Diego Diocese originally told us that [they] had no file related to an investigation involving Jacob Bertrand’s alleged sexual acts with the victim in our case (which we later learned was false) and initially told the attorney from our Office handling this prosecution that even if a file existed, they would not provide it,” he wrote in an email. Mr. Eckery [the Diocesan Communication Director] insists that the diocese was willing to cooperate.
It doesn’t surprise me that the diocese lied about what they knew about Bertrand. They certainly never interviewed me to get the complete story. Truly, they seemed indifferent to truth and only interested in protecting Bertrand. Not easy to do with a confession in hand.
JS: What was the result of the legal proceedings?
RM: Bertrand ultimately pleaded guilty but only at the last minute because Msgr. Callahan—who had been subpoenaed—called Dakota County prosecutor Heather Pipenhagen right before the trial and told Pipenhagen that all the way back in 2014 Bertrand, upon being presented with Pendergrass’ report, had in fact admitted guilt. Bertrand had no other choice but to plead guilty at that point.
In spite of his clear admission of guilt, in the same way that he lied to cover up the reason behind his leave of absence, Bertrand lied to cover up the reason behind his guilty plea. In an email he sent out immediately after his conviction, he portrayed himself as the unjustly persecuted “suffering servant” and said he accepted the plea bargain to avoid jail time.
For his crimes, Bertrand faced up to fifteen years in prison and a fine of $30,000; but he got a reduced sentence, in part because I agreed to the reduction. I thought, and still think, he deserved jail time; but I couldn’t face the lies he was going to tell in court and the lies others would tell who had been deceived by him. Perhaps I should have allowed the case to continue, since rather than own the fact that he was guilty and had admitted his guilt, Bertrand has come up with a disturbing false narrative involving blatant lies and grave calumny—he even has blamed me for his behavior.
Despite a criminal conviction, Bertrand has continued to do everything in his power to keep what he did hidden. The word “occult” means hidden, and I am well aware that this was an occult-related crime.
JS: Has anyone in an official capacity in the Church ever expressed distress over what you experienced?
RM: I don’t believe I would have succeeded in my charges against Bertrand were it not for the perseverance and integrity of John Pendergrass of the Diocese of Raleigh and others who worked with him. I will be forever grateful to them.
But, as I said, no one from the Diocese of San Diego ever reached out to me, although I did receive some very minimal financial help. At the very beginning of my report of the abuse, I requested some financial help with counseling costs. The Diocese of San Diego paid for nine sessions provided by Catholic Charities of Raleigh. As you can imagine, a few sessions cannot rectify the depth of harm done to me; but it did help in establishing for the court case that at one point, at least, San Diego found my accusations credible (otherwise they would not have paid for the counseling).
After the court case, I spiraled downward horribly and began work with a top-notch therapist who specializes in cases of extreme abuse and Satanic Ritual Abuse. She was appalled at the behavior of the San Diego Diocese; they would pay for only 12 hours of treatment in total. She declined to work under those terms because she said it is basically malpractice to limit treatment in that way. I never got the therapy I needed, but, thank God, I was helped by an exorcist—who charged nothing.
The truth is that no one from the San Diego Diocese has ever shown the slightest interest in my well-being. As I said earlier, I have been treated like an enemy from the start. They were forced to withdraw Bertrand from ministry. They have never acknowledged the harm he did to me and others. They have not monitored his doings since and have left other vulnerable people susceptible to him. It causes me great pain to think he may be abusing others as he abused me.
That McElroy will be setting policy for the Church, and likely be involved in the selection of the next pontiff, fills me with fear.
On the other hand, countless good and holy priests have dared to take a public stand. I will never forget the priest who, after hearing my public testimony at a conference, approached me in the back of the auditorium and collapsed at my feet, weeping. In fact, he wailed. I am brought to tears just thinking about this encounter. Through this priest, I encountered the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The prayers of others have been indispensable. I need to give particular thanks to Fr. John Holloway, who put my name along with other victims on his hospital wall so he could remember to offer up his sufferings from cancer for me.
JS: How did you feel after you realized the diocese was going to do so little/nothing?
RM: I am unable to comment on this. For the sake of my mental health, I cannot revisit the things I felt as a result of Bishop McElroy’s negligence and cruelty toward me. I suspect and hope, though, that my hurt and distress come through what I have reported here.
JS: How do you think dioceses should respond to victims when they report abuse?
RM: They certainly should have a sense of how hard it is for a victim to come forward; they should also know that false accusations are very rare, especially when made by those not seeking any monetary settlement. While it is understandable that they want to believe and protect a brother priest, they should feel equally protective of the sons and daughters of the Church who report they have been greatly harmed by a priest. It is extremely sad to have to say that the Church should not hide relevant information and should cooperate fully with legal authorities. Victims need to be confident that all reasonable measures are being taken to get to the truth of the matter. There is much more that could be said about this. Suffice it to say that the Church is a long, long way from knowing how to care for victims.
JS: What has been your experience since Bertrand’s conviction?
RM: As I said earlier, it is greatly distressing to me that Bertrand’s doings are not monitored by the Church. I truly wish he were in jail and think that McElroy should agree with me. I wish McElroy had reached out to me to ratify my account and had made a public statement about Bertrand. As it is, too few know about Bertrand’s behavior, and that makes him freer to find more victims.
But I want to speak about a different kind of suffering here. To this day, it is very painful to me that, despite Bertrand’s confession in court, some of my former friends from Rome still refuse to acknowledge the truth or express sorrow for taking his side during the criminal procedure. During trial prep, I became aware that Bertrand had duped them as he duped me. Their decision to side with him made me feel ganged up on and bullied into the plea agreement. Predators like Bertrand are masterful manipulators; they groom and gaslight entire communities in order to silence their victims. Silence, after all, is a rapist’s best friend.
When I chose to break silence, I was revictimized over and over again. For me, survivorship has involved one experience of powerlessness after another. First it was the ritual rape. Then it was the cover-up from complicit clergy, such as Bishop McElroy. Then it was the bullying from the Catholic community after Bertrand’s conviction.
I want to highlight that little known element here.
Shortly after I ditched being “Jane Doe” and came out of the shadows, it was made known to me that some high-profile Catholics who claim to have no tolerance for abuse have chosen to side with their friend Bertrand in spite of his confession and conviction. Even worse, they are spreading a false narrative about what happened. And there are others, too, among them a former priest friend who claims to be an expert in the theology of forgiveness. When I attempted to confront these individuals about my concerns, I encountered, largely, stonewalling and the silent treatment. This experience caused me to retreat into the cancerous silence that left me paralyzed for years.
After more than three years of feeling bullied back into the shadows by the spreading of false versions of what happened, I finally feel strong enough to come back out into the light. I want to highlight how hard it is for me to deal with the betrayal of former friends who believe lies rather than accepting the truth. To understand clergy sexual abuse and all of its consequences, we need to understand that the powerlessness that the victim felt while abused continues when others believe false things, especially because it is so stressful and disruptive of one’s life, to say the least, to combat the lies. The episcopacy, the clergy, and laity have little to no idea of what it is like to live with the memories, the dismissal, and the betrayal, sometimes all at once.
JS: I always find it remarkable that victims manage to retain their faith. Have you retained yours? Why do you think you have been able to do so?
RM: While we were in the height of spiritual combat, my exorcist continuously told me that “the ones Our Lady is calling are the ones the devil thought he had.” Although I thankfully did not suffer from diabolical possession, I was oppressed by several high-ranking occult demons as a result of Bertrand’s Satanic rituals. According to the diagnosis of my exorcist, this was a clear instance of Satanic Ritual Abuse.
After ten excruciating months of combat that resulted in my total liberation on August 15, 2020—the Feast of the Assumption—my exorcist drew a number of firm conclusions as it related to my case: namely, that I was exposed to a Satanist who had infiltrated the priesthood; that I was being groomed for a Satanic Black Mass and that Bertrand was recruiting me for a particularly dark purpose.
God used many surprising means to prevent Bertrand from accomplishing his plans, among them some binding prayers of deliverance I had begun saying daily. If I know anything at all, here’s what I know to be true: the heel of Mary is capable of crushing the head of the serpent. The Mother of God was ultimately triumphant in my life, and I know that her Immaculate Heart will triumph in the life of the Church.
JS: What are the chief sources of joy in your life?
RM: A tremendous source of joy in my life is the Traditional Latin Mass, the Mass of the Ages. Despite the fact that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was weaponized against me so many years ago, I have miraculously found a way forward through a return to Tradition. And, of course, there is my family: my husband and the lovely children we parent together. I have had an experience of evil, the Satanic evil that Bertrand perpetrated on me; the evil of the corruption of my Church; and the evil of betrayal by my friends. But all of that, of course, makes me appreciate all the more the tremendous goodness of some people and the great gifts of God.
Thank you, Rachel, for this extensive interview; I can’t imagine how excruciating it is for you to recall what happened and how you have been treated. I want to say to readers that Rachel has kindly omitted some of the most disturbing of the sordid details of her abuse—what she has told us is enough to capture the horror of it. People tend to be skeptical of stories of Satanic Ritual Sexual Abuse. It seems too horrible to be believed. And it is, in a way. But the John Jay Report included enough reports of ritual abuse that people should be very wary of dismissing such stories.
As Rachel and many victims have said, the indifference of the bishops to their abuse hurts as much or more than the initial abuse. The story of McElroy’s neglect is not isolated: he also ignored warnings about the notorious Theodore McCarrick. None other than the famous Richard Sipe, who spent a half century investigating sex abuse in the Church, reported McCarrick to McElroy. The letter Sipe wrote McElroy cataloguing the pattern of cover-up in the Church is painfully eye-opening for those who have not yet been red-pilled about corruption in the hierarchy. It is another must read.
At one time, no none believed that bishops would dismiss victims and cover up for predator priests. We thought bishops must care and would do the right thing. After all, they are men of God and they have made strong public statements about their concern for victims. But those in the know have spoken of the hierarchy as worse than the mafia and extremely adept at cover-up. No Catholic likes to think that of Jesus’ successors, but we are blind to reality if we don’t admit the truth in front of us.
I must also add here that the Diocese of San Diego is infamous for harboring predator priests. The diocese nearly went bankrupt because of the number of settlements. So far as I can tell, the settlements were given only to those who were abused when minors; the Diocesan website does not list those who abused vulnerable adults. No information on Bertrand or any other abuser of vulnerable adults is posted on the San Diego website.
McElroy’s appointment leads to reasonable questions: Is the hierarchy really interested in ridding the Church of predators? Does it have any serious interest in the welfare of victims? Why so much cover-up? What are they hiding? Why do dissenters and those who cover up get promoted while the faithful get disciplined?
I don’t think we will much like the answers, if honest answers are given.