Seminarians pray during a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, 2016. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Social media plays role in breaking Church sex abuse stories

  • August 10, 2018
WASHINGTON – Magazines and newspapers have long been sources to break big news stories. Now, too, social media is taking its turn.

In a series of tweets, a onetime seminarian who goes by the handle "inflammateomnia" – Latin for "Go set the world on fire," a quote ascribed to St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits – detailed on Twitter sexually abusive behavior he said was directed at him and which he witnessed, as well as the lack of urgency given his complaints by one seminary official.

Inflammateomnia, who does not reveal his name on Twitter, describes himself as a Boston-based graduate student in theology, "seeking the true, good and beautiful." "Guess this is my Catholic #MeToo moment," he began, echoing the Twitter hashtag women have used since last fall to reveal their own tales of abuse and harassment.

Even in the expanded Twitterverse of 280 characters per tweet, it took inflammateomnia more than 20 tweets to tell his story.

Due to his anonymity, and his not naming the seminary and the people involved, his story cannot be independently verified. If it is true, though, it paints a disturbing picture of seminary life.

He said his first time being on the receiving end of "creepy behavior" was when, as a freshman at a seminary he described as a "pretty conservative one, one known for its 'orthodoxy' & rigor," a sophomore came to his room, pressing him for conversation on masturbation and pornography.

"He proceeded to slouch down in my chair when I got up and yelled at him to leave my room. He apologized & left. I ended up telling my neighbor, who told me that he did the same thing to a bunch of my younger classmates. We told the dean of men, and he was expelled," inflammateomnia said in a series of posts Aug. 1.

Over the President's Day weekend, an upperclassman invited him to his family's house, where "he kept trying to give me alcohol, but I told him I didn't want to drink. He insisted I do it or else I had to leave, and after about 5 times of him pushing a glass in my face, I drank, and my drink was spiked," he said.

He reported being groped from behind by another seminarian. "The next morning, I woke up in the living room, and saw seminarians cuddling with each other. I ended up rushing out of the house, calling a cab, and spent the rest of the weekend in my room back at the seminary," inflammateomnia added.

When he told his formation adviser, "he told me that I needed to be more charitable & understanding with my brother seminarians," he said.

Inflammateomnia said he left the undergraduate seminary, obtained an undergraduate degree, then reapplied to his diocesan seminary and entered its theologate, or graduate program. "During my time in major seminary, I saw more misconduct & abuse. Some priests on the faculty would get drunk with seminarians & invite them into his room late at night. One night, a formator got so drunk, he fell out of his chair," he said. He left in 2016, after two years.

"I am thankful that I didn't experience abuse to the level others have," inflammateomnia said. "I am also thankful for my spiritual director, who I have had as a guide since 2011. He's the one who originally pushed for me to get psychological help via therapy. This stuff is real, people. And it hurts."

Social media also brought to light allegations leveled against a deceased priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, by a former priest, Peter Mitchell.

Writing in The American Conservative on line, Mitchell focused on Msgr. Leonard Kalin, whose was diocesan vocations director and pastor of the University of Nebraska Newman Center from 1970 until the late 1990s. Mitchell accused the priest of sexual improprieties and other misconduct, like gambling and heavy drinking. Msgr. Kalin retired from active ministry in 1998. He died in 2008.

The late priest's ministry began before Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz began his tenure as the head of the Lincoln Diocese. He was appointed in 1992.

After the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" was approved 229-5 by the U.S. bishops in 2002, the Lincoln Diocese participated fully in the initial audit called for by the charter. Then Bishop Bruskewitz exercised his option not to participate in the audit because the charter is "only an advisory document," not "a law of the Catholic Church."

In 2005 the National Review Board, which oversees implementation of the charter, cited Bishop Bruskewitz for being, among bishops, the only one who "has chosen not to honor the agreement."

Lincoln did not participate in the an annual audit of clerical sex abuse allegations until 2015, after Bishop James D. Conley had succeeded Bishop Bruskewitz.

The Lincoln Diocese has had a reputation for a thriving vocations program with a ratio of priests to Catholics – one active priest for every 587 Catholics – believed to be the strongest of any Latin-rite U.S. diocese.

In response to Mitchell's article, the Lincoln Diocese said Aug. 3 had addressed "these allegations of misconduct directly with Msgr. Kalin during his time in priestly ministry. The diocese is not aware of any violations of civil law by Msgr. Kalin." The diocese also said it had addressed Mitchell directly with some reports of his own misconduct.

In the Aug. 3 issue of the Southern Nebraska Register, Lincoln's diocesan paper, Bishop Conley in his column addressed Msgr. Kalin's situation and apologized to anyone who has been harmed by abuse.

A day later the bishop apologized for failing to be more transparent about a pastor removed from ministry and sent to treatment last year because the priest had developed "an emotionally inappropriate, nonsexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol." Bishop Conley said he would convene a diocesan review board to look into the situation.

In the Aug. 3 issue of the Register was also an op-ed essay written by Bob Sullivan, who, while dwelling on the abuse allegations against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, said: "I'll pray that all those in the church who behave the way Theodore McCarrick behaved, and that all those who allowed it, will immediately retire, resign and take life of prayer and penance in solitude, where they can no longer harm people or the church."

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