A Roman Catholic priest has given a unique insight into day-to-day life at a remote and little-known rehabilitation home used by the church to treat alcoholic, gay and paedophiliac clergymen.
The priest was sent to the residential treatment centre in Gloucestershire after his bishop found out that he was a practising homosexual. Writing anonymously in today’s Independent, he gives a detailed account of his week-long assessment at Our Lady of Victory – a place he describes as being like “an open prison” – situated high on a Cotswold hill in Brownshill, near Stroud.
The church is guarded about life inside the centre. It is run by the Servants of the Paraclete, a religious congregation of men dedicated to ministering to priests and brothers with “personal difficulties”. Anyone who is “sent to Stroud”, as Catholic circles put it, for longer than the initial assessment must sign a confidentiality contract.
Our Lady of Victory purports to offer “therapy in a spiritual context”. But according to Father Kieran Conroy, director of the Catholic Media Office, the approach is more “therapist’s boot camp” than “therapist’s couch”. Fr Conroy said he understood the treatment to be “quite confrontational”. “They do face you with your own shortcomings and there’s no question of denial, at all. It’s a process of knocking down and building up again, which I think some people find difficult to deal with because they are particularly vulnerable.”
The Servants of the Paraclete was founded in 1947 by Father Gerald Fitzgerald, a priest from the Archdiocese of Boston, in the United States. It has about 30 priests at Stroud, and there is a waiting list. Our Lady of Victory hit the headlines in 1993 when Fr Sean Seddon, a 38-year-old Roman Catholic priest, was sent there to try to forget about his six- year romance with a teacher. On learning that his lover had lost their baby, he committed suicide by throwing himself under a railway station near the retreat.
Fr Conroy believes the majority of residents at Stroud are alcoholics on the Chemical Dependency Programme, based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. “In the case of child abuse it would be assessment rather than treatment,” he added, “because most people realise that paedophilia is not a condition they can treat successfully.”
He said Stroud is not an alternative to the courts. Some of the priests undergoing treatment for child abuse have served prison sentences. At the end of the treatment, staff at Stroud assess the paedophiliac priest’s risk of reoffending, according to Father Conroy. “If they choose to remain in the priesthood – and presumably they will, otherwise they wouldn’t have spent six months or two years there – the church has to decide where the safest place for that person to work is. If he is high risk they must ensure that he is in a job that has little or zero risk of contact with children.”
To residents living near the centre, it is simply a “drying out clinic for boozy brethren”. But the priest recalls a “sense of listlessness” among inmates, “as if, realising the game was up, all the fight, all the desire for independence had gone.” He believes the “glassiness in their eyes” betrays “some form of brainwashing”. “How,” he asks, “is paedophilia `cured’ or any other form of addiction, sexual or otherwise?”
Former Questa priest named in new rape and abuse lawsuit
Two men who were parishioners of Questa’s St. Anthony Church in the late 1960s have named a former priest as a sexual abuser in a lawsuit filed last week, marking another instance of alleged abuse by clergy associated with the beleaguered Catholic Church in New Mexico.
The lawsuit alleges Leo Courcy sexually abused the two boys on an overnight stay at the church rectory in the summer of 1969. One boy was raped and the other molested, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday (May 16) in the 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque.
The lawsuit was filed against the Servants of the Paraclete, a largely inactive religious order that was founded in New Mexico in the 1940s, and its private foundation.
Aside from the sexual abuse allegations, the lawsuit also lays blame on the higher-ups of the Servants of the Paraclete for negligently putting known abusers into positions of power in underserved parishes across rural New Mexico.
The Servants ran a facility in Jemez Springs that became known as a dumping ground for sexually abusive priests from other dioceses. The religious order would assign priests to ministerial work as part of a “graduated program of rehabilitation,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that “only four days after Fr. Courcy arrived at the Servants’ Jemez Springs facilities for a second bout of treatment [for sexually abusing a minor, the director of the facility] made and finalized arrangements to send Fr. Courcy to a supply ministry assignment at St. Anthony Parish in Questa.”
In 2017, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe released a list of more than 70 priests, brothers and other members of religious orders who were “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors; the list included Courcy. Courcy was also named as an abuser in a lawsuit filed in September 2017 that alleges he abused another altar boy from the same year.
The lawsuit also claims the Servants did not keep a list of parish assignments for sexually abusive priests, or that it intentionally destroyed such documents when a wave of lawsuits were filed against it and the archdiocese in the 1990s.
The men who allege Courcy abused them aren’t named in the lawsuit, which refers to them as John Doe 127 and John Doe 143. The documents do not indicate if they are still residents of Questa.
The Servants and its foundation had not filed responses to the lawsuit as of press time. According to the archdiocese, Courcy is still living.
Unlike most lawsuits alleging abuse by priests and religious in New Mexico, this one was filed only against the Servant and not the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which is in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings that is changing how sexual abuse lawsuits are getting filed in the state.
After decades of lawsuits and millions of dollars in settlements with sexual abuse victims, the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in December 2018. Under federal Bankruptcy Code, the debtor – in this case, the archdiocese – comes up with a plan to pay its debts while continuing to operate.
Because of the bankruptcy, any new claims against the archdiocese must be dealt with as part of those proceedings, which have a June 17 cutoff, or “bar date.”
But according to attorney Levi Monagle, who is representing the John Does in the suit filed Thursday, the bankruptcy deadline does not “prevent the filing of lawsuits against other religious organizations like the Servants of the Paraclete, the Sons of the Holy Family, the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Basilians, the Congregation of Blessed Sacrament Fathers or any other religious orders who were doing business in our state, and whose agents participated in raping children or protecting the rapists.”
- Gay priest reveals secret of Catholic `boot camp’, Independent, 27 August 1997, by Clare Garner https://www.independent.co.uk/news/gay-priest-reveals-secret-of-catholic-boot-camp-1247443.html
- Former Questa priest named in new rape and abuse lawsuit, Taos News, 23 May 2019, by Katherine Egli https://www.taosnews.com/stories/former-questa-priest-named-in-new-rape-abuse-lawsuit,57221