[Video of the Euteneuer/Sean Hannity exchange and discussion in our forum: MyFrontRoyal.com]
[This story has been updated: Bishop breaks silence on Father Euteneuer]
Controversy erupts over HLI’s former chief priest
Debate, death threats amidst official silence on exorcism sex allegations
By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report
A priest who gained national notoriety for attacking Sean Hannity as a failed Catholic on the Fox News commentator’s own television show is facing his own rising tide of criticism on Catholic Internet sites five months after his sudden departure from the national pro-life advocacy scene. Then Human Life International President Father Thomas Euteneuer blasted Hannity for his stance on birth control as an acceptable alternative to abortion for non-Catholics.
“Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone,” Hannity repeated several times to Euteneuer during the infamous 2007 TV encounter. Euteneuer dismissed Hannity as a “heretic” and “social Catholic” during his scathing appraisal of the newsman’s stance on birth control among non-Catholics.
Hannity was later reduced to a one-word response – “Wow” – to the priest’s assertion he would refuse Hannity the sacrament of communion for that stance.
On March 15, 2010, Father Euteneuer posted this online reflection on that moment in the national spotlight.
“It was three years ago this week that I sat before the Secular Tribunal of Mr. Sean Hannity in a Fox News interview and inadvertently became the whipping boy for the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception … As the years go on, and especially during this Lenten season, I hope that the Hannity interview will be a clarion call to Catholics urging them on to greater fidelity to Christ … I still pray for him and hope for his conversion. What I hope and pray for even more is a total return to fidelity of all Catholics to the Truth on the critical issues of life, marriage and family, and the sacrificial commitment that alone will bring America out of its moral decay.”
However it is the alleged moral decay of Father Euteneuer, himself, that has created an increasingly contentious and even threatening online debate over the reason for Father Euteneuer’s sudden and unexpected removal from his decade-old post as President of Human Life International (HLI). Established in 1981, HLI is based in Front Royal, Virginia. It bills itself as the largest pro-life organization in the world with representation in over 100 countries.
That Euteneuer was well thought of in the local Catholic community was illustrated by many online posts and comments, including from local Catholic pro-life activist and Front Royal Town Councilman Tom Sayre to The Northern Virginia Daily at the time of the priest’s recall from HLI.
After fondly recalling playing Men’s Night basketball with the priest at nearby Christendom College, Sayre told the Daily Euteneuer would “be sorely missed by our local and international community because he has traveled the world over spreading the message of love, life and family,” adding that Euteneuer “brought stability to HLI.”
But that stability appears now to have been rocked to its core.
Despite the increasing and shrill debate within the Catholic blogosphere community, the veil of official silence that has surrounded the recall of Father Euteneuer to the Diocese of Palm Beach on Aug. 27, 2010 has not lifted at either HLI headquarters or the Florida diocese.
“We can’t,” HLI Communications Manager Stephen Phelan told us on Jan. 31st when asked for comment on the emerging online controversy over the once, highly visible priest who has vanished into obscurity since his recall by his bishop five months ago.
While our efforts to reach Bishop Barbarito or diocese representatives in Palm Beach about 48-year-old Father Euteneuer’s status and past activities while at HLI were unsuccessful, The Palm Beach Post reported on Jan. 15 “Barbarito is not talking,” adding that a spokesperson said the diocese would not participate in a story on a “matter dealing with priestly personnel.” Palm Beach Post staff writer Lona O’Connor also reported Euteneuer did not respond to a request for an interview.
Front Royal Councilman Sayre and Front Royal’s St. John’s Catholic Church Pastor Father Jerome Fasano could not be reached for comment on the evolving situation (see related story and post by Father Euteneuer) tied closely to their religious community prior to our initial publication.
But if official sources remain silent about Euteneuer’s removal from HLI and now virtual seclusion at his Florida diocese – others are not.
For some the official wall of silence is unhappily reminiscent of the church’s reaction to years of accusations about the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy that once substantiated worldwide rocked the Vatican seat of world Catholicism to its foundation in recent years. But it is this newest official silence about a former, shining star in the church’s worldwide battle against abortion that has unleashed the Catholic blogosphere “Furies”.
At issue for those posting on numerous Catholic online sites is whether a prominent, international church campaigner for not only the anti-abortion movement, but also sexual restraint and abstinence as the only acceptable means of birth control, did himself succumb to sexual temptation in the conduct of at least one aspect of his priestly duties – exorcisms.
According to Wikipedia, “Exorcism is the religious practice of evicting demons or other spiritual entities from a person or place which they are believed to have possessed … The term became prominent in early Christianity from the early 2nd century onward as the casting out of demons. Nevertheless, the practice is quite ancient and part of the belief system of many cultures and religions.” The online encyclopedia adds that “possessed persons are not regarded as evil – nor wholly responsible for their actions. Therefore, practitioners regard exorcism as more of a cure than a punishment.”
That Father Euteneuer mixed his primary role crusading for anti-abortion causes as president of HLI with trips around the country performing exorcisms gives the controversy swirling around the priest an almost Hollywood screenplay twist. Wikipedia notes in its bio of Father Euteneuer, “After being so public for so long, he has now disappeared. The Palm Beach Diocese will not comment on his present assignment.” – Nor now apparently answer or return phone calls about the priest. Our messages, some repeated, left at the numbers of Bishop Barbarito, his secretary Annette, and Diocese Chancellor Lorraine Sabatello seeking information on the current status of Father Euteneuer went unreturned throughout the week prior to publication.
One fact not in dispute, though debate about the reason continues to swirl, is that Euteneuer’s most recent book about his work as an exorcist, “Exorcism and the Church Militant”, is out of print and like its author, no longer being thrust into the public eye.
We also asked HLI spokesman Phelan if he could elaborate on blog posts indicating a belief there was some sort of mental breakdown or seizure interpreted by some observers as the demonic possession of a woman at HLI headquarters on Thursday, Jan. 27. However he replied, “Same thing,” as in “we cannot comment.”
The pace of the online debate over Father Euteneuer’s behavior while at HLI may have been accelerated by the referenced incident at HLI headquarters in Front Royal, Virginia on Jan 27, 2011.
That evening one anonymous blogger posted, “The demons seem to be targeting the same women Fr. Tom was successful in abusing. I witnessed one demonic event just today. It was horrifying. All I can think of is how this poor woman must be feeling so trapped within her skin as the evil uses her voice to roar and curse … The demons, on the other hand, must be loving the irony of possessing the poor, tragic toys of the ‘great exorcist’. Fr. Tom needs our prayers desperately – Desperately, in the truest sense of the word. Even more, his victims need our prayers.”
Posting just four minutes later, at 8:20 p.m. Jan. 27, another “anonymous” blogger added, “There are many of us who witnessed today’s horrible event.”
While other bloggers’ requests for additional information on the referenced event went unanswered, according to Warren County Fire & Rescue Chief Richard Mabie there was a county emergency medical response shortly after noon that day to HLI headquarters for what was officially described as “a medical seizure”. The victim was transported to Warren Memorial Hospital. Further information was not available.
Online debate – accusations
As we perused the Catholic community blog sphere, a string of posts under the name “Adele” at a site titled http://www.journeytotherese.blogspot.com caught our eye – and apparently that of many others as well. “Adele’s” stream created the longest and most vehemently argumentative comments about speculation or even alleged personal knowledge about Father Euteneuer’s activities versus maintaining a code of silence to match that of official sources with past and present authority over the priest. At the center of this Catholic catharsis is a debate over a perceived spiritual betrayal by a clergyman and the enabling silence of his superiors versus a belief by others that a slander, perhaps initiated by Satan himself, against the church and one of its holiest men is under way.
After she posted contact information in one online conversation we were able to reach “Adele” directly. She verified her posts, claiming both a two-plus-year direct relationship with Father Euteneuer based on an ongoing exorcism case involving a family member, as well as what both she and her husband claim was a Dec. 23rd phone conversation with an HLI board member who told them that Euteneuer’s Aug. 27 recall from HLI came as a result of letters sent by two women to the priest’s presiding bishop claiming sexual indiscretions by Euteneuer against them.
“He was recalled to prevent that from going public,” Adele asserts based on the information she says she was given from inside HLI. Adele said the information she received indicated the alleged abuse involved Euteneuer’s conduct of exorcisms involving the women.
On Jan. 30th “Adele” told us she did have some concern about the tone of some posts both attacking alleged victims and those posting about their plight. She said she had removed one as too troubling in a threatening way. The following day we encountered this post from “Adele” citing an earlier receipt from one “Anonymous” blogger dated Jan. 28:
“Everything comes in God’s time, not your time..didn’t Jesus have to wait for His Father on the Cross???… but you’re looking for blood…you’ll get it but it will be yours.”
Adele prefaced the post noting it sounded like “a death threat” and that it had originated from a woman in Florida – “I will be reporting this to the proper authorities,” she added.
Between April 2008 and prior to Father Euteneuer’s 2010 departure from HLI Adele’s family paid Euteneuer directly for as many as 15 visits to their mid-east home to deal with what they believed was the demonic possession of a family member, she told us.
While they experienced nothing that could be termed sexually abusive, both Adele and her family now wonder if their trust in the priest and his healing abilities wasn’t misplaced idealism of a man one blogger observed was treated within the pro-life community “like a rock star”.
Adele reflects on episodes she now perceives to have been counterproductive and emotionally bullying. Those incidents varied from threats to withdraw from the exorcism process due to the subject’s heightened emotional state; to several closed door accusations that the female subject “had a problem with men” due to her jerking her hand away from Euteneuer’s as they prayed together during the exorcism ritual. She added that after such episodes and tensions surrounding the family, the next time Euteneuer was in direct contact with them “it was like nothing had happened.”
Both Adele and her husband agreed the family saw little positive impact from Euteneuer’s repeated exorcism interventions. However they added that once another priest became involved the situation seemed to reach a positive conclusion in fairly short order.
“One reason for failure of such church rituals is a priest in mortal sin,” Adele’s husband offered.
Admitting to not being familiar with the role of the priest in exorcisms other than the classic 1970’s Hollywood version featuring Max Von Sydow as the exorcist battling a possessed Linda Blair, I can’t say whether Euteneuer’s described behavior could be considered typical of a priest’s battle with demons or not.
Silence is not golden
Moving on, I queried Adele about any knowledge about the referenced Jan. 27th HLI “demonic possession” incident posted on her blog stream.
“I heard from someone who attended that Mass at Front Royal the other day that people were traumatized by what happened – a suddenly screaming, howling, cursing person – and are demanding to know what’s going on.”
However Adele, who asked that her family name and location be kept confidential, said the reported incident at HLI accentuates the need for both HLI and diocese officials to come forward with the truth about Father Euteneuer’s situation.
It is the victims, whoever and wherever they are, with whom she is most concerned, Adele says. “I’d like to add that silence only benefits the perpetrator and only when we bring it to the Light can the healing start. I urge anyone who is struggling or pain because of this man to come forward confidentially and contact David Clohessy of SNAP (Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests) at (314) 566-9790.”
Clossey told us his organization was not yet ready to comment on the controversy swirling around Euteneuer. However he added that his organization is available to any victim of abuse from any religious community, publicly acknowledged or not.
“For 21 years, I have been the director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 10,000 members across the globe. Despite the word ‘priest’ in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers.”
Father Tom vs. Satan?
However despite Adele and other bloggers calls for transparency from both the church and HLI as a means of reaching out to potential victims; others posting on the blog stream questioned who really is the victim in the Euteneuer debate.
“I think these women are shameful. Their attack will probably backfire on them. They are possessed with evil and it seems that they are getting worse whenever someone disagrees with them. They seem very vindictive in character and self righteous. They don’t seem credible to me,” one retorted against the priest’s accusers.
“I have known Fr. Tom personally for more than 13 years and I can assure you of Father’s devotion to the unborn. I have never seen him falter in his ministry as a priest. Being exposed to demons is not an easy thing. Sometimes the demons will purposely twist the bodies of their victims that will have their sexual parts touch the one who is trying to remove the demons. This, I am sure must have happened several times to Father Tom. Many of the women who are possessed also have other mental problems like ADHD and Bi-polar and these people lie very often just to get attention,” one blogger offered.
That defense of the priest led to this counter post, “What’s this ‘mental problem’ like ADHD – and being mentioned like it was of the same ‘weight’ as bi-polar? Your ignorance is astonishing!! I’ve raised a son with Tourettes and ADHD and let me tell you it’s nothing like bi-polar!”
Another of Euteneuer’s online defenders posted, “I do not believe the voices who speak against Fr Tom at this hour. Has Satan not accused Fr Tom and threatened to kill him? Has Satan not come to steal, kill and destroy? We war not against flesh and blood and we should be mindful of it. God will be glorified in this.”
“Neither are you Adele – above the law. And we sincerely do NOT believe your accusations and false testimony. God is your judge, we will all be praying for your soul,” another posted.
However Adele’s blog stream is not the only Catholic online location expressing concern and personal distress over Euteneuer’s mysterious disappearance from the Catholic activist limelight. Most have attracted varying levels of criticism or agreement and some overlap information addressed by Adele.
Crisis of faith
A January 29th post on the Catholic website “Renew America.com” by Matt C. Abbott was titled, “A difficult time – or my crisis of faith?” It appears a direct reaction to the controversy swirling around Father Euteneuer, who had been a semi-regular contributor to his online columns, Abbott told us.
“I’m drained and depressed, not to mention angry. Cynical as well,” Abbott began in what he said would be his shortest column to date.
“For those who are interested: Yes, I’ve been closely following the Father Tom Euteneuer saga. And, yes, I’ve reached a conclusion — a while ago, as a matter of fact. Some of you know it; others not.
“It’s just a sad situation all the way around. Pray for all those involved. Pray that the truth be known. For those who really don’t care, well … carry on.”
We contacted Abbott directly for further explanation of his “Dark Night of the Soul” referenced in his “Crisis of Faith” post.
“The whole thing is a sad mess,” he e-mailed us back. “My on-the-record comment – I’ve lost my trust in the board of directors of Human Life International and in Father Euteneuer. Thankfully, I haven’t lost my trust in God.”
Then we discovered another blog link to a Jan. 28th post on another Catholic website, “fighting Irish Thomas: Catholicism, politics, saints, and Notre Dame” copyrighted by Tom O’Toole under the heading “Of Aquinas, Augustine, and Euteneuer: Reflections on Fr. Tom on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas”.
“Let’s start with what has already been made known about the fall of Fr. Tom. The Diocese of Palm Beach has acknowledged (privately) ‘at least one inappropriate relationship,’ while the HLI side said (off the record) that ‘Father [reportedly] admitted to having ‘an inappropriate relationship’ with an employee in his letter of resignation [and] a second woman [apparently] came forward to say that Father had engaged in sexual activity with her – not intercourse, but close to it – while he was performing some type of exorcism prayer(s).”
Crisis of facts
However another blogger took O’Toole to task for violating journalistic standards on the accumulation and reporting of factual information. The writer scolds O’Toole for seeming to print information he may have gathered from official sources “off-the-record” and accuses him of passing on Internet rumors as facts, equating the process to a lynch mob.
“Whether he is guilty or not, a man deserves due process in the course of justice. Not this internet lynch mob – most lynch mobs hung people they believed to be guilty and unworthy of due process under the law, and they had plenty of innocent victims as well as guilty ones.”
The writer then urges patience and an understanding of the timeframe associated with official church investigations of clergy wrongdoings. “As for the silence on the part of Bishop Barbarito in this matter, Catholics should be aware that the diocese is likely in the midst of an investigation, which takes an indeterminate amount of time.”
Crisis of consequences
However, for those on the other side of the debate it is just such an “indeterminate amount of time” to address serious allegations of sexual abuse within the clergy that is unacceptable. For it is during this period of withdrawal of the accused from any public scrutiny or acknowledgment of accusations that additional victims may be claimed, or those already victimized might reach their emotional or spiritual breaking point.
While writing that he was fairly sure that Father Euteneuer’s, “days as the jet-setting performer of ‘exorcisms-plus’ are probably over,” O’Toole adds additional concerns over a specific circumstance also mentioned to us by blog poster “Adele” – a room allegedly rented to one female subject of repeated exorcism rituals presided over by Father Euteneuer at the priest’s parents’ home.
“The following account (brought to my attention by multiple e-mailers) still gives me cause for alarm,” O’Toole wrote. “The claim here is that there is a (possessed) woman who rents a room in Father Euteneuer’s parents’ house, and that Father has gone to perform the prayers of exorcism – ALONE – on her on multiple occasions.”
Adele told us she became aware of this alleged situation directly from the woman in question through Facebook exchanges. – “She told me herself. We had been friends but I cut off contact after she told me that,” Adele said. She added that she feared possible repercussions from the Florida-based woman in question as a result of bringing the situation publicly forward to both the public and concerned officials.
“Even if this incredible situation somehow proves to be perfectly innocent,” O’Toole wrote, “it begs comparison (at least to Chicagoans) to Fr. Daniel McCormack, who after being accused multiple times of being a sex offender, had another priest assigned to monitor him. However, McCormack duped his shadow into letting him perform some seemingly innocuous tasks around the parish alone, which enabled him to molest again. Similarly, while Euteneuer’s bishop is certainly not about to let Father Tom fly across the country now, who’s to say he wouldn’t let him go visit his folks? For this reason, not only does HLI and Bishop Barbarito need to make a statement now, they also need to get Father Tom into 24/7 treatment.”
And it seems if online eyewitness accounts are to be believed, there may be at least one more person in need of 24/7 care and treatment prior to completion of the supposed Palm Beach Diocese investigation of allegations against Father Euteneuer. That person is the female subject transported by Warren County Emergency Services from HLI headquarters the afternoon of Jan. 27th for what was described officially as a “medical seizure” and by others as “a suddenly screaming, howling, cursing person” believed by some of those observers to be a demonically possessed past subject of exorcisms conducted by Father Euteneuer prior to his August 2010 departure from HLI.
Dan McDermott contributed to this story.
[Video of the Euteneuer/Sean Hannity exchange and discussion in our forum: MyFrontRoyal.com]