Catholic order paid $977,000 to settle sexual misconduct claim against priest C John McCloskey

Survivor says well-known priest groped her several times during counselling for marital troubles and serious depression

Michelle Boorstein
Tuesday 08 January 2019 13:10
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The Catholic order Opus Dei in 2005 paid $977,000 (£766,000) to settle a sexual misconduct suit against the Reverend C John McCloskey, a priest well-known for preparing big-name conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Larry Kudlow and Sam Brownback for conversion.

The survivor is a devout Washington-area Catholic who was among the many who received spiritual direction from McCloskey through the Catholic Information Centre, a hub of Catholic life in downtown area of the District of Columbia.

She told The Washington Post McCloskey groped her several times while she was going to pastoral counselling with him to discuss marital troubles and serious depression.

The guilt and shame over the interactions sent her into a tailspin and, combined with her existing depression, made it impossible for her to work in her high-level job. She spoke to him about her "misperceived guilt over the interaction" in confession and he absolved her, she said.

"I love Opus Dei but I was caught up in this cover-up - I went to confession, thinking I did something to tempt this holy man to cross boundaries," she said.

The complaint was not made public by the order until this week, but behind the scenes the ministry of the well-known priest had been sharply curtailed. A lot of Washington-area Catholics have wondered for years what happened to McCloskey, who was the closest thing to a celebrity the Catholic Church had in the area.

One other woman told the order McCloskey's touches had made her uncomfortable, an Opus Dei spokesperson said. He said Opus Dei is also investigating a third claim - so far unsubstantiated - that spokesperson Brian Finnerty called potentially "serious." He declined to provide details.

Opus Dei Vicar Monsignor Thomas Bohlin said in a statement that McCloskey's actions at the Centre were "deeply painful for the woman, and we are very sorry for all she suffered."

Msgr Bohlin's statement, which came after the survivor requested Opus Dei go public in an effort to reach other potential victims, said McCloskey was removed from his job at the Centre a year after the complaint, when it was found to be credible.

"All harassment and abuse are abhorrent," Msgr Bohlin wrote. "I am painfully aware of all that the Church is suffering, and I am very sorry that we in Opus Dei have added to it. Let us ask God to show mercy on all of us in the Church at this difficult time."

After leaving Washington after the complaints, McCloskey was sent to England and then Chicago and then California for assignments with Opus Dei. The survivor in the settlement said she was told by church officials in Chicago when he was sent there that McCloskey would not be allowed to "get faculties" - or permission to fully function as a priest - and would be put on a very tight leash, she said.

She became worried earlier this year when she came into contact with someone else who knew about McCloskey and heard he may have been working as a priest in California.

Opus Dei said after the settlement McCloskey was told to only give spiritual direction to women in the traditional confessional - meaning separated physically from them. In Opus Dei, a traditional community of Catholics, that is the norm for priests working with those they are counselling. McCloskey had an unusual public, free role at the Information Centre.

McCloskey, who is now in his 60s, in very recent months moved back to the DC region, where he has family. The order said he "suffers from advanced Alzheimer's. He is largely incapacitated and needs assistance for routine daily tasks. He has not had any pastoral assignments for a number of years and is no longer able to celebrate Mass, even privately."

The woman, who remains close to Opus Dei and participates in some of their spiritual activities, said she was grateful to the order for going public. She is now in her mid-50s, and was 40 when the incidents with McCloskey occurred.

"I'm very happy with how it's being handled right now. They listened," she said.

When she first reported McCloskey's actions in the early 2000s, she said, she did so in a confessional with an Opus Dei priest in Virginia. The priest told her not to tell anyone else, including any other priests, "so he could fix it," she said.

Later, an Opus Dei priest tried to help her, encouraging her to seek medical and legal assistance.

"I was grateful they treated it spiritually - there is someone out there who is hurting and we need to encourage her to get some help," she said of the other woman Opus Dei is trying to reach. "It means a lot to me that they did the right thing."

The Washington Post

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