Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley said Friday that he was placing the rector of a Brighton seminary on sabbatical leave while an outside legal consultant investigates allegations of unspecified misconduct at the educational facility.
In a statement, O’Malley did not provide details of the alleged wrongdoing at St. John’s Seminary but said the accusations came from two seminarians who were enrolled at the theological school, which trains priests for ordination.
O’Malley said he was informed earlier this week that two former St. John’s seminarians posted allegations on social media that during their time at the seminary “they witnessed and experienced activities which are directly contrary to the moral standards and requirements of formation for the Catholic priesthood.”
He said the inquiry will look into “the allegations made this week, the culture of the seminary regarding the personal standards expected and required of candidates for the priesthood, and any seminary issues of sexual harassment or other forms of intimidation or discrimination.”
The postings suggested there was alleged sexual misconduct between seminarians.
One man who identified himself as a former St. John’s seminarian said he “began to receive creepy texts from a strange number, looking to hookup with me. Found out it was a fellow seminarian. When I brought it forward this was the response: ‘ ‘Its not like he sent you pictures of his penis, don’t overexaggerate and act like a victim’ -vocations director. ... I never trusted the church again and it put me in a 4 year long state of serious depression. One that I’m finally beginning to get over.”
The archdiocese declined to comment beyond O’Malley’s statement.
The cardinal said he cannot verify or disprove the allegations but has taken “immediate action” to resolve the issue.
In the wake of the allegations, O’Malley asked the seminary’s rector, Monsignor James P. Moroney, to go on sabbatical leave for the fall semester effective immediately so that “there can be a fully independent inquiry regarding these matters.”
O’Malley has appointed the Rev. Stephen E. Salocks, a professor of sacred Scripture, to serve as interim rector.
O’Malley also identified the investigators who will look into the matter. They include the Most Rev. Mark O’Connell, an auxiliary bishop of Boston; Francesco Cesareo, president of Assumption College; and Kimberly Jones, chief executive of the Athena Legal Strategies Group.
Cesareo is also president of a board that advises the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on child protection matters, O’Malley said.
The inquiry will also be staffed by Mark Dunderdale, a lawyer who directs the archdiocese’s Office of Professional Standards and Oversight.
“I have directed this group to proceed with due seriousness of their assignment and as soon as possible to submit to me the findings of the inquiry and a set of recommendations to assure appropriate standards of professional behavior in compliance with Church teaching at all levels of seminary life,” O’Malley said. “The faculty, staff and students at the seminary will be advised of my expectation that they will fully cooperate with the inquiry.”
O’Malley, who was reappointed as the head of a Vatican commission on child sex abuse in February, said the allegations have caused him serious concern.
“The ministry of the Catholic priesthood requires a foundation of trust with the people of the Church and the wider community in which our priests serve,” O’Malley said. “I am determined that all our seminaries meet that standard of trust and provide the formation necessary for priests to live a demanding vocation of service in our contemporary society.”
O’Malley’s statement comes amid the continued fallout over former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned his position last month amid allegations he sexually abused boys and adult seminarians in New York, Virginia, and elsewhere decades ago.
McCarrick was once one of the architects of the church’s policies on sexual abuse.
Last month, O’Malley said he was deeply troubled by the accusations against McCarrick and laid out steps the church needed to take to address its continuing clergy sex abuse problem. O’Malley said the allegations against McCarrick highlighted a “major gap” in the church’s policies on sexual conduct and sexual abuse.
On Friday, Thomas Groome, a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College, thought O’Malley showed “real leadership” in reacting swiftly to the allegations at St. John’s Seminary.
“It’s important and praiseworthy that he has moved quickly to investigation,” said Groome.
If the accusations are true, Groome said, it was “deplorable and reprehensible.”
Meanwhile, Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a website that tracks clergy sex abuse cases, called for O’Malley to be more transparent regarding the reason he removed Moroney, who has been at St. John’s Seminary since 2012, according to a statement from the archdiocese.
“He owes the Catholics of this archdiocese more information about why the rector is being removed,” she said during a phone interview Friday afternoon.
Barrett Doyle thought there was a link between “sexually toxic seminaries and the church’s culture of abuse and coverup.”
“Along with the strong reaction to the McCarrick case, it’s a sign that #MeToo has finally arrived in Catholic seminaries,” she said.
Although she applauded O’Malley for arranging an internal investigation, she said “it’s far more important that victims report to law enforcement.”
“We know the church has had little success policing itself,” she said.
Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who has represented church sex abuse victims, in a Friday statement called on the archdiocese to release “all records and information relative to sexual abuse at St. John’s Seminary so that sexual abuse victims can try to heal.”
“The recent reporting of sexual abuse at St. John’s Seminary is further evidence that the Archdiocese of Boston is continuing to practice the coverup of sexual abuse and will not practice transparency to help sexual abuse victims heal,” he said in the statement.