An independent investigation commissioned by the Archdiocese of Boston found that St. John’s Seminary in Brighton was “not a den of sexual misconduct fueled by excessive drinking,” but that there were instances of “inappropriate” sexual conduct and alcohol use as well as lax financial controls.
The report of the investigation, conducted by Boston law firm Yurko, Salvesen & Remz and led by former Massachusetts US attorney Donald K. Stern, was released Friday by the archdiocese.
“We also concluded that the Seminary had inadequate (and sometimes absent) leadership and oversight. This contributed to a lack of robust financial controls, a low tolerance for dissenting views, and insufficient attention paid to the seminarians’ ‘human formation,’ ” the report said.
Stern said in an interview, “This was an opportunity [to] take an intense look at life in the seminary. We saw much that was good and some that needs improvement.” He said he was not aware of any “deep-dive” investigation into a seminary ever conducted before in the United States.
Terry Donilon, spokesman for the archdiocese, said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley “believes this is a good moment for the seminary going forward,” but O’Malley also believes the seminary’s leadership needs to implement “greater oversight and engagement.”
The investigation was sparked by allegations of heavy drinking and sexual misconduct made by two former seminarians on social media posts. One post in August 2018 described “general misconduct, scandalous behavior by faculty and students, and an overall unhealthy seminary culture.”
According to the report, two seminarians were expelled for sexual misconduct in 2014. A faculty member was also cleared after an archdiocese investigation of 2014 allegations that a seminarian had been “groomed.”
“The investigation seemed thorough and professional. We have no reason to doubt their conclusions,” the report said, noting the seminary responded to the allegations “quickly and appropriately.”
The report also found that St. John’s seminarians and faculty often celebrate special events with the consumption of alcohol. The report noted that, like many seminaries, St. John’s permits drinking, but misuse of alcohol is prohibited. The seminary stocks its Common Room with $1 and $2 beers, prompting one seminarian to say it had the “cheapest beers” in Boston.
In 2015, the seminary hosted a “bachelor party” for a soon-to-be-married employee and, while the event was not “a bacchanalian affair,” it did include heavy drinking and an incident of a faculty member tumbling off his stool, the report said.
Prior to the March for Life rally in Washington, that same faculty member hosted a party at his house, at which several seminarians “got very drunk and were still drunk the next morning when they had to catch the train for the March,” the report found. And on Election Night in 2016, faculty members and seminarians celebrated with alcohol and one faculty member “had trouble returning to his room.”
The report also said Rector James Moroney, who garnered the nickname “Diamond Jim,” had a “reputation of not sufficiently controlling the Seminary’s operational costs.”
The report said he allowed seminarians to use seminary funds to purchase an $800-plus grill and a new Apple laptop and offered one a car. “Many took advantage of Msgr. Moroney’s generosity and his willingness to spend the Seminary’s money,” the report said.
Moroney was also criticized for his frequent absence from the seminary, including his cancellation of 12 classes in one semester.
Seminary leadership also came under fire in the report for its handling of an event dubbed the “2015 Sexting Incident,” during which a series of anonymous lewd texts about masturbation were sent to six seminarians. The origin of the texts was never discovered, but investigators believe they were from someone inside the seminary and criticized faculty members for dismissing seminarians’ concerns about the texts.
“When I brought it forward this was the response [from officials]: ‘It’s not like he sent you pictures of his penis, don’t overexaggerate and act like a victim,’ ” former seminarian Andrew Solkshinitz wrote.
The report also included a criticism of Archbishop O’Malley and the board of trustees. It found that O’Malley knew of a number of the issues at the seminary, including Moroney’s “lack of presence,” and “lack of appropriate controls over the Seminary’s financial matters,” as well as the conduct of the priest who fell off a stool at the party and “the culture of drinking.”
“With respect to these matters, Cardinal O’Malley received commitments from Msgr. Moroney to address them. However, Cardinal O’Malley relied too heavily on those assurances from Msgr. Moroney. As a result, there was insufficient follow-up to determine if these commitments were kept,” the report said.
“Although the individuals on the Seminary’s Board of Trustees have impressive and meaningful experiences that can benefit the Seminary, they are underutilized. Rather than being an engaged oversight body, the Board was not privy to the on-going problems at the Seminary and, therefore, did not play any real oversight role. This was a missed opportunity,” the report said.
“It wasn’t really clear what the rules of the road were . . . You need an active, engaged board of trustees,” Stern said.