Did Mother Angelica Enable Abusers? The Case of Real Bourque

By Leon J. Podles
Touchstone Magazine
April 3, 2006

As my Lenten penance I am reviewing for my book the personnel files of priests accused of abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston. They are full of surprises and not only about Boston.

(The numbers I use refer to page numbers in Bourque's personnel file from the Boston archdiocese, available on line at, which also has Bourque’s assignment record. Bold face indicates my emphasis).

EWTN, the Catholic television network founded by Mother Angelica, has had two accused priests associated with it, one as an employee.

Anthony Cipolla of Pittsburgh been in the news many times. He was arrested in the 1970s for abusing a boy; the boy’s mother dropped the charges under extreme pressure, and Cipolla’s explanations have been inconsistent. A seminarian also accused Cipolla. Bishop Wuerl of Pittsburgh suspended Cipolla in 1988, who appealed to the Vatican, which reinstated him. Cipolla said a big public mass for EWTN in 1994 even after he had been suspended from the priesthood. Cipolla continued to disobey Wuerl, and Wuerl eventually persuaded the Pope to defrock Cipolla, who still calls himself Father and promotes devotion to Padre Pio.

Cipolla’s association with EWTN was brief, EWTN said it did not know about his troubles or his suspension, and Cipolla still protests his innocence.

The same cannot be said about Réal Bourque (also known as Ray or Raymond Bourque; ordained 1954), OMI (Oblates of Mary Immaculate), who worked at EWTN for years. He had translated a book on Our Lady of Guadeloupe. He had also, according to the Boston file, abused boys in Maine and then had gone to the Oblate community in Natick, Massachusetts, where, according to a letter from an alleged victim, he worked his way through all the boys associated with the community.

Bourque vanished from the Catholic Directory until 1993. He seems to have been transferred to an Oblate Ministry, "The Truth Will Set You Free." In 1993 the Oblates sent Bourque to work at EWTN, the Catholic television network founded by Mother Angelica, despite the information they had in their file about allegations that he had abused minors (00148).

Because the Archdiocese of Boston had put a new policy about sexual abuse into effect, in 1993 Bishop Hughes of Boston received a letter from Bishop Hart about a priest who, around 1980, “was involved with at least a few boys who were members of a youth choir. The priest would undress the boys, they told this woman, and touch them in an impure way” (00149). Hart continued that he told both Cardinal Medeiros and also the Provincial who was the priest’s superior. The priest was moved. This priest was Real Bourque.

Because Bourque was moved out of state the statutes of limitations in both Maine and Massachusetts may still be running and he may be subject to criminal prosecution.

I wrote to EWTN, asking them to explain their employment of Bourque. I received a reply, which Mr. R. William Steltemeier, the Chairman of EWTN, asked me to make available in full.

Here are the relevant paragraphs about Bourque:

On October 29, 1992, Fr. Real Bourque, O. M. I., entered into an employment agreement with EWTN that became effective on January 2, 1993. This agreement was made with the approval of his provincial, Fr. George Capen, O. M. I., and Bishop Boland of Birmingham. At that time, EWTN was not aware of any allegations of improper conduct on the part of Fr. Bourque.

Your letter states that Fr. Bourque “admitted abusing boys both in Maine and at the lay community associated with the Oblates in Natick, Massachusetts" and that “one victim said he thought that Bourque had abused numerous boys at the community in Massachusetts ” We state categorically that EWTN had no knowledge of these specific allegations at the time it hired Fr. Bourque.

In July 1993, the Archdiocese of Boston contacted the heads of the Oblates, George Capen, who indicated that Bourque was sent for counseling in 1979. Capen spoke to an Oblate priest who was “a brother of one of the victims [note plural].” Capen said the file mentioned “references to incidents in Maine, an assignment before Natick” but had no diagnosis and no report from the counselor (00148).

In February 1994 a man who said he had been abused by Bourque wrote to Cardinal Law. The man described his feelings “when I turn on television and see Father Rays face telling people how to live.” The man told Law that “when I was fourteen I was abused by Father Ray Bourque. I knew him in Maine and part of my family moved into the community at Oblates in Natick.” The man was not alone: “It seems that my brother and all the boys in the community …had experiences with him.” “I was only one of so many” (00146).

On April 13, 1994, eight months before the Oblates, according to Steltemeier, withdrew Bourque from EWTN, Fr. John McCormack, who was then Secretary for Ministerial Personnel in Boston, wrote to the Oblates that Bourque “has undergone an assessment and will be entering residential treatment at St. Luke’s on April 27, 1994” (00143). This assessment must not have been favorable, because McCormack continued, “Given his assessment, I also strongly recommended curtailment of all public ministry, particularly the work that reaches so many through television” (00143).

The Oblates realized they had no evaluation of Bourque in their files. Bourque was sent for an evaluation to St. Luke Institute outside Washington, where so many other abusers were being sent.

Steltemeier continues in his letter to me:

On December 21, 1994, Fr. Capen informed EWTN that Fr. Bourque was being withdrawn from his assignment to EWTN by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

In June 1995, according to Fr. Brian Flatley of the Boston Archdiocese, who met with Bourque, Bourque “has admitted to sexual misconduct with a minor, an adolescent” (00135) but was at little risk to repeat his offense, according to the St. Luke evaluation.

Flatley told Bourque and the Oblates at this meeting that

“Father Bourque has been involved in television ministry. The fact that his ministry has continued after the allegation was made was upsetting to one of his victims [note the plural, victims]. The Archdiocese had requested that his television ministry cease. I explained to Father Bourque and the Oblates that public ministry such as retreat work could be interpreted by a victim that the Church does not take his abuse seriously” (00135)

Steltemeier continues in his letter:

By letter dated October 4, 1995, Fr. Capen gave Fr. Bourque permission to return to EWTN, disclosed the general reasons for Fr. Bourque’s withdrawal from EWTN and informed EWTN of the conditions under which Fr. Bourque would be allowed to return to limited ministry at EWTN.

This arrangement was approved by Bishop David Foley of Birmingham who granted Father Bourque limited faculties on November 30, 1995. In the spirit of compassion, EWTN allowed Fr. Bourque to return to EWTN. At the time Father Bourque returned to EWTN, EWTN had no knowledge of the specific allegations set forth in the third paragraphs of your letter [see above]. EWTN is not aware of any misconduct on the part of Fr. Bourque that occurred during his tenure at EWTN.

In the above cited memo by Father Flatley, Flatley noted that the Father Ouellette of the Oblates called in January 1996 and told Flatley that Bourque “is working at Mother Angelica’s network, EWTN. He is working behind the scenes, serving people involved in ministry and being helpful in any way he can. The Bishop of the place is aware of his situation, as are the people at EWTN” (00135)

However a few months later the Boston Archdiocese was given a flyer that Bourque was sending out in Boston, and wrote to Bourque to express concern about this publicity (00137). Boston wrote to Fr. Ouellette of the Oblates asking for an explanation, because “as you know, as someone who has admitted to an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor, Father Bourque’s ministry would be of concern to the Archdiocese” (00138).

The letter that Steltemeier sent me does not address several important issues:

1. What did EWTN know about Bourque before they brought him back after the Oblates withdrew him? Steltemeier indicates EWTN knew the “general reasons” for Bourque’s removal.

2. What were these reasons? Steltemeier indicates EWTN did not know any of the “specific allegations” set forth in the Boston documents. Did EWTN attempt to learn the specifics of the allegations against Bourque? If they did not know them, why did they, “in a spirit of compassion,” allow Bourque to work for EWTN, to broadcast, and to give retreats, without knowing precisely of what he was accused and to what he had admitted?

3. What was Mother Angelica’s role in this? Did she approve rehiring Bourque when she knew that he had been accused of abusing boys? Or did her staff keep this knowledge from her, and reinstate an accused (and apparently admitted) abuser without her approval?

4. EWTN allowed Bourque a “limited ministry.” But his ministry included retreats for teen-age boys, as this June 2002 picture shows:

Here is Bourque at EWTN in June 2002 speaking to a young man from the Dead Theologians Society (a Catholic youth group):

Two days after this retreat, the Catholic bishops met in Dallas to try to deal with the sexual abuse crisis.

There is some evidence that his ministry with children continued until 2006 (See assignment record).

Here is a video that Father Ray Real Bourque marketed after the Archdiocese of Boston said he should not be in any public ministry:

Bourque is currently living with the Oblates Belleville, Illinois, where his history is unknown. He is near the Oblates’ National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows.

By employing Bourque, Mother Angelica / EWTN had given him a seal of approval, and conservative Catholics trust Mother Angelica and EWTN. EWTN has the opportunity to do what the Catholics bishops have not done except under court order: apologize for employing an abuser and asking any victims who had their contact with Bourque through EWTN to come forward so that EWTN can make recompense.

Without a full admission of truth and a sincere will to make amends there is no such thing as repentance, and without repentance it is impossible to have friendship with God.

Factionalism in the Catholic Church leads Catholics to turn off their judgment and common sense when they encounter a priest who is making the right noises: Mary, Fatima, Rosary for conservatives; gay is good, married priests, women priests for liberals.

Conservatives, from the Pope on down, can’t imagine that anyone who preaches about Mary would do anything wrong. Over the protests of the Austrian church, Pope John Paul II appointed a minor Benedictine monk, Hans Hermann Groër, as cardinal archbishop of Vienna, because Groër preached Fatima. Groër had abused boys at every seminary he had taught in for forty years, according to a reputable journalist perhaps as many as a thousand victims. Even after Groër was exposed, he was allowed to retire at the canonical age and was received socially by the Pope, to Cardinal Schönborn’s disgust.

When liberals heard Paul Shanley defend homosexuals, they could not imagine that he could do anything wrong. David France, the gay editor of Newsweek, in his book Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal and in an article in The Advocate softened the charges against Shanley by omitting mention of the affidavits from victims who said Shanley had abused boys as young as seven, and even prostituted boys at bus stations. The National Catholic Reporter gave Shanley’s defenders a platform.

Children have paid for this irresponsibility with the innocence, their souls, and sometimes their lives.

Liberal abusers at least admit they reject part of Catholic doctrine on sex, and those who deal with them have been put on notice. Conservative abusers, however, pretend to follow the straight and narrow, and I find these hypocrites especially loathsome. I have no inside track or voices in my head, but I am certain that Jesus is not pleased by those priests who use His mother as a pretext to defile children, and those who have allowed this to happen should fear His rod of iron.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.