Whistleblower Priest on Trial;
Critics Say Bishop Exacting Revenge
By Michael S. Rose
CruxNews [Arlington VA]
March 19, 2004
Bishop Paul S. Loverde is hot under the collar. This week, the leader of the Arlington diocese in northern Virginia is exerting his wrath on a priest he finds particularly troublesome. Fr. James R. Haley was summoned before an ecclesiastical tribunal in Philadelphia on Wednesday to answer to five charges brought against him by his own bishop. If found guilty, these charges could lead to the priest’s "defrocking," a penalty that would effectively reduce Fr. Haley to the lay state.
According to Charles M. Wilson, executive director of the Saint Joseph Foundation in San Antonio, Texas, an ecclesiastical tribunal is "roughly equivalent to a criminal trial brought before a civil court. The offense has to be proven by ‘moral certainty,’ which is similar to ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.'"
Critics say the Arlington bishop is retaliating against the priest for exposing clerical corruption in three northern Virginia parishes. "Fr. Haley has been attacked, vilified, and deprived of his ability to function as a priest," contended Stephen Brady, president of the Illinois-based Roman Catholic Faithful.
Several of the bishop’s canonical charges are related to testimony given by Fr. Haley in a legal deposition in July of 2002. As a direct consequence of his testimony, Fr. Haley was suspended from the Arlington diocese. Despite the fact that the priest was legally bound to respond to a subpoena, Bishop Loverde informed Fr. Haley in a written decree dated October 28, 2002 that he was guilty of violating an order for him not to publicize priestly wrongdoing. In other words, Fr. Haley was disciplined due to his refusal to participate in an on-going cover-up. He is a classic whistleblower.
At the St. Patrick’s Day trial, Fr. Haley was charged with "using instruments of social communication to injure good morals, to express insults and to excite hatred or contempt against the Church or Diocese" (canon 1369); "publicly inciting subjects to animosities or hatred against…the Ordinary [i.e., the bishop]" (canon 1373), and "ruining the good reputation of another." Put in simpler terms, Fr. Haley is being charged for blowing the whistle on the bishop’s administrative incompetence in dealing with clerical scandal.
Priests in the Arlington diocese are reluctant at this point to comment on Fr. Haley’s case. Some have expressed concerns that any comments they make will leave them vulnerable to the kind of charges brought against Fr. Haley. "The Haley issue is a red flag to the priests of the diocese," explained one Arlington cleric. "This means any dissent, discussion, or even mild criticism of anything the [bishop] does can be met with a canonical suit."
The priests seem to believe that the primary problem is not what they might personally think of Fr. Haley, but how his case has been handled and how the whistleblower has been treated.
"This kind of trial is almost unheard of," said Charles Wilson, "especially concerning someone who is maintaining that he is innocent of the charges." Wilson pointed out that the tribunal was presided over by Bishop Thomas G. Doran of Rockford, Illinois. "The fact that Bishop Doran is a member of Rome’s Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura suggests that this tribunal was convened by the Holy See." The Signatura is often referred to as the supreme court of the Catholic Church. "The fact that the trial took place in Philadelphia instead of in the Arlington diocese would seem to support this [assumption]," he added. The status of the tribunal could not be confirmed at the time of publication.
A soap opera series of events
In July 2002, Fr. Haley was subpoenaed to testify in a lawsuit that was brought against Bishop Loverde and the Diocese of Arlington by James Lambert, a Catholic layman whose wife was impregnated by Fr. Daniel Verrecchia, then pastor of All Saints Church in Manassas. Mr. Lambert alleged that the diocese had long known about the public scandal given by Fr. Verrecchia’s illicit relationship with his wife, but failed to remove the priest from the Lamberts’ parish. Although the lawsuit was eventually dropped, Fr. Haley’s testimony corroborated Mr. Lambert’s contention. Nancy Lambert later divorced her husband in order to marry Fr. Verrecchia, who is now an Episcopal priest serving in Atlanta.
Fr. Haley worked as an associate at All Saints, where he discovered that his pastor had stored up homosexual pornography on the rectory computer. He also discovered over three hundred email "love letters" written by Fr. Verrecchia and sent to Nancy Lambert. The emails closed with fancies such as "Feel my hug and know of my kiss."
Fr. Haley testified that Fr. Verrecchia had long been involved in a very public romance with Mrs. Lambert, saying it was a source of grave scandal to parishioners at All Saints. Moreover, Fr. Haley presented Bishop Loverde with incontrovertible evidence of Fr. Verrecchia’s misconduct by downloading all the homosexual pornography and emails onto a compact disc.
According to the deposition, rather than investigating the matter, the bishop accused Fr. Haley of fabricating the emails and transferred him to St. Lawrence Church in Franconia. No investigation was ever carried out; Fr. Verrecchia received no disciplinary notice by Bishop Loverde, and was allowed to remain pastor of All Saints, where he continued his sexual romance with Nancy Lambert until he impregnated her and left the priesthood to marry her.
At St. Lawrence, Fr. Haley discovered that the pastor, Fr. William J. Erbacher, had been embezzling money from the collection baskets on a rather grand scale. He also discovered that this same priest possessed an extensive collection of homosexual pornography, including child pornography. According to the deposition, Fr. Haley went "to Bishop Loverde and told him he had a significant problem at Saint Lawrence. That there was immoral and criminal activity occurring, and that it was very obvious, and that he needed to go see it."
Again, at the bishop’s request, Fr. Haley presented him with documented evidence of the pornography, and again no investigation was undertaken at that time. Instead, Fr. Haley was transferred again.
Two months later, only after Fr. Erbacher’s activities were made public in The Washington Post, did Bishop Loverde take action. He immediately removed the offending pastor and audited the parish to discover that Fr. Erbacher had embezzled $320,000 from Church funds.
At Fr. Haley’s next assignment at St. Mary’s Church in Fredericksburg, he discovered that Fr. Daniel Hamilton was "involved in extraordinarily graphic and incredibly disturbing sadomasochistic, sexual torture, cross-dressing, transgender pornography that involved she-males." Fr. Haley testified that his fellow priest was addicted, "daily immersed in this kind of sexual horror."
Fr. Haley went to Bishop Loverde again, this time to tell him of the disturbing problems at St. Mary’s. According to the deposition, the bishop again asked for "credible evidence" of the pastor’s misconduct. Fr. Haley responded to that request a week later with evidence of Fr. Hamilton’s extreme perversion. "At the end of that meeting, which was basically a slide show of the pictures of [Fr. Hamilton’s] incredible collection," Fr. Haley testified, "the bishop told me that I had better watch out, that I did not know what he [Loverde] was capable of doing."
One week later, Bishop Loverde summoned Fr. Haley to his office and instructed him to be out of St. Mary’s by 7 o’clock that evening. According to the deposition, Bishop Loverde also presented Fr. Haley with a written decree that threatened his priesthood in no uncertain terms. Fr. Haley described the bishop’s threat thus: "If you tell anybody by any means what has happened to Fr. Hamilton or anybody you will be immediately suspended from the priesthood without any warning."
Subsequent to this threat, Bishop Loverde removed Fr. Haley’s priestly faculties and, according to Fr. Haley’s testimony, made it clear to the whistleblower that he wanted him to enter a so-called "treatment center" before he would ever consider lifting Fr. Haley’s suspension. When Fr. Haley requested to transfer to another diocese, the bishop responded that he would not grant approval. Bishop Loverde would settle for nothing less than the priest’s laicization. According to his sworn testimony, Fr. Haley stated that Bishop Loverde "is trying to strangle me out of the Church."
A retaliatory move?
In addition to the canonical charges relating to Fr. Haley’s whistle-blowing, Bishop Loverde is also charging Fr. Haley with "sexual misconduct" and "absolution of an accomplice in sexual sin," an apparent reference to a decade-old incident involving a woman who made sexual advances toward the priest.
Fr. Haley’s attorney, Gregory Murphy explained to The Washington Times [article] last week that "the priest was found not guilty of any impropriety by the former Arlington bishop, the Most. Rev. John R. Keating, who died in 1998."
Roman Catholic Faithful’s Stephen Brady says it’s obvious to him that Bishop Loverde is trying to retaliate against Fr. Haley. Brady’s lay Catholic group has been lending moral support to the harassed priest ever since his deposition transcript was made public. "These misconduct charges involved a woman who made sexual advances toward Fr. Haley years ago," Brady explained, "and he rebuffed her. Later, when she asked for absolution, he granted it to her. This issue was dealt with by Loverde’s predecessor."
Murphy seems to concur. "They’re throwing in any issue they could find against [Fr. Haley]," the priest’s attorney told The Washington Times [article]. "So they’ve dug up an incident that was, right from the start, found in Fr. Haley’s favor."
"I’ve seen the vile filth that Fr. Haley documented in those three rectories," added Brady, who describes the evidence as hardcore homosexual pornography—both magazines and videos. "I’ve got copies of it all," he added, "and the fact that Bishop Loverde failed to act on any of this evidence speaks volumes. Instead, he decides to persecute this priest while perverts and pedophiles walk free."
Asked whether he thinks Fr. Haley was innocent of the sexual misconduct charges, Brady pointed out that Bishop Keating apparently found the priest innocent. He added: "Anybody who has skeletons in his closet doesn’t speak out as loudly as Fr. Haley has. If he were guilty of those charges, he would have been crazy to go public with his evidence."
Ongoing smear campaign
Ever since Fr. Haley’s testimony in the legal deposition was made public and reported in the Washington-area media, Bishop Loverde seems to have been on an offensive to demonize the whistleblower priest. In a December 5, 2002 letter published in the Arlington Catholic Herald the bishop wrote that "Fr. Haley has not been made a pastor because of separate issues concerning his own past conduct," apparently referring to the sexual misconduct charges that Bishop Loverde’s predecessor resolved long ago. At the time the letter was published, at the height of the priest pederasty scandal, Bishop Loverde’s comment was commonly misinterpreted to mean that Fr. Haley was the subject of pedophilia allegations.
In that same public letter, the bishop falsely accused Fr. Haley of "going to the media" with his accusations, when in fact the priest did not go to the media, but rather gave testimony in a legal deposition, the transcripts of which the Diocese of Arlington sought unsuccessfully to have sealed. Fr. Haley’s testimony was made public only to the extent that the media had access to those public legal documents. It is also instructive to note that for several years Fr. Haley reported his complaints, accompanied by well-documented evidence, directly to the bishop.
In his public letter Bishop Loverde also stated that Fr. Haley had no duty to give a deposition in a civil proceeding, when in fact Fr. Haley was subpoenaed for his testimony, meaning that he was legally required to answer questions under oath. The testimony was not "voluntary" as Bishop Loverde falsely claimed.
Even in the face of gaping evidence to the contrary, Bishop Loverde asserts in his public letter three times that he has not ignored priestly misconduct, that he treats all allegations very seriously, and that he is committed to doing everything in his power to see that wrongdoing or criminal behavior is punished. The fact that the bishop repeatedly failed to act on the allegations and evidence presented to him by Fr. Haley about three separate pastors of the diocese leaves the bishop open to suspicion that he is primarily interested in one thing: retribution against a whistleblower priest.
In normal circumstances, it could take between six months and a year to adjudicate canonical hearings such as Fr. Haley’s St. Patrick’s Day trial. In the mean time, the priest will remain in clerical limbo. Even if the eventual ruling comes out in favor of Fr. Haley, Bishop Loverde will still have the canonical right to keep from accepting the priest back in the Diocese of Arlington. But it would make it easier for Fr. Haley to transfer to another diocese, should a bishop be willing to accept him. "If Haley wins the case," explained the St. Joseph Foundation’s Charles Wilson, "he would no longer be under suspension. In a way, a canonical trial for Fr. Haley is good. His rights will be respected, which does not appear to have been the case up to this point. The trial gives Fr. Haley a fighting chance. If he has been accused of a serious offense he should be offered a fair trial."
(Editor's note: The full transcript of Fr. Haley’s deposition is available online at: http://www.rcf.org/pdfs/hdep.pdf)
Michael S. Rose is the author a several books including the New York Times bestseller Goodbye, Good Men. He is editor of Cruxnews.com
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.