‘I Cannot Believe This Has Happened Again’

Lagniappe [Mobile AL]

September 10, 2023

By Rob Holbert

Whether involving Brother Nicholas “Vic” Bendillo decades ago, or Fr. Alex Crow this year, victims of abuse perpetrated by clergy at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School say there is one constant — an administration and archdiocese bent on covering for abusers and and squelching criticism of the school.

Parents of current and former McGill students negatively affected by their interactions with Crow over the past few years have expressed outrage at the lone statement issued by McGill-Toolen’s President Fr. Bry Shields and Principal Michelle Haas on July 28 claiming the “defrocked” priest who took off to Europe with a recent female graduate was not in classes after December 2021 and otherwise minimizing the school’s relationship with him.

“We were all stunned by the recent news regarding Alex Crow. Contrary to what was reported, Mr. Crow was never employed by McGill-Toolen CHS. We welcome our priests to visit Theology classes and hear confessions when they can. Mr.

Crow did visit some Theology classrooms, and hear confessions during the period, September through December 2021. He also celebrated one school Mass that year. He has not chaperoned any school trips or retreats. We will continue to pray for the families involved and are looking forward to the start of another great year,” Shields and Haas wrote in their statement.

 “Had the archdiocese and the school taken proper precautions this situation could have been prevented.”

But parents, along with numerous students and an employee interviewed by Lagniappe dispute the substance of that joint statement. They claim Crow was routinely allowed to speak in theology classes at least through the end of the spring 2022 semester and point to trips and retreats Crow attended with McGill students up until June of this year as evidence the statement is blatantly false at worst and at best artfully parsed to distance McGill leadership from the controversy. Multiple sources also claim Crow often pulled female students from classes and even paid them to confess to him.

“Here is the bottom line: Our daughter met Crow through the school. If she wouldn’t have met him at the school, she would have never known him,” said the mother of the young woman in Italy with Crow.

 Diocese defrocks priest, alerts DA he went to Europe with girl

The young woman’s parents spoke with Lagniappe on condition of anonymity, out of concern for their daughter, who they believe is a victim of Crow psychologically grooming her.

“While at the school, he was given the ability to pull students out of class. He pulled my daughter out of classes at McGill. He pulled many other girls out of classes as well. What was he doing when he pulled them out of class? Why was this allowed?”

She went on to further dispute the implication Crow had little to do with McGill.

“McGill claims they no longer employ a full-time priest. I have no way to know if Crow was being paid by McGill, but I do know he was allowed in the classrooms. He was allowed to call children out of class to meet with him personally and he was also allowed to attend out-of-town trips. Ask any student in that school and they will tell you,” she said.

“Many parents have reached out to my husband and I letting us know that they had previously reported inappropriate behavior to the school and to the archdiocese. Unfortunately, we were unaware of his inappropriate behavior until it was too late. Had the archdiocese and the school taken proper precautions this situation could have been prevented.”

The scandal that erupted when Crow left the country with the recent high school graduate has attracted international attention. It has also brought back painful memories for some older McGill graduates who were victims of “Brother Vic,” a man the Archdiocese of Mobile lists as having sexually molested students between 1964 and 1989 — although Bendillo went to prison in 2004 for abuses committed in the early ‘90s and was quietly removed from McGill after a 1998 abuse complaint.

The diocese did not respond to questions about this discrepancy in the official record of credibly accused priests and deacons it released in 2018.

 No full accounting of Bendillo’s victims has ever been released, but numbers as high as 300 have been suggested.

“As I started looking at some of the articles and stuff, I was like ‘Damn, I cannot believe this has happened again,’ and it’s been allowed to happen again.”

For Clark Glenn, the man whose tales of abuse ultimately helped put Bendillo behind bars, the school and diocese’s response to Crow’s mental and possibly sexual abuse of multiple students is a cold blast from the past.

During a recent visit to Mobile, Glenn first heard about the allegations made against Crow, as well as the way school and diocesan officials were handling it.

“What triggered me about the Crow thing is when I found out that families had gone to administration at McGill, Bry Shields and Michelle Haas, a year ago and said ‘We don’t feel comfortable with our kids around this guy and something needs to be done,’ and he was still in and around McGill up until the end of this school year. It’s unacceptable in any way,” Glenn said.

“As I started looking at some of the articles and stuff, I was like ‘Damn, I cannot believe this has happened again,’ and it’s been allowed to happen again,” he added.

A dark history

 The national comeuppance surrounding priestly sexual abuse of minors hit many cities and dioceses much harder than it did Mobile in the early 2000s.

Boston, New Orleans, Louisville, Portland and many others reeled as sometimes hundreds of clergy members were accused of the systematic abuse of children. Some dioceses even filed for bankruptcy protection as payouts to victims ranged into the billions of dollars.

Since 2005, for example, California dioceses have paid out more than $1 billion to survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.

Just last week, the Archdiocese of San Francisco filed for bankruptcy in the face of more than 500 sexual abuse lawsuits filed after the California Legislature opened a special window to file sex abuse claims that were beyond the statute of limitations. The Diocese of Syracuse, New York, agreed to pay victims of sexual abuse $100 million just two months ago.

The average age of a person coming forward with allegations of childhood sexual abuse is 53.

Some state legislatures have been willing to roll back statutes of limitations — which have often protected the Catholic Church from lawsuits — because so many abuse victims never come forward until much later in life. The average age of a person coming forward with allegations of childhood sexual abuse is 53.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans filed for bankruptcy in 2020 after more than 70 members of the clergy and diocese employees were named in dozens of lawsuits.

Nearly 30 dioceses nationwide have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since 2004 because of abuse lawsuits. According to the Catholic News Agency, 17 of those have completed legal proceedings related to the suits, while 12 are still in the midst of the process as of this July.

Things were more tamped down in Mobile when the abuse scandal broke in 2002. Then-archbishop, The Most Rev. Oscar H. Lipscomb, an Azalea City native and McGill Institute graduate, had run the archdiocese for more than two decades and demonstrated — at best — a laissez-faire approach to what had become a five-alarm fire for the Catholic Church nationally.

The relatively small local firestorm here began in March of 2003, when Lipscomb traveled to St. Peter’s Church in Montgomery to tell parishioners the priest he’d sent them six years earlier was being removed because of a more recent incidence of sexual abuse of a minor.

According to news reports from multiple agencies, Lipscomb offered few details and answered fewer questions after telling parishioners he had known about three earlier allegations of sexual abuse against the Rev. Alex Sherlock before moving him from Mobile, where he’d served at St. Mary Parish, which has an elementary and middle school, as well as McGill-Toolen. Lipscomb said the move hadn’t gone as he’d hoped, and Sherlock again preyed upon a child.

Lipscomb told about 150 stunned parishioners of St. Peter’s Church, including then-Attorney General Bill Pryor, he had removed Sherlock after a fourth credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor emerged, adding to the three Lipscomb said he knew about “years ago.” The revelations led to calls for Lipscomb’s resignation.

[PHOTO: Rev. Alexander Sherlock is pictured in the 1977 McGill-Toolen High School yearbook. (Photo via bishop- accountability.org)]

According to a Press-Register story on the meeting, Lipscomb claimed psychiatric tests had previously indicated Sherlock was not a danger to children.

“Those determinations were clear — this man is not a pedophile, this man is not a risk,” Lipscomb was quoted as saying. He added: “While I was repeatedly assured by Father Sherlock that his connection with young people at St. Peter’s was in no way connected with past problems, it was also represented to me last week that this might not have been the case.”

Lipscomb also was quoted as saying he did not know of any other abusive priests in the archdiocese.

One of those who called for Lipscomb to resign in the wake of that meeting was Brian Pierre, who told WPMI-TV in May of 2003 that he had first informed Lipscomb about the abuse he suffered at Sherlock’s hands six years earlier and the archbishop had done nothing about it. Pierre said he was sexually abused by Sherlock while a McGill student in the ‘70s.

Details of local abuse in Catholic Church remain guarded

Lipscomb’s tepid attitude towards ferreting out abusers should have been no surprise. A year earlier, he had openly expressed concerns new church policies requiring the removal of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse were too harsh.

 “Recidivism is not necessarily a given,” Lipscomb told The Mobile Register in June 2002. “I would like to see a bishop, in concert with a review board, able to judge those cases where recidivism has not occurred — each on its merits.”

In a 1995 civil suit against Fr. Cordell Lang, who was accused of sexually abusing a student at McGill from 1988 – 1991 while serving as a guidance counselor, Lipscomb was deposed by the plaintiff’s attorney and mused upon what role the alleged victim, who claimed the abuse occurred when he was 14, could possibly have played in his own molestation.

“If I were investigating this from scratch, I would want to know something of what the 14-year-old brought to the situation prior to that,” the Press-Register reported from a copy of Lipscomb’s deposition it had acquired.

“Is he totally innocent, unspoiled and pure, or is he somebody who in his own way may have invited or even initiated these kind of … I would not know those things until I knew more of the characteristics.”

The plaintiff’s attorney was denied an opportunity to tell the jury Lang had asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination during the discovery process when asked about sexual activities with the student.

Lang won the civil suit and Lipscomb immediately reinstated him. No copies of that deposition remain in Mobile County court records.

In 2009, a year after retiring, Lipscomb was even called as a witness to offer positive testimony in favor of the character of former Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Herman Thomas who was charged criminally with spanking numerous young, male prisoners and forcing them to have sex with him.

When the Archdiocese released its 2018 list of 26 clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse between the 1950s and 2012, eight of the men named had served at McGill at one point or another, mostly during Lipscomb’s time running the diocese. According to the abuse dates released by the archdiocese, there were times during Lipscomb’s administration when multiple clergy members were likely preying upon McGill students simultaneously.

Still, in 2008, the school named its football field and athletic complex after the newly retired archbishop. Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb Stadium “The Lip” (via mctfootball.org)

Following the release of the 2018 list, the National Catholic Reporter published an interview with The Most Rev. Thomas Rodi, archbishop of Mobile, who currently leads the Archdiocese of Mobile, in which he was reported to have claimed the 26 clergy members on the list represented just 2 percent of the 457 archdiocesan clergy who had served since 1950.

However, 26 represents nearly 6 percent of that total, or one out of every 17. An extensive study produced by John Jay College for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, found roughly 4 percent of priests in ministry from 1950-2002 nationwide were accused of sexual abuse, which would place the Archdiocese of Mobile’s rate 50 percent higher than average. Still, the diocese has managed to pay out just a few hundred thousands dollars in damages.

[PHOTO: The Rev. William Bry Shields (via mobarch.org)]

 The Rev. William Bry Shields was ordained a Catholic priest in 1984, after a ministerial career that began in the Episcopal Church. When Lipscomb invited him to join the church, Shields became one of about 60 married Catholic priests in the country. His career has been unusual in other ways, as well. In 1995, he became the first Catholic priest to get divorced, and followed that by later remarrying his ex-wife.

Five years after becoming a Catholic priest, Shields was tapped to become president of McGill-Toolen, a job he’s held for 34 years. In 2011, he also became pastor of St. Ignatius parish, one of the diocese’s plumb assignments in the heart of the city’s wealthiest zip code.

While his star has shone brightly in Mobile’s theological universe, Shields’ tenure at McGill has also overlapped with the biggest sexual scandals in the school’s history. Brother Vic’s transgressions against McGill students stretched back to the 1960s, but didn’t become public until 2003.

Despite the diocese’s official list stating his sexual abuses ended in 1989 — the year Shields became president — Bendillo was finally removed from the school after a complaint was made against him in 1998. Bendillo was also convicted of and jailed for abuses that took place in the early ‘90s.

[PHOTO: Brother Nicholas “Vic” Bendillo (Mobile County Sheriff’s Office)]

A Mobile Register article about Bendillo being accused of sexual abuse quoted Shields saying that “students generally responded positively to Brother Vic,” and that he had not “officially” heard any allegations against Bendillo until Lipscomb’s statement earlier that month. The paper also reported that Shields would not divulge why Bendillo left the school in 1998.

Bendillo was quietly removed from the diocese’s preeminent Catholic high school in 1998 after Lipscomb said he received a complaint and shipped off to New Orleans, where he spent five months at a treatment center before being moved to Baton Rouge, where he reportedly lived at a provincial residence on the campus of Catholic High.

News reports from 2003 also claim he had been allowed to volunteer at a hospital. No one from the school or the diocese forwarded the 1998 allegations of abuse to law enforcement officials.

Only after Lipscomb’s removal of Fr. Sherlock hit the media and more abuse victims came forward naming former priests, as well as Bendillo, did Lipscomb turn the school’s most notorious — and likely its most prolific — sexual predator’s name and information over to District Attorney John Tyson’s office.

Lang was also accused of abuse during the early years of Shields’ presidency, although he was never criminally prosecuted and won his civil trial.

Lagniappe requested any records from the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office that would show either Lipscomb or Shields were interviewed during the criminal investigation into Bendillo’s abuse of students, but none could be found.

 At the time of this writing, officials at the District Attorney’s Office and the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office said neither Rodi nor Shields have been interviewed in the criminal investigation into Crow’s activities either, although both have indicated such interviews are possible soon.

Shields and the archdiocese have declined multiple requests to answer questions for this story.

‘I never heard from anybody’

To Clark Glenn, Shields’ position at McGill’s helm while Bendillo abused students for years and also while Crow appears to have had unfettered access to students over the past two years is no coincidence.

“The pertinent thing about your story is Bry Shields,” Glenn said. “I think there’s a ton of relevance.”

Glenn’s abuse took place in 1991, with Bendillo falsely misleading him, as he had many others over the years, that the adolescent’s genitalia wasn’t developing properly. Glenn says Bendillo groomed him over time, inviting him to his office for long conversations about his life and eventually turning to questions about his development into a man.

Bendillo eventually got Glenn to allow an “examination” of his genitalia, and the older man falsely indicated something was terribly wrong. He informed Glenn there was a problem and his penis could end up being deformed without either a painful, expensive surgery or another type of therapy Bendillo would be willing to administer.

Like many other young men over the years, Glenn believed Bendillo was actually willing to go the extra mile to help “cure” the made up problem in a way that would be private and prevent embarrassment. Glenn said Brother Vic told him this fake “therapy” was necessary so girls wouldn’t laugh at him in high school and later in life.

 It wasn’t until he was 19 while cleaning a deer he’d shot and examining its physiology that Glenn came to the realization his good friend, Brother Vic, had molested him.

They would meet in Bendillo’s counseling office or the church rectory, where Bendillo would give Glenn blue pills, inject substances into his urethra and manually manipulate his genitals. Glenn’s abuse didn’t go on for as long as many others, but the psychological damage lasted for years.

“Brother Vic did all of this under the guise that I was medically deformed and stunted and we had to do this massage therapy so I wouldn’t be laughed at by girls,” Glenn explained.

“For years I didn’t realize I was abused. I thought Brother Vic had helped me out at this really embarrassing time in my life and kept me from getting laughed at.”

Still, Glenn kept it to himself, even though he was tortured by the thought that others might be being abused as well.

 Years passed until the Boston scandal broke out. He called the Mobile Police Department three times over a 6-month period to speak to a deputy or investigator to report the criminal behavior.

He says he had no success with MPD and was switched repeatedly between departments and kept on hold for more than half an hour. It was then that he decided to contact Lipscomb directly, anonymously, and report he had been abused as well.

He spent a full year saying, “I’m going to call the archbishop today,” but always finding reasons not to. But when the abuse scandal broke in Boston, Clark said it gave him the drive to get on the phone.

He says he called Lipscomb anonymously at first because he was frightened, to tell him about the abuse he’d suffered at McGill.

“He was like, ‘Oh yes, we know about this. This is on our radar screen.’ This is 10 years after it happened to me. I thought ‘Thank goodness that they know,’ because I’d been concerned for those 10 years that kids had been being abused and that I had not done anything about it. I was carrying this huge guilt of knowledge without action,” Glenn said. “So he started saying all that and then said somebody else’s name. I didn’t even know who the guy was. And he was like, ‘Who are you talking about?’ I said ‘I’m talking about Victor Bendillo.’ He was like, ‘Oh yes, Victor Bendillo. We’re aware of him and he’s not even at McGill anymore.’”

Glenn said as their conversation progressed, he realized Bendillo had been there until the late ‘90s even while school and diocesean leaders, at the least, knew he was abusing students from the late ‘80s on.

“As we talked about it some more I remember him saying he’d worked with Bry Shields. That they had come up with a plan to ‘buffer.’ Not to protect, but to create buffers between Brother Vic and the students at McGill,” Glenn said.

He recalled how Bendillo had an office in the McGill Building in the middle of the Guidance Counseling Office where much of the abuse took place his freshman year during the school day, but that by his junior year, Brother Vic had been moved to an isolated office on the second floor of the Toolen Building. By Glenn’s senior year, Bendillo was only allowed to meet with students at a table in the middle of the library where they could not be alone, he said.

“At that time he didn’t have that office anymore in the upstairs of the Toolen Building because then he told me the administration told him he could only meet with students at a public table in the library of the school. He couldn’t meet with students in an office anymore,” Glenn said. “What led to that? That’s my interaction with the administration knowing something and not doing anything.”

Asked if he thought that meant even the highest echelons of McGill’s administration were aware of Bendillo’s abuses, Glenn said he did.

“Do I think Bry Shields had knowledge of it beforehand? Yes,” Glenn said. “And the reason I know that is because Oscar Lipscomb told me that Brother Victor had been on their radar. Those are the words he used, ‘He’s been on our radar.’”

Glenn says he taped some of his conversations with Lipscomb and turned them over to attorney Henry Brewster in preparation for a civil suit against the diocese in the mid 2000s. The suit was not successful because the statute of limitations had long since passed. When Glenn called recently to retrieve the tapes, Brewster said they had been thrown away along with a number of old files.

However, Brewster did confirm their existence.

“He brought me the tapes and I listened to them. I used them to create a lawsuit,” Brewster told Lagniappe. Brewster added that 20 years later, he cannot vouch for what was on the tape or whose voice it was, but that he “went under the assumption it was Oscar Lipscomb.”

Sallie McPhearson graduated from McGill-Toolen with Glenn in 1994 and has kept her stories about Brother Vic and her efforts to alert school officials about him to herself for almost two decades.

 She says the boy she started dating sophomore year (1990-1991), who was a senior, was already very good friends with Bendillo when she transferred to McGill. She describes Bendillo as being a “father figure” to her boyfriend, to the point Bendillo had even told him he’d put him in his will.

Brother Vic would routinely call the two of them into his office to talk that year, she said, and she came to know him as well. When her boyfriend left the following year, McPhearson said those chats continued one-on-one, with the cleric calling her into his office to talk about what was happening in her life.

During one of those meetings, she says, things became quite different.

“(My boyfriend) had graduated the next year, he (Bendillo) started calling me to his office — just me to his office. One day I walked into his office and basically he was telling me there was a student there, and he was a classmate of mine, and he said that this student was taking pills for impotency and that he was impotent, and that he had been going to see a medical doctor and this medical doctor was giving him pills to help with the impotence,” McPhearson said. “And also this classmate had a girlfriend. And my classmate was concerned about his relationship with his girlfriend and he wanted things to be better to make sure everything was fine sexually. I felt like he was OK with helping this kid.”

McPhearson said Bendillo also explained how a clinic the boy was going to had women there as sexual surrogates to help men with arousal issues.

“And these women were paid to touch these men that were on this medication to help the erection kick in. So he wanted to pay me fifteen, twenty, twenty-five dollars, depending on the touch, how far I went,” she said. “He wanted to pay me. And it just depended on what it was, what kind of touch, and the further that I went, the more he would pay me. I think he realized how uncomfortable I was feeling, so he said, ‘when you come to the Brothers’ home and we start and you’re feeling uneasy, of course I will give you scotch to help loosen you up.’”

McPhearson said Bendillo called her back to his office several more times to go over what he wanted her to do. One day when she went, McPhearson said there was a male student — not Clark Glenn — there, someone she knew as a friend. Bendillo left the office and closed the door so the two of them could be alone.

When the boy attempted to kiss her, McPhearson said she pushed him away and Bendillo quickly entered the room.

“Brother Victor walked in immediately and my classmate said ‘I just kissed her.” And Victor said, ‘Well that’s a start. I want y’all to come this weekend to the Brothers’ home and we’ll start.’ I started crying and said ‘What are you doing?’ And he was like ‘What do you mean what am I doing?’ And I said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I kept asking him and he was getting really angry at me. Then he said, ‘You just need to go home and think about it and you need to be at the Brothers’ home tomorrow and we will start this.’”

McPhearson said she alerted her boyfriend to what had happened, then decided she needed to tell her parents. An older sister also insisted she write an account of the incident that day. McPhearson said her parents then set up a meeting with the school, bringing along their own Episcopal priest, the Rev. Doug Stirling, as a witness.

“He came to the school with my parents the following Monday. Shields and Stirling knew each other. As a witness, my dad and my mom wanted him to come,” she said. “Fr. Shields was there. I know that. Ms. (Peggy) Goff was there.

“We had given them my letter. I had told them verbally what happened and they told me I had misunderstood the situation. I said, ‘Well, you’re going to believe what you want to believe,’ and I just walked away.”

McPhearson said the next day, the school called her and her parents back in and said Bendillo had admitted to her accusations. She said school officials said if she would stay quiet about what happened, Bendillo would be removed from the school.

“My parents told them, you will not only remove him from the school, you will remove him from ever, ever being with, working with, children of any age anywhere on this planet, period. They agreed to that,” McPhearson said.

But she said a year or so later, she saw Bendillo in his new office in the Toolen Building.

“He smiled and winked at me. I didn’t even know what to think,” she said. “I didn’t even tell my parents. I thought, ‘Those motherf*****s haven’t done anything to him. Even if I tell them, nothing is going to happen.’ I felt so bad, but I just knew there was nothing I could do.”

 A few months before her 1994 graduation, McPhearson said she was in the school’s library when she saw Bendillo at a table with a number of students and asked a librarian who he was meeting with. The librarian told her they were freshmen.

“I said, ‘What is Victor doing here with them? What does he do?’ She said, ‘He counsels students.’ I just went ballistic. By this time I’m a senior and had just turned 18. I had come to the realization that what happened with (the classmate), that Brother Victor was sick. It could not have been a one-time event. I was convinced that he was a pedophile,” she said.

McPhearson said she made a “huge scene,” loudly calling Bendillo a pervert and a pedophile.

“I was yelling in the library. I said, ‘I am telling everyone because he is still here. I was supposed to keep my mouth shut but he is still here, so I don’t have to keep my mouth shut anymore!’” she said.

McPhearson says a separate incident in which she was accused of having marijuana in her car just a few weeks before graduation caused her to finish the year at another school. It also prompted her mother to take the story of Brother Vic to the archdiocese, McPhearson said.

“We did go see an attorney. We did go see the superintendent of Catholic schools at that time and I told her my story…. We went to the superintendent and told my story, but never heard anything.”

 McPhearson said when she saw Glenn on the news in 2003 during Bendillo’s criminal trial, it renewed her interest in letting authorities know what had happened.

“All these years I had felt so guilty about not speaking up, which I thought I had, but not enough maybe. I just knew more kids were being abused because that’s just the nature of a man like that,” she said. “I saw Clark on the news. My mom and I immediately went to the district attorney’s office to tell my story. We really wanted to emphasize the cover by Fr. Shields and whomever and prolonging abuse for kids that came forward afterwards as well. I told the district attorney that. I told him everything I knew. He looked a little befuddled. We told him everything, everything. I felt really good about that but I never heard from anybody.”

Tracking Crow

Though he didn’t have decades over which to abuse McGill students, parents of current and former students say the young traditionalist priest fond of wearing cassocks cut a wide swath through the school over the past couple of years, despite never officially being assigned there.

Multiple parents have told stories — on condition of anonymity — about Crow spiritually “brainwashing” their children to hold extreme beliefs in the presence and power of demons in and around their lives. They say this has led to such things as their children leaving home, breaking off all contact with family members, quitting college and requiring the help of psychological specialists.

The parents of the young woman currently in Europe with Crow believe he was only able to work his way into their family’s and daughter’s trust because the school and diocese ignored ample warnings about his behavior.

“We are very disheartened that the school would not tell the truth regarding his presence within the school and at school-wide functions,” the young woman’s mother said.

She said her daughter met Crow at a fall retreat when she was 15 and soon began going to a youth group at Corpus Christi church.

“It was her first retreat as a McGill student. When she got home, she was excited to tell us all about it. It was the fall of her sophomore year. She was 15. She said there was a new priest who was young and had just been ordained who came to do confession at the retreat. She said he was working on building up the youth group at Corpus Christi and that she and several of her friends were going to start going on Wednesday nights,” the mother said.

The girl’s mother said Crow got close to her family when her father was dying from COVID-19 in the hospital in 2022. Crow came to the hospital and prayed for her father and was even with their family as he passed away. He also performed his funeral at Corpus Christi.

“It was one of the worst days of our lives. At the time we were so grateful that we had a priest there to be with my dad as he left this Earth,” she said. “I believe he saw an opportunity of weakness in our family, and used it as a way to squeeze his way into our lives.”

As for how the relationship between her daughter and Crow developed, the mother said it’s still something of a puzzle to them. Even though Crow was assigned to Corpus Cristi, she said he seemed to always be involved with McGill students.

“We’re still piecing so much together. There were many trips between Corpus Christi, St. Ignatius and McGill. There was an Ocoee trip that was hosted through St. Ignatius, and Crow was the priest that attended,” she said. “There was a Guatemala mission trip, hosted by Corpus Christi and St. Ignatius that Crow chaperoned in August of 2022. People have reported various concerns with that trip.”

Multiple sources familiar with the trip said Crow was performing an exorcism on a McGill student, aided by other McGill students and watched by others. That activity sparked a lot of controversy and some anger from parents, which in turn led to a meeting being called upon the group’s return.

“Crow called a parent meeting to discuss what happened on the mission trip,” the young woman’s mother said. “The young lady who he performed the exorcism on was in the meeting and made a statement. I was at the meeting and at that time I took up for him because I felt bad for him. I had no idea the extent of what had happened on that trip. My daughter was never the same after the things she witnessed. I have also been notified by other attendees of the trip that Crow spent an unusual amount of time with my daughter, even being spotted snuggling under a blanket multiple times while on the trip. She was 16 at the time and he was the priest! Unacceptable.”

Parents of students on the Guatemala trip have said meetings about the trip took place at Corpus Christi. A photo taken prior to the trip includes Shields, Crow, parents and students.

Corpus Christi Parish hosted a Spring Break trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee in April of this year. Crow was the Chaperone. There was also the McGill Senior Trip to Rome in June. Crow was asked to chaperone that trip as well. The school has claimed that trip was hosted by a “third party,” but the girl’s mother claims it was couched as a McGill trip from the beginning.

 Sources: Crow had access to McGill students after 2021

“Every meeting we had for that trip was held at McGill-Toolen with members of the school staff present and Pat Arensberg, who works for the archdiocese.” she said.

Payments for the trip were made to Chi Rho Euro, a business run by Pat Arensberg, who was formerly the theology chair at McGill and who now works for the diocese. The young woman’s mother said she thought Chi Rho Euro was a travel agency booked by the school. She also said the trip was advertised to McGill students as a senior trip. Only later did she discover Arensberg owns Chi Rho Euro.

“The Archdiocese was aware of inappropriate behavior by Crow, so the question is why was he granted permission to host and chaperone these trips with teens? Who approves them? Who granted permission for him to attend with so many allegations of inappropriate behavior?” she asked.

Up until the night they disappeared, the young woman’s parents had no idea anything was happening between their daughter and the priest. Her daughter had a boyfriend and was preparing to go to college. Then she just didn’t come home one night.

On July 24, her mother became worried after not hearing from her daughter for several hours, which she says was completely out of character. The girl’s family reached out to a few of their daughter’s friends who all jumped into action and

began looking for her. Around midnight, her mother received a call from the youth leader at St. Ignatius Parish telling her about the letter Crow left saying the Virgin Mary and Jesus had instructed him to take their daughter to Europe.

“I went to the airport and that’s where I found her vehicle,” she said.

 Crow wrote love letter to McGill student months before leaving for Europe

What took place next was a family scrambling to get their daughter back. On July 28, the girl’s uncle jumped on a plane and was able to locate them. Several days later, on August 4th the young woman’s parents managed to get emergency passports and arrived in Italy. They tracked Crow and their daughter down and confronted them.

When they arrived in the village, the parents confronted the couple, with Crow saying almost nothing and staring at the ground for most of the conversation. While meeting with them, her mother found a love note written in February for Valentine’s Day by Crow packed in her daughter’s suitcase.

“Our daughter was 17 at the time the letter was written and was a senior at McGill-Toolen,” the mother said. “The only time he spoke is when I pulled that letter out of the suitcase. I felt some papers in the suitcase and pulled it out and said, ‘What is this?’ I looked at his face and I read it out loud to him. The only words he said to me were ‘You give me my letter. He said it was his private property and if I did not return the letter, he was going to call the police. I said, ‘Go ahead,’” she recalled.

Crow followed up on his threat and did call the police, but the letter stayed with the girl’s parents. They were also able to retrieve their laptop. The letter indicates the two have had a romantic relationship and the laptop was turned over to the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office for examination.

The young woman’s family questions how Crow has been able to pay for this trip.

“Over a month in Italy is very expensive. We believe it raises the question of where the money to fund this is coming from,” her mother said. “We know our daughter does not have any money or access to any money. Everything is being paid for by Crow.”

As of this writing, the young woman’s mother says they’ve had no contact with their daughter in two weeks and she feels the girl is being held against her will.

“He is not going to allow her to leave. He ‘lost’ her cell phone, so the only contact she can have with the outside world is through permission to use his phone. She has no money, at her age no real ability to make a living in Italy. She only speaks English — he is fluent in Italian and French. He has secluded her away from all family and friends in a foreign country. He has used religion and his authority as a Catholic Priest to manipulate her into believing this is what God wants her to do,” she said.

Looking back at phone records, the mother says Crow called her daughter nearly 4,000 times over the course of the year — mostly in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep. Some of those conversations lasted between 2- 6 hours per night.

Looking back at phone records, the mother says Crow called her daughter nearly 4,000 times over the course of the year — mostly in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep. Some of those conversations lasted between 2- 6 hours per night.

“In Italy, our daughter told her uncle that she had changed her mind and did not want to go with Crow, but that he talked her into going. After reviewing phone records of the night before they left, Crow called her after midnight and kept her on the phone until 6 a.m. He then called her when she left her house and stayed on the phone with her until she arrived at the church rectory. He was not going to allow her to change her mind….

“There is no doubt that the archdiocese and McGill-Toolen, were aware of problems with their young priest long before he absconded with our daughter. I have had many parents reach out to me and say they had reported him to the school and the archdiocese many times for inappropriate behavior for various reasons, whether it be with their daughters or even sons,” she said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that they knew what was going on and they continued to allow it.”

Mobile attorney Christine Hernandez, who is acting as a representative for the family, said the archdiocese and Shields met with parents and heard their concerns about Crow after the Guatemala trip in the final months of 2022 and the early months of 2023. His interest in exorcisms and interactions with students were among the topics discussed in those meetings, she said.

“They did not inform parents about what was going on,” Hernandez said. “They certainly didn’t warn parents or preclude him from going on any more trips.”

Shields and the archdiocese were both sent a list of questions for this story after saying Shields would not be available for an in-person interview. Ultimately, they also decided not to respond to the written questions as well.

Diocese spokesman Rob Herbst did provide a short statement unrelated to the questions asked by Lagniappe. It reads:

“The Archdiocese is committed to ensuring that all students in Catholic schools have a safe and healthy environment in which to learn, and the Archdiocese takes all allegations of sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior by its employees and clergy members seriously. If anyone has information that an Archdiocese employee or clergy member has engaged in sexual misconduct or has put a child in danger, the Archdiocese strongly encourages such individuals to report this information to the archdiocese’s Office for the Protection of Minors and Adults, https://mobarch.org/childprotection, and to civil law enforcement. If anyone has information that an Archdiocese employee or clergy member has engaged in inappropriate behavior with a student that does not involve sexual misconduct, the Archdiocese strongly encourages such individuals to share this information with the appropriate school principal and/or the Department of Catholic Education https://mobarch.org/dce.”

Dale Liesch and Kyle Hamrick contributed to this report.

Rob Holbert is a co-publisher and managing editor of Lagniappe. He can be emailed at rholbert@lagniappemobile.com