St. Joseph's Catholic School Leader Reacts to Graduate's Claims of Sexual Abuse by Priest
By Mike Ellis and Nathaniel Cary
February 28, 2019
The headmaster of St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville sent a letter Tuesday to alumni and parents of students to address allegations of sexual abuse that a graduate made about a priest who used to perform sacraments at the school. The headmaster also defended a current teacher whom the graduate now believes could have known about the abuse.
Michael Cassabon, a 1998 St. Joseph’s graduate, told The Greenville News he was abused by Hayden Vaverek multiple times over the course of at least two years while Cassabon was a student at the school.
Cassabon reported the alleged abuse in 2013. The Diocese of Charleston, which comprises the state of South Carolina, and the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office investigated. Vaverek was removed from the priesthood in 2016 after the diocese found Cassabon's allegations "credible."
Cassabon didn’t pursue a criminal charge against Vaverek, and Vaverek has not been criminally charged.
Cassabon, who was himself a priest at the time of the investigation in 2013, told The News that he wanted the matter to be handled by the church and feared that Vaverek would be killed in jail if he were convicted.
Multiple attempts to reach Vaverek by phone and email were unsuccessful Wednesday.
St. Joseph's teacher's involvement in nonprofit disturbs Michael Cassabon
Cassabon told The News that he is disturbed that a teacher who taught him and knew Vaverek — and knew about allegations against Vaverek at least by 2017 — was on the board of directors of a nonprofit organization that Vaverek created in 2017, after he was laicized. Until recently, the teacher was listed as the secretary on the four-person board of the charity.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Cassabon said he was upset that after multiple discussions with the school’s headmaster, the teacher continued to be involved in the organization run by the priest.
In response to the post and resulting discussion among students and parents, St. Joseph’s headmaster Keith Kiser sent an email that said Cassabon “implicates, by association, one of our teachers.”
“To be clear, there have been no allegations of sexual misconduct made against this teacher,” Kiser said in the letter.
The school has about 600 students in grades 6 through 12.
Kiser said in the letter that after numerous conversations since November 2017 about the teacher, Cassabon now wants the teacher fired, “claiming that he should have known about the misconduct.”
Kiser did not return telephone calls but in response to questions from The News sent an email Wednesday that said Cassabon is “justifiably hurt and angry about the abuse he suffered at the hands of former priest.”
But both Kiser and the Diocese of Charleston said Wednesday that Cassabon has twice — in 2013 and 2015 — denied the teacher’s involvement or knowledge of the abuse.
“After consulting with school officials and the Diocese, it was determined that the teacher had no knowledge that any misconduct took place,” Kiser said.
In an interview Monday, Cassabon said he previously believed the teacher did not know about the abuse but began to reconsider that view once he saw the teacher’s subsequent involvement in Vaverek’s nonprofit organization.
Cassabon said he first raised the issue of the teacher's involvement in Vaverek's nonprofit organization with Kiser in November 2017.
“I discovered he was still active in November 2018,” Cassabon said. “So a full year later, he’s still listed on the website as a director of the board of Hayden’s fundraising group.”
The Diocese of Charleston said Wednesday it was aware of Cassabon’s Facebook post and denied covering up or discouraging Cassabon from speaking about or reporting the accusation against the teacher.
“Cassabon’s primary complaint against the teacher is that he should have been aware of the conduct of then Father Hayden Vaverek,” the diocese said in an emailed statement. “To the contrary, Cassabon stated in both 2013 and 2015 that he did not believe the teacher was aware of Vaverek’s actions.”
The diocese said St. Joseph’s is an independent school and the Bishop of Charleston has no authority over a personnel matter involving the teacher.
Pax Bonum nonprofit organization run by defrocked priest Hayden Vaverek
Vaverek is listed as the founder of the nonprofit organization Pax Bonum, which is Latin for “peace and goodwill.” The defrocked priest is listed as its executive director and president of its four-person board. The organization’s mission is to provide “a safe place for priests who are at a vocational crossroads in their lives to live, pray and heal,” according to its mission statement.
The teacher was listed as a member of the board and its secretary. Board members also include Treasurer Linda Cowart, a Greenville businesswoman, and director Howard Rankin.
A quote attributed to the teacher remained on the Pax Bonum website until recently: “Our priests are there for us; we need to be there for our priests.”
The teacher severed connection to the organization at Kiser’s request, Kiser said.
Reached Wednesday, Cowart said she’s on the board but not a spokesperson for the organization, and she declined comment. She said she couldn’t direct a reporter to a spokesperson for the organization.
Pax Bonum also heralds comments of support from a bishop and a former priest. One of those, Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of the Archdiocese of Denver, never gave permission for his statement to be used for promotional purposes and has asked for it to be removed, according to Mark Haas, spokesman for the archdiocese. Rodriguez is not affiliated with the Pax Bonum organization and did not grant permission to use his name on the website, Haas said.
“Some time last year, Bishop Rodriguez received an email or a letter from the group explaining how they would be supporting priests through prayer and other services,” Haas said. “Bishop Rodriguez responded with a quick note of appreciation but was unaware that his response would be used on the group’s website and never gave them permission to do so. His only knowledge of the group is what they wrote in their letter.”
Another supporter of Pax Bonum is Kristian Jaloway of Texas, a former priest who said he was lost when he left the Catholic priesthood because he had the desire to marry.
"When you’re a priest, you know exactly what your life is about and how you’ll achieve that," he said. "When you leave, there is, all of a sudden, every single job possibility in the world."
Jaloway runs a business consulting group, and in that role he’s run into many former priests and tried to help them, he said.
One of those was Vaverek. Jaloway said he’s lent some support to the organization since Vaverek founded it.
According to the IRS, Pax Bonum grossed less than $50,000 in 2017. The South Carolina Secretary of State website says the nonprofit had about $29,000 in revenue and $49,000 in expenses in fiscal 2017 and had negative $19,000 in net assets.