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Home/Rod Dreher/Father Rutler’s Scandal

Father Rutler’s Scandal

Father George Rutler (Source)

You might have heard about the case of Father George Rutler, the conservative celebrity Catholic priest who has stepped away from his pulpit at his Manhattan parish pending the conclusion of a police investigation. Catholic News Agency reports:

Ashley Gonzalez, a 22-year-old security guard with MG Security Services, went public Nov. 26 with an allegation that Rutler forcibly groped her, after she had allegedly seen the priest, late at night, watching homosexual pornography on an office computer in the church rectory.

Rutler is the author of over 30 books and is a well-known public speaker and television commentator on EWTN.  He has also been a frequent contributor to the National Catholic Register. The archdiocese told News12 there have been no other allegations raised against Rutler in the past.

More:

The alleged incident happened around 1:20am Nov. 4, Gomez said. He said Gonzalez contacted him at 2:45am asking for help, and that he helped her to file a police report that morning.

The alleged incident took place during Gonzalez’s second night on the job, Gomez said.

According to Gonzalez, Rutler had offered that she could sit in his office when she was not actively doing her rounds. Gonzalez had finished her first set of rounds at around 1:15am and was sitting in the office texting her mother when Rutler entered the office and greeted Gonzalez.

He then sat down at the computer and checked the ongoing General Election results, Gonzalez alleges, before beginning to watch a homosexual pornographic video. Gonzalez said she filmed Rutler with her cellphone as he did so.

The CNA reporter has seen the video, and said the bald man (they didn’t identify him as Rutler, because one doesn’t see his face) is clearly watching gay porn. I spoke to a different journalist who has also seen the video, and he told me there is no doubt at all that it’s gay porn.

Whether or not Father Rutler groped the guard, the evidence appears clear that she caught him watching gay porn, and recorded it. Maybe there is a good explanation for this, but I can’t imagine what that would be. Even if Rutler is cleared of the groping allegation, if the porn thing is confirmed, his career as a priest is over, and ought to be.

People outside the Catholic world may not be aware that George Rutler is one of the most famous conservative priests in the country. He has been a staple on EWTN, the Catholic channel, for many years. He is a powerful homilist, and presents himself as a flinty archconservative who suffers no fools gladly. I met him once, and was not surprised at all to learn that one of his prized possessions is the pen with which Pius IX signed the Vatican I document certifying papal infallibility. I was surprised, given his posh mid-Atlantic accent, to learn that Father Rutler is a native not of Old Lyme, Connecticut, or of Boston’s Back Bay, but of New Jersey.

The traditionalist Catholic writer Steve Skojec says that the Rutler allegations are “a kick in the teeth”. Excerpt:

[I]t has become an exceedingly rare thing to find a priest or a bishop who will risk sticking his neck out and saying the hard things that need saying. Who will risk declaring that the emperor has no clothes. And this is why, when we do find them, we celebrate them as champions.

One of these men, one of the most consistent of these priests over my own lifetime, has been Fr. George Rutler. He is considered an absolute treasure by virtually every orthodox Catholic who has had the pleasure of reading his writings or hearing him speak.

A lot of conservative Catholics feel that way about Father Rutler. This is why some are indulging in conspiracy theories that the video of him (apparently) watching gay porn must be a deep fake. Folks find it very hard to take one more hero falling into disgrace. But unless there’s a surprise vindication yet to come, it looks like that is exactly what has happened to George Rutler.

Sadly, it is not a surprise these days to discover that a priest has a porn problem. So many men in this society do, and given the awful cascade of revelations about Catholic priests, especially sexually incontinent gay men within the priesthood, we can’t be all that shocked anymore. But it really is a shock to learn this about a priest who has become so admired and even beloved for his orthodoxy. From a conservative point of view, Father Rutler was one of the unambiguously good guys standing tall in a low, dishonest time. If it turns out that he was a secret gay porn addict, it’s hard to overstate how demoralizing that will be to many, many Catholics.

It is always a tragedy when any priest falls from grace like this. But when one who has been so public for so long, preaching Catholic orthodoxy, falls into this kind of serious sin, it is a real scandal — a stumbling block for others. “Even Father Rutler…”. To those whom much is given, much is expected. If you cannot trust that a man like George Rutler does not amuse himself by watching men screw each other, who can you trust?

Rutler’s fall — again, if it is confirmed, but my source said the video is unambiguous — gives ammunition to those within the Catholic Church who wish to liberalize its teachings on homosexuality. They will say that it forces gay priests to be hypocrites. (And not just gay priests: I don’t know if the married conservative Hungarian lawmaker who supported anti-LGBT legislation, but was just arrested in Brussels when cops busted a gay orgy, was a Catholic, but he was certainly a kind of hypocrite.)

Now, it is true as a matter of logic that a man’s failure to live up to a moral principle he endorses does not invalidate the moral principle; it only proves that the man is a sinner. Anyone who sins — and that’s all of us — would be hypocrites in that case. For example, I believe adultery is a grave sin, but if I were caught in adultery, that would not negate the claim that adultery is sinful. It would only make me a grave sinner who needs to repent.

But if I, who has built a reputation as a moralistic Christian writer, were to commit adultery, the effect of it would be more serious than if an ordinary Joe Blow did. I would be excoriated in the public square, and would deserve to be. It would be very hard for me to come back from that, professionally. Fair or not, my moral failure would discredit my writing. And it would not be fair, because my personal moral failure would not testify to the unsoundness of my principles, but of my character. Still, nobody would ever take me seriously again. That’s just how it works.

As I have gotten older, though, I have become no less committed to my principles, but I have become more tolerant of people’s frailty. When I was younger, and recently married, there was a man in my hometown who cheated on his wife. The man had the reputation of being upright. When I heard the news from my sister about Mr. So-and-so, I was harshly judgmental. I was thinking of that man (who has since died) just the other day, after a conversation I had with a pastor about the struggles of his congregation. I thought about how Mrs. So-and-so had a reputation for being difficult to live with, a bitter and reproachful woman. How do I know what went on in that marriage? Even the best marriages have their ups and downs, as any married couple can tell you. What were the particular circumstances that caused Mr. So-and-so to violate his marriage vows? I don’t know, obviously, and whatever those circumstances, it was objectively wrong. But I am far less willing to pass harsh judgment on Mr. So-and-so than I was 18 years ago, when my sister told me the news.

The So-and-sos stayed married until he died, so I guess she forgave him. The point is, life is long and life is hard. I know the weaknesses of my own character, and living with them has caused me to become more merciful to others. Twenty years ago, if I had heard the George Rutler news, I would have been full of anger at him, and wanted to see him made an example of (if the gay porn allegations were true, that is). Now, I am mad at him, and if true, he should be forcibly retired as pastor, because his credibility as a spiritual father would be shot. But I find myself pitying him more than I ever would. Why? Because, as I said, life is long and life is hard. The things people do out of loneliness, anger, sadness, grief, humiliation, and so forth, and their inability to carry the pain that that suffering brings — it’s so, so much, the things people carry.

What a gift the Christian mechanism for repentance, forgiveness, and restoration is. I get mad at wrongdoers who expect their wrongs to be forgiven without any evidence of real repentance. But for those who are truly sorry for what they did, I am grateful that we have the command by Christ to show mercy. We are losing it, though, as woke standards take hold. A Catholic friend said he wonders if Father Rutler, age 75, might be suffering from early onset dementia. What if that were true, and Father Rutler had fought a lifelong battle against destructive sexual passions, but the loss of his mental acuity was releasing those inner demons? (I don’t think it’s true with Rutler, who seems quite sharp in his recent video appearances, but it’s an interesting theory). I told him that I had been thinking not long ago about what humiliating things I might do or say if I were suffering from dementia.

My friend said, “You can be sure that there will be no forgiveness.” No, not anymore, not in this culture.

As I was writing this post, a workman came over to do some home repairs for us. I had been really irritated with him for not returning my calls. He came highly recommended, so the only reason we stuck with him despite his not returning my calls was because a friend of ours who had used him said he was really good at his job, and reliable.

He seems like a kind and gentle soul. We were just having a “2020, what a terrible year” conversation. He mentioned to me that Covid has been the least of his worries this year. Back in April, he caught his wife having an affair. She had done this two years ago, but he forgave her and took her back. They have kids. He’s Catholic. Then, she cheated again, and this time he put her out. He said that this has rocked his world, and thrown everything off balance. Well, of course. The poor man probably struggles to put one foot in front of the other. He said his priest has been a big help to him through this crisis, but it has been very hard.

Being slow to return phone calls to a potential new client is hardly a sin, but I still felt kind of bad for being irritated by it. The things this man is carrying — my God. “I thought we would be together until one of us died,” he said, softly.

Anyway, if Rutler really did watch gay porn, and certainly if he assaulted this security guard, at the very least he has some hard penance to do — especially because his moral failures will have discouraged the many people who looked up to him as a spiritual father and leader. This kind of thing has a lot to do with why I could no longer carry on as a Catholic. Learning from 2001 to 2005, reporting on the scandal, that so many Catholic priests and bishops were really moral frauds took a devastating toll on my faith. I kept telling myself the truth: that the sins of the priests do not negate the truths the Church proclaims. It’s one thing to keep that in your mind as an intellectual proposition, but another thing to be able to hold onto it in your heart.

When a priest my family and I were growing close to — a phony who put on orthodox airs — proved to be a liar, something broke within me and my wife. He had, in fact, been formally accused of molesting a minor male (though this was never proven, in the end), and removed from ministry in another part of the country. We had male children. “We can never trust them again,” she said, through tears. And she was right. We really trusted this guy, and thought that we couldn’t be fooled. And it turned out that he was not who he said he was. The local priest put him to work in the parish, off the books, without telling the bishop or the congregation.

Between those two, my ability to trust priests, which had been sorely tested for years, vanished. Just like that. Same with my wife. It was as if a thief broke into the house and stole it right out of our hands. We didn’t realize it at the time, but when we lost the ability to trust the clergy not to be perverts and liars, we lost the ability to stay Catholic — this, even though again, we knew that the sins of the priests do not negate the moral and theological truths proclaimed by the Church.

But religious faith is not a matter of logic setting everything to right. Something can be true, but a man, for whatever reason or reasons, cannot receive that truth. The workman in my house was just telling me that he doesn’t know if he will ever be able to marry again, simply because his wife’s double betrayal shattered his ability to trust. Does this mean that marriage is bad, or that all women are untrustworthy? No, not at all. But it means that this one man was so broken by experience that he cannot be receptive to the kind of faith needed to remarry. At least not yet.

This, I think, is the greater sin of priests like Father Rutler, who get caught in serious sin (assuming that he’s guilty, which he denies): that they make it harder for people like me, who are weaker in faith, to trust religious authority. And they make it harder for good priests who deserve the trust of their people to be spiritual fathers to them, because scandals like this bring all clergy under suspicion. If even Father Rutler…

Steve Skojec writes:

When I look at the Church these days — at the ascendancy of evil, at the relentless attacks upon what is good, at the endless (though sometimes justifiable) infighting, at the inability to trust anyone — I feel like a beaten dog, wanting to flinch away into the safety of a hidden place to lick my wounds.

There is no disposition one can adopt in a matter like this that feels like solid ground. Our ability to trust in our priests has been utterly shattered, and that is a tragedy.

Of course, we are also all-too-aware of our own propensity to sin. Most of us, if we’re being honest about it, should be horrified by what we are capable of: “There but for the grace of God go I…”

But how? How do men who start out with good intentions go so wrong? How is it that all of us are capable of shocking betrayals of our consciences and beliefs?

We walk through a vale of tears.

UPDATE: A friend who works in the video field, and who has seen the original clip purporting to be of Rutler watching gay porn, says this story stinks to high heaven. He said it could be valid, but it seems entirely out of character with Rutler, and that one does not have to have deep fake technology to falsify the video images supposedly being shown on Rutler’s screen. Friend says it is also extremely weird that the second phone call the woman made in the middle of the night after this alleged incident happened is to a private investigator. And not just any PI, but Manuel Gomez, who was profiled last year in The New York Times. Excerpts:

As a private investigator, Gomez looks for cases that seem to reveal police wrongdoing. He has cultivated relationships with local television reporters and often appears on their shows to denounce cops and prosecutors. He thrives on the attention. At 51, he’s built like a safe, strong and square, and he dresses like the detectives he grew up watching on TV, in shiny shoes, double-breasted pinstripe suits and shirts with his initials stitched into the cuffs. At times he talks like a hard-boiled action hero. “I see myself as a punisher for the wicked and a bringer of justice to the innocent,” he told me. “I protect the weak.”

More:

But as I followed Gomez over the course of a year and a half and multiple investigations, watching him attack the credibility of cops and prosecutors in New York, it became clear that Gomez had credibility issues of his own. His single-mindedness, though clearly an asset to his clients, could also be a liability. He could be rash to the point of recklessness. He had a history of aggression and violence. And he sometimes overlooked facts that didn’t conform to his preconceived ideas of justice and injustice. Some cases his clients have brought against the city and the police have been dismissed with prejudice by the courts. Goldberg told me that even if his clients were out of options, he’d advise against hiring Gomez. “I am loath to believe anything the man says,” he told me.

That’s a big red flag. I’m very glad that the DA’s office in New York is investigating the Rutler situation. Their computer forensics team should be able to determine whether or not Rutler really did watch gay porn as the woman claims. I expect that they are also examining the video she took, to determine if there are signs that it was tampered with.

And, a parish priest sends this:

Some thoughts for you and your readers:

  1. Men don’t generally become priests because they desire to be celibate.  They become priests because they believe they are called by God.  Celibacy, obedience and all the rest are what comes with it.  They have to figure all of that out.  Imagine you trying to reconcile a celibate life starting around 20 years old?  Yes, everyone is supposed to be chaste if they aren’t married, but I don’t know many men who are 100% successful at that age.  I know many heterosexual men who remained in seminary despite having very real possibilities of leaving for a woman and a relationship.  They didn’t stay because they weren’t torn or didn’t desire marriage and children, they stayed because they believe the call to priesthood was stronger.
  2. Perhaps 90% of the confessions from laymen include pornography.  It’s everywhere and almost everyone is looking at it even if they are not addicted.  Why should a priest be held to a higher standard?  Morally everyone is to be held to the same standard.  Why do people expect a priest to not be tempted by the same things that every man is tempted by?  Why do people expect priests to be morally superior?  Why is that something that they need from priests?  I don’t claim to be any better than anyone else.  I know I’m not.  Why do other people need that from me?  If you need someone else to be morally pure so that your faith remains strong, that’s a problem for you.

It’s different to say that you would hope a priest is pursuing a life of holiness since they have committed to living that way.  Even that having holy priests is a good thing in general for the Church.  No doubt it is.  Yet, despite hearing from saints over the centuries about how hard sanctity is we are still surprised when others don’t achieve it.

  1. Every time this happens, we hear the usual lamenting from people that their faith is shaken.  Many lay people have this need and desire to put priests on a pedestal.  There are usually one or two national priests on such pedestals at a time.  They inevitably fall because life is hard and filled with all kinds of difficulties.  Priests are sinners.  Stop putting priests on a pedestal.  It’s often the fame that attracts the temptations.  Stop needing there to be a priest who is morally superior.  If you are scandalized by a priest failing morally, it’s your problem because you aren’t treating him like a human being.  There is a temptation to want priests to be angels and not men.  People often want someone else to embody what they cannot achieve.  Often this is where they put priests.  Honestly, people just need to grow up.
  2. If we made public any one of your readers’ moral failings, who could stand the scrutiny?  I guarantee if we took a snapshot (or video) of an isolated incident of someone’s life they would be destroyed as well.  I don’t know a man who could survive.  We are in a precipitous decline in our culture and every person is being affected by it.  Priests will be as well.  They come from the culture and the widespread use of pornography.  To be sure abuse is in a different category, but to expect that priests won’t be affected is incredibly naïve.  The weird priests are usually the ones who claim to never have looked at porn and are afraid of their own manhood.  I’m actually serious here.  The priests who are maladjusted are not the ones who have never committed a sexual sin, it’s the ones who either deny having done so or the ones who deny it’s an issue.
  3. Should his ministerial career be over because he watched gay porn?  I don’t think because of that alone.  (That he apparently watched it in front of someone he knew was there is far more troubling.)  Where is the line in the sand as to what sins invalidate a ministerial career?  Porn, alcoholism, theft, pride, sloth, a romantic dalliance with a woman?  We are told pride is the worst sin by far and that sins of the flesh are lesser sins.  If we start removing men from ministry because they sinned mortally then we are in real trouble.  Recall the Donatist controversy?  We have been down this road before and over a far worse sin.  Personally, I would rather have a church full of priests who have sinned, have repented and truly become humble than be left with a bunch of sanctimonious, prideful judgmental priests.  Trust me, you want to go to confession to the “sinner priest,” not the other kind.  They don’t know mercy because they don’t think they need it.  So, they also don’t offer it.
  4. Don’t trust anyone until they earn it.  I don’t trust a priest because he’s a priest.  He has to earn it and he can lose it.  Just like anyone else.  Be skeptical of any priest who is harsh or super “orthodox.”  It’s usually a sign of internal struggle.

It’s not the worst thing that priests fail morally.  It can actually help the Church.  Not directly, but indirectly.  Life is hard, purity is hard, postmodernism life is hard.  Everyone is affected.  We are all fighting a huge battle, every single one of us.

That was really good and thoughtful. Thank you, Father. You’ve given me a lot to ponder.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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