Jesus of Nazareth, man of sorry (Volodja1984/Shutterstock)

It has been very, very clear for many years that Catholics who have suffered from clerical sexual abuse, or whose kids have, should NOT call the diocese, but rather call the cops. It is heartening to read in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that a parish priest alerted civil authorities when his bishop did not appear to be taking a fellow priest’s (non-sexual) misconduct seriously. Excerpts:

A Jackson priest revealed in Mass over the weekend that he was one of the informants for the federal government fraud investigation of another priest. He’s also asking why the Jackson diocese didn’t alert authorities.

At Mass on Saturday evening and Sunday morning at St. Richard Catholic Church, the Rev. John Bohn told parishioners that he was a “confidential informant” in the recent case involving the Rev. Lenin Vargas-Gutierrez, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Starkville. Bohn served as pastor at St. Joe in 2007 and 2013.

A federal affidavit accuses Vargas of having knowingly devised schemes to obtain money by means of false and fraudulent pretense, through the use of wire communications. Four confidential informants are listed in the affidavit.

At separate Masses, Bohn said he and several others were approached by concerned St. Joseph parishioners. Before the informants alerted federal authorities, several of them first went to the diocese, Bohn said.

“It appeared to me to be systemic, premeditated fraud,” Bohn said Monday. “If you’re reasonably suspicious of criminal activity, go to law enforcement. That’s what we did.”

More:

Bohn questioned if the diocese had alerted authorities once it suspected fraud.

“If the diocese was suspicious of criminal behavior, why didn’t they go to law enforcement?” Bohn asked. “That’s my biggest question. Maybe they did. If they were aware of what was being alleged, why didn’t they?”

Diocese spokeswoman Maureen Smith said Monday she could not comment on the matter, including if authorities were notified by the diocese, citing an ongoing investigation.

Bohn told parishioners that when he became a priest, he was taught his first obligation was “to protect the flock.”

What does not come up in this new story is the allegation, mentioned in the federal affidavit, that Father Vargas is HIV-positive, and was sent to Canada not for cancer treatment, as he told the parishioners he was allegedly trying to shake down, but possibly for sex addiction (see the original story).

If that really happened, do bishops have so little regard for the laity that they would leave them in the spiritual care of a mentally unstable HIV-positive man who might have been sent for sex addiction treatment? If I was the father of an altar boy in Father Lenin Vargas’s parish, I would be all up in the face of Bishop Joseph Kopacz.

Here, by the way, is what Bishop Kopacz said this past summer after the Pennsylvania grand jury report came out.  Excerpts (emphases are my own):

The recently released Pennsylvania Grand Jury report detailing cases of sexual abuse going back to the late 1940’s in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses, including Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Allentown, Scranton and Erie brings to light more horrific behavior within our church. The report is a stark reminder to all to whom children and young people are entrusted, starting with me in the Diocese of Jackson, that we must redouble our efforts to create safe environments for all vulnerable children of God, younger and older.  Likewise, we must recommit ourselves to exposing past abuse and encouraging victims to come forward.  We must never tire of healing and reconciling the pain that victims and families have suffered through the behavior of church personnel, especially the ordained.  All perpetrators of sexual abuse must be removed from ministry. …

Nobody has accused Father Vargas of sexually abusing minors. But if what’s in the federal affidavit about Father Vargas is true — and we have to say that we don’t have Father Vargas’s side of the story — then it’s fair to ask the bishop to explain why he thought letting an HIV-positive possible sex addict remain in the parish is consistent with creating a “safe environment” for the children of that parish, especially the altar boys.

More:

The fostering of safe environments in our ministries is now the norm, and the steadfast support for victims of sexual abuse who struggle for healing and hope in their lives, has been an unflagging commitment.

As far as I know — someone please correct me if I’m wrong — there is nothing in the Dallas Charter that would have mandated the removal of a priest like Father Vargas, who has not been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor. Even so, do the parents in that parish really see Father Vargas’s assignment there as consistent with fostering a safe environment regarding sex abuse? What about the parents of male college students who attend there (it’s the parish of Mississippi State University), and whose sons are gay, or questioning their sexuality? Though their sons are legal adults, how safe would they believe their sons would have been under the spiritual care of an HIV-positive priest who had been sent for psychiatric treatment, possibly for uncontrollable sexual compulsions?

The Starkville Daily News covered the story too. Excerpt:

Court documents then claim in March 2015, the Diocese of Jackson furthered Vargas’ cancer story by sending out an email to priests in the Diocese. The email, from Father Kevin Slattery, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Jackson, says “Announcement about Father Lenin Vargas.”

While confidential informants say the Diocese of Jackson was aware of Vargas’ HIV diagnosis when he was sent to Canada, the email includes a message from Vargas saying he was diagnosed with lymphoplasmascytic lymphoma. He then said he developed diabetes as a result of his treatment.

Federal agents believe the email was sent to perpetuate the cancer story and hide his HIV condition to protect the Diocese from negative publicity.

This will have to be sorted out in trial, but if true, the Bishop of Jackson’s agent sent out a conscious lie to protect the reputation of a troubled priest who has a sexually transmitted disease that is often fatal. And this bishop expects people to trust him to guarantee “safe environments” for their children?

God bless Father John Bohn.

Father John Bohn (WLBT screenshot)

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