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Lincoln Diocese Admits Kalin Wrongdoing

Omaha Archbishop George Lucas, apostolic administrator of the Lincoln diocese, announces findings of investigation into priest Leonard Kalin (Diocese of Lincoln screenshot)

I would like to apologize again for the light blogging. I am literally down to the final chapter on my manuscript revision, and I also had my daily Epstein-Barr virus attack, which sent me to bed for hours. When I woke up a short time ago, I saw that the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, has issued a statement about its own internal investigation of the late Monsignor Leonard Kalin.

Background: on August 1, 2018, I published an extraordinary letter by Peter Mitchell, a laicized priest of the Lincoln diocese. He was writing as part of the broader discussion that summer of how Cardinal Theodore McCarrick got away for so long with his sexually abusive behavior. In his letter to me, Mitchell talked about being a seminarian in Lincoln in the 1990s. Kalin had been the vocations director for the diocese, which was known all over the country for its vibrant conservatism. According to Mitchell, though, Kalin was a manipulative man who engaged in homosexual grooming behavior with the seminarians. Mitchell said, in part:

Just as Newark’s Archbishop McCarrick had a ritual habit of inviting a seminarian to share his bed, Lincoln’s Monsignor Kalin had a standard method for maneuvering young men into unwanted intimate situations. Each afternoon at the Newman Center, a summons would go out from one of the young male students who worked for Kalin as his “janitors” to see who among the seminarians was available to “take Monsignor walking.” The one chosen for this ritual (always only one) was then instructed that at the end of the walk – I still can’t believe I am saying this – he needed to “help Monsignor to take a shower” in one of the locker rooms at Memorial Stadium, to which Kalin somehow had a private key. The unconvincing premise was that Monsignor was old and feeble and “needed help” in the shower. Although I succeeded in always finding a way to excuse myself from “helping” with his shower, I know that the men who did – and there were many – endured Kalin’s attempts to initiate sexual contact with them.

Every seminarian was required to have a private meeting with Kalin in his residence every couple of months. Whenever I would go in for my session, Kalin would criticize me extensively (which often involved him swearing at me) and then tell me that the most important thing I needed to do to prepare to be a priest was to “learn humility” (meaning obey him unquestioningly). Then, after working me over emotionally, Kalin would conclude by issuing an order: “Give me a hug.” He would hold me for several minutes, cheek to cheek, with his body pressed against me.

I always found it bizarre and deeply off-putting, but at the time, in my naïveté, tried to explain it away as the somewhat eccentric kindness of an old man.

Mitchell added:

Assuredly, the outside observer will rightly ask, “But why would you remain in the seminary if you were subjected to and surrounded by such compromising and offensive behavior?” It is a question I have asked myself over and over in the past few years, turning it over like a prism, trying to ascertain a clear understanding of its many facets.

At the time, it seemed to me and many of my peers that the important thing was to “just get ordained” so that we could help others as “good priests.” In addition, the reputation Kalin enjoyed, both within the diocese as well as nationally, made it extremely difficult to oppose his wishes. He held all the power over our evaluation and program of formation, had the ear of the bishop, and had great influence over the assignments of seminarians and priests. In a word, he held complete control over our lives if we wanted to become priests.

Although Kalin passed away in 2008, the seminarians he favored became the priests who continue to hold the reins of ecclesiastical power. To this day, anyone who tries to speak critically of Kalin’s behavior and legacy is met with a code of silence for “the good of the Church.” If I ever tried to express frustration with Monsignor’s treatment of me, priests in positions of power over me quickly shut me down, almost robotically: “While he may have had a few flaws, he was very orthodox and recruited so many vocations.”

That Mitchell letter was a bombshell in Lincoln. Some accused Mitchell of lying. Others said he was telling truths that needed to be made public. One young man came forward to say that the Lincoln priest who molested him as a boy was his uncle. I wrote a number of posts about it. The upshot was to call into question the squeaky-clean, super-conservative reputation that Lincoln had cultivated. It turned out that there were big problems there.

The Nebraska Attorney General’s office launched a sweeping investigation of sex abuse cover-ups in Nebraska’s Catholic dioceses. We are still awaiting the results. The Diocese of Lincoln also hired its own investigator. Today the diocese released a statement — not the report, but a statement about the report — concerning its findings on Monsignor Kalin. The statement, by Omaha Archbishop George Lucas, who is administering the diocese while its bishop is on medical leave, is here in full. Excerpt:

The investigation of Msgr. Leonard Kalin was a result of allegations made in 2018 of his misconduct while he served as the diocesan vocation director and chaplain of the Newman Center from 1970-1998. Although Msgr. Kalin died in 2008, Bishop Conley believed it was important to have an independent third party investigate the allegations. A public announcement of this investigation was made and people were invited to contact the in­vestigator, Tom Gorgen, a licensed a private detective. The investigator conducted 35 in-person interviews and reviewed records and documents. His findings are reflected in this letter.

The primary allegations centering on Msgr. Kalin included his leadership style; sexual advances towards col­lege students and seminarians; his use of cigarettes and alcohol as well as frequent trips to casinos to gamble; promoting a homosexual culture at the Newman Center; and that the Diocese of Lincoln Chancery was aware of Msgr. Kalin’s behavior but failed to take timely and appropriate corrective action.

The findings indicate that Msgr. Kalin did often smoke, drink and take gambling and other trips while serving at the Newman Center, and he often invited seminarians and college students to partake in these activities and travels.

The investigation did not find there was a culture of homosexuality at the Newman Center. The investigation did reveal that Msgr. Kalin did on occasion make sexual advances toward some seminarians and college students. The findings also revealed that Msgr. Kalin’s leadership style was demanding and authoritarian which some of the interviewees described as “old-school” and “my way or the highway.” Interviewees acknowledged that he did, on occasion, publicly criticize seminarians.

Finally, the investigation did find the Diocese of Lincoln Chancery leadership was aware of the culture of socializing, and alcohol and cigarette use at the Newman Center. However, no information or facts discovered during the investigation support the allegation that the Chancery leadership knew of sexual impropriety by Msgr. Kalin prior to 1998. When this activity was made known, he was put on restrictions and moved out of the New­man Center.

Despite Msgr. Kalin’s many positive contributions to build a faithful community at the Newman Center, the investigation findings regarding his wrong and inappropriate conduct are disturbing and painful. The exercise of power and authority that leads the faithful to act in a sinful way never should be tolerated. For the harm that has been done, I offer a sincere apology on behalf of the diocese.

I shared the results of the investigation with some key individuals in advance of this public acknowledgement. I have also reached out to former seminarians and college students who studied and worked alongside Msgr. Ka­lin at the Newman Center, as well as those who participated in the investigation. I am aware that some of those interviewed had very positive experiences to report about their interactions with Msgr. Kalin, and others did not. I recognize the sacrifice made by all who took the time to talk to the private investigator, and what was, for some, the pain of opening old wounds. I thank them for their courage and willingness to share their experiences.

Again, the entire statement is here. A more detailed statement by the diocesan investigator can be read here. Archbishop Lucas acknowledged at the end that some priests of the diocese were put on leave after allegations from the summer of 2018. He said that he is trying to resolve those situations.

Peter Mitchell, the original whistleblower, has issued his own statement reacting to the Lincoln chancery’s remarks today. It reads, in part:

The Diocese of Lincoln’s statement today about Msgr. Kalin attempts to distract laity and priests from asking the questions and seeking the answers they deserve. Such as:

How many men who are presently priests were abused in some way by Kalin? I have heard from multiple sources that the investigators report, which Bishop Conley received in the fall of 2019 and chose not to make public before he left on his leave of absence, revealed that there are many. Can the Diocese of Lincoln confirm how many priests who spoke with the investigator said that they were in fact abused by Kalin? 

What does “on occasion made sexual advances” mean? Was it daily? Weekly? Was it every afternoon that he went to take one of his infamous showers with a seminarian? Every time he took one of his famous trips to Las Vegas and the Jersey shore? This is a brilliant sleight of hand which the diocesan lawyers who wrote it should be proud of. It reveals nothing that was not already known and is sandwiched in the middle of a long statement that is vague and dismissive of people’s serious complaints.

Also, my original article published in August 2018 never claimed that there was a homosexual culture specifically at the Newman Center, but rather within the clerical hierarchy of the diocesan system and seminaries nationwide and in Lincoln. Can the diocese of Lincoln confirm that there is not a homosexual power structure among its Priests? 

Can any of the many outstanding priests of the Lincoln diocese who were in the seminary under Kalin’s authority in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s confirm that they never experienced any sexual impropriety by Monsignor Kalin, nor suspected it, nor reported it?

He goes on to say that today’s statement about the investigation is a “cover up” by an “old boys’ club” network among the church hierarchy.

I must say that I side with Mitchell in his characterization of the statement’s remarks on Kalin’s sexual advances. The only line in the Lincoln statement about it is this:

The investigation did reveal that Msgr. Kalin did on occasion make sexual advances toward some seminarians and college students.

This man, Kalin, was the vocations director of the diocese! And he was hitting on young men — this they admit, which vindicates Peter Mitchell’s whistleblowing, but is also unsatisfying. No, we don’t need gross physical details, but surely the diocese ought to say more about what Kalin did, and how seminarians — who were under his direct authority — reacted. Perhaps this was part of the investigator’s charge, and he found no solid evidence to justify the claim that Kalin’s sexual misconduct affected the character of the diocesan priesthood.

Mitchell is correct, though, to point out that he did not allege that there was a homosexual culture at the Newman Center in Lincoln. Here, from that 2018 column, is what he alleged:

Just as Father Robert Hoatson of the Archdiocese of Newark has noted in his sworn affidavit, I experienced profound discrimination as a seminarian and later as a priest because I was a heterosexual in an overwhelmingly homosexual environment where sexually active gay priests protected and promoted each other. The experience of this homosexual atmosphere – at times overt, at times closeted – is felt across the board by heterosexual priests I know in numerous different dioceses and religious orders. It is “everywhere” within the Catholic clergy, but seems to be especially prevalent among priests within the power structure of chanceries, seminaries, and the church’s bureaucracy, up to and including the Holy See, where I served for a brief time in 2008-2009.

… The relevant and germane question today is, what ongoing effects has the systemic abuse of powerful men like McCarrick and Kalin had on those who are presently serving as priests? How many of these men’s “intimate friends” are now themselves bishops and chancery officials holding power over other priests’ lives?

At least in Lincoln, the answer is: many.

I know so many good, generous men who serve as priests there and elsewhere who live in fear of church authority and who remain silent about Kalin’s abuse because they know that Kalin’s protégés and protectors hold the reins of ecclesiastical power. The power of Kalin’s “friends” exactly mirrors that of McCarrick’s “friends.”

Archbishop Lucas’s statement today does not address that, though in the more detailed “overview” statement from the private investigator, it does come up. The private investigator said:

Though Mitchell had not alleged that there was a homosexual culture at the Newman Center, he did allege that there is, or was, a gay network active in that diocese’s priesthood, and beyond. He focused on Kalin because the man who was the gatekeeper on vocations in the Lincoln diocese for many years was a sexually aggressive homosexual who came on to seminarians, and who promoted those he favored, and punished those he did not. Mitchell alleged that Kalin was part of a network within the church leadership that took care of each other, and overlooked sexual misconduct. After Mitchell published his piece, others came forward to allege problems within the culture of the priesthood in Lincoln — take a look at this post, which includes allegations against Father Charles Townsend. The question raised by that allegation, and by my interview with “Father Gruff,” who was a Lincoln seminarian now serving as a priest of another diocese, has to do with a culture of homosexuality and cover-up within the priesthood of the Lincoln diocese — a culture in which Monsignor Leonard Kalin was a linchpin.

Based on what the private investigator says in the clip above, there is not enough evidence in his Kalin investigation to justify what Mitchell alleged. If that is the truth, then one has to accept it. Unlike Mitchell, I’m not prepared to say today’s statement and overview is part of a “cover-up” — but something still doesn’t feel quite right about this.

If you’re in the Diocese of Lincoln, what do you say? Do you believe church authorities in this matter?

UPDATE: The esteemed Catholic philosopher and moral theology professor Dr. Janet Smith comments:

The Diocese of Lincoln has released the findings into its investigations of Monsignor Kalin who was a beloved vocation director accused of preying on seminarians and college students. This report, to my mind, raises more questions than it answers.

1. It states that Kalin made sexual advances “on occasion” towards colleges students and seminarians. What does that mean? How did the college students and seminarians respond? Did he give them liquor, money, or take them on trips in return for whatever they did sexually for him? Are we to believe that all those advances were rebuked?

2. Are any of those individuals now priests in the diocese? Let me repeat: Are any of those individuals now priests in the diocese?

3. When they say there was no “culture of homosexuality” at the Newman Center, what does that mean?

4. Kalin was said to have an authoritarian style. Did he use that style in his sexual advances to students and seminarians?

5. The report acknowledges that there was a culture of “socialiizng” (what does that mean?!) alcohol and cigarette use (why mention cigarette use?!). Was that culture a concern? What was done about it?

6. The letter states that after 1998 — exactly when please and why? — that because of sexual “impropriety” — of what nature? — Kalin was put on restrictions – of what kind? Where was he moved?

7. The letter acknoweldges that Kalin led those under his charge to act in a sinful way. More specifics please? An extra can of beer? A homosexual liaison?

I am sorry to say that there is simply no “transparency” in this report.

Same old, same old.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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