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Adultery 1, Veritatis Splendor 0

Fate of Veritatis Splendor, an intentional Catholic community planned for East Texas, is now up in the air after shock revelation
Adultery 1, Veritatis Splendor 0

From time to time, people ask me what I think of Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”) — not the John Paul II encyclical, but the planned Catholic community in East Texas. If you watch the promotional video, it’s clearly a Benedict Option-style community:

I tell inquirers I don’t know what to think about this project. I wish those people well, of course, but I didn’t know anything about any of its founders, or their plan, so I withhold judgment. When a writer for Crisis magazine reached out to me this spring, I told him as such. In the article, both the founder of the project and Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, who openly promotes it in the video, said this isn’t a Benedict Option thing — which is weird, because it pretty obviously is.

In light of today’s news, I’m glad they distanced themselves from me. Simcha and Damien Fisher report that the Veritatis Splendor initiative is reeling after the revelation of a sexual affair between two of its leaders. Excerpts:

Kari Beckman was going to build Veritatis Splendor, a village of Catholic “true believers” in the heart of Texas. Now, after acknowledging an illicit relationship, reportedly with Texas Right to Life head and Regina Caeli board member Jim Graham, she’s moved out of the property’s luxury ranch and back to Atlanta, and has stepped down as executive director of Regina Caeli Academy and Veritatis Splendor.

As for the village, one $3 million loan later, not a single structure has yet been built on the land, and the members of Regina Caeli across the nation are left wondering if their homeschool tuition fees and bake sale fundraising dollars paid for the grandiose Tyler, Texas project, or for any of Beckman’s other, more clandestine activities of the past year.

Beckman, who founded the homeschool hybrid Regina Caeli Academy in 2003, sent a letter to the members of Regina Caeli at the end of last week acknowledging “a terrible lapse in judgment with a personal relationship.” Multiple sources confirmed the relationship was with Jim Graham. Beckman and Graham are both married. Beckman said she immediately sought forgiveness through the sacrament of confession, and then, months later, confessed to her husband. She said that she and her husband then both went to the board of Regina Caeli and told them “what had occurred,” and then stepped down as Executive Director.

Shortly before she stepped down, the Board of Directors received an anonymous letter alleging Beckman had carried on an illicit sexual relationship with Graham. Graham was also, until recently, on the Board of Regina Caeli, but his name has recently been removed from that site, along with Kari Beckman’s name. Beckman’s husband remains listed as a board member. Three other board members are no longer listed on the site, and Nicole Juba has been named acting Executive Director.

As the Fishers point out, there is a distinct lack of financial clarity around this project. Earlier this year, Simcha Fisher reported on her efforts to determine where the fundraising money is going, and to whom priests who will serve at the completed project will be responsible: she got nowhere, because they organizers gave her the runaround.

In the new story, there are more allegations of financial impropriety around the project:

But it’s not merely a matter of spiritual hypocrisy that distresses this and other Regina Caeli families. The anonymous letter-writer told us they also filed two complaints with the IRS on November 12 asking for an investigation of Beckman’s possible financial misuse of Regina Caeli funds. The complaints accused Regina Caeli of “using assets for personal gain” and “questionable fundraising practices.”

As one RCA [Regina Caeli Academies] parent put it, “We essentially bought them a ranch.”

And now we learn that Kari Beckman, mother of eight, has been cheating on her husband, allegedly with a married man.

This is incredibly discouraging for a number of reasons. The concept of the Veritatis Splendor community sounds appealing, in general, but based on what the Fishers report, it has been very shaky from the start. The fact that this one Benedict Option-style initiative is sinking because of bad planning and the sins of its founder does not negate the value of all experiments. But it does demonstrate the profound need for prudent planning and strong leadership. Bishop Strickland has done himself no favors here by going all-in on this project, which is in his diocese, but not of the diocese.

It reminds me in some ways of the scam the Society of St. John, a closeted gay cult within traditionalist Catholicism, pulled over two decades ago in Pennsylvania, with the help of the Bishop of Scranton. The SSJ told people that it wanted to found a traditionalist Catholic village. Bishop James Timlin co-signed a loan to help them buy property. It turned into a hot mess of lies and abuse. Timlin’s successor suppressed the SSJ. To be very clear, no sexual abuse has been alleged around the Veritatis Splendor project (sexual sin, like adultery, is not necessarily sexual abuse). But this does seem like a repeat of the SSJ debacle: raise money appealing to the desires of Catholic conservatives to live in a community of faith, and by drawing in a gullible bishop to give a de facto imprimatur to the project, and then watch it all fall apart when the sexual disorder of the leadership draws attention to financial and other problems with the project.

 

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