Wan’s Letter: Yes, Monsignor Abused Me
Here is an extraordinary open letter published by Wan Wei Hsien, a Catholic living in Malaysia who was a faithful student presence at the University of Nebraska’s Newman Center in the late 1990s. I do not know him personally, but have seen in following Facebook conversations involving him that he must have been loved and respected by many while there. Lincoln Catholics who had been defensive about the allegations against Monsignor Leonard Kalin changed their stance when Wei said he had been victimized by Kalin.
Wei has now posted this following document on his Facebook page. I note at the advance that I published on my blog yesterday Wan’s Facebook comments because Facebook is an open, public platform, accessible to anyone. I don’t know Wan or the man on whose account he published his initial comments; I was directed to them by someone in Lincoln. Anyway, I’m glad all of this is coming out, and I regret that Wan was inadvertently dragged into it, but I want to emphasize that I didn’t do anything unethical here, or in any way intend to sandbag him. Anyway, read on: this sounds like a case of God writing straight with crooked lines:
Letter to Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, regarding Msgr Leonard Kalin
Wan Wei Hsien·Friday, August 3, 2018
NOTE: Since my name has been, without my permission, dragged into public conversations by Rod Dreher’s second exposé, I am making my letter to +James public as well. My intention here is not only to give an account of what happened, but also to let people know what I have disclosed to the bishop, so that there are no occasions for further secrecy or speculation. The names of other affected individuals have been withheld out of respect for their privacy.
Greetings. I suppose that this will be only one of many emails you are receiving at this point, especially now that Rod has published another article on the matter of Msgr Leonard Kalin and the broader structures of abuse within the Diocese of Lincoln.
I’m writing to give you an account of some of the things that happened while I was a student (and sometime seminarian, for a few months) in Lincoln. My primary purpose here is to lend support for Peter’s Mitchell recent disclosure on the subject, as well as for the other witnesses who are coming forward now. Very understandably, the matter has shocked many people, given Msgr Kalin’s reputation and contributions to the Diocese. Nevertheless, my concern is that you give those who are speaking up now due hearing, particularly if their lives continue to be affected by what has been so long held secret. Already, as I’m sure you’ve seen, Peter’s credibility has been called into question. For many, the fact that he is a laicized priest is simply an easy target.
Between 1998 and 1999, I was one of a few young men at the Newman Center who regularly assisted Msgr. Kalin in his daily activities, increasingly debilitated as he was by Parkinson’s. These tasks include helping him get ready in the morning, assisting his movement during the day for various duties, taking him for walks in the evenings at Memorial Stadium, and helping him get to bed at night. This last task was only done by a few people, and I was among them.
To put the matter baldly, Msgr. Kalin made unwanted sexual advances toward me and a fellow-seminarian who shared these responsibilities, who is also now a priest in your Diocese. (I will withhold his name and his account to honor his privacy and freedom to speak as he deems fit.) These gestures included verbal sexual compliments, asking to be touched in inappropriate places, and molestation, including repeated requests for French kisses. They were not made all at once, but after I’d known him for several months, and even then, only gradually, in increasing degrees of intimacy. In retrospect, this followed a rather standard pattern of grooming, though I did not know it at the time. The incremental nature of these requests numbed me slowly to their graduating severity: from insisting that I shower next to him after walks (even though I offered to help him wash while he was seated on a chair), asking for goodnight kisses after I helped him get into bed, and, towards the end, reaching for my genitalia, asking if I had a hard-on (and telling me that he did), and turning the goodnight kisses into French kisses.
Over the years, I’ve turned these memories over and over again, wondering what it was that made me acquiesce on numerous occasions, and perhaps worse, only feeling “uncomfortable” but not realizing that there was something deeply wrong with all of it. I’ve found no satisfactory answer, except for the realization that he wielded much power over me, much of which was legitimized in spiritual terms. When I was briefly a seminarian, he had, after all, made himself my confessor and spiritual director. He certainly knew that I was gay from hearing my confessions, and I continue to suspect that he identified me as a “safe” target of these advances. After all, we had mutual secrets to keep.
It was not until one afternoon, when I was praying in the Newman Center chapel, that I realized how screwed up matters really were. My friend (a fellow-seminarian) walked in, knelt down in a pew behind me, and began to pray. For the first and only time in my life, I was able to physically sense his anxiety. It was as if the air in the chapel vibrated. Still, I said nothing. After a few minutes, he asked if we could talk, and I knew something was terribly wrong. We stepped outside, and he said, while assisting Msgr. Kalin moments ago, he had asked him for a French kiss. It was really at that moment, hearing it from another person, that I realized how wrong it was—what Msgr. Kalin had done to him, and to me on several occasions earlier.
It was after this incident that I approached Fr. Z [name in original text withheld]. […] He said that he would confront Msgr. Kalin about this. Nevertheless, this happened on one more occasion after that, and I brought it up with Fr. Z in the confessional. He then asked me for permission to bring this up to other authorities, and I told him that was ok. (I don’t remember anymore why I didn’t completely cease contact with Msgr. Kalin after the first time I talked to Fr. Z, as I remember being terrified about its repercussions. Nonetheless, I must have, foolishly, agreed to help him with his nightly routine on at least one more occasion—the one leading to this second conversation.) After this, I ceased contact with Msgr. Kalin beyond cordial exchanges (“cordial” because he was still living at the Newman Center at the time). I learned, from my friends, that Bishop Fabian had then ordered that at least 2 other men accompany Msgr. Kalin on his walks at the stadium. Shortly thereafter, Msgr. Kalin moved into a private residence. I didn’t know how to say “No” to friends who asked me to join them in visiting him, and went along once or twice. This, as one might expect, always resulted in awkward silence.
It is important, I think, to note that, on numerous occasions, Msgr. Kalin told me that his libido was affected by his medications […]. To what extent this was true, I don’t know. But what is crucial here, I think, is that he was able to use the power he had to act on these desires. This power was constructed within a framework of the webbed dynamics that Peter outlined in his article—the authority he exercised over seminarians, his ability to alienate those who did not conform, and the ways in which people were made to feel dependent on him. Sexual desires fluctuate—and for various reasons. The pivotal difference in this case was that Msgr. Kalin had the power to bend others toward his desires. From our interactions, he was clearly cognizant of how his libido was affected. The key here is that he chose to act on them, rather than to seek help and protect others.
When I read Peter’s article, I thought that an investigation had been conducted and the matter had been made public—which was why he spoke openly. I didn’t know that it was a breaking piece. My comments on Facebook were written in this context. Because of the time difference, I only realized the next day that the news had come as an initial shock to so many of my friends. Rather accidentally, I’ve been drawn into the shitstorm, especially now that Rod has published, without my permission, the screenshots of my comments.
My friend (who was also Msgr. Kalin’s victim, as I wrote above)—let’s call him Fr. A—asked me what I hoped would happen after this. After some thought, this is my conclusion: I hope that you, Bishop James, will listen to the witnesses that are coming forward, not only about Msgr. Kalin but also about the others who are implicated in this entire practice of secrecy and abuse. These abuses are not independent of the structures of power and authority within the Catholic Church and its theological discourse regarding the value of the priesthood, celibacy, obedience, etc. In fact, these abuses were precisely enabled by them. This is a point which I feel the Catholic Church in the US has never fully confronted in its dealings with sexual abuse since 2001. The abuses are systemic, thriving within practices and ideas nurtured, not in “liberal” seminaries (as I was so often told when in Lincoln), but within an entire world of practices and ideas (often coherently water-tight) in which they have been legitimized, sanctioned, and silenced. It is easier to think of them as aberrations—except that the evidence shows that abuse is often integrated, deeply, into the fibers of church life.
I will leave you to make decisions, but I hope that you will take seriously the accounts that are now arising. As you investigate the pervasive rot that affects the Diocese, I hope also that we will find in these stories occasions of deep repentance for those actions and words, many well-intended, that have made this whole scandal possible—and protected it from earlier disclosures. Perhaps, once and for all, that self-righteous “fidelity to the Magisterium” that has so often characterized Catholic discourse in Lincoln can be abandoned, and that culture of non-judgmental repentance that was the spirit of the Desert Fathers and Mothers reborn. The time is for reparation to those whose lives have been damaged, not for explaining away what has happened.
Should you wish, I’m happy to be contacted by you or another representative of the Diocese in forthcoming investigations.
“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” — Luke 8:17
That is a threat to the wicked, and a promise to the oppressed. Wan Wei Hsien is a man of real faith and courage, and is doing holy work in telling the truth. It doesn’t look like it today from Lincoln, I think, but this is a severe mercy. Woe to the dioceses that lack Wan Wei Hsiens among them to tell the truth, so the boil can be lanced, and the healing and restoration can begin.
Questions going forward:
- From Wan’s testimony above, it is apparent that then-Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz learned the truth about Monsignor Kalin from Wan’s confessor (with Wan’s permission). What did Bruskewitz do with that knowledge, other than start sending students to Kalin in pairs?
- Kalin was for many years the vocations director of the Lincoln diocese, and was responsible in large part for the large number of vocations there. How many seminarians did Kalin sexually abuse or otherwise groom? How many of the men who were recruited into the priesthood and formed under Kalin were sexually compromised by him, if any? Of those priests, how many, if any, went on to be part of a sexually active gay priests network?
- Yesterday, a priest whose name I withheld alleged in an interview with me that Monsignor Kalin punished him when he refused the sexual advances of an older seminarian known to be close to Kalin. Was submitting sexually to Kalin, or at least turning a blind eye to his sexual advances, informally required to get ahead in one’s priestly career in Lincoln?
- Why did Bishop Bruskewitz allow the people of the Diocese of Lincoln to believe that Monsignor Kalin (d. 2008) was a kind of saint, when he clearly knew otherwise?
- What does Monsignor John Folda, the Bishop of Fargo, ND, and a protegé of Kalin’s, know about Kalin’s abusive homosexuality, and how it affected priestly recruitment and formation in the Diocese of Lincoln. If Bishop Folda knew about Kalin’s dark secret, does that knowledge and experience influence Bishop Folda’s approach to recruiting and forming priests for the Fargo diocese? What lessons did he learn?
- Will current Lincoln bishop James Conley convene an independent investigation into the abusive legacy of Monsignor Kalin, and reveal its findings to the Catholics of the Lincoln diocese? Will he openly encourage the priests of Lincoln to speak the truth about what they know?
- Father Tim Danek is believed to have been ordered to remain silent about the things he allegedly saw regarding Father Charles Townsend, another Kalin protegé who was quietly sent away from St. Peter’s parish last summer after Fr. Danek turned him in for misconduct that many believe was sexual. Will Bishop Conley lift the gag on Fr Danek, and allow him to tell the truth publicly about what happened? Will Bishop Conley encourage him to tell the truth? If not, why not?
UPDATE: As an aside, here’s a good point Alan Jacobs made about Wan and Facebook:
UPDATE.2: A reader writes:
From the article on Bishop Folda that you linked to:
About that time, Folda began thinking about the priesthood. He attended Mass at the Catholic Newman Center on the UNL campus and developed a friendship with the Rev. Leonard Kalin, the chaplain.
Kalin asked Folda if he had considered entering the seminary, and he said it had crossed his mind. Kalin encouraged Folda to pray about it, and he did.
The chaplain was another example of what the priesthood could be. Kalin preached great sermons and was devoted to the Lord, but there was more to his life. He loved running and joining students for pizza or a piece of pie after the 10 p.m. student Mass.
Kalin also answered questions for Folda, such as how priests can accept a celibate life.
These comments were made by then Bishop-Elect Folda after it was known to the Diocese of Lincoln that Kalin was an abuser of seminarians. Msgr. Folda sat on the college of consultors and on the presbyteral council in Lincoln and was the assistant to the Vicar General of the Diocese and later (in 1999, one year after Kalin’s retirement) became rector of St. Gregory the Great seminary in Lincoln. Do you think that it is credible to believe that somehow he was not informed of Msgr. Kalin’s immoral conduct with seminarians? He was a member of the inner circle around the bishop and the key players in the Diocese. Also, would not the bishop inform the rector to keep Kalin away from the seminary and the seminarians (many who would have been involved with Kalin considering he had only retired the year before) away from Kalin, and why? And if not, isn’t that criminal negligence?
And if Folda did know, why would he specifically choose to still praise Kalin in that article? And specifically mention the celibate life?
Don’t you think that is bizarre?
Yes, I do think it is bizarre. And it’s why there has to be a lot of coming-clean in that diocese. If there’s an innocent explanation for all of this, then it needs to be made. People aren’t guilty just because they were associated with Msgr. Kalin. But the laity and other priests of the diocese have a right to know who knew what about Kalin, and what they did, or didn’t do, about it.