For years governments have had laws protecting whistle-blowers, These laws shield from retaliation those employees who come forward with evidence of illegal or immoral practices within their agency. The case of Father James Haley makes it evident that the Catholic Church in America offers no similar protection to its priests.
Father Haley, a priest in the diocese of Arlington, Virginia, has been permanently suspended by Bishop Paul Loverde for testifying in a legal deposition about the immoral practices of his fellow diocesan clergy. In a formal notice to Haley, given on October 28, 2002, Bishop Loverde stated that Haley was guilty of violating an order for him not to publicize priestly wrongdoing in order "to avoid scandal, to maintain ecclesiastical discipline and to protect the reputation and privacy of both the faithful and priests of this diocese." 1. As quoted in The Washington Times, November 13, 2002.]
In fact Father Haley never went public with any of his incriminating information. For years he went privately to Bishop Loverde, not just with his complaints, but with indisputable evidence of clergy immorality in his diocese. Bishop Loverde's reference to Haley "publicizing priestly wrongdoing" concerns deposition testimony given by Father Haley pursuant to a law suit brought against Bishop Loverde and his diocese by a parishioner, James Lambert. The suit alleged diocesan negligence in failing to remove an obviously unfit priest who had given public scandal for years. 2. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed for failing to comply with the statute of limitations.
After failing to get a judge to keep the contents of the deposition sealed, the Arlington diocese claimed Haley was not legally required to give testimony, but did so voluntarily. This, according to Bishop Loverde, meant that Haley had violated a "no talk" rule the Bishop imposed upon him a year previously. But the deposition, which is reproduced in its entirely on the Roman Catholic Faithful website, 3. See www.rcf.org. In addition, Father Haley's attorney, Greg Murphy, has sent me a copy of the original subpoena requiring Father Haley to testify. Although the Arlington diocese publicly maintains Haley was not subpoenaed, in their legal efforts to seal his deposition testimony diocesan lawyers admitted that Father Haley was testifying "in response to this subpoena." Letter to Bishop Loverde, from Greg Murphy, Esq., January 3, 2003, p. 5. clearly reveals that Father Haley was subpoenaed. 4. Deposition of Father James Haley, conducted by Gregory L. Murphy, Esq., on July 24, 2002, pursuant to the civil lawsuit Lambert v. Bishop Paul Loverde and the Diocese of Arlington, p. 4. (Hereinafter cited as "Deposition, p. __"). This means he was legally required to answer questions under oath about certain priests and practices in his diocese. Consequently, even if one considers deposition testimony "publicizing", Haley did not do so voluntarily. Since Haley was legally and morally obligated to tell the truth, Bishop Loverde's treatment of Haley strikes many as retaliation.
Although Father Haley has been silenced, his story is told in his deposition testimony. Here we learn that James Raymond Haley was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1987 at St. Thomas More Church in Arlington, Virginia. "Homosexuality within the priesthood is something that I did not know about when I was ordained," the forty-six year old Father Haley testified, "but from my very first assignment at Saint Mark's (in Vienna, Virginia) became more and more aware of." Haley "started to see associations between those who were exhibiting homosexual behaviors and friendships." Homosexual priests supported each other, and adopted "a defensive attitude towards anyone who might threaten them." 5. Deposition Testimony, p. 139
Haley was also troubled by what he heard about the homosexual priest network in the confessional, but the list of priests he could confide in was getting shorter. One of his seminary classmates was also a priest in the Arlington diocese. He told Haley about entering the rectory at St. Mary's and finding his pastor having anal intercourse with the maintenance man, and the time he visited another parish where the priest had an eighteen year relationship with another homosexual man. Haley's former classmate complained to the diocese, became depressed when they did nothing, and left the priesthood. 6. Deposition, p. 146.
Determined not to leave the priesthood, Haley sought out Bishop John R. Keating, then bishop of the Arlington diocese. Over the course of many meetings Haley recounted to Keating "a whole list and litany" of homosexual activity in the diocesan clergy. Like the "extraordinarily gay-looking masseuse" who regularly came to the rectory to give closed door massages to Haley's pastor. Or the event that occurred a week after Haley began his first parish assignment. There was a knock on the back door. A man asked for Haley's associate, calling him by his first name. Haley knocked on the pastor's door. The priest, expecting his friend, surprised Haley by answering the door naked. Haley told him a man was downstairs, and the priest said, "Send him up." 7. Deposition, pp. 141-142.
Bishop Keating confirmed Haley's alarm over the homosexual network in the Church. According to Keating the problem went higher. "He indicated a problem existed even among the bishops and cardinals, naming some that surprised me," Haley testified. 8. Deposition, p. 140. Although he was sympathetic, in the end Keating was no help. According to Haley, Keating said "he could not do anything about homosexual priests or their activities." 9. Ibid
Haley was stunned to learn that
"A bishop would knowingly ordain a homosexual man…I thought that they would want to know that a man or a seminarian or a priest was homosexual. And they couldn't care less, so I started to feel like the outsider, like maybe I was the unique guy. That it wasn't the gay men that were unique, it was the straight men that were unique." 10. Deposition, p. 144.
Adding to his discomfort was what he was hearing in the confessional: "I was becoming aware of some significant sexual problems among our priests, which I could not say to anybody." In 1995 Haley began seeing a psychologist, "to help me deal with the emotional burden of knowing what I did not want to know about my fellow priests through confession." 11. Deposition, p. 118.
"The Boy's Club"
In 1997 Father Haley was transferred to All Saints Church, the largest parish in Virginia. He joined two other associates to Pastor Jim Verrechia, an up and coming priest who seemed destined for bigger and better things than parish life. Father Verrechia was on the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities and St. Mary's Seminary; a Judge on the Diocesan Tribunal; a frequent columnist for the Arlington Catholic Herald; the Bishop's Master of Ceremonies, and so on. 12. See Arlington Diocese Racked By Sex Scandals, by James Bendell, Esq., www.rcf.org. He also liked to visit homosexual pornography cites on the Internet, a fact Father Haley discovered while using the rectory computer. 13. Deposition, p. 18. Another discovery was over three hundred e-mail letters Verrechia had written to a married female parishioner.
This last discovery was less a surprise than Verrechia's appetite for homosexual pornography. Father Verrechia had for some time conducted a very public romance with Nancy Lambert. The two spent hours together, sometimes socially, like the parish party where they sat together in a hot tub drinking wine, Verrechia's arm around Nancy. Other time was spent privately, like the time Haley ran into Nancy coming out of Verrechia's bedroom very late at night. It was called "the Father Verrechia show," and was a source of scandal to All Saints parishioners, and a source of pain for Nancy's husband and children, who were also parishioners.
"It was a full-blown scandal by the fall of 1998," Haley testified. 14. Deposition, pp. 211-212. Numerous parishioners and one of the associate pastors complained to the diocese about Father Verrechia and Nancy, but nothing changed. Bishop Keating died in 1998, and in 1999 Pope John Paul II appointed Paul Loverde as Arlington's diocesan bishop. That same year Father Haley presented to his new bishop indisputable evidence of Verrechia's misconduct: he downloaded Verrechia's letters and visits to gay porn sites onto compact disc, and presented it to Loverde. According to Haley, Loverde told him he was going on vacation and didn't have time to look at it. 15. Deposition, pp. 70-71.
Haley stressed the importance of the situation, and Loverde repeatedly said he was going on vacation first. According to Haley, Loverde did not seemed surprised by anything Haley told him about Verrechia, and was not happy to receive hard evidence concerning the bad priest. Haley testified that when Loverde finally found time to look at Haley's evidence, he suggested that Haley authored the e-mails. When Haley laughed aloud at the idea that he had composed hundreds of e-mails, Loverde implied that Haley had "doctored" the e-mails.
Word got back to Verrechia far more quickly than Loverde got back to Haley. The day after he delivered the evidence to Loverde, Haley discovered that Verrechia had deleted all his e-mails to Nancy Lambert from the rectory computer. Shortly after this Haley was transferred to St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria.
Here he met Father Erbacher. One of the first activities the two priests shared was Erbacher going through the St. Lawrence picture book and showing Haley "the boys of the previous pastor." 16. Deposition, p. 145. By this he meant altar boys the former pastor had paid $500 or $1000 to continue as his altar boys, a duty that included, among other things, vacations at the pastor's beach home. 17. Deposition, p. 153, which includes a similar story concerning a different priest. Erbacher was either very careless or very confident, for he also told Haley how he regularly embezzled funds from collection baskets. The trick to embezzlement, according to Erbacher, was that "you have to be consistent" in how the money is taken. According to Haley, "there were conversations that indicated Father Erbacher had been trained by certain priests of the diocese on how to handle and obtain money." 18. Deposition, p. 149-150. Some of the stolen money was used to increase Erbacher's collection of homosexual pornography, which featured young boys. 19. Deposition, p. 225-226. Pictures of much of this evidence were marked as Exhibits at the deposition. In addition to evidence of embezzlement, there are also photos of a large pornography collection. One of the titles is "Merry Christmas."
Erbacher also voluntarily revealed to Haley many more of the homosexual priests in the Arlington diocese. He called the gay priest network "the boy's club." Erbacher's chattiness may have come from the security of being well connected to "the boy's club." One of Erbacher's best friends was Chancellor of the Arlington diocese, and rumored to be, like Erbacher, a homosexual. This did not stop Haley from presenting to Bishop Loverde:
"pictures of his (Erbacher's) homosexual pornography collection of basically young boys, very similar to what Father Verrecchia had been looking at, but much more extensive…And so I had gone to Bishop Loverde and told him he had a significant problem at Saint Lawrence. That there was immoral and criminal activity occurring and that it was very obvious and that he needed to go and see it." 20. Deposition, pp. 155-156.
Bishop Loverde did not visit St. Lawrence. The only immediate change in the parish was Father Haley's transfer, to St. Mary's parish in Fredericksburg. Two months later word of Erbacher's activities was leaked to the media. After Father Erbacher's activities became public knowledge, Bishop Loverde immediately removed Erbacher and ordered a financial audit of St. Lawrence. The Washington Post reported that Fr. Erbacher stole approximately $320,000 from parish collection baskets. 21. Washington Post, December, 28, 2002.
Please proceed to the SECOND PART OF THIS ARTICLE
EDITOR'S NOTES: We have received the gracious permission of John Vennari, editor of Catholic Family News to reprint various articles that have appeared in his publication that would be of interest to our readers. We urge you to subscribe to John's excellent monthly publication for only $20 a year by calling 1-905-871-6292 or e-mail them at CFN.