The unhappy leadership history of St. Luke’s Institute

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Catholic Culture

Apr 25, 2017

By Phil Lawler

There’s irony in the news that a laicized priest, who once ran a counseling center, has agreed to counseling as a condition of his parole.

In case you missed the story, Edward Arsenault resigned from his post as head of the St. Luke Institute in Maryland in 2013, after he was charged with financial as well as sexual improprieties. He was eventually sentenced to a 4-year prison term after pleading guilty to misappropriating over $300,000 from the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, where he once served as chancellor. The sexual improprieties, involving an adult male recording artist, were not criminal offenses.

One more disgraced priest; one more instance of clerical corruption. But the fact that this particular priest was once the president of the St. Luke Institute—the most prominent of the centers that treated pedophile priests—begins to look like something more than ironic happenstance.

The St. Luke Center has an unhappy leadership history. Its founder, Father Michael Peterson, died of AIDS in 1987. In 1989, the institute brought aboard a Jesuit, Father Curtis Bryant, as head of therapy. Writing in Catholic World Report in February 1997, investigative journalist Lesley Payne quoted one therapist’s report on Bryant’s odd behavior:

Sometimes a visiting bishop would meet Curtis, seeing him prance around like a peacock, and say, “Who the hell was that?” We’d say, “Oh, he’s our director.”

Bryant disappeared from the scene in 1996, shortly after his license to practice counseling become “inactive,” for reasons that were not made public.

Father Canice Connors, the new president of St. Luke’s, was criticized for failing to rein in Bryant. He was also criticized, among other things, for his own spiritual assessment of the notorious pedophile priest John Geoghan: the subject of the lawsuit that broke open the sex-abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese. After Geoghan’s 3rd stint of counseling, Connors said “there are no particular recommendations concerning his spiritual life since he is involved in spiritual direction and seems to have a good prayer life.”

After leaving St. Luke’s, and becoming president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Father Connors complained that the US bishops, with their Dallas Charter, had become involved in “scapegoating the abusers.” He might have borrowed that idea from Father Stephen Rossetti, who, at about the same time, was cautioning bishops: “We need to be careful that we don’t make anyone—whether it’s priests or gays—scapegoats.” Father Rossetti wrote in America magazine, regarding the fallout of the sex-abuse scandal: “What I’m afraid of is we’re going into this witch-hunt for gays.”

Oh, and did I mention? Father Rossetti—he’s now Monsignor Rossetti, and a regular participant in expert panels on this topic—became president of the St. Luke Institute when Father Connors left. For that matter, he became interim president again after Arsenault’s precipitous departure.

Now, reflecting on all of the above, a few questions:

  • How much confidence do you have in the St. Luke Institute?
  • How many priests who were sent to the St. Luke Institute for counseling, and then returned to ministry, later became (further) involved in sexual abuse
  • How much confidence have the American bishops shown in the Institute and its leaders? Has that changed in the past 15 years, as the above information has come to light? If not, why not?

1 Response to The unhappy leadership history of St. Luke’s Institute

  1. Sylvia says:

    The Father Canice Connors referenced above previously worked as Executive Director of Canada’s Southdown Institute. It was Connors who gave convicted child molester Father Ronald Kelly a glowing report card which in whole or in part permitted Kelly to be recycled into a parish in the Archdiocese of Toronto. Michael Harris recounts the entire Kelly travesty in “Fatherly Treatment, Chapter 8” of his excellent expose Unholy Orders: Tragedy at Mount Cashel. The following is from a Southdown report penned by Father Connors regarding Father Kelley :

    . . . The medical assessment indicates that it is no small wonder, given the combinations of alcohol and Valium consumed over a period of years, that he survived to receive treatment. . . . The entire staff is convinced that he has achieved adequate insight into himself and has begun to develop a lifestyle that augurs well for a problem free future…In the past two weeks, at the suggestion of the staff, he has requested a temporary pastoral assignment from Bishop Lacey, the Personnel Director for the Archdiocese of Toronto. Beginning on 1st of October he will take up residence with Bishop Lacey and will continue as an out-patient under the care of George Freemesser, M.D., a priest-psychiatrist on the staff at Southdown. . . . The professional staff at Southdown is comfortable that Ronald Kelly’s progress has verified the prudence and wisdom of your decision to place him here on probation. We are confident here that with Fr. Kelly’s co-operation we have uncovered the fundamental causes of his problems and that he is well on his way to complete recovery.

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