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Bishop Strickland: Rector of DC shrine should be on leave as he’s investigated

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September 5, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – It is contrary to canon law for the Pennsylvania priest who leads Washington, D.C.’s national Marian shrine to remain in active ministry while under investigation for sexual misconduct, Tyler, Texas, Bishop Joseph Strickland has said.

Monsignor Walter Rossi is alleged to have committed sexual misconduct toward Catholic University of America (CUA) students and aided a former priest caught in a police sexting sting attempting to harass young men.

Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception adjacent the CUA campus in Washington D.C., is currently under investigation by both the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Scranton, PA, where he is incardinated.

But he remains in ministry at the Basilica, one of the most prominent Catholic churches in the United States.

“This is contrary to canon law,” Bishop Joseph Strickland tweeted Wednesday, “a canonical Preliminary Investigation is called for and Msgr Rossi should be on administrative leave.” 

The bishop made his remark sharing a tweet from Church Militant Sr. Executive Producer Michael Voris, who’d also questioned why Rossi had not been removed from ministry while under investigation for misconduct.

Rossi, who has worked for the Shrine in different roles since 1997, according to his bio on the Shrine website, has been the rector of the Basilica since ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick appointed him to that role in 2005

He is a priest of the Diocese of Scranton, putting him under the authority of Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera. However, Washington, D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory possesses the authority to determine which priests are given faculties in his archdiocese – where Rossi serves and the alleged misconduct is said to have occurred.

The Archdiocese of Washington did not respond to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews on Strickland’s comment.

Bishop Strickland expressed concern to LifeSiteNews that some interpreted his words as passing judgment prematurely, and said his intention was to emphasize that following canon law benefits all parties involved.  

“No legal system is perfect,” Strickland said, “but I believe there are a lot of tools in canon law that could be used more effectively for the sake of each individual and the wider community of the Church.”

Learn more about Bishop Strickland’s views and past actions by visiting FaithfulShepherds.com. Click here.

Strickland said that just as with civil law, there is a presumption of innocence prior to any proof of guilt in canon law, though it is difficult today to maintain that balance with the tendency to presume guilt just because the priest is put on leave.  

However, he told LifeSiteNews, “The point I see is that canon law has a clear process which can be utilized in this type of situation and it is designed to respect the rights of all involved.”  

A Preliminary Investigation is an administrative action meant to give the diocesan bishop a sense of the probability that an offense did or did not occur, and is focused on facts, circumstances, and the responsibility the parties in question have before the law for a given action. 

Journalist George Neumayr has reported on Rossi for about a year, and a lay-established petition urges CUA President John Garvey to investigate the charges and for Rossi to step down from the CUA Board of Trustees while the investigation is pending.

Former U.S. apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò had said in a June 2019 interview that during his time as papal nuncio he’d received complaints that Rossi had engaged in homosexual harassment and predation of male students at CUA.

Viganò said, “The Vatican, in particular Cardinal [Pietro] Parolin, is well aware of the situation of Msgr. Rossi, as is Cardinal [Donald] Wuerl.”

Viganò’s June comments follow a series of statements beginning last August from the former Vatican envoy to the U.S. implicating various prelates at the highest levels of the Church in knowing about the serial sexual predation of Theodore McCarrick and homosexual power networks in the Church protecting him and others like him.

When McCarrick appointed Rossi as rector of the Basilica in 2005, Rossi was replacing now-Bishop Michael Bransfield, who left the Basilica to become bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, WV.

Earlier this year, accusations that Bransfield was a serial sexual harasser of young men were judged “credible.” 

The investigation also revealed that Bransfield had spent millions of Church dollars funding an extravagant lifestyle for himself.

The Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Scranton launched a “comprehensive investigation” into Rossi, announced in mid-August.

The Scranton diocese said in a statement that, “Approximately one year ago, concerns were raised in the public sector regarding Monsignor Walter Rossi.”

The diocese had referred those initial concerns to the Archdiocese of Washington, the statement said, which had investigated “certain specific allegations and determined them to be unfounded.” 

“Additional concerns have now surfaced, however,” the statement continued, “requiring a broadened investigation.”

At an August 13 Archdiocese of Washington Theology on Tap event, a participant had asked Archbishop Gregory about misconduct allegations against Rossi and why they hadn’t been investigated.

Gregory replied that as far as he knew, no one who had come forward and identified him or herself as a victim.

Responding to a follow-up question on allegations Rossi had aided Matthew Reidlinger, a former priest of the Diocese of Trenton, NJ, alleged in 2013 to have sexually harassed male CUA students, Gregory said he was unfamiliar with the allegations but welcomed a forensic investigation.

When the questioner pressed the archbishop on why Rossi remains in active ministry at the D.C. Shrine, Gregory replied the investigation has to come from Rossi’s bishop.

“He’s a priest of Scranton,” Gregory said. “The investigation has to begin with his bishop. That’s just how things are done.”

The following day the announcement was made that “a full forensic investigation” undertaken “jointly and cooperatively” by the Diocese of Scranton and the Archdiocese of Washington was underway.

Gregory, installed in May as Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s successor at the helm of the Washington see, had pledged transparency in the sex abuse crisis during the homily of his installation Mass.

A Vatican summit on sexual abuse called by Francis this past February focused on abuse of minors while failing to address sexual abuse suffered by seminarians and other vulnerable adults, and also did not address the issue of active homosexuality in the clergy.

To respectfully express concerns regarding Msgr. Rossi remaining in active ministry while an investigation is ongoing into misconduct allegations against him:

Archbishop Wilton Gregory
Archdiocese of Washington
5001 Eastern Avenue
Hyattsville, MD 20782
Mail:
PO Box 29260
Washington, DC 20017-0260
301-853-4500
[email protected]

Bishop Joseph Bambera
Diocese of Scranton
300 Wyoming Avenue
Scranton, PA 18503-1279
(570) 207-2216          
[email protected]

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