Seminarian ousted after reporting his imposed spiritual director’s remarks about homosexuality
YONKERS, New York, July 7, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – An ex-seminarian revealed that he was ousted from seminary after “resisting” a spiritual director who was not only imposed upon him in violation of canon law but praised shamanism, appeared to praise homosexuality, and embraced heterodox ideas such as the “ordination” of women.
Robert, who wishes to keep his last name anonymous, told LifeSiteNews that his dismissal occurred soon after he expressed concerns that his appointed spiritual director was promoting homosexuality.
Recordings taken during the time of Robert’s dismissal from St. Joseph’s Seminary Dunwoodie in the Diocese of Albany revealed that he was openly accused of “a resistance to the formation process” and “distrust of the process.” He was also told that one of his issues was “an adherence” to what he “felt was orthodoxy compared to what the Church taught as orthodoxy.”
Robert told LifeSiteNews that when he asked Monsignor Peter Vaccari, the seminary rector at the time, for an example of his resistance to formation, “the one he mentioned first as most serious was that I resisted the spiritual director, Father Christopher DeGiovine, the diocese appointed to me.”
Robert explained regarding DeGiovine, “He is the priest who, during my second meeting with him, asked if I was a homosexual in response to my explanation of the supernatural and spiritual beauty of celibacy. On the third meeting, uninitiated by me, DeGiovine stated, ‘In the ancient pagan world, homosexuals were regarded as closer to the divine.’ He then proceeded to praise shamanism before I cut him off and essentially indicated I was not interested in that topic.”
Robert’s attempts to replace DeGiovine
Robert revealed that his supervisor, Father Rick Lesser, told him to set up a meeting with DeGiovine in June 2017. Later that month, Robert asked Father Anthony Ligato, Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Albany, if he had to meet with DeGiovine as a diocesan requirement.
“Ligato evasively didn't answer my question directly but said that all the people they wanted me to meet with on my pastoral year were [chosen] so I would have ‘exposure to the liberal church,’” Robert explained.
On July 14th, 2017, the then-seminarian requested a meeting with Bishop Edward Scharfenberger to discuss the issue of DeGiovine.
“Scharfenberger claimed he wasn't aware of what was going on, promised to look into it, but did not rescind what Ligato/Lesser were trying to pressure me to do. Without the bishop stepping in, I was forced to go to DeGiovine,” Robert stated.
Robert again asked Ligato to replace DeGiovine as a spiritual director during a meeting, and Ligato told Robert he wanted him to meet with DeGiovine four times in order to "show good faith." After his fourth meeting with DeGiovine, Robert emailed Ligato on February 3, 2018, asking to replace DeGiovine with another priest as spiritual director. Ligato finally acquiesced.
The seminarian had also informed the rector about his concerns about DeGiovine during Vaccari’s visit on Oct 27, 2017. He also informed Father Richard Veras, Director of Pastoral Formation at Dunwoodie on Sept 15, 2017, and again in March 2018. He mentioned his concerns about DeGiovine to others in private as well.
Forced spiritual director violates canon law
Forcing a seminarian to see a spiritual director not of his own choosing, regardless of the spiritual director’s orthodoxy, is a canonical violation: Canon 246 §4. states in reference to seminarians that it is “recommended that each have a director of his spiritual life whom he has freely chosen and to whom he can confidently open his conscience.”
In one of his sessions with Robert, DeGiovine agreed that they should be meeting only if Robert wanted him as a spiritual director. DeGiovine told Robert, “Here’s my dilemma. If you’re asking me to be your spiritual director, then that’s confidential, and that’s something you need to want to do. From my perspective, to mandate spiritual direction is a waste of your time and a waste of my time.”
“According to DeGiovine, during the whole time this transpired the diocese never formally informed DeGiovine that they regarded him as my spiritual director,” Robert told LifeSiteNews.
A recording of Robert’s exit conversation with Father Ligato, the Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Albany, reveals that DeGiovine had shared that Robert didn’t “open up” to him, even though he met with him.
The very fact that DeGiovine revealed to another priest that Robert didn’t “open up” makes DeGiovine “complicit in violating spiritual direction,” said Robert.
“If I had ‘opened up,’ it seems obvious he would have provided more detailed reports or other indications that he felt I should be rejected, which is a violation of spiritual direction,” he continued.
He added, “Besides, every spiritual director and numerous priests I have spoken with have said this statement alone was a serious violation of the internal forum.”
While Robert “did not mention DeGiovine's promotion of homosexuality and how unsettling it was” to him “explicitly” to Scharfenberger, Ligato, DeGiovine or Lesser, he did bring his concerns to the external faculty of the seminary after replacing DeGiovine. The decision to oust Robert from the seminary appears to have closely followed this event.
Robert formally reports his concerns
Robert recounted, “I had a meeting in October of 2018 at which I informed the entire external faculty of Dunwoodie of the homosexual statements of DeGiovine. It was at that meeting that I told [them] that DeGiovine had stated “in ancient pagan times homosexuals were regarded as closer to the divine," and spoke of the "value of shamanism." I also mentioned an earlier instance with DeGiovine when I spoke of the beauty of celibacy according to a Catholic understanding. It was at that point that Degiovine oddly questioned if I was a homosexual (which I am not).”
Robert explained that November 27, 2018 is the date the seminary faculty discussed what he had said regarding his concerns about DeGiovine. This was confirmed by Ligato, who can be heard telling Robert in a recording of his dismissal discussion, “everything that occurred, occurred, as you know, on November 27th, on my visit, when they reported to me and gave me the evaluation.”
In early December 2018, Robert was asked to leave. Vaccari, the seminary rector, explained to Robert ”the considerations” he needed to make “about either withdrawal or resignation,” in the words of Ligato, who subsequently set up a meeting with Robert in mid-December 2018 to “discuss the reasons for the decisions that have been made.”
Reporting concerns about DeGiovine seems to have triggered Robert's dismissal
Robert pointed out that before he expressed his concerns about DeGiovine to the seminary external faculty, the diocese seemed to have the intention of moving forward with his ordination.
“The diocese claimed that they initially thought there were no problems with [me] moving ahead,” said Robert.
This claim is supported by written evaluations, including one that was made in summer 2018 by his supervisor, Father Lesser, only months before his dismissal. The evaluation reveals that Robert received much positive feedback from Lesser, including comments that are at odds with later claims that Robert had a “lack of Gospel joy” and that it was a “challenge” for him “to engage with other people.”
Lesser wrote that Robert “appears to enjoy being with the parishioners in a good and healthy way, and they are equally happy to be around Robert,” and that “for good reasons, Robert is beloved by parishioners young and old. They see him as a dedicated and kind man.”
Furthermore, Robert told LifeSiteNews that Ligato had “personally informed” him that he saw no objection to his ordination, and Robert even received an email in November 2018 advising him to begin preparations for the diaconate.
Director of Vocations admits forced spiritual direction
It was during the mid-December meeting in which the “reasons” for Robert’s dismissal were discussed that Ligato confirmed that it was Lesser, Robert’s supervisor, who suggested the appointment of Fr. DeGiovine as a spiritual director. According to Ligato, DeGiovine was intended to “challenge” Robert.
On one of the recordings shared with LifeSiteNews, Robert can be heard telling Ligato during the meeting, “Canonically they have to give us access to a spiritual director of free choosing. I was told that that’s not permitted.”
Ligato responded, “That was a miscommunication. You always had the ability to use your own spiritual director, aside from the one I was also asking you to use.”
“So I was allowed to use two?” asked Robert.
“Would I have to use one that wasn’t of my choosing?”
“Right. And the reason for that, Robert, is that I wanted to challenge you.”
“Where did that come from? You made the decision?”
“Myself, Fr. Lesser. Fr. Lesser made the recommendation. I said ok, let’s see how this works out. ... I wanted to see how you would interact with him. With someone who was going to be totally contrary.”
Robert pointed out, “Well, the relationship with spiritual direction involves revelation of soul.”
“Could you open up to anybody who you don’t agree with?” asked Ligato.
Robert soon went on to say, “I couldn’t understand how canonically my rights [could be] violated. And revelation of soul is something different from counseling, and to require – and this isn’t me, this is what I was told at seminary basically and even [by] my other spiritual directors at the seminary – that no one can require revelation of soul – .”
Ligato interrupted Robert to say, “Well, I couldn’t require it, could I? Because you didn’t do it. You did meet with him, but you didn’t open yourself up to him, so I couldn't require you to do that, I can’t make you do anything that you don’t want to do. But that has always been a problem with your formation.”
Robert commented to LifeSiteNews, “Note how despite all their accusations of me, they never once accuse me of lying, distorting the events, etc. Instead I am accused of resisting what was being done. If I had lied they would have called me out very quickly.”
DeGiovine’s heterodoxy: symptom of a bigger problem
The public record reveals that flagrant rejection of Catholic teaching is promoted not only by DeGiovine, but by other influential priests in the Diocese of Albany. More subtle signs of heterodoxy are shown by the bishop himself.
DeGiovine has been publicly reported to hold heterodox stances on the priesthood, going so far as to propose women’s ordination as a solution to a priest shortage.
A May 2004 issue of Ad Majoriem Dei Gloriam, a newsletter issued by Roman Catholic Faithful, Inc, reported, “In 1989, Fr. Christopher DeGiovine, then director of vocations for the Diocese, in an interview in The Evangelist said that the priest shortage would not be solved until women are ordained, priests are allowed to marry, or an optional five-or-ten year commitment is allowed for men who think they might want to be priests.”
A Times Union report from 2013 confirmed that this was still DeGiovine’s stance, stating that “Fr. DeGiovine, who has long supported the ordination of women, pointed to historical studies which have determined women have served as deacons, raising this as a possible role that could develop.” DeGiovine also said, “We have a long way to go to address the role of women in the Church.”
DeGiovine showed contempt for the belief that priesthood is a “higher calling” in a conversation with Robert during what was supposed to be one of their “spiritual direction” sessions.
“We say it’s about serving people … but then we ordain, and not only do we ordain, but we say ‘You’re special. You’re extra special. You’re not like any of those other people.’ And even in a degraded form, we say it’s the ‘higher calling’,” DeGiovine can be heard saying in a recording shared with LifeSiteNews.
“I’m talking about a degraded form of the theology, which I see more and more among priests,” DeGiovine continued.
“A desire to be separate from. I think clothing does that. One way we do it is we dress differently,” he continued, signaling his rejection of clerical dress.
Far from rejecting the idea of priesthood as a higher calling, the Catholic Church esteems all forms of consecrated life as higher than the married state. Pope John Paul II wrote in the apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata, “As a way of showing forth the Church's holiness, it is to be recognized that the consecrated life, which mirrors Christ's own way of life, has an objective superiority.”
Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Sacras Virginitas states that the “doctrine of the excellence of virginity and of celibacy and of their superiority over the married state was...revealed by our divine Redeemer and by the Apostle of the Gentiles; so too, it was solemnly defined as a dogma of divine faith by the holy Council of Trent, and explained in the same way by all the holy Fathers and doctors of the Church.”
Chaplaincy program suppresses Christianity, encourages bisexual porn
That DeGiovine is only one symptom of a pervasive doctrinal problem in the Diocese of Albany is powerfully illustrated by Robert’s revelations about the diocesan chaplaincy program, called Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE).
Robert revealed that the director of the diocesan-mandated CPE program at Albany Medical Center, Harlan Ratmeyer, encouraged him to “set aside” his Catholic beliefs not only among his co-chaplain peers, but while ministering to the sick at hospitals.
According to Robert, one instance of Ratmeyer’s suppression of Christianity occurred when he told a Baptist co-chaplain that he couldn't use Jesus as a theme for his morning "mediation service" because it wasn't "universal enough for the other chaplains."
However, under Ratmeyer’s supervision, Robert and his CPE co-chaplains of different faith denominations were made to listen to a “bisexual” explicit pornographic “poem” from a co-chaplain who identified as “transgender.”
Robert’s CPE evaluation said that this individual, who was “in transition,” “ignited strong reactions” after sharing what Ratmeyer described as “a reading that opened us to the struggles and issues one in transition faces.”
A transcript of the “poem” reveals, however, that it is not about the “struggles” of transition, but about sexual reasons why the writer has “always wanted to be both man and woman.”
In a recording shared with LifeSiteNews, and in which a few of the co-chaplains can be heard expressing their concerns about the “poem,” Ratmeyer can be heard saying, “However, when we’re working with families, patients, we have to set aside our doctrinal convictions, beliefs, and be present to that person in their context; is not the time to give witness to [indiscernible].”
According to Ratmeyer, the reaction of the chaplains to this pornographic writing should have been one of “curiosity” and “reverence.” He wrote in Robert’s evaluation, commenting on the reaction of Robert and other chaplains to the reading, “It seemed difficult for these peers to approach the incident with curiosity and reverence, such as we would expect from ourselves in patient care.”
Robert characterized the CPE program as “literally pagan/liberal indoctrination,” and said it “promoted Buddhism, the Enneagram, New Age practices, called God a female, promoted LGBT propaganda, etc. Anything and everything was acceptable except Christianity.”
The rainbow-checkered past of Fr. Mark Reamer
Robert further revealed that another priest of the Diocese of Albany, who was assigned by Bishop Scharfenberger to be a “mentor” for newly ordained priests as well as a high school chaplain, has gone so far as to publicly endorse homosexuality during a “gay pride” event.
During his time as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Raleigh, Father Mark Reamer gave an opening invocation at the “OutRaleigh” LGBT pride event, which featured a “grand finale” drag show, as the festival archives reveal.
The Franciscan Friars of the Holy Province website shared that Reamer was “among more than a half-dozen religious leaders who welcomed participants to the inaugural OutRaleigh festival, a celebration of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.”
A May 18, 2011 post from the blog of his former Raleigh parish related that Reamer said in his speech during the May 14 festival, “The Catholic Church’s pastoral message is one of acceptance of self within the divinely revealed truth about the dignity and destiny of human persons.” The blog post went on to note that “[p]articipants had the opportunity to learn firsthand about St. Francis GLBT Ministry by coming to a table set up at the festival, and that “[t]his year will mark the year that the ministry has been the sole Catholic parish presence at Pride."
Raleigh’s St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church has an ongoing “LGBTQ+” ministry which promotes in various ways the idea that being “gay” is something positively willed by God. For example, one of their past retreat flyers reads, “Different by Design,” and one of their pamphlets reads “Christian by Choice, GLBT by God’s Design.”
One of the listed reading resources for the group is a book called “Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person,” which declines to comment on the morality of homosexual acts. It states, “Homosexuality is one of God’s most significant gifts to humanity” and “Some directors may sense that when that person is homosexual that God is present in a homosexual way. Such an attitude is the bottom line for authentic work with gays and lesbians. Nothing less can be expected of the director.”
Robert added that a diocesan seminarian retreat Reamer offered at Pyramid Lake “had homosexual musical productions for meditations,” including one taken from the musical Rent, which involves several characters in homosexual relationships.
Albany bishop complicit in LGBT heterodoxy
It is notable that Bishop Scharfenberger, who has headed the Diocese of Albany since 2014, has publicly supported “LGBTQ identity” and made public statements that could be construed as approval of homosexual acts.
A Jan. 11, 2020 Times Union report shared that in 2017, Scharfenberger attended “safe space” training with “about 20 other people” in the Diocese of Albany. He did this “in an effort to be sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQ community,” according to Scharfenberger’s communications director, Mary DeTurris Poust.
Robert said that "safe space training" seminars “teach people to use proper pronouns” when referring to gender-confused individuals. At their core, such seminars teach attendees to affirm the “queer” identities of others, including gender-confused individuals.
“The fact that the bishop not only personally attended an event of this nature but that he also brought other chancery employees to it is deeply troubling. The troubling thing for me personally is also that the bishop decided to secretly attend this event around the time I was forced to go to DeGiovine,” he stated.
The Times Union report also quoted Scharfenberger as saying, “I know priests who are gay, and they’re great. It’s never wrong to love another person. Never.”
Robert noted, “It is interesting he doesn't make any qualifications about celibacy. This statement of Scharfenberger's is problematic because either he approves of homosexual behavior/acts, or he equates temptations with sin. In addition to that, he permanently brands them with the object of their temptation which seeks to draw them away from God.”
Homosexual seminary subculture
Despite Vatican prohibitions on ordaining homosexual men, there have been numerous reports from across the world of rampant homosexuality in seminaries, as well as reports of expulsions of seminarians for being orthodox or heterosexual.
For example, in 2018, 48 seminarians wrote a letter to their formators complaining of an “epidemic” of homosexuality at the Tegucigalpa major seminary in Honduras. The National Catholic Register reported that they wrote “of their fear of being expelled or dismissed as gossipers by their formators for complaining about homosexuality.”
During the same year, Father David Marsden, S.C.J., shared an open letter he had written to the bishops of England, Scotland and Wales, saying he’d been terminated from his position at the leading English seminary for trying to uphold the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
Father Dariusz Oko, a priest who became world-famous in 2013 for his essay on clerical homosexuality, “With the Pope Against Homoheresy", told LifeSiteNews in a 2018 interview that the revelations about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick represent only “the tip of the iceberg” of homosexual misconduct among the clergy.
“According to reliable estimates, it is estimated that about 30 to 40 per cent of priests and 40 to 50 per cent of bishops in the USA have homosexual inclinations,” said Oko.
Stephen Brady, who has been active in uncovering abuse and corruption in the Catholic Church in the United States for over two decades, noted in a March interview, “In many cases from what I’m hearing, they’re weeding out orthodox young men in the seminaries. They’re only taking in the effeminate or the homosexual types.”
LifeSiteNews reached out to St. Joseph’s Seminary for comment. Fr. Richard Veras stated “I don’t think so” when asked if he or anyone at the seminary would like to comment on Robert’s expulsion. LifeSiteNews has also left a message for the current rector and is awaiting a response.