- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2002

A local Roman Catholic priest says he is being retaliated against by his bishop for providing evidence that three priests in separate incidents stole church collections, impregnated a married parishioner and collected homosexual pornography.
The Rev. James R. Haley says he was suspended by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde after blowing the whistle on the three priests in the Diocese of Arlington, The Washington Times has learned.
"I believe that he's trying to strangle me out of the church," Father Haley testified in a civil lawsuit. He is barred from revealing any evidence of priestly wrongdoing to law-enforcement authorities or the public under a canonical "penal precept" issued by the bishop in October 2001.
The lawsuit was filed by a parishioner whose wife was impregnated by a Catholic pastor of a Manassas church.
Bishop Loverde, who declined repeated requests for interviews, declined to say why he took away Father Haley's priestly faculties, saying an explanation "would require the diocese to discuss detailed private matters involving him."
"Father Haley has his own issues and in conjunction with him they are being addressed canonically. It would simply not be appropriate for the diocese to discuss these matters," the diocese said in a statement.
Bishop Loverde's handling of the incidents follows in the wake of lay questioning of the way American bishops have dealt with priests who violate their vows of celibacy. Last month, the Vatican declined to approve the U.S. bishops' plan for disciplining errant priests. Vatican spokesmen called the plan adopted in June by U.S. Roman Catholic bishops gathered in Dallas to address, primarily, the problem of priests sexually abusing children, too ambiguous and "difficult to reconcile" with church law.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meeting this week in Washington on the sex-abuse policy, has declined to look into the Haley matter.
On Oct. 10, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleview, Ill., head of the bishops' conference, denied Father Haley's appeal to review evidence that he brought to Bishop Loverde over the past four years and the priest's charges of retaliation.
Mark E. Chopko, general counsel of the bishops' conference, says the body did not have jurisdiction to investigate Father Haley's retaliation charges. "In the church, it is a matter that exists solely between Father Haley and Bishop Loverde," Mr. Chopko said in a letter to the priest's attorney, Gregory L. Murphy of Alexandria.
Father Haley, 46, says the bishop did not act on the information he disclosed. The scandals involved:
The Rev. James A. Verrecchia, 45, former pastor of All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, who he said carried on a yearlong sexual affair with the wife of a parishioner, Jim A. Lambert, and impregnated her in late December 1999.
Mr. Verrecchia married Nancy Lambert the following year. Father Haley was subpoenaed to testify in a civil lawsuit brought by Mr. Lambert, who charged that Arlington Diocese's cover-up prevented him from winning custody of his three children. The lawsuit was dismissed in August.
The Rev. William J. Erbacher, 55, former pastor of St. Lawrence Catholic Church on Franconia Road in Fairfax County who, according to Father Haley's July deposition, embezzled from church collections and collected homosexual pornography. Since last month, he has been at St. Stephen the Martyr in Middleburg, Va., where he is said to be "assisting the pastor."
The Rev. Daniel E. Hamilton, 59, former pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Fredericksburg, who had an extensive collection of bondage pornography kept at the rectory. Father Hamilton resigned two months ago, after a judge refused to seal Father Haley's deposition.
Several priests in the diocese, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say the bishop is "angry" that Father Haley "invaded privacy rights" of Father Verrecchia, the woman with whom he was having an affair, and Fathers Erbacher and Hamilton.
Parishioners at Virginia churches where Father Haley has served since 1987 expressed shock and concern over his suspension.
"He's very holy, and that's his problem," said Marie K. Shaughnessy of McLean, a parishioner at St. John's Catholic Church, where Father Haley was assistant pastor from 1995 to 1997. "He doesn't budge from the straight and narrow. He doesn't accommodate."
When seeking a pastor position at Our Lady of Hope in Sterling, Father Haley told the bishop that Father Verrecchia was having an adulterous affair with a married woman he was counseling for marital difficulties.
Father Haley said he found Father Verrecchia and the woman together at 1:30 a.m. in a darkened rectory office, according to diocese and Arlington County court records. After the encounter, the woman complained in a letter to the bishop that Father Haley had asked parishioners "about my personal life."
The bishop then transferred Father Haley as assistant pastor to St. Lawrence in July 1999.
Upon Father Haley's transfer to St. Lawrence, according to his deposition, he was told by Father Erbacher that there was a network of "gay priests" within the diocese, including Father Erbacher himself and the bishop's chancellor, the Rev. Robert J. Rippy.
"I had no idea of the interconnections of all this until I lived with Father Erbacher," Father Haley testified. "I never knew that a diocese or bishop would knowingly ordain a homosexual man."
In February 2001, Father Haley talked to Bishop Loverde about Father Erbacher's disclosures of a homosexual network of priests. In another meeting, June 6, 2001, Father Haley set out what he said were details of Father Erbacher's library of homosexual pornography and evidence that he was stealing from church collections.
He gave the bishop photographs of pouches containing thousands of dollars of cash, stored in Father Erbacher's bedroom closet, and the priest's personal bank records showing deposits averaging more than $99,240 per year, 5 times his annual income as a pastor. More than half the deposits were in cash.
Father Haley was transferred to St. Mary's in Fredericksburg three weeks after he sent the bishop the evidence about Father Erbacher's finances.
The diocese began an internal investigation of the St. Lawrence theft accusations after it discovered "substantial financial irregularities" at another parish.
At St. Mary's, a maid told Father Haley that Father Hamilton had large quantities of homosexual pornography in his room, said Mr. Murphy, Father Haley's attorney. Father Haley asked the bishop for another transfer or leave of absence for "discernment" to find another diocese, Mr. Murphy says.
The bishop refused in a letter Oct. 8, 2001. "I would direct that you remain as a parochial vicar at the church of St. Mary in Fredericksburg while continuing your initial discernment with your spiritual director," the bishop wrote.
Angered, Father Haley confronted the bishop Oct. 16, 2001, with "factual self-incriminating evidence on Father Hamilton's completely outrageous sexual addiction" in a further effort to be moved out of the rectory.
"And at the end of the meeting, which was basically a slide show of the pictures of his incredible collection [of pornography], the bishop told me that I had better watch out, that I did not know what he was capable of doing," Father Haley testified.
A week later, Bishop Loverde summoned Father Haley to Arlington, gave him four hours to move out of the rectory and into a hotel in Fredericksburg, and ordered him not to return to the rectory without an escort. He stripped the priest of his faculties, which authorize him to wear a clerical collar, say Mass, take confessions, and perform baptisms and funerals.
In a series of "decrees" dated Oct. 23, 2001, the bishop also expelled Father Haley from any diocese post and gagged him with the canonical penal precept. Under the suspension, Father Haley has been denied church housing for the past year and restricted to monthly pay of about $2,000 for housing and all other expenses. He is living in a house trailer in Northern Virginia.
Bishop Loverde agreed only to answer written questions from The Times. Chancellor Rippy did not respond to questions nor requests for an interview.
"Bishop Loverde takes very seriously any credible allegation of misconduct on the part of a diocesan priest, employee or volunteer. [He] has not and will not punish anyone for bringing him a concern or complaint."
Regarding the bishop's action concerning Fathers Verrecchia, Erbacher and Hamilton, the diocese said: The bishop "confronted Father Verrecchia with the information [about his adulterous affair] and eventually ordered him to break all contact with the person with whom he had a questionable relationship. Father Verrecchia is no longer serving as a priest in the diocese."
The diocese accepted the resignation of Father Erbacher after receiving the results of an "independent forensic financial audit and a psychological evaluation." It said the bishop confronted Father Hamilton about the pornography, and he was sent for a "psychological evaluation and is no longer the pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Fredericksburg, Va."
The bishop did not comment on Father Erbacher's role at St. Stephen the Martyr in Middleburg and declined to comment on the treatment of Father Erbacher and Father Haley. He said the diocese does not discuss personnel matters.
Mr. Murphy says Bishop Loverde's assertion that he had addressed Father Haley's complaints was a "blatant lie." The bishop's "duplicity has no boundaries," Mr. Murphy says. "His response was keep it quiet, move [Father Haley] around, and when he was forced to testify in legal proceedings, he silenced him."

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