In August 2013 the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois announced that it would pay $1.35 million to settle a lawsuit by a former altar boy who accused the late Msgr. Thomas Maloney of sexually abusing him in 1995 and 1996 when he was eight years old. Archbishop John W. Myers, who was then the bishop, was also named in the suit for failing to take action against the monsignor. Myers served as bishop of Peoria from 1990-2001.
The boy’s mother said the abuse happened on to occasions while her son was helping the priest. “Maloney molested Andrew once in the church sanctuary before school, and once behind the altar after 10:30 Mass on a Sunday.”
Archbishop Myers, in a 2010 deposition in the case, said he had no knowledge of any allegations against Fr. Maloney until long after he left Peoria. Documents produced in the legal case show Myers was copied on certain memos with potentially incriminating information about Maloney, but the bishop said he didn’t see them, likely the result of a “slipshod” filing system in the diocese. “There may have been things that got by me,” Myers said. “I underscore the kind of loose system we had with the two different buildings in Peoria. It could be sometimes two weeks of copies that I would get when they moved them from building to building, and I sometimes didn’t have the time to read them.”
Notes & Letters
Bishop Myers did have the time to write personal notes to Fr. Maloney thanking him for his gifts of coin collectibles and more. Here is a sampling:
6/21/91: “I always enjoy a good visit with you. Not only is it fun, I usually learn a thing or two. I do not ever expect to “profit” from our friendship. Thank you so much for lunch and your wonderful gift.”
3/13/92: “Just a thank you note for the silver. That one is even too big for a watch fob. It could be tied around one’s neck like the proverbial “millstone.”
1/30/95: “Just a note to thank you for lunch. I do enjoy our chats. I am grateful for your gift. I will try not to lose it all at the “dogs” in Florida. From February 4 through about the 15th Al and I should be at the Gene Lamb condo on Captiva. I will put the address and phone number at the bottom of the letter.”
6/27/00: “Just a note to thank you for the wonderful dinner at Jim’s. Mark and I enjoyed it immensely. I surely hope you will join us on Crete. The hotel is Porto Elounda Mare, We’ll be arriving on August 24 and departing on August 31.”
So were Myers and Maloney friends? “I don’t know if ‘friends’ would–I had many other priests that I was closer to. I can say that,” Myers clarified in the deposition.
Among the documents Myers claimed he didn’t see was an August 1999 letter from Msgr. Steven Rohlfs, his Vicar General, responding to a complaint by parents of a grade school student over Maloney’s conduct during confession. The boy told his parents that during confession Maloney described the sexual acts of a fellow priest in graphic detail. He took a mobile phone call in the middle of the sacrament, and conducted penance as an interrogator–Did you do X, Y Z?
Rohlfs wrote back to the parents apologizing for Maloney’s scandalous behavior, and assured them they had done the right thing in contacting him. The Vicar General copied Myers on the letter and the diocesan law firm as well.
At least one complaint about Maloney received Myers personal attention–although he could not recall it in the deposition. On September 1, 2000, a married couple from Epiphany parish wrote to Myers to complain about Maloney’s behavior both in and out of church. On Super Bowl Sunday, they explained, Maloney could be heard distributing communion in the following way: “Body of Christ. Is the beer cold yet?” Maloney’s homilies were often laced with “inappropriate jokes.” The wife explained that as she was confessing to Maloney he informed her “women are just too emotional,” adding, “maybe she should get a life.” Later that night, around 9 PM, she saw him in a Walgreen’s parking lot with a grade school girl, who eventually left the car to buy about $20 in candy. And, finally, she wrote Maloney “typically” took eighth-grade girls out to lunch at a place called the Pub.
Myers responded to the complaint in a letter dated September 14, 2000. “I’m sorry you do not approve of his (Maloney’s) approach to priestly ministry,” it begins. “Your characterization of Father’s liturgies is not generally accurate according to the responses I have received from my inquiries. The celebration of Holy Mass at Epiphany, while it may not be a formal as some parishes, is respectful and prayerful. I don’t know what to say about the other matters you mention. Basically your experience does not correspond with that of many other people. I don’t know in what context others would have said, ‘we know that Father has problems….'”
Bishop Myers concluded the letter by saying, “I know that Father loves people, especially young people, and that he cares for them generously. We have never had any allegations of impropriety.”
Off to Newark and Fr. Fugee
On October 15, 2000, upon Bishop Myers nomination, Pope John Paul II elevated Fr. Maloney to Monsignor. Nine months later the pope appointed Myers as Archbishop of Newark. He replaced the popular and social-justice minded Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who became archbishop of Washington, DC.
Fr. Maloney retired from active ministry in 2002 for reasons of health. He died in 2009, at age 73.
As bishop in Peoria, Illinois, Myers did not come under media scrutiny. That changed when the Fr. Fugee sexual abuse scandal made the New York metropolitan newspapers.
A few months prior to Myers’ arrival in Newark, Fr. Michael Fugee, assistant pastor of the Church of St. Elizabeth in Wyckoff, was arrested and charged with criminal sexual contact.
He was accused of fondling the genitals of a 14-year-old boy during wrestling matches on two occasions. Under questioning by police, Fugee confessed to intentionally touching the teenager’s crotch over his clothes. According to the youth, Fugee pinned him down and “slowly” moved his hand over his crotch.
Prosecutors dismissed the case inf 2009 after securing an agreement with Fugee and the archdiocese that Fugee would never again minister to minors or be an unsupervised situation with them.
During the November 2009 deposition, Myers expressed disappointment that Fugee let detectives interview him without counsel. “Is it your recollection,” the plaintiff’s attorney, Jessica Arbour, asked Myers, “that he (Fugee) admitted that he touched the boy?” “Unfortunately, without his lawyer present, he did,” Myers responded.
Most Catholic parents would feel concerned and uneasy when a bishop sounds more like head defense counsel than a shepherd.
At the time time, The Star Ledger (formerly the Newark Star Ledger) intensified its coverage of Archbishop Myers, reporting on the Fugee scandal and the building of Myers’ weekend/retirement home. The New York Times followed The Star Ledger’s reporting lead and on February 14, 2013 published the devastating article, “A Church So Poor It Has to Close Schools, But So Rich It Can Build a Palace.”
For a bishop comfortable with looking the other way (or not looking at all), the media spotlight on his management and priorities was uncomfortable as it became increasingly critical. Calls by laity and media began to be made for him to step down as archbishop.
The last straw for Myers was The Star Ledger’s August 12, 2013 article, “Church pays $1.3 million in suit alleging that Newark archbishop protected abusers in Illinois.” He unloaded in a sharply-worded letter to priests in a letter dated August 15, 2013:
“in the deposition given by me and selectively quoted by an interested attorney, some upset parents, and a former Priest of this Archdiocese, I spoke under oath and truthfully about matters relating to a certain Priest. I never vacationed with him, and I received no gifts other than those often given to a bishop by Pastors or Parishes. Since we were both coin collectors, I recall that he once gave me a coin of minimal value, of which he had several examples.”
(That account of the gifting differs from what Myers said in the 2010 deposition. In the transcript he said that Fr. Maloney gave him gold coins “two or three” times. Asked if they were valuable, Myers responded, “I don’t have any idea.”)
Myers defended himself against his critics, asserting they are hostile to “our Roman Catholic Faith and its Teachings, the Teachings of which I have always been a staunch and outspoken supporter, despite their ‘unpopularity’ in the secular and ‘politically correct’ society…” “God only knows their personal reasons and agenda,” he asserted, “We are still called to love them. And God will surely address them in due time.”
Five weeks later, on September 24, 2013, Pope Francis appointed Bernard A. Hebda, formerly the bishop of Gaylord, Michigan, as Newark’s coadjutor archbishop. In effect, this means he is co-archbishop, except in ceremonial precedence. A coadjutor bishop is usually appointed when the current bishop needs significant help in his ministry. Hebda is expected to succeed Myers as archbishop of Newark when Myers retires in two years.
Myers is effectively finished as archbishop. The only thing that remains is whether or not he will be eased out before he is 75. My bet is he will be, very quietly. He was so effective at looking the other way it cannot be definitively proved he protected predator priests. But on the reverse side of that coin, Archbishop Myers has left himself open to assertions he is an incompetent administrator with poor pastoral priorities.
I was struck by the irony (or prophecy) of Myers’ thank you note for Fr. Maloney’s gift of a silver coin so large it could be “tied around one’s neck like a proverbial millstone.” “But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me,” Jesus said, “it would be better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Off Crete or Captiva Island would be more pleasant than the near Newark.