From six years of age, my dream was to become a Catholic priest. I dedicated over twenty years of my life to serving the Church, and those who have known me supported this call. I began my studies for priesthood in the Archdiocese of New York, and Cardinal Dolan nominated me to continue my studies at the Pontifical North American College (NAC) in Rome. There I met with continued achievement as a top-student with accolades from the Cardinal, faculty, and peers.
While at the NAC, I witnessed inappropriate physical behavior committed by the vice-rector, Father Adam Park, toward a seminarian. The seminarian later divulged to me that Father Park made other physical contact described as “hurtful.” My concern for my classmates’ safety was only heightened as I received additional reports alleging inappropriate behaviors by the vice-rector, urging for an investigation into these behaviors, and even citing an instance of a seminarian “crying out for help.”
In October of 2018, I was told by physicians that I needed to return to New York for urgent surgery. I obtained permissions for a brief six-week leave which Cardinal Dolan approved in writing, and I continued all of my studies during my recovery. Five days before I was to return to the NAC, the Cardinal informed me that the NAC rector, Father Peter Harman, was blocking my return on the basis of fabricated claims against my “permission documentation” and formation easily disprovable by evidence. I requested on five occasions a meeting with the Cardinal which he denied me. It became apparent that he wanted neither to allow me to present my documentation refuting the false statements against me, nor to receive evidence of Father Park’s alleged misconduct. In good faith, I could not be complicit with what I believed was a cover-up of what I knew of the vice-rector, and I could do no other than resign under duress as a seminarian. Were it not for Cardinal Dolan’s handwritten food-stained letter sealing his refusal to grant me an impartial interview, I would have been ordained a deacon this year and soon after a priest.
Unfortunately, I am only one of hundreds of seminarians documented to have been retaliated against over the past twenty years for exposing clerical misconduct taking place in seminaries. This situation has led to a dramatic decrease in priestly ordinations which in just one year recently declined by 27 percent.
Amid pleas for help by NAC seminarians, many supporters and I reported my case to every level of the Church hierarchy for over a year-and-a-half imploring that I be given a chance to present my evidence, clear my name, and have an investigation opened into Father Park’s alleged misconduct. While Fathers Harman and Park to this day remain in their roles exerting control over vulnerable NAC seminarians, my reports have gone unaddressed, depriving me of justice from a Church I so faithfully served.
The apparent cover-up taking place validates what many have told me: culpable Church leaders will listen to my case only when faced with a lawsuit.
Having exhausted all options to resolve my case in the Church, I now prepare to take legal action. Professionals are confident I have a strong case given the copious evidence I possess. As my lawyer prepares to file suit, I realize that those to be held accountable have massive financial resources only bolstered by their many appeals for donations. For this reason, I ask your support that will allow my legal case to move forward and uphold my efforts to raise awareness so that no seminarian should have to suffer as I have. My case is not the first involving the victimization of seminarians, but with your help, I hope that it may be the last.
I also invite you to learn more and stay updated about this case by following and sharing the blog “Save our Seminarians": saveourseminarians.wordpress.com
May good men and women take this chance to stand up for what is right, so that silence may no longer yield new generations of victims. Thank you.
- Maria Letcher
- Theresa Caggia
- Luciano Toscan
Staten Island, NY