Dear Miss Ann Barnhardt,
Greetings in Christ JESUS on the feast of His Most Sacred HEART!
I have been following you for years–since you boldly burned the Koran, that accursed book of the Muslims, with the brilliantly ironic and iconic bacon bookmarks! You have had my admiration from that moment onward.
I have been wanting to tell you this for years but I did not do so because I really thought my experience would be dismissed by you based on things you had mentioned in your podcasts. It took one of your posts to prompt and provoke me to say something to you. When you stated “St. Peter’s Basilica is likely a hell mouth” that really struck me as true based on my own experience. I have also grown in my own confidence to “own” my own experience and to be able to share my story despite what others may or may not think or how they may or may not dismiss or disqualify my experience as somehow “stupid” or “illegitimate”.
When I was an ignorant, foolish, and very emotionally immature Novus Ordo American seminarian of 21 years I was seduced by a high ranking member of the clergy in the Eternal City. This admission comes with a lot of shame because on one hand I fully acknowledge that I was a grown-ass man when this happened to me, objectively capable of resisting the seduction of this influential man; however, with time, I have realized that inside I was just a boy and that I was victimized, preyed upon, and exploited precisely because of my immaturity. Yes, I will admit that I was a “vulnerable adult” however stupid that term may sound to a person. And so, I realize both that I am a victim but I also am complicit in this ecclesiastical crime.
He must have been a serial offender because he recognized my need for fatherly affection and attention and began grooming me as soon as we had met. All of the signs that I should stay away from this cleric were as clear as day (in hindsight) but my refusal to trust my intuition, the clear data set right in front of my eyes, and my own common sense led me toward the edge of destruction.
I had always craved that time and attention this member of the clergy was more than willing to bestow upon me, plus I thought he was so cool because he knew so much about this exciting city I had only ever read about. Something he sarcastically said to me on our second meeting after he had treated me to a delicious Italian Sunday brunch should have made me run for the hills: “Go to Rome, lose your faith.” Later on I have also heard different variations such as “When you see Rome, you will lose your faith.” Some attribute this phrase to Martin Luther. I am not sure the origin, but thinking about it and reflecting on it with all of the information I have now accumulated ad nauseam about the corruption in the Roman Church and in churches and governments the world over, I am convinced that this was the voice of the devil who has taken up his infernal throne in the Eternal City once sanctified by the venerable blood of holy Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul.
Back to the story: on our third or fourth meeting he picked me up and was driving me around. I was thinking a mentor type man was interested in me as a person. He asked me if I wanted to go to his apartment and I said I didn’t have any preferences. He asked me again, so I said it would be okay to go to his apartment (naively thinking it was the same apartment I had already been to that was attached to the school and church he was assigned to). Instead he took me to his secret apartment in Trastevere. I thought it was odd but I just kept autocorrecting, so to speak, all of my gut instincts inside my mind and body because why should I be concerned about a cleric in Rome? Why would he not be trustworthy, right? “I am just hanging out with one of the elites in Rome!” No big deal. I kept telling myself this and believing it.
Once we got to the apartment we sat down on his couch. Chatted for a bit. He asked me if I wanted something to drink. I asked for some water. He asked again and I said I would just take some water. Instead he brought out some strawberry type of liquor that he asked me to try. Just having turned 21 and being in a European country I was still eager to try any alcoholic beverage that was offered to me, so I tried it. Me and my puritanical American ways of thinking we’re making me way too suspicious, I thought, and I just needed to let go and live like an Italian. The beverage was good. He then gave me another shot glass full of this beverage. By the time I had finished my second glass, all of the sudden, the next thing I knew he was kissing me. I was totally and utterly shocked that some other man was kissing me and a Catholic cleric at that! The feeling I had at that moment, which felt like an out-of-body experience, was so horrible that I do not wish it upon my worst enemy. In a single instant my Faith was shattered and I was left completely disoriented and detached from any reference to reality and slightly intoxicated to boot. After things had turned overtly sexual, reality hit. I realized I was late for my community Mass. I was silent. He drove me back to my residence. I felt completely vacuous like I had a lobotomy.
I was disconnected from GOD, disconnected from myself, disconnected from the Church, disconnected from my community, disconnected from family and friends, and disconnected from everything I had ever known. I felt a need to reach out to this evil man again and at the same time an utter disgust for him and for myself. I told myself I could never be a priest and I never ever wanted to be a priest like this man. Yet, he was the only one who “was there for me” at this time (even though I knew this was a lie I was telling myself). Who could I reach out to? Who would understand? HOW could I have let this happen? Why was this happening in such a holy place? I thought these types of scandals had all been taken care of in the early 2000’s! Why did GOD allow this to happen? Why did I let this happen? I felt I had to do something but I knew I was entrapped. I reached out to him again. We carried on a sexual relationship for the rest of that semester with him acting as a type of sugar daddy to me and I felt that I was on the edge of suicide the entire time.
I told one of my friends back home in the USA over the phone. His compassion and concern was the only thing that grounded me enough to keep me from throwing myself off a Roman bridge into the Tiber or kill myself in some other way. I eventually told one of my friends in the seminary who was with me in Rome and he only got mad at me and then acted as though I never told him. No help.
During one of our meetings I told this evil clergyman who I was carrying on this sinful relationship with that I never wanted to be a priest and he was honestly confused why I had come to this conclusion. I told him that good priests do not do things like this. He then told me at one point he also wanted to be a good priest, but then he went to Rome. He told me in Rome he became a secretary to a Cardinal who introduced him to this sort of lifestyle. I found it so odd that he admitted this to me. Was it the truth? Was it a lie? Another way to manipulate me? His story gave me some insight into the possible profundity of the wickedness in which I had found myself. On a later occasion I had asked him if he did this sort of thing to some of the other young men in his care and he said that he didn’t because that would be too risky. Apparently ensnaring me was a “safe option” for him because I was degrees removed from him ever getting caught, even though I am certain his “maids” (for lack of a better term) knew what he was up to since they always cleaned up after him.
On another occasion, he revealed to me that he had been promoted within the Church while we were carrying on this way. It was after he had been gone for a certain length of time. I asked him where he had been and he said he’d been to the beach with some other guys then looked at me devilishly and he said, “I’m no angel.” He showed me his new pectoral cross. I took it out of the box and held it in my hands…and felt like a truly evil man myself. How did I become this evil? Why am I in this situation holding this man’s pectoral cross? Why have I sold my birthright to be some sort of perverted servant of a man who cared nothing for me or for the Church whom he was supposed to serve?!? How did I find myself living this double life? I hated it. I hated him. I hated me. I felt even tempted to hate GOD for allowing me to come to such a wretched place in life… Where was GOD in any of this? What was wrong with this Church that I had given everything to which had betrayed me so thoroughly? I was caught up in a vampiric relationship with a Judas priest.
Finally toward the end of the semester this foolish and evil man left Rome for the first part of the summer. I felt it was an opportunity for me to do the right thing and tell someone about this awful man and about my awful behavior with this man. I did not know much about anything at that point, but I knew without a doubt that I never wanted this man to do this type of thing to anyone else ever again–especially a child! I announced that I was leaving seminary. My rector told me he had never been so concerned about one of the seminarians under his care based on the reports he was getting about me. I just nervously laughed it off and evaded the comment.
Maybe I could do the right thing despite myself? I was clueless on how to proceed. I was in mortal combat with myself. I told my spiritual director who gave me very very little direction–so little I cannot even recall what he said, honestly, which was disappointing. I told my formator in Rome. He was politely upset. He gave me little guidance but told me he would try to communicate with people and see what he could do but he was occupied, it seemed, with his own agenda. (Years later he told me he had prevented this cleric from being a spiritual leader of a certain community of young men and women which is good news, all things considered, I suppose).
After I had missed other possible opportunities to try to seek out the help I needed, I literally started asking Religious on the streets of Rome about where a person could go to get help with an issue of priestly sex abuse. I was directed to The Congregation for the Oriental Churches in Rome (near the Vatican) because of the affiliation this cleric had with one of the Eastern Rite churches. So I wrote a long letter detailing the situation and visited the offices of this congregation three times. Surely I could finally meet with clerics who cared about me and about the Church of JESUS Christ and they could take care of business and help rid the church of this corruption! The third time I visited someone finally met with me and told me that there was nothing that they could do, no one they could direct me to, and that this issue was of little importance to them. I was devastated. I thought surely I could get SOME kind of help being in the very heart and capital of the Catholic Church. Yet again, my naivete was showing. Right afterwards I remember spending hours sitting right by the obelisk right in the middle of Saint Peter’s Piazza just sobbing. I was at the heart of the Catholic Church and I had never felt so helpless and hopeless.
In desperation, the semester having ended, me being officially an “ex-seminarian” without a place to stay and having run out of money with a few weeks to go before my flight back home, I sought refuge in a monastery. They graciously welcomed me with their kind hospitality. During this time I could not even pray because I felt so hurt and betrayed by GOD. I decided I would only pray for help from Mary, my mother, because at least I did not feel betrayed by her. However, I could not even get myself to pray the Rosary so I just walked and held onto the Rosary as if I was holding Mary’s hand.
It was during this time of complete brokenness that I encountered the Traditional Latin Mass for the first time, not even knowing what I was encountering, without any coercion or argumentation or explanation, but just The Mass of the Ages in its simple, confident, modest, glorious, and pristine beauty. It pierced my very wounded and broken heart. It was precisely because of my wounded heart and my complete exhaustion with the Novus Ordo church hierarchy that I was able to listen with “the ear of my heart” to the voice of the LORD in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I found it odd and compelling. I found it curious and confounding. Every day for two weeks I would attend this Traditional Latin Mass that the monastery offered and it was there that I encountered the Living and True GOD but there were still so many questions that were left unanswered on every conceivable level…
I arrived back in the USA and waited a year and told an influential priest that I knew back in my home diocese about the incident that happened to me in Rome. He communicated what I had told him to the bishop of the diocese at the time. We jointly composed a letter to send to the Patriarch of the Eastern Rite Church that had jurisdiction over this cleric in Rome. Nothing was ever done. No response. I don’t know exactly what that awful man is up to now but nothing changed for years and I have reason to believe that nothing has changed even now.
God bless you, Miss Ann. You have my support and prayers. Thanks for all you do for Christ JESUS and His Church! Persevere.
Truly yours in The Most Sacred and Eucharistic HEART of JESUS,