I recall as a teenager picking up an IMAGE paperback in the back of the church one Sunday entitled Playboy to Priest by Rev. Kenneth Roberts. The work impressed me and along with several other books about priests, real and fictionalized, fueled my burning desire for a vocation. He would later become famous as the Medjugorie priest and he had several programs televised on EWTN on the Blessed Mother and a youth series based on one of his books, You Better Believe It. It was a great program and young people were really moved by it to study about and to live their Catholic faith. Upon my desk are other books he wrote, The Rest of the Week, Mary – The Perfect Prayer Partner, Fr. Roberts’ Guide to Personal Prayer, Pray It Again, Sam! and Nobody Calls It Sin Anymore. They were not particularly deep; but that was okay because they were popular works for the rank and file. He gave talks and conferences across the nation. His tapes and videos were bought and shared. He was loved. Then he disappeared and rumors spread.
A boyhood hero had fallen. When I had helped out in a Birmingham, Alabama parish in 1989, I actually met and had dinner with him. He was a regular on Mother Angelica’s Catholic television network. Now it turned out that he was continuing to wear clerics, function in public as a priest, and even did television work after he had been censured. Retired from the Dallas diocese for “health reasons” he had been suspended for violating restrictions placed upon him in 1995. His bishop made it very clear that he had to stop distributing his books and tapes and that he had to take down his website and Internet presence.
Dallas Bishop Charles V. Graham signed the decree of suspension on November 13 after verification that Father Roberts had violated restrictions. The English-born Father Roberts, ordained in 1966 for the Dallas Diocese, retired from the diocese for medical reasons on Sept. 1, 1995, and his faculties were restricted, barring him from exercising his priestly duties, wearing clerical garb and presenting himself as a Roman Catholic priest in good standing. His retirement followed public accusations of sexual molestation, though no civil or criminal charges were filed against him at that time. Now in his 70′s, civil charges were filed in 2004 where three are named in a lawsuit filed in November by John Doe. The suit alleges that the Rev. Kenneth Roberts, now retired, sexually abused Doe at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Belleville in 1984. The St. Louis Archdiocese and the Dallas Diocese have responded by asserting that St. Clair County Court has no jurisdiction over them because they do not do business there. St. Louis also says Roberts was never assigned or employed here, although he was allowed to live in three parishes in Florissant and was permitted to conduct some religious services here.
What happened? Was this for real? Fr. Roberts seemed so genuine and faithful; was it all a lie? I have kept him in my prayers because of his importance in my life and in the lives of so many. But, I doubt that the wound caused by these revelations will heal any time soon. There is also a lot of meanness about what happened. One nasty blooger said something like, “What do you think his revised autobiography will be titled, “Playboy to Priest to Pervert”? If the allegations are true, then we pray for the victims and perpetrator. The posture of the Christian is always on our knees in prayer and in petition for mercy.
All of Fr. Robert’s tapes and videos are off the market. His webpage is gone. His programs deleted from the EWTN schedule and some have said they have been destroyed. Is it right that a man’s possible weakness and sin should utterly destroy his legacy?
As a young priest, the pastor and I subscribed to monthly videos of a Paulist production called SHARE THE WORD. The Sunday readings were explained and many useful ideas were given for preaching. The host was an articulate and dynamic priest by the name of Rev. Laurence Brett. We were so impressed that he accepted our invitation to do three weeks of Friday talks and to lead the Stations of the Cross during Lent. He smoked constantly and affected a strong Irish brogue for effect during the Stations. I found the later a bit disconcerting. Why would he purport to be Irish when he usually had no such accent? It seemed like posturing and bothered me. However, his words were good and he proved himself knowledgable about the Scriptures and our faith.
I was transferred and the program, which was also on cable, eventually disappeared. For awhile the paulists were toying with taking the tapes and re-editing a Sunday commentary series out of it. But, nothing happened. Later, I found out why.
Years before, Frank Martinelli was a 14-year-old altar boy attracted to Rev. Laurence Brett as a role model at St. Cecilia’s in Stamford, Conn. Martinelli claimed that Father Brett fondled him in a bathroom and that the priest urged the boy to give him oral sex in his car, blessing it as a way to receive Holy Communion. Thirty years passed before he and other young people spoke out. When the priest was finally censured, he became a fugitive. Church officials in Bridgeport and Baltimore called Brett a criminal and an “evil man.” Even the FBI had trouble finding him. He changed the spelling of his name to conceil his identity and settled in 1996 on the island of Anguilla, a short boat ride from St. Maarten.
These men were notable evangelizers through the modern communications medium. They reached out to millions. Little or nothing has been said to explain what happened or to heal the harm caused to believers. The Pharisees had no monopoly on hypocrisy. Hopefully people will remember the message and not so much the messenger.
posted by Father Joe Jenkins at 10:18 PM
Laurence said…Do you think I should stop listening to Fr. Robert’s tapes? I joined the Catholic Society of Evangelists and they provide 4 of his tapes for donations. His teachings are theologically sound. Is it okay to let others listen to his work?
The question you ask is hard to answer. A priest teaches, as we all do, by both what we say and by what we do. While a person could be moved by Fr. Roberts’ ideas and gentle teaching manner, the allegations of sexual misconduct with minors are so severe that I suspect they would likely cause too much scandal and cause more harm than good. The fact that he disobeyed his bishop makes the case even more serious. You can make use of the tapes, but I would not generally share them any longer with potential converts or returnees.
Do not loose heart and know that a good number of us in the ranks of the clergy are behaving ourselves and still proclaiming the Gospel.