Seton Hall Silent on Allegations of Homosexual Subculture at Its Seminaries

An outside review has acknowledged that Theodore McCarrick committed ‘sexual harassment’ there, but the university has provided little clarity about the review’s overall findings, or about planned reforms.

An independent review of Immaculate Conception Seminary, shown above, at Seton Hall University has been conducted, but questions remain about the findings.
An independent review of Immaculate Conception Seminary, shown above, at Seton Hall University has been conducted, but questions remain about the findings. (photo: via

More than a year after the explosive allegations of sexual abuse of minors and seminarians by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one of the important unanswered questions is exactly what kind of misconduct the disgraced former bishop committed at Seton Hall University’s two seminaries — and whether this misconduct was situated in the context of an alleged long-standing homosexual subculture that could still be in place today.

In August, Seton Hall released a statement regarding an outside review that the university commissioned last year in the immediate wake of the McCarrick revelations. But although that statement indicates the review has been completed and found that McCarrick had engaged in historical “sexual harassment” of Seton Hall seminarians, it conspicuously failed to discuss the issue of homosexuality directly and whether a homosexual subculture had been found to still exist at Immaculate Conception Seminary and St. Andrew’s Hall College Seminary.

And the statement does not disclose what changes, if any, are contemplated to screening procedures for seminary candidates or the formation of seminarians to address the alleged homosexual subculture.

But according to some of the individuals who provided testimonies to the review, one thing is clear: The response to date by local Church authorities has been very inadequate.

In August 2018, Seton Hall University’s board of regents announced that it had retained Gibbons P.C. as “special counsel to commission an independent review of McCarrick’s influence and actions at the [Immaculate Conception] Seminary. Gibbons retained the law firm of Latham & Watkins to conduct the independent, unrestricted review.”

This review was commissioned shortly after a Catholic News Agency report that featured allegations from seven priests that McCarrick made sexual advances on the seminarians at Seton Hall over a period of decades, initially during his time as an aide to Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York and later as bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, from 1982 to 1986 and as archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, from 1986 to 2000.

Priests from ordination classes that spanned 30 years, during both the period when McCarrick was the archbishop and subsequently while Archbishop John Myers served as archbishop of Newark from 2001 until his retirement in November 2016, also told CNA there was an “active homosexual subculture of priests and seminarians within Newark’s Immaculate Conception Seminary.”

Several priests attested to a homosexual subculture in the seminary during Archbishop Myers’ tenure. One priest noted that seminarians were “scandalized by what they saw, these upperclassmen flagrantly carrying on with each other in gay relationships.”  

Another priest told CNA that certain seminarians often received visits from priests of the archdiocese.

“There was definitely a group of, well, I guess we’re calling them ‘uncles’ now,” the priest said. “They would come by to visit with the effeminate crowd, bring them stuff and take them out.”


Seminary Experiences

A priest who is now incardinated in a different diocese told the Register that he gave testimony to the Latham & Watkins investigators regarding his own experiences at St. Andrew’s College Seminary, where he studied in the early 1990s. The priest, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that before he enrolled in the seminary he had “no inkling whatsoever” about McCarrick’s alleged sexual predation.

But when he arrived there for the first time at the start of the Labor Day weekend, “not 20 minutes into my time there,” other seminarians “started talking about ‘Uncle Ted,’ his beach house and sleeping with seminarians,” with one of them describing “in painstaking and disgusting detail what happened.”

Following this disturbing introduction into the seminary’s homosexual subculture, he learned that sexual misconduct involving seminarians was occurring at St. Andrew’s, too. However, it wasn’t until the following year that the problems at the seminary “really started happening in a McCarrick kind of way,” following the arrival of a new spiritual director appointed by McCarrick who invited him to a weekend retreat not long afterward. But when they arrived at the retreat site in Massachusetts, he discovered they were expected to sleep in the same room, where he said he was forced to rebuff the priest’s predatory sexual advances and sleep instead on a couch in an anteroom adjoining their joint bedroom.

Subsequently, during his remaining time at the college seminary, the future priest witnessed a number of other sexualized incidents involving the spiritual director and other seminarians, especially those from Latin America. He said he also was accosted physically in a hallway by the spiritual director and threatened with retribution for making critical comments about McCarrick’s conduct.

Scarred and disillusioned by his Seton Hall experiences, he moved elsewhere after his graduation from the college seminary to complete his studies for the priesthood. “The scary thing is, I know people who went through far worse than me,” the priest said. “I can’t even tell you about some of the things that happened to friends of mine.”

Robert Hoatson, a former Newark priest who attended Immaculate Conception Seminary in the mid-1990s and was interviewed by the Latham & Watkins investigators, told the Register about his experience with that seminary’s sexualized culture.

Hoatson, who entered Immaculate Conception as a late vocation after time serving the Church as an Irish Christian Brother, said McCarrick’s long-standing pattern of sexual misconduct was widely known in the seminary itself and among senior Church officials both in the Archdiocese of Newark and in the neighboring Archdiocese of New York. “When I say everybody knew about McCarrick, everybody knew about McCarrick,” he said.

Hoatson recounted that, in 1996, he was propositioned for sex in the seminary. He reported the incident years later to Archbishop Myers, when the priest who had propositioned him was about to be assigned to a very “sensitive position.” He said Archbishop Myers ignored his complaint, which is what he told the investigator for Seton Hall’s independent review.

“I also told him that I thought that the culture of the seminary was rather strange, you know,” he added.

“I remember guys going out with suit and tie on and I said, ‘Where are they going?’” he recalled. “And they said, ‘Oh, they’re going to a gay nightclub,’ and I said, ‘Is anybody going to challenge them on that?’” He said no one did.

Dominican Father Boniface Ramsey, who served as a professor at Immaculate Conception Seminary from 1986 to 1996 and was a whistleblower who tried to alert Church authorities about McCarrick’s behavior, also provided information to the Latham & Watkins investigators.

Father Ramsey told the Register in August 2018 about the culture during his time at Immaculate Conception, explaining that, in his view, “the term ‘gay subculture’ is a strong term, though there were certainly gay seminarians there.” However, he noted in the 2018 interview, after one “egregious, irredeemable” incident of homosexual abuse that he witnessed, he took the lead in expelling the seminarian who perpetrated the sexual abuse. As a direct consequence, “McCarrick fired me from the voting faculty, because the person I [helped to expel] was one of ‘his’ [seminarians]. McCarrick didn’t like that.”

Last month, Father Ramsey told the Register that he was “interviewed by several lawyers [investigating Immaculate Conception Seminary], and their questions are what you would expect. I have never heard anything since.”


Father Lavers’ Perspective

Father John Lavers, who led a 2012 seminary investigation into Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, that led to the removal of 13 seminarians and revealed evidence of a homosexual network across several U.S. dioceses, told the Register that Seton Hall was part of this network.

“We had a very large thread of our investigation that led us to Seton Hall, and it was actually from Seton Hall that led us in the direction towards McCarrick and then eventually toward the Jersey Shore beach house,” Father Lavers commented. “Seton Hall did not cooperate with us at the time, so we had to go around the main administration at Seton Hall and go to people who were willing to talk to us who had gone to or passed through Seton Hall either as students, seminarians or as members of the staff. It was from them that we were able to build the picture of what was going on at Seton Hall.”

“Seton Hall certainly was one of the generators of the problematic situation that was in place at the time, and we’re talking 2008, 2012,” he emphasized.

“Some seminarians, particularly out of Paterson [Diocese], and the ones that also were being moved up the road to Hartford [Archdiocese] were in Seton Hall and were being dismissed from Seton Hall, but in many ways records were being expunged,” Father Lavers said.

“We know in certain cases that files were whitewashed and, with that we know, that certain senior clerics and bishops also had a hand in this, because we also have firsthand testimony, written testimony and interviews of people who gave us direct evidence of certain individuals having tried to influence them with certain seminarians,” Father Lavers said. “The McCarrick influence at Seton Hall also touches on vocations directors, certain bishops and other senior clerics.”


The Review Update

Seton Hall released the review update in late August, with the key findings that McCarrick “created a culture of fear and intimidation that supported his personal objectives” and “used his position of power as then-archbishop of Newark to sexually harass seminarians.”

The review also emphasized that the university’s Title IX policies addressing sexual misconduct are “consistent with state and federal law,” but “were not always followed at Immaculate Conception Seminary and St. Andrew’s Seminary, which resulted in incidents of sexual harassment going unreported to the university.” But it concluded that Immaculate Conception Seminary, St. Andrew’s Seminary and Seton Hall University now are “currently fully compliant with all Title IX requirements.”

Seton Hall noted that “pursuant to Title IX law and Seton Hall University policies, the findings of confidential reviews typically are provided only to appropriate university personnel and certain involved individuals.” However, while the one-page review update summarized its “key findings” regarding McCarrick’s actions, unreported sexual harassment and compliance with Title IX policies, it contained no mention of the allegations of a homosexual subculture in the seminary. And it appeared to be reviewing the seminaries solely on the basis of Title IX requirements, not on the additional basis of whether Immaculate Conception has sought to comply with Vatican directives regarding the inadmissibility of homosexual candidates to Catholic seminaries.

Asked by the Register whether the investigation was conducted in accordance with the 2005 instruction from the Catholic Congregation for Education — which stipulates that “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’” —  Laurie Pine, the director of media relations at Seton Hall, declined to comment. Pope Francis has recently reaffirmed that instruction.

Pine also advised Seton Hall would not comment on the allegations of a “homosexual subculture,” instead referring the Register to the review update as providing “all the information we have to share at this time.”

The Register was also unsuccessful in obtaining any additional comment on these matters from the Archdiocese of Newark or from its current archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Tobin. The Archdiocese of Newark referred the Register’s inquiries about the independent review and the alleged homosexual subculture to Seton Hall University, which declined to comment further.


Transparency Issues

Hoatson, who is now an advocate for sexual-abuse survivors and says he was abused starting at the age of 12 by a priest in West Orange, New Jersey, and is part of a group of survivors applying for a settlement through a new victims’ compensation fund established by New Jersey’s five dioceses, said he is unhappy with the way Seton Hall is handling the seminary review.

“It is not being reported openly, honestly and transparently,” he said. “The fact that they’re not releasing the report publicly in a comprehensive way says to me that they’re still covering it up.”

He added that the review update released by the school “doesn’t really say anything at all,” and he is frustrated by the school’s failure to mention the homosexual subculture he witnessed. “When I saw that, I said: ‘Wait a minute — you didn’t do an investigation just because of McCarrick. You were investigating the seminary.’”

Like Hoatson and Father Ramsay, the priest who spoke with the Register about his experiences at St. Andrew’s College Seminary said he has never been contacted by Seton Hall since he gave his testimony and characterized the measures that have been taken as a “whitewash.”

And the priest suspects that, right from the outset, university officials and Cardinal Tobin had communicated to investigators that they shouldn’t probe deeply into the issue of the existence of an entrenched and long-standing homosexual subculture at Seton Hall’s seminaries. At the conclusion of providing nearly three hours of testimony to the Latham & Watkins investigators, he said one of the investigators thanked him but then pointedly commented, “You know, Father, this all can’t be about homophobia.”

The priest stressed that he agrees that efforts to address sexual misconduct at seminaries should not be misused to unjustly target same-sex-oriented priests who are living integrated, chaste lives. But he said he took vehement issue with the investigator’s remark downplaying the homosexual character of the Seton Hall misconduct.

Father Lavers said that from what he has seen of the Seton Hall review, the scope of the investigation was “very, very narrow” and “only focusing on McCarrick.”

“In many ways, it’s kind of easy to do that type of an investigation because the person has already been removed from the clerical state,” he said. “He has already had the full weight of both the public and the Catholic media placed upon him and the scrutiny — and, of course, all of that has taken place almost after the fact.”

Father Lavers emphasized that McCarrick did not operate alone and said that a full investigation needs to be conducted into McCarrick’s network and the atmosphere in which his behavior was tolerated.


Governance Issues

According to Seton Hall’s’ review update, one of five key areas the university has identified as needing improvement is “the structural relationship among the university, Immaculate Conception Seminary (an affiliated yet separate corporate entity) and the Archdiocese of Newark (an affiliated yet separate corporate entity) to enhance oversight, control and compliance to prevent recurrence.”

However, it appears that under the existing governance structure, the archbishop of Newark already has the formal authority to make whatever changes he judges necessary. Seton Hall University is a diocesan university with a unique affiliation agreement with the Archdiocese of Newark. Under its provisions, Cardinal Tobin serves as chairman of the university’s board of trustees and as president of its board of regents.

And because Immaculate Conception is the archdiocesan seminary, the cardinal is also in charge there, appointing its faculty and administration.

The Register asked Maria Margiotta, the director of communications for the Archdiocese of Newark, if Cardinal Tobin, given his oversight role, could comment further on the investigation or on steps the archdiocese is taking, aside from a Title IX-based review, to address the allegations of homosexual behavior in the seminary.

Margiotta said that “the Archdiocese of Newark cannot comment further on this ongoing process. We continue to focus on transparency and accountability and to reinforcing established reporting and prevention policies and programs to protect the faithful and support victims in our parishes, schools and ministries. We continue our full and proactive collaboration and transparency with state and local law enforcement officials and with the attorney general’s office, which remains a priority.”

With respect to the administration of Immaculate Conception Seminary itself, Hoatson pointed out that he told the investigators that the current rector is Msgr. Joseph Reilly, who was a priest secretary to McCarrick in 1994 when he was archbishop of Newark. Consequently Msgr. Reilly “should have known about what was happening with McCarrick,” Hoatson said.

Msgr. Reilly told the Register he had no comment when asked about the alleged homosexual subculture at the seminary, his past work with McCarrick and his thoughts on the independent review the school had conducted.

Based on his own experiences at Immaculate Conception, Father Ramsey expressed skepticism that there was a real desire to make substantive change in the area of governance.

“When I was there the seminary was treated as if it was a special place that was ‘theoretically’ under the jurisdiction of the university, and the seminary liked it that way,” Father Ramsey said. “The less oversight the better.”

Staff writer Lauretta Brown writes from Washington, D.C.

Senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond and news editor Tom McFeely contributed to this report.