Monday, February 21, 2011

Catholics and The Cult of Personality: The Rise and Fall of Father Tom Euteneuer

They are the rock stars of contemporary Roman Catholicism. Father John Corapi. Father Benedict Groeschel. Archbishop Timothy Dolan. Archbishop Charles Chaput. Mother Angelica. Cardinal Burke. Father Mitch Pacwa. Immaculee Ilibagiza. Sister Briege McKenna. Drew Mariani. Dr. Scott Hahn. Dr. Bryan Thatcher. Father Seraphim Michalenko. Father Frank Pavone. Johnette Benkovic. Father Donald Calloway. Jim Caviezel.

Until just a few weeks ago the omission of the name of Father Thomas Euteneuer would seem a glaring error in this list. He was, after all, both the celebrated head of the global pro-life powerhouse Human Life International and a prominent exorcist. Father Euteneuer was a familiar fixture in both secular and Catholic media. His plainspoken style appealed to Catholics everywhere.

There were no kid gloves for celebrities or those in the public eye. Father Euteneuer’s no-holds barred defense of the Catholic faith resulted in a legendary on-air smackdown challenging the Catholicism of Fox News host Sean Hannity. He held the feet of Catholic politicians to the fire. His statement on the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy opened in this manner:

“We must, as a matter of precept, pray for the salvation of heretical Catholics like Senator Edward Kennedy, but we do not have to praise him let alone extol him with the full honors of a public Catholic funeral and all the adulation that attends such an event. There was very little about Ted Kennedy's life that deserves admiration from a spiritual or moral point of view. He was probably the worst example of a Catholic statesman that one can think of. When all is said and done, he has distorted the concept of what it means to be a Catholic in public life more than anyone else in leadership today.”

Father Euteneuer was in-demand on the Catholic lecture circuit around the world. When HLI published two books authored by Euteneuer, Exorcism and the Church Militant and the companion Demonic Abortion, they flew off the shelves.

There was no denying it. Father Euteneuer was a star. Not that he necessarily sought this status. In fact the two times I saw him speak he struck me as humble. Exceedingly competent and forceful in his stance against evil in the modern world; however there was an undeniable note of humility. I was favorably impressed, and understood his mass appeal.

When Father Euteneuer abruptly resigned the presidency of HLI in August of 2010, fans across the country were bewildered. His wildly successful books had just been released. Some speculated that perhaps his work as an exorcist became an impediment to his duties as head of the pro-life organization. Others thought perhaps he was simply exhausted. After all, being on the front lines of spiritual warfare for many years is bound to take a toll on a person.

Father E’s message announcing his resignation hinted at burnout. “Nearly ten years ago I answered the call of the Lord to come to Human Life International and work full-time in pro-life work with the permission of my bishop. I have been utterly privileged to serve this great mission for a decade, and now I am called back to my diocese to continue my priestly service in parish work, which was the original calling of my vocation…I expect that some time of rest and renewal will help me to make the transition. It has been 15 years since I last had any significant time for renewal, and after traveling more than 1.1 million miles, authoring two books, visiting 58 countries and making thousands of public appearances, I am ready for a break! I intend to continue to do pro-life work wherever I may be called to serve, and my bishop agrees that this is a vital charism of my priestly life.”

It was a loss for the pro-life movement, no doubt. Conspiracy theories abounded, but most of his fans were simply perplexed. Mainly there were prayers that all was well and the hope that wouldn’t be the last we heard from Father Euteneuer.

All was quiet until a few weeks ago. Apparently it began with rumblings in the fringes of the blogosphere, followed by troubling reports from several noted Catholic bloggers. Exhaustion shmaustian, they said. Word on the web was that Father Euteneuer had succumbed to some very human temptations.

Father Euteneuer issued a statement which confirmed the rumors contained at the very least a kernel of truth. He had violated his vow of chastity with an adult female who was under his care:

"...I must acknowledge, however, that one particularly complex situation clouded my judgment and led me to imprudent decisions with harmful consequences, the worst of which was violating the boundaries of chastity with an adult female who was under my spiritual care.

I take full responsibility for my own poor judgment, my weakness and my sinful conduct that resulted from it. I offer no excuse for my professional or moral failures, nor do I shift the blame to anyone else. I state without reserve that I am deeply sorry for my actions. I have personally apologized, where possible, to anyone I have harmed. I am saddened beyond words for my fall, not only because of the harm done to my priesthood and my family, but also because of the harm done to all others who are affected, to the faith of those who placed so much trust in me and our Church, and to the pro-life movement so populated with heroic, faithful people. I must face and make amends for the disappointment I have caused. I have, of course, asked for God’s forgiveness and I have confidence in his boundless mercy. I am now grateful to be able to publicly ask for all of yours as well..."

The internet went wild. Shock, grief, disappointment. Anger, frustration, even rage in many corners. Mercy from many, with prayers and gratitude for all that Father E. had contributed to the pro-life movement. Other speculated that the assaults of the enemy on Father E. must have been exceptionally powerful, as his ministry consisted of both saving the unborn and exorcising demons.

Additional accusations came forth. Disturbing if true, equally disturbing if not. The faithful were at one another's throats.

I stopped reading comments on many of the blogs because frankly I couldn’t stand the vitriol and wild speculation. If one accused Father E. they were labeled an idiot or a liar or both. Those defending Father E. were sheeple, suckers who were too blinded by his celebrity to think rationally.

It is very hard to know in the facts in a case like this and I knew it was essentially futile for me to try and ascertain exactly what happened and why.

However one comment about the Father Euteneuer situation stuck with me, and I e-mailed it to a friend. It is so profound that I have no doubt the Holy Spirit inspired the author. I found it on the Fisheaters traditional Catholic forum, and it was written by a poster named "QuisUtDeus ":

“As much as it bothers us, it "bothers" God more since the real offense is against Him, of course. So my opinion is we should "comfort" Him with reparations and in return He will console us with hope.

Stay after Mass and spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament in reparation. That always helps me obtain the favor and grace of Hope. The fact Christ is there in the Real Presence reminds me that He is really and truly with us, even physically so. That being the case, things will turn out alright in the end.

When things like this happen, I shrug this **** off, "give the devil the fig" at his lame attempts to destroy the Church, and try to behave better myself.”

So today it was Father Tom Euteneuer, tomorrow it could be anyone, Catholic or not.

As long as someone is breathing, the battle isn't over. Conversion is a daily thing. Left to our own devices, we are all capabe of unwise, unkind and even evil behavior.

The stars of modern Catholicism are people. They may have many wonderful attributes but they undoubtedly have shortcomings too. They might struggle with a sharp tongue, or gluttony or maybe an addiction. Their marriages might fall apart, despite heroic attempts to save them. They might break their vow of chastity. They might be vain, or narrow-minded or obstinate. In other words, they are human.

What we see in these luminaries, what attracts us to them, is the Holy Spirit at work. When they use their gifts as God intended, when they cooperate with Jesus, extraordinary things occur. Lives are changed. People are healed, inspired, uplifted. Miracles happen. These folks become channels of God’s grace. It is when they decide to do things their own way that things get problematic.

This is why we must pray for anyone who works to build the kingdom of God. The next time your life is touched by a Catholic in the public eye, please take a moment and pray for that person.

  • Next time you hear Dr. Hahn on the radio or see Father Pacwa on television, say a Hail Mary for them. They need your prayers.
  • Father John Corapi has touched countless lives. The devil would love to take him out of the fight. Offer penance for Father Corapi. Pray for him.
  • Immaculee Ilibagiza is uniquely positioned in that her story touches people of all faiths, even those who do not believe in God. Jesus is working powerfully through this extraordinary woman. Pray very hard for her.

The enemy hates all of us, but he especially hates priests. No priests, no Eucharist. Priests need our prayers more than anyone. Especially our bishops and the Holy Father. They fight for us. We need to fight for them. Pray!

The danger of putting people on pedestals is that they will almost always fall.

Truly, the only pedestal that matters is on Mount Calvary. And the person on it will never, ever fall from grace.

Since Father E’s initial statement, there have been subsequent statements from HLI as well as additional serious allegations.
I pray for all involved, and that our good and loving God guides and consoles all who turn to Him. God is merciful. God is just. God is all knowing. Jesus, I trust in you. Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.