Hot on HuffPost:

See More Stories

Exorcist Priest and Abortion Scold Falls From Grace, Rocks the Catholic Right

3 years ago
  0 Comments Say Something  »
Text Size
A Catholic priest who traveled the country performing exorcisms and launching fierce attacks against anyone he viewed as insufficiently tough on abortion -- he once suggested Fox News host Sean Hannity was a "heretic" for saying birth control could be a better option than abortion -- has been removed from ministry for sexually exploiting at least one woman he was treating for demonic possession.

The surprising revelations about Father Thomas Euteneuer, who was for a decade the charismatic leader of Human Life International (HLI), a Catholic anti-abortion lobby, have not only stunned his many fans among church conservatives but have also left them sharply divided.

Some of Euteneuer's avid disciples continue to praise him as a prophet who confessed to a single and very human failing, while others feel betrayed and say the priest and his organization are so hypocritical they have hurt the sacred cause of protecting the unborn. Critics also say that the full story of Euteneuer's misdeeds has still not been told, and that policies on exorcism must be tightened to prevent further abuses.

"In my opinion, from now on, for the good of the faithful, all exorcisms should be done in the presence of at least one other person besides the priest," Matt Abbott, a Catholic columnist for the conservative website RenewAmerica.com, wrote in an e-mail. "That person, or persons, should be vetted by the Church and law enforcement and should not be a personal friend of the priest performing the exorcism."

Church officials say that there is currently no requirement that someone be present during an exorcism apart from the priest and the person who is possessed, though some dioceses and individual exorcists do encourage a "team approach" to exorcism.

Exorcism is enjoying something of a renaissance both in popular culture and in the Catholic Church. "The Rite," a movie about training priests to perform exorcisms and starring Anthony Hopkins, was released in January to strong reviews and box office returns. The movie is based on the real-life experiences of a California priest, Father Gary Thomas, who went to the Vatican to learn about exorcisms.

And just last November, 66 priests and 56 bishops turned out for a two-day seminar sponsored by the American hierarchy to teach clerics about exorcisms and hopefully ease the shortage of priests authorized to formally cast out demons; reports of demonic possession are overwhelming the handful of exorcists in the United States, church officials say.

Euteneuer was one of those few priests with a mandate to conduct exorcisms, and that job, along with his campaign against abortion for HLI (based in Front Royal, Va.), kept him traveling around the country and in demand in conservative Catholic circles. That popularity also made his fall from grace all the more disheartening for those who had seen Euteneuer as an inspiration.

"I'm drained and depressed, not to mention angry. Cynical as well," Abbott wrote in a Jan. 29 column.

Questions about Euteneuer, a handsome, square-jawed 48-year-old, first arose last August when he abruptly resigned as president of HLI. He had been living in Virginia while heading up the organization, but as a priest of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., he was subject to the authority of Bishop Gerald Barbarito, who ordered him back to Florida.

Euteneuer portrayed the move as a return to the life of a parish priest that he had always wanted, and as a much-needed respite from his labors.

"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!" Euteneuer wrote in the HLI bulletin. "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. A true pro-lifer is not oriented to a job so much as to the daily task of fighting the culture of death and building the culture of life!"

Fellow conservatives like Deacon Keith Fournier praised him as a "heroic priest" and the board of directors of Human Life International released a statement on Aug. 27 effusively praising Euteneuer for 10 years "of meritorious service to HLI" and for "his leadership, hard work and dedication."

In reality, however, Euteneuer had been forced to resign after being accused of inappropriate relations with a "young adult woman" on whom he was performing an exorcism.

Euteneuer's departure from HLI, while lamented, did raise some eyebrows because it was such a sudden about-face from his longtime public profile.

Indeed, for years Euteneuer had been known as a no-holds barred campaigner against abortion who never missed any opportunity to blast a foe and earn a headline. When Sen. Edward Kennedy died in 2009, for example, he wrote that the liberal Democrat "will not be missed by the unborn who he betrayed time and time again, nor by the rest of us who are laboring to undo the scandalous example of Catholicism that he gave to three generations of Americans."

Euteneuer's verbal punch-up with Hannity during an on-air exchange in 2007 was also a classic, as Euteneuer suggested Hannity was a heretic and said he would deny him Communion because the Fox News host thought it might be better that non-Catholics use birth control rather than risk having an abortion.


In 2010, Euteneuer ripped a well-known Jesuit priest, Father James Martin, because Martin had criticized Pope Benedict XVI for seeming to rank gay marriage as a threat to life on par with abortion. "If the Holy Father's proclamation of the unchanging truth makes Father Martin uncomfortable, then it's time for Father Martin to hang up his collar," Euteneuer said.

Also in 2010, Euteneuer's high-octane campaign against an abortion clinic in Fort Pierce, Fla., became the subject of an HBO documentary, "12th and Delaware."

(Even small fry were not beyond Euteneuer's notice; he so disliked my report on the resignation of the bishop of Scranton -- a friend of Euteneuer's -- that he issued a statement calling me "anti-Catholic" and a "dishonest hack" with a "sick media mind." I've been called far worse, of course, and I was in good company in that Euteneuer included "many" American bishops in his condemnation.)

Finally, in January, The Palm Beach Post wrote a story raising questions about Euteneuer's fate, and noting that HLI had dropped Euteneuer's new book on exorcism from its website despite strong sales. But even then the pro-life organization denied anything was amiss.

"Rumors that the book was 'pulled' or 'recalled' are not true," HLI spokesman Stephen Phelan told The Post. He said the book, "Exorcism and the Church Militant," sold out in three months and HLI decided not to publish any more since Euteneuer was no longer president. (Used copies still sell for hundreds of dollars in the Internet.)

That story seemed to crystallize suspicions that Euteneuer was involved in a scandal, and on Jan. 31 the priest acknowledged in a lengthy statement that while performing an exorcism, "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."

It wasn't clear exactly what Euteneuer did with the woman, as he said the "violations of chastity happened due to human weakness but did not involve the sexual act." ("Bill Clinton would be proud of that," Hannity quipped on his show a couple days later.) Euteneuer insisted it was a lapse with one person only, and he apologized repeatedly and took full responsibility for his failure.

But he also could not resist taking a swipe at his detractors, writing that "I am shocked to the depths of my being at the malicious efforts by supposedly faithful Catholics to destroy a priest who has served the Church faithfully for 22 years." He denounced efforts to drag out the truth as a "sinful campaign" and asked that this single episode not undermine all his work on behalf of the unborn.

At the same time Euteneuer was coming clean, Bishop Barbarito circulated an internal memo to the priests of the Palm Beach diocese informing them that Euteneuer was "undergoing intensive evaluation and counseling to address admitted inappropriate crossing of adult heterosexual boundaries on the occasion of carrying out his priestly ministry." Barbarito said no decision had been made on when Euteneuer would return to ministry.

Then, two days later, Human Life International released a statement confirming that in fact they had received allegations against Euteneuer in August last year that led to his departure. But HLI defended its decision not to disclose any wrongdoing at the time by citing church teaching on "the duty to avoid scandal."

The HLI statement also noted that, contrary to Euteneuer's confession, HLI had "subsequently learned of additional allegations in connection with his exorcism ministry." The organization did not provide details on the other cases and there has been no further word from the Palm Beach diocese about where the investigation of Euteneuer stands.

On Feb. 4, the interim head of HLI, Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro-Carámbula of New York, added to the uncertainty about Euteneuer's case by announcing that the organization had been "under legal constraint not to speak publicly about the matter" and that the victim in the case had been "gravely harmed" by Euteneuer.

In the absence of further information, the Catholic blogosphere lit up with battles between Euteneuer's fans and foes. Hannity had a bit of schadenfreude over Euteneuer's predicament, but elsewhere Catholic conservatives have been arguing fiercely.

Blogger Mark Shea cut off comments on his post about Euteneuer, saying he had made "a manly and forthright act of contrition. Good enough for me. . . . There but for the grace of God go I."

And commenters at other blogs suggested that Satan was getting back at Euteneuer for his exorcism work. "Being exposed to demons is not an easy thing," one person wrote. "Sometimes the demons will purposely twist the bodies of their victims that will have their sexual parts touch the one who is trying to remove the demons. This, I am sure must have happened several times to Father Tom." Others pinned the blame directly on the women who accused Euteneuer.

Likewise, hundreds of supporters left comments on the site hosting Euteneuer's confession, almost all of them praising him for being "courageous" and "humble" and citing Jesus' admonition, "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone."

But others, like Matt Abbott at RenewAmerica.com, who called Euteneuer's story "a whitewash," have argued that pro-lifers must be rigorous in calling out failures among their own if the movement is to maintain its credibility.

The woman behind the Catholic blog "Journey to Therese," who would only be identified by her first name, Adele, also took that approach and has published on her site some of the toughest criticism of Euteneuer.

Adele said she felt personally betrayed because Euteneuer had traveled to her home on more than a dozen occasions between 2008 and 2010 to try to treat what she believed was the demonic possession of a family member.

Adele told me she was deeply upset with Euteneuer over his failing and said she believed there were many other instances. But she also said that because of her critical coverage of Euteneuer she had received numerous "threatening" e-mails that were so disturbing she had referred them to the authorities for investigation.

Our New Approach to Comments

In an effort to encourage the same level of civil dialogue among Politics Daily’s readers that we expect of our writers – a “civilogue,” to use the term coined by PD’s Jeffrey Weiss – we are requiring commenters to use their AOL or AIM screen names to submit a comment, and we are reading all comments before publishing them. Personal attacks (on writers, other readers, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, or anyone at all) and comments that are not productive additions to the conversation will not be published, period, to make room for a discussion among those with ideas to kick around. Please read our Help and Feedback section for more info.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum Comment Moderation Enabled. Your comment will appear after it is cleared by an editor.

17 Comments

Filter by:
Joe Smith

This was a priest who served us by performing exorcisms and standing up for the rights of the unborn. He violated his vows and professionalism ONCE by crossing the line with an adult female.
It's wrong. He knows it and admitted it, and confessed it.
This wasn't a person found out living a double-lifestyle, but a person who fell once to temptation, who admitted that he fell, and that it is wrong.
I do not see any hypocrisy here.
He is against living a sinful LIFESTYLE, that is setting yourself up for sin.
This priest led a lifetime of service for what he believed in, exorcising demons and protecting the unborn.
You don't wipe out a LIFETIME of good works because of one fall from grace.

February 17 2011 at 8:25 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Richelle

It seems those who are quickest to question another's morality tend to be the people with something to hide (just look at Ted Haggard). The most infuriating aspect of these types of situations is the behavior of those who support these people. His supporters decry criticism of him and call for people to remember that we are all fallible, but why did they not do the same when this man was questioning the morality and faith of others? In my opinion this priest has no business telling others how they have failed when he clearly needs to be spending more time thinking about his own failings and how best to learn from them and become a better person.

February 17 2011 at 5:58 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
xf22b

Inner conviction is not a source of morality, as one can have nearly insurmountable convictions to do evil things. If you Bob A' lou decided that you *strongly* wanted to kill someone, it would not make it right.

Religion is correct because it recognizes the source of truth and goodness, something which exists outside the person. Thank God it does, or else it would be subject to my or your selfish whims.

Fr Euteneur is *hopefully* telling the truth and is repentant. God help him if he is not. We all have failures, and the important thing is for us to be truly repentant, make amends, and to "go and sin no more."

He deserves just punishment as do all others who sin gravely. But he also deserves the charity which God demands, even during the application of said punishment.

And for those calling him a hypocrite, that would only be true if he does not hold himself responsible and recognize his own sin. From all I have seen he generally has recognized his own sin first, long before he does that of others. That is not hypocrisy, as he simply tries to hold others to the same moral standard as himself, the standards God teaches.

Hannity is still wrong, and still a heretic, and HE is the hypocrite for claiming to be Catholic and defending a position that all Catholics must oppose. To contrast with Fr Euteneur, he is obedient to his bishop, and does not defend his sinful action. One can only hope that he is telling the truth about the nature and scope of his actions.

February 17 2011 at 4:02 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Bob A' Lou

Religion is the opium of the masses. Only insecure people of weak minds need the claptrap of religion to guide their lives. Atheists and Agnostics are just as good as any religious fruitcake, because they follow the tenets of their inner strength and beliefs to lead moral lives.

February 16 2011 at 8:29 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Bob A' Lou's comment
mackskygifts

That would be 'opiate' not 'opium'.

February 17 2011 at 3:08 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
wkb2texans

Fortunately, God still believes in you ....

February 17 2011 at 5:18 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
ptaray

yet another proof that the "correct religion" or standing in the moral zone of safety such as the right wing means NOTHING at all, but hypocrisy.
Can we ever just move onto the fact that only a person knows what is in their own hearts and this debate about right wing being the true American is over.

Morals and ethics are subjects which remain in the mind and heart, keep them out of politcal agendas please. The very foundation of the moral right is being crushed by the very institute it holds dearest. religion and those who claim its rightful ownership.

February 16 2011 at 5:32 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
trinas1961

I'm not a Hannity fan by any means, but I applaud him completely in this interview. Euteneuer calls himself a priest? Hypocrite and sexual predator is more like it.

February 16 2011 at 5:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ajcook111

It is extremely difficult to find someone more self righteous than Sean Hannity but apparently that person was found in Father Euteneuer. Euteneuer's and the broader church position on birth control is truly immoral. This church policy has resulted in countless unwanted pregnancies and subsequent abortions.

February 16 2011 at 4:51 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ajcook111's comment
speakyyourmind

It's the "casual sex" culture that lead to countless unwanted pregnancies and abortions, NOT the Catholic Church.

The Church's policy is NO SEX OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE.

Therefore, it is the BREAKING of that moral standard that has resulted in unplanned pregnancies and abortions, NOT the standard itself.

February 20 2011 at 6:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Ed

There are no prophets other than false prophets and there never were.

February 16 2011 at 2:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
trmnatr2

The problem is not as much the sin as the coverup.Its happening in a case in Philadelphia right now with three priest and a teacher covered up by their superior.I was raised Catholic and most priest are dedicated,caring individuals but the bad apples spoil the bunch,they have to learn to separate the bad ones from the good.

February 16 2011 at 1:57 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
galadriel7070

To the victims: there are many Catholics out here who do NOT believe you are doing this to make some $$ from a lawsuit. We also do not believe you asked for this in any way, seduced him, or somehow deserved it because you were possessed.

The real scandal here is how the supporters of this man have treated the victims in their posts on the comboxes at various places. And the abuse that HLI heaped upon the victims by allowing Fr. E to write his own narrative upon his departure from HLI, making it sound like he was returning to his diocese because he was a soldier for Christ, practicing the virtue of obedience, when in reality he was being dishonorably discharged for gross misconduct (which caused his victims "grave harm") in his ministry of exorcism.

When will organizations learn that it is the cover-up and resulting further abuse of the victims that really (and rightfully) scandalizes the masses? Just come out with what he did, why his books were pulled, and make a public statement asking for any other victims to please contact an independent authority to assist them with their healing. Report to the police if any crimes were admitted. Immediately remove the perpetrator from ministry, arrange for treatment and monitoring of the perpetrator and provide for support to help the victims. And most of all, DO NOT praise the predator by writing tributes to him upon his ejection for gross misconduct.

Is it really that hard?

February 16 2011 at 1:39 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

Follow Politics Daily

  • Comics
robert-and-donna-trussell
CHAOS THEORY
Featuring political comics by Robert and Donna TrussellMore>>
  • Woman UP Video
politics daily videos
Weekly Videos
Woman Up, Politics Daily's Online Sunday ShowMore»
politics daily videos
TV Appearances
Showcasing appearances by Politics Daily staff and contributors.More>>