Providing greater perspective to the disturbing recent revelations from Sacramento that continue to unfold, Christopher Altieri of the Catholic Herald spoke to the woman who made allegations of sexual abuse against the now-excommunicated priest Jeremy Leatherby.
The details of her account are strikingly similar to those that led to the 2010 resignation of then-Father Thomas Euteneuer from the presidency of Human Life International. Like Euteneuer, Leatherby is alleged to have invented pseudo-religious rituals for his own physical gratification under the guise of “spiritual direction.”
Altieri described some of the practices revealed by the accuser-survivor of Leatherby’s abuse. For example:
“What she called the ‘Mary Magdalen Routine,’ in which Fr Leatherby asked the victim to kiss and caress first his feet, and in subsequent iterations of the ritual also his body. At least once, Leatherby brought oils for the routine – supposedly blessed – with which the victim alleges she would anoint his feet.”
I won’t share any more of the sordid details here, but they are revolting. According to his grandfather, Leatherby—like Euteneuer—was an exorcist. It is unconscionable to me that a man entrusted with a position of so much gravity and responsibility could abuse it so callously to use others in diabolical ways. Yet we’ve seen it happen, over and over again.
We often hear the words, “We are all sinners,” repeatedly. In homilies and spiritual talks, we regularly hear things like, “When we fall, we have to pick ourselves back up and try again.”
Many (maybe even a majority) of good, God-fearing Christian people heed these words. We work hard, try to live morally upright lives and obey the commandments, work on our spiritual lives, struggle with difficult questions of faith and conscience, and try to pass down the faith to our children. It’s true, none of us are perfect. All of us succumb to temptation or allow our worst attributes and addictions to take over. Sometimes we do horrible things.
But there are no words for those who prey on the people of God.
The sickening nature of the behavior exhibited by many priest-abusers is unimaginable.
The ongoing, persistent sacrilege and blasphemy involved in so many of these cases is infuriating. For a religious leader to profane the trust of those entrusted to his care is an indescribable betrayal of everything he claims to represent.
That such traitors continue to lead vulnerable and trusting people further into this desecration of the truth, even after they’ve been exposed, is blasphemy.
Will it ever end?
Thank God for the witness of survivors. Those who demand justice and repentance and reform—despite the horrible treatment they often receive at the hands of the Church when they try to tell their stories—are our hope.
Image: Screenshot from Jeremy Leatherby’s video message to an unidentified woman, described in this CNA story.
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.