On Friday of last week, Irish blogger Pat Buckley reported that four men have come forward with allegations including boundary violations, spiritual abuse, and sexual harassment against Dom Mark Kirby of Silverstream Priory, the author and alleged visionary behind the popular devotional book In Sinu Jesu. These new allegations follow a lengthy August 2021 interview with Fr. Benedict Andersen in the Pillar.
Fr. Andersen is a Silverstream monk who is currently in canonical limbo, unable to minister as a priest after his complaints of inappropriate behavior and spiritual abuse by Fr. Kirby resulted in an apostolic visitation of the priory. Formerly the sub-prior of the community, Andersen was the first person to publicly bring forward allegations against Kirby, although stories about Kirby’s past and his allegedly abusive treatment of his subordinates had been circulating for years.
If these new allegations are true, it appears that Fr. Andersen has been vindicated. Not only was he mistreated by Fr. Kirby, but his treatment by the diocese has been unjust. Read the article in the Pillar for Fr. Andersen’s account of his story and Pat Buckley’s blog post for details about the new allegations (warning: sexually explicit language).
You may recall the four-part analysis of In Sinu Jesu by theologian Dawn Eden Goldstein that we published in June of 2020. She wrote the series in order to foster dialogue about the book. It was remarkable, Goldstein observed, that the book, a Catholic bestseller with over 250 five-star reviews on Amazon at the time, had until then “escaped theological critique—especially given its claim to contain messages from Jesus that are intended for all the faithful.”
On her personal blog, Goldstein explained why she chose to look more deeply into the background and contents of the book. She wrote:
“A conversation with a priest friend led me to take a second look at the book of alleged private revelations given to an anonymous ‘Benedictine Monk.’
The priest told me about some serious pastoral issues occurring in his diocese; the bishop had disciplined a few priests who were promoting spiritually harmful practices. I asked whether the priests involved were reading a particular book, and was told that they were. It was In Sinu Jesu.”
The publisher’s description of In Sinu Jesu begins with the words, “In 2007, Our Lord and Our Lady began to speak to the heart of a monk in the silence of adoration. He was prompted to write down what he received.” The book, published in 2016, purports to be a journal of the locutions the monk received in the years that followed.
In Goldstein’s review, she explains that although the author of the book is simply described as “A Benedictine Monk,” the fact that Fr. Kirby wrote the book was more or less an open secret. In the second installment of her series, for example, she demonstrates that journalist Robert Moynihan revealed that Fr. Kirby was the author of the book in an August 2019 newsletter.
In Sinu Jesu is a favorite book of Cardinal Raymond Burke, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Bishop Joseph Strickland, and a veritable who’s who of anti-Francis clerics. On the back cover, Cardinal Burke said In Sinu Jesu “issues an urgent call to all priests—and, indeed, to all Christians—to be renewed in holiness through adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces.” In an interview, Viganò said, “I have found the book consoling and interesting in light of our present situation in the Church.” Bishop Strickland wrote in a tweet, “I’m moved to highly recommend ‘In Sinu Jesu’ once again for all priests and all priestly people. I believe it will be a book that remains at my side for the rest of my life.”
In Sinu Jesu is widely distributed and praised as a devotional book, especially for clergy. I know many priests and lay faithful who have found the book beautiful and spiritually edifying. It seems to be well on its way to becoming a modern spiritual classic and a staple in adoration chapels. This is why the details about the author, Silverstream Priory, and the story behind the book are particularly disturbing. A closer look at the entire background was urgent and necessary.
It is important that we give credit where it is due: Dawn Eden Goldstein offered the first high-profile critical analysis of the book here at Where Peter Is, and she was attacked savagely by fans of the book. We received more negative feedback from her series of articles critiquing In Sinu Jesu than arguably anything else we’ve ever published. We had messages demanding that we take down the article. Some even told us to take down the website all together. We were denounced and called names by numerous people, and the author was the target of antisemitic and other slurs on social media.
Another figure who is to be commended for his coverage of the story is Pat Buckley. Just as Goldstein did a deep dive into In Sinu Jesu, Buckley has kept up with the goings-on at Silverstream Priory on his blog. A controversial figure, Pat Buckley is a Catholic priest who was suspended from ministry in the 1980s[*] and excommunicated in 1998 when he was illicitly ordained a bishop in a breakaway group. He also announced he was gay in 1999 and legally married another man in 2010. For these and other reasons, many Catholics dismissed his reporting on Silverstream as unreliable gossip. Yet the details he made public on Friday track both with Fr. Andersen’s statements and with the accounts I have been told by other persons who know Fr. Kirby and endured or witnessed his behavior, but who had previously been unwilling to go on the record. One thing that has become evident to me since I began this website, is that those who claim to be orthodox and traditional Catholics are often paradoxically much less honest and transparent than those who have serious disagreements with the Church.
A Key Collaborator
Not to be lost in this scandal is the figure of Peter Kwasniewski, who played a key role in the publication and promotion of this book. The extent of his involvement has not been fully disclosed, but it seems clear that he was intimately involved.
First of all, notably, Kwasniewski signed off on the book’s nihil obstat. The nihil obstat is given when a book is reviewed for doctrinal errors by a theologian prior to a bishop granting his imprimatur.
The appropriateness of Kwasniewski serving in this role is highly suspect. First of all, he is not a theologian—his doctorate is in philosophy. Even more concerning is that he is an outspoken critic of Vatican II and the liturgical reforms of the 20th century. Most alarmingly, he is relentless in his extreme public opposition to Pope Francis. He has openly accused the pope of heresy and called for disobedience against him. Last month, Malcolm Schluenderfritz provided an overview of Kwasniewski’s heterodox and extreme ideology. Schluenderfritz’s article demonstrates clearly that Kwasniewski’s views on papal authority and ecclesiology are closer to Protestantism than to traditional Catholicism.
Additionally, there are a number of conflicts of interest that suggest Kwasniewski cannot be considered an objective reviewer of In Sinu Jesu. In the second part of her series, Goldstein reported that Kwasniewski’s wife is an oblate of Silverstream Priory. Then, in October of last year, Buckley reported that Kwasniewski’s son was a monk in the priory.
Not only was he the book’s censor deputatus, there are also indications that Kwasniewski played a role in editing the book.
Note that the person who wrote the foreword to In Sinu Jesu is also anonymous, described as “a Benedictine Oblate.” Goldstein notes that “Peter Kwasniewski, at the time that he befriended Father Kirby, already felt called to become a Benedictine Oblate. When he decided to fulfill that call in May 2014, he did not do so at Silverstream but rather associated himself with the Monastero di San Benedetto in Norcia.”
Goldstein received much backlash in response to the final installment of her four-part analysis, but like Fr. Andersen she has been vindicated by subsequent revelations. Critics were angered by her assertion that the language of the book “set off alarm bells,” indicating the possibility of spiritual abuse:
For me as a theologian and as a member of the faithful who wants Catholic religious orders to avoid enabling the spiritual abuses that have happened under such charismatic, quasi-mystical priest-founders as Marcial Maciel, Thomas and Marie-Dominique Philippe, and Carlos Urrutiguoity, these un-nuanced words credited to Jesus set off alarm bells. If Father Kirby is in the place of Jesus to the monks under his authority, and “Jesus” is telling him to tell priests that they are to beg Jesus to be wounded, what does that mean for the spiritual life of Silverstream Monastery?
In her series of articles on “Combat for Contemplative Life,” Carmelite Sister Gabriela Hicks wrote about the dangers of spiritual abuse for Where Peter Is. She describes spiritual abuse as “a form of psychological abuse that uses the victim’s own conscience to ensnare” them. In the context of a cloistered religious community, it is when a superior controls a member of the religious community to the point of “an intrusion into the life of the person.” She explains:
In a religious institute, spiritual abuse usually uses that most revered of the three vows of religion, the vow of obedience, and it uses it in a way that totally distorts it, and at the same time distorts and destroys the person.
Of course, Sr. Gabriela writes her reflection in the context of a controversy brewing among Carmelite nuns, where several traditionalist communities are locked in a battle against the implementation of the Vatican’s instruction Cor Orans, a 2018 document detailing reforms for women’s contemplative life.
Sister Gabriela is a cloistered nun living in a Flemington, New Jersey community. She writes with the support of her prioress and association president, as well as many other communities of cloistered nuns (at least based on the notes I’ve received from sisters around the world). She has been trying to sound the alarm about two traditionalist Carmelite Monasteries—one in Fairfield, Pennsylvania and the other in Valparaiso, Nebraska—that have been trying to galvanize support for their resistance through various traditionalist publications and more mainstream media outlets like Catholic World Report and EWTN. This one-sided media blitz mirrors the lopsided coverage that once surrounded In Sinu Jesu.
The attacks on the Vatican and other Carmels have ranged from conspiratorial and apocalyptic interviews with the Fairfield hermit-priest chaplain and an open letter from Archbishop Viganò to more subtle content designed to appeal to the mainstream. This includes a recent article in the National Catholic Register and a brand-new one-hour documentary on the Fairfield community that quietly slips in their opposition to Cor Orans.
Despite repeated efforts by Sr. Gabriela, Where Peter Is is the only outlet to date that has given the nuns on the other side of the controversy the opportunity to let their voices be heard. For example, in the aforementioned National Catholic Register article, the journalist interviewed Sr. Gabriela for 30 minutes, but this was reduced to a handful of ancillary quotes in the final article.
Once again, much like our criticism of In Sinu Jesu and of the Amazon Synod “paganism” controversy, we’re among very few voices in the Church challenging an established reactionary narrative and that has made us targets. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the same traditionalist figures, including Peter Kwasniewski, have been at the forefront of advancing the reactionary narrative in each of these situations. As always, we’ve been attacked for this, but we’ve grown accustomed to it. Telling the truth is often not the road to popularity. It is important, however, that the voices of Catholics like Fr. Benedict Andersen, Sr. Gabriela Hicks, and the indigenous people of the Amazon are heard.
We won’t shy from being transparent and exposing the truth, even if doing so comes at a cost.
[*] Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Buckley had been laicized. Although he was removed from priestly ministry in 1986 and later excommunicated, he has not formally been laicized by the Church.
Image: Kilbreckstown, Co. Meath. By Kieran Campbell, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81247876
Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.