PART TWO [Read PART ONE]
Father Malachi Martin was an exorcist, bestselling author, former aide to Pope St. John XXIII, and onetime professor at the Vatican’s Pontifical Biblical Institute. He was also a friend of Father Alfred J. Kunz, and he believed the Wisconsin priest’s 1998 murder bore the marks of satanic evil.
“He was found at 7 o’clock in the morning with his throat cut from ear to ear,” Martin said on a national radio program in May 1998. “In his own blood, face down into it and with various acts of desecration of his body which are normally associated with satanist-inflicted death.”
The author of Hostage to the Devil, The Keys of This Blood, Windswept House, and more than a dozen other books said Kunz consulted with him on exorcisms. The country priest was “picked off” by someone who wanted to permanently silence him, Martin said. He referred to the murder as the “assassination of Christ’s hero.”
Father Kunz’s efforts to battle evil became a significant part of his still-unsolved, 20-year-old murder case. Some friends and associates were convinced that his work as an exorcist and his investigation of sexual corruption in the priesthood must have been factors in his March 3, 1998 killing at St. Michael School in the village of Dane, Wisconsin. Police have now turned their focus to more common motives for the killing, such as burglary or robbery. But the contentions of Kunz’s associates still hang heavy over the case, showing just how complicated the priest’s life could be.
There is one major problem with the Father Martin’s theory: one of its base premises was false. Kunz’s body did not have injuries that would lead investigators to suspect a ritual or satanic killing, according to Dane County Sheriff David J. Mahoney. Kunz’s throat was not cut “ear to ear,” as many stories claimed. The throat slash was more to one side, and it severed the carotid artery. There were no other stab wounds and no desecration or mutilation of the body, according to Mahoney.
It’s unclear where Martin and other friends, like Father John A. Hardon, SJ, got information that led them to conclude the killer’s motivation was Kunz’s work as an exorcist, or his efforts to expose pederasty in the priesthood. But convinced they were. In remarks to his students just one week after Kunz’s murder, Hardon said: “I don’t know if they will ever reveal…why he was murdered, but I think I can safely say he was not just murdered, he was martyred. Oh, how much I could say. That’s the kind of priest we need today, who shed their blood for what they believe and not be afraid, not be afraid of human beings, and least of all be afraid of dying, out of love for and loyalty to Jesus Christ.”
It was Hardon who encouraged Stephen G. Brady to found the activist group Roman Catholic Faithful in mid-1996. He advised the group as it exposed one priestly pederasty scandal after another in Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Florida, California, and other states. Father Hardon recommended Kunz and Father Martin, who both advised RCF on its investigations. When Father Kunz was murdered, Hardon worried the killing was related to RCF’s investigation into allegations of homosexual activity with minors and priests by Bishop Daniel L. Ryan of the Diocese of Springfield. After the murder, Hardon advised one of the priest accusers in the Ryan investigation to clam up and stay out of sight due to concerns for the priest’s safety, according to Brady.
In late March 1998, Dane County sheriff’s detectives traveled to RCF headquarters near Springfield, Illinois, and spent four hours interviewing Brady about Kunz’s behind-the-scenes work. Father Kunz, Brady said, was “deeply involved” in the Bishop Ryan investigation. The priest advised Brady not to trust a special assistant to Chicago Archbishop Francis George, who was sent downstate to evaluate allegations against Ryan. Dane County detectives also traveled to the Jacksonville Correctional Center west of Springfield and interviewed Frank Bergen, a former male prostitute and habitual criminal who said Bishop Ryan hired him for sex on countless occasions in the 1980s and 1990s. The paid sexual encounters started when he was 16, Bergen said. Ryan used the services of around 10 male prostitutes, often picking them up off the street and taking them back to the cathedral rectory for sex, according to Bergen’s statements to RCF. Bergen used the money from prostitution to fund his cocaine addiction.
In addition to assisting RCF’s efforts on the Bishop Ryan case, Hardon said Father Kunz was also doing work directly for the Vatican. “We were very close friends,” Father Hardon told his students. “We worked together for tasks assigned us by the Holy See.” Father Hardon died in December 2000. The cause for his beatification and canonization was opened in 2005, and he carries the Church-approved title Servant of God.
Malachi Martin said he received authority to perform exorcisms in a three-state area of the northeast US directly from the Vatican. Kunz’s work as an exorcist was low-profile, he said. “He has done exorcisms, but very, very private. Most of us don’t talk about them because they usually involve confessional material,” Martin said in May 1998. “Father Kunz was a very good priest and never spoke about confessional material.” Martin said after Kunz’s death, “More than one good priest in that part of the world, especially one or two very prominent ones, got telephone calls pointing out that they would go the same way.”
In the weeks before Kunz was killed, the Dane priest expressed fear for his safety, Martin said. Martin died in July 1999 after suffering a fall in his Manhattan apartment. Martin told one friend that although alone at the time, he felt he had been pushed from the stool on which he stood.
It is unclear when Father Kunz would have performed these reported exorcisms, or on whom. Dane County investigators interviewed the then-rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Winona, Minnesota, Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), who had previously referred a family to Kunz for a possible exorcism. Kunz was not a member of the traditionalist SSPX, but when an elderly mother approached the seminary seeking an exorcism for her middle-aged son, Williamson suggested they contact Father Kunz. Shortly before he was killed, Kunz told parishioner Donald Jenkins that the family never made contact with him.
Brent King, spokesman for the Diocese of Madison, said diocese records do make mention of Kunz and exorcisms, but say nothing in detail. He cautioned that this does not mean Kunz ever served as the official diocesan exorcist. During the tenure of former Madison Bishop William H. Bullock, diocesan officials said Bullock did not authorize Kunz to perform any exorcisms. Bullock succeeded the late Bishop Cletus F. O’Donnell in April 1993. Bishop Robert C. Morlino has been bishop of Madison since 2003.
Father Charles C. Fiore of Lodi, Wisconsin, occasionally spoke of “secret missions” he and Kunz made to Chicago to combat satanism and priestly pederasty, according to Joseph Ostermeir, a former St. Michael’s parishioner.
“Their goal was to put a dent in the underground, satanic, pedophiliac clerical cabal that operated there,” Ostermeir wrote on his blog, “The Okie Traditionalist.” Ostermeir confirmed the story to Catholic World Report. He said Fiore, who died in February 2003, did not go into much detail about the trips. Although the details have faded, Ostermeir said what Fiore described “made the hairs on the back of my arms stand on end.” Fiore often counseled victims of priestly sexual abuse. He supplied material to Malachi Martin for use in several books, including Windswept House.
During its investigation of Bishop Daniel Ryan in Springfield, RCF became aware of the “Boys Club,” a network of active homosexual priests and laity in Chicago that was suspected of involvement in pederasty, murder, and even satanism. This ring was mentioned by Father Andrew M. Greeley in his 1999 book Furthermore! Memories of a Parish Priest. “They are a dangerous group,” Greeley wrote. “There is reason to believe they are responsible for one murder and may perhaps have been involved in the murder of the murderer.” Greeley was describing the unsolved 1984 murder of Francis E. Pellegrini, 47, the organist and choir director at All Saints – St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Chicago. Brady said one theory of the murder is that Pellegrini was about to expose the Boys Club and that he was killed to silence him. Greeley, who died in 2013, never publicly identified any members of the Boys Club.
Thomas R. Hampson, an Illinois private investigator and founder of Truth Alliance Foundation, said a “peripheral member” of the Boys Club contacted Father Kunz and met with him in Wisconsin in the years before Kunz was killed. Hampson spent years investigating the Boys Club and priestly sexual abuse of teenage boys. The Boys Club was a “loosely organized group of priests and laity who cultivated sexual relationships with vulnerable boys and shared these boys with each other,” Hampson said. The ring was alleged to be centered in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. Texas attorney Sheila Parkhill, who also investigated the Boys Club, said its members are guilty of ritualistic and satanic abuse of children, as well as murder, credit card theft, and fraud. One suspected Boys Club member was convicted of predatory sexual abuse of a child; several other suspected members have died. Most Boys Club members have never been charged with crimes, Hampson said.
Just months after Kunz’s murder, Brady described a thread connecting events of the time. “On February 11, 1997, RCF held its first press conference accusing Bishop Ryan of sexual misconduct. Since that time, the main priest accuser against Ryan has been told by a Vatican priest to fear for his life and stay away from RCF,” Brady wrote. “Father Alfred Kunz, a holy and orthodox priest working with RCF, was brutally murdered. And we are beginning to uncover what I believe to be a good old boys club of sexual perverts within the American hierarchy, who scandalized the faithful, sodomized the innocent and who are banding together out of need and greed. Satan seems to rule in their world.”
“Nobody talks about Hell in my church.” Attorney Peter B. Kelly was frustrated with how the Catholic faith had been watered down and robbed of its richness. As a catechist at his southern Wisconsin parish, he told the pastor they should teach the eighth-grade children about the Four Last Things: death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. The priest wanted none of it, uttering the above words, which Kelly still finds shocking. Kelly pushed back, saying he planned to teach the traditional Catholic faith. “In that case, don’t show up,” the priest said, according to Kelly.
Determined to find a way to spread the true faith, Kelly decided to buy airtime on Wisconsin radio station WEKZ-FM 93.7. He had been recently introduced to a tradition-minded priest, Father Alfred Kunz. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll ask him—will you do radio with me?’”
Kelly remembers. “I didn’t even have a decent cassette recorder. And he said yes. That’s how we started.”
Using a cheap tape recorder, the duo sat in a small room at St. Michael School, across the hall from where Kunz’s body was found. With more than a hint of Swiss heritage evident in his Wisconsin accent, Kunz taught the Catholic faith. In a folksy style, he explained everything from ad orientem worship to how Old Testament prophesies all point to Jesus on the Cross at Calvary. “The goal and approach was simply to try to give to the listeners the teachings of the Church that they were not hearing from their modernist pastors at their local Novus Ordo Mass,” Kelly said.
Eventually, recording and production moved from St. Michael’s to WEKZ studios in Monroe. For the recording session on the night of March 3, 1998, Kunz unexpectedly asked Father Fiore to come along and sit behind the guest microphone. Kunz was murdered just hours later.
Was the murder an inside job?
Statistically speaking, 34 percent of those who call 911 in homicide cases end up being the killer. This fact was mentioned by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office as part of a social-media campaign on the 20th anniversary of the Kunz murder. The priest’s body was found by an upper-grades teacher who arrived at the school at 7 am. The teacher used his key to enter through the west doors. When he saw Kunz slumped on the floor, he called 911, leaving the phone several times to return to Kunz’s body and see if he could render aid. When sheriff’s deputies arrived, the teacher was covered in blood. “Could this teacher have been Father Kunz’s killer?” the department asked on Facebook on March 5, 2018.
The teacher, then 25, was one of three new hires who started at St. Michael School in the fall of 1997. At the time, the school had 50 students in grades K through 8. Sources in the school and parish said Father Kunz grew increasingly frustrated with his new teacher because the man became romantically involved with a female staff member. “He wasn’t turning out very well,” said a friend of Kunz who asked not to be named. “Father Kunz didn’t appreciate the fraternization between male and female [staff].”
The frustration grew as March 1998 approached. Kunz was busy planning a March 8 Eucharistic Day dinner, an event that kicked off the annual weeklong St. Michael parish mission. The mission director was to be the Rev. Paul Ruge, OFMI, chaplain from the World Apostolate of Fatima, also known as “Our Lady’s Blue Army.” Kunz relied on his teachers to be servers at the Sunday meal, which was reserved for priests and special guests. However, the male teacher said he could not work the event because he was going to the theater with another St. Michael teacher, sources said. “You’re here to serve the church. That’s what the deal was, what the dinner was,” said the friend of Father Kunz. “You shouldn’t be going off to the theater when you should be working, and not with one of the other staffers. We don’t need the romantic drama around here.”
Asked about discord between Kunz and the male teacher, Dane County Sheriff David J. Mahoney said, “All of that is true.” Investigators interviewed the teacher several times, including once after he moved out of state. They continued to keep tabs on him long after he left Wisconsin. His bloody clothing was seized by police on the morning Kunz’s body was found. After the murder, the teacher lived for about six months with Father Fiore in nearby Lodi. The teacher moved from Wisconsin not long after, got married, and started a family in another Midwestern state. He no longer works in education. He has, by outward appearances, lived a clean life since 1998. For much of the long murder investigation, he was atop the list of persons of interest. Mahoney said DNA testing and other investigative tools have now ruled the man out as a suspect. The former teacher declined an interview request from Catholic World Report.
It was a very good day to die. In his role as chaplain of St. Clare Hospital in Monroe in the 1960s, Father Kunz paid regular visits to a patient with a terminal illness. On each visit, Kunz asked the man if it was a good day to be baptized. The man politely said “no.” Then one day, the patient, sensing his condition had worsened, agreed to be baptized by the kindly priest. After completing the Catholic Rite of Baptism, Kunz beheld a man with a pure soul. The man reached up to embrace his pastor. With his arms around Father Kunz’s neck, the man’s heart stopped. Kunz gently laid the man’s head on the pillow, knowing he was now beholding the face of Jesus. Peter Kelly, the Monroe attorney who hosted the radio program “Our Catholic Family,” said for years after that day, Kunz considered the man his “personal saint” to whom he prayed for special intercession.
Called from youth to the priesthood
Alfred Joseph Kunz was born April 15, 1930. He grew up in Stitzer, a tiny farming community in southwestern Wisconsin. He was one of eight children of Alfred J. and Helen T. Kunz. His father came to the United States from Switzerland in 1914, paying for passage by shoveling coal on a transatlantic steamship. Alfred Kunz, Sr. was unable to return home due to the outbreak of World War I. Originally headed for California, he ran out of money and landed in Wisconsin. That’s where he met and married Helen Selz, a Michigan native of German extraction. Kunz was a cheesemaker who operated a cheese factory on the family farm. The Kunz family was devoutly Catholic, attending daily Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in nearby Fennimore. The senior Kunz died on March 3, 1965, exactly 33 years before the attack that ended his son’s life. Mrs. Kunz died in January 1993 at age 98.
A young Alfred heard a calling to the priesthood after suffering a nearly fatal bout of appendicitis at age 10. As he regained consciousness from surgery, he told his mother, “I want to be a priest.” That was a big switch from the days he thought he would grow up to be an airline pilot. In 1944, Kunz entered the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, for a 12-year course of study. On May 26, 1956, he was ordained by Archbishop Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, the Vatican’s apostolic delegate to the United States. Kunz said his first Mass on June 3, 1956 at St. Mary in Fennimore. Kunz served parishes in Waunakee, Cassville, and Monroe before newly minted Bishop Cletus F. O’Donnell named him pastor of St. Michael’s in June 1967.
Kunz came to be known for his devotion to the “Tridentine” or Traditional Latin Mass. He was the only priest in the Diocese of Madison allowed to say the Latin Mass (years before Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum). He was an expert in Latin. His adherence to Catholic tradition and his fearless preaching on the moral evils of abortion and contraception won him devotion from tradition-minded Catholics. Those same things drove some progressive Catholics to other parishes. Kunz raised the ire of many fellow priests in the diocese, who treated him with open disdain for his orthodoxy and outspoken approach, friends said.
Kunz didn’t shy away from controversy. In 1996, he told a newspaper interviewer that the vote taken by US bishops in 1977 to allow reception of Holy Communion in the hand was invalid. In order to get the required number of bishop votes needed to apply for an indult from Pope Paul VI, leadership of the bishops’ conference polled members who were not at the meeting; Kunz said this voided the vote. Kunz’s friend, Father Hardon, agreed. “Whatever you can do to stop Communion in the hand will be blessed by God,” Hardon said in 1997. Both men believed that Communion in the hand would inevitably lead to a loss of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Kunz also believed the practice would allow particles of the host to fall to the ground, resulting in sacrilege.
Friends and associates mistakenly believed Father Kunz held a degree or license in canon law, especially since he served as judicial vicar for the Diocese of Madison from 1978 until at least 1990. He was consulted by people around the globe for his expertise in Church law. Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), once sought his canon-law advice. He was highly recommended by the Canon Law Society of America. Kunz’s expertise was largely self-taught, although he studied ecclesiastical law in the seminary. Brent King, spokesman for the Diocese of Madison, said Kunz did not have a degree or license in canon law. Under the 1917 Code of Canon Law, judicial vicars had to be “otherwise expert” if they did not hold a law degree. Kunz easily met that standard. When the 1983 Code of Canon Law was promulgated requiring a canon-law degree, sitting judicial vicars were grandfathered in. King said the practice was common across the United States at the time.
Well before the murder, Jean Eiden knew a world without Father Kunz was something she never wanted to face. Eiden met Kunz when she was 12 and he was assistant pastor at St. Victor Catholic Church in Monroe. He went deer hunting with her father. It wasn’t unusual for her to come to breakfast and find Father Kunz at the table with her parents. Even when she left the Catholic Church for 20 years, he kept in touch. One Friday in the mid-1980s, she decided to visit Kunz at St. Michael’s famous fish fry dinner. They sat up talking for hours, then Father Kunz asked her, “What are you doing here?” She answered, “I don’t know what to do.” The answer was simple. “You need to come back to the Church,” Kunz said. So she did. Father Kunz became her guiding beacon of faith. From that time, Eiden started saying a special prayer at Mass. “I would pray that I would die before he would, because I couldn’t imagine my life without him. Every day of my life I prayed that.”
If someone needed to find Father Kunz late at night, he was usually in prayer at the church. Kunz left the building open 24 hours a day, so people could stop at any time to pray. A daily holy hour, and the Mass he said every day of his priesthood, were keys to his life. “The last two hours of my day I spend in prayer and in serious reading,” Kunz once said. “I could not function as a priest unless I offered daily Mass and prayed in solitude for an hour without distraction. Prayer is an essential part of my life.”
(Matt C. Abbott contributed to this report. Anyone with information on Father Kunz’s murder should contact the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, (608) 284-6900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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