After ‘demonic’ desecration, Louisiana church reconsecrated as details about priest emerge

Denver Newsroom, Oct 12, 2020 / 04:35 pm (CNA).-

Archbishop Gregory Aymond on Saturday consecrated a new altar at the Louisiana parish where a priest reportedly filmed a pornographic video atop the parish altar with two women last month. Details have emerged about the priest, who is expected to face criminal and canonical charges after the episode.

Those who know the priest say he kept to himself, while a seminary professor said Clark was a poor student who made little effort, which should have been a red flag.

“The desecration of this church and altar is demonic, demonic,” Aymond said at Sts Peter and Paul Church in Pearl River, Louisiana Oct. 10, during a Mass at which he also reconsecrated the parish church.

“Let me be clear, there is no excuse for what took place here. It is sinful, and it is totally unacceptable. Travis has been unfaithful to his vocation; he’s violated his commitment to celibacy; and also, he was using that which was holy to do demonic things,” Aymond said, according to the Clarion Herald.

“He will not be able to serve in priestly ministry, and he will not be able to serve as a priest anytime in the future,” Aymond emphasized, while urging the parish to “continue to focus on the Lord Jesus and his mission and ministry here.”

The altar upon which Clark and two women engaged in filmed sexual congress was destroyed – burned – at Aymond’s order, which came as soon the learned on Oct. 8 the details of Clark’s activity in the parish Church, a spokesperson told CNA.

Clark and two women were arrested Sept. 30 and charged with obscenity after a neighbor observed through a window that they were filming sexual relations atop the altar, which was illuminated by stage lights. The priest was removed from ministry by the archbishop on Oct. 1.

One of the women with whom Clark made the pornographic film refers to herself as a “Satanatrix,” and the “proprietress of the Church of Satanatrix,” who posted on social media Sept. 29 that she would be traveling with another woman to “defile a house of God.”

The women’s attorney said in a statement this week that it is “appalling” that his clients are “being vilified” and facing charges for conduct he said was not illegal, because the church in which the filming took place was on private property. But police said the church’s altar was visible from the street, apparently through the glass doors of the parish entrance.

Aymond celebrated Mass at the parish Oct. 3, last weekend, after Clark was arrested. The archbishop celebrated Mass on the desecrated altar, an archdiocesan spokesperson told CNA, “because we were not aware of what had happened in the church.”

“As soon as the archbishop learned of the details, arrangements were made for the altar to be removed and a new one consecrated and the church reconsecrated,” the spokesperson added.

The archdiocese said that “there was no desecrating of the Blessed Sacrament,” during the sexual episode, and that “we are not aware of any other sacred vessels being desecrated at this time.”

Clark was ordained a priest in 2013 and became pastor of St. Peter and Paul last year. The archdiocese told CNA that the priest had “never before been the subject of any sexual misconduct claims.”

When he was ordained a deacon in 2012, Clark told the Clarion Herald that among his role models was Fr. Patrick Wattigny, a high school chaplain who admitted this month that in 2013 he sexually abused a minor, and who is accused of sending “grooming” text messages to a high school student earlier this year.

Priests in the Archdiocese of New Orleans told CNA that Clark is a quiet guy with a reputation among the presbyterate for keeping to himself. Priests in the archdiocese that Clark’s nickname in the seminary was Lurch, in reference to the gloomy, shambling butler on television’s The Addams Family.

Some priests said that Clark is regarded as kind, attentive to the Serra Club and other projects, but was known by some to have a compulsive video game habit, sometimes staying up all night to play games.

Priests also told CNA that they are praying for Clark and his parish. Some speculated that the priest might have gotten involved with the women through a pornography addiction, and failed to appreciate the escalating circumstances until it was too late, especially regarding the demonic aspect of the pornographic performance he was filming.

Still, one priest said that while many in the presbyterate are surprised by Clark’s action, the priest has no excuse for his choices.

Chistopher Baglow, a theologian who taught Clark in seminary, told CNA that he believes Clark’s misdeeds point to a problem with seminary evaluation.

In the seminary, nothing about Clark’s behavior suggested that the priest would later do the things he is accused of, Baglow said. But he did recall concerns about the seminarian.

The theologian remembered Clark for being a student who didn’t participate in class, was negligent of assignments and seemed often “to be flying under the radar.”

“It was clear he wasn’t trying, and some made it known,” Baglow said. “It was often countered that pastoral gifts and holiness do not require great theological genius, and the concern was expressed by some colleagues that we should avoid focusing too much on academics.”

But Baglow said his concern about Clark, or other students who gave evidence of not trying, was not about academics, but about character.

Baglow said he does not expect academic excellence from all students. But he does believe seminaries should expect effort, and evidence of virtue in students and seminary life.

“Tolerating mediocrity in a man allows tolerance for other kinds of unacceptable things.”

“Mediocrity can be a cover for other problems — sometimes very serious problems,” Baglow said.

Condoning “mediocrity” in the evaluation of seminarians, the theologian said, lowers the Church’s standards in the caliber of men who become priests. The Church should accept men for priesthood who want to be excellent academically, spiritually, pastorally, and morally, Baglow told CNA.

The theologian told CNA that in his view “the system isn’t broken, it’s just missing a part.”

He urged that seminaries develop committees of “well-formed knowledgeable Catholic lay people who are part of vocation evaluation and discernment.”

Such committees would give recommendations about the suitability of candidates for orders independent of seminary staff or faculty, Baglow said, giving bishops the benefit of perspective and judgment outside the clerical and ecclesiastical milieu.

CNA asked the Archdiocese of New Orleans what canonical penalties Clark could face, and whether he will face the prospect of penal or administrative laicization.

“It is Archbishop Aymond’s intention that Travis Clark never again practice priestly ministry. He is in conversations with canon lawyers about the appropriate actions to take moving forward,” the archdiocesan spokesperson said.


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1 Comment

  1. Once again, let’s hear St. Peter Damian, quoting a then-commonplace disciplinary rule for clerics: “Any cleric or monk who seduces young men or boys, or who is apprehended in kissing or in any shameful situation, shall be publicly flogged and shall lose his clerical tonsure. Thus shorn, he shall be disgraced by spitting in his face, bound in iron chains, wasted by six months of close confinement, and for three days each week put on barley bread given him toward evening. Following this period, he shall spend a further six months living in a small segregated courtyard in custody of a spiritual elder, kept busy with manual labor and prayer, subjected to vigils and prayers, forced to walk at all times in the company of two spiritual brothers, never again allowed to associate with young men.”

    Obviously the book St. Peter Damian was quoting was primarily concerned with homosexual acts. But, inasmuch as Clark’s behavior clearly qualifies as a “shameful situation,” can anyone offer a reason why Clark ought not have a similar penance? Certainly he may never again be permitted access to a source of pornography (e.g. smartphone, computer) or unsupervised time with young women. And naturally he’s laicized, that goes without saying.

    But allow me to double-down on the necessity of corporal punishment, fasting, public-and-ceremonial removal from the clerical state, et cetera. The Church should do this, or something very similar, when crimes such as these arise. YES, in the modern era. Are not modern men still men? Or do we only accord the dignity of full humanity to men who lived a thousand years ago?

    And, YES, corporal punishment is just and laudable. Are we gnostics? Are men not bodily creatures? Are the sins in view not at least partly sins of the flesh? For such disordered behavior, a response limited to “strongly-worded condemnation” is not merely insufficient; it isn’t even relevant. It’s off-topic. It doesn’t remotely fit.

    A disciplinary action and laicization for Clark which involved corporal punishment, fasting, and the rest would be just, of course. Everyone agrees about that, I suppose.

    But it would also be merciful. It allows the offender an occasion of real mourning for their sins. Indeed, can anyone claim to be concerned for the state of Clark’s soul, or even sensitive to his dignity as a child of God, if they do not impose such benefits (yes, I said “benefits,” that’s the correct word) upon him?

    It is the sons of the household, whom the father takes pains to chastise and correct. With the hired hands, he doesn’t bother.

    Fathers! Stop treating wayward priests like mere hirelings, if you love their souls!

    While we’re at it, our spiritual fathers also have a duty to edify all the laity, religious, and clergy who have not gravely scorned their vows. This is why discipline for grave offenses has a PUBLIC component. It isn’t to satisfy bloodlust or a prurient curiosity, although such malformed responses are an unintended side-effect. The primary — and very necessary — effect is to show how seriously God the Father takes the free choices of humans, how He insists on the holiness of His children, how His mercy is just and His justice is merciful, such that He makes no allowance for treating humans as mere helpless, mindless beasts.

    At present, the faithful groan that (unrepentant) former-cardinal Ted McCarrick is living out his waning days in posh comfort hidden from public view. This failure to publicly discipline him is a grave disservice to the faithful. It shouts to the hills that church leadership considers his misdeeds relatively unimportant and unremarkable.

    If the bishops have any care whatsoever for the souls of the faithful, or their own, this responding-to-grave-scandal by whisking offenders away into hidden retirements must END.

    * In the case of Clark, his sexual sins would seem to likely involve some sadomasochistic perversions. For this distasteful reason, and only for this reason, it would be reasonable to substitute some other corporal punishment for flogging in the disciplining of this man.

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