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Ex-seminarian’s lawsuit resurrects ‘orgy’ allegation against Omaha Archbishop George Lucas

Hannah Brockhaus   By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA

Omaha Archbishop George Lucas in a 2011 photo. (CNA)

Rome Newsroom, Aug 12, 2021 / 06:12 am (CNA).

Recent affidavits in a lawsuit brought by a former seminarian against administrators of Rome’s Pontifical North American College major seminary have resurrected a prior allegation, deemed false in a diocesan investigative report in 2006, that Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha engaged in a homosexual “orgy” with the school’s rector, Fr. Peter Harman.

None of the individuals submitting affidavits – which are sworn statements that have not been examined yet in court – come from witnesses to the alleged incident. Rather, the court documents point to a video interview conducted with an alleged eyewitness who initiated the orgy accusation against the two men 17 years ago.

The Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, where Archbishop Lucas was the ordinary at the time, denies an orgy took place and stands by the findings of its internal investigation, which deemed the orgy allegation to have “no merit,” according to its final report released in 2006. The chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Deacon Tim McNeil, referred questions about the allegation to the Springfield diocese.

“The allegations are one in the same; however, the lawsuit includes inaccurate information about an incident that was discredited years ago,” McNeil told CNA.

Fr. Harman did not respond to CNA’s requests for comment.

Plaintiff Anthony J. Gorgia filed the civil lawsuit in February in New York State Supreme Court in Richmond County (Staten Island), New York. The 58-page complaint names as defendants the North American College, as well as Fr. Harman, vice rector Fr. Adam Park, and NAC lecturer Fr. John G. McDonald, along with New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and the Archdiocese of New York.

Anthony J. Gorgia, a former seminarian who filed a lawsuit in February 2021 against administrators of the North American College major seminary in Rome for wrongful dismissal, is shown in a photo taken in 2017 when he served at Pope Francis' Christmas Eve Mass. / Vatican Media
Anthony J. Gorgia, a former seminarian who filed a lawsuit in February 2021 against administrators of the North American College major seminary in Rome for wrongful dismissal, is shown in a photo taken in 2017 when he served at Pope Francis’ Christmas Eve Mass. / Vatican Media

Gorgia claims in the lawsuit that he was blocked from continuing his studies for the priesthood after he witnessed Park, the vice rector, give an inappropriate back rub to a subordinate seminarian.

In another recent development in the case, North American College spokesman Fr. David Schunk confirmed to CNA that Park is not returning to the college for the 2021-2022 academic year. The spokesman declined to comment on the reason for Park’s departure, and the Archdiocese of Washington, where Park is a priest, could not be reached for comment about his current assignment.

The defendants deny Gorgia’s claims and have filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed. The recent affidavits were filed in late June by the plaintiff to support a motion opposing dismissal of the lawsuit and amending his complaint.

In one of the affidavits, Gorgia claims that the alleged orgy took place “in the presence of vulnerable seminarians, among others.” Gorgia identifies one of those present as Kevin W. Vann, then a priest of the Diocese of Springfield, and now Bishop of Orange, California and a member of the North American College Board of Governors, according to Gorgia’s affidavit.

Fr. Peter Harman, rector of the North American College major seminary in Rome, in a 2017 photo. / Lucia Ballester/CNA
Fr. Peter Harman, rector of the North American College major seminary in Rome, in a 2017 photo. / Lucia Ballester/CNA

Bishop Vann denies the allegation. Diocese of Orange communications director Tracey Kincaid told CNA in an email: “Regarding the affidavit, Bishop Kevin Vann fully denies its claims. For anyone to allege that an honorable man like Bishop Vann had any involvement with such a thing is so outlandish and untrue that no further remarks are warranted or justified.”

In another affidavit, Kenneth T. McCabe, a retired FBI special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Division who is now a Florida-based fraud examiner, states that he examined “video footage” that he says supports the orgy allegation.

Citing the video footage and other evidence, McCabe states in the affidavit his view that “there is strong evidence of capability, opportunity, and motive on the part of the defendants in this case.”

You can read McCabe’s full affidavit below.

McCabe’s affidavit does not elaborate on the contents or source of the footage. But in an email to CNA, Gorgia’s attorney, Raymond W. Belair, said the video is “not of the orgy itself, but of an interview” with the man who made the original orgy allegation, Thomas Munoz.

The interview with Munoz was conducted in 2004 by Steve Brady, the president of an Illinois-based group, The Roman Catholic Faithful, Belair said. According to the group’s website, its goal is “to rid the Catholic Church of clerical corruption.”

The Springfield diocese’s internal investigation was led by former Illinois district attorney Bill Roberts.

The report states: “Thomas Munoz, an area resident, claimed to have participated in sexual activities with Bishop Lucas, five priests and three unnamed seminarians. The investigation finds with certainty that allegation was false.”

The report makes no mention of any video footage related to the orgy accusation. The diocese told CNA: “We have requested that the parties affiliated with this lawsuit submit any allegations not covered in this 2006 special report directly to our Special Panel for Clergy Misconduct. They have declined to submit anything in response to that request.”

Belair, the plaintiff’s attorney, told CNA in an email that Brady, of The Catholic Faithful group, “provided Mr. Roberts with all of the material he had concerning the orgy, including the video-recorded interview, a transcript of that interview of Mr. Munoz and a list of many of the witnesses, including seminarians who were present at the orgy.”

Belair said in an email to CNA that while Roberts had access to this information, the special panel charged with issuing the final investigative report never spoke with Munoz or any other alleged witnesses.

The Diocese of Springfield’s 2006 “Special Panel on Clergy Misconduct” report said Munoz “has a documented history of criminal and deceptive behavior. After voluntarily submitting to a polygraph examination which he failed, Mr. Munoz has since refused to cooperate further with Mr. Roberts. Mr. Roberts and the panel found no merit to the allegations of Mr. Munoz.”

Belair, however, said in an email that the questioning of Munoz was flawed.

“Roberts’ investigation regarding Munoz was limited to a single question concerning the orgy: ‘Did you have sexual relations with Bishop Lucas?’” Belair wrote in an email.

“But Munoz never asserted that he, Munoz, had homosexual relations with Bishop Lucas. He asserted that Fr. Harman had homosexual relations with Bishop Lucas. That ended the questioning by the ersatz investigators.”

Belair added: “Mr. Munoz is not the only witness to the events at the orgy. We have not yet come forward with the other witnesses.”

Belair also claims that the investigation “ignored” an allegation that Bishop Lucas “subsequently and unsuccessfully solicited Munoz to engage in homosexual acts.”

Roberts, the diocese’s investigator, could not be reached for comment.

A third recent affidavit in the case is from a Catholic priest and a 2007 graduate of the North American College who was a student at the seminary at the same time as defendants McDonald and Park.

Fr. Michael Cassabon states in the affidavit that he was the subject of an “uninvited sexual advance” by Park when Park was a priest-secretary to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. in 2008.

The Pontifical North American College is a major seminary in Rome that educates seminarians from U.S. diocese and elsewhere. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA
The Pontifical North American College is a major seminary in Rome that educates seminarians from U.S. diocese and elsewhere. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA

Cassabon says he also witnessed “uninvited” physical contact from Park toward other seminary students while they were at the North American College together, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit states: “He would often approach men from behind and lay his hands on their shoulders, caress and rub their shoulders and upper back, and put his hand on the small of their backs.”

Cassabon said he learned about Gorgia’s case in March 2020, then spoke with Gorgia in June, and in July he reported Park’s prior conduct to Harman, whose reply included “ad hominem attacks toward the Plaintiff,” and “avoided any response to the accusations I detailed to him,” according to the affidavit.

In a separate filing, Belair states that Cassabon was “physically harassed, groped, and caressed” by Park “both at the NAC … and later in the District of Columbia” in a public restaurant.

Gorgia began his seminary studies in 2015 for the Archdiocese of New York. In the summer of 2017, he started at the North American College in Rome, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, he left the NAC in 2018 for a period during the first semester of his second year of formation to undergo an operation on his spine in his home diocese.

In the lawsuit, Gorgia accuses Harman, Park, and McDonald of creating “false accusations” about him to prevent his planned return to the seminary after an estimated six-week recovery period. Gorgia claims this was done because of his heterosexual orientation and the defendants’ desire “to protect themselves from exposure of their predatory homosexuality at the NAC.”

The lawsuit states that Gorgia submitted a letter of resignation as a seminarian of the archdiocese of New York in January 2019, “under duress.”

The suit also claims that Cardinal Dolan did not fulfill his responsibilities toward Gorgia as a seminarian of his archdiocese by refusing to meet with him or hear his side of the story, and by asking him to complete a nine-month parish internship assignment before being considered for a return to the NAC based on, Gorgia claims, three “utterly false” reasons.

The Archdiocese of New York has said the claims in the case “are absurd and have no basis in fact or law. We are prepared to defend against it, and are seeking its dismissal in court.”

According to the lawsuit, Gorgia is seeking $125 million in damages in civil court on 12 causes of action, including defamation, wrongful discharge, sexual harassment, emotional distress, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, interference with prospective economic advantage, and Title VII discrimination.

The next hearing in the lawsuit is set to take place Oct. 27, when the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case is scheduled to be heard, according to court records.


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5 Comments

  1. If ecclesiastical hierarchy (including those in seminary staff positions) are accused of sexual predatory behavior, Church tribunals should not be the ones assessing the credibility of the charges – ever! It would be like Theodore McCarrick getting to judge the credibility of accusations of sexual predation. Unthinkable!

  2. The fact that “Rev.” Park was swiftly and quietly removed from the NAC in Rome and sent back to the “safe house” of the AD of Washington is the signature of the Bishops like Gregory and Wuerl and McCarrick and Dolan, who are “men-of-the-lie.”

    Their only defense is “omerta.” They are what Governor Keating rightly called them in 2003-04, they are mafiosi.

    May Christ and his faithful give witness of the truth about these men, and bring them to justice, and save the Church, and these men themselves, from the living-death of this lie.

  3. However, Deacon Edward Peitler, even “hints” of articles like this are the specific reason I will NOT, under any circumstances, donate money to ANY seminary. I give quite a bit to various Catholic causes and have set up my will to do the same, BUT NO SEMINARIES, until the USCCB get off its duff and does something about “cleaning” up seminaries. We ALL know what the problem is and these poor souls causing the trouble should be helped to find their true humanity, and encouraged to pursue their career objectives elsewhere. In this case, a proper investigation should be made immediately!

  4. Mr. McCarrick denied allegations as well and we know how that went.

    The institutional Church in our day is utterly corrupt. It makes the Borgia and Medici papacies look like holy innocents. No member of the hierarchy, be they pope, cardinal, bishop, or religious superior, can be trusted. Not one. And that’s a darn shame.

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