By Sally Voth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
It wasn't until six months after forcing out its president for sexual misconduct that a Front Royal-based pro-life organization began to shed some light on the real reason for his departure.
In its initial statement in August 2010, Human Life International praised the tenure of the Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, who headed the international charity for about a decade.
The Catholic News Agency at the time reported HLI's Board of Directors issued a news release stating "after nearly 10 years of meritorious service to HLI as president, Reverend Thomas J. Euteneuer has stepped down from his position after being asked by his bishop to return to his Diocese in Palm Beach, Florida."
The release also stated Euteneuer's leadership and his role in the "pro-life movement around the world will be greatly missed."
At the time, the Daily quoted HLI chaplain the Rev. Frank Papa as saying Euteneuer was a "marvelous" boss with "amazing gifts."
"I'm one of his tremendous fans," the chaplain said. " If you could just see the amount of work he's done, he's a phenomenon."
A civil suit filed last week in Arlington County Circuit Court against the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, its bishop, the Most Rev. Paul S. Loverde, and Human Life International Inc. and Human Life International Endowment Inc., both of 4 Family Life Lane, Front Royal, contains graphic allegations of Euteneuer sexually abusing a vulnerable woman during a period of more than two years.
Filed by Fairfax attorney Demetrios C. Pikrallidas on behalf of a woman only identified as Jane Doe, the suit seeks $5.35 million.
The alleged abuse occurred while Euteneur performed a series of exorcisms on the woman, who the suit claims suffers from a dissociative disorder.
According to the suit, Euteneuer often performed the rite alone -- against accepted Church practices -- and shortly after Doe signed an agreement saying she would fully cooperate with him, the priest began kissing her, fondling her and digitally penetrating her.
It states he helped the alleged victim get a job at HLI, gave her money, took her on a family vacation to Hawaii to see her and burned her journal. The woman fell under his sway physically, emotionally and spiritually, and came to believe that sexual activity was necessary to keep her "spiritual adviser," and was tied to the rite of exorcism, according to the complaint.
The suit claims Doe met with a diocesan priest in July 2010, telling him what had gone on between her and Euteneuer, and it was more than two months before he was dismissed from HLI.
Several Catholic and pro-life-related websites and blogs carry a statement purported to be from Euteneuer at the time he left HLI. That statement paints a positive picture of the situation.
Euteneuer's statement says he was recalled to his Palm Beach diocese to do parish work.
"A priest is a soldier of Christ and the Church, and obedience is the primary virtue of his state in life, but for my part, my discernment about this decision tells me that this is the right thing for me to do and at the right time," it says. "I have great peace about the road that lies ahead and about all that has been accomplished up to this point."
Euteneuer's statement says he didn't yet have a parish assignment, but he hoped to have a period of "rest and renewal" after extensive travel for his pro-life work.
About six months later, Euteneuer issued a second statement, which was again carried on numerous websites. He expressed sadness and relief at being able to answer why he'd left HLI. His statement stresses that the reason was because of his own decisions and conduct.
It says most of his behavior was "morally sound" and all of his conduct was because he wanted "to give priestly assistance to people in great spiritual distress."
But, he acknowledged transgressions which included "violating the boundaries of chastity with an adult female who was under my spiritual care."
"I take full responsibility for my own poor judgment, my weakness and my sinful conduct that resulted from it," he says in his statement. "I offer no excuse for my professional or moral failures, nor do I shift the blame to anyone else. I state without reserve that I am deeply sorry for my actions."
And, while Euteneuer said the Church and HLI were blameless in the situation, he railed against Internet "crackpots" and others who he said were spreading lies and trying to contact his family.
"I can only say that I am shocked to the depths of my being at the malicious efforts by supposedly faithful Catholics to destroy a priest who has served the Church faithfully for 22 years," he says in the lengthy statement. "Despite the rhetoric of justice and truth-seeking, the sinful campaign has not made one single positive contribution to the resolution of this difficult situation that has already been handled appropriately by Church authorities for nearly six months."
The statement also contains denials that he'd used money from HLI donors to fund his prayer/exorcism work, that he went after "vulnerable women," or was aware of any financial settlements related to the situation. Euteneuer also said he planned to remain a priest.
HLI issued a follow-up statement from its directors on Feb. 2, 2011, less than a week after Euteneuer's. That statement says HLI was told in August 2010 of "inappropriate conduct" by the priest, which was then investigated and to which he admitted.
The bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach recalled Euteneur, and "HLI sought and received Rev. Euteneuer's resignation," the statement says.
It goes on to say the organization had since learned of more allegations against Euteneuer, but because he no longer worked there, "we are not especially endowed with the competence or authority to investigate, evaluate, or act on these additional allegations, but they have been submitted to the proper ecclesiastical authorities."
Because HLI was given "certain assurances" that Euteneuer wasn't in public ministry, it hadn't commented beyond its August 2010 statement, the 2011 statement says, in accordance with the following Catholic Cathechism: "Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it."
On Thursday, HLI communications director Stephen Phelan said the good work Euteneuer did for the group's cause didn't make up for his actions.
"As far as our statement [in August 2010] that the things that he did accomplish [for the] HLI pro-life movement were real and note-worthy, it in no way excuses the behavior that we knew about at that moment, or what we learned subsequently," he said. "A lot of people really did look up to him. A lot of people are praying for him and his accuser."
How the priest's departure was originally spun didn't sit well with Front Royal Councilman Tom Sayre.
While he's not involved with HLI, Sayre said in a Thursday phone interview, he sometimes attends noon Mass there.
"I'm very disappointed, and quite frankly, disgusted in what I've heard," he said of the case against Euteneuer. "I had no idea any of that was going on. Many in the Catholic community are very disheartened and saddened that Father Euteneuer did these things, if it's true."
Sayre didn't find out why Euteneuer really left HLI until about six months later, although there were some clues not all was right.
"All his books and stuff evidently were not packed in his office, and HLI was not having a going-away party," he said.
Even some HLI employees didn't know about the allegations, according to Sayre.
"They should've said it was a personnel matter," said Sayre, a lawyer with knowledge of employee law. "They shouldn't have released a document saying that the bishop called him back, making it look like he's riding off into the sunset back down in Florida to continue his work as a priest when that just was plain not true."
Sayre described the priest as internationally-known and charismatic, and seemingly sincere.
"It seems to be [through the] sin of lust and passion he fell," he said.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Arlington has said Euteneuer was never a priest for the diocese, and he didn't have permission from Loverde to perform exorcisms within the diocese. He said when the diocese learned of the allegations, it contacted the Diocese of Palm Beach, which recalled Euteneuer to Florida.
A Palm Beach spokeswoman said she didn't know of Euteneuer's whereabouts, but that he remains stripped of his "priestly faculties."
In a statement Wednesday, HLI said Euteneuer's behavior wasn't part of the scope of his job there, and it "intends to vigorously defend itself against these false accusations," and continue to fight for unborn babies.