Last Thursday, Catholic New York, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York, published a notification that Fr. Donald Timone has (at long last) been removed from priestly ministry. He was suspended in December of last year, and the Archdiocesan Review Board only just determined that allegations that he sexually abused minors were credible and substantiated, though the diocese had paid for two six-figure settlements after abuse allegations in 2017.
The story obviously implicates Cardinal Dolan. Last December, the New York Times reported that even after the Archdiocese of New York had paid out the settlements for sexual abuse of teenage boys by Fr. Timone, Cardinal Dolan kept him in ministry, despite the clear requirements of the Dallas Charter [pdf], and the fact that these were particularly egregious allegations: one of Fr. Timone’s victims, Timothy Murphy, had committed suicide.
And just after the New York Times revelations, the Catholic News Agency reported that the Archdiocese of New York had issued a letter to John Paul the Great University. The letter [pdf], written just a few weeks before the Times article, stated “without qualification” that Fr. Timone had “never been accused of any act of sexual abuse or misconduct involving a minor.” The University, quite reasonably, called the letter a “lie.” (Notably, Msgr. Edward Weber, who signed the letter, remains in charge of New York’s Priest Personnel office; he also remains Vicar for Clergy.)
But the story goes beyond Cardinal Dolan and involves Courage, an official ministry to same-sex attracted Catholics.
Fr. Timone was a longtime collaborator of Fr. John Harvey, OSFS, the founder of Courage. In addition to their close working relationship, Fr. Timone was a popular speaker at Courage conferences for 25 years. In 1989, he met with a small group of parents and other relatives of gay men, and helped them to organize Encourage, the Courage-affiliated ministry for parents and friends. He began editing the Courage Newsletter in 1992; in the pre-Internet era, the Newsletter was one of the most important ways for Courage to get its message out. From 1994 to 1995, while Fr. Harvey took a sabbatical to write The Truth about Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful, Fr. Timone served as interim executive director of Courage. (For more on Fr. Timone’s historic role in Courage, see Courage: A Ministry of Hope, published in 2018 by James Beers, a long-time member of Courage. Beers’s first effort at publicizing Courage was a 1995 article about Courage in the Staten Island Advance in which both he and Fr. Timone were interviewed.)
Last Fall, Crux Magazine offered an overview of several ways that Fr. Harvey contributed to the sex abuse scandal. Fr. Timone’s story shows that Fr. Harvey’s past continues to haunt Courage today.
First of all, as the New York Times article pointed out, Cardinal Dolan is chair of the Courage episcopal advisory board. Yet Fr. Timone was allowed to speak at the 2017 Courage national conference months after the Archdiocese of New York paid out settlements to his victims.
These actions seem to contradict the public statements by Cardinal Dolan and others that changes are being made in responding to claims of abuse. Fr. Timone should have been suspended from ministry when the independent compensation board determined that the allegations against him were credible enough to make payouts. Cardinal Dolan should have ensured that the Archdiocese’s suitability letters were accurate, and also that processes were in place to communicate allegations and findings to the appropriate offices. And as a member of the Courage advisory board, Cardinal Dolan should have informed Courage that a proposed speaker for its upcoming annual conference was unfit for ministry.
Fr. Timone’s case is not that significant in the scope of the abuse scandal in the United States as a whole. It is, however, quite significant for Courage. This case apparently involves the chair of Courage’s episcopal advisory board ignoring the Dallas Charter and giving false information to other Catholic institutions in order to keep a former executive director of Courage in ministry, including ministry within Courage itself.
After the news broke that the Archdiocese of New York had paid out large settlements related to Fr. Timone, Fr. Philip Bochanski, the director of Courage, wrote a letter to members regarding Fr. Timone and regarding Fr. Harvey’s writings. Rather than address the situation head on, however, Fr. Bochanski’s response provided a study in avoidance and obfuscation.
First, he failed to acknowledge that Cardinal Dolan is the chair of the Courage episcopal advisory board, a fact that was as much a part of this story as the fact that a former Courage priest was alleged to have been engaged in sexual abuse. Cardinal Dolan’s role in Courage was explicitly addressed in the December 20 New York Times article reporting allegations against Fr. Timone. It should have been addressed in Fr. Bochanski’s letter, particularly as Cardinal Dolan’s involvement relates to the ongoing governance of Courage.
In addition, Fr. Bochanski’s letter made Fr. Timone seem like a far more peripheral figure to Courage than he actually is. Fr. Bochanski failed to mention Fr. Timone’s past role as executive director. Instead, he said that Timone “served as a Courage and EnCourage chaplain in the Archdiocese of New York from the late 1980s until his retirement in 2009, except during the time in 2002 and 2003 when the allegation against him was being investigated.” This makes it sound like Fr. Timone was just one among hundreds of local Courage chaplains, rather than one of the organizations’ key national leaders. (It also appears to confirm that Courage leaders knew of the allegations against Fr. Timone at the time of his 2002-2003 suspension.)
Fr. Bochanski also said that Fr. Timone “has attended many of our annual conferences over the years, most recently at the 2017 annual conference in Mundelein, Illinois.” This misrepresents Fr. Timone’s role as a popular keynote speaker at numerous Courage conferences, including in 2017. The 2017 Conference information page (since taken down) not only listed Fr. Timone as a speaker, but described him as a “close colleague of Courage founder, Fr. John Harvey.”
We know that Fr. Harvey advocated for returning priests with a history of sexual abuse to ministry, after “appropriate” treatment. We know that Fr. Timone was a close collaborator with Fr. Harvey and that in 2002 and 2003, and that Fr. Timone was suspended from ministry while being investigated for an allegation of sexual abuse. He was then returned to ministry, including ministry in Courage (I saw him speak at the 2005 Courage conference). We don’t know how much Fr. Harvey knew about Fr. Timone’s true history during the time they worked together.
We do know that when Fr. Timone was investigated again, the allegations were found credible, first by the independent compensation board in 2017 and then by the Archdiocesan review board in 2019.
We know that despite the finding by the independent compensation board, Cardinal Dolan, who is chair of the Courage episcopal advisory board, permitted Fr. Timone to remain in ministry, including a speaking role at the 2017 Courage conference.
And we know that when Fr. Bochanski, the director of Courage, responded publicly to the allegations against Fr. Timone, he failed to disclose either Cardinal Dolan’s role in Courage or the extent of Fr. Timone’s past leadership roles in Courage.
I’ve spoken to several past and present members of Courage who are sickened by the deceit and coverup by Courage leaders in this and other cases. These problems should not reflect on the members of Courage, many of whom are striving heroically to live chaste lives. I think the average lay Courage member will be as shocked by these revelations as the average lay Catholic was by the revelations about the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002 or the revelations about the now-former Cardinal McCarrick last summer.
I also don’t think this necessarily reflects badly on local chapters of Courage. I personally know and respect a number of Courage chaplains. I do not believe that they are complicit in all of this any more than I believe all Catholic priests knew about and were complicit in the sexual abuse coverups by the higher-ups in the Church. I expect most of them will be as shocked and disappointed by these revelations about Courage leadership as I was when I first learned of them.
Catholics who are appalled by these disclosures should focus blame where it belongs: Cardinal Dolan, Fr. Bochanski, and others who have enabled them. They should not blame the men and women of Courage and Encourage, or the faithful local priests who shepherd them.
Image Credit: Cy White, Wikimedia Commons.