On December 2, 2011, Bishop Kevin Rhoades removed Father Thomas Lombardi as pastor of St. Joseph-Hessen Cassel parish and suspended him from all public ministry practice, pending the results of a diocese-led investigation of a report that Father Lombardi sexually abused a minor.
While this is an extremely serious charge that the Catholic Church can not ignore, after three months of investigations that spanned several parishes Father Lombardi ministered to, no other allegations have been made. As a matter of fact, instead of accusations consistent with sexually deviant behavior, Father Lombardi has received an outpouring of support from numerous parishioners and friends on SupportFatherThom.com.
Unfortunately, Father Thom has NOT received the same support from his fellow clergy, who remain ominously silent.
This is what Father Lombardi stands accused of:
The facts alleged concern a single event that is reported to have occurred at the address of St. Louis Besancon Catholic Church in New Haven at some time before July 1997. Father Lombardi was pastor of St. Louis from 1986 to July 1997. From the Journal Gazette:
According to the report provided to the sheriff’s department, the teen, who estimated he was about 16 at the time, was lifting weights in a room at 15535 Old Lincoln Highway East, the St. Louis Catholic Church’s address, when he asked the priest how working out would affect his muscles.
At that point, Lombardi asked the boy to remove his shirt and pants. The boy did as Lombardi asked. Nothing else occurred, according to the account the lawyer provided the sheriff’s office. The alleged victim’s name was not provided to police because he wanted it to remain confidential.
Assuming this statement is completely true, the boy was never completely naked and no physical contact or threat was made. How is this construed as sexual abuse or misconduct when, by the “supposed” victim’s own admission, nothing sexual happened?
Upon informing St. Joseph-Hessen Cassel parish of Father Thomas Lombardi’s suspension, the Vicar of the diocese (speaking on behalf of Bishop Rhoades) asked us to avoid the news media and, for the most part, we have complied with his wishes. He asked us to have patience with the canonical process while the diocese does a complete investigation, and we have shown great patience in the absence of any information from the Bishop or the Vicar of the diocese.
The week following Father Thom’s removal was hectic for the children of our parish grade school. The classrooms were visited by a diocese official who told them that Father Thom would not be allowed to return, even if he was found innocent of all charges. After all, enrollment could suffer because, while the press has no problem front page headlining “Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse” they aren’t as eager to print “Catholic priest exonerated of sexual abuse charges“. Upon hearing this news, many parishioners were upset by this stance and were, later, assured that this was not true.
On December 17, 2011, Bishop Rhoades gave Mass at our parish, expressed his sadness about the situation, and informed us that the diocese was still investigating the matter. We have received no other communications nor updates regarding the situation.
Father Thomas Lombardi – The Priest
My wife is a cradle Catholic and I am of Protestant background, so when I first met Father Thomas Lombardi, it was with a slew of questions and a suspicious mindset. After talking for about an hour, I found that our ideas of Christianity were extremely similar and he suggested I attend a class meant to introduce people to the Catholic faith. This way I could ask all of the questions I wanted and get an idea of what my child was learning. I decided this sounded reasonable so, for the next several months (once a week) I attended RCIA classes.
Surprisingly, I found myself staying after class to talk with Father Lombardi about some of the deeper aspects of the Bible like, when and how it was canonized, correlations between the Old and New Testament, and how the Christian Church wound up fracturing and why. He showed me Biblical proof that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist, taught me a much deeper respect for Mass, and ask the question that so many other Christian denominations refuse to ask their parishioners, “Who knew Christ better than his mother?”
For the first time in my life, I had met a person who constantly challenged me on, both an intellectual and spiritual level, to become a better person for Jesus’ sake. And I am not alone, he had a positive impact on other parishioners as well as the school children and faculty that is now missing.
Anyone can give a homily or sermon, shake hands, and say nice things to the people in attendance but Father Lombardi is different. His true passion is God and it is visible to every person who is close to him. Over the past year, my family and I spent a lot of time with Father Thom and, no matter what happens, I would like to “publicly” thank him for everything he has done for our community, our parish, and our children.
An Open Letter To Bishop Kevin Rhoades
Dear Bishop Rhoades,
Some of the parishioners of St. Joseph-Hessen Cassel are still very concerned about their family member, Father Thomas Lombardi. We have received absolutely no information from the diocese on his physical condition, his status, or this investigation.
We followed your instructions and refused to talk to news media, who then instead interviewed customers at a near-by gas station, instead of people who actually know Father Thom. We remained silent as the Catholic clergy refused to publicly defend his character for fear of retribution from members of SNAP, and we accepted the decision of the Church to stifle the addition of the SupportFatherThom.com website to the Church bulletin. Even the public prayer petitions for Father Thom and his accuser during weekly Masses have ceased.
How do we explain this to our children, whom we pray to answer the call to Holy Orders and Christian vocations?
Personally, I have no clue what to tell my children because, due to an informational blackout and lack of any time-line from the diocese, our family presumes his innocence. We believe this is a false accusation or else at least one more victim would have appeared. There has been no indication of whether a settlement was asked for, so, lacking any evidence to the contrary, we can only assume that this is an attempt to extort money from the Catholic Church or diocese. Is this what I can tell my children to expect should they decide to pursue God’s call to priesthood?
Please, do not misunderstand the intention of this letter. It is not a “public act of dissent“, rather, it is a “public act of support” for a good and decent man. Christianity is under attack world-wide and we can not let our fears dictate our silence in the face of doing what is right over doing what is convenient or easy. Father Lombardi deserves the right to innocence until proven guilty and his parishioners deserve to know whole the truth.
As for the members of St. Joseph-Hessen Cassel parish, our Catholic faith is unshaken by these events because we know that Father Thom will bear this cross with the same unshaken faith and perseverance that he instilled in us.
We pray that Almighty God will guide you in this matter.