Opus Dei US head confirms misconduct settlement against popular DC priest

Msgr Thomas Bohlin Credit Opus Dei CNA Msgr. Thomas Bohlin, US Vicar of Opus Dei. Courtesy photo.

Opus Dei announced Monday that it had paid a settlement following accusations of misconduct against a priest of the society made in 2002.


Fr. C. John McCloskey was the subject of a complaint by a married woman to whom he had been giving spiritual counsel. As a result of the complaint, Opus Dei paid a reported settlement of $977,000 to the woman in 2005.


At the time of the complaint, McCloskey was serving as the director of the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C. The center is a popular venue among Washington Catholics, offering daily Mass during the working week and a program of Catholic events in the evenings.


McCloskey had a high public profile during his time in Washington, preparing several senior politicians for reception into the Catholic Church, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and serving U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.


In a statement released by Msgr. Thomas Bohlin, Vicar of Opus Dei in the United States, the prelature expressed its sorrow and called any case of harassment or abuse "abhorrent."


"What happened was deeply painful for the woman, and we are very sorry for all she suffered," Bohlin wrote. "I am very sorry for any suffering caused to any woman by Father McCloskey's actions and pray that God may bring healing to her."


"I am painfully aware of all that the Church is suffering, and I am very sorry that we in Opus Dei have added to it. Let us ask God to show mercy on all of us in the Church at this difficult time."


The Washington Post reported that McCloskey groped the woman on several occasions while giving her spiritual direction. According to that report, the woman was left with feelings of guilt and shame, and struggled with depression. The Post also reported that the woman took her concerns to McCloskey in the confessional, where he absolved her.


Bohlin said that Opus Dei had acted swiftly when the complaint was first made, telling McCloskey to have no further contact with the woman and to offer spiritual direction to women only through a screen in a traditional confessional - something Bohlin noted was already a rule for Opus Dei priests.  

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"After investigating the complaint in subsequent months, we found the complaint to be credible, and in December 2003, Father McCloskey was removed from his position at the CIC," Bohlin said in the statement.


After leaving Washington, McCloskey was first sent to the United Kingdom before being assigned in different regions of the United States. McCloskey has since returned to the Washington area because of his declining health.


Bohlin stated that McCloskey's ministry had been restricted since he left Washington, and his contact with women limited to the confessional. "Throughout the years, we were careful to ensure that he would not have any opportunities to engage in the kind of actions that led to the complaint."


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Opus Dei is personal prelature founded in Spain by St. Jose Maria Escriva in 1928 and first approved by the Vatican in 1950.


According to Opus Dei, McCloskey is currently suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease and is unable to say Mass, even privately, as he is "largely incapacitated."


"I would also ask you to pray for Father McCloskey as his health continues to decline," Bohlin said.


The prelature released details of the complaint at the request of the woman involved in the settlement in an effort to encourage any other potential victims to come forward.


Brian Finnerty, spokesman for Opus Dei, told CNA he was not aware of either the woman who brought the complaint or the society had contacted the police.


Opus Dei said it believes there could be at least two other women similarly abused by McCloskey in Washington, and that the group has attempted to make contact with one of them. In his statement, Bohlin said the prelature had received no complaints about McCloskey concerning his time in ministry either before or after his term as director of the CIC.


According to the statement from Msgr. Bohlin, the woman who raised the original complaint remains in contact with Opus Dei's ministry in Washington. She told the Washington Post this week she is "very happy with how it's being handled right now. They listened."

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