Scranton diocese: ‘No credible evidence’ against Msgr. Walter Rossi

rossi Msgr. Walter Rossi. | National Shrine livestream/YouTube.

The Diocese of Scranton released a statement Friday regarding Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The statement said that after an exhaustive investigation, investigators found no credible evidence to support allegations of misconduct against Rossi.

"The investigation of allegations of personal misconduct was led by outside counsel assisted by a retired FBI agent with over thirty years of investigative experience. The investigation included interviews with numerous witnesses who have known Monsignor Rossi throughout his years in ministry," the statement, released June 12, said.

"These witnesses included current and former Basilica employees, former CUA students, and current and former members of the clergy who were assigned to the Basilica or who worked with Monsignor Rossi."

The statement said that "several witnesses were critical of Monsignor Rossi, including his managerial style at the Basilica, but none were aware of or could provide first-hand knowledge of sexual impropriety."

The diocese also said that some of the witnesses "merely re-stated unsupported and unsubstantiated  rumors that  previously appeared in certain publications." 

"The investigator attempted unsuccessfully to interview many additional witnesses and searched diligently for witnesses who could possibly support the rumors against Monsignor Rossi, but found none. The investigator also tried to locate the unnamed 'sources' for the critical articles, but could not."

"The purpose of the Diocese's investigation was to seek out credible  evidence of sexual impropriety and, if found, to determine an appropriate response," said the statement. "At the conclusion of its comprehensive investigation, the Diocese of Scranton found no such credible evidence."

The investigation into Rossi began nearly nine months ago.

Rossi had been variously accused of directing young men to a priest friend who was accused of harassing them by phone and text message, and, in accusations made by former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, of sexual contact with male students at the nearby Catholic University of America.

The priest's financial administration of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was also investigated, amid suspicion of mismanagement.

A second statement, released Friday Archbishop Wilton Gregory, chairman of the national shrine's board, said that an investigation into shrine finances "found no improprieties and confirmed sound fiscal management of the Basilica."

"During the course of investigation, numerous individuals were interviewed, including those responsible for fiscal administration at the Basilica. Additionally, the accounting experts performed an in-depth review of expenditures, general ledgers, credit card statements, receipts, invoices, capital budgets, bank and investment account statements as well as certain investment account reconciliations and other financial worksheets," the shrine said.

That investigation "found no unreasonable or inappropriate expenditures or significant issues in the financial administration of the Basilica. The investigations did assist in suggesting certain improvements in management and policy enhancements that will benefit the Basilica and will be implemented."

Rossi was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1987, and remains incarnated in that diocese. He has lived in Washington since 1997, where he served first as the national shrine's associate rector and director of pilgrimages, before being promoted to rector of the basilica and made a monsignor in 2005.

The investigation was opened in August 2019, after concerns were raised about Rossi to Archbishop Wilton Gregory Aug. 13, during a question-and-answer session at a Theology on Tap, held at the Public Bar Live in the Dupont area of Washington.

A participant at the August event told Gregory that Rossi has been accused of directing young men to Fr. Matthew Reidlinger, a priest friend of Rossi's who is alleged to have sexually harassed them in phone calls and text messages. That accusation was first made in 2013.

Gregory said he was unfamiliar with that allegation and called for an independent, forensic investigation. The following day, on Aug. 14, Rossi's home diocese of Scranton told CNA that Bishop Joseph Bambera had "commenced the process of launching a full forensic investigation" and that it would work "jointly and cooperatively" with the Archdiocese of Washington on a "comprehensive investigation."

Beyond the allegations mentioned at the Aug. 13 Theology on Tap, additional accusations had also been leveled against Rossi.

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In an interview in June 2019, Archbishop Vigano alleged that the nunciature in Washington had received "documentation that states that Msgr. Rossi had sexually molested male students at the Catholic University of America."

Vigano also said that both the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and former Washington archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl were "well aware of the situation," and that Rossi had previously been proposed for promotion to bishop and been blocked.

In September 2019, The Catholic University of America announced that Rossi had taken a leave of absence from the university's board of trustees, of which he was a member by virtue of his role at the basilica.


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