Seton Hall announces ‘independent review’ of seminary accusations

Ed Condon

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President's Hall, Seton Hall University. Credit: wikimedia/cc by sa 3.0

Seton Hall University has announced an independent review of accusations of sexual abuse and harassment against seminarians. The university is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Newark, and is home to Immaculate Conception Seminary and St. Andrew’s Hall college seminary.


In a letter published on the university website on Tuesday, Aug. 22, Seton Hall President Mary J. Meehan wrote that recent reports of sexual abuse and harassment by priests, and the “reported failure of many in the Church’s leadership to hold them accountable,” had prompted the university to take action.


“We at the University are particularly concerned with recent accusations against Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Newark, and other priests of the Archdiocese. Some of these alleged incidents may have involved seminarians at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology and the College Seminary at Saint Andrew’s Hall.”


The president of Seton Hall’s board of trustees is by virtue of office the Archbishop of Newark, now Cardinal Joseph Tobin. From 1986 - 2001, the archdiocese was led by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.


On August 17, CNA published a report detailing a series of allegations made by priests in the Archdiocese of Newark. Some of their accounts related to Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, others detailed allegations of recent or ongoing behavior at the two seminaries, including a specific allegation concerning a former rector of St. Andrew’s Hall.


One allegation raised by the CNA report related to Fr. Mark O’Malley, who was removed as rector of St. Andrew’s Hall in 2014 and placed on a medical leave of absence. Multiple sources told CNA that O’Malley’s removal followed an incident in which he allegedly hid a camera in the bedroom of a young priest.


Meehan said that the university’s leadership has authorized an “independent review” following “recent allegations.”


“Seton Hall has retained Christine A. Amalfe of the law firm Gibbons P.C. in Newark, N.J. as special counsel to lead the effort and commission the independent review. Gibbons P.C. has retained Theodore V. Wells Jr. of the law firm Paul, Weiss in New York to conduct the independent review,” Meehan announced.


Seton Hall’s announcement follows similar investigations being launched at St. John’s Seminary, Boston, and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, after former students made allegations concerning sexual harassment at those institutions.  


It is unclear if the initiative for the investigation came from the Archdiocese of Newark, or internally from the university administration.


Cardinal Tobin is in Ireland attending the World Meeting of Families. He was scheduled to participate in an Aug. 23 media briefing but was replaced at the last minute by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. It is not clear if the cardinal’s absence was linked to the Seton Hall announcement.


A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark told CNA that Cardinal Tobin was aware of the investigation and had “approved and encouraged” it.


The Archdiocese of Newark has declined to comment publicly on the allegations reported by CNA. However, on the same day CNA’s report was published, Cardinal Tobin wrote a letter to all of the priests of the archdiocese, denying that he had ever been told of a “gay subculture” in the archdiocese, and addressing the specific cases reported by CNA, including that of Fr. O’Malley.

In that letter, Tobin said that Fr. O’Malley was removed as rector when “experienced a serious personal crisis for which he received a psychological evaluation and subsequent therapy. In April 2015, he was deemed fit for priestly ministry, Tobin said, adding that O’Malley hopes to serve as a hospital chaplain.”


The letter appeared on numerous websites but the archdiocese refused to comment on it, or on the allegations it addressed.


On Aug. 19, the cardinal told the Newark Star-Ledger that "my default mode is for optimum transparency."

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