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Oklahoma Catholic high school sued for $75M over alleged sex abuse 

Photo illustration. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 19, 2022 / 19:28 pm (CNA).

Ten current and former students, along with six parents or guardians, are suing a Catholic high school in Oklahoma — a school that they allege “fostered and allowed a rape culture” and “tolerated sexual harrassment and assault” by male students, teachers, and coaches for more than 10 years, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit, filed May 16 in Oklahoma County District Court, lists Mount St. Mary Catholic High School in Oklahoma City as a defendant. It also lists those who have authority over the school: the board of trustees, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and the Sisters of Mercy.

The suit accuses three school leaders, who have since resigned, of playing a central role in the “commission of the assault and harassment” and covering it up: former principal Talita DeNegri, assistant principal Wendy Faires, and guidance counselor Mallory Tecmire.

“Despite being on actual and constructive notice of hundreds of incidents of sexual assault and harrassment … MSM [Mount St. Mary’s] did not take reasonable steps to report or stop the rampant rape culture and ongoing sexual abuse that lay just beneath the surface,” the lawsuit reads. “Rather, MSM shamed women and girls who reported, including the Student Plaintiffs and other victims, and allowed men and boys to continue harassing and assaulting women and girls, including the Student Plaintiffs.”

The lawsuit alleges a breach of contract, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, discrimination on the basis of sex and hostile educational environment harassment, public nuisance, and slander. Plaintiffs are seeking more than $75 million in damages.

One male student who attended the high school from 2017 to 2022 — identified as “X.R.” — is accused in the complaint of raping or assaulting numerous women, including three of the plaintiffs. One woman accused him of groping and kissing her while she was driving, the complaint states, while another said he assaulted her in a dark classroom.

Mount St. Mary leaders learned of these incidents, the lawsuit alleges, but did nothing about X.R. until news media reported on sexual abuse allegations at the school. X.R. has been or will be criminally charged, the lawsuit claims.

In response to the lawsuit, Mount St. Mary’s shared a statement with CNA from the school’s incoming principal, Laura Cain. 

“I have been made aware of the lawsuit but am unable to comment on pending legal situations,” Cain, who will serve as principal beginning on July 1, said. “What I can speak to is the confidence I have in the direction of Mount St. Mary Catholic High School. As an alumna and former parent, I know the pain our school's community has faced over the last six months. We must ensure that we maintain a compassionate environment where students can grow and excel. Our future provides an opportunity to not only educate, but to improve.”

In a statement, the Sisters of Mercy responded that they “have not received a complaint at this time and so we cannot comment on the lawsuit.”

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City did not respond with comment by time of publication.

When the archdiocese learned of the allegations last year, the staff contacted police, said Page Hauser, the archdiocese’s safe environment coordinator, the Associated Press reported. 

“They also worked with the governing board at the school to hire an independent investigator to look into the allegations, resulting in the resignation of three staff members,” Hauser said in a statement Wednesday.

'Br. Martin,' self-described monk with large Twitter following, says he won't heed bishop's warning

Martin Navarro, a layman and founder of the group the Oblates of St. Augustine, is refusing to obey his bishop's demands that he no longer fundraise, identify himself as "brother," dress in a habit, and construct a chapel in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. / Screenshot from YouTube video

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 19, 2022 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

A social media-savvy layman, who uses the title “Brother” and wears a habit, will not obey his bishop’s orders to cease presenting himself as a religious brother or member of a religious community. 

Nor will Martin Navarro  — whose “Br. Martin” Twitter account has more than 11,000 followers — acquiesce to Bishop James Johnston’s demands to stop fundraising in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and cease building an unauthorized chapel. 

“We're following the rules, we're following the guidelines, as well as being honest as who we are and what our intentions are,” Navarro said in a YouTube video posted May 17.

As to his practice of wearing a habit, he said, “it’s a free country, so to speak; you can wear whatever you want.”

Navarro, 31, has asked Johnston to formally recognize a Traditional Latin Mass religious group Navarro started called the Oblates of St. Augustine. 

Johnston denied the request. He also ordered the group to cease operating in the diocese.

The bishop issued the demands in a letter dated May 6 addressed to Navarro. Navarro made the letter public in the same YouTube video from May 17.

“I have not given nor will give approval or permission to explore, found, or establish the community about which you have previously inquired,” Johnston stated in the letter.

“I further direct that you do not use the religious title of ‘Brother Martin’ at any time nor dress in a religious habit, since in justice and truth, your canonical status is not one of membership within a religious community, such continued usage is both disingenuous and dishonest,” he added.

Bishop James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph. CNA
Bishop James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph. CNA

Johnston reiterated his demands “in order to emphasize the seriousness of my warning and prohibitions” at the end of the letter.

“I reiterate what I have made eminently clear above: do not call yourself ‘Brother,’ do not continue to present yourself within the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in any manner or means, including by wearing a religious habit, as a Brother or as a member of a religious community, do not ask for any funds or alms within the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph whether in person or on the Internet or other social media formats, and do not utilize an unapproved chapel within the Diocese of Kansas City St. Joseph,” he stated.

“Your request of me regarding your proposed formation of Oblates of Saint Augustine is, therefore, denied.”

Church law at issue

Navarro told CNA on May 18 that he will not comply with Johnston's orders.

The Oblates of St. Augustine community he leads is based in Weston, Missouri, a small town about a 40-minute drive north of Kansas City. It’s unclear how many men are in the group. Speaking to CNA, Navarro would only say that since founding the Oblates in 2020, “I’ve never been alone.”

The Oblates’ website describes the group as a “community of Traditional Roman Catholic men, faithful to the Traditional Roman Rite, the Holy Rule of St. Augustine, and the traditional formulations of the Catholic religion.” The group says it is devoted to the Traditional Latin Mass and breviary.

Navarro said the group is currently living on property leased to them by Mike Parrott, the host of a YouTube channel called Restoring the Faith Media. The group’s chapel in a converted garage already is under construction on the property, and nearing completion. Navarro told CNA the group has raised more than $161,000 for the monastery project. A separate funding drive accepts donations for the group members' living expenses.

Navarro’s “Br. Martin” Twitter account often tweets comments concerning an ongoing dispute between Parrott and the Church Militant media outlet which began over Parrott’s fundraising efforts on behalf of Father James Jackson, a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter who is facing federal child pornography charges in Rhode Island.

In his letter, Johnston cited several canons, as well as Pope Francis’ 2020 motu proprio Authenticum charismatis, to support his authority over the group’s activities in his diocese.

Johnston warned that “failure to observe these provisions … could result in further disciplinary actions. Accordingly, this letter itself stands as due canonical warning of the same.”

Navarro, for his part, says Johnston is misinterpreting church law, and using it “to intimidate us from praying.”

Asked to respond to Navarro’s intention to defy Johnston, Ashlie Hand, communications director for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, issued a statement to CNA Thursday night.

“Bishop Johnston has communicated appropriate guidance and next steps with Mr. Navarro regarding his request to establish the Oblates of St. Augustine in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph," Hand said. "Bishop Johnston intends any further communication to be private."