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Mystery of Removal


 Dear Brothers & Sisters:

  I was ordained a Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Rockville Centre on June 3, 2017, and assigned to my home parish, the Church of St. Joseph in Babylon, by Bishop John Barres. 

Both my wife and I have been active parishioners for the past twenty-seven years. I have a deep love for the Church and a passion for faith and justice. My actions are driven by this passion.

 These past four years have blessed me with the joy of service along with the pain of witnessing corruption, harassment, violence, and spiritual/financial abuse at St. Joseph’s parish from June 2016 through July 2018.  Many do not know the story behind the removal of a pastor after just two years, and even less about my forced departure from ministry.

An article was published today, March 15, 2021:

https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/celebrity-priest-creates-financial-storm-long-island-parish

 Through personal experience, and upon receiving documented evidence with corroborated personal accounts, I decided to act.  I expected truth, transparency, and justice, but it was not forthcoming.  

 I knew that I would be putting my own ministry at risk should I recount the damage inflicted on the faithful, the parish staff, and ministry leaders. I concluded that it was time for public transparency. After numerous pleas to the diocesan officials, and after a half-measured parish investigation, I realized I would be on the receiving end of retribution.

“...before we can heal, we must cleanse the wounds of the past and demand accountability from our leaders”.

 Understanding that most of us are scandal worn; by stories of clerical sexual abuse, numerous dioceses filing for bankruptcies, and the perceived lack of justice for the survivors.  I believe that before we can heal, we must cleanse the wounds of the past and demand accountability from our leaders. My hope is for transparency and cultural transformation in the Church. My prayer is that diocesan leadership will put the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ at the center of their ministry, not only in word but in action.   I look forward to the day that staff members and ministry leaders in parishes will not fear reprisals and have the courage to speak out against clerical abuse, which is all abuse, spiritual, financial, and sexual.

Ordination, June 3, 2017

 In hindsight, I had hoped that reporting scandalous behavior up the clerical chain of command would bring justice for the victims. I now recognize misplaced trust. There are those who would choose secrecy above justice. I am not without guilt; I should have gone directly to the civil authorities when I was given evidence of financial mismanagement.  I believe that many priests and deacons feel threatened regarding their loyalty oath to the bishop. Clerics stay silent, in an effort to avoid scandal at all cost. I believe the cultural virus of scandal avoidance is one of the many challenges that need to be met within the Church.

 When I was an active deacon in the parish, victims hoped for the day when the pastor would be removed, and the diocese would seek help for a deeply troubled man.  The pastor had a track record of dereliction of pastoral duties and abusing his position of power. A priest who thwarted diocesan guidelines on financial matters and developed a cult following from parish to parish. Unfortunately, after a two-year “cooling off”, a troubled priest was reassigned to a neighboring parish this past September.

 When it was clear that justice was not forthcoming, and after I had witnessed the harassment of ministry leaders and staff and violent vandalism, I decided to encourage victims to speak out. Even though I had been made a scapegoat and forbidden to preach, I still continued to share what I had learned and continue to look into paths of healing and recovery for our community.  I became keenly aware of covert narcissistic behavior and the destruction that results both financially and spiritually.

 I believe I have a calling to serve the Church. God’s will often direct us in mysterious ways. Through all the turmoil, the harassment, the reprisals, and trumped-up accusations, I stand firm in my faith.

 The article just published in the National Catholic Reporter is just part of the story.  I remain a Permanent Deacon, currently restricted from fulfilling my calling by Bishop Barres. In church jargon, “I am a Deacon without a country”.  Bishop Barres has decided to bring a case for my laicization to Rome. I have little hope of having my faculties restored and I probably will never return to my home parish.

 As I am detached from my home parish of twenty-seven years,  I often wonder what St. Paul pondered during his imprisonment in Rome. God had a mission for St. Paul to evangelize, even in prison, as he was separated from the early churches he established along the way. In troubling times, it is difficult to see God’s hand at work, but I remain steadfast that I was called for a reason. I continue to ask for your prayers.

 I have sent the defense of my case directly to Rome, and the Congregation for the Clergy, as I await their decision in my case.

 This is not a case of a deacon who betrayed his oath. This is a case about trappings of clericalism and an institutional culture that avoids scandal at all costs. This is a story unveiling the virus of avoidance that sacrifices the trust of the laity, the safety of our children, and that compromises our trust in good priests.


Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. "He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters."53

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1782

  Throughout this continuing ordeal. I remain steadfast in the fact that Christ corrects and redeems the broken human aspect of this vessel we call the Church. I recall the endearing words of a brother deacon: “Let no man stand between you and your relationship with God.”

 

Yours in Christ,

Deacon Stephen Yusko


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