The unhappy leadership history of St. Luke’s Institute

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 25, 2017

There’s irony in the news that a laicized priest, who once ran a counseling center, has agreed to counseling as a condition of his parole.

In case you missed the story, Edward Arsenault resigned from his post as head of the St. Luke Institute in Maryland in 2013, after he was charged with financial as well as sexual improprieties. He was eventually sentenced to a 4-year prison term after pleading guilty to misappropriating over $300,000 from the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, where he once served as chancellor. The sexual improprieties, involving an adult male recording artist, were not criminal offenses.

One more disgraced priest; one more instance of clerical corruption. But the fact that this particular priest was once the president of the St. Luke Institute—the most prominent of the centers that treated pedophile priests—begins to look like something more than ironic happenstance.

The St. Luke Center has an unhappy leadership history. Its founder, Father Michael Peterson, died of AIDS in 1987. In 1989, the institute brought aboard a Jesuit, Father Curtis Bryant, as head of therapy. Writing in Catholic World Report in February 1997, investigative journalist Lesley Payne quoted one therapist’s report on Bryant’s odd behavior:

Sometimes a visiting bishop would meet Curtis, seeing him prance around like a peacock, and say, “Who the hell was that?” We’d say, “Oh, he’s our director.”

Bryant disappeared from the scene in 1996, shortly after his license to practice counseling become “inactive,” for reasons that were not made public.

Father Canice Connors, the new president of St. Luke’s, was criticized for failing to rein in Bryant. He was also criticized, among other things, for his own spiritual assessment of the notorious pedophile priest John Geoghan: the subject of the lawsuit that broke open the sex-abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese. After Geoghan’s 3rd stint of counseling, Connors said “there are no particular recommendations concerning his spiritual life since he is involved in spiritual direction and seems to have a good prayer life.”

After leaving St. Luke’s, and becoming president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Father Connors complained that the US bishops, with their Dallas Charter, had become involved in “scapegoating the abusers.” He might have borrowed that idea from Father Stephen Rossetti, who, at about the same time, was cautioning bishops: “We need to be careful that we don’t make anyone—whether it’s priests or gays—scapegoats.” Father Rossetti wrote in America magazine, regarding the fallout of the sex-abuse scandal: “What I’m afraid of is we’re going into this witch-hunt for gays.”

Oh, and did I mention? Father Rossetti—he’s now Monsignor Rossetti, and a regular participant in expert panels on this topic—became president of the St. Luke Institute when Father Connors left. For that matter, he became interim president again after Arsenault’s precipitous departure.

Now, reflecting on all of the above, a few questions:

  • How much confidence do you have in the St. Luke Institute?
  • How many priests who were sent to the St. Luke Institute for counseling, and then returned to ministry, later became (further) involved in sexual abuse
  • How much confidence have the American bishops shown in the Institute and its leaders? Has that changed in the past 15 years, as the above information has come to light? If not, why not?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 6 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Adeodatus109 - Apr. 26, 2017 5:25 PM ET USA

    This institution is also used to abuse priests who don't "fit in" in the heterodox dioceses in America. Write on that scandal!

  • Posted by: piloni - Apr. 26, 2017 10:36 AM ET USA

    The answers to Phil's last questions are terrible indictments of our episcopacy. There are more questions. Here are a few. How can you scapegoat the guilty? (He really warned against "scapegoating the abusers?!") How can St. Luke's Institute still be operating? When will the bishops stop hiding behind "compliance with safe environment guidelines" and clean up their ranks?

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Apr. 26, 2017 2:52 AM ET USA

    Thanks for bringing this damning history to light.

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Apr. 25, 2017 11:43 PM ET USA

    Where does St. Luke's get its funding? It should be shuttered immediately.

  • Posted by: Tex132 - Apr. 25, 2017 8:51 PM ET USA

    And people wonder why so many victims of clergy abuse can't find peace. Large institutions cannot police themselves. Here's evidence of a systematic failure. To this day fifteen years after the Dallas Charter the Church is embroiled in legal actions across the entire state of Pennsylvania just to name one place. The Maria Goretti Network/MGN is a support network working WITH the Church to assist any victim of abuse, no matter who did it, in healing.

  • Posted by: timothy.op - Apr. 25, 2017 8:18 PM ET USA

    Having heard Msgr. Rossetti speak, I can say he certainly gives the impression of being both orthodox and sensible. There were undoubtedly tragic problems with St. Luke's leadership prior to his taking over, so I'm simply cautioning against guilt-by-association. Perhaps his quote about not scapegoating gays can be read in a way that doesn't deny the obvious role homosexuality played in the scandal. If so, the benefit of the doubt is still viable.