I was very young when I came to live in Steubenville. Physically I was twenty-one, but in other ways I was much younger. I was a naive, bookish, unattractive, neurotic young woman with anxiety, who’d gone to college at not yet sixteen back in my hometown. I graduated cum laude at twenty-one. All that I was good at was going to college, and I didn’t know anything to do except keep going to college, so I went to Franciscan University of Steubenville for a Master’s degree. I stayed in a dormitory my first year.
There was a chapel in the dormitory, but I found it much nicer to pray at the Portiuncula on campus. “The Port” was a tiny stone Eucharistic Adoration chapel built to resemble the church of the same name in Assisi. In spring and summer they prop open the big wooden doors so praying there feels like praying in a shelterhouse in the woods. I stayed in there for hours, meditating, studying, crying sometimes, watching the pillbugs crawl across the flagstones through the dots my tears made.
Just outside the chapel was a little stone shrine with a grave marker and a flickering gas light. This was the resting place of several corpses of aborted babies. I would pray there as well, asking for the intercession of the Holy Innocents. The Tomb of the Unborn Child was a construction overseen by Father Mike Scanlan, when he was president of the university. It was a testament to his passion for boldly defending the helpless no matter what criticism he received.
The Portiuncula next to it, and the small collection of shrines around the Portiuncula, was the brainchild of Father Mike’s dearest friend, the famous Father Sam Tiesi. Father Sam died before I came to Steubenville, and was revered by the students as a real saint. The official canonization process being a mere formality. Father Mike was still alive, though very old; he was now the chancellor of the university and not the president. He was regarded as a living saint, equal to his friend who had gone before him.
“I don’t know whether I’ll be happy or sad when he dies,” said a fervent friend. “But I think I’ll be happy. To know he’s in Heaven.”
I thought that I would be sad.
I went to Father Mike several times for deliverance prayer, in case demons were exacerbating my anxiety. This was considered a normal thing to do at FUS; people sought deliverance prayer for all kinds of ailments and especially mental health. Demons were lurking around every corner and you had to pray just right to get them out. Father Mike used to pray over me and anoint my temples with blessed oil, then give me a smooch on the forehead and a stroke on the cheek. He said he liked me because I remained “sweet,” in spite of the demons.
Father Mike referred me to Father David Morrier as a confessor. In Father Mike’s opinion, he was an excellent man and one who could also help with my demon problem. I trusted Father Mike’s opinions of other people’s character. Everyone trusted Father Mike, and trusted the people he told them to trust.
I came to like Father Morrier as much as Father Mike, and even invited him to my wedding, where he ended up giving the homily. Father Morrier and Father Mike kindly tried to help me when I stumbled into a situation where I was being bullied by another, younger Franciscan priest, but there wasn’t much they could do.
By the time I got pregnant with my daughter, Father Mike was beginning to lose his memory; he retired to the convent in Loretto, Pennsylvania, shortly before she was born. The last time I saw him I told him about the pregnancy, and he smiled politely and made the Sign of the Cross over my swollen belly. But I could tell from his eyes that he didn’t exactly remember who I was.
The amount of horror that can befall a naive young woman who lives in Steubenville is endless. I got raped — not anything to do with the university. I was absolutely distraught. I thought of my prayer sessions with Father Mike, and wished I could talk to him, but he was in Loretto and didn’t know me anymore.
I called Father Morrier and asked him to visit me at my apartment. He came and counseled me, prayed with me, told me that this didn’t mean God didn’t love me. He closed his eyes chastely when baby Rosie latched on to my breast, and didn’t open them again until I assured him I had a blanket over her head.
Later, Father Morrier heard my confession and we said a prayer together, for the grace to forgive my rapist. He said it was very important to stop wishing I could hurt my rapist so that I wouldn’t be vulnerable to demonic oppression. I had to say over and over again that I forgive, pray for, and release the person who raped me — his voice was fervent when he said that part of the prayer for me to repeat.
Father Morrier was transferred from campus to a parish in Texas in 2014. I missed having him as a confessor.
Father Mike died in 2017, and I was happy and sad at the same time.
In 2018, the university admitted what had been common knowledge in some circles all along: Farther Sam Tiesi was a sexual predator. Later, it came out in the news that Father Mike Scanlan had been notified about this, and had protected his dear friend. He’d gone to horrible lengths to shield Father Sam from consequences, even slandering and yelling at the victims. He put the whole campus in danger. And then, in the end, after Father Sam was dead, he told one of the victims that he knew they were telling the truth all along.
The same year, another news article was released talking about the culture of rape and cover-ups at Franciscan University. One of the victims reports that Father Morrier told her to go to therapy and confession instead of to the police- — and then he told her rapist what she’d said, endangering her further.
This month, Father Morrier was himself indicted for sexual battery and rape. He entered a not guilty plea last week.
The alleged victim was another woman who came to him for counsel, while she was impaired, and he is said to have claimed the sex was necessary for “mental health treatment purposes.” He is said to have done this between 2010 and 2013. During that same time he came to my house, chastely closed his eyes so he wouldn’t see my breast, told me that God didn’t hate me, and counseled me to forgive my rapist.
The day after the indictment was in the news, Franciscan University held a “holy hour on behalf of all victims of abuse,” as if to pray it away. I still think it might be true that demons are all around. But I have come to different conclusions about exactly where they are.
When I came to Steubenville I was very young.
I am not young anymore.
For more of her thoughts on this story, see her weblog Steel Magnificat. Her stories include a report from Fr Morrier’s arraignment.
Mary Pezzulo writes the Steel Magnificat weblog for Patheos. Her previous article was Always Dinner and Never Breakfast: How to Tell You’re in Narnia.
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