Four months after the Diocese of Scranton began looking into allegations against the rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a spokesman for the diocese said the investigation is not yet concluded.
“At this point, the investigation is still underway and I have nothing new to report at this time,” Diocese of Scranton spokesman Eric Deadbill told CNA on January 15.
On August 14, the Diocese of Scranton told CNA that Bishop Joseph Bambera had “commenced the process of launching a full forensic investigation” into concerns regarding Msgr. Walter Rossi, a Scranton priest who works as rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
While the Scranton diocese confirmed this week that the investigation is still underway, it did not answer questions regarding who is actually appointed to conduct the review, and what role the Archdiocese of Washington is playing in the process.
In August the diocese said it would work “jointly and cooperatively” with the Archdiocese of Washington on a “comprehensive investigation.” Rossi lives in the Washington archdiocese.
On January 15, the Archdiocese of Washington referred CNA to the Scranton diocese but did not itself answer questions about the investigation.
The investigation was prompted by concerns raised about Rossi to Washington’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory on August 13, during a question-and-answer session at a Theology on Tap, held at the Public Bar Live in the Dupont area of Washington.
During that session, Gregory called for an independent, forensic investigation of some allegations against the priest.
When called on for a question, a participant at the August event told Gregory that Rossi has been accused of directing young men to Fr. Matthew Reidlinger, a priest friend of Rossi’s who is alleged to have sexually harassed them in phone calls and text messages. That accusation was made in 2013.
Gregory said he was unfamiliar with that allegation.
“That’s news to me. And I am not doubting it, but I have not heard about [this situation].”
“I suspect – I hope – that there is a forensic investigation. But in today’s environment, even a forensic investigation that either proves or disproves, will not satisfy the people. But I would like to see that, I would like to see a forensic investigation of those allegations.”
Gregory was then asked why Rossi remained in ministry at the Washington shrine; as the local archbishop, Gregory is the chairman of the board of trustees.
“It seems to me that the investigation has to come from his bishop, he’s a priest of Scranton.”
Acknowledging that Rossi is assigned to a Washington church, Gregory said that “the investigation has to begin with his bishop, that’s just how things are done.”
“Until that kind of investigation is done, a forensic one [with] outside investigators, I don’t know how we can make a decision [on the suitability of Rossi to continue in ministry in Washington] until those kinds of investigations are completed.”
Beyond the allegations mentioned at the August 13 Theology on Tap, additional accusations have also been levelled against Rossi.
In an interview in June, former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano alleged that the nunciature in Washington had received “documentation that states that Msgr. Rossi had sexually molested male students at the Catholic University of America.”
Vigano also said that both the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and former Washington archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl were “well aware of the situation,” and that Rossi had previously been proposed for promotion to bishop and been blocked.
In September, The Catholic University of America announced that Rossi has taken a leave of absence from the board of trustees at The Catholic University of America. That leave is expected to perdure until the investigation is completed.
The Church’s Code of Canon Law delineates norms for the “preliminary investigation” into possible delicts, or canonical crimes, but it does not mandate that preliminary investigations be completed within any established timeframe.
Rossi remains in office as rector of the DC shrine, which is the largest Catholic Church in North America, and designated by the U.S. bishops as a National Sanctuary of Prayer and Pilgrimage.
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