By Katie Ward and Emily Prendergast
Monsignor Walter R. Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, stepped down from the Catholic University Board of Trustees in September while he is being investigated for unspecified allegations, according to a university spokeswoman. Rossi remains in active ministry and in his role as the Basilica’s rector as the investigation is underway.
During the time of the investigations, conducted by the Diocese of Scranton and Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Rossi will not be involved in any board activities. Aside from the Board of Trustees, which Rossi has served on since 2005, Rossi has no official responsibilities or duties on campus, according to Catholic University spokeswoman Karna Lozoya.
In its August 29th public statement, posted by WBRE in Pennsylvania, announcing the investigation, the Diocese of Scranton did not mention for which specific allegations Rossi is being investigated.
“I welcome this investigation as a way of putting these false claims to rest and, hopefully, stopping the distribution of false claims against me,” Rossi said in a memo obtained by The Tower that was circulated to Basilica staff on August 15. “I want you to know that I am not aware of any credible allegations against me, nor have I been notified of any person who claims to have been harmed by me or my actions.”
The memo does not mention the allegations for which he is being investigated. Rossi also stated in this memo that the investigation was initiated by claims that have been circulated through various websites and social media sites during the past year. Rossi declined interviews with the media.
Neither Catholic University nor the Basilica have directly received any allegations and they do not have explicit information of what Scranton and Washington are investigating, according to both spokeswomen.
“There have been no allegations at the Basilica or Catholic University,” said Jacquelyn Hayes, spokeswoman and director of communications at the National Shrine. “He has not been asked to step aside and he is still operating as rector at the Basilica.”
The Washington Post reported last month that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, said he received a letter from two Catholic University students who claimed that Rossi sexually harassed them.
Lozoya stated that the university will not be conducting its own investigation at this time, but will cooperate with the two entities leading the current investigation as needed. Lozoya said that the university would need a firsthand account in order to start its own investigation, and encouraged any member of the community with allegations of sexual misconduct or assault to come forward.
“If any students have allegations against Monsignor Rossi, right now is the time to come forward,” Lozoya said. “If Catholic University is approached with an allegation against Monsignor Rossi, we will investigate it.”
Rossi was able to step down for the duration of the investigations following a change to the university by-laws allowing board members to take a leave of absence in the case of an investigation of any kind. Rossi had voted in favor of the change, approved by the board of trustees in June, 2019, according to Hayes.
The Board currently consists of 36 members tasked with looking out for the “governance and oversight of the operations of the University,” according to the university website.