Photo Courtesy of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception
By Renee Rasmussen
A statement released on June 12 by the Diocese of Scranton announced that the investigation into Monsignor Walter Rossi, Rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, found “no credible evidence” regarding allegations of personal misconduct. An additional statement released by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory found “no unreasonable or inappropriate expenditures or significant issues in the financial administration” regarding a financial investigation against Rossi.
The investigations began nine months ago in response to accusations of financial and sexual misconduct, according to the Washington Post. Rossi was cleared by the Archdiocese of Washington in 2018 of similar accusations and stepped down from Catholic University’s Board of Trustees in September amid the most recent allegations. He remained active in his role as the Rector of the Basilica throughout the investigation.
The investigations opened in August 2019 following a question directed at Gregory during a question-and-answer session at a Theology on Tap, held at the Public Bar Live in the Dupont area of Washington on August 13.
“My question calls for accountability, which in the past you have committed to,”said a participant at the session. “Monsignor Walter Rossi has been openly accused of abuse and of aiding other predatory priests in their abuse by multiple sources, including victims in high-level clergy. I’m wondering why in that sort of situation he hasn’t been removed from active ministry until an investigation can be completed?”
Gregory responded that, “in our society, people can be ‘proven guilty’ by innuendo or by common conversation,” and that no alleged victim has directly come forward with claims against Rossi.
The Diocese of Scranton explained that the investigation into allegations of Rossi’s personal misconduct was led by “outside counsel” and assisted by a retired FBI agent of 30 years. The investigation focused on interviews from current and former Basilica employees, former Catholic University students, and current and former members of the clergy who were assigned to the Basilica or who worked with Rossi.
The statement also said that the investigator “attempted to interview many additional witnesses and searched diligently for witnesses who could possibly support the rumors against Monsignor Rossi, but found none. The investigator also tried to locate the unnamed ‘sources’ for the critical articles, but could not.”
The diocese stated that many witnesses had concerns about his management style at the Basilica, but could not provide first-hand evidence of sexual misconduct.
When asked about sexual misconduct the diocese stated that some of the witnesses “merely re-stated unsupported and unsubstantiated rumors that previously appeared in certain publications.”
These publications included articles written by journalist George Neumayr and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Neumayr was the first to raise questions about Rossi in a series of American Spectator articles.
In two articles published in 2018, Neumayr claims to have received information from a number of Catholic University alumni that Rossi “hit” on them and “groomed” them. While his sources remain unnamed, Neumayr called for action from both Catholic University and the Diocese of Scranton.
In a previous article by The Tower, university spokeswoman Karna Lozoya stated that the university would not be conducting its own investigation on Rossi, as the university needed a firsthand account in order to initiate its own investigation, but would cooperate with the two entities leading the investigation as needed. Lozoya also encouraged any students with allegations against Rossi to come forward at that time.
In an American Spectator article, Neumayr writes that Rossi was appointed to the Basilica by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was removed from public ministry after being found responsible by the Vatican for the sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct with seminarians. Rossi’s appointment came after his predecessor Bishop Michael Bransfield was accused of sexual misconduct towards young men.
Viganò is also known as a Vatican whistleblower, most notably for his interview with Italian journalist Marco Tosatti that exposed the scandal and coverup occurring in the Vatican regarding prominent Church leaders, including McCarrick.
“I can say that, while I was a nuncio in the United States, I received the documentation that states that Monsignor Rossi had sexually molested male students at the Catholic University of America,” Viganò alleged.
“The Vatican, in particular Cardinal Parolin, is well aware of the situation of Monsignor Rossi, as is Cardinal Wuerl,” Viganò said. “I can finally testify that Rossi’s name was proposed for promotion to bishop to my predecessor, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who blocked his progress.”
When investigating mismanagement of the financial administration of the Basilica, many individuals from the Basilica’s fiscal administration were interviewed. When asked about the investigation the Shrine commented, “the accounting experts performed an in-depth review of expenditures, general ledgers, credit card statements, receipts, invoices, capital budgets, bank and investment account statements as well as certain investment account reconciliations and other financial worksheets.”
However, the Shrine’s financial investigation “did assist in suggesting certain improvements in management and policy enhancements that will benefit the Basilica and will be implemented.”
To conclude the statement the diocese said, “The purpose of the diocese’s investigation was to seek out credible evidence of sexual impropriety and, if found, to determine an appropriate response,” said the statement. “At the conclusion of its comprehensive investigation, the Diocese of Scranton found no such credible evidence.”