St. John Vianney Policy Has Dangerous Potential


The story of a patient from the St John Vianney Center being found on a school campus, has been making the news recently. I was the parent who discovered the patient on Bishop Shanahan’s campus back in December. I was in the parking lot and saw the man coming from around the side of the building, walk right past the front entrance and continue along the sidewalk of the school. His presence on the campus was very odd, so I followed him in my car and watched as he crossed the street and returned to St. John Vianney Center, a hospital that treats the behavioral and psychological needs of the clergy.

I am not going to get into all that has transpired with that particular incident; instead I want to focus on the broader issue of the Vianney Center allowing patients unsupervised off campus privileges. For now, I will just say that the parents of the school were only alerted after I requested that be done, and the police were alerted when I found that the school did not file a report of a patient from the facility being on the school campus. The Archdiocese has released a few statements about this situation, and although what they have said is not untrue, the statements certainly do not reflect my efforts to make sure the parents and police were alerted to the security breach.

The Vianney Center treats a variety of issues including addiction, mental health and sexual disorders. There are very few religious treatment centers left in the U.S. Odds are if a clergy member is making the news for some type of transgression they may be heading to Vianney for treatment. Such was the case of Msgr. Kevin Wallin, the priest dubbed “Msgr. Meth” who was federally indicted for operating a meth ring. He was in court last month trying to be released to Vianney. Luckily, the judge kept him in federal custody. Not so lucky for us however, are the priests who have been released on bail and then come to Vianney – facing charges for crimes such as possession of child pornography, indecent exposure and obscene conduct, to just name a few recent cases.

I have had a few discussions as well as a meeting with staff from Vianney. Some patients at the facility are allowed the privilege of unsupervised walks around the neighboring community of the facility. Patients being treated for child porn related issues would not necessarily be prohibited from these off campus unsupervised privileges.  This shocks me. As a social worker, I have never heard of patients whose condition for their addiction, mental health or sexual disorder requires inpatient hospitalization, being given this privilege. There are many levels of privileges given to patient at similar non acute facilities, but giving patients a map and sending them off unsupervised into the local community is something I have never come across before.

The Archdiocese has said that no patients who are determined to be a threat to themselves or the community are allowed this unsupervised privilege. I find that interesting because as a parent and a social worker, I consider someone who views or possesses child pornography to be a threat to children.
In New Jersey recently there were arrests of men charged with child porn possession. The thoughts of the New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa are direct and powerful: “The children they watch being tortured are violated again by their actions, and these offenders may pose a danger to other children because of their predilections. We will remain ever vigilant to stop this predatory behavior against children.” I could not agree more, child pornography is not a victimless crime and a person who views this depravity for their own personal enjoyment is a risk to children.

Aside from the criminal justice patients, I believe it is unsafe for Vianney to allow any patients, regardless of their diagnosis, to be unsupervised in the community. Obviously finding a patient on a school campus proves that point.
Margaret Reif and I have been working on this issue for the past few months and will continue to do so until we feel that the children in the community are safe. Margaret has been involved for the past two years with efforts of protecting children in the Archdiocese as well as the legislative efforts for victims and children in Pennsylvania.

We have expressed our concerns to the Archdiocese, elected officials and law enforcement.  So often in our society we wait until  tragedy occurs. In this case we are not waiting. We have sounded the alarm that this is a community problem for all children as Vianney Center is located near schools, parks and shopping centers. Children deserve to be safe. When we fail them – we fail as a society.

43 thoughts on “St. John Vianney Policy Has Dangerous Potential

  1. God bless you Kathy. No one works header for our children than you do. You have many accomplishments to be very proud of.
    Tomorrow the Conclave begins…prayer for the people of GOD IS ESSENTIAL! Thank you so much for your Love.

  2. Another part of your story is disturbing, although it didn’t get as much attention as I would like. It sounds like the guy crossed the street from the school and returned to St. John Vianney. Is the facility really right across the street or road from a school?! How is it possible that there can be a treatment facility that treats sexual predators in such close proximity to a school? It may not be practical or affordable to move the facility to another location, or to find a location anywhere that is not within a too-close radius of a school, but it is something that should be explored at very least. If this facility were in a remote area, it would still be disturbing that a sexual predator could be given such unsupervised privileges, but it would not be as bad as him being in a neighborhood and in such close proximity to a school.

    1. My oldest child was in the first graduating class from the Downingtown campus. When the location for this new Bishop Shanahan (originally in West Chester) was being selected, I remember discussion back then that it was going to be across the street from St. John Vianney. And in typical fashion any concerns were downplayed.

  3. Michael ,the Vianney Center treats a variey of issues including addiction and mental health. The patient I found did not have a criminal background however all of the patients are told to not come on to the school property. They are told this at orientation when they enter the facility..obviously this patient should not have been cleared for unsupervised privileges if he could not follow instructions or he just decided to break the rules..this is why the unsupervised privileges must stop.
    The Vianney Center is directly across the street from a school. The Archdiocese owned the land from about 60 years ago,the Vianney Center was there first. It was established when the area was very rural, however the population and building has grown rapidly over the past 20 years so now it is surrounded by shopping centers, school, bowling alleys,movie theater. The Archdiocese had it right when they located the facility there years ago,now however they have to take into acount that the facility is not surrounded by farms and fields .
    The Archdiocese says that no sexual violent predators are at the facility..okay but a priest from Conneticut who was charged with first degree felony porn last July was a patient at Vianney in recent months. The images included 2 and 3 year olds being orally and vaginally violated. The person possessing those images is a me that is..

  4. When a Catholic priest enters a Catholic-run treatment facility, I assume his treatment plan meets the standards, protocols, and procedures of treatment plans at other treatment facilities treating the same disorder. What I can tell you is “unique” about a Catholic priest entering a Catholic-run treatment facility is that PRIEST will replace PERSON. Whether PRIEST evokes special treatment, or whether it skews or taints his treatment, is worth asking because NOTHING is more skewed or tainted or apt to evoke special treatment than PRIEST.

  5. “The images included 2 and 3 year olds being orally and vaginally violated. The person possessing those images is a me that is..”

    You are so very right in this. I so admire you for having the fortitude to stand up and make these facts known to the authorities, both Church and Police. Thank God you are trying to avoid a crisis not waiting for one. I agree that the Church chose the location for the Center well and acted responsibly in this. However, the immediate environment of the Center has changed, and so the Church authorities should show the same diligence now and move the center. Especially given the greater understanding of these predilections today.

  6. The Jesuit Los Gatos nursing home, on College Ave., Los Gatos, California near the winery, may be one of the few nursing homes in California located next to an apartment building that houses priests accused of sex crimes. The Jesuit Order paid $3 million to settle sex abuse lawsuits against Fr. Jerold Lindner, who lives in the apartment building next to the nursing home. Fr. Thomas Smolich, now the top Jesuit in the USA, was the Provincial in charge for 6-years of this combination of a nursing home and apartments for priest abusers.

  7. Thank you so much Kathy. You have done so much.

    After all this time, all these experiences, all these victims drawing the road map to prevent more victims…and THIS is the policy? THIS is the response?

    How exactly are the students supposed to determine which priest is a “Vianney Treatment” one and which one is the “trusted” one? It is all so warped.

    What can we do to help/support your efforts Kathy?

  8. This is unbelievable. Even if the Catholic Church does not care about sexual abuse, haven’t they learned that the church will need to pay millions more to settle sex abuse lawsuits. Seems like the church officials are lacking in common sense – most people learn along the way. It seems like they take no responsibility and don’t care about any consequences. Is the Catholic Church still not facing reality?

  9. Yes I think they(All the heirarchy) really do not care. Looking into the eyes of an adult who was abused as a child, someone I personally do not know, but met recently, and a parent who buried his son who died by suicide because his son was repeatly abused by a priest, and wants JUSTICE, to me, represents the face of sexual abuse in the church in the schools, down the shore…… My heart ached looking into their eyes, seeing and feeling their hurt. My spirit was angry for them, and I JUST CAN’T COMPREHEND how these cardinals, bishops, priests, pew sheep,and anyone else can carry on as if nothing has happened to these human beings, and life goes on as normal!!!!!
    This is truly not how Jesus would react, for sure..
    I believe the victims, and pray for your needs, when you can’t.

  10. I have some very mixed reactions to this news. I am 100% against any sexual predator walking freely near a school. Many years ago I was a patient at St. John Vianney. I was not a predator or an abuser: I am a victim. I was sexually molested by a sister – my superior – when I was a young sister. St. John Vianney saved my life – literally. Before going there I was seriously anorexic, as well as suicidal. I was so ashamed, thought I was the only one to whom this had ever happened, and believed that God couldn’t love me. I learned there that what happened to me was not my fault. Unfortunately, I met many other sisters to whom this had happened. I began to heal. When I first arrived, I was not allowed off the floor, then I could walk in the building, then on the property, and finally off the property. The staff had to know that I was not a threat to myself before this was allowed. I was never a threat to anyone else. I would hope that the same was true of this priest who was seen on the property of the school. I would have hated to be judged dangerous by anyone who knew I was a patient there and saw me on the road or at the mall. I can’t answer to this particular incident, and as I stated, I was a patient many years ago. I know the staff has changed, so maybe policy has also. But, I say again, St. John Vianney saved my life and I am grateful that they were there for me.

    1. gabe, thanking for you sharing your experience. The patients are not supposed to come to the school regardless of their diagnosis, that is not too much to ask of anyone in these days of heightened school security. I don’t know if the school was there when you were a patient but they are instructed at orientation to not enter school property. To be honest I would never go on to any school campus myself without a reason for being there. So it leaves the question as to why he ignored the rule or was not able to comprehend the rule and given clearance for off site privileges.

      It seems that patients stay at Vianney for a much longer time than most stay inpatient hospitalization..these days most insurances cover limited stays but when people are at a facility for long periods of time then obviously they would want some privileges..that I understand. I am conflicted though with a diagnosis and treatment plan that requires in patient hospitalization but then the patients are out of the facility on their own me those two things do not equate.

      I knew from seeing this patient he did belong on the campus.With issues of child safety,children trump all other rights of anyone in my book . There are patients with sexual disorders along with patients like yourself, and I still side with no unsupervised off site privileges. It is too much of a risk. I am a social worker and am a strong advocate of people seeking and receiving treatment but as a parent..this is just not okay. I don’t care if 9 out of 10 patients are doing the right thing when unsupervised..there is always the chance that 1 will not and we should
      never take a chance with children. I am absolutely for patients rights for off site privileges with staff, family ,friends. I absolutely am against unsupervised patients walking around a neighborhood. You know that you would never harm anyone or act in a way to threaten another..but no one can make that absolute guarantee for anyone else.

      I am happy for you that your stay and treatment was what sounds like a life saving experience and a path to healing.

      1. Gabe, I am also sorry to hear that there were other sisters who shared your experience of abuse by a Superior. It is probably an arae that has been overlooked in the abuse crisis

        1. Absolutely true, although we have tried to make people aware. Not only do sisters sexually abuse other sisters, but also young boys and girls. Who had more contact with children than the sisters who taught them?

          1. So true Gabe. There was a sister at a parish in the Archdiocese who abused the boys and girls at the parish school.

      2. Thank you for your comment, Kathy. I certainly understand what you are saying about a school – I am both a teacher and a woman with her Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy – and I firmly believe that no one should be on a school campus without permission and checking in with the office. I also understand what you are saying about people allowed off campus, however, as I said, I would never be a threat to anyone. That does not ensure that anyone else would not be.
        Thank you for your kind thoughts regarding my recovery. As I said, the staff at St. John Vianney gave me my life back.

        1. gabe, i don’t know how long ago you were there but the other variable that has changed is the use of cell phones. I asked the staff if patients who are being treated for porn related issues are allowed cell phones when they go out into the neighborhood and was told yes,however the cell phones are not checked when they return for any photos that may have been taken. There is a “fad’ for lack of better word of taking pictures of young girls,women when they are in various positions..bending over etc… and the women have no idea that someone is taking a photo of them. So patients with porn related issues can have cell phones when they go out..they cannot have them while in the facility, but can take the cell phones out with them and have photo taking capability on the phone and are being treated for a porn related issue? Some things just do not make sense.

          1. I agree with you ABSOLUTELY on this one….cell phones should not be allowed. It sounds like a lot of policies need to be overhauled since I was there!!

          2. Gabe it took me about 2 months of working on this issue to come to the point of saying the patients should not have unsupervised privileges. I looked at it from every angle,asked questions..did everything possible and the more questions I asked the more uncomfortable I became with some policies. Not only policies but also a mentality I picked up in one conversation when I was discussing the meth dealing priest being brought back to Vianney. At that point I threw in the towel and said the only solution is for no unsupervised privileges. That was the same conversation when I found out that patients with child porn related issues are not automatically restricted from the unsupervised privileges.

          3. Gabe, I am very thankful that you speak highly of your treatment at Vianney. That it led to your recovery is especially good to hear. Because you were there, I wonder if you could respond to my suggestion in my above post that possibly there are two kinds of “treatments” going on at Vianney. The first being a patient’s treatment and recovery program, and the second being the “treatment” of a patient not as a person per se but rather in light of his or her association with the priesthood or sisterhood, possibly creating a treatment climate unlike the climate at treatment facilities not specifically intended for the religious. I guess what I’m asking is: If treatment and recovery programs are veiled in treating not persons but rather Others, what are the implications, if any, and do they matter?

    2. Gabe, i think it’s wonderful that you survived the abuse you suffered, and that you now work to help others repair their lives.
      May i ask whether today, you think it was appropriate for a seriously traumatized victim of clerical sexual abuse to have been placed for treatment in a facility which exists largely to counsel and house sexually abusive clergy members? Shouldn’t you have been sent to heal as far away from this element as possible? Doesn’t this arrangement seem contraindicated and self-serving on the part of the RCC?

  11. We certainly appreciate the fact that not ALL of the patients at Vianney are threats to the community.

    Unfortunately, however, they do house enough patients that have been a danger to their own community before being sent in to ours.

    For example…

    Fr. Kevin Wallin CT. Cross dressing Meth dealer
    Cross dressing, porn addicted, meth dealer left 5 weeks into 3 month treatment without
    Assistant U.S. Public Defender Kelly Barrett, tried to obtain his release to the St. John
    Vianney Center, a Pennsylvania-based behavioral health facility for clergy, for
    treatment. Atty Caruso pointed out that Wallin left that same facility last spring, just five
    weeks into treatment.
    She suggested Wallin be released to the center, outfitted with an electronic monitoring
    device and forced to sign a $500,000 non-surety bond.

    Fr. Matthew Kornacki Child Porn
    150 illegal images of children engaged in sexual acts
    His attorney stated “He’s going to be at (the St. John Vianney Center) for the rest of his
    life…That’s a life sentence. And he’s done a lot of good things for the church”

    Fr. Dennis Carey Child Porn Patient At Behavioral Health Center
    “arrested in July for first-degree possession of child pornography, is now a patient at the
    St. John Vianney Center. “ (Dec 2012)
    Met $100k bail in July and ordered not to interact with children, avoid internet, not
    possess pornography

    Fr. Robert Timchak child porn
    A Diocese of Scranton priest will serve up to six years in state prison for having photos
    of naked, underage boys on his computer.

    Fr. Charles Plock ordered to check into Vianney after posting $150k bail
    A St. John’s University arrested in a cybersex sting was allowed to trade in his jail cell for
    a treatment facility in a leafy town known for its country clubs.The was ordered to check
    into the residential facility after being released on $150,000 bail late Friday.
    He’s accused of e-mailing a vulgar photo of himself to someone he believed was a 13-
    year-old boy.

    Any one of those patients could have been considered for walking around privileges…that’s a problem for our community.

    1. Where is the money to post bail coming from?? We all know! It’s an in-patient facility and these people can come and go on “day-passes”. Walking away from the facility, and no notification to anyone in the community. Kathy Kane, a wonderful job you are doing, a passionate caring person.

    2. Hi, Crystal,
      I was at St. John almost 20 years ago and much was very different. At no time did I feel uncomfortable with the knowledge that there were sexual offenders being treated along with me. I felt safe there – but for all I know, that could have been due to my own naivete and ignorance. Also, the clients there were probably very different then than they are now. The particular therapy group in which I was a member was composed only of sisters who had had similar experiences. I can’t say what the criteria was for allowing clients to leave the premises, other than my own. Once the staff felt I was no longer suicidal, they allowed me to leave. I wouldn’t have considered going onto a school campus. But, I was not a sexual offender and was at no time a threat to anyone else. Should sexual offenders be allowed to roam free? I rather think not. We understand now that this is something that is not curable and will not go away, and no matter how much therapy a sexual offender is given, nothing will change. So, should s/he be allowed to go out into public? Personally I think they should all be put on an island some place.

  12. Kate, I don’t want to jump in on the question you asked Gabe so I will respond here with my experience. I worked for years with drug&alcohol and mental health patients. There is some wording on the Vianney site that I take offense to “here you are not treated as a number or diagnosis”. I have never seen the professionals that I have worked with in secular settings treat clients /patients as a number or a diagnosis. There is compassion and understanding.

    I have felt with a blunt force, the clericalism that you always speak of, in some conversations with Vianney. They have treated me with the upmost respect however the divide is great. When a patient does not follow rules,you enforce policies..end of story. As a young social worker I had to leave clients on the street who broke rules. I understand what it is like to have to enforce policies, there is nothing pleasant about it, but it is necessary.

    There are stories that came from the trial in testimony last year of a priest treated at Vianney for suspected child molestation who walked off the property and sexually harassed the staff of a local restaurant. On another occasion he met up with one of his mistresses. Another priest on I guess what you would call a day pass, went to the home of a parishioner and made overtures to a young boy. It is an inpatient hospital..I have never heard of people coming and going in this way.
    I only know from my conversations that there are things I strongly disagree with. Compassion is always necessary when dealing with people who are struggling but so are boundaries. I am sure there are fantastic clinicians doing good work with the patients but the overall sense I get from a policy stand point is that when you have a patient who breaks the rule of coming to a school and you do not enforce the policy which you have just given cart blanche to any other patient who breaks the same rule. So many secular facilities treat patients with a great deal of compassion but also enforce their rules..if not ,nothing good comes from that.

    1. Kate here is the sentence I referred to “We strive never to allow an individual to feel as though they are a number, a diagnosis or a problem. Recovery, reconciliation and healing are the hallmarks of the Vianney experience that differentiates us from others in the field.”

      1. Why does St John Vianney’s exist? Why can’t its patients be placed in lay facilities?
        Locating a school so close to such a facility is as amateurish and reckless as it gets.

        Outrage after outrage from the hierarchy of the catholic church…It all gets so old, doesn’t it?

        1. Again, Crystal, I can only speak from my own experience. While I was there, we had daily Mass and often conferences that pertained to the Catholic faith. The whole atmosphere was permeated with Catholicism. Also, there are some things that only someone who has been on the “inside” of the Catholic church, like a priest or sister, can really understand some of the issues with which we dealt. It is often very difficult for me to explain to lay people about the system. Even an actively practicing Catholic lay person cannot really understand what living on the “inside” is like – whether that is good or bad, I cannot comment, only that it exists.

          1. Gabe, thanks for your answers! They’ve helped me to understand.
            Can you recommend any particular reading on the subject of life (good, bad or abusive) in the convent?

  13. Just thought I would share the following article from today’s newspaper. My comments are not intended to throw you off-topic but I am not from Philadelphia so I don’t have the local take on the situation. Teachers, religious or lay, must all know that these sorts of things are not made public under penalty of being fired from their jobs, unless the victim goes to the police which is what seems to have happened.

    “Saint Basil. Teacher charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old. The Edmonton Catholic School Board has launched an internal investigation after a 27-year-old teacher from Saint Basil Catholic School allegedly had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student. Piotr Zaloba has been charged with a number of offences, including sexual assault, invitation to sexual touching and luring a child. Zaloba was on a temporary contract at the school. Once the district received information from the Edmonton Police, Zaloba was suspended, said ECSB superintendent Joan Carr. “

  14. God Bless you, Kathy. Thank you for all you do on behalf of God’s children.

    I believe the victims.

  15. The prayer and penance program is also housed at the St. John Vianney Center. That is not an inpatient program as I understand. The prayer and penance program is for clergy who accept a life of prayer and penance in lieu of laicization. Is there a chance the person you saw on the campus of Shanahan was from the prayer and penance program rather than a patient in the hospitalization program?

    1. Oops, I had the wrong place for the prayer and penance program. I saw in Susan’s post that it is in Darby at St. Joe’s Villa. Sorry!

      1. Vianney verified that the man was their patient and should not have been at the school. I appreciate that they never offered any excuses …they were very clear that it should not have happened.

        1. For those not from this area,the school sits about one quarter of a mile back from the don’t end up on the school campus by the front doors by mistake.

    2. Hi Michele, According to the Archdiocesan web site, the prayer and penance program is housed at Villa St. Joseph in Darby. See my latest post for more info. Since it is primarily a retirement home, I’m not sure of how aware the surrounding community is to its other purpose.

      1. Thanks Susan, I caught my mixup shortly after I posted my question. I saw your post almost immediately after I posted and caught my mistake. For some reason I had the prayer and penance program at the Vainney center in my mind. Maybe I just did not want to believe that inpatients at Vianney can have unsupervised community visits so my subconscious blocked my prior knowledge of the prayer and penance program being in Darby.

  16. Please stop with the speculation, heresay, and rumor. The fact of the matter is, you don’t know why particular priests are center to this facility, and you don’t know the particulars of their condition.

    Priests may be sent there for run-of-the-mill anxiety issues or psychological stress.

    You are not in a position to judge these priests. If non-criminal priests are walking the community while they are in treatment you should let them be.

    If there is an actual, specific criminal situation you know of, that would be different.

    But merely smearing and painting all priests with the same broad brush is offensive.

    1. Do you realize that clergy can receive mental health and addiction treatment at the same type of facilities as the rest of the population? There are only a few remaining clergy treatment centers and there are tens of thousands of clergy in the U.S. Do you realize that most clergy seek help at facilities that are not specifically for clergy?
      Vianney should be shuttered and sold…there is no need for it other than the revenue it brings to the Archdiocese and money will always be the motivator. And it is convenient for when there is an uproar in a diocese about a priest’s misconduct and they can shuffle him off to a clergy treatment center. Other than that priests have health insurance and would probably be better off seeking help at the same facilities as laity. Also Vianney does not accept insurance so the Diocese is paying for both the health insurance and private pay at Vianney. Close it down and turn off the lights.

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