Saturday, January 14, 2012

As Fr. Jack Spaulding's sex-misconduct case heads to Rome; a look at "Scottsdale Visionaries", and Medjugorje {UPDATED}


A priest who was involved with the "Scottsdale Visionaries" in the late 80's/early 90's at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Scottsdale, Arizona has had his sexual misconduct case sent to Rome. News broke this week that Fr. Jack Spaulding's priesthood now rests with Rome, pending review of information sent by the Diocese of Phoenix to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Click here for the diocesan statement on Fr.  Spaulding, which was actually released in October 2011.

What makes this case so unusual is that the victim, who was allegedly abused in 1984-85 when he was a teen, died in June of 2010 and it is the young man's father who filed the accusations with the diocese. It may be the first such case reviewed by the CDF. Three more accusers have come forward with accusations stemming back to the 70's, making it a total of four claims since Fr. Spaulding was suspended and put on administrative leave on June 24, 2011

This is a judgment we leave in the hands of the Holy See.   Father Spaulding is a devout, and much beloved priest, among his flock,  as this 2010 article in the diocesan paper, The Catholic Sun, reveals.  The same article states that he had a show for four years on EWTN.  The most important thing for the sake of justice to both Fr. Spaulding and the alleged victims, is that they arrive at the truth and deal with it appropriately.  If he is deemed guilty, then disciplinary actions; if he is exonerated, then his good name given back to him.  Unfortunately, few innocent priests, once accused, ever get any help from the diocese restoring their good names (N.B.: I rarely link to the dissident, National catholic Reporter, but John Allen's excellent reporting is an anomaly there).

Fr. Spaulding, Medjugorje, and the "Scottsdale Visionaries"

What I want to explore here, is a bit of Fr. Spaulding's history with regard to an entirely different matter: The "Scottsdale Visionaries", and Medjugorje.  I had read about the case being sent to the Vatican by the Diocese of Phoenix, and thought I had recognized the face; but, I set it aside until I got an email from Andrew Rabel, Australian correspondent for Inside the Vatican magazine who visited Assumption Grotto in September of 2009.  With his permission, I share a part of that email:

In the early 1990's, he took a group of young people from his parish, St Maria Goretti in Scottsdale, to Medjugorje on pilgrimage. Shortly after he returned, he claimed that he and some of the young people, were claiming revelations. (Just as an interesting aside. I believe this is the most striking Medjugorje copycat event that has happened in the world, ie another group of young people in a parish claiming visions!)[...]

One of the young people in the parish, later moved to another part of the United States, and claimed to have continuing apparitions. These events to Mrs Gianna Talone Sullivan, were condemned by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, in the strongest terms.

We'll get to what happened in the Archdiocese of Baltimore in a moment. 

There are many "offshoots" from Medjugorje - people claiming to have visions, private revelations, and other phenomena following a visit to that place or involvement with the visionaries.  I have to agree with Andrew, that the case in Scottsdale was remarkably similar in that it involved a priest and a group of young visionaries.  This all began after several pilgrimages to Medjugorje:

The Scottsdale apparitions began at St. Maria Goretti Parish, in Scottsdale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, in the late summer of 1988.  Nine young people (Gianna Talone-Sullivan, Mary Cook, Susan Evans, Steve and Wendy Nelson, James Pauley, Jim Kupanoff, Annie Ross Fitch, Stefanie Staab) approached their pastor, Fr. Spaulding, separately and told him they were hearing voices. They ranged in ages from 19 to 31. Some began to receive extensive messages and Fr. Spaulding had them write them down. He examined the messages and became positive about them. Shortly thereafter Fr. Spaulding began to receive messages also, and to hear voices of encouragement. A prayer group of the young people was formed. Our Lady gave them encouragement and advice in her messages, and Our Lord gives a lesson each week for the group to meditate on. Each lesson is on a basic subject, like humility, compassion, pity, and greed.  The extent of the apparitions varies among the visionaries. Fr. Spaulding and Gianna Talone Sullivan have received the most apparitions. Gianna has moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland under the call of Our Lady and receives lessons from Our Lord each week for a prayer group there (see separate entry).

The same site from which the above comes, also offers a letter sent by the assistant chancellor to someone making an inquiry in 1995.  It states (text bracketed in red, mine]:

I wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter of July 24, 1995 to Bishop O'Brien.  While neither the claims of Fr. John Spaulding, or Estella Ruiz have been "condemned" by the Church, I must say that I question that as the sole criteria for making a decision about what should be given credence by people [This goes back to advice my very, Marian father had given me after he was "burned" by a fraudulent visionary.  He encouraged me to not put any credence in a alleged private revelations and apparitions until the Church, at some level deemed them worthy of belief.  His reasoning was simple, and he was speaking from experience: If we get attached and our faith has any dependence whatsoever on a private revelation or apparition before it is deemed worthy of belief by the Church, we risk not being able to "let go" if the Church says, "no".  There is no harm in not putting stock in such things before they are given a green light, at least by the local bishop.  A yellow light is what the Diocese of Phoenix put out here].

Neither Fr. Spaulding nor Mrs. Ruiz have been prohibited from sharing what they believe to be private revelation.  However, the commissions that looked into these alleged events found no basis for claiming that they are authentic.  in the case of St. Maria Goretti Parish they said that the locutions "are explainable within the range of ordinary human experience." With regard to Mrs. Ruiz the commission concluded in that case that the alleged apparitions and messages are not extraodinary or miraculous and that there are "natural explanations for what is happening".

My recommendation to you is that you not place your confidence in alleged private revelation, but seek to grow, through study and prayer, in your knowledge of the scriptures and the authentic teachings of the Church's magisterium. [very sound advice]

What I'm not sure about is whether the Diocese of Phoenix followed up with any further decisions after that.  But wait! The Archdiocese of Baltimore had something to say.

Click to enlarge

As Andrew pointed out in his email, one of the visionaries moved to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, where, in Emmitsburg, Maryland, she continued to draw people.  That archdiocese soundly put an end to her activities there, condemning them, as Andrew says, in the strongest possible terms.  You can read what accompanied the above decree here: Statement concerning Archdiocesan action regarding alleged apparitions to Gianna Talone-Sullivan in Emmitsburg, Maryland

Further, the Holy See was in agreement with Cardinal Keeler and his commission's position:

In an April 2 letter to Father William O’Brien, C.M., pastor of St. Joseph, Cardinal Keeler reported the Feb. 15 ruling of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, that Baltimore’s archbishop is in a position to conclude the matter with a decree that the alleged apparitions are clearly not miraculous ("constat de non supernaturalitate").

This article details Gianna's response.  It looks like someone's playing address games, with a P.O. Box in Pennsylvania, possibly attempting to justify the activity shown in the edits below.  They may be able to fool themselves and some people, but they cannot fool the Holy Spirit.

EDIT 1:  I'm dropping this 2007 video which shows Gianna in a "gospa-on-demand" like ecstasy.  In fact, I had to do a double take thinking it was one of the Medjugorje visionaries. Her actions tell us what she thinks of that decree out of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which was affirmed by then Cardinal Ratzinger in 2003. 

Can you spell, c-o-p-y c-a-t?

EDIT 2:  Regrettably, Fr. Spaulding was a periodic speaker at The Foundation of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary which seems exists mainly to promote the "messages" of "Our Lady of Emmitsburg" as they come through Gianna.  The cult-watch section further dissects the promotional video called, Unbridled Mercy.   She apparently had a two year hiatus after her visions and locutions were condemned with the strongest possible language (a constat de non supernaturalitate, which means it is affirmed that it is not supernatural), and went right back to her gig.  Go to this list of videos and you can find where Fr. Spaulding spoke at events sponsored by that center, years after that 2003 decree of condemnation.

EDIT 3: Just found was this October 8, 2008 document from the Archdiocese of Baltimore by Archbishop O'Brien discussing the visions of Gianna.  Action had to be taken when the "apparitions" and "messages" continued despite the clear wording in the decree since prayer meetings were happening at a secular complex (to the tune of 500-700 people).  Fr. Spaulding is not listed as a speaker after that date and the last videos uploaded were from 2009 and seem to be speakers only.  To their credit, the last published "message" is dated October 5, 2008.  In fact, they issued a statement on October 15, 2008 declaring the following:

The Foundation of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary Inc. is a non-denominational 501(c)(3) charitable organization at the service of the truth in disseminating among its communications words of help and assistance allegedly from heaven.

One primary Foundation purpose is the dissemination of the Our Lady of Emmitsburg Public Messages to the World.


Meanwhile, both in deference to the desires, opinions, and cautions of the Archbishop and out of concern to not jeopardize the standing or status of Roman Catholics within the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the profession of their faith, until notice otherwise, the Foundation will no longer sponsor the Monthly Marian Prayer Service. The entire future schedule for the Prayer Service at the Lynfield Event Complex in Frederick, Maryland issuspended

While the Foundation for the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary seems to be abiding by the order prohibiting the faithful from spreading "messages" by not putting up anything new, the site is being disingenuous in that it still carries past "messages" and videos, and continues to use an unauthorized title for the Blessed Virgin Mary of "Our Lady of Emmitsburg".  Throughout the site we see all the trappings that give the impression that it is all worthy of belief, while on one page there is some reference to what the Archdiocese of Baltimore has laid out.

The Foundation responded with another response in July 2009 - a very lengthy one.  Here again, while the promotion of new messages have ceased, they continue to speak of the apparitions as if they are worthy of belief when the Church has clearly stated they are not supernatural.  They don't get it.

Here is a 2007 article from the Fredericksburg News-Post (note that this was prior to the 2008 statement by the Archdiocese of Baltimore)

[End Edit]


It turns out that Gianna and Vicka - one of the Medjugorje visionaries had actually met.  This testimonial, available at, details that meeting.  Here is just a snippet:

"Coincidental" similarities between Medjugorje and Emmitsburg jumped out at me the more I read, revealing a disturbing copycat mentality among these and other visionaries. Signs that were supposed to appear, but didn't. Secrets and doomsday prounouncements provoking a constant atmosphere of suspense, fear and drama. Creation of divisions among Catholics, the Church and clergy. Private revelations superceding Church doctrine and resulting in subversive activities, disobedience among laity and clergy, and broken marriages. As I continued to read, I grew increasingly disturbed by the predictably similar parallels between the apparition experiences of Vicka, one of the Medjugorje visionaries, and Gianna.

"Paolo Apolito lists the following individuals as being amongst those claiming to have started to receive their own revelations either following a visit to Medjugorje, or through some more general contact with it: … Fr. Jack Spaulding [Gianna's former pastor in Scottsdale, Arizona]; Gianna Talone [Sullivan]…. And he also makes the very pertinent point, that whereas prior to the modern era, with its explosion of visionary claims, individuals claiming such experiences would almost certainly have been shunned by the average Catholic, now they could expect be treated as celebrities."4

"Gianna and Vicka are kindred souls. Both of them have suffered tremendously. In June of 1988, Gianna was the rookie and Vicka was the veteran. In time, their absolutions have probably balanced out. On the eighth of June, Gianna visited Vicka [in Medjugorje], who was standing on the steps of her porch, surrounded by a host of admirers. But as Gianna approached, the people parted, like mere mortals making way for sainted souls, and she easily approached her counterpart.

'The Blessed Mother sent me,' Gianna said."5

"Vicka [one of the Medjugorje visionaries] tells us that [on June 27, 1981] she took along blessed salt and water, as a way of testing the Vision to see if it really was the Gospa [Blessed Mother], on the assumption that the devil would be driven away by such sacramentals. After invoking the Trinity, she sprinkled the Vision while saying: 'If you are the Gospa, remain with us. If you are not, get lost.'"6

"On December 19, 1989, Our Lady appeared to Gianna, while she was praying, for the first time. Gianna, fearing illusions, became frightened. She knew that Satan sometimes appears to people as an Angel of Light. She ran for her holy water, sprinkled it on the Blessed Mother, and said, 'Go away if you are not of God.'"7
[Edit 4: Footnote 5 from the source leads us to "Our Lady of Emmitsburg" by Dom Forker, Queenship 2000. If someone has a copy of that book available, I'd be very interested to know what response, if any, Vicka had when Gianna told her that the BVM sent her.]

That complete testimonial by Michelle Michaels is well documented, with footnotes. She walks us through her spiritual journey into unapproved private revelations, and how it nearly pushed her completely away from Mary. I would encourage reading it in it's entirety before getting too wrapped up in anything not yet deemed worthy of belief by the Church as it illustrates the spiritual damage that can happen to a soul, especially when it experiences devotion-overload.  Thanks be to God that the woman went on to develop a sound relationship with the Blessed Mother, devoid of signs, wonders, and weekly messages.

With regards to Fr. Jack Spaulding, there have really been some interesting turns in his life.  Please keep him and any potential abuse victims in your prayers, and pray for a truthful and just outcome for all parties.

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