November 16, 2005

Bishop refines his case

Telegram & Gazette

Dianne Williamson


Bishop Robert J. McManus has decided to bypass the secular skeptics and preach to the converted.

After more than two weeks of silence to lingering questions about the Rev. James Aquino case, he opted to respond to the 17,000 subscribers of The Catholic Free Press, the diocesan newspaper in which he writes an occasional column under his trademark motto, “Christ, The Splendor of Truth.”

In doing so, the bishop relieved himself of the burden of answering questions about inconsistencies in his handling of the case, which is surely his prerogative and no great surprise, as the church hierarchy rarely considers itself answerable to the populace.

Specifically, reporters have been calling Bishop McManus repeatedly in an effort to understand why he initially supported the Rev. Aquino after the priest was charged with lewd conduct last year in Las Vegas, then suddenly relieved him of his duties last month after the issue broke in the press.

OK, so damage control is hardly rocket science, and it seemed apparent that the bishop responded to the scandal after he could no longer contain it. Except that’s not what the bishop said when he removed Rev. Aquino Oct. 30. Then, Bishop McManus claimed that “I did not possess the whole truth” about the incident until recently, even though he learned about Rev. Aquino’s conduct in February.

To recap, Rev. Aquino was charged with lewd conduct after police say they saw him masturbating another man in a Las Vegas porn theater Oct. 21, 2004. The bishop was informed in February of this year. In March, Rev. Aquino pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was ordered to perform community service. On Sept. 6, the case was dismissed.

Last month, as the case broke on the Internet and local reporters began making inquiries, Rev. Aquino called an extraordinary meeting of his parishioners at Our Lady of Loreto Parish and vehemently denied engaging in any sex act. Rather, he blamed the charge on police eager to target a priest. And his lawyer told parishioners that Bishop McManus has been “very supportive of Father and very pleased with how the matter was handled,” saying he felt no need to discipline him.

Six days later, Bishop McManus felt a need to discipline him. His feelings had changed, the bishop said. Suddenly, he considered the case “a source of great scandal” for the church, he told parishioners.

Pesky reporters — as well as many in the public — were confused. What had changed? What new facts had come to the bishop’s attention?

Finally, we know. Well, we sort of know. Actually, we’re still not quite sure, but let’s hear what the bishop has to say. In fairness to him, I won’t paraphrase his main points and instead quote him directly:

“Shortly before I spoke at the parish I received an unredacted copy of the initial police report, which included the name of the individual alleged to have been involved in sexual activity with Father Aquino,” the bishop wrote in the Free Press. “The police report I had been given in February did not include that full name. Second, I learned of the admission of sexual activity by the other consenting adult, when it was reported on NECN-TV. Third, I learned that an additional Las Vegas law enforcement official publicly supported the findings of the initial police report.”

It’s not clear why the name of the man alleged to have engaged in sex with the priest was pertinent to the bishop’s understanding. As for the “additional Las Vegas law enforcement official,” I believe he was referring to a Las Vegas police sergeant I interviewed by picking up the phone and calling him. This cop simply explained that Rev. Aquino had been caught in a raid, and he scoffed at his protestations of innocence.

In his homily to parishioners, Bishop McManus claimed that he had “tried my best to discern the truth” about the Aquino incident. In his recent column in the Free Press, he indicated that he relied on the priest and his lawyer for information, surely not the most exhaustive of investigative techniques. What sort of effort is expended by taking an accused man at his word, let alone the word of his lawyer? Bishop McManus spoke to the Las Vegas district attorney in February — how can he now insist that he didn’t know the truth?

These questions will remain unanswered. And the bishop’s claim that his actions “did not constitute a coverup, as some have suggested,” must go unchallenged, because he has declined to make himself available. Instead, he’s obviously more comfortable pontificating in the Free Press.

So be it. I don’t mean to pile on, but I figured that the bishop’s explanation deserved a bigger audience than the one provided by the diocesan newspaper. And I’ll simply note here that if the Free Press claims “the truth shall set you free,” it can also tie you up in knots.

Contact Dianne Williamson by e-mail at

Posted by kshaw at November 16, 2005 01:15 PM