Thursday 22 November 2018


‘Ripe for abuse’: How Catholic sex scandal convinced one seminarian to go public

by Julia Terruso, Updated: November 12, 2018 

Stephen Szutenbach, shown here in his home in Orlando, Florida, says he was abused by a top administrator, while a seminarian in Denver.

JESSICA GRIFFIN/ Staff Photographer

DENVER — Stephen Szutenbach had never kissed anyone when, he says, a priest he had befriended in the late 1990s started making sexual advances. Szutenbach was 18, a devout Catholic teenager interested in the seminary; the Rev. Kent Drotar was a 39-year-old ranking administrator at St. John Vianney Seminary.

"I was so sheltered and I was very uncomfortable because … he's in charge," Szutenbach said. "He's the person who could say, 'I don't think he's fit to be in the seminary.' "

In 2007, Szutenbach reported the allegations to one of his former seminary teachers. The Denver Diocese, led by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput before he came to Philadelphia, sent Drotar to counseling and then reassigned him to another parish. The priest was later removed permanently from ministry after Szutenbach said he warned Chaput he would take his claims to the media.

Szutenbach didn't disclose his story at the time but reached out to the Inquirer and Daily News this year after a wave of high-profile reports of sexual misconduct in Catholic seminaries or against young priests in training. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington resigned in July after allegations that he abused minors and seminarians as the church leader in Newark and Metuchen, N.J. Four dioceses — Philadelphia, Boston, Newark, and Lincoln, Neb. — are investigating claims about misconduct in their seminaries.

The issue is likely to emerge when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meets in Baltimore this week, amid new questions over their handling of sex-abuse claims. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, conference president, has proposed establishing an independent hotline for reporting abuse by bishops against minors as well as  "vulnerable adults," a group that includes church clergy, staff, and seminarians.

"From a legal standpoint, people often think a 19-year-old should be able to say no and walk away. It's not that easy," said Kathleen McChesney, former executive director of the bishops' Office of Child Protection. "Because of the power differential between clerics and seminarians, these people, in essence, should be treated as vulnerable adults."

Church officials in Philadelphia and Boston launched their seminary investigations this year after former seminarian John Monaco alleged harassment and sexual advances by classmates at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood and at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Mass.

"The fact is, every single priest who committed abuse throughout history had to go through seminary," Monaco said in an interview. "So the question is how are seminaries either hiding this stuff or how are they preparing men for priesthood?"

‘He was grooming me’

The spotlight on seminary misconduct stirred Szutenbach to break his silence.

"And I'm like OK, OK. … He said juvenile, but it's mincing words," Szutenbach recalled. "And it's another slap in the face, like my story didn't count."

He was a high school junior in 1998 when he met Drotar, a charismatic cleric who had served in the Air Force before becoming a priest. Szutenbach's parents were also Air Force veterans; the family bonded with the priest, inviting him to family dinners and events. By Szutenbach's senior year, he said, Drotar began attending the teen's swim meets and accompanied him on Catholic youth retreats in the Rockies, an account confirmed by Dick Swain, the retreat leader.At that time, Drotar was vocations director for the Denver Archdiocese, responsible for public outreach and recruiting prospective seminarians.

"Back then I didn't think anything of it," Szutenbach said. "Now I see that he was grooming me."

Szutenbach was 18 when he took a summer job in 2000 doing yardwork at the seminary. Often, he'd lunch with Drota.

St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, where Szutenbach said he endured years of unwanted advances by a top administrator.

During a fishing trip that summer, Szutenbach said, he woke up to the priest in his bed, fondling him. He told Drotar he was uncomfortable with that. The priest offered to hear his confession in the motel room that morning.

"I remember the drive back: I felt so bad," Szutenbach said. "I felt gross. I felt guilty."

But he wasn't about to abandon his vocation. Raised in a staunchly Catholic family, Szutenbach grew up reciting the rosary in the car. He saw the priesthood as a way to help people through faith. On some level, he said, he knew he was gay and knew that wasn't accepted in the church. But he saw the seminary as a safe place. "No one's going to ask you why you're not dating a woman if you're in the priesthood," Szutenbach said.

In his four years of study — first at the Immaculate Heart of Mary seminary in Minnesota and then in Denver — he hid his relationship with Drotar, who by 2003 had been promoted to vice rector, the seminary's second-highest administrator. Drotar's bedroom was just a few doors down from Szutenbach's.

"He would ask me to come to his apartment after evening prayer," and then climb into his bed beside him and grope him, Szutenbach said. "I was scared to [tell anyone] because it's my word against his."

Drotar declined to comment for this article. The Denver Archdiocese confirmed they received Szutenbach's accusations. They acknowledged that Drotar had engaged in "inappropriate physical conduct with an adult seminarian" but said the allegations were "not criminal in nature."

Szutenbach said that he grew tired of hiding his homosexuality and that the abuse by Drotar weakened his already wavering interest in the priesthood. So in 2004, he dropped out of the seminary.

In a letter that June, Drotar apologized to Szutenbach for the discord between them after the seminarian said he was withdrawing. "Thank you, too, for putting up with me and my weaknesses and struggles as I try to love you as a father, brother and friend," the vice rector wrote. "I have been far from perfect in it."

JESSICA GRIFFIN /Staff Photographer

A letter written to Stephen Szutenbach, signed by Father Kent Drotar.

Eager to get away, Szutenbach moved to Florida and enrolled in architecture school. For three years, he kept silent.

In 2007, while home for Christmas, Szutenbach visited his former Latin teacher, Marica Frank, and their talk turned to current seminarians. Frank mentioned one might not be ordained because the panel, which included Drotar, thought the young man "presented as too flamboyant."

Szutenbach got visibly upset, then blurted out: "That's really ironic given that Father Kent touched me sexually."

Frank was shocked. "Stephen, you were abused," she told him.

Frank and another faculty member, therapist Jeanie Engelbert, reported the information to the head of the seminary, who talked to Szutenbach.

"We all thought it would be taken care of," Frank told the Inquirer and Daily News in an interview. "We thought [Drotar] would be removed."

In a statement last week, the archdiocese said that Chaput followed diocesan policy when he removed Drotar after the accusations and then returned him to ministry after consulting with a psychiatrist and the diocesan panel that examined misconduct claims. Szutenbach, Engelbert, and Frank said they were unaware that  Drotar's conduct was ever scrutinized by the board; no one asked them to testify or submit statements.

Engelbert had worked at the seminary since 2001 as director of pastoral formation, helping to place seminarians in the community. Outraged to learn Drotar was returning to public ministry, she wrote to Chaput with her concerns, including that the priest had been reassigned to a parish with a school.

"Given the grave nature of Fr. Drotar's offense, and his apparent lack of understanding of the seriousness of it, I believe it is unwise to place him back into a situation where he will exercise authority over others," she wrote.

Chaput then summoned her to his office, she said.

"I remember he had the letter in his hand and he looked at me and he said, 'What do you want me to do with this?' " Engelbert said. "And I said, 'The right thing.' "

Weeks later, Chaput let her know he had consulted with the psychiatrist who determined that Drotar was suitable for parish ministry. The decision would stand, he said.

The next day, Engelbert said, she was informed she would not be hired back for the upcoming school year. She saw it as retaliation.

"I pushed back, I spoke out," Engelbert said. "… And so they just probably wanted to get rid of any potential problems."

Mark Haas, spokesperson for the Denver Archdiocese, said he would not comment on specific personnel matters but said: "Neither the archdiocese nor the seminary has terminated any employee, or caused any adverse employment consequences for any employee, who has raised an issue of sexual misconduct."

Five months after Englebert's inquiry, Szutenbach learned that Drotar had been returned to public ministry. He sought a meeting with Chaput. The archbishop agreed to meet at a coffee shop.

"I told him I was going to go to the press," Szutenbach said. "I remember him being very, very demure. I think he would have done anything I'd asked for."

(Chaput declined last week to discuss the Drotar case or Englebert's claims. Through a spokesperson, he referred all questions to the Denver Archdiocese.)

Szutenbach said the archbishop arranged to have him testify before Denver's conduct review team.

He did so that November and was told a few weeks later that the board recommended Drotar's permanent removal from ministry. The process is complicated and can take years; only the Vatican can laicize a priest. Still, Szutenbach assumed Drotar had been defrocked, never again able to call himself a priest.

A fresh dose of scandal

When the clergy sex-abuse scandal flared anew this summer, this time over seminarians, Szutenbach went online and searched Drotar's name.

Drotar is no longer in public ministry, but Szutenbach found several postings where the now-57-year-old refers to himself as "Father" or "Reverend." He asked the Denver Archdiocese and was told, in emails he shared with the Inquirer and Daily News, that officials there never followed through on their pledge to end Drotar's ties to the church.

"They were going to laicize him and they told me they had tried. Which they didn't, apparently … so I'm still being lied to," Szutenbach said.

The headlines this summer — including revelations that West Virginia Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, a Philadelphia native, has been accused of sexually harassing younger priests — have convinced Szutenbach that his experience wasn't unique. He hopes the bishops who meet this week take his and similar stories to heart.

Szutenbach said he goes to counseling and still has the occasional nightmare where he's back in the seminary and there's a knock on his door at night.

"The thing is, you're in this situation where you have these young folks who have worshiped the priesthood and bishops for their whole lives," he said. "It's a place that's ripe for abuse, and to not acknowledge what happened for what it was, as with McCarrick or Drotar, it's kind of an abdication of the ickiness and awfulness of abuse. It's still abuse."

His homosexuality and contact with Drotar have largely estranged him from his parents, he said. Now 37,  Szutenbach lives in Orlando with his husband and designs hospitals for a living.

He doesn't attend Mass, he said, but on occasion steps inside churches as a photographer, still marveling at the intricate facades and stained glass.

"The abuse didn't destroy my faith," Szutenbach said. "The way they treated me when I told them what happened, the way they responded, destroyed my faith."

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Jeanie Engelbert's certification. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Posted: November 12, 2018 - 5:00 AM


  1. I think suggestions over recent times on this blog for a #SeminarianReligiousMeToo movement are further supported by todays article. I shall now adopt the hashtag.

  2. Two words explain a lot of the inaction about Maynooth: 'Junior Infirmary'.

    1. What happens in the Junior Infirmary?

    2. Maynooth ceased to be a seminary, in the traditional sense, in 1966.

      In my time in the 1980s the chief problems were drunkenness and seminarians having lay student girlfriends. There were camp seminarians (though many gay men are not camp), and they were nicknamed "the tulips".

      A Kilmore seminarian was thrown out in first year after being found having sex with a man in the town toilets.

      Fr Frank Duhig would openly ask seminarians if they were gay and if they said yes they were expelled.

      There was no gay activity visible, apart from an Armagh deacon imported from the Irish College by Tom Fee. That deacon, who knew that he was very handsome, when drunk would go along the bedroom corridors of St Mary's House seeking sex.

      A Maynooth seminarian of that era died of AIDS following ordination.

      And there was the case of a seminarian caught in the Junior Infirmary bedroom of a senior priest academic. The priest, a Columban from Lurgan, was forced out of the college by Ledwith of all people but the seminarian prospered. The seminarian and the priest were stumbled upon by Frank the night watch man. Frank was the biggest gossip in the college and it was the talk of the ref the next day. Tom Fee was consulted as he was the Chancellor of Maynooth and the seminarian's bishop and Tom protected the seminarian but got rid of the priest. The Junior Infirmary is now used as offices by Maynooth University so there are no more strange goings on in that particular building. All the action is centred on the German department in the Arts block nowadays.

    3. Thank you for that important insight.

    4. The Armagh deacon (if it's the same one I remember) later had a relationsip with a priest of Derry diocese. There was scandal in Maynooth when it was learned that the Armagh and Derry priests had a bonfire of their ordination vestments.

      I also had the "are you homosexual" conversation with the Junior Dean, Fr Frank Duhig. He said that he asked all the class and I shouldn't take it personally. I told him that I batted for the away team and he was happy with that. But thereafter I made a big point of always talking to him about his macho interests of rugby, gambling and smoking.

    5. Pat, do you not find it odd that seminarians are scrutinised about all aspects of their lives from childhood on but when they are ordained it's gloves off when it comes to abuse? They treated you shabbily.

    6. @10:41 & 11:13 - those two were both Derry diocese.

      Indeed, it was a big scandal at the time in clerical circles (never made it beyond those).

      I’m sure if this blog had been around then (it was about 1990/1) it would have been headline news!

      The two in question didn’t last pissing time after being ordained.

      There was also an incident across the border in Donegal, involving both, when a person was knocked down and killed by a car one of them was driving.

      I don’t think there was any question of their culpability - the person in question jumped in front of their car in a suicide attempt (successful). Nevertheless it was all very “awkward”.

      Both were apprehended by the police in Derry, cruising, or otherwise engaged in similar sexual antics.

      Ned Daly, it’s said, was livid and kicked them out of the diocese and there is a story about them both burning their ordination vestments.

      One of them was a flighty little thing and camp as Christmas. This was all very early in the 90s. They live in England now.

    7. The sem who was entertainded in Junior Infirmary by the now deceased Director of Sacred Music was Derry diocese, not Armagh though Cardinal O'Fiach did take an interest in the case. The burning of chasubles did indeed happen.

    8. Was that deceased director of music not friendly with Eamon Martin?

    9. Yes, 1990 or 1991. Pre-Pat!

    10. EM succeeded him as Director of Sacred Music ad interim, even though EM was just a IV Divine. EM didn't get the salary either and he used to complain that he wasn't allowed into the Pro's ref despite being on the staff, nominally.

    11. What exactly is the story with the German Dept in Gaynooth? It keeps receiving cryptic mention and allusions.

    12. The tulips? Now they are just called priests.

  3. A horrendous story about Stephen Zsutenbach's experiences. As a priest I cannot fathom that in 2018, despite all the publicity, investigations, reports and outrage from the lay faithful, church Personnel continue to behave so recklessly, irresponsibility and criminally. I fail to understand the ongoing abuses scandals. I am horrified. It is a frightening scenario for victims/survivors. During my 7 years in seminary in the late 70's, I never once witnessed any untoward behaviour by any student or staff member. We had suspicions about some but I never witnessed any abuse. After ordination two were subsequently found to be serial abusers. I am forever trying to understand the awfulness of what's happening in our Church. I am struggling to remain committed. I will continue but in a way that is of my creating so that I live the essence of what Christ asks of me. I know I'll be told to "get real" or "get out" - I don't want judgments on my decision to stay but I know if I trust only in God that I will survive and do some service in a way that's as honourable as possible.

    1. Father, You are obviously an honest and honourable man.

      You are following your conscience.

    2. That’s an interesting response Pat - recently you were accusing clergy who remained and didn’t speak out as being abusers and enablers.

    3. And that is my opinion.

      However peoples conscience comes first.

  4. Pat

    There is a scandal developing in the Irish College Rome relating to Mgr Ciaran O’Carroll. He has been asked to step down.

    1. That is a very serious claim.

      Can you give me further information if you have it, even privately at

    2. 09.52: Scurrilous comment to make. Pat is absolutely certain of this untruth. Will you substantiate your claim or withdraw it and make an apology? Monsignor O Carroll has been informed.

  5. I have checked out your claim with a very reliable and knowledgeable source and have been told your claim is absolutely untrue???


    1. I wonder if this is an ex-seminarian who is angry with Monsignor O'Carroll?

      Is it connected to other matters in the public domain?

      Is it black propaganda with a hidden agenda?

      Sounds like it to me.

    2. +Pat

      The rumour going around Rome is that he is expected to be replaced by the congregation for clergy and seminaries. This could be what the person was referring to?

    3. Is this normal?

      I thought the Irish bishops appoint the rector?

      Why is it said he is being replaced?

    4. The Bishops Conferences appoint Rectors and staff for the seminaries and that has always been the case but now the Congregation of Clergy also covers seminaries.

      However if something is wrong the Congregation can take action and hopefully that is what will happen at Maynooth

    5. What a disappointment, Bp Pat, it would have made such a good blog.

  6. Pat, would you do the honourable and morally right thing: You said you are absolutely certain of the untruth of this allegation. Apologise and stop encouraging gossip, innuendo and hearsay. You do not have the right to print lies. I believe you are totally irresponsible in this regard. It is so unjust to drag anyone's name onto your blog without their permission or without properly substantiating the claim. Stop playing loosely with innocent people's lives. And stop always blaming others for recklessness.

    1. Someone made a claim on the blog.

      I checked this claim out at a very high level.

      I was told it was absolutely untrue and immediately made that clear.

      It's not easy to balance free speech and truth.

    2. Very high level? That's no recommendation, Bp Pat.

  7. I was ordained in the 1980’s. I have been a priest for over 30 years.

    In my day, a student could be asked to leave for sleeping in too many mornings; or even if the Dean thought his face just didn’t fit.

    Nowadays, it seems to me, that there can be the gravest moral suspicions about a seminarian and bishops will hold on to him like grim death - even ordain him.

    Whereas, if a student shows what some call “traditional piety”, he will be viewed with great suspicion and his future in the seminary very precarious.

    I think seminarians are very vulnerable in the system. Terms like “student priest” are very misleading. A seminarian is nowhere near being a priest. A seminarian has no rights in the system and can be dismissed on the whim of a dysfunctional formation team.

    I am deeply disturbed at the treatment of the two young men reported here yesterday. If true, this is absolutely shocking beyond words and it is criminal.

    What on earth is wrong with the bishops of Ireland and those responsible for Maynooth?

    Sadly, many of us feel that there are active homosexuals among the bishops and on the staff of Maynooth and they are compromised.

    Such is the appalling vista that now exists. There is no other way to explain the inertia and lack of decisive action against clearly unsuitable candidates.

    There is something deeply corrupt and evil afoot and it’s tentacles extend high up the “chain of command”.

    There are vile, corrupt and corrupting individuals and cliques, who are wreaking havoc in Maynooth seminary, in parishes and in dioceses.

    How many good vocations have been destroyed by these unworthy seminarians, priests and bishops? How many lives have been irreparably damaged, by their abusive and predatory actions, by their facilitating of evil and sexual immorality?

    There is need for radical corrective action. Maynooth needs to be cleaned out from top to bottom - probably it should be closed. Priestly formation in Ireland needs root and branch rethinking and reform.

    What will happen? Most likely NOTHING. The rot will continue to the detriment of the faithful and genuine vocations.

    No wonder the Lord is not calling anyone to work in His harvest. What a terrible judgement will fall on those corrupters when they die.

    May the Good Lord send His purifying fire upon the Church in Ireland and remove from her midst, the hirelings and Judas Iscariots, who are causing such terrible harm to souls and to the Mission of the Lord’s Church.

    1. Father, you gave summed up the situation.

      Something very big is needed to bring all this out into the open.

      That will eventually happen.

      Those who make it happen will be on Gods side.

    2. I agree with what you have said, Father, except for your second to last paragraph: "No wonder the Lord is not calling anyone to work in His harvest".

      In fact, despite the horrible situation we are in, men are still being called to the priesthood, and several are coming forward. I know of one diocese in Ireland which has gotten at least five applications in the past three years, yet this diocese does not have a single seminarian. All five were rejected. At least one other diocese has a similar story. The vocations are there, and the response is there, but some bishops (or their advisors) won't even give them a chance. Sadly, several bishops would rather have no seminarians (and consequently no priestly ordinations) than admit an orthodox Catholic man to seminary.

    3. @13:49

      A bitter critique. Surely you don't want to go back to the old days.

    4. Anonymous at 21:47

      A bitter critique maybe but true none the less. I would love to go back to THE GOOD OLD DAYS!

  8. John Gates: Petition covered Moneymore Road, Coolshinney and Parkmore areas last night. Lots of signatures and tonight Highfield and Westland. We are avoiding the very few houses that are Gates friendly. Gates has said publicly that he will crush those who are organising the petition. Watch out for the Sunday papers.

  9. Student priest is a misnomer. Seminarians have no rights at all.

    1. The both enjoy LGBT equal rights, Bp Pat.

  10. Is this story substantial? The guy had some kind of affairette with a priest when he was a seminarian, and now he chooses to paint it in the blackest colors.

    1. The letter from the priest to the seminarian is seriously creepy.

    2. The story does not say the priest abused a minor. First kiss when seminarian was 18 and affair continues till he's 22. Affair sounds pretty insubstantial: "he touched me sexually."

  11. @13.50 So Fr John Gates is going to crush those organising a petition against him. Are you sure he is not a despot as opposed to being a humble Priest? Can you get that petition to my family please.

    1. Anonymous at 16:11

      It sounds to me that the parishioners of this priest are the bullies. What exactly has he done?

    2. John Gates seems to be the only man in Magherafelt. 😆

    3. @18.28 Before you made that comment, perhaps you should have taken the time to go through the subject headings in the blog and educate yourself.

    4. @19:08 “Magna Carta” - he’s more a man than you’ll ever be! Lol

    5. @16.11. Why do you call the Parishioners of Magherafelt Bullies if you say you don't know what John Gates done. What has he not done to the Parishioners of his Parish. Why don't you research into this blog and see the complaints of John Gates.

    6. 21:16, wait till I get a howl o'ye! 😆

    7. Anonymous at 23:36

      I'll bet Fr. Gates has plenty to say about you lot!

  12. 16.11.What sort of a stupid comment to make out the Parishioners of Magherafelt are the bullies. I take it you must be out of date with the news of Fr.Gates bullying through these past years with a child who Fr.Gates bullied from making his First Holy Communion. Also bullied Parishioners. Wake up because you must be in a different Parish.

  13. @18.28 I'ts obvious that you have no grasp of the situation in Magherafelt. You are an idiot.

    1. Anonymous at 21:59

      Up yours ya idiot,I hope he crushes the lot o' ye

  14. 19.09: Whether you like it or not, there are bullies in parishes, lay people who take hold of activities, routines and territorities. If challenged by new priests by way of reorganizing the parish they threaten with solicitors and accuse you of "bullying". I have had situations where I literally had to scream to be heard by certain strong lay people. Bullying isn't just confined to clericalism. "Layism" is full of it too. Believe me. I've been at the receiving end if it, so much so that in one parish I stayed only 6 months because of chaotic, selfish "holding" on to roles by lay people - often for 10/12/15/20 years, resenting any change. Priests could tell many such stories but I believe in positive, meaningful interaction with people and early intervention if possible.

  15. Scandal brewing in a southern diocese tonight Pat. Could be 'the straw that broke the camel's back' in all scandals.

  16. @22.06 Thanks John. You resent lay involvement. Time to let go.

    1. Anonymous at 07:05

      No I don't but give some people an inch and they take a mile. That I do resent, its time to get rid not let go, too much bingo groups etc. start devotions and novenas and let's see how much they get involved.

  17. But lay people who are giving of their voluntary labour to run activities for Church funds are OK? Is that it? It's good to know we have our uses....