The sordid story of Rev. Kevin Gray — the Waterbury priest charged with stealing more than a million dollars from his parish to pay for a secret life of homosexual debauchery in New York — is a scandal to Catholics and an opportunity for anti-Catholics. But the faithful must keep both the scandal and Connecticut’s last assault on the Church in perspective in order to defeat the new attack that will likely come as a result of this latest betrayal.
I am closer than most to both that previous struggle and this current scandal. As executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut I helped lead the fight against S.B. 1098, the 2009 bill which targeted our state’s Catholic Church and would have divested bishops and priests of financial control over their own parishes.
Father Gray was my priest during those 15 months in 2000-2001 when he was pastor of Immaculate Conception in New Hartford, Connecticut — the parish assignment that supposedly drove him over the edge.
In my memory there is a strange symmetry to our year with Father Gray. My family and I had just moved to New Hartford in June 2000, and our first Sunday there happened to be Father Gray’s first Sunday as pastor of Immaculate Conception. His last was just prior to 9/11.
That first Sunday the paint was peeling off the walls, a recording played instead of live music, the church bulletin was barely worthy of the name, and the collection it reported from the previous week was negligible. Father Gray and the previous pastor concelebrated the Mass, the previous pastor interrupting the consecration to give a second homily.
After Mass my wife and I introduced ourselves to Father Gray, who seemed pleased that he was not the only new arrival. “Listen, I want you to be part of this,” he said, clasping both our hands. He looked shell-shocked by the state of the parish but happy to have found one couple who was unaffected by whatever had previously occurred there.
Given the details reported in his police affidavit, some of my memories of Father Gray now seem almost comical. There is a certain type of Catholic whose understanding of the faith is absorbed almost entirely from EWTN. I am a related species. For me, it was orthodox Catholic periodicals. At the time when Father Gray was our pastor I subscribed to First Things, Crisis, Catholic World Report, New Oxford Review, National Catholic Register, and more. I would save these magazines, bundle them up… and leave them in the sacristy for Father Gray to read. Then I would engage him in conversations about the articles: “Father, did you see that article on the gay priest problem?” “Father, what did you think of that story on how the dissenters are dying out and the future of the Church belongs to the young orthodox?” And so forth.
Some of my recollections offer hints of what was coming. He was an ex-Jesuit, an order known for its dissent. The article he most strongly objected to was one arguing that the priest shortage only occurred under liberal bishops. “It made me angry,” he said.
Father Gray’s other alleged beef with the Church is its stance on homosexuality. I was a leader in the fight against same-sex “marriage” in Connecticut; between that and the magazines, maybe I’m the guy who drove him nuts.
Father Gray reacted with frustration when the archdiocese said ‘no’ to his request to raise a million dollars to build a parish center. “It’s a misuse of me” was how he described to me the decision to send him to New Hartford and then turn down his request. At the time, I thought the comment was merely that of a professional in a run-of-the-mill labor/management dispute. It did not occur to me to question his obedience to the archbishop — or whether he could be trusted with a million dollars.
Most of my memories of Father Gray no longer make sense. And it is this last point that I would ask faithful Catholics to keep in mind before judging Father’s superiors.
In the police affidavit Father Gray comes across as someone who thinks the archdiocese held him in low regard because they gave him hard assignments. The truth is that he was given those assignments because he was held in such high regard. In fact, the archdiocese said they did not exercise greater control over Father Gray because he had such a strong reputation (and also claimed to have cancer).
Father was known as a fix-it man, a miracle worker who could turn around troubled parishes. I heard this about him before I moved to New Hartford and then saw it with my own eyes. He reacted with horror when he learned his new parish did not have a finance council — and he immediately set one up; my wife was one of its members. Part of his strategy for getting a parish back on its feet was to see that things were run by the book.
I saw few signs to indicate he was a dissenter and several to make me think he was not. He was shocked when I described a pastor who regularly skipped the creed during Sunday Mass. He told a group of catechism teachers that it was his responsibility to make sure that we did not have “30 popes” in the room and that we would be faithful to Church teaching. He celebrated the Mass with seeming faithfulness and reverence.
This was nine years ago, of course, but a friend at the Waterbury parish where Father Gray has been pastor — the parish from which money was stolen — had the same experience of him. A graduate of a Catholic college renowned for its orthodoxy, the friend told me that when Father Gray celebrated Mass or heard confessions “it was like you were in the presence of Christ.” Given all of this, I am not surprised that the archdiocese cut Father Gray some slack when he was supposedly fighting cancer.
Obviously the police affidavit reveals a man who was leading a double life. And yes, greater lay involvement can help prevent further abuses (I am in fundamental agreement with Russell Shaw on the problem of clericalism). But I question how much additional lay oversight would have helped in the matter of Kevin Gray, who managed to fool me, my friend, and scores of other serious, faithful laypeople with whom I have spoken in the weeks since his arrest.