Matt C. Abbott
April 10, 2009
One Catholic journalist's cross
By Matt C. Abbott

I'd like to start off this column by asking for prayers for the repose of the souls of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, 22, and two of his friends (click here for the story), who were killed by a suspected drunk driver on April 9.

It angers me that some people too many, actually can't seem to drink in moderation and will get behind the wheel, often with tragic results. We should pray for all victims of drunk drivers, along with their families, as well as those who abuse alcohol and make very foolish decisions while under the influence.



Catholic journalist Robert Kumpel has been going through a rather tumultuous time, and wants his story told.

Mr. Kumpel writes:

    'As you probably know already, I am in a bind and I could sure use some help and, no, I am not asking for money. Two years ago I was served with a restraining order from an official in my parish for my work investigating something that gave the appearance of being very wrong. Many people were upset about it and had complained to the bishop for years, with their complaints falling on deaf ears, because the person in question was close friends with the bishop.

    'I never published anything about the specific allegation I was investigating. However, after finding some very disturbing things in place, I contacted the bishop and shared what I had found. He did not reply.

    'Instead, a few days later, I was served with two temporary restraining orders, alleging that I had made threatening remarks (I had not) and was banging loudly on the windows (I was knocking on a glass screen door). The people whose names were on the restraining orders were not even there when it happened. The person who was there never took out a restraining order against me.

    'The restraining order forced me to stay away from the parish property, permitting me to come only for Mass, and only within 30 minutes before Mass and leaving within 30 minutes after Mass' conclusion. I was to stay 60 feet away from the people who took the order against me at Mass during Mass.

    'Before the scheduled hearing, which I intended to fight, my wife and I went to 5:30 Mass on a Saturday evening with our three children. I was holding my one year old, who grabbed at my glasses when I carried her. I said to my wife, 'Let's sit in the back.' She replied, I see a place up further. We walked in during the procession, so music was playing. I followed my wife up the side aisle, holding my daughter, dodging her hands, and making my way into a pew where one of the people who took out a restraining me was seated. My wife did not know who it was, especially, since this person had changed hair color many times. Since I was the last one in the pew, I ended up right next to the person. When I realized who I was sitting next to, I went into shock. I thought about getting up to leave, but before I could the person got up and left. I stayed put, for fear of appearing to follow this person. This incident was used against me in court as 'evidence' that I was 'dangerous' and deliberately trying to 'intimidate' one of the complainants.

    'As you probably know, restraining order hearings are normally pretty short affairs. Mine was a circus. It lasted for three days, with witnesses solicited by the parish coming forward and attacking my character left and right. I could not even find an attorney in my town who would represent me and had to drive 50 miles to find someone who would take my case. The attorney opposing me was the vice-president of the parish council and one of the 'power-people' in this small town. Now he is the president of the parish council.

    'Playing the role of district attorney, this attorney viciously lied about me, attempted to besmirch my good name and question my motives, calling me a half-cocked vigilante who was dangerous and in need of psychiatric help (ironically, my wife is a psychiatrist). One witness wept on the stand, then, when finished, walked to the others, high-fived them with a grin, asking, 'How'd I do?'

    'When my attorney cross-examined his witnesses, virtually every person had to admit under oath that I had never threatened, touched or harmed them. The worst anyone could say was that I made them 'feel threatened' by doing things like 'driving too fast' or 'driving too slow' through the church parking lot.

    'The real problem was that the principal person who took out the order against me had created a safe position for himself by telling every parishioner with money or prestige whatever they wanted to hear. The parish was (and still is) run by a clique, and the clique turned against me as an outsider who was 'stirring up trouble.' If there had been another Catholic Church to go to in my town, I would have happily departed, but this was and is the only one.

    'When I got on the stand, the opposing attorney unleashed his venom on me like never before, doing everything he could to try to make me lose my temper. His questions betrayed an embarrassing lack of basic Catholic education on his part (for instance, he was unaware that the Church required communicants to be in a state of grace). The calmer I stayed, the more he raged. Even my own attorney, who had faced him several times before, said that he had never seen him get so sore.

    'The main tack the parish's attorney took is that I was not a journalist and only worked for 'suspicious' publications because none of them were official diocesan newspapers and because I did not have an AP card. Never mind that I have a degree in journalism, I have taught journalism and had over 1000 stories published at the time. By arguing this way, my conduct would fall under the Georgia stalking statute, and a permanent, lifetime restraining order could be taken against me.

    'A few weeks later, the judge ruled in their favor. I was enjoined from coming within 500 feet of the two complainants and could not attend Mass at the parish unless I was given written permission from the bishop. I am prohibited to publish or cause to be published anything whatsoever about both or either of the complainants and I cannot even own a gun. I am also forbidden to go into an apartment complex where one of the complainants lived, even now that the person no longer lives in this town.

    'My attorney immediately wrote the bishop, J. Kevin Boland of Savannah, who responded through his attorney that not only was I forbidden to set foot on any Catholic Church property in my town, I was also not to contact him any more and restricted all future communications to his attorney. So now, even if my restraining order is reversed, I cannot go to Mass in this town, because this is now a trespassing on private property issue thanks to the clever machinations used on the restraining order.

    'Before I moved to this town, I took my two daughters to Mass every day. Now I can only go on weekends and holy days, because I have to drive at least 45 minutes and often an hour just to get to a Catholic Church. It's a nightmare. I now have four daughters and my wife and I have to do 'split platoons' when taking them to Mass, because three of them are younger than six. I have lost all the progress I made in training them how to act in Church by attending daily Mass. This has been going on since March 2006.

    'But it gets even crazier. One of the people, whose name I am not allowed to even mention, moved away, across the state, a few months later. A few weeks after his arrival at his new post, he was killed in an auto accident. The powers that be canonized him in the press. The other complainant, whose name I also cannot mention, moved away from this town almost the exact same time.

    'Of course, I am appealing the order. We filed a notice of appeal within 30 days of issuance, and a copy of the transcript was supposed to be sent to the appeals court. We made repeated requests for the transcript and the court reporter repeatedly said that she was backlogged but would have it ready soon. The transcript was not sent until August 2008, one year and five months after the issuance of the order. We even offered to pay, and she told us not to send any money until the transcripts were ready.

    'On November 24, 2008, there was a hearing in which the opposing attorney argued a motion to have my appeal thrown out because I had caused 'unnecessary delays' in the transcripts getting to the appeals court. He cited technicalities that I cannot fathom, and argued convincingly, repeatedly asserting that my 'delays' were 'inexcusable.' My attorney was not there because of a scheduling conflict, and the assistant wasn't especially well-prepared. In December, the judge ruled in favor of the other side and threw out my appeal. Of course, it was the same judge who ruled against me in the first place.

    'There are two very sad issues in play here.

    '1) The parish remains deeply divided. There are a lot of people who were fed up (and still are) with the way that the parish was run and how they were treated by the deceased person and his clique. The parish has been running a huge deficit for a long time as a result. The other group, the clique and its followers, hate me with a passion. They claim that I 'killed' the person who moved and if I hadn't been involved he would still be alive. Never mind that it was this person's choice to make it a public issue and take me to court (and never made any attempt to talk to me personally).

    '2) The main people against me are the people in power. The new pastor of the parish will not talk to us. He hung up the phone in my wife's ear when she requested to speak to him. He even bawled out my five year-old daughter in front of several people because she wandered into his office on her way back from the bathroom at a noon Mass my wife took her to. The result? Now she is terrified of priests. My oldest daughter cannot attend confirmation training because my wife and I insist on being present for outside religious education (we homeschool) and I can't set foot on the parish grounds. My two youngest children were baptized 3000 miles away in San Diego. We are untouchables here as far as the parish leadership is concerned.

    'Shortly before the birth of my youngest daughter, my wife attended a Mass at the parish where Bishop Boland was the guest celebrant. She waited until everyone had left so as not to cause anyone any embarrassment. She approached the bishop, introduced herself along with my three daughters and said that she was the wife of the man he had banned from the parish. He looked at her coldly and just said, 'Yes.' She came home weeping, horrified at how cold-hearted he appeared to be.

    'I have had priests and Catholic officials from several locales write the bishop to plead that I be given the chance to return to Mass in my parish. None of the letters have been answered. I want my family to stop being punished. There has to be reconciliation. These people have treated my wife and children horribly, but I am willing to forgive them. They are not so willing.

    'One of my attorneys, Michael Hirsh of the American Catholic Lawyer's Association, contacted the parish's attorney several months ago to try to work something out. After several phone calls, the attorney said that he was not interested in working anything out. At my hearing in November, the parish attorney told the judge about his communications with Hirsh, claiming that Hirsh only called him once, to boast that he was 'going to beat me' in the appeal. I later spoke to Hirsh, who assured me that nothing of the sort took place.

    'I instructed my local attorney several months ago to approach the other side again, because I want to make peace with them. This divisiveness is bad for the parish and it is killing my wife and setting a rotten example for my kids. The parish's attorney strung us along for a week, then, at the last minute, said that he couldn't get 'his people' on board. He offered to meet us an hour early on the morning of the hearing to work something out. He never showed until it was time for the hearing. After the hearing, I asked to meet with him and my attorney. He gave me about one minute before walking out, arrogantly asserting that he 'didn't need to be lectured.' I have since learned that he told my attorney that he blames me for his friend's death and cannot forgive me. He has vowed that I will never return to the parish.

    'As I said, this would be nothing if I were in a town with other parishes, but I am in the Protestant south and this is exacting a terrible price on me and my family.'

Robert Kumpel can be reached at rkumpel@[NO SPAM]mchsi.com.



Maria Busato-Davlantis writes that her alma mater, Driscoll Catholic High School, is in danger of closing.

Anyone wishing to help with the campaign to keep the school open should visit this Web site.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.


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