Pro-Life Org Sued for Sexual Abuse During Exorcism

Annie Gowen at the Washington Post has written a lucid and troubling article about a lawsuit filed in Arlington this week against Human Life International. The lawsuit alleges that Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, a Catholic priest and former president of HLI, sexually abused a woman who had turned to him for counseling—and that he did so under the guise of performing an exorcism. (According to diocesan officials, Euteneuer was not authorized to perform exorcisms.) The lawsuit does not name Euteneuer as a defendant, but instead seeks damages from HLI which, according to the woman’s attorneys, knew about and permitted the exorcism. Euteneuer stepped down from his position as president of HLI in 2010. 

Currently HLI is promoting a “One Million Rosary Challenge” as a tie-in with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom, a campaign calling upon Catholics to support religious liberty and freedom, which have become battle cries in the fight over the contraception coverage mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Catholics For Choice produced a white paper on HLI last year which claims, among other things, that HLI’s founder, Rev. Paul Marx, engaged in tactics such as showing school children a fetus in a jar; was prone to conspiracy theories; made anti-Semitic, homophobic, and Islamophobic comments that earned him the ire of some Catholic clergy and bishops; and regularly infiltrated meetings and conferences under false pretenses, secretly recording the proceedings. The CFC document also reports—as does Michelle Goldberg in The Means of Reproduction—that in the 1990s pro-life activist Don Treshman deemed a “superb tactic” the 1994 sniper attack on abortion provider Dr. Garson Romalis; and, shortly thereafter, was given a role as HLI spokesperson.

Stephen Phelan, HLI’s director of communications, said in a statement: “To the extent Father Euteneuer has already admitted to engaging in highly inappropriate conduct with a young adult woman, we can only emphasize that such behavior was never within the scope of his employment with HLI.”

It will be interesting to see whether this is taken as emblematic of HLI, or indeed of antiabortion activism in general, and by whom. A point of comparison might be the now-infamous Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia physician who allegedly performed abortions under fraudulent and negligently unsafe conditions, prescribed painkillers illegally, restrained patients against their will, and is now charged with eight counts of murder based on accusations that he killed babies delivered alive. Not that it’s worthwhile to compare the men’s actions—for how does one tally up and weigh reports which, if true, reveal such deep cruelty?—but rather the reactions. When is an ethical position undermined by abominable behavior of those who espouse it?

sarah.morice.brubaker@ptstulsa.edu'

Sarah Morice-Brubaker is an assistant professor of theology at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK. In addition to writing for RD, she’s also written for The Christian Century, Dialogic Magazine, and Faith and Leadership. She has a chapter in the forthcoming edited volume from Ashgate, Placing Nature on the Borders of Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics.