Monsignor Walter Rossi is “on retreat,” said the celebrant at a recent Mass held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Rossi continues to serve as rector in spite of an investigation into his misconduct by the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and the diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania. At that very moment, according to a Church insider, Rossi was vacationing in Italy with Fr. Andrew Hvozdovic, the co-owner of Rossi’s posh beach condo in gay-friendly Fort Lauderdale. Nicknamed by Scranton priests “Randy Andy” for his open homosexuality — he decorated one of his residences with a statue of a crucified Jesus with an erection — Hvozdovic graduated from the same seminary class as Rossi. In Italy, they celebrated the anniversary of their ordinations.
I am told that the investigation into Rossi’s misconduct has fallen into the hands of a former FBI agent turned private investigator named Greg Auld. My call to Auld was not returned. According to Scranton sources, Auld is working for a white-shoe law firm in the Philadelphia area that represents Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera. The sources with whom I spoke said Auld seemed more interested in Rossi’s financial improprieties than his sexual scandals. Auld has insinuated to at least one of his interviewees that Rossi pays himself a fat salary to run the Shrine.
Incidentally, Rossi has sold off one of his luxurious beach condos since I reported on them last year. According to Christine Niles at Church Militant, Rossi has unloaded his condo near Atlantic City — a revealing move, given that that condo is where he stashed Matthew Riedlinger, the defrocked priest ensnared by an underage sex sting for whom Rossi has been accused of serving as a kind of pimp. Catholic University students preyed upon by Riedlinger say that Rossi introduced them to him.
If Auld doesn’t speak with Riedlinger’s victims — I am told they number in the double digits — then we’ll know his investigation is a crock. Imagine how quickly Catholic University would drop from its board a heterosexual priest who introduced a gaggle of women to a buddy who then pawed them. He would be gone in a second. But the slippery Catholic University of America president John Garvey has still not opened an investigation into Rossi, who sits on CUA’s board. My call to Garvey was not returned, of course. The last time I tried to ask him about Rossi he quickly walked away.
At least one bishop, however, has called for the suspension of Rossi while he is under investigation. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, tweeted out this last week that Rossi’s active status as rector is “contrary to canon law” and that a “canonical Preliminary investigation is called for and Msgr. Rossi should be on administrative leave.”
It appears that Bambera, who is angling to succeed the soon-to-retire Archbishop Charles Chaput in Philadelphia, has more at stake in this investigation than Archbishop Wilton Gregory. I was told by a Church insider that Rossi had a meeting with Gregory and Bambera after the announcement of the joint investigation. Gregory assured Rossi the investigation wouldn’t take long. Bambera dissented, saying, “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”
Auld has mountains of material to examine, some of it going back to Rossi’s days as a disciple of the utterly corrupt Michael Bransfield, the former Shrine rector who was bounced from his position as bishop of Wheeling, West Virginia, after it came out that he had preyed upon male subordinates and spent millions on needless renovations, among other misdeeds.
Rossi is cut from the same cloth as his mentor, whose nickname was “Bunny,” according to a letter shared with me. Written by a long-time Rossi observer, the letter says that Bransfield kept a beach house, à la Theodore McCarrick, where he hit on seminarians and let other priests hit on them. Around this time, according to the letter, Rossi, who served as Bransfield’s “Director of Pilgrimages,” was similarly corrupting the young: “a group of seminarians known to party with Rossi was expelled from the Catholic University of America when they were caught at a gay bar.”
Rossi, the letter added, terrorized Basilica staff with his “sexual favoritism.” He protected his alleged lovers, such as Matthew Riedlinger, and punished those who objected to Riedlinger’s predatory behavior.
Emboldened by the open misconduct of Bransfield and McCarrick, Rossi at times flaunted his debauchery. “At the Basilica, Rossi has had relationships with various men. Stories have circulated that Rossi sometimes brings his conquests to the Basilica’s sacristy the next morning to show off,” according to the letter.
Rossi isn’t so much “on retreat” as he is in retreat. I have been told by a Shrine source that The American Spectator’s coverage, the Archbishop Viganò testimony against Rossi, and now the investigation have “sent Rossi into hiding and caused chaos, demoralization, and finger-pointing among his lackeys at the Basilica.” They know, he added, that the “end is near.”
Let’s hope so. Much will turn on whether Auld investigates the Rossi scandal thoroughly and honestly — and whether the laity can spur Gregory and Bambera into finally cutting this powerful but depraved priest loose.