‘The Shrine Is An Unholy Place Under Monsignor Rossi,’ Says Former Employee
George Neumayr
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Right: Keith Green (Image: Keith Green)

Keith Green is a former security guard at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, serving from December 2018 until his resignation on July 24, 2019. He spoke to The American Spectator about his demoralizing experiences at the shrine under its rector, Monsignor Walter Rossi, who is currently under investigation by the diocese of Scranton and archdiocese of Washington for alleged sexual and financial misconduct.

“It is not a holy place of prayer but a cesspool of immoral behavior and lies,” says Green. What shocked Green in particular was Rossi’s practice of hiring criminals as security guards.

“One of his security supervisors was Ishmael Henley, who is awaiting trial for beating up his wife and endangering his child,” says Green. “His criminal arrest record is very long. And yet Rossi made him a security supervisor. Why would he do that? Why would he promote someone who has been arrested multiple times for domestic violence and drug possession (with the intent to distribute) to a supervisory position?”

Rossi, Green concluded, runs the shrine as his own personal fiefdom, dispensing jobs to brown-nosing cronies, such as Henley, regardless of their backgrounds.

“My heart sank every time someone exclaimed, ‘It must be so wonderful and peaceful to work at the shrine! What an honor to work there!’ Smiling and nodding, I just thought, ‘If you only knew what it’s really like,’ ” says Green. “I witnessed cronyism and lies run rampant through the shrine under Rossi.”

Green recalled the day that shrine staff threw me out of the church on Corpus Christi Sunday, falsely claiming that they had filed a barring notice against me with D.C. police. “The whole thing was a lie,” says Green. “When you entered the building, the main office staff were in a state of panic even though you did not show any signs of aggression. They said they had a barring notice with the police against you. They didn’t, and it wasn’t until you confirmed with the police that that was a lie that they took you off its internal poster of people who were to be barred from the shrine. Valencia Camp, the director of operations, had you tossed from the property on a complete lie.”

Green eventually tired of the toxic and irregular atmosphere at the shrine. “It was a place where Rossi loyalists could behave in any way they liked, even if that meant compromising security and violating the standards of conduct for a Catholic institution. For example, there is a man in a gay marriage in the choir. Rossi knows all about that and doesn’t care,” says Green. “It is a very unprofessional and un-Catholic place.”

The final straw for Green was an ugly run-in that he had with Henley. That episode captures the unprofessional character of the shrine under Rossi:

While I was on patrol in the upper church, one of the last remaining sisters forgot to lock up the sacristy. Because I was not issued a key to lock it up, I had called a supervisor over the radio for assistance. No one came. I was forced to wait by the unlocked upper church sacristy for 45 minutes. After I was able to lock up the sacristy, I proceeded to go to the security office to ask why my calls for assistance went unanswered. I asked Ishmael Henley why he didn’t respond after the four times I called and Mr. Henley replied, “It was off,” which I found hard to believe since it is protocol to have our radios on at all times when visitors are in the building. I then said to Mr. Henley, “You’re a supervisor. Do your job.”

Henley responded aggressively, using vulgar language to insult Green and his wife before taking a swing at him. Another guard pulled Green out of the way to prevent him from injury.

This episode, combined with Green’s complaints about the lack of proper security standards at the shrine, put him on the wrong side of Monsignor Rossi, who has long protected Henley despite his criminal arrest record. Rossi’s comptroller, Kevin Kavanagh, blamed the fight on Green.

“He never listened to my version of events or allowed me to explain myself without interrupting me several times as I tried to explain my side of the story, his demeanor came off as threating to me and degrading. He told me I was ‘a target,’ and when I asked him why was I a target, he refused to answer,” says Green.

Basilica staff have declined to answer my questions about personnel matters at the shrine.

“It brings me no comfort to say this,” says Green, “but anyone that donates money to the shrine should stop doing so immediately and call for the immediate resignation of Monsignor Walter Rossi.”

George Neumayr
George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama’s War on Religious Freedom.
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