Monday 15 April 2024

Accused priest faces Sisters of Life allegations

The New York-based Sisters of Life have reported to the Vatican that a priest groomed and manipulated sisters while providing spiritual direction to members of the community. 

The priest, Fr. David Nicgorski, has previously been accused of misconduct in spiritual direction, and of sexually assaulting a religious sister. His own religious order, the Oblates of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has declined to clarify the priest’s status. 

According to sources with knowledge of the case, the Sisters of Life filed a report to the Vatican about Nicgorski earlier this year, after The Pillar reported that the priest had groomed sisters in another religious community during spiritual direction, leading in one case to an alleged sexual assault. 

Sources said that Nicgorski allegedly acted inappropriately with members of the Sisters of Life during spiritual direction in the 2000s, in one case seriously sexually manipulating a sister under his direction. 

A Vatican investigation could lead to the possibility of the priest’s eventual laicization, or other serious canonical sanctions. 

The Sisters of Life report, sent to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, could prompt officials to investigate the possibility of several canonical crimes related to abuse, including the major canonical crime of solicitation, by which a confessor “solicits a penitent to commit a sin against the sixth commandment” — and which could lead to Nicgorski’s laicization. 

The allegations from the Sisters of Life could seem to corroborate allegations raised by three former members of the Daughters of St. Paul, who say that Nicgorski groomed them with excessive and inappropriate sexual conversation in spiritual direction, manipulated their trust in his spiritual authority, touched them inappropriately, and, in one case, committed an act of sexual assault.

The women reported those allegations to their superiors in 2017, and the priest was eventually prohibited, by a decision of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life, “from carrying out the ministry of spiritual direction for five years.”

While the women say that penalty is not enough, in a 2020 letter, the dicastery’s secretary explained that it was “significantly impossible to reach a decision in this case,” because of a perceived paucity of proofs, despite the consistency in accounts from several women.

The new allegations from the Sisters of Life could make it more likely to see deliberate Vatican action in the case, given that they would appear to recount similar patterns of behavior on Nicgorski’s part. 

But the report could also raise questions about how allegations against Nicgorski were initially handled within the Sisters of Life community. According to sources close to the case, at least one sister reported serious misconduct to her religious superior in 2007 or 2008. 

While Nicgorski was reportedly prohibited from continued ministry with the Sisters of Life, it is not clear whether his own religious superiors, or officials in the Archdiocese of New York, were actually informed of the allegations against him.

The Sisters of Life declined questions about the report from The Pillar. 

“Mother [Mary Concepta] is focusing on supporting and attending to the needs of our Sisters and community at this time, and is not able to comment,” a spokeswoman told The Pillar.  

“Our hearts and prayers go out to all those who have been hurt by abuses in spiritual direction.”

Nicgorski was elected U.S. provincial superior of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary in 2009, and in 2015 became superior general of the religious order. He went on to face allegations from the Daughters of St. Paul of grooming, manipulation, and coercion, between 2009 and 2017. 

In his role as a religious superior, Nicgorski would have been responsible for addressing other allegations of abuse within his religious community.

While Nicgorski’s priestly faculties were withdrawn by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2017, in light of the Daughters of St. Paul allegations, the priest allegedly heard confessions in the archdiocese the next year, at the Oblate-run St. Francis Chapel in Boston’s Prudential Center. 

Despite the mounting allegations against him, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary have not responded to questions about Nicgorski’s current status in his religious order. 

But it is possible that other complaints about Nicgorski have also been raised to the Vatican. 

The Pillar reviewed a Jan. 20, 2020 letter about Nicgorski from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life, sent to superiors of the Daughters of St. Paul, the religious community which made allegations against the priest in 2017. 

That letter had a protocol number dating from 2015 — suggesting that the Vatican department already had a file open on Nicgorski when the sisters filed their allegations. 

There is little data about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, abuse, or coercion of religious sisters and nuns. 

But advocates for ecclesial reform have said in recent years that the spiritual, psychological, and sexual abuse of adults is an often under-appreciated problem in the Church. 

A set of recent reforms to the Church’s penal law could make easier the canonical prosecution of such cases in the future.