Casa Jesus: Gay Seminarian Pipeline Set Up by Cdl. Bernardin

Latin American house of formation shut down over homosexual scandals

by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  •  September 5, 2018

Casa Jesus, a now-defunct Chicago seminary for Latin Americans, was founded under the late Cdl. Joseph Bernardin to recruit gay seminarians.

Father John Lavers, who headed a top-level investigation at Holy Apostles Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut in 2012, confirmed with Church Militant that Bernardin led the vanguard in recruiting and funneling homosexuals from Latin America to seminaries in Chicago, some who were farmed out to other U.S. seminaries or who went on to be ordained priests for the Chicago archdiocese.

Originally a convent for nuns located right next to Holy Name Cathedral, it was turned into a formation house in 1987 under Bernardin specifically to house Latin American seminarians.

A Rampant Homosexual Subculture

After 28 years in operation, Casa Jesus was quietly shut down by Cdl. Blase Cupich in 2016 following multiple homosexual scandals, with three seminarians expelled after being caught going to a gay bar, and the rector himself, Octavio Munoz, arrested for male child porn on his laptop.

“When I was at Casa Jesus, I used to go to gay bars, bring my friends. They didn’t say anything,” said former seminarian Luis Stalin to NBC Chicago. Stalin said the rule for celibacy was often ignored.

Another Casa Jesus graduate, Fr. Diego Berrio, was arrested just this week for engaging in gay sex in public view in Miami, Florida. Berrio is a canon lawyer and served on the marriage tribunal for the Chicago archdiocese, and is pastor of San Juan Diego Mission in Arlington Heights — a parish linked to another Latin American priest busted for child porn in 2015.

Fr. Diego Berrio

The man arrested with Berrio, Fr. Edwin Giraldo Cortez, is an extern priest from Colombia assigned to St. Aloysius Parish in Chicago.

Church Militant spoke with a priest who was a former seminarian at Casa Jesus in the early 2000s alongside Berrio, who confirmed that Berrio’s homosexuality was an open secret at the time.

“The rector knew. Everybody knew,” said the priest, who asked to remain anonymous out of concerns for retribution. At the time, then-Father Robert Casey (just named an auxiliary bishop for Chicago in July) was rector of Casa Jesus, which he led from 1998–2003.

“He mingled with the bad people,” the priest said of Berrio. “Father [Marco] Mercado was a good friend of his, a very good friend of his.”

Mercado also came to Chicago via Casa Jesus, and was later suspended from ministry for homosexual misconduct. Cardinal Cupich removed him as pastor at Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines in 2015 for an “inappropriate relationship with an adult man.” Mercado eventually relocated to the San Antonio, Texas diocese under Abp. Gustavo Garcia-Siller (auxiliary bishop in Chicago before going to Texas).

Crisis at Casa Jesus: The Case of Octavio Munoz

The worst scandal suffered by Casa Jesus, and which led to its closure, was the arrest and conviction of its rector, Octavio Munoz, in 2015 for child porn found on his computer. He helped lead the house of formation from 2009–15, during which he frequently traveled to Latin America to recruit seminarians for the Chicago archdiocese.

Fr. Octavio Munoz

Cupich was criticized for dragging his feet on the Munoz investigation, failing to report him immediately to law enforcement, waiting a month before removing him from ministry, and sending him to the notorious St. Luke Institute in Maryland for treatment without informing law enforcement. (The former CEO of St. Luke, Fr. Edward J. Arsenault III, was arrested and jailed in 2014 for embezzling more than $200,000 from the diocese to use on his homosexual partners.)

Cupich’s actions drew a sharp rebuke from the judge overseeing Munoz’s case. “Isn’t there counseling in the state of Illinois that he could’ve been afforded?” asked Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil during a court hearing in 2016.

A 2016 bond proffer gave the background on the Munoz case:

On or about 07/07/2015, an employee of the Archdiocese of Chicago was scheduled to show the new Casa Jesus Rector the apartment. The Archdiocesan employee and new Rector [Fr. Kevin Hays] knocked on the door to the apartment, and when there was no answer, the employee tried the handle but found the door locked. The employee used the master key to enter the apartment. … The employee also observed a recliner chair with a TV tray and on the TV tray was an open computer, powered on, and it was running. The employee saw that the computer was a black Sony laptop, on which there was displayed a moving image on the screen that appeared to be running from a web cam. The image was of a young boy who had no pubic hair masturbating. Defendant was not present in the apartment at the time. Both the employee and the Rector left the apartment.

According to the court document, Fr. Kevin Hays never reported the child porn to the archdiocese (Hays later claimed “he did not see anything inappropriate on that computer”). It was the employee who contacted the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth.

The archdiocese did not contact law enforcement, instead waiting a week before hiring private investigators to look into the claims. Although the laptop was never recovered, forensic examination of other electronic equipment owned by Munoz revealed child erotica and homosexual teen porn. It was only then that investigators contacted Chicago police, which launched its own investigation on July 30.

Cupich did not remove Munoz from ministry until July 28.

According to Assistant State’s Attorney Guy Lisuzzo, Munoz “was moved by the archdiocese to a location for … (church) evaluation and business. The Chicago Police Department was not notified of that location.”

An arrest warrant was issued in August 2016, while Munoz was still in Maryland. After waiving extradition, he was transferred to the custody of Chicago police and charged with felony possession of child porn.

A Tainted Legacy Begun Under Cdl. Bernardin

In its nearly three decades in operation, about 260 men have come through Casa Jesus, with only 53 going on to become priests. How many have been removed for homosexual misconduct remains unclear.

According to NBC Chicago, the archdiocese spent about $30,000 annually on each seminarian recruited from Latin America. The seminarians would spend a year at the University of Illinois learning English while discerning a possible vocation.

“If you say you were going to have a house, you are going to have a car, a salary, of course, who doesn’t want that life?” Stalin told NBC Chicago.

After Casa Jesus closed, four of the seminarians were transferred to Mundelein Seminary in Illinois.

Cdl. Joseph Bernardin

Cardinal Bernardin was known to be one of the gay-friendliest bishops in the United States, fostering a homosexual subculture in his archdiocese during his 14 years as archbishop of Chicago.

Steven Cook sued Bernardin in 1993, accusing him of sexual assault. Cook died in 1995 from AIDS, Bernardin claiming that Cook retracted his accusation before he died. But renowned priest sex abuse expert Richard Sipe, who passed away last month, believed Cook was pressured to recant after being given a sweetheart deal by the Chicago archdiocese.

“It is a fact that Bernardin’s accuser did not ever retract his allegations of abuse by anyone’s account other than Bernardin’s,” Sipe said at a talk on February 23, 2003 in Louisville, Kentucky, making clear the archdiocese’s payoff to Cook was approximately $3 million.

“[S]everal priests who were associates of Bernardin prior to his move to Chicago revealed that they had ‘partied’ together; they talked about their visits to the Josephinum to socialize with seminarians,” Sipe said.

Bernardin passed away in 1996 from pancreatic cancer. At the request of the archdiocese, the Windy City Gay Chorus sang at his public memorial service on November 18.

Abp. Theodore McCarrick

Church Militant broke the news on August 21 about a gay seminarian pipeline from Colombia to various East Coast seminaries, including Holy Apostles in Hartford, Connecticut, which expelled multiple Colombian seminarians engaged in homosexual misconduct after an investigation in 2012. In spite of their expulsion, Bp. Henry Mansell sent some of them on to other seminaries to continue formation.

Father John Lavers, who led the investigation, confirmed with Church Militant that Bernardin was the first to establish a gay seminarian pipeline from Colombia and other Latin American countries to the United States in 1987, working closely with Abp. Theodore McCarrick to establish another pipeline on the East Coast in Newark, New Jersey.

In 2003, the Newark archdiocese founded a house of formation in Colombia. McCarrick — with the help of Bernardin — allegedly laid the groundwork for this house of formation, where homosexual seminarians were vetted and recruited to be brought to the United States.

McCarrick was suspended in June and removed from the College of Cardinals in July after being exposed as a homosexual predator of teens and adult seminarians. He remains at the center of a scandal involving Pope Francis, accused by the former papal nuncio to the United States of knowing of McCarrick’s sexual crimes and elevating him to the rank of trusted advisor in naming bishops and cardinals.