By Stephen Ryan
On June 29, 1972 Paul VI spoke of God’s enemy supreme, that enemy of man called Satan, enemy of the Church. “The smoke of Satan”, warned Paul VI, “has found its way into the Church through the fissures”. It was an anguished warning that caused great shock and scandal, even within the Catholic world.”…From an interview with the Vatican’s chief excorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth by Stefano Maria Paci
For years, many close to the Catholic Church had speculated on how an Evil – the Smoke of Satan – would manifest itself inside the Catholic Church – inside “certain chanceries” and then on a hot summer day in August – a clue.
On August 11, 1992, the long time Chancellor to the diocese of Arlington in Virginia, 53-year-old Monsignor William Reinecke, walked into a nondescript cornfield in Berryville, Virginia, near the Holy Cross Trappist Monastery with a loaded shotgun and killed himself. His death would leave behind a long shadow of untold secrets – secrets of both good and evil- secrets whose scope, nearly twenty years later, are only now beginning to be fully understood.
During an implausible six months in 1992, Monsignor William Reinecke, Chancellor of the Arlington Diocese and second in charge behind the Bishop would quite literally come face to face with both the divine and the damned.
Before the Chancellor’s suicide, five months earlier, on March 6, 1992, a local television affiliate of CBS news aired a story, initially without much fanfare, about mysterious occurrences of weeping statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary taking place in Lake Ridge, Virginia, a quite suburb twenty miles south of the Nation’s Capitol. The extraordinary events were mostly occurring at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church (SEAS) and its rectory.
The reported occurances of weeping Madonnas were associated with a local priest named Father Jim Bruse -the statues seemed to tear in his presence. Astonishingly, Father Bruse was also experiencing the “wounds of Christ” known as the Stigmata an extremely rare mystical phenomena.
For those who saw the statues tear before thier eys, there was no doubt that never in the history of the Catholic Church had there been a greater manifestation of the supernatural or physical signs of God’s real presence. The statues wept and wept and wept for all the world to see.
Within days of the CBS Television news report, the story of the weeping statues and the priest experiencing the stigmata would become a worldwide media sensation.
The Washington Post and dozens of other national and international news organizations descended onto the community to report and investigate the miraculous occurrences. To this day, the spontaneous media frenzy that engulfed the unexplained events stands as singular moment in television history in the coverage of mystical religious phenomena.
There were hundreds, if not thousands, of credible witnesses who saw the Virgin Mary statues weep. Witnesses included a Harvard trained lawyers, numerous priest, military officers and government employees. Most significantly the Bishop of the Arlington Diocese, John R. Keating along with Monsignor William Reinecke both witnessed the weeping Madonnas in the Bishop’s office.
In the book “The Seton Mircles” Jim Carney – an eye witness to the events writes:
“On March 2, 1992 Father Hamilton – pastor to the St. Elezabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church and Father Bruse met with Bishop Keating at the Chancery along with Monsignor William Reinecke. Both prelates had Madonna statues. Bishop Keating had two in his office and Monsignor Reinecke brought one of his own. In addition, Fr Bruse, had brought his little Fatima statue with him. All the statues wept. Reportedly, this convinced Bishop Keating that the weeping is a genuine phenomenon and should be so treated.” – The Seton Miracles
But as quickly as the story gained world wide fame the Arlington Diocese suddenly became concerned about the “circus atmosphere” and took decisive action.
The Chancery’s Office headed by Monsignor Reinecke, with the blessing of the Bishop, coldly shut everything down. The statues of the Madonna, mind you, continued to weep, at times profusely, but as far as the diocese of Arlington and the Catholic Church were concerned the matter was officially over
The Chancery stated its position regarding the miraculous events in a formal declaration to the Pastor of SEAS, Father Hamilton. In a nutshell, the declaration said that since there was no overt divine message being delivered, there was nothing to investigate and the parish and the clergy from that point forward were forbidden to talk about the events.
This decision, to many parishioners was not only profoundly sad but seemed to be an odd determination since only physical phenomena can be investigated. Reports of apparitions and locutions cannot be investigated. They can merely be assessed as to whether they are consistent with Catholic faith and morals.
Enter The Smoke of Satan
Within months of dismissing the tears of Our Lady and silencing the talk of the miraculous events, Monsignor William Reinecke, would again make newspaper headlines – this time by committing suicide in the cornfield by the monastery.
After the suicide, at first, shocked priests, parishioners,and friends searched for answers. Many blamed themselves for failing to see Monsignor’s Reinecke quiet despair.
But soon after the suicide, a startling report surfaced in the Washington Post.
Joe McDonald, a former altar boy from another parish, claimed that Father Reinecke sexually molested him twenty-five years ago and said he had confronted the priest about the incident two days before Reinecke killed himself.
Mr. McDonald urged William Reinecke to resign and get help. It is worth nothing that Joe McDonald was initially rebuffed by the diocese to talk about his experience with Father Reinecke and it was only after the diocese’s stonewalling did Mr. McDonnel reach out to the Washington Post.
According to the Post, Bishop John R. Keating, after reading the story in the newspaper, sought out Mr. McDonald to discuss the matter. In the meeting with the Bishop’s representatives he asked the diocese to establish support groups for victims and priests, but Mr. McDonald was again disappointed with the diocese after concluding that no “concrete proposals” came out of his meeting.
Mr. McDonald was also upset that he was asked him to “stop speaking out”, that he should remain silent with his story.
Within days of the Washington Post article, another man came forward and spoke to the Washington Post about being molested by Father Reinecke.
As the diocese reeled from the abuse allocations – a new bombshell. The Washington Post reported that William Reinecke was the person in charge of investigating claims of pedophilia and sexual abuse for the Arlington Diocese.
In August of 1992 Bishop Keating had asked Joe McDonald a victim of sexual abuse to “stop speaking out” and five months earlier the diocese had also asked the parishioners of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to “stop speaking out”about the weeping statues as well.
Of course nobody on that tragic day would hear the gun go off that killed Monsignor Reinecke. But now, looking back on the events of 1992, as Our Lady was weeping like never before in history, perhaps the gunshot was the “shot heard ‘round the world” because within months of the accused pedophile’s suicide – a man in charge of pedophilia investigations for the diocese, the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crises would begin to unfold and become a worldwide story.
In the 2004 John Jay Report on sexual abuse, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it stated that “prior to 1993, only one-third of sex-abuse cases were known to church officials,” The Sex abuse catastrophe, as we now know, has become, arguably, the single greatest challenge to the hearts, minds, and souls of the Catholic faithful – many have left the faith because of it – and to this day the Vatican continues to endure the ramifications of what Pope Benedict XVI has described as a “wretchedness” inside the Church.
The Smoke of Satan had indeed entered the Church and the Blessed Virgin Mother wept for the loss of so many souls.
Bishop Keating and Monsignor Reinecke’s decision to ignore the miraculous events of the weeping statues continues to be an unsolved mystery and to many a very unfortunate one. The decision to ignore the events did not leave a neutral opinion in its wake. It left a negative implication, some even believe the events have been condemned by the diocese of Arlington.
The bishop’s apparent disinterest suggested that he must know something negative about the cause of the phenomena.
The tragedy of this situation is that the local bishop, then Most Rev. John R. Keating and now Most Rev. Paul Loverde, have refused to even acknowledge the events much less investigate them to determine whether they constitute a true sign from God that the faithful could consider as miraculous.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect to all of this is that the point man in charge of silencing talk of the Seton Miracles, a man who was also overseeing investigations into claims of sexual abuse by clergy, may well have been a pedophile.
Indeed it is never too late to investigate the miraculous and to be sure prominent people still seek answers and guidance from the diocese of Arlington. Citing the weeping statues and miracles that took place in the outskirts of Washington D.C., Justice Scalia, argued that “It isn’t irrational to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses to miracles. What is irrational,” is to reject a priori, with no investigation… which is, of course, precisely what the worldly wise do. Why wasn’t that church absolutely packed with nonbelievers, seeking to determine if there might be something to this?” The answer was obvious, he said with disdain: “The wise do not investigate such silliness.”
The words of Supreme Court Justice leaves us asking why indeed was the church not packed with officials of the diocese of Arlington to investigate the mysteries that obviously to this day haunt Justice Scalia. Clearly, Justice Scalia has not heard evidence to his satisfaction to make a ruling in the extraordinary case of the weeping statues of the Blessed Mother.
If an honest investigation determines that there were natural causes for all of the strange things that happened around Fr. Bruse, in Lake Ridge, Va. great! – the matter could then be put to rest But we don’t believe that will be the outcome of a true investigation. We don’t see how such a conclusion would be possible. But, that’s the purpose of investigating.
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