Bruce Ritter’s dramatic downfall was just the start of perv-priest scandals

The autumn of Covenant Home founder Father Bruce Ritter was an omen of the sexual-abuse circumstances involving tons of of Roman Catholic monks and tens of hundreds of victims all around the world.

But when Ritter was pressured out within the winter of 1990, following a brave exposé in The Put up, few within the metropolis might guess how widespread the issue was.

For 18 years, Ritter was thought-about a hero for the way he ran the charity he based for wayward, homeless youths. Then, a number of younger males claimed he had sexual relationships with them and illegally used nonprofit Covenant Home funds to lavish them with cash and items. He was given a slap on the wrist: Manhattan prosecutors made him give up, however didn’t cost him.

When the Ritter scandal was first damaged by The Put up in 1989, priest sex-abuse tales have been uncommon in the USA and unprecedented in New York.

His story differed from at present’s church circumstances in that “the secular powers greater than the archdiocese or the Franciscans protected him,” says Charles M. Sennott, the previous Put up reporter who at age 26 broke the story of the district legal professional’s probe in December 1989.

Sennott, who based and runs the Boston-based journalism advocacy and academic GroundTruth Mission, stated, “The story didn’t get on the deeper reality of coverups occurring in a single diocese after one other” — as a result of Covenant Home belonged to not a diocese, however to the Franciscan order, a worldwide neighborhood of Roman Catholic monks based by St. Francis of Assisi within the thirteenth century.

However Ritter loved an identical coverup for a similar causes that different charismatic clerics with cult-like followings do: unwillingness to blow the whistle on deviant monks who reel in cash and garner political status underneath a veil of saintliness.

It took a younger journalist to convey Ritter to heel, if to not justice. As Sennott associated in his gripping 1992 guide, “Damaged Covenant,” it began with an order from his boss to “decide up on six.”

He was a company St. Francis of Assisi

 – Charles M. Sennott

Ritter based Covenant Home in 1972 as a small facility for homeless teenagers within the crime- and drug-ravaged East Village. However the strong-willed, intellectually good and domineering priest ultimately grew Covenant Home right into a charitable large with 178 areas within the US, Canada, Mexico and Central America.

By 1979, its flagship shelter close to Occasions Sq. was “emblazoned with a three-story image [of a dove in hand] painted in blue” flying above rooftops.

Ritter’s perception in elevating funds from non-public enterprise moderately than from authorities made him appear the “excellent mixture of free enterprise and compassion,” Sennott recollects.

President Ronald Reagan named Ritter one among America’s “unsung heroes” in his 1984 State of the Union Handle. Covenant Home subsequently greater than tripled its annual funds from $27 million in 1985 to $90 million in 1989.

“He was a company St. Francis of Assisi,” Sennott stated.

Ritter wielded the levers of energy with an air of papal infallibility. In 1987, he outfoxed then-Mayor Ed Koch to take management of an outdated Greenwich Village union constructing that Koch wished to make use of as a jail however the place Ritter deliberate to deal with 800 homeless youngsters.

TV cameras centered on Ritter, then 62, standing subsequent to First Woman Barbara Bush at President George H. W. Bush’s 1989 State of the Union Handle. By that yr, Covenant Home’s board was a who’s who of monetary and media clout.

It included captain of trade Peter Grace, financiers Teddy Forstmann and William Simon, Lady’s Day journal editor-in-chief Ellen Levine and excessive executives of IBM, Chase Manhattan Financial institution and Bear Stearns.

However Ritter ran Covenant Home nearly unchecked. Church officers and the group’s insiders ignored years of buzz about his relationships with boys and a mysterious, secret “safe-house” program for sure youths who have been Ritter’s favorites.

Kevin Kite standing in front of Covenant House.
Kevin Kite standing in entrance of Covenant Home.Paul Adao

In October 1989, Put up metropolitan editor John Cotter informed Sennott to select up a name. A former male prostitute named Kevin Lee Kite informed Sennott about his long-term sexual relationship with Ritter. It wasn’t a criminal offense — Kite was 25, though he claimed to be 19 — however Kite had rather more to inform. In change for intercourse, Ritter had paid him off with a pleasant house, a pc, a university scholarship and cash to purchase good garments and restaurant dinners — an unlawful use of nonprofit Covenant Home’s funds.

Sennott was raised in a standard Catholic dwelling in Boston and didn’t need to imagine the worst a few saintly idol like Ritter.

“It wasn’t straightforward for me,” Sennott recalled this week. “Cotter stated to me, ‘What made you suppose it might be straightforward, pal? Welcome to journalism.’”

Days later, Kite confirmed Sennott paperwork to substantiate his claims, together with receipts for the funds Covenant Home lavished on him.

Kite informed counselors at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Crime Victims that his liaisons with Ritter began when the priest met him years earlier in New Orleans and introduced him to New York with the promise of main him to a brand new life. However it turned out to be one other type of prostitution, Kite discovered: intercourse in change for cash and items. Ritter’s hypocrisy additionally infuriated him. Whereas on a panel arrange by US Legal professional Basic Edwin Meese to “research” pornography, Ritter publicly warned that the genitalia on Michelangelo’s David sculpture might provoke harmful sexual wishes.

Kite’s subsequent cease was the workplace of Manhattan District Legal professional Robert Morgenthau. Morgenthau’s famed sex-case prosecutor, Linda Fairstein, gave him a tape recorder to catch Ritter discussing intercourse and cash with him.

Prodded by Cotter, who warned the reporter, “I’ll kick your ass” if he received beat on the story, Sennott pursued the inside track. He discovered from sources that the DA had put Kite right into a “witness-aid program” for his safety.

On Dec. 6, a nervous however decided Sennott reached Ritter by telephone. The priest denied all of the allegations to Sennott and prompt he, Ritter, was being “arrange” by “organized crime.”

Ritter’s struggle machine swung into motion when it discovered The Put up was able to go along with the story.

Cover of the New York Post December 12, 1989

Cotter and govt editor Jerry Nachman got here underneath siege by Covenant Home board members, advertisers, Gov. Mario Cuomo, Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, and pressmen’s union President Jack Kennedy, who was the brother of Ritter’s doctor and Covenant Home board member, Dr. Jim Kennedy.

Sennott’s guide relates that Covenant Home’s pit-bull lawyer, Stanley Arkin, warned Nachman, “That is sleazy and steamy. You higher be damned cautious.” Powerful-as-nails Nachman responded, “Counselor, I don’t know what you might be speaking about. We’re operating a narrative a few defalcation” — legalese for embezzlement.

The Put up’s entrance web page on Dec. 12, 1989 shouted, “TIMES SQUARE PRIEST PROBED Former male prostitute cites ‘items.’” Based mostly not on Kite’s phrase, however completely on the info of Morgenthau’s investigation, the story made no point out of intercourse with Ritter, aside from one element: Morgenthau had assigned the case to his Intercourse Crimes Unit.

Within the tumultuous weeks following, The Put up was accused of attempting to destroy an iconic, beloved priest so as to promote papers.

Ritter’s workforce put Kevin Kite’s estranged father on TV to state that his son had a “historical past of mendacity.” When the investigation appeared stalled, The New York Occasions editorialized that Morgenthau was subjecting Ritter to a “gradual bleed” that may very well be “ruinous” to Covenant Home and its good works.

Columnists on the Occasions, the Every day Information and Newsday all caught up for Ritter. TV’s “Inside Version” did a narrative titled “Anatomy of a Smear.” John Cardinal O’Connor, the highly effective head of the New York Archdiocese, stated, “I’ve held Father Ritter’s work within the highest esteem.”

The Put up caught by its weapons. Quickly, different younger males who’d shared Ritter’s mattress discovered their voices. In early February 1990, 4 of them informed their tales to The Village Voice and the Occasions. It turned out that Ritter had intercourse with at the very least 15 younger males at Covenant Home, one among whom was 14 on the time.

The archdiocese stepped in to assist dealer a deal between the DA and Ritter. Morgenthau wouldn’t cost him, however he needed to give up Covenant Home and by no means work with younger folks once more.

Ritter fought to maintain a job on the group after “quickly” stepping apart on Feb. 6. Three weeks later, fearing that the DA would ship the case to a grand jury, Ritter gave up and skulked off to his upstate dwelling.

There was anger that he escaped prosecution. One among Ritter’s victims, Darryl Bassile, wrote to him in March 1990, “You have been flawed for inflicting your wishes on a 14 yr outdated . . . I do know that sometime you’ll stand earlier than the one who judges all of us and at the moment there shall be no extra denial, simply the reality.”

Father Ritter died in obscurity at his farmhouse in Otsego County on Oct. 7, 1999.

Covenant Home survived underneath new management, and continues to serve homeless and runaway youth.

Since Ritter’s fall, predatory monks have since been discovered to have abused hundreds of kids and younger males in New York, Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, Australia, Chile and Eire. The church has paid out billions of {dollars} in settlements — together with $60 million by the New York Archdiocese up to now two years, The Put up reported this month.

Now Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò costs that Pope Francis has identified since June 2013 that former Washington, DC, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was a “serial predator” however lined for him till an investigation pressured McCarrick out in June. The pope unsatisfyingly responded, “I cannot say a single phrase on this.”

It’s a pity that the church didn’t be taught from the lesson of Father Bruce Ritter — that the reality will come out ultimately, even when it’s too late to erase the struggling.

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