Lander, Wyo., Dec 6, 2012 / 04:03 am (CNA).- Wyoming Catholic College has discharged its new chaplain Father Stuart MacDonald following the discovery of a “pattern of misbehavior” around students such as excess drinking and bad language.
“I think it’s very sad that this happened. I think it’s particularly sad that it involved a priest of the Catholic Church,” college president Father Robert Cook told CNA Dec. 5.
“I really am very happy that we so quickly and so definitively dealt with this in what I believe was a totally proper and appropriate manner.”
The college discharged the chaplain on Nov. 19 after an investigation found he engaged in “very bad language” and “telling bad jokes” with students.
“He drank excessively with a few of our students who were over the age of 21. He also had conversations with students about very personal matters in front of other students,” Fr. Cook said. “All of this fell well beneath the standard that I require of anyone who works here, faculty, staff, administrators, and certainly the chaplain.”
Fr. MacDonald became the college’s chaplain in mid-August. He is a canon lawyer and a priest of the Diocese of St. Catharines in Ontario, Canada. He was ordained in 1997.
The diocese’s chancery told CNA that the diocese takes “very seriously” all allegations of inappropriate behavior on the party of clergy, staff or volunteers. It has not determined whether the priest will return to any position in the diocese.
Wyoming Catholic College has notified the Department of Homeland Security to terminate Fr. MacDonald’s employment visa.
Fr. Cook said the college began its internal investigation after a former student made a Nov. 10 phone call with allegations about the chaplain. The former student’s complaint involved possible criminal conduct committed by the priest. Fr. Cook told the former student to go to the police “immediately.”
Detective Randy Lutterman of the Lander Police Department confirmed that there was an investigation into Fr. MacDonald.
Lander Police Chief Jim Carey told CNA Dec. 7 that no charges will be filed against the chaplain.
“We are confident, through the evidence that we have received, that no criminal act was committed, however inappropriate,” he said.
The Wyoming newspaper The Daily Ranger reported that Carey said an anonymous letter was sent to individuals and to the Lander Journal claiming that Fr. MacDonald sexually abused students.
But Fr. Cook said the college’s “very thorough” investigation has not found any incidents or accusations of sexual conduct toward any student at Wyoming Catholic College.
The college has informed students and their parents about the improper conduct behind the chaplain’s dismissal. They were “profoundly shocked” and “greatly saddened” by the incident.
Chaplains “have to meet the highest standards, or they have to leave,” Fr. Cook stated. “This college is all about being very Catholic: teaching the students to know and love their Catholic faith, to live morally good lives.
“It is simply unacceptable to have anyone, let alone the chaplain, give a poor or even bad example to them.”
The chaplain had undergone a “very thorough vetting program” and a background check that found no criminal record, while Fr. MacDonald’s bishop had sent a letter stating he knew no reasons that would disqualify him from being a chaplain.
The college president said prospective Wyoming Catholic College students and their parents should feel that the college is “a safe place to go.”
“You cannot escape sin in this world. But when it shows up, if it’s dealt with in a very definitive and clear manner, then that’s a good place to be,” Fr. Cook said.
He said prospective students should be “proud” to go to a college that acted quickly to “protect the educational mission in which we are engaged.”
Updated Dec. 7, 2012 at 3:05 p.m. MST. Adds commennts to CNA in paragraph 11 from Police Chief JIm Carey about no crime beingg committed.