A prominent Catholic priest nationwide is under criminal investigation after a security guard assigned to his church accused him of sexually assaulting her on election day, the office said on Friday. Manhattan District Attorney.
The priest, Reverend George William Rutler, 75, is accused of watching pornography and masturbating in front of guard, Ashley Gonzalez, 22, without her consent in his office at St. Michael the Archangel Church . He then physically and sexually assaulted her as she tried to flee the room, Ms Gonzalez told police.
In a letter to his parish after the charges surfaced, Father Rutler denied Ms Gonzalez’s claim that he “touched her badly”. But he did not respond to her claim that he watched pornography and masturbated in front of her.
Part of the alleged encounter was recorded by Ms Gonzalez on her cell phone. She provided the video clip, which shows a man who matches the physical description of Father Rutler, to law enforcement officials and to the New York Times.
Father Rutler, one of the most influential priests in the United States, is a well-known figure in the world of Catholic conservatism and has been outspoken in his criticism of liberalism and the pontificate of Pope Francis.
He has authored dozens of books and has hosted a show on the Eternal Word Television Network, a Catholic channel available in 140 countries, since 1988. He also gained attention after ministering to the firefighters at Ground Zero on morning of September 11. attacks.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office said in a statement that its criminal investigation into the case was “active and ongoing.”
“We encourage anyone with relevant information to contact our office,” the statement read.
In an interview with The Times, Ms Gonzalez said Father Rutler invited her to rest on a sofa in his office when she began a short-term assignment as a church guard during the week of elections.
On November 3, his second night on the job, the priest walked into the midtown Manhattan church office shortly after starting his break shortly after 1 a.m. and began checking the election results on his computer from office, Ms. Gonzalez said.
But after a few minutes, she said she heard “sex noises” and saw Father Rutler watching gay porn videos on his computer with his right hand in his pants.
Ms Gonzalez said she was paralyzed with fear and convinced that no one would believe her word rather than that of a priest. So, she said, she used her phone to film Father Rutler at his office. The video clip for the episode is 19 seconds long.
“I didn’t know what to do at the time so I texted my mom and said, ‘I think I’m about to be raped,’” Ms. Gonzalez said. She shared texts with The Times whose timestamps and dates seem to support her account of that night.
Ms Gonzalez said that when she stood up and attempted to leave the room, the priest blocked her exit, stroked her breasts and slammed her against a wall in the office before fighting him and squeezing her out. escape.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, Joseph Zwilling, said he was cooperating with the district attorney’s investigation. Mr Zwilling said the archdiocese, led by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, would conduct its own investigation once prosecutors complete theirs.
“Father Rutler, after discussions with the Archdiocese, has voluntarily stepped down from his duties as pastor for the good of the parish and the Archdiocese,” said Mr. Zwilling. “He has no mission at the moment. He does not serve as a priest.
Eternal Word Television Network, the channel that aired Father Rutler’s show, has removed videos of him from its website after Ms Gonzalez made her allegations last month.
Father Rutler has been the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Church since 2013. The church’s website still lists him as a pastor and also has links that people can use to purchase his books and videos of his lectures.
“After consulting Cardinal Dolan, who has given his support and for the good of our parish, I gladly offered to retire from my duties in our beloved parish,” Fr. Rutler wrote in the letter to the Church. parish.
The charges against Father Rutler come as New York Attorney General Letitia James investigated the state’s Catholic dioceses for their handling of sexual assault complaints, including the powerful Archdiocese of New York.
The 19-second clip, which Ms Gonzalez recorded as she sat at the back of the desk on the sofa, shows a man who looks like Father Rutler sitting at a computer and watching a gay porn video. Framed pictures of the Pope and two Cardinals hang on the wall above the desk.
Ms Gonzalez, who is five feet tall, said she escaped from the room after nudging Father Rutler forcefully in the chest and knocking him off balance enough for her to open the door . She ran down the hall from the church and onto 34th Street, she said. It was almost 2 a.m.
Ms Gonzalez said she then went to a nearby police station to file a report.
She said she had not been contacted by the police or the Archdiocese in recent weeks, although she spoke to prosecutors last month. Earl S. Ward, her lawyer, said prosecutors had the video of the priest that Ms Gonzalez had filmed.
Father Rutler has been a Catholic conservative for decades. He is known for his criticism of Pope Francis, whom he compared to Neville Chamberlain; his hostility towards liberals (“They don’t believe in love because they don’t believe in souls”); and his description of “abortionists and sodomites” as “united in a commitment to death and self-destruction”.
In a Fox News podcast interview last year, Father Rutler said he was skeptical of people who claimed to have been abused by Catholic priests. He said he believed that many people who claimed to be victims of abuse were exploiting the church’s larger abuse scandal to make money.
“We now have this new memory phenomenon, someone thinking that something happened 40 or 50 years ago involving a so-called attacker, an alleged perpetrator, who is now dead and cannot defend himself” Father Rutler said in the interview.
He added, “Overall, I don’t know of any institution that has gone out of its way to repair and provide guidance as much as the Church.
Ms Gonzalez said she had not been able to return to work at MG Security, the company hired by the church last month, since that night in St. Michael’s. She said the incident sent her into a downward spiral.
“It affected me in a way that I never want to go to church again,” she said.