Dear Dom Bernardus,
I wish to begin the present by expressing my congratulations to you upon your election as the Abbot General of the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance.
As you may recall, I, Bishop Pat Buckley, was the individual who made a number of evidenced-based allegations against the former Abbot of Mount Melleray Abbey, Dom Richard Purcell, OCSO. Sadly, these allegations were unjustifiably ignored by the leadership of the Order for a considerable period of time; thereby, creating an even greater scandal that could have been avoided by the order following the norms of Canon Law, and the Constitutions of the Order.
You, Dom Bernardus, and Mother Pascale Fourmentin, the Abbess of Arnhem were tasked by the then Abbot General, Dom Eamon Fitzgerald, OCSO to conduct a “Regular Visitation” of Mount Melleray Abbey.
You and the co-visitor had as the “primary object” “to establish if there was any substance to the allegations”. It was reported on the OCSO website that the “investigation concluded that the allegations were unfounded”. But, we were then informed that Dom Richard Purcell for a personal reason offered his resignation as the Abbot and Ordinary Mount Melleray Abbey, and that the then Abbot General having received the consent of his Council, accepted the resignation, which became effective on November 25 2021.
I am mindful that you have now been elected to the venerable office of Abbot General, however, I do not resile from my previously and publicly stated position that this so-called “regular visitation” was nothing more than a sham. It was a misguided and intellectually indolent attempt to give a thin veneer of credibility to a man, a monk, a priest, and an abbot who was well-known and notorious on the Irish gay scene. And, it is legitimate to enquire whose agenda was being served by this “regular visitation”?
Respectfully, I submit you and your co-visitor were never going to find any evidence of Purcell’s misconduct at Mount Melleray Abbey, because deviant individuals like Purcell are pathologically careful about ensuring that they leave no evidence that would expose their duplicitous lifestyle. Did you honestly expect to find a receipt and/or a payment to “The Boilerhouse”, the Dublin-based gay sauna on the monastery credit card statement? If you did — that displays an extraordinary level of naïveté. Did you and Mother Pascale expect the ordinary monks of Mount Melleray Abbey to have any idea about Purcell’s lifestyle?
I submit that Richard Purcell was very careful about keeping his gay lifestyle well-hidden from his monastic brothers. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the gay lifestyle, he took risks while “on the scene”, and his hubris eventually led to his downfall.
Prior to his exposure — Purcell, like a parasite, utilised the resources of the Abbey, to have a comfortable life. And, do bear in mind, he was travelling the world on a frequent basis under the pretext of conducting visitations of the daughter houses founded by Mount Melleray Abbey. Furthermore, Richard Purcell was a frequent visitor to Dublin on “church-related” business. In fact, his lifestyle was completely at variance with his professed vow of stability; he [Purcell] was more like a Jesuit than a Cistercian.
Using any yardstick, Richard Purcell was a very talented man. It is a great shame that he chose to lead a lifestyle that was completely at variance with his monastic vows. Due to my exposure of his behaviour, I have learned a great deal about Purcell, however, this is not the place to address those issues; but, it does seem to me that he laboured with a tragic harmartia.
You are respectfully advised that Fr. Richard Purcell was not the only Irish Cistercian Abbot to be active on the Irish gay scene. There was another individual, however, because he is no longer an office-holder and an old man; I will not name him publicly; but, if he misbehaves in the future, and his misconduct comes to my attention — I will do so without hesitation. But, this new fact should not come as a surprise. I have personal experience of being propositioned by a deceased abbot of Mellifont Abbey; so, this gay culture is not new within the Irish Cistercians.
Of course, history shows us that sexual misconduct has always been a characteristic of monastic life. And, that should not come as a surprise because monastic life mirrors and reflects wider society. The history of monasticism shows decline, reform, and renewal. However, it is deeply surprising that the Cistercians appear to have learned absolutely NO lessons from the sexual scandals that have enfolded the Church for the past three decades.
No, I have some questions for you that I will set out, hereinafter.
Dom Bernardus, when you went to Mount Melleray Abbey, were you and your co-visitor aware of Richard Purcell’s known sexual misconduct?
Were you and your co-visitor aware that Dom Eamon Fitzgerald, your predecessor in office confirmed to me during a telephone conversation that it was known within the Order that Purcell had sexually misbehaved?
Were you and your co-visitor aware that the Order considered/hoped that Purcell’s misconduct was a “one-off”?
Were you and your co-visitor aware that the allegations of Purcell’s misconduct were brought to the repeated personal attention of the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Alphonsus Cullinan?
Were you and your co-visitor aware that he [Bishop Cullinan] failed to preventively suspend by Decree the Faculties of Richard Purcell within his own canonical territory?
Were you and your co-visitor aware Ordinary of the Diocese of Waterford & Lismore responded to the allegations by giving his approbation to Purcell by publicly concelebrating the Eucharist with Purcell on a number of occasions?
Do you accept that actions of Bishop Cullinan in his failure to act on the allegations were scandalous and a demonstrable example of institutional hypocrisy?
Do you consider Cullinan’s behaviour to be exacerbated by the fact, he [Cullinan] is the Chairman of the Irish Bishops’ Council for Vocations?
Did you and your co-visitor ask Dom Eamon Fitzgerald about our telephone conversation?
Did Dom Eamon confirm that he acknowledged to me during our telephone conversation that Purcell’s sexual misconduct was known within the Order, ie, the anal sex at the guesthouse at Mount St. Joseph Abbey was a one-off? Thus, Purcell’s sexual peccadilloes were known and covered-up by the Cistercians. Do you accept that as an accurate statement of fact?
If Purcell’s behaviour was known about and covered-up — what else are the Cistercians covering-up?
Why was Purcell’s known sexual misconduct tolerated by the leadership of the Order?
Would the current leadership, i.e,, you and the Council of the Order tolerate Purcell’s behaviour?
Do you think Richard Purcell should seek voluntary laicisation? If not, do you consider that he should be forcefully laicised and dispensed from his monastic vows?
Is there a culture of covering-up sexual misconduct within the Cistercians of the Strict Observance?
Today, would the Cistercians cover-up/ignore an allegation of sexual misconduct involving a child?
Because, if the response of the Order is anything to go by with respect to Richard Purcell — I am not convinced the Cistercians are institutionally capable of responding appropriately or swiftly to an allegation that involved an abbot and/or any other form of religious superior that involved a child. Do you accept that is a reasonable and proportionate inference to take in light of the callous indifference that the Order showed with respect to the known misconduct Richard Purcell?
So again, I asked the question — today, how would the Cistercians respond to an allegation involving an abbot with a minor? Is there a procedure within the Order that is to be followed if such an allegation is made? Is there a similar procedure for a non-ordained monk?
Again, this is a legitimate question, because of the known scandal on Caldey Island involving the deceased Cistercian monk, Fr. Thaddeus Kotik.
Due to my unique ministry, victims of misconduct often reach out to me because I am considered to be a neutral figure. Consequently, if an individual contacted me in the future and told me and provided demonstrable evidence that they were a victim of the deceased Cistercian, Fr. Kotik – would I be ignored by the Order? Would I still be dismissed as a crank? Is child safeguarding within the Cistercians nothing more than a sham?
In your first days as the new Abbot General, I would urge you to remind the Order that it needs to extirpate the deeply erroneous idea that abbots are incapable of wrong-doing.
When a number of individuals who have been professionally retained to commence canonical procedures to remove Richard Purcell — they remarked that the Constitutions of the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance were dated, and needed to be updated to reflect contemporary safeguarding measures. And, that is something which needs to be reviewed and addressed by the Order as a matter of considerable urgency.
Let me assure you, I took no pleasure in exposing Richard Purcell. Indeed, I was very sad that I was forced to take this course of action, because Mellifont Abbey is a place that I love dearly and is very close to my heart.
As I believe transparency is good for the Church, I will place a copy of this correspondence on my blog; if you reply, unless you indicate to the contrary – I will publish your reply, however, for the avoidance of doubt, if you request me not to do so — then you reply will be kept confidential.
Respectfully, I remain,