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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Where are they now? A Walk in the Twilight Zone with Jim Verrecchia and Jim Haley

Jim & Nancy Lambert in happier days.
In 1998, a scandal boiled at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, VA. The pastor, Fr. Jim Verrecchia was giving "spiritual" direction to a parishioner, Nancy Lambert, who spent more and more time with him. They walked, they danced at church functions, they hot-tubbed and nuzzled together in full view of the entire parish. Meanwhile, Nancy's husband, Jim, became more and more concerned, confronted the pastor, and tried to convince his wife to stop, if not for him, for the sake of their four children. The behavior of the two "lovebirds" grew so egregious and so open it made the pages of the Washington Post and the Washington Times particularly after Jim Lambert, the aggrieved husband, sued the diocese which aided and abetted the adultery. To make a long story short: Nancy got pregnant, divorced her husband, married Verrecchia, and, with the help of Fr. Steve Leva, who testified for the adulterers at the custody hearing, got the couple's four children. Jim Lambert got a heart attack.
 The only one who tried to assist Jim Lambert was an associate pastor at All Saints, Fr. James Haley. It was Fr. Haley who provided over three hundred intimate emails between the pastor and Mrs. Lambert that Verrecchia wrote and stored on the office computer. Did that budge the chancery? NO, NOPE, NADA. Well, actually, it did -- but not against the immoral behavior of Fr. Verrecchia who was the golden boy of the diocese. Bishop Loverde instead began what became a campaign against the whistleblower priest who was ultimately suspended from ministry, charged with absolving a partner in asexual sin (that never happened) and eventually forcibly expelled from the priesthood. Interestingly, Fr. Haley's situation with a woman showed a priest who recognized a spiritual direction getting too intimate and cut it off. The previous bishop, John Keating, looked into the matter, was satisfied, and took no action against Haley. During the kangaroo trial precipitated by Bishop Loverde, Fr. Haley never faced the woman who was supposedly the accuser. Instead, he was crucified by lies and hearsay of chancery staff.

Why bring this up again after a decade? There's a book out this month written by Dan Graham, Welcome to the Hotel Nous Ordo. It's a fictionalized account of the scandal, but many events in the book (including some of the most ridiculous) actually happened. Fr. Verrecchia was, indeed, seeing a man in Manassas, the prophet, who claimed to be having visions of the Blessed Mother, for his spiritual direction. The prophet did advise the priest to develop friendships with women. The incident in the hot tub with the associate priests in the bushes throwing nerf balls actually occurred. The quotes from Fr. "Spanks" come directly from blasphemous talks given by Fr. Richard Sparks who, shockingly, still functions as a priest in good standing. In many ways the story is so ridiculous its hilarious, especially to those who recognize the characters and see Graham's humor in naming them. Fr. Verrecchia is Vermicelle (vermicelli is "little worms" in Italian). Bishop Loverde becomes Bishop Lavendre. The chancellor becomes Fr. Hindlicht (a vulgar rendition of bootlicker). Bishop Levandre's long-time companion, Brother Andy, is Brother Eddy. Fr. Haley is Fr. Doyle. Bishop Loverde's replacement in Ogdensburg, Bishop Barbarito (Bishop Barbarino in the book), who is now the bishop of Palm Beach, FL, really did oversee the punishment of an orthodox lay couple in Ogdensburg whom I happen to know personally. I won't go through the rest of those named in the book. Suffice it to say, that the events touched many lives. And while Graham's presentation is often funny, the underlying tragedy is so deep that I found myself tearing up as I read and remembered. The ending is very different from the reality and I won't spoil the story by revealing it.

So where are the leading characters now? After working for a time as the administrator of an Episcopal parish in Atlanta, a more corpulent Jim Verrecchia works as Director of Support Programs for the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Atlanta. You can also see (and hear) him in the 2012 Christmas video of the Society below.

Jim and Nancy are listed as living in Acworth, GA at so presumably they are still "married." God only knows what has happened to the Lambert's children.

Fr. Steve Leva, godfather for Nancy and Jim's "love child" is now a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia where he is pastor at St. Alphonse in Maple Glen. Interestingly, he's on at least his third assignment since moving north a decade ago where he served at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Doylestown (Coincidentally I spent two years in that parish and attended 8th grade at the parish school.) and St. Timothy's in Philadelphia as well as his current assignment.

I don't know what happened to Jim Lambert. I understand he moved to Georgia so he could be near his children.

Where is Fr. Haley? Since being thrown out of the diocese and the priesthood, he's traveled around the country in a motor home like a nomad. A few years ago the diocese cut off his stipend and his health insurance. (Too bad he's not an illegal alien; they'd have more sympathy.) After Jim Lambert and the Lambert's children, Haley is the one who was most victimized by the diocese. He just wouldn't shut up about the sexual deviancy problems in Arlington as he served with one porn-addicted and perverse pastor after another some of whom continue in the active priesthood today. After a succession of meetings with the bishop where he presented evidence, which the bishop requested but obviously didn't want, Bishop Loverde told him, "You have no idea what I can do to you," And then he proceeded to do it. Frankly, I think no one should ever forget this disgraceful episode in Arlington. The wrongs committed have never been righted; some of them never can be. Thanks to Dan Graham for helping us to remember. Please pray and do penance for everyone involved.

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