Laity for Moral Reform in the Catholic Church

Franciscan University of Steubenville, the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis, and Fr. David Morrier

Posted: 2022-07-27

In March of this year, Fr. David Morrier, a Fransciscan priest and former chaplain at Franciscan University Steubenville was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to sexual battery (i.e. rape) of a female student. As detailed in the statement provided by Morrier’s victim at the sentencing hearing, Morrier had sexually abused the unnamed young woman while conducting a “deliverance ministry.” There are several important points to take away from the victim statement and all that is currently known about the case, much of which is ably summarized in an article from the Pillar.

There are two bright spots in this terrible story. First, the courage of Morrier’s victim, who reported Morrier’s crimes and participated in the investigation despite the trauma she continued to suffer. Second, the role played by the Diocese of Steubenville. The victim specifically praised the Diocese, stating that it “never hesitated to immediately do the right thing, to provide me with unwavering care, love and support throughout the criminal investigation from the very moment I came to them.” Bishop Jeffrey Monforton and those under him who assisted Morrier’s victim should be commended for acting justly and compassionately.

Now for the problems.

As JD Flynn has pointed out in his article, there is a discrepancy between the account provided by Morrier’s victim and those provided by the University and the Sacred Heart Province of the Third Order Franciscans. The victim states unequivocally that she reported Morrier’s abuse to University officials and Morrier’s superiors in the Franciscans beginning in 2013 but was rebuffed. The Fransciscans say that they did not learn of any abuse allegations until 2015 and the University has said the same. Both denials are highly suspect in light of the victim’s statement and a report that Morrier was banned from campus in 2014. If the Fransciscans and the University knew of the allegations against Morrier in 2014 then they are being dishonest now. Both institutions must either admit to making misrepresentations or provide a full and comprehensive clarification of the timeline.

Even if the Franciscans and the University are telling the truth and they were not informed of Morrier’s actions until 2015, it would appear that they still failed in their duties to the victim and the Church. That is because there is no evidence that they ever reported the allegations against Morrier to law enforcement. According to the victim, she walked into a Steubenville police station in 2018 to report the assaults committed by Morrier. Upon being informed of Morrier’s actions that same year, the Diocese also sent a report to the police. Neither the University nor the Franscicans have ever said that they reported Morrier to the police or to Rome, despite, by their own admission, knowing of the victim’s accusations by 2015 at the earliest.

The failure by the University and the Franciscans to properly address Morrier’s crimes is a matter of grave concern but it is not the only disturbing fact in this case. The “deliverance ministry” described by the victim raises questions that must be answered by those involved.

The victim reports:

I was guilted and shamed into agreeing to stay for graduate school at Franciscan University because, as he said to me on my graduation day, “if you don’t, it means that you are throwing away all of the energy and effort that I have put into caring for you. You need to stay to continue to receive the treatment you need.”

That “treatment” was not mental health treatment. Instead of receiving therapy to address my diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Alcoholism and Addiction, I endured upwards of 4-5 deliverance sessions, lasting 2-4 hours for the entirety of the summer of 2010 until I was told through “discernment by God'' that I was possessed by 36 demons. That is when the Major Rite Exorcisms started in September of 2010. The only role therapy played was to keep me physically alive.

When exorcisms weren’t enough, more deliverance sessions were done where adult men restrained me physically in a chair, or on the floor, with their hands, their arms, their legs, and at times, their whole body, while the other adults in the room forced prayer over me.

I was forced to repeat secrets about myself out loud to this group and if I refused, Fr. Morrier betrayed my confidence and trust and revealed them himself under the guise of “prayer,” including graphic sexual details of abuses I had endured that read more like a pornographic novel. Some of these secrets revealed were only ever told in the sacrament of confession before it was spoken out loud by him to a room full of adults who barely knew me.

When I screamed and begged and cried for them to let go, the response was to hold me down tighter.

When I would experience severe panic attacks and couldn’t breathe, the group was told the demons were manifesting and I was screamed at because it wasn’t me, it was the “demon” that never existed.

When I fought against the men restraining me, holy water was sprayed at me to the point where it soaked through my clothing, holy oil was rubbed all over the body, a crucifix was shoved up my back or up my chest under my clothing. I was called evil. I was accused of cooperating with the devil.

I was accused of wasting their time. I was accused of not cooperating with God. I was accused of hurting them all.

The victim reports that, in private, Morrier would continue this “deliverance” by sexually violating her, claiming that it was necessary for her to be delivered from demons and healed from childhood sexual abuse.

The deliverance sessions which provided the foundation for Morrier’s sexual abuse had many particpants. The victim reports:

This all took place simultaneously on a near weekly basis for almost three years and involved members of the Franciscan University staff, members of the Steubenville Catholic community, prominent figures known to the University community, other members of the clergy, and other students.

One might reasonably assume that these other participants did not realize that Morrier was using the deliverance ministry as an opportunity for sexual abuse. However, they are not blameless. As reported by the victim, the deliverance sessions that involved people other than Morrier were themselves abusive, even if they did not involve physical violation. Furthermore, they were clearly inappropriate and not authorized by competent authorities.

There are very good reasons why every diocese has an exorcist who is authorized to perform exorcisms. It is not an activity that just anyone should be doing, and unauthorized wildcat “exorcisms” like that described by the victim present opportunities for abuse by both evil spirits and evil men. Even if nobody had ever been sexually abused in the context of an exorcism like that described by the victim, it would still be foolish and dangerous. Considering that it was in fact used for sexual abuse, it is extremely important that the University and the Franciscan province stop any such activities immediately.

The Saint Peter Damian Society, in the name of God and His justice, calls on the Franciscan University of Steubenville and the Sacred Heart Province of the Third Order Franciscans to provide to the Church, the state, and the public a full accounting of the Morrier case. It is crucial that they provide any and all details about the allegations against Morrier they received and when they received them. Both parties should either admit that they knew of his actions before 2015 or explain the discrepancy between their statements and the victim’s. Moreover, the university and the Franciscans must end any deliverance ministries that do not conform to the Church’s practices and regulations regarding exorcisms and spiritual warfare.

We commend the victim for her courage and pray, through the intercession of St. Peter Damian, for her healing.

St. Peter Damian Ora pro nobis