Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Bruce Ritter case

The other night while strolling with a friend in midtown Manhattan I chanced to pass by Covenant House, a charitable institution that helps runaway youths. I remembered that I had once given money to the institution, before the disgrace that enveloped its founder, Rev. Bruce Ritter, in 1989-90. As this affair was a precursor of the pedophile scandals that have since rocked the Catholic church in America, it is worth reviewing the circumstances.

A member of the Franciscan order, Rev. (John) Bruce Ritter (1927-1999) began a one-man outreach to homeless youth in Manhattan’s East Village during the “flower-child” era of the 1960s. To further his work he founded Covenant House in 1968. At its height, Covenant House operated in fifteen cities with a $90,000,000 budget, reputedly spending three times what the federal government did on runaways. Father Ritter's work was held in high esteem by the public, the news media, a multitude of donors, and by president George H. W. Bush, who cited it as one of his "thousand points of light." Father Ritter himself was sometimes mentioned in the same sentence with Mother Teresa.

Ritter was noted for his empathy with his young charges, though some noted that this affinity seemed to extend particularly to attractive white boys. He called the teenagers in the Covenant House “my kids,” “nice kids,” and “gorgeous kids.”

In December 1989 Kevin Lee Kite (born 1964), a former hustler and gay porn actor, claimed in a New York Post interview that Father Ritter had diverted some $125,000 in Covenant House funds to support him in return for sexual favors. Kite also asserted that Ritter had provided him with papers that allowed him to assume the identity of Tim Warner, a young boy who had died of cancer. Subsequently three former residents of Covenant House--Darryl J. Bassile, Paul Johnson, and John Melican--came forward, stating that they had been involved in past sexual relationships with Father Ritter.

Kite's accusations opened the door for financial scrutiny of Covenant House which led to charges of financial impropriety stemming from the use of a $one-million tax-exempt Franciscan Charitable Trust. In his earlier work in the East Village Ritter had found that it was sometimes necessary to circumvent normal procedures in order to support his work. As Margaret O’Brien Steinfels explains, “the priest's aversion to red tape and oversight, beginning with his relationship with his religious brethren, served him well in working his way around the maze of child welfare regulations. He was a priest but not of the Archdiocese of New York, which had no authority over him. His Franciscan community, based in New Jersey, let him live beyond the confines of its walls, perhaps because he was a difficult person but probably also because he was a self-sustainer at a time when religious orders were losing members and trying to adjust to changes in the church.”

Laudable at first, this free-wheeling approach to funding and regulations created a bad precedent. At all events, Ritter established the Franciscan Charitable Trust in 1983, apparently without the knowledge of his Franciscan order or of the full board of directors of Covenant House. The fund was not registered with the state of New York, nor did it file returns with the IRS. The harsh reality was that the trust, ostensibly set up to support the charitable work of Covenant House, served mainly as a conduit to make substantial personal payments to Kite and others.

Curiously, the Covenant House board eventually found no serious financial impropriety, even though they uncovered extensive evidence of sexual misconduct. As a result, no charges were filed by the district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau or state attorney general Robert Abrams. In view of what we later learned from the priestly pedophile scandals, this looks like a cover-up--a partial one, at least--on the part of the overseeing authorities. Fiscally, they failed to do their duty.

Still denying the allegations, Ritter resigned from the charity and the Franciscan order in 1990. Ritter eventually retired to the small town of Decatur in upstate New York, where he died of cancer at the age of 72.

I do not know what has happened to Kevin Lee Kite, the whistle blower. Clearly he was an sleezy individual. Yet sometimes information that is valid derives from unsavory sources, as we have seen in the more recent scandals of James McGreevey, former governor of New Jersey, and John Edwards, former senator and aspirant to higher office. This repellent origin must not serve as a pretext to disregard the allegations. If that were so, all that a person who had been involved in an improper relationship would have to do would make sure that the information was revealed in an unsavory manor. Then the person would be “home free.”

Whatever the source, the information must be fully investigated. In the Ritter instance it looks as if the investigation was incomplete. to say the least. In addition to having sex with minors, Ritter was guilty of embezzlement and abuse of authority.

At all events, Kevin Kite deserves credit for helping to encourage others in the United States to report priests who were involved in inappropriate relations with those in their care. In the sequel the Ritter case proved to be but the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

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13 Comments:

Blogger The Gay Species said...

Technically, any cleric that is located in a bishopric must submit to the bishopric. Occasionally, an apostolic exception, such as a nuncio, prevails over the apostolic authority of the bishopric. But, not only after, but before, JPII reworked Canon Laws, no priest has authority independent of the local jurisdictional authority, almost always the diocesan bishop, unless the Pope boots his ass. (A first under John Paul II, in which three American bishops were not longer "equals," but inferiors.) Oh, well, JPII had his totalitarian upbringing that served Poland better than the Church.

For example, the Dominicans (Order of Preachers) have parishes throughout the world. They also have three provinces in the United States. Most of its religious live within the provinces of their juris, with the blessing of the local bishop. But, in the case of Fr. Matthew Fox, O.P., who was from the Midwest province and relocated to the Pacific province, he obtained dispensations from various bishops on the West Coast to be a wicked priest on the West Coast.

Then, as he became more and more unorthodox (Rave Masses, Witches and Wizards for "assistants," and strange "initiation" rites for his Creation Theology -- not to be confused for Creationists -- in which the Jesuit nuns were having a little too much non-celibate E* fun) the Bishop of the Diocese of Oakland, in which Fr. Fox and his Order's Pacific Province are domiciled, not to mention the Holy Names nuns having Rave Communions with Witches and Wizards Rites of Creation Initiation -- were stopped by the Bishop of Oakland.

And his pastoral authority -- while indulgent -- had limits, and Fox sort of went overboard. When Fr. Fox flipped the bishop off, the bishop excommunicated his ass.

Even the Provincial of the Pacific Province had no authority over Fr. Fox from the Midwest Province -- on leave to the Pacific Province -- which is home to Saint Albert's Baths in Oakland, but even Pacific Dominicans may be openly gay, but no witches, wizards, and E* for Communion are allowed in their Gothic Romance churches.

When Fox would not yield to the diocesan bishop of Oakland, not only he was "excommunicated" by jurisdiction -- which only means he is "anathema," and to be run out of town. but he was pronounced "excommunicate" from Rome. But the Sisters of the Holy Names were having too much fun to let this wicked priest and his Creation Theology leave their college vacant while "on scooping up their girls for the next term," so they harbored Fr. Fox.

Rome stepped in, and with concurrence of the Midwest Provincial, the Oakland Bishop, and the Provincial of the Pacific, along with the SCDF (Ratzinger, at the time) formally excommunicated Fr. Fox from the Roman Catholic Church, stripped him of all pastoral functions, condemned his soul to god's mercy, and on the threat of excommunication by volition, anyone who facilitated Fr. Fox and his witches.

Fr. Fox is pretty wily. He may be ousted from Holy Mother Church of Rome, but the Republican Bishop the Episcopal Diocese of California, Bishop Swig, whose muckety mucks include George Schultz, Casper Weinberger, Charlotte Maillard (and many of Nancy Reagan's closest friends) sniffed money, fortune, and dollars if he'd ordain Fr. Fox, O.P. defrocked and excommunicated from Catholicism, to be the Liaison to Youth, to conduct Rave Masses with the like of the Grateful Dead, Black Sabbath, and Seances with Bishop Pike and the Gay Son he lost on the Palestine Wadi, through the sacrament of E* (sort of blotter bread and wine).

To share the episcopal joy, a queer Episcopal bishop in New York sent his telepathic blessings from Saint John the Divine across the spiritual minefields of latitudinarian Hookers (as in Richard Hooker, not the "other" kind of hookers), and today, no one has since heard or seen of Bishop Pike, Bishop Swig, Matthew Fox, his Witches, or his Wizards -- and access to E* is gone up in price, while meth has come down.

But the Sisters of the Holy Name are enjoying their acid flashbacks, the priests and brothers of Saint Albert's Baths still have their candlelight orgies in the Refectory, and not one of them is a pedophile.

Now, that's progress.

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Bodmin said...

I first stumbled across Ritter while I was working in the inner city in New York, and in that capacity attending a conference on special needs housing. He had been invited to address the conference with regard to housing for teenage throwaways and runaways.
He rather quickly got off topic, with a presentation about how every day there were five-year-olds taking the suburban buses from New Jersey into New York and getting off at the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 8th Avenue and 42nd Street, trailing their little fire-engines on cords behind them, and being swooped down upon by pedophiles who gthered there waiting to see what might turn up, to be carried off for a fate worse than death in white slavery and child pornography. I was absolutely incredulous at what I was hearing; I knew enough of the 40deuce scene to know what was there - and to know that this was sheer, utter bullshit and emotional rabble rousing. But one's options are limited: Ritter was after all the "expert" who had been invited to share his expertise and knowledge, and could not be questioned by someone in the audience unless their credentials were as good as his - and there would have also been the implied question of just why I should have had any knowledge of the situation: you're one of them, aren't you? I suppose I could have privately confronted him afterwards, but decided that wasn't worth the effort. I simply made a mental note that he was undoubtedly a self-hating pedo himself, and that at some point there was sure to be a major crash. I was not at all surprised when it came.
He is reputed to have told the boys that he had sent to his rooms at Covenant House at night, after he performed oral sex on them, that "God will send us both to hell for this." Well, he was wrong about that too - but if there is a just God there should certainly be a place in hell reserved for a creep and shit like Ritter.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Algernon said...

Came across this blog because, for a reason I will explain, I was searching for recent news items on Mr. Kite. You slur him in this post and even mispell "sleazy" while doing it. Ouch.

I met him in the early 1990's, as Mr. Kite was dealing with all of these events and setting his life on a new and healthy course. He was different, in person, than how he was portrayed in news stories. After a lot of unhappy times, he was sincerely and positively making new options for himself.

No one followed up with him or wrote about him over those 20 years he spent healing, reconciling with his family, finding good work and doing wonderful things with his life. These things weren't newsworthy.

I have been informed by a source very close to Mr. Kite that he passed away just last week. I was looking to see if anyone had written about him yet, but no. To write about him now would be to revise, in some way, his role in this sad story from 20 years ago.

6:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stumbled across this article while researching homeless issues. While Bruce Ritter's sexual missconduct is inexcusable, he did found Covenant House, which today serves 70,000 youth domestically and internationally per year, and many lives have been reclaimed because of their work. If I was a newly homeless youth in Oakland, which is near where I live, I would be deeply grateful for Covenant House and the Nineline. My own aunts were reclaimed by a similar organization for Chinese girls in the 1940s. Without that organization, they would have suffered far more than they did and might never have made it.

Only in movies is someone 100% evil or 100% good. Bruce Ritter did terrible things, but he did create one bright and lasting piece of goodness, which is Covenant House.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Sappho said...

Matthew Fox is my favorite Christian theologian. He is a force for good in the world. I am so glad he is away from that wicked pedophile-ridden Catholic Church! He is too good for them.

1:12 AM  
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8:42 AM  
Blogger Razer said...

I know this comes years after posting but a recent mention of Covenant House and a google search led me here

I was working for Jewish Family Services "Project YES" @ the time as a "legal runaway" outreach worker and later ran a safe house for them near 4th & Ave B. I knew Ritter too well He had a rep... He came onto me at one point when I was visiting my girlfriend who stayed there for a week or so, and when I didn't respond I found myself persona non gratis at his overcrowded slum apartment.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin Kite
(Died June 4, 2009)
Memorial services for Kevin Kite will be held on Tuesday June 9th at 2:00 at the First United Methodist Church. A family reception will immediately follow in the fellowship hall.
He is survived by his parents Alton and Wanda Kite of Gainesville.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fr. Bruce Ritter is probably innocent of the charges of abuse. The accuser's own father, Kevin Kite, stated in an interview that his son had a history of lying about people who were trying to help him. Kevin Kite died in 2009 and Fr. Bruce Ritter has died. My guess is that Fr. Bruce Ritter was innocent and it was Kevin Kite committing the awful sin by bearing false witness. Of course I don't know though so I can just pray for both. My great-grandmother knew Fr. Bruce Ritter which is how I know the story.

We can't judge and maybe Kevin Kite was too confused by the personality disorder his father said he had to understand what he was doing. Of course there is always the chance that Kevin Kite was telling the truth. But, my position was Fr. Bruce Ritter was innocent.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fr. Bruce Ritter is probably innocent of the charges of abuse. The accuser's (Kevin Kite) own father, Alton Kite, stated in an interview that his son had a history of lying about people who were trying to help him. Kevin Kite died in 2009 and Fr. Bruce Ritter has died. My guess is that Fr. Bruce Ritter was innocent and it was Kevin Kite committing the awful sin by bearing false witness. Of course I don't know though so I can just pray for both. My great-grandmother knew Fr. Bruce Ritter which is how I know the story.

We can't judge and maybe Kevin Kite was too confused by the personality disorder his father said he had to understand what he was doing. Of course there is always the chance that Kevin Kite was telling the truth. But, my position was Fr. Bruce Ritter was innocent.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked for Covenant House. Trust me, he was guilty. There were multiple accusers (Kevin Kite was just the first) and an independent review by a private investigation firm and auditors hired BY Covenant House concluded he was most likely guilty of inappropriate sexual behavior and definitely guilty of violating basic ethical standards of child care. His human weakness (sin) almost brought down the Agency. We are all sinners and I would certainly advocate forgiving Bruce Ritter but we need to remember what he did and prevent it from happening in child care agencies ever again. God Bless.

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The abuse at Covenant House continues. One of Ritter's 'golden boys' Jim Kelly is once again in charge in New Orleans and vulnerable kids are still being treated badly there.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Ric efil said...

To all: I am one of the seven boys that Father Bruce Ritter helped that became known as Covenant house. The address of the first Covenant house was 274 East 7th street, on the fourth floor in the lower East side near Avenue "D". Father Bruce apartment was next door at 276 East 7th Street on the fourth floor. Despite what is said about cop (police) a New York City police gave me $2 for a meal and gave me the address for Father Bruce in 1969.

Nevertheless, I was hungry, thirsty, cold and needed a place to sleep. Pat, one of the many volunteers that worked for Father Bruce accepted me by providing me a place to stay after explaining the rules. Without a doubt, I would have died that cold October 1969 night if it wasn't for Father Bruce Ritter. My biggest problem was time and I needed time for people to get to know me. My problem started when I was seven (7) months old. My birth mother placed me in a trash can on Nov3mber 15, 1953 and somehow, I was placed in an Orphanage called the New York Foundling Hospital. I stayed in the Orphanage until I was 5 1/2 years old where I went to a foster home. Hence, the reasons I had no knowledge my relatives and had no friends when my foster mother kicked me out of her house when I was 15 years old.

Because of Father Bruce, I was able to make friends and I was able to establish the direction to be a productive citizen/person. In addition, Father Bruce enrolled me and I attended La Salle Academy on 2nd street and 2 Avenue in Manhattan.

I am 64 years old and happily retired. I have 3 college degrees, I retired from the USAF after 22 2/3 years. I retired from the State as a Peace Officer after 20 years, and I formerly worked as a United States Custom Agent in Air and Drug interdiction all because of Father Bruce help. In addition, I have visited approximately 38 states and traveled to approximately 10 different countries all because Father Bruce. More importantly, there were seven of us boys that started Covenant House and at no time did I ever heard any of us (boys) hinted about Father Bruce sexually abusing us (boys). Despite his busy schedule, Father Bruce took us to his home in NJ and we went to retreat in Up State New York and again there were no hints or mentioned about Father Bruce sexually abusing any boys.

In closing, I would like to thank Father Bruce and his volunteers staff for the unselfish support they provided to us in our time of need. May God bless Father Bruce and the 7th Street Covenant House boys.

Signed E. L

1:45 PM  

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