Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich quietly decided months ago to suspend a vocational program recruiting men from Latin America to Chicago to become priests, but that decision was never made public – until now.
In an NBC 5 exclusive, the Chicago Archdiocese released information surrounding the suspension of Casa Jesus, a program aimed at preventing a shortage in priests by invited young men to Chicago and teaching them English.
There’s a similar program in place for men from Poland.
Back in April, officials confirmed Cupich “decided to suspend operations of Casa Jesus pending further review. Those decisions were communicated to the board of both programs in April of this year,” according to Archdiocese spokesperson Susan Burritt.
Controversy first began brewing at the seminary just steps from Holy Name Cathedral last November.
“When I was at Casa Jesus, I used to go to gay bars, bring my friends,” said Luis Stalin, a former Casa Jesus seminarian. “They didn’t say anything.”
Stalin, who ultimately left the program, said while the men were considering priesthood, celibacy was often ignored. Then, last year, multiple sources told NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago that three seminarians were removed after visiting a gay bar. The director of the program, Father Octavio Munoz, was also removed.
Over the years, Munoz traveled to Latin America at the Archdiocese’s expense to invite young men to apply to Casa Jesus. But in 2015, he was transferred and sent to rehab, according to multiple sources, after pornography was allegedly discovered on his computer.
Later, two other priests who started at Casa Jesus were also removed from the Archdiocese after questions over sexual misconduct.
In the nearly 30 years Casa Jesus has been in operation, 260 men attended the program, but only 53 have been ordained as priests. The Archdiocese was spending roughly $30,000 a year for each seminarian who came to Chicago on a special religious visa.
For a year, those seminarians would attend classes at University of Illinois Chicago, adapting to English while considering life as a priest.
“If you say you were going to have a house, you are going to have a car, a salary, of course, who doesn’t want that life?” Stalin said.
Suspending the Casa Jesus program wasn’t known to even many Chicago priests. As it reviews the program, the Archdiocese told NBC 5, four men from Casa Jesus and two from Bishop Abramowicz’s seminary are now living at the Mundelein seminary.
Cupich was not immediately available for comment and Munoz could not immediately be reached. It was not clear what would happen to the building, which was partially renovated for the late Cardinal Francis George before he became too ill to move in.