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Alabama priest who fled to Italy with recent high school graduate to be laicized, Bishop Rodi says

(OSV News) — A priest who fled the country with a recent Catholic high school graduate will be laicized, Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi, Archbishop of Mobile, Alabama, announced on the archdiocese’s website, as concerns over the family grow as to the impossibility of reaching the priest. apparent romantic companion.

Father Alex Crow, who was ordained in June 2021 and had served as parochial vicar at Corpus Christi Parish in Mobile, abruptly left his post on July 24.

The 30-year-old priest flew to Italy with an unnamed 18-year-old woman who recently graduated from McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile, which Father Crow also attended. Although he ministered to students, school officials denied that Father Crow was formally employed there.

In a July letter to the Archdiocese of Mobile, Father Crow said he had no plans to return to the United States. He and the young woman were located in Italy by a member of the woman’s family, and are believed to still be in that country.

However, Christine Hernandez, a Mobile-based attorney for the young woman’s family, told OSV News that “it’s been…maybe two weeks or more” since the family had contact with her.

“Conveniently her phone is no longer with her or him,” Hernandez said. “At some point his mobile phone was lost or left (behind). … The only way to contact her is through Alex’s phone, so he controls whether he answers or not.

OSV News confirmed with two Airbnb hosts that Father Crow and the young woman were staying at their properties, located an hour from Florence. The comments from the hosts indicated that the Crow father and the young woman presented themselves as a couple.

The archdiocese said that “due to the circumstances of (Father Crow’s) departure” it reported the matter to the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office, which has opened an investigation.

The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office is also conducting a separate investigation, while the young woman’s family has retained attorney Hernandez to file a civil suit.

Archbishop Rodi, who had withdrawn the priestly faculties of Father Crow at the end of July, intends to begin the canonical procedure for the removal of Father Crow from the clerical state.

A panel of three priests “impartial and objective experts in canon law” will be assembled to consider the case, the archdiocese said.

The lengthy process “ensures that the rights of all parties are respected…allows time for all the facts to be established…(and) gives all those who need to speak up a chance to be heard”, said the archdiocese.

Father Crow has already revealed some of his motives in two letters published as part of the investigation, stressing that the priest would have had a romantic relationship with the young woman when she was still a minor.

In a handwritten letter to the young woman for Valentine’s Day – the year of which has not been determined but which predates her 18th birthday, according to Hernandez – Father Crow said the couple were “married”.

“I love you and thank Jesus for you every day. You have made my life both astronomically more complicated and incredibly better. You are his gift to me,” Father Crow wrote in the letter. “Now we are in love and we are married! »

Father Crow wrote that he envisioned the couple being in Italy together “with our family” and having “many normal wonderful Valentines’ Days”.

The sheriff’s office also released a separate letter from Father Crow to his brother Joshua, in which Father Crow said he was following “Jesus’ will” by permanently leaving the United States with the young woman, who “is said to come with me”. He said he would not leave the priesthood.

“We know what it’s like, but we do what we’re told,” Father Crow wrote to his brother. “Don’t worry about defending us. It’s hard for her too, but she knows she’ll always be safe if she does Jesus’ will.

Early speculation about Father Crow’s actions centered on his long-standing interest in demonology and his intention to exorcise the young woman.

However, the Valentine’s letter, along with the two Airbnb hosts’ comments to OSV News, indicate that the couple’s relationship is romantic rather than religious in nature.

The hosts, who each offer properties for rent in the medieval town of San Gimignano, have described Father Crow and the young woman as a couple in online reviews and in direct messages to OSV News.

In response to OSV News’ query, Massimo, one of the hosts, said via the Airbnb platform that “the guys are fine, they’re in love.”

He named the young woman and said she “is ready, that is to say, she agrees with Alex to stay in Italy”.

In an email to OSV News, another host named Carla said the couple were “both perfectly healthy when they left.” However, Carla replied “I don’t know” when asked if she could confirm if the two men were still on her property.

Hernandez and the young woman’s family claim that sexual desire, not romance, is the basis of Crow’s interest and actions. (Because of these allegations, OSV News is not naming the woman, per Associated Press standards.)

Any inappropriate contact Father Crow may have had with the young woman before she turned 18 would have violated the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth. If undertaken after the age of 18, such contact would fall within the scope of “Vos estis lux mundi,” Pope Francis’ motu proprio – binding on the universal Church – which specifically defines abuse. crimes committed by clerics and the term “vulnerable person”, while strengthening reporting requirements and processes.

Referring to the Valentine’s letter, Hernandez told OSV News “we know from his own handwriting…what he says, while she was still a student. He also acknowledges that he is a priest and cannot have the relationship he has with her.

“He admitted to violating his own priestly requirements,” Hernandez said. “His letter is clear: he disregarded the teaching of the Church and its position.”

Plus, “he’s significantly older than her,” Hernandez said. “And he is in a position of power.”

Regarding Father Crow’s marriage allegations, Hernandez said she had “nothing concrete” to prove the couple actually got married, although she did note “some angles” that investigators are looking into.

Stephen de Weger, a researcher on cleric sexual misconduct, told OSV News he was “pretty certain” that Father Crow – whom he did not directly assess – “would simply believe that God married” the couple.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he believed he said to (the young woman) as far as he was concerned, ‘God married us’ or ‘Mary married us,'” said de Weger, who is on the professor at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

The age of consent in Alabama is 16, but Hernandez noted that the state has improved its laws in recent years to “effectively prohibit any inappropriate relationship with students by employees, volunteers, or anyone working or teacher in schools.

Father Crow’s OSV News request for comment, sent via a messaging platform to a phone number provided by Hernandez, had not received a response as of September 1.

Anyone with information regarding Father Alex Crow and the young woman is asked to contact the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office at 251-574-8633, the Mobile County District Attorney at 251-574-8400 or Attorney Christine Hernandez at 251-479-1477.

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