A friend of mine sent me a newspaper clip from 1981 with a story about Kevin Wallin, the notorious “Monsignor Meth,” as a young man about to enter the priesthood. The headline said, “Life’s a well-planned journey for future ‘new breed’ priest.”
The tragic irony is that the new breed of priest in the photo, smiling and mustachioed, wearing a Lacoste golf shirt and khakis, and standing on the steps of Sacred Heart Church in Byram, would 32 years later be at the center of a scandal for allegedly having sex in the rectory dressed as a woman and facing a life in prison for allegedly selling $300,000 of crystal meth and laundering the profits through a porn store. The diocese relieved him of his public ministry as pastor of St. Augustine Cathedral last May.
Is that the life of a well-planned journey for the future new breed of priest? Are there any old breed priests left?
After reading the news article, I realized I taught at Greenwich Catholic Middle School the same years he was there, but as hard as I wracked my brain I couldn’t remember him, although I remembered his mentor, Fr. Robert McDermott, an old breed priest who was pastor of Sacred Heart, which was my parish back then.
The reporter, Nancy Baran, whom I knew, wrote: “A familiar pop art poster says, ‘Life is a journey, not a destination,’ and Kevin Wallin, former Byram resident and future seminarian, quotes those words often with apparent approval — and faith.
“It’s obvious that he has pretty much lived by them, too, as the major part of his 29 years on earth have been spent in forward motion, taking deliberate steps onward in prepartion for a life which he confidently feels was ‘planned out by a higher source.’”
That life included a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in college student personnel, several administrative positions at SUNY Purchase, and a teaching job at the school where I taught. They were considerable achievements for a young man turning 30.
But somewhere along the way he got off the path that the higher source had planned and started following his own path, somewhere along the way he forgot what it meant to be a priest.
And it makes you wonder how does a life — how does a vocation — go so drastically wrong? How does a man who was presumably committed to the vows he made as a priest, like poverty, chastity and obedience, turn his back on those vows and do everything to violate them? In the end, did they have any meaning for a man who was blessed with so many talents? It’s a cautionary tale for us all, particularly the proud and arrogant.
Sad to say, some of the most charismatic religious leaders who inspire us with their sermons and testimonies of faith, commit the most egregious sins and harm the most innocent and unsuspecting victims because they aren’t really men and women of God. From corrupt televangelists to pedophiles and crooks, many exploit God for their own insidious purposes. Often it’s the most charismatic who are also narcissistic and predatory.
It’s time to bring back the old breed.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.