IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

A 'good' priest's lurid fall — to suspected meth dealer

Msgr. Kevin Wallin, formerly pastor of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s mother church in Connecticut, is charged with dealing crystal methamphetamine.
The Cathedral of St. Augustine, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where Monsignor Kevin Wallin was removed as pastor.
The Cathedral of St. Augustine, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where Monsignor Kevin Wallin was removed as pastor. Suzanne DeChillo / The New York Times
/ Source: The New York Times

From the time he joined the priesthood three decades ago, he seemed destined to become a star. As a confidant to two bishops and then as the erudite and clubbable pastor of two churches, Msgr. Kevin Wallin was a towering figure in the Roman Catholic Church in southwestern Connecticut.

Parishioners felt buoyed by his homilies. They hungrily signed up for his far-flung spiritual pilgrimages, flocked to church fund-raisers to catch his melodious voice interpreting show tunes. He attended opera with a man who would become a cardinal and he himself appeared bound for a bishop’s miter.

Monsignor Kevin Wallin of the Diocese of Bridgeport, 2010.
Monsignor Kevin Wallin of the Diocese of Bridgeport, 2010.File Photo

But then about two years ago troubling questions began to be whispered. He acted odd. He was thinner. He walked stooped over. He was absent. Was he sick? Or dying? And then the spicy talk about suspicious men trooping in and out of the rectory.

Finally, last month’s revelation. The priest was locked up, charged with dealing crystal methamphetamine.

At a time when priests from California to Delaware have been accused of loathsome deeds, the allegations against Monsignor Wallin, the former pastor of the Cathedral of St. Augustine in Bridgeport, are of a notably different dimension: that he was a drug dealer and addict who was buying an adult novelty shop to launder ill-gotten proceeds, a priest who was cross-dressing and having sex with men.

The enigmatic double lives of Monsignor Wallin burst into public view last month after federal prosecutors announced they had arrested him on charges of possessing and conspiring to sell drugs that could send him to prison for life. Now 61, he languishes in jail, having pleaded not guilty to behavior that many who know him find both twisted and ungraspable.

The Diocese of Bridgeport had forced Monsignor Wallin from his position at St. Augustine in June 2011, after it was alerted to his dissonant behavior. His parishioners were told only of ambiguous personal and health issues. When he balked at accepting help, the diocese quietly stripped him of his priestly functions, but it said it was unaware of any drug dealing.

“What he did in the end was shocking and spiraled out of our control,” said Brian Wallace, a spokesman for the diocese. “When we learned about it we took action immediately and forcefully, and regrettably, given how good a priest he was.”

The lurid case is only the latest scandal for the Bridgeport Diocese, already tainted by a string of clerical sexual abuse cases. Last year, the Rev. Michael R. Moynihan, the former pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Greenwich, was sent to prison for obstructing justice after being accused of spending church money on himself. In 2007, the Rev. Michael Jude Fay, from St. John Roman Catholic Church in Darien, was convicted of stealing $1.3 million; he died in prison.

Many particulars remain unclear about Monsignor Wallin’s tangled life, and his lawyer did not return calls. This depiction is constructed from interviews with members of the clergy and laity who knew him, as well as from court documents.

Monsignor Wallin’s fall seems precipitous. But colleagues said that his faith had been weakening for years under the imperatives of running a financially crippled church, and that he had long been sexually active with men. His drug use, they suspect, may have been more recent, and the final tinder that exploded his life.

A dazzling start
The priesthood was his second choice. He began in education.

He was born in Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., and when his parents divorced, he, his mother and two sisters lived with his grandparents on Long Island. He graduated from the State University of New York at Potsdam, then earned a master’s from Bowling Green.

For seven years, starting in 1974, he held administrative jobs at SUNY College at Purchase, overseeing student activities and school facilities.

Deciding to become a priest, he enrolled in 1981 in a seminary associated with the Catholic University of America and was ordained in 1984. He told friends: “Being a priest is not what I do. It’s who I am.”

Starting as a parochial vicar, he presented dazzling oratorical gifts, charisma and indefatigable drive. In 1987, Bishop Walter Curtis, who led the Diocese of Bridgeport, appointed him as his secretary, a prestigious position akin to a combined presidential chief of staff and press secretary.

A year later, the Rev. Edward M. Egan became bishop of Bridgeport and Father Wallin stayed on as his secretary. The Rev. Leo McIlrath, the ecumenical chaplain at the Lutheran Home of Southbury, and others said the two were close and went to Broadway shows, opera and dinners together.

Monsignor Wallin framed the playbills from the many shows he saw. His parish e-mail address became broadwayguy73.

He remained secretary to Bishop Egan until becoming pastor of the Church of St. Peter in Danbury in 1996. Bishop Egan, who went on to become the archbishop of New York and a cardinal, declined to speak about Monsignor Wallin.

In April 2002, Bishop William E. Lori, who had succeeded Bishop Egan as bishop of Bridgeport, appointed Monsignor Wallin to his final post as pastor of St. Augustine, the diocese’s mother church. Such was his allure, Mr. McIlrath said, that some Danbury parishioners began attending Mass at St. Augustine. Many imagined him becoming a bishop.

“He was an encyclopedia of church history,” said Peter George, 79, a parishioner in Bridgeport. “He was a talented speaker, good in his homilies.”

He was involved with many local charities and on the board of Sacred Heart University. He was an important pipeline to wealthy parishioners whose donations were crucial, especially as chaplain to the Order of Malta, an international Roman Catholic charity.

“His lifestyle was go-go-go-go, doing 50 things at once,” said a businessman who knew him. “He loved to mix with the big shots.”

But there was evidence he was wrestling with his faith. A church worker who has known him for decades described a session with other priests years ago during which they spoke of things like the mercy of God, and Monsignor Wallin said, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“He had become disillusioned with the bureaucracy of the church,” this worker said. “You’re always doing the ceremony. You’re always dealing with the paperwork. You’re not shepherding souls.”

This worker and others said the priest had long had sex with men.

‘Kevin wouldn’t do that’
It began with worries about his mind.

The Rev. Gregg Mecca, 53, a close friend and the pastor at St. Peter, accompanied Monsignor Wallin and some friends to a Broadway musical in early 2011 and found him “very off-kilter.” He had shed weight and was fidgety. “I said, ‘Kevin, have you seen a doctor? You need to see a doctor,’ ” Father Mecca recalled.

Several people later asked Father Mecca if he thought Monsignor Wallin was using drugs, “Nah, no way,” he replied. “Kevin wouldn’t do that.”

One close friend mentioned that he sometimes spoke incessantly, and she would have to tune him out. During one round of chattiness, she fell asleep. Monsignor Wallin had lamented to friends the stress of managing his parish. From the time he arrived, the diocese said, St. Augustine, like many inner-city churches, was losing money, and the losses were deepening. The diocese was pumping tens of thousands of dollars a year into it.

A good friend of the priest said he looked like “a refugee from a concentration camp.” One day she came to the church to help with paperwork and found that the electricity was shut off for nonpayment.

By April 2011, the diocese began hearing from church workers about his degeneration. “He seemed distracted, more ready to take offense,” Mr. Wallace said. “He had nervous facial twitches. His posture wasn’t right.”

Several people thought he might have Parkinson’s disease, or was on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

He would miss appointments. He was three hours late to preside at a wedding.

About the same time, one church worker told diocesan officials that parades of men were visiting Monsignor Wallin at the rectory at all hours. The diocese looked into it, and, as Mr. Wallace said, “We heard enough to believe that he was engaged in sexual activity in the rectory.”

Other church workers said he was also involved in cross-dressing, as were some of his visitors.

That June 3, Bishop Lori confronted Monsignor Wallin, who did not entirely refute the revelations. Bishop Lori told him he had to resign. On June 12, the parish was advised he was leaving for health and personal reasons.

After his departure, church officials found a bag stowed in the rectory containing adult pornographic videos, sexual toys and leather masks, according to church workers.

Alarmed at the possibility of child pornography or child abuse, the diocese hired an outside lawyer. The diocese said Monsignor Wallin was questioned and denied interest in children. An expert searched his computer, but found nothing related to children.

The diocese decided it had a priest who had committed a sin but not a crime. Bishop Lori granted him a sabbatical. The diocese hoped that with help, he could fix himself and resume at a new parish. It continued paying him a monthly stipend of about $1,400.

The diocese told him to get a medical evaluation. Months passed. “He was dragging his feet,” Mr. Wallace said. “We were, ‘Father, when are you going to go?’ ”

Finally, Bishop Lori ordered him to go. The diocese would not specify where he went, but someone familiar with the case said that he underwent an extensive examination at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

It found that he needed residential treatment to deal with psychological and emotional issues, including excessive narcissism and a penchant for sex. He was also suspected of using drugs.

But he resisted seeking care. On Oct. 7, Bishop Lori suspended his faculties, meaning he was not allowed to act publicly as a priest, a decision the diocese kept private.

On Oct. 31, 2011, Monsignor Wallin agreed to check into St. Luke Institute, a psychiatric hospital in Silver Spring, Md., that treats Catholic clergymen and others. While there, according to some who know him, it was determined that he had been using amphetamines. He left the hospital against staff wishes on Nov. 4.

The next month, Bishop Lori told him that if he did not accept further treatment he could be defrocked.

Again he dithered. A new year arrived. By now, according to authorities, he had changed professions. He had become a drug dealer.

Phones are tapped
He was living in a snug apartment in a matter-of-fact two-story building in Waterbury, in a humble neighborhood of shoebox-shaped apartments. He was also renting the unit across the hall from him, where authorities said a confederate lived.

This was his new demarcated principality, where law enforcement officials said he sold crystal meth. At least once, they said, he hid drugs in a magazine and made the exchange in a parking lot. An informant told agents that the priest was also an addict.

New York drug enforcement agents got on to him from a New York drug distributor who said he met the priest at a party in early 2012 and began buying from him. The man became an informer.

New York agents tipped off Connecticut agents, who enlisted help from the State Police. An undercover officer, according to authorities, made six drug purchases from Monsignor Wallin. Eventually, his phones were tapped.

Authorities said he received his supply from a California couple, Chad McCluskey, 43, who was in the electronics business, and Kristen Laschober, 47, a wardrobe stylist. Both of them filed for bankruptcy last year. They have also been charged in the case and are to be arraigned in Federal District Court in Hartford on Thursday.

Neighbors said men streamed into Monsignor Wallin’s apartment, many of them arriving in cars like BMWs and Corvettes. Sounds of sex could be heard.

He stored cases of good wine in the basement, as well as glass pipes and bottles of butane. He was seen doing his laundry, which included lace panties and other articles of women’s clothing.

Father Mecca visited him a few times. “Sometimes he was fine and others he was a wreck,” he said. “His phone rang a lot, and he texted a lot, but I didn’t know what was going on.”

One aggrieved neighbor kept a prayer box. Each night, this person dropped a prayer in it that said, “Please God, take the devil out of this house.”

Pressured by the diocese, Monsignor Wallin on March 24 entered St. John Vianney Center, a behavioral health treatment center for the clergy and religious in Downingtown, Pa., for a three-month program. He left the hospital after 28 days. The diocese concluded he was delusional about the scale of his issues.

“When he bolted the second time, we knew we had big problems,” Mr. Wallace said.

In early May 2012, Bishop Lori issued a decree that suspended Monsignor Wallin from priestly duties, which was circulated among dioceses but not made public.

That month Bishop Lori was installed as archbishop of Baltimore. He declined to be interviewed beyond a statement saying he was praying for Monsignor Wallin. After May, the Bridgeport Diocese said that Monsignor Wallin no longer took its calls. He continued to receive his stipend. But he now fully embraced a darker world.

‘I’m whole again’
He was smugly confident about this reconfigured life. When Father Mecca saw Monsignor Wallin soon after he left St. John Vianney, his friend told him that he did not need medical help. “He looked great,” Father Mecca said. “I remember him saying, ‘You know what, I’m whole again.’ ”

He decided to give a party on May 16. A tent was put up in the backyard. Scores of people were invited, including prominent public officials and businessmen.

In an e-mailed invitation to what he called his “fandango,” he spoke of how “these last 11 months have been perhaps the most unique of my life.”

“Despite the challenges and stresses, they have been extremely productive and allowed me to regain my positive perspective and joy in life,” the invitation read.

Jim and Barbara Lynch, two admiring parishioners from Danbury, winced when they arrived at his tiny apartment. “I was taken aback,” Mr. Lynch said. “He was very thin and looked exhausted.”

People trickled in, maybe two or three dozen in all. No luminaries. “It was mostly people we didn’t know, guys he’d met along the way,” Mrs. Lynch said.

Two months later, Father Mecca accompanied Monsignor Wallin to Cape Cod for four days to, as he put it, “celebrate his recovery.” A friend lent them his house.

“We just sat on the deck by the ocean and read and relaxed,” Father Mecca said. “It seemed the demons were behind him.”

But other things were percolating. Officials said Mr. Wallin was buying an adult toy store in North Haven called Land of Oz and Dorothy’s Place. Authorities suspect that he wanted to use it to launder drug money.

Presumably to make the purchase, he incorporated a business called Rahab and Endor. Rahab was a woman mentioned in the Book of Joshua usually described as a prostitute. Endor may refer to the Witch of Endor, a sorceress identified in the Bible.

Monsignor Wallin planned to leave for London on Jan. 3 for 12 days. A longtime friend, who said she knew nothing of his drug life, asked him to go with her and another woman on an educational tour about espionage. She invited him to a dinner party in late December. He seemed vibrant. She asked him if he wanted to resume being a working priest. He told her yes.

On the day his plane left, the law was at his door. His traveling companions arrived in London and for several days tried to discover what had happened to him. His close friend got a call with the answer. She was numb.

Diocese officials said they were unaware of the investigation and did not realize he was in jail for several days, until a deacon who is a police officer heard from another officer.

Soon the word was out.

“You looked at him like he was God, practically,” said Charlie Hall, a Danbury parishioner who lives in a shelter. “But now you realize, he’s just human, like all the rest of us.”

“It’s very hard to accept because he was my personal confessor, too,” Mr. Lynch said. “We pray for him every day.”

On Jan. 22, dressed in a baggy orange jumpsuit, a subdued Monsignor Wallin pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in a Hartford federal court. Prosecutors tabulated that he had grossed more than $300,000 from drug sales.

His Waterbury apartment stands vacant. A picture of Jesus beckons in the window.

Elizabeth Maker and Vivian Yee contributed reporting. Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

This article, "A Dazzling Priest’s Lurid Fall, to Drug Case Suspect," first appeared in The New York Times.