The Priest Who Resisted Homosexuality in the Priesthood and Died for It

Msgr. Thomas Wells was killed 22 years ago today, the result of his efforts to root out active homosexuality in the clergy.

I imagine I’ve pulled a hundred or so fives, tens, and twenties from my pocket over the years to hand to ice cream scoopers at Kilwins, Storm Brothers, or Annapolis Ice Cream Factory. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place for a summer cone than on the docks of historic downtown Annapolis. The Wells family routine is unchanging: search out a bench on Dock Street to watch boats (many large, streamlined, and dazzling) parade up and down “Ego Alley,” the narrow waterway that spills into Spa Creek and out into the Chesapeake Bay. 

This past Saturday night, my wife and I walked past Ego Alley as a parade of Pride Month-regaled ships split the waters. Abba’s “Dancing Queen” thundered from one of the larger boats as shirtless men in tight-fitting rainbow shorts swayed, danced, and waved at tourists and young families below. Large rainbow flags flapped, sudden peals of explosive laughter came and went, and a man in a gown danced provocatively. 

I looked to the benches where Wells kids once sat, and I saw small children tentatively returning waves to the mostly-naked men. From one bench, a small girl smiled, not unlike a nervous kindergartner at her first picture-taking. Seemingly hypnotized by the loud spectacle, children craned their necks to get a better look at the splashy gay pageantry. All around was whirling movement and crackling activity, like the summertime sparklers kids twirl in night skies. 

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

The sadness I haven’t been able to shake is of the many families who remained on the benches, who sat still, absorbing it all. They sat beside the new American child, the child offered a front-row seat by mom and dad to a reengineered America that easily joins with celebrations commemorating grave sin. 

This piece is not meant to bore you. It is here; yadda yadda. The LGBTQ movement is now as American as baseball (Pride Nights at ballparks, emblems on uniform sleeves), hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet (the Volt has “come out” as an electric car). 

We no longer blink at marine recruitment ads carrying multi-colored bullets and drag queens reading to four-year-olds at the library down the street. Transgender athletes play varsity sports games against our daughters. It is here, and outside the finger of God, it is not leaving.

There is a single place that remains though—the Roman Catholic Church—where active homosexuality has never played well. It’s caused millions of Catholics to quit the Church. It’s seared consciences and placed hundreds of millions of dollars—that could have gone to the poor—into the hands of attorneys and the sexually scarred. Banner headlines from 1A major daily stories include words like “Grinder App,” “Rapist Cardinal,” “Child Porn,” and even “Murder.”

Yes, homosexually-active priests can even bring about murder. No, homosexuality and Catholicism have never meshed. 

So, for Pride Month, 2022! I’d like to shovel up the memory of my uncle, Msgr. Thomas Wells, who, 22 years ago today—June 8, 2000—was murdered in his Maryland rectory, collateral damage of a culture of active priestly homosexuality. If we are to truly celebrate diversity this month, let’s lift the lid of Msgr. Wells’ tomb and come fully out of the closet. Let’s scrape away the gay thin layer of multicolor to get to some smoldering shades of black. 

Deputy state attorney Kay Winfree called my uncle’s murder as gruesome a crime scene as she’d ever seen. The body of one of the most beloved and devoted priests in the history of the Archdiocese of Washington was marked by deep stab wounds around his head and neck, accompanied by many dozens of slashes to various other parts of his body, like stigmata from Hell. 

The blood-stained boots of Robert Paul Lucas, an alcohol- and cocaine-fueled homeless tree trimmer, led to the capture of my uncle’s murderer. But Lucas’ imprisonment is only part of the story. Though the killing was of Satan, the circumstances surrounding it hold as much demonic weight. Homosexually active, credibly-accused priests resided in the rectory for many years prior to my uncle’s arrival at Mother Seton parish in Germantown, Maryland. 

Now-deceased James Cardinal Hickey transferred my uncle in the late ’90s to build a new Seton church and terminate the gay priest mafia. My uncle helped to accomplish the former but had the tables turned on him as a consequence of attempting the latter. An unshakable conviction, shared by dozens of priests and numberless lay faithful in the Maryland/D.C. corridor, is that Msgr. Wells’ life ended as a direct result of the active homosexuality practiced by priests who once lived in that rectory.    

In the aftermath of Uncle Tommy’s murder (from here on out I’ll refer to my uncle as “Tommy,” as our family called him with affection) we learned that the now-bulldozed Seton rectory had been the site of years of appalling sacrilege and sin. It emerged that two priests, Rev. Paul E. Lavin and Rev. Aaron J. Cote, who had served at Mother Seton, had been credibly accused as sexual predators of teenage boys. 

Lavin has been stripped of his clerical faculties and Cote, accused of sexual molestation in at least four states and Peru, died in 2012. A third Mother Seton priest, who seems to have vanished from the world, is widely known to have been sexually active with other men prior to my uncle’s arrival. 

My uncle’s first official act as pastor at Seton was to rip out the rectory hot tub. A close friend and confidant of Tommy’s, a secret service agent and police officer involved with the investigatory work of the murder, shared with me what many around these parts already knew: priests living in the rectory there were widely known to have thrown “hot tub parties” for other priests. 

There are two prevailing theories as to why Tommy is no longer with us.

Theory One: “Msgr. Wells was the hand-picked priest to get rid of the rot. He was to report to the Cardinal on what he’d discovered,” the secret service agent told me. “I have no doubt about it—that night, his murderer was looking for a ‘trick.’ Msgr. Wells was murdered because of the homosexual activity that had taken place in that rectory.”

Theory Two: “Lucas was a weak man—but I always thought there was something in Lucas’s past that led him to act with that magnitude of violence,” Winfree said. “I don’t know—maybe he was once abused by a member of the clergy.”

Was his death a hit for the homosexual sins he’d uncovered, or was it a revenge killing and case of mistaken identity? Really, does it matter? My uncle, a pastor of souls to countless thousands of his parishioners for 29 years, is dead. I can’t tell you how many folks have approached members of our large extended family requesting that we start the canonization process. But each of us, knowing Tommy, know he would say to each of us: Don’t you dare.

Why summon such a grim memory on the anniversary of his death? For starters, whenever the calendar flips to June, thousands in the D.C. area are pulled to warm memories of him. But with our Catholic Church buried in its long wintertime, I’ve often thought of what he would say to me today to help our travailed Church. It is unfair to fabricate thoughts from the mind of the dead, but I knew Tommy well. I traveled the world with him and lived in his shadow for three decades. 

For starters, I’ve thought, he might say something like this: “Protect your family now Keggy—there is an ongoing, worldwide, systematic attack on truth and God’s natural laws that surges more powerfully each day. It is of Satan. A single wall splits the entire world. On one side are those who genuflect to God; on the other are those who genuflect to the world. On one side, willing saints rise; on the other, demons roam. One side worships an eternal God; the other a god who’s greenlighted and blessed mortal sin. On one side are those devoted to prayer, on the other are those who do not pray. One side fights one’s nature to achieve virtue; the other obliges his body to attain comfort. One side dies to self and lives. The other lives for self and dies.”

Impatiently, I might have responded: I know this.

And he might have said, “Our Church, too, is under collapse. Many bishops are in undeclared apostasy. A Pride flag ripples at the U.S. embassy in the Vatican, and no Catholic there has the courage to tear it down. Many millions of Catholics who left the Mass at Covid will never come back. The distinguishing mark of the 1st-century Christian was his willingness to suffer, die, and be buried with Christ. The distinguishing mark of the modern Catholic is one who wants to fit in with the world.”

I know, Tommy—What of it all?

And he might have said, “Die now, Keggy. I told you this before. Nothing’s changed. Die.”

Two nights before my uncle’s murder, Tommy sat across from me and my wife Krista on the back deck of that sin-haunted Maryland rectory. It was there that he changed the course of our lives. Soon after he witnessed our marriage, Krista and I had discovered that we couldn’t have children. We’d wake each morning to the wretchedness of infertility and the suffocating sadness it brought, given our desire to raise a large family.

Krista wanted to pursue having children through the tempting science of in-vitro fertilization. I wanted to adopt. We were at odds and our battles were growing in intensity. Satan was circling our small apartment like a vulture, and we were in need of rescue.

In the nick of time, Tommy flipped our lives.

With a few short sentences, he brought us to Golgotha, to the foot of the blood-soaked Cross, and for the first time in months, a pinhole of illuminative light shone through. Up to that point, we had looked upon our cross of infertility as revolting—a blanket of thorns; but Tommy told us that it was actually a gift to give God. The notion struck us as ridiculous, but the surge of warmth we felt as he spoke those words assured us that they were ordered and true. He told us that when we died to our desire to have children in an unnatural manner, God would step in to save us. 

He was right; when we agreed to amputate ourselves from our desire, gave ourselves to Him, and stepped from our cave to begin to walk Golgotha, we discovered joy. Why? Because we knew Jesus had invited us to carry the full weight of His cross—blindfolded. Our simple hope was that He might tend to us. He did tend to us. Our love became heightened, and our lives never were the same.

If Tommy could speak to me today about last weekend’s boat parade, he might say, “What I told you two nights before my murder are the same exact words I’d share with those strutting same-sex-attracted men: Die to the unnatural desire, give it as a chaste gift of to God, pick up the cross, and live the remainder of your life with God. And when you die, the martyrs will race to you, proclaiming: ‘You are the holiest of us all. You died every single day of your life.’” 

Because fear and cowardice prevent so many of today’s bishops and priests from explaining the gift of dying-to-self and the heroism of chaste living to the same-sex attracted, homosexual unions have come to be viewed as normal and good. Because the lion’s share of clergy refuse to address the black lie of Pride Month, the sin of homosexuality and gender transitioning, it swells.

Two days ago, at commencement at an excellent Catholic high school, I asked a roomful of graduates to embrace martyrdom. You should have seen the widening of their eyes. It was like I was offering free backstage passes for a Morgan Wallen concert. Their eyes blazed with joy, desire.

It’s odd. Hundreds of folks will tell you my uncle was the most joyful man they had ever known. Because he had built his priesthood around the Eucharist, Mary, and devoted prayer, he knew deep interior joy. But were he alive today, I imagine Tommy would be speaking to me mostly of the martyrs. This famously Irish-witted soul would have had a more serious way to him today. What would Tommy, this happy martyr, say on June 8, 2022? Better yet, what would he share with his brother priests, whom he would have known were as vital now as at any point in their lives. 

I can still hear his distinctive voice. And I can hear him now encouraging his fellow priests at this dark hour.

This is his echo: “Know your identity—you are the Slaughtered Lamb. Do not be afraid to speak and act against this diabolical mosaic of Modernism and its sins. Lay down your life now. Live like the martyr for your flock that God has ordained you to become.”

[Photos courtesy of author]


Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...