Priest sues Michael Voris
Updated: Feb 7
Judicial Vicar Rev. Georges de Laire filed a federal lawsuit against the far-right news outlet Church Militant this week, claiming the outlet published “recklessly false” statements about de Laire after a notorious radical sect was disciplined by the New Hampshire diocese.
Gary Michael Voris, who goes by Michael Voris in his internet videos, runs Church Militant, a website that reports on Catholic news and politics. Voris' outlet published videos and articles calling de Laire “emotionally unstable,” stating de Laire is incompetent, and implying he’s corrupt, according to the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in Concord on Friday.
The lawsuit states that Voris started his campaign against de Laire in January of 2019 after the diocese barred the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from calling themselves Catholic and put the group under discipline.
According to the lawsuit, de Laire suffered damage to his reputation once Church Militant started its reporting on him. He also received threats from people who believed the reporting, the lawsuit states.
"As a result of the January 2019 article, Father de Laire has suffered severe damage to his personal, professional and moral reputation. He has received numerous phone calls and emails from parishioners, churchmilitant.com readers, and members of the public who accepted Mr. Voris’s reporting as true. The emails and calls ranged from mere criticism to outright threats," the lawsuit states.
The Slaves appealed the discipline laid out in a Decree of Precepts of Prohibition written by de Laire, but the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome rejected that appeal last year because it was filed after the statute of limitations had run out. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF, is the Vatican governing body that defends Catholic teaching from heresy and has previously dealt with the Slaves.
Voris and Church Militant started covering the issue after the precepts were published, and the diocese advised Catholics in good standing to stay away from the Slaves. Voris, who is based in Michigan, even traveled to New Hampshire to interview members of the Slaves at their compound in Richmond. Voris did not interview de Laire or any priest in the diocese as part of his reporting, according to the lawsuit.
“In an initial article, published in January of 2019, Mr. Voris published multiple knowingly and recklessly false statements concerning Father de Laire’s work performance, his fitness to serve as a member of the clergy, his ethics, and other personal matters. These statements were first published in January of 2019 with no attempt to first interview Father de Laire, with little or no investigation, and despite Defendants knowing that what they were publishing was not true,” the lawsuit states.
In subsequent videos and articles, Voris and Church Militant would claim de Laire is not trusted by other priests in the diocese, that he does not do his own work, and that there have been at least three complaints filed against him. The articles also claim de Laire in known to be incompetent by Catholic officials in the Vatican. According to the lawsuit, none of these assertions is true.
“As with all other of the statements in the article, Mr. Voris did not cite a source for this statement, and, upon information and belief, his allegation was fabricated and not corroborated by anyone in Rome, as Father de Laire has always completed all of his work with utmost competence, once again, as evidence by his reappointment to his roles as Judicial Vicar and Vicar for Canonical Affairs,” the lawsuit states.
As the Judicial Vicar and the Vicar for Canonical Affairs in Manchester, de Laire has been dealing with the Slaves for several years in an effort to bring them into compliance with Church teaching, according to the lawsuit. The Slaves manipulated de Laire’s efforts, according to the lawsuit. For example, the used the fact that Manchester allowed them to have a priest in good standing celebrate Mass in Richmond to make it appear they were an approved Catholic organization, according to the lawsuit, which they were not.
Voris’s company used to be known as Real Catholic T.V. until the archdiocese of Detroit ordered that he stop presenting his organization as Catholic. Voris engages in climate change denialism, and has been accused of anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia, according to the New York Times. Voris has claimed, for example, that Judaism as currently practiced is a man-made religion.
Voris did not respond to a request for comment. The lawsuit states that Voris likely got his false information about de Laire from the Slaves.
“Mr. Voris has a relationship with (Slaves leader) Brother Andre Marie, and had first-hand knowledge of the correspondence between the Saint Benedict Center and the Roman Catholic Church throughout said correspondence’s history,” the lawsuit states.
The Slaves in New Hampshire are an off-shoot of a controversial group started in Massachusetts by Fr. Leonard Feeney in the 1940’s. Feeney was expelled from the Jesuit order over his public speeches against the Jews, and was later excommunicated. The Massachusetts Slaves are currently in good standing with the Church after Feeney died reconciled to Rome.
The New Hampshire Slaves formed as a splinter group, and were required in 2009 by then-Bishop John McCormack to sign a letter of obedience and to renounce anti-Semitism.
The New Hampshire Slaves operate a website, a school, and other enterprises while holding beliefs that range from traditional to radical. The Slaves are currently led by Brother Andre Marie, also known as Luis Villarubia, who has a history of making anti-Semitic statements. In a 1998 speech, Villarubia said that Jews are the “worst enemy of the Church,” and called them “seed of the Devil,” among other similar statements.
The 2019 precepts of discipline from the diocese came after the Slaves continued their extremist interpretation of the Catholic teaching of “no salvation outside the Church,” in conflict with the instructions it received years ago from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The CDF’s Under Secretary, Monsignor Giacomo Morandi, wrote in a 2016 letter that the group’s theological position was “unacceptable,” and not subject to further discussion.
The Slaves’ interpretation does not allow for the possibility that non-Catholics can be saved through the grace of God, which goes against the full teaching of the Church, according to Morandi’s letter.
The Slaves are currently in talks with de Laire over their adherence to the 2019 Decree of Precepts, and de Laire has expressed optimism that Bishop Peter Libasci will find a way to serve them. Libasci currently sends a priest from Nashua to Winchester, close to Richmond, in order to celebrate a Mass in Latin.
The lawsuit is filed on de Laire’s behalf by Boston attorneys Howard Cooper, Joseph Cacace, and Suzanne Elovecky. They did not respond to a request for comment Friday evening. The Manchester diocese is not involved in the lawsuit, and it is being brought by de Laire personally.
The lawsuit claims that Voris also tried to imply de Laire improperly used Church funds when he bought a house in Amherst, which the lawsuit states is not true. Contacted Friday night, de Laire declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also mentions that family members of multiple women who moved to New Hampshire to live at the Richmond compound have expressed concerns that the women are being held against their will. New Hampshire State Police and agents with the FBI investigated one such accusation, and found the woman in question was not being held against her will, according to law enforcement documents obtained in the case.
Along with Voris and Church Militant, the lawsuit names Church Militant staff writer Anita Carey as a defendant. Carey alleged wrote one story that included many of the same accusations made previously by Voris. Carey does not appear to have any bylined stories published on the Church Militant in the past year, and it is not clear what her status is at the company.
The lawsuit is seeking a jury trial and monetary damages against Church Militant, Voris, and Carey including punitive damages to be determined at trial.
UPDATE (2/6/2021 A.M.):
Church Militant published a response to news of the lawsuit on Saturday morning with a statement standing by the disputed reporting. The organization characterizes the lawsuit as a "crude attempt through a lawyer's missive to intimidate and shut down our continued accurate reporting of the news is shameful on the part of a clergyman."
UPDATE (2/6/2021 P.M.):
Additional details from the lawsuit were added to the body of the article.
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Michael Voris <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michael_Voris.png">Clarissa Swan</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>, via Wikimedia Commons
Brother Andre Marie
Photo by Damien Fisher
Photo by Damien Fisher