Late last week, George Neumayr, author, journalist, and senior editor for the American Spectator became the third high-profile Catholic to die in as many weeks. Neumayr suddenly perished on Thursday, Jan. 19, after contracting malaria in the west African nation of the Ivory Coast, where he was undertaking research for an upcoming project on the Catholic Church in Africa.
The year began on a dismal note, with Pope Benedict XVI’s death on Dec. 31. Two weeks later, the conservative Australian Cardinal George Pell unexpectedly succumbed in Rome after a routine hip operation. But if the loss of Benedict after a decade of frailty and seclusion was deeply upsetting, and if Pell’s sudden death, days after he authored a stern rebuke of the Vatican’s neo-Marxist interpretation of faith and morals, was dismaying, Neumayr’s premature demise was distinctly unsettling.
All three — pope, cardinal, and journalist — have bequeathed a message of urgency, nay emergency, regarding the perilous road the church is treading, a warning that should not be buried with them.
On Friday, Jan. 20, it was reported that Neumayr had died. He had been in Africa since Dec. 26, visiting various parishes in and around Abidjan. He noted that these were conspicuously run down and/or poorly attended, a testimony to both decolonization and the decline of the post-Vatican II church.
Neumayr never publicly disclosed that he had contracted malaria. On Sunday, Jan. 15, he mentioned having been “violently ill” the day before with a form of food poisoning but confirmed that he was feeling better. His last known communication appears to have been at approximately 6:30 a.m., Ivorian time, on Tuesday, Jan. 17. On Wednesday, his colleagues were worried when they uncharacteristically hadn’t heard from him; on Thursday, he was dead.
In the preceding weeks, Neumayr appears to have been genuinely concerned for his life and bantered back and forth on Twitter with another user about getting whacked. When his phone was snatched on the streets of Abidjan by a passing motorcyclist, Neumayr joked that he’d almost cried out: “Are you with the USCCB?” meaning the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Neumayr clearly intended this in jest. He knew he was no favorite among U.S. bishops, owing to his dogged pursuit of the corrupt and the compromised. He was always prepared to name names and get his hands dirty. In 2018, he revealed the location where serial sex abuser, pedophile, and disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick was apparently in hiding after his fall from grace, a cushy mansion allegedly owned by the Archdiocese of Washington, and where auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville was also supposed to be living. When Washington Post journalist Elizabeth Bruenig also repeatedly dropped by, looking for answers, a representative of the Archdiocese of Washington complained to her editor. But with the cat truly out of the bag, McCarrick was hurriedly banished to safer quarters in a distant Kansas friary.
Late last year, Neumayr was giving Bishop Barry Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, a run for his money. In 2018, Knestout, an ally to McCarrick, appointed one Rev. Wayne Ball as pastor of St. Augustine Catholic Parish in Chesterfield, Virginia. According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, in December 2002, while pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Norfolk, Virginia, Ball pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor sex offense after he was arrested with another Richmond man when they were sprung together in a parked car at a local park. Knestout did not make parishioners aware of this when he appointed Ball.
Neumayr was understandably appalled when the United States Bishops, at their fall general assembly just last November, actually elected Knestout to chair the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People. Neumayr demanded that Knestout resign or be removed from the position.
Knestout never responded to Neumayr’s repeated requests for comment, and his press secretary similarly stonewalled him. Neumayr eventually turned up at the rectory of the Richmond Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, and Knestout himself answered the door. The prelate still refused to provide any explanation, far less a justification for his scandalous and sneaky appointment of Ball. The next day, Knestout promptly hit back with a letter signed by the diocese business manager, banning Neumayr for life from entering the cathedral.
Ball, too, supposedly took umbrage at Neumayr’s line of questioning and sicced his lawyer on him. The lawyer was apparently John Brownlee, the attorney who represented former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell when he was brought up on 14 counts of public corruption. In fact, during his trial, McDonnell was reportedly rooming with Ball at the rectory of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Richmond, Virginia.
But Neumayr’s overarching concern, one he worried was falling on deaf ears, was the role McCarrick may still be playing behind the scenes, despite being squirreled away at a Midwest rehab center for troubled priests, and even while he faces criminal charges. He feared that McCarrick could play a role in choosing the next pope.
McCarrick was always a mover and shaker, a wheeler and dealer, a globetrotter, and a “pope maker.” He enjoyed the ear of successive presidents, including Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush, who once described McCarrick as “my friend” and “a decent, decent man.” Leading up to the 2013 conclave, despite being beyond the age of voting, McCarrick reportedly lobbied for Jorge Bergoglio. He is also likely to have played a crucial role in the hashing out of the disastrous China-Vatican accord.
Whatever the full story behind Neumayr’s apparent whirlwind contraction of and death from malaria, and whatever the reasons he believed he was “tangling with some dangerous forces,” his tireless attempts to sound the alarm on the corruption rotting the Catholic Church must not be lost in the ether.
The legacy of McCarrick is a pestilence. There are still too many prelates afloat who were not only never held to account over their role in covering McCarrick’s tracks but have been elevated to positions of influence and power under Francis’s pontificate. If Christ’s shepherds continue to bury their heads in the sand while “Teddy’s nephews,” as Neumayr called them, defile the church with their anti-Catholic agenda, mislead the faithful, and plot and scheme to determine the next conclave, God have mercy on us all.
Neumayr’s cri de coeur is not so different from the late-Cardinal Pell’s warnings. Pell vehemently denounced Vatican toxicity and the indifference to doctrine, traditional morals, apostolic tradition, and the centrality of God’s word. He called out the “neo-Marxist jargon about exclusion, alienation, identity, marginalization, the voiceless, LGBT as well as the displacement of Christian notions of forgiveness, sin, sacrifice, healing, redemption.”
And then there’s Benedict, whose abrupt resignation in 2013, the reasons for which are still shrouded in controversy and conjecture, paved the way for a pope who mocks his own regnal name by assuming a mission not of rebuilding Christ’s church, as God called the holy St. Francis to do, but of demolishing it.
In a private letter published posthumously, Benedict wrote that “the power of the Antichrist is expanding” and urged for prayer “that the Lord will give us strong shepherds who will defend his church in this hour of need from the power of evil.” In a newly released book, whose publication Benedict planned for after his death, the former pontiff claimed that the priesthood is on the verge of “collapse” and that “in several [Catholic] seminaries, homosexual clubs operate more or less openly.”
It’s hard to think of a way out of this mess. Neumayr worried that “the hand on the clock of Catholic civilization is almost at midnight.” But Jesus tells His apostles in Acts that it is not for us to know the times and moments, which are set by God’s authority. “Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good,” writes St. Paul in Romans, “for the Scripture says, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”
In any case, from Neumayr’s shoulders, these burdens have now happily been lifted. May he rest in eternal peace.
Carina Benton is a dual citizen of Australia and Italy and a permanent resident of the United States. A recent West Coast émigré, she is now helping to repopulate the country’s interior. She holds a master’s degree in education and has taught languages, literature, and writing for many years in Catholic and Christian, as well as secular institutions. She is a practicing Catholic and a mother of two young children.