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Popular Church architecture scholar accused of ‘sexually inappropriate’ conduct with seminarians

A prominent Catholic architectural historian, author, and professor has been accused of sexual misconduct involving adult seminarians, Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary notified seminarians Monday.

Denis McNamara. Credit: Benedictine College

“I write to inform you that we received reports alleging Dr. Denis McNamara, a former [seminary] faculty member, engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior toward adult seminarians during and after the time he was employed here,” wrote Fr. John Kartje, Mundelein’s rector, in a March 27 letter obtained by The Pillar.

“We deeply appreciate the courage of the men who came forward to report these matters,” Kartje added, while encouraging “anyone who believes he or she has been subjected to inappropriate behavior” at the seminary to make a report to seminary officials.

McNamara was from 2000 until 2019 a faculty member at the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary — which is called formally the University of St. Mary of the Lake, and includes Chicago’s seminary formation programs, and theology and liturgical graduate programs enrolling seminarians, priests, and lay students.

The scholar, well-known in many Catholic circles, is the author of several popular Catholic books on Church architecture, and is a prominent speaker on the relationship between the Church’s theology and her architectural traditions. He has also consulted on the construction of several recently built Catholic churches in the U.S. which draw from classical Catholic styles.


Kartje’s March 27 letter told seminarians that after Mundelein administrators had received allegations of sexual misconduct, they “shared these allegations with his then-current employer, Benedictine College, in Atchison, Kansas, and with the local ordinary of the archdiocese in which the college is located, the Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas.”

The seminary did not indicate when it disclosed the allegations against McNamara to Benedictine College. But it is not clear that the architectural historian remains employed at the college.

As of press time, the college has not responded to a request for comment from The Pillar. 

McNamara appeared in Benedictine’s faculty and staff directory as recently as March 7, according to archived versions of the site, but it no longer appeared there by March 27.

And while one university web page identifies McNamara as the director of the college’s Center for Beauty and Culture, other references to McNamara’s name appear to have been recently scrubbed from the page.

McNamara is also a host of the popular “Liturgy Guys” podcast, which, will ordinarily published weekly, has not released an episode since March 3.

McNamara himself could not be reached for comment. 

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Editors’ note:

—After the publication of this report, Benedictine College released a statement on its website explaining that McNamara was placed on administrative leave on March 3, and resigned from the college March 9. Benedictine informed The Pillar that it had notified students March 9 of McNamara’s resignation.

The college released the following statement March 28, after the publication of this report:

“An article appeared early this morning regarding Dr. Denis McNamara. The article incorrectly states that Benedictine College was contacted before publication. No contact had been made. This statement provides a more detailed explanation.

On March 3, 2023, Benedictine College received a written statement detailing allegations of concerning behavior by Dr. Denis McNamara in the context of a private ministry.

The written statement confirmed verbal reports made on March 1 and March 2. On March 3, McNamara was put on immediate administrative leave, including the suspension of e-mail and campus privileges.

While the allegations reported to Benedictine College administrators did not include claims of criminal behavior, misconduct against minors or Benedictine College students or employees, or misconduct on our campus, nevertheless the College concluded that the behavior in question represented such a serious lapse of judgment that he was placed on immediate administrative leave.

On March 9, after further consideration of the statements shared with the college and after discussion of the situation with Dr. McNamara, both parties agreed that Dr. McNamara’s resignation from Benedictine College was necessary. He resigned, effective that day.

Benedictine College is not at liberty to publicly share these allegations as they are not associated with Benedictine College faculty, staff, students, or facilities.”

After the publication of that statement and subsequent discussion with The Pillar, the college released the following:

“To clarify: The reporter involved in the story about Dr. McNamara referenced today did send an email asking for comment from Benedictine College at 10:29 p.m. before publishing the story at 12:10 a.m. That email was not received until this morning. For everyone’s information, 24 hour media contact information for Benedictine College can be found here:”

—This report has been updated to correct Denis McNamara’s dates of employment at USML, and to clarify that he is a historian of sacred architecture, not formally an architect.

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