(RNS) — The Catholic television network EWTN has pulled programs featuring the Rev. George William Rutler, a prominent conservative New York Catholic priest, while authorities conduct an investigation into allegations that he watched pornography in front of a security guard and sexually assaulted her when she tried to flee.
According to The New York Times, Ashley Gonzalez, 22, said she was working as a security guard in late November at the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in midtown Manhattan, when Rutler, 75, invited her into his office. Rutler then allegedly began watching gay pornography on his computer and masturbating — an act Gonzalez claims she documented in a 19-second video clip recorded with her phone.
Gonzalez told the Times that when she got up to leave, Rutler attacked her and fondled her before she fought him off and fled. She filed a report with local police, the paper said, and has since provided the video to prosecutors.
“It affected me in a way where I never want to go to church again,” Gonzalez told the Times.
According to the Archdiocese of New York, Rutler has denied the “allegation that he did anything improper with the security guard.” He reportedly also sent a letter to his parish denying claims that he “improperly touched” her but did not address that he had watched pornography and masturbated in front of Gonzalez.
Rutler has written several books and is well-known outside his parish: Since 1988, he has hosted a show on the Eternal Word Television Network, a media outlet and news agency devoted to Catholic topics. Rutler has long been a critic of Democratic politicians, used phrases such as “sodomites” and “homosexualists” to describe LGBTQ people and once argued that the Vatican under Pope Francis has “become a theological Chernobyl.”
He has also expressed skepticism regarding people who have accused church officials of sexually abusing them.
In a statement sent to Religion News Service, a spokesperson for EWTN said the network is aware of the allegations and has suspended the priest’s programming as the investigation unfolds.
“Father Rutler has been a program host and guest on the Network for many years,” the statement reads. “Consistent with our policies, EWTN has placed any programming featuring Father Rutler on hiatus at this time while we await the results of the investigations into these allegations. We encourage our audience to pray for all who are affected by this situation.”
Despite Rutler’s denials, the Archdiocese of New York said he has ceased operating as a priest for the time being. “Father Rutler, after discussions with the archdiocese, has voluntarily stepped away from his duties as pastor for the good of the parish and the archdiocese,” reads a statement. “He does not have an assignment at this time. He is not serving as a priest. The archdiocese is fully cooperating with the District Attorney’s office in its investigation.”