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‘Out of control’ religious news outlet ‘Church Militant’ on brink of shutdown as defamation lawsuit moves forward

Michael Voris, founder of Church Militant, leads the rosary in Baltimore Nov. 16, 2021, during the organization's rally near the hotel where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was holding its fall general assembly Nov. 15-18. The board of Church Militant/St. Michael's Media announced Nov. 21, 2023, that its board accept Voris' resignation after he was asked to resign for "breaching the Church Militant morality clause." (OSV News/CNS file photo, Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)

CONCORD, N.H. — Since Church Militant’s founder Michael Voris announced his resignation in November, the Ferndale, Michigan-based media organization has found itself in the midst of a number of scandals, financial troubles and court proceedings.

“Somehow, things have gotten out of control,” Voris said Dec. 26 during an emergency hearing in the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire in Concord. Presiding over the hearing was Judge Joseph LaPlante.

Speaking via Zoom during the hearing for a defamation lawsuit brought by Father Georges de Laire, a New Hampshire priest, Voris was discussing how he ended up without a lawyer, without a job, and is now facing the possibility of a criminal investigation into his handling of Church Militant finances.

The suit case revolves around stories that Church Militant published claiming Father de Laire, judicial vicar for the Diocese of Manchester, is incompetent, emotionally unstable and considered a troublemaker in Rome, among other disputed claims. Church Militant also raised questions about de Laire’s purchase of an expensive home in Amherst, New Hampshire, given his low pay as a priest. The home was bought with de Laire’s own money for his elderly mother, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader daily newspaper.

Appearing separately via Zoom during the hearing was Mike Sherry, Church Militant’s information technology director, named as board president in the wake of Voris’ resignation.

Sherry has said in court hearings there is no insurance to cover the potential damages de Laire is seeking, and the company is facing the real prospect of shutting down in January or February.

Church Militant is in the process of selling its only assets, two office buildings in Ferndale. But that revenue will not go far to relieve the burden. Facing the possibility of a lien that could hold up the sale, Sherry agreed to de Laire attorney Howard Cooper’s proposal to put all of the real estate sale proceeds into an escrow account.

The de Laire lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in February.

Sherry, like Voris, lost his attorney in the defamation case. The two original lawyers in the case, Kathleen Klaus and Neil Nicholson, quit in August, citing an untenable conflict of interest. The most recent attorney, Richard Lehmann, quit in December, also citing a conflict that meant he could not defend both Church Militant and Voris.

During the Dec. 26 hearing, Cooper, de Laire’s attorney, said this conflict is due to members of Church Militant’s board now wanting to have Voris prosecuted.

Voris was pushed out two days before Thanksgiving, and he has said little publicly about the reason for his ouster. In a video he posted on the night his resignation became public, Voris said he would be seeking professional help to deal with “dark” issues from his past.

“Sometimes it takes very horrible events, even at your own hand, to surface certain things that need to be faced,” Voris said.

Even though Voris was forced to resign Nov. 21, he stayed in a leadership position on the Church Militant board until Dec. 5, according to court records.

In the days since Voris was pushed out, ex-employees started leaking internal documents showing Church Militant is in crisis due to Voris’ alleged active homosexual lifestyle, his reported abusive behavior toward employees, and the severe financial strain brought on by multiple lawsuits and Voris’ questionable actions.

Voris founded St. Michael’s Media and its news outlet, Church Militant, in 2006. The Church Militant website describes itself as “a media enterprise established to address the serious erosion of the Catholic faith in the last 50 years.”

Church Militant was originally called Real Catholic TV until the Archdiocese of Detroit forced Voris to change the name in 2012. Its website has articles on U.S. and world news, and commentary and investigative pieces. It has feature stories, but a majority of its reporting focuses on church scandals, clergy abusers, accusations of bishops mishandling abuse cases and the like. The site is known for its provocative content.

In recent years, Voris has amplified controversial figures such as far-right media personality Milo Yiannopoulos and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., recently accused of racism, homophobia and promoting conspiracy theories in a failed House effort to censure her.

Yiannopoulos, who was part of the Church Militant team for a short time, said the brand will not be missed in wake of the current scandal.

“Idiotic editorial decision after idiotic editorial decision left it with no target audience. Everyone had been alienated by the end,” Yiannopoulos wrote on Telegram.

Voris’ past homosexual life was already well known within Catholic circles. He announced his past in 2016 as his media company was gaining more attention. At the time, Voris said he was no longer homosexual thanks to his faith.

But Voris was allegedly living a lie and making life difficult for his staff.

According to a six-page letter members of Church Militant’s staff sent to the board Nov. 19, Voris was recently seen at a well-known gay bar in Detroit, had a pornographic video playing on his computer when he had a male staffer come to his home for work, and had somehow posted obscene messages and shirtless selfies to the Church Militant DropBox account.

The staff email quotes from an email that former Church Militant investigative reporter Christine Niles sent to the board Nov. 16. Niles resigned Nov. 9, and up until her resignation, she had been a member of the Church Militant board.

The employee letter described Church Militant as a toxic work environment where staff was paid very low wages while a largely absent Voris was giving himself unauthorized raises. The whole mission of Church Militant had been forgotten as the company chased scandal to drum up donations and clicks, the employees said.

“Instead of acting as Catholic crusaders committed to evangelizing a depraved West, saving souls, and shielding the Church and Magisterium from reckless calumnies, we’ve largely degenerated into a religious news station obsessed with secular politics and the sexual sins of wayward clerics,” the letter stated.

Former employee Dave Gordon, who led a staff walkout in early December, posted a video reporting the sexual scandals surrounding Voris. Gordon alleged that some people on the board had strategized how to bring Voris back to Church Militant, despite knowing Voris’ “double life,” including that he faced accusations of grooming an adult male employee.

“We had a trustworthy employee say he was being groomed by Michael Voris,” Gordon said, arguing the board’s actions constituted “rank hypocrisy” considering the harsh criticisms Church Militant leveled against church leaders facing similar circumstances.

Voris did not immediately respond to a request for comment from OSV News.

Church Militant was already in rough financial shape before Voris’ resignation. In May, the company laid off 19 staffers and put the nightly program “Church Militant Evening News” on hiatus.

Former Church Militant reporter Kristine Christlieb said the company enacted an “austerity” program trying to save money.

“Phones were removed from reporters’ desks, health benefits were canceled, essential equipment such as printers were not replaced. There was a freeze in hiring and travel,” Christlieb wrote in a statement about the layoffs.

Church Militant is facing massive legal expenses while it is losing donation revenue, Christlieb said.

Last year, Church Militant settled a defamation lawsuit it brought against traditionalist Catholic podcaster Mike Parrott. In part, Parrott accused Voris of living a homosexual lifestyle and mismanaging money. That lawsuit stretched out in court almost two years, and Parrott said he thinks it cost Church Militant at least $1.5 million in legal fees. But the public reaction cost Church Militant, too.

“That type of public spat revealed their character in a way that multiple big donors pulled out,” Parrott told OSV News, but added he could not discuss the terms of the settlement.

The escrow order for the sale of Church Militant’s buildings is temporary, for now. LaPlante is allowing Church Militant to reopen the question once Voris and Sherry have attorneys in place.

Damien Fisher writes for OSV News from New Hampshire.