Choir leader accuses officer of intimidation
Church confrontation joins growing list of problems at Quantico, Va., base
WASHINGTON – The commander of the Marines’ famed base at Quantico, Va., stormed the altar after Catholic Mass in January at the base chapel and confronted the choir director with an “I will kill you” face, according to interviews and documents obtained by USA TODAY.
The actions by Col. Joseph Murray on Jan. 14 — and another incident in October in which Murray sent Marine criminal investigators to interrogate a contract priest at his off-base home about a roster of parishioners — sparked internal investigations by the Marines.
An inspector general’s inquiry found merit in choir director Marie DeSilva’s complaint that Murray had intimidated her when he confronted her in a rage but could not determine if he had broken the law. The Marines also found “no probable cause supporting any misconduct” by Murray or the investigators in the case of Father Kieran Mandato, according to a Marine Corps spokesman.
The church flap joins a growing list of problems at Quantico, known as the “Crossroads of the Marine Corps,” involving allegations of sexual harassment and a toxic work environment. The base is about 30 miles south of Washington.
DeSilva and Mandato, a retired Navy chaplain and former contract priest at Quantico, said in interviews that Murray’s actions had terrified them. The incidents arose from disputes about payments to Mandato, a roster of parishion- ers he had at his home and perceived personal slights from the pulpit.
DeSilva in her complaint to the inspector general said, “While it may be appropriate for every Marine to have an ‘I will kill you face,’ it is not appropriate to use that face on a 52-year-old female choir director in church.”
“I feared for my life,” Mandato said. DeSilva believes comments she made after the sermon triggered Murray’s outburst. She took offense at a reference by another priest she believed was aimed at her and others in a church group, branding their actions “un-Christian.” Instead of announcing the final hymn, DeSilva told the priest, “You shouldn’t be calling people names during Mass.”
She submitted her complaint about Murray on Jan. 16, according to the Marine Corps. “A review was conducted, which found there was no indication of credible criminal misconduct” on Murray’s part, said Rex Runyon, a Marine Corps spokesman.
Mandato, the former Navy chaplain, said his relationship with Murray had soured over a dispute about payments for services he performed outside the scope of his contract. Mandato’s last Mass at Quantico was on Sept. 10, 2017. At the end of the service, Mandato told the congregation that Murray had not allowed him to compete for the new contract.
Around the same date, the Marine Corps received an allegation that Mandato had fraudulently acquired a roster of church members that contained personally identifiable information, according to Runyon. Murray referred the matter to the Marines Criminal Investigation Division, Runyon said.
On Sept. 13, plain clothes officers arrived at the door of Mandato’s home, off the base, according to the Marines and Mandato. The Marine Corps and Mandato disagree about much of what happened next.
Mandato did not return a “professional and respectful” phone message from investigators, Runyon said. So the investigators showed up on his doorstep, knocked and Mandato did not answer.
Mandato said the officers called him 19 times and “almost broke down the door.” Their visit, he said, was designed to intimidate him.
On Sept. 14, the criminal investigators obtained the roster and found it did not contain any sensitive information, Runyon said. They closed the case without further action and cleared Murray and the investigators.
Col. Joseph Murray