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. Choir director Marie DeSilva believes a remark she made about the priest that day touched off Murray's temper.
An inspector general's inquiry found merit in 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 parishioners 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.'
Murray confronted DeSilva immediately after the service, charging the altar and demanding to speak with her. In a letter to Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Corps Commandant, DeSilva wrote that Murray "gave me the 'knife hand' numerous times close to my face and chest.'
"I was crying,' she said in an interview. "I told him, 'I don't know what you want from me.' This just can't happen anymore. It was very upsetting. It was scary when someone has that crazy look in his eye.'
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. On Saturday, Sep. 9, 2017, Murray asked for legal advice about how to handle that complaint and 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.
"The CID investigators were respectful and not aggressive in both their telephone calls and while knocking on Father Mandato's door,' Runyon said.
Mandato saw it differently. He said the officers called him 19 times and "almost broke down the door.' Their visit, he said, was designed to intimidate him. In any event, as the priest at Quantico, he was entitled to have the roster, making their calls and visit unnecessary and inappropriate.
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.
"No probable cause supporting any misconduct was found on the part of Col. Murray or the CID investigators,' Runyon said.
Quantico is home to more than 28,000 military and civilian personnel and contractors. Several commands are headquartered there, including the Marine and Family Programs Division.
In March, the Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, ordered a new investigation into complaints of sexual harassment by two female civilian employees of the division. They allege that a Marine officer displayed his erection to them on several occasions, and that their allegations were not taken seriously.
Last month, Neller suspended Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein after he mocked as "fake news' the investigation into their charges. Stein, at a town hall meeting, also joked about a Navy chaplain assigned to the Marines who had been fired after being caught on video having sex with a woman outside a pub in New Orleans.
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