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Abuse victim angry over priest list

September 23, 2018

When Brian Cook was 11, he says, his divorced mother, having recently moved back to Fort Wayne, encouraged him to develop a friendship with their parish priest, thinking it would be good for him to have a male role model. 

Cook says it was good : in the beginning. The priest asked him to sit on his lap while they talked and gave him a hug and a kiss. He didn’t think anything of it because his family had friendships with priests before. 

But during a subsequent meeting, the priest told him he looked tense and said he’d give him a massage if he’d lie down on the bed in the next room of the man’s rectory living quarters. At a later meeting, the priest told him he should take off his clothes for a better massage.

By that time, Cook said, he was uncomfortable. He felt what was happening was wrong, and “I was getting the heck out of there,” he said.

But it was not until he reported what happened to a diocesan official in 2017 that he learned of any sexual abuse allegations against the priest.

Last week, Cook found the priest’s name among 18 priests and deacons “credibly accused” of sexual abuse of minors on a list released by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. The list placed the number of allegations against the priest at six.

And Cook, who said he was told there were other victims of the same priest when he reported, is angry.

“I know if I had heard something, I would have come forward (sooner),” said the man, who no longer lives in Fort Wayne. “If (church officials) don’t disclose, no one knows.”

The list has revealed the scope of alleged clerical abuse within the diocese : and mixed messages over the years.

Hardly a parish in Fort Wayne was not staffed at one time by a priest on the list of accused abusers. Sixteen separate parishes, some of which have closed, were named as having been an assignment of an accused priest : although the list does not specify when or where any of the alleged abuse took place.

Accused priests served as high school teachers and counselors of young people. Three were principals at area high schools : James Seculoff and Thomas Lombardi at the former Huntington Catholic High School and Edward Krason at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne.

Seculoff, listed as having five credible accusations, held a position higher than that : he headed the diocese’s Catholic schools beginning in 1970, after leaving the principal’s position at Huntington Catholic.

Assignment records show all the clerics on the list were removed from parish ministry or the priesthood. Most of the removals took place during the tenure of the late Bishop John M. D’Arcy from 1985 through 2009.  D’Arcy had come to Indiana from the Archdiocese of Boston with a reputation as a whistleblower on child sexual abuse by clergy.

In interviews with The Journal Gazette over the years, D’Arcy stressed he attacked the problem not only having priests removed from ministry where they would have contact with children and teens, but also by keeping a close eye on priesthood candidates to ensure only men of good character became diocesan priests.

In 2002, he released the number of credibly accused priests : 16. He also conducted a Mass and met with the congregation of St. John the Baptist Church in New Haven to say a woman’s claim of abuse was deemed credible. The claim was made after the death of the priest, William Ehrman.

But D’Arcy did not routinely detail full circumstances when he announced in Today’s Catholic, the diocese’s weekly newspaper, the names of removed priests.

In November 2007, for example, D’Arcy announced six priests had been removed from the priesthood in 2006 and 2007. Five of the six appeared on the list last week :  James Robert Blume, Brian Carsten, Robert J. Mahoney, Richard J. Stieglitz and Richard Thompson.

Some priests during D’Arcy’s watch found their way into multiple assignments or other dioceses. Edward O. Paquette, who served at St. Mary of the Assumption parish in Decatur and was on the list released Tuesday, was sued civilly in Vermont.

Paul LeBrun, one of two priests listed as incarcerated, was jailed after being accused and convicted in Arizona, according to www.bishopaccountability.org, a nonprofit organization that tracks Catholic church sexual abuse.

As late as 2010, after retiring as bishop, D’Arcy conducted a Mass honoring Our Lady of Fatima, whose local society was led by Seculoff. In 2014, that priest was credibly accused of abuse that had occurred more than four decades before, church officials said then. 

The diocese’s current bishop, the Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, wrote parishioners at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Walkerton, where the 77-year-old Seculoff was serving, that the priest had a credible accusation of sexual abuse and had “voluntarily resigned” and “officially retired.”

Seculoff was removed from public ministry in 2015 after three other accusers came forward, according to the diocese’s list; news accounts say the additional people reported subsequent to the first accuser. 

Then there is Thomas Lombardi, accused of conversation perceived as sexual with a male teen at St. Louis-Besancon at least 10 years before it was reported in 2011, after Rhoades became bishop.

The case was referred to child protective officials and law enforcement, church officials said. But no charges were brought because the victim did not come forward and it was unclear if a crime had been committed, a law enforcement official said then. 

Lombardi was removed from public ministry in 2015 and had one credible accusation, the list says. After he died in December, his online obituary listed him as a “retired priest,” and his funeral took place this year at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne.

Last week’s list followed the August publication of a 900-page report from an attorney general’s grand jury in Pennsylvania, where Rhoades was bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg immediately before coming to Fort Wayne.

He was named in that report for his handling of two cases, but it also included his defense of his actions. He also was alleged to have had an ″odd” relationship with a young man, now deceased, after the report was released, but the Harrisburg district attorney called the allegation unfounded after an investigation.  

During an Aug. 17 news conference in Fort Wayne, Rhoades reiterated there would be “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse in the diocese. He said he had reported all allegations of which he became aware to law enforcement or child protection officials. Rhoades said he also publicly reported the names of all priests he removed from ministry.

Rhoades added that he’d had a change of heart and was releasing names of all priests with credible allegations. He went a step further by including records of their assignments. He said the diocese was one of only four or five that had released names. 

Rhoades said a female victim from Mishawaka had been adamant that the name of the priest she said had abused her : Eldon Miller, who had been stationed at Queen of Peace and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Mishawaka : be released. 

“I was so conflicted,” Rhoades said at the press conference about the conversations. But he said he came to believe that releasing names “for all to see, for everyone to know the pain these priests have caused,” validated victims’ experiences and helped them heal.

The South Bend Tribune named and interviewed the victim, Carolyn Andrzejewski-Wilson, who now lives in North Carolina. She said she told the bishop she was repeatedly abused between the ages of 6 and 11. The Tribune said she reported the abuse after she discovered Miller was involved in planning a school and felt physically ill from the news.

Rhoades at the news conference also recommended victims report to law enforcement as well as church officials.

Last week, Don Schmid, a member of the diocese’s review board that advises the bishop on sexual abuse matters and a former federal prosecutor and assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Indiana, said in a statement that releasing the list was proper.

“Bishop Rhoades has demonstrated great sensitivity and care for victims of sexual abuse, and has carried out a zero tolerance policy for priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults.

“In my experience, Bishop Rhoades has promptly and in all cases removed from public ministry and pursued canon law sanctions against priests under his authority where the allegations and available evidence warrant such removal and sanctions.”

Judy Jones, associate director for the Midwest Region of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said last week the church has not always kept track of removed priests.

That can be important, she said, because it’s not unusual for victims to take years before reporting abuse because they fear no one will believe them.

Sometimes a trigger for people in their 40s and beyond is having children reach the age they were when the abuse occurred, she said.

Cook said that is what happened with him.

Cook said he told his wife early on about the abuse but said he didn’t allow it to affect him. Then, as his children grew up, he made an appointment with a diocese staff member who assists victims.

That was after he began getting in touch with other kids from his childhood and started hearing more stories of abuse.

Now, Cook said, he’s troubled that church officials apparently have not been vigilant in knowing the whereabouts of those who have been dismissed from ministry.

The priest whom he said abused him was dismissed during D’Arcy’s tenure, according to the list. But, Cook said, he has not been able to locate him.

“What about credibly accused priests who are no longer with the church?” he asked. “They’re still in the community : they could still do something. That’s my issue.”

He worries what might happen to someone else’s child.  

“I ended it. With me, it was not a long-term thing, and it was never entirely sexual,” he said. “But after the fifth or sixth time, who knows what would have happened?” he said. “I stopped it.”

rsalter@jg.net

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