Collegeville, Minn. – Two sisters said Monday their brother killed himself in 1971 because of the trauma of being sexually abused by a visiting professor at St. John’s University.
Rita Prince and Terry Ryan delivered a letter to St. John’s Abbey on Monday, saying their brother’s case contradicts claims by St. John’s that it has released the names of all priests and monks alleged to have committed sexual abuse there.
Prince, of Pahrump, Nev., and Ryan, of Bremerton, Wash., said their brother, Patrick Ryan, was a promising student before he was drugged and raped by a priest who taught history at St. John’s in the 1969-70 and 1970-71 school years. He was 19 when he hanged himself in February 1971, they said.
They told reporters outside the abbey church that their brother was raped by the Rev. Paul GoPaul, who died in 1988. They said their father wrote St. John’s a letter explaining why Patrick Ryan dropped out. They said they received a reply that GoPaul would be denied tenure. They also said their father died in 2004.
The abbey’s spokesman, the Rev. William Skudlarek, who met with the sisters, said Monday was the first he’d heard of an exchange between Patrick Ryan’s father and the abbey. The university later issued a statement saying an archival search had found a record of an exchange in 1971 between the student’s father and a school employee regarding the abuse allegation.
The school said it was searching its records for more information.
Skudlarek said current abbey officials first heard of the case in 2002, when a victim’s advocate contacted by the Ryan family forwarded GoPaul’s name to the abbey.
He said Abbot John Klassen offered the family counseling and forwarded the complaint to GoPaul’s order, the Society of St. Edmund in Colchester, Vt. GoPaul was a native of Trinidad.
Asked by the St. Cloud Times last week whether the allegation against GoPaul was credible, Klassen replied: “If my memory serves me correct, I think there are reasons to find that the allegations (against GoPaul) are credible, but we were never put into position of having to make a judgment whether they were credible or not.”
Klassen spoke to the newspaper by telephone from Italy. He will be out of the country until later this week.
Back in 2002, Klassen was dealing with numerous allegations of abuse at the Benedictine monastery and university.
“If this were happening today, (Klassen) would be inclined to release the name, but in 2002 he thought it made more sense to focus on the complaints about our Benedictines and send the information about GoPaul to his own community,” Skudlarek said. “There was no intent to hide his name or any names of perpetrators.”
Prince called that “passing the buck.” She said her brother was taught at St. John’s by GoPaul, and it was St. John’s responsibility to release his name.
“My family was destroyed by my brother’s suicide,” Prince said. “My mother died at 57 and my father (A 1949 graduate of St. John’s) had to live with knowing that he’d urged his son to go to his alma mater, a move that led to his death. We stopped being Catholics, but not Christians, after he died.”
Rita Prince said the only thing her family wants from St. John’s is to publicly name the priest as an abuser, so that any other abuse victims out there can come forward and start their healing process, and release their father’s letter.
“Our family was never given a chance to heal over this. It did happen 35 years ago, but … the pain is as if it happened yesterday,” Prince said.
Skudlarek promised the abbey would work with the Ryan family to find out exactly what happened. But citing “some very complicated legal matters” he stopped short of saying the abbey would turn over its information about GoPaul.
“We will certainly investigate … and do anything we can to help you and your family. This was a terrible, terrible tragedy,” Skudlarek told them.
Sisters Say Brother Who Killed Himself Was Abused at St. John’s
Associated Press, carried in Pioneer Press
September 26, 2006