Fittingly, the theme of sin and contrition runs through both accounts of the molestation. First, listen to the victim. Later will come the response of the priest she appealed to for help.
Barbara Blaine was 13 in 1969, when she says a 42-year-old assistant pastor in the St. Pius Parish in Toledo, Ohio, began his abuse of her.
“My family was as Catholic as they come. I used to decorate the altar and work in the rectory, helping to address the mail. One day (the priest) took me aside and told me I had a special spiritual attractiveness he could recognize, and then he put his hand down my blouse.”
A pattern of abuse and remorse began. The priest, whose name is withheld because he has not been formally charged, would fondle the girl. “Every time he’d get an erection, he’d say, `You made this happen,’ and he would make me go to confession. He would go, too. He told me we were engaged to be married in heaven, but we still had to go to confession.”
The abuse ended when Blaine was 17. “I just told him, `No more.’ ”
After years of trying to deal with the memories by herself, Blaine, in 1986, approached the provincial superior of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, the order to which the priest belonged.
“The Oblates paid for my counseling. They told me they’d do that for me even though no one but me had ever made any allegations against the priest. I said, `What about him? What are you going to do about him?’ They said they’d look into it, but (the priest) was never removed from ministry.”
Blaine began what turned out to be a seven-year campaign to get some accountability from the order, some acknowledgement of who the sinner was. She is typical of the victims of priests whose anger at dismissive clergy is forcing a crisis in the church. The church has failed to minister to them with true compassion, they charge, a sin of omission as damaging to them in its way as the abuse itself.
In 1989, Blaine published her allegations in the National Catholic Reporter. In 1992, she went on the Oprah Winfrey show. On Jan. 3, 1993, in a story about the case published by the Toledo Blade, the Rev. James Cryan, the newly appointed provincial superior of the Oblates, was quoted as saying that Blaine’s accusation did not fit what he knew of the character of the priest.
The newspaper quoted Cryan: “When he was first accused, I thought, `This is not the man I’ve known for 30 years.’ ”
Another priest said he thought Barbara Blaine had mistaken the meaning of some fond hugs.
Three weeks after the story ran in the Blade, Cryan released a statement on recent findings: “Since Jan. 4, I have been contacted by a number of other women who reported experiences of improprieties similar to Ms. Blaine’s, though not as serious. . . . The priest involved will resign from his duties. . . . I have tried as honestly as I know how to respond appropriately to Ms. Blaine and others who have contacted me regarding events which took place many years ago.”
The Rev. James Cryan was elected provincial superior of the Oblate Order of St. Francis de Sales in October 1991, five years after Barbara Blaine first went to the order with her allegations. Although the priest whom Blaine accused is “still totally in denial,” Cryan conceded a few weeks ago that “the probability of truth is with Barbara now, horrible as it is.
“Why didn’t I believe her at first? Well, his record for one thing. He’d worked at this hospital since the 1970s as the chaplain. Not one complaint. In fact, he was rather an icon.
“And he passed a lie-detector test and another test that measures prurient interest.
“And this is the painful part: I’d known him for 40 years. I’ve lived in community with people who have double lives, and I knew it. I didn’t know it of him. He’s very passive, leads an almost monastic life. When the provincial went to him with the allegations – the provincial before me – and confronted him with the allegations, he rolled his eyes and said, `I was lonely and she was the bright star of my life. How could she say these things about me!’
“And it made sense to me. I didn’t realize that Barbara was talking about – uh – touching and fondling until September of 1992.”
Under questioning, Cryan repeated that he had misunderstood the nature of the allegations during his first year as provincial, despite Blaine’s well-publicized charges that she routinely had been forced to masturbate the priest. Cryan said, “I thought until our meeting last September that all we were talking about was an adolescent crush. She was not specific earlier. I didn’t know we were talking about. . . .” he paused. “Heavy stuff.
“Now, in retrospect, I can see that there were clues. Some of that bizarre theology she says he told her; that’s him. That’s credible. Now I can see other things that were credible in her account. . . .
“I don’t think I’ll ever be close to Barbara. She is so angry now. A bottomless well of anger. Admittedly, the investigation was mishandled at the outset. I’m sorry I allowed myself to be duped at the start, but now I’m the adversary.
“She’s very upset that the priest has been hospitalized and that we discontinued paying for her counseling. I have told her we will probably resume paying for it. It’s not a closed issue. But I’d like a professional opinion about what her prospects for health are. I mean, her psychosexual development may have been permanently arrested.
“She may never get past this. And maybe she doesn’t want to. Because then she wouldn’t have a life. Maybe there is nothing we can do to help her heal or convince her that we are truly sorry.”
All Catholic schoolchildren know the ritual of entering the shadowy booth in the church to confess their sins to the priest in the adjoining cubicle. At the end of the catalog of offenses, the priest instructs, “Make a good act of contrition.” As the child recites, “Oh, my God, I am truly sorry for having offended thee. . .” the priest murmurs the prayer of absolution: “I absolve you.”
Every schoolchild also knows that, ultimately, the absolution hinges on true repentance and not the mere appearance of it.
As the allegations of sexual misconduct against the nation’s 53,000-member Catholic priesthood continue to mount, there has been a traumatic inversion of the roles of sinner and acquitter. And victims such as Barbara Blaine refuse to pardon either the priest-perpetrator or the church government to which he belongs because they say the church’s response to the outrage has been tactical, not truly penitential.
Spokesmen for the church insist the perception of stonewalling in the church hierarchy has long outlived the reality of it. They point to the establishment of an abuse hot line by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and to the policies for handling the abused and abusers approved last November by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). They underscore that they are doing the best they can to meet the victims’ demands for unimpeded disclosure of investigations and to still protect the accused’s rights.
“There’s a new willingness to confront this,” says the Rev. Mike Jamail, a Catholic priest and a Houston-based psychologist who gives seminars on pedophilia to religious orders. “No one is exonerating the church for cover-ups in the past, but we are improving.”
Still, the spiritual storm will not abate. It is fueling demonstrations and confrontations by national advocacy groups such as Blaine’s Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
And it is costing the church a mounting fortune.
Jeffrey Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who has more than 200 cases pending against various dioceses, noted recently that “almost all my clients went to the church first. They only came to me after they felt the church was not responding properly.”
In August 1991, when Anderson was overseeing a mere 120 cases, he made the same statement without the qualifier to Chicago writer Jeanne Miller: All his clients had first approached the church, he said then. This might suggest that the pattern of the abused seeking reconciliation before litigation is beginning to unravel.
On Monday, the Council on Priestly Life, a subcommittee of the NCCB, will meet in St. Louis to address once again the problem of clergy misconduct with minors. Once again the members will confront those two interlocking issues joined at the heart: What to do with the offenders? What to do for the abused?
One characteristic common to most child molesters is their astounding powers of denial and sublimation, the way they can conceal their indecencies even from themselves. Barbara Blaine’s abuser passed lie-detector and erotic stimulation tests.
Gilbert Gauthe, the New Orleans priest who admitted to molesting boys in four parishes from 1971 to 1983, was able to completely divorce his self-image from his deeds. In Jason Berry’s book “Lead Us Not Into Temptation,” Gauthe is quoted, “There was a good, functioning priest. The other was destruction. It was a not-me. The underside.”
The denial of the perpetrators enabled denial by their fellow clerics, says A.W. Richard Sipe, a former priest and the author of “A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy.”
On the face of things there was an earnest, even a workaholic priest with a marvelous pastoral talent with children. To a clergy trained to a prudent half-blindness on matters sexual, it was possible to ignore the nudges of suspicion, Sipe says.
“There were four other priests in the rectory when (the priest) was with me,” recalls Blaine. “They knew, or they should have known.”
“There were a lot of priests in the rectory,” said Cryan. “The priests did remark on the children’s presence,” but they just felt the priest did not relate well with adults.
Never again will the churchmen be guilty of this fatal credulity, they say. And indeed it seems that every cleric who can’t come to the phone to talk about pedophilia is tied up because he’s attending a seminar on it.
Now the consuming topics are how to screen out these master deceivers before ordination and what to do with those who are in.
“It is a given that they (offenders) will comply with the justice system,” says Jamail. “After that, the church must rehabilitate the priest and then decide whether to reassign him or return him to secular life.”
On that latter issue the church is sharply divided.
Reassigning an offender, even one who shows self-awareness and sincere remorse, carries with it a risk of relapse and of future liability for the church.
“It’s an incurable disease,” said Jamail. “Like alcoholism, there’s always a danger that the man won’t stay sexually sober.”
But defrocking is a penal procedure consisting of lengthy appeals through three separate church courts, the final one in Rome. “We’ve been involved in one dismissal proceeding for eight years,” Jamail said. “The man has been suspended from ministry. We’re paying all his medical and salary. I told my bishop in the beginning, `Expect it to take 10 years.’ He didn’t believe me.”
And beyond all the medical and legal uncertainties, there is the moral quandary.
“A brother who is a pedophile is still a brother, isn’t he?” demanded the Rev. William Morell.
Morell was provincial of the Oblate Order of Mary Immaculate in Houston in 1986 when the Rev. Donald Stavinoha was caught by a policeman performing a sex act on a boy. Stavinoha was sentenced to 10 years in prison and served a little more than a year.
“Now he is back with us. He has his parole officer to whom he is legally responsible. Fine. I will serve him as a priest. And I keep asking myself: Is there something he could do? Is there some productivity I could give him so that he could rebuild himself? Something? He is a pedophile, but part of him is still a priest. He is sick, but he still wants to serve.”
Yet there is danger in such keen empathy: an appearance of bias. The mother of Stavinoha’s victim never met with Morell. “She came to the church once, but she was frightened of all the cameras,” he said. “It was all handled through the lawyers. At her own request. She wanted that distance. . . . It was easier for me to minister to the priest because he was in my purview. If your brother and a friend were in an accident, wouldn’t it be easier for you to reach your brother?”
How the clergy handle their offender-priests is inextricably connected to how the victims feel about the church, and about themselves. Right now, a sense of unequal treatment often pervades their remarks, and a lingering sense of guilt.
“It was always my fault. Everything we did, I was responsible,” said Mary Staggs, 30, who filed a suit charging the Rev. John Lenihan of the Orange, Calif., diocese with molesting her, beginning when she was 13. It was settled out of court last year.
In a telephone interview, she said, “I went to the bishop. They said, `It wasn’t sexual intercourse. The priest promises it wasn’t.’ They never really acknowledged what happened. They never said what it was. They kept saying what it wasn’t. And now the priest is in a parish down the road.” Lenihan, who is an assistant pastor at St. Boniface Church in Orange, declined to comment.
Joe Johnson, a 36-year-old cabinet maker from St. Joseph, Minn., filed suit against the Rev. Brennan Maiers in February 1992, charging Maiers had abused him when he was a 9-year-old altar boy. The suit was settled out of court last November. Jeffrey Anderson, attorney for Johnson, said that Maiers admitted to the abuse and to having been arrested in Minneapolis for soliciting a male prostitute.
Johnson: “Before I filed suit, I went to the abbot. I said, `What are you going to do about him? I want him removed.’ The abbot told me the priest was overweight and that he was in a difficult parish and that the parish was celebrating a big anniversary. They didn’t remove him until I filed suit. I still want an apology. I still want him to look straight at me and tell me he understands what he did to me and it was his fault.”
Barbara Blaine: “Even after Jim Cryan told me that he had additional evidence that (the priest) had been involved with women, all he could talk about was what he was doing for (the priest).” The priest “had to be watched. He was so depressed that he might commit suicide. You know what the priesthood is? It’s a bunch of men who just don’t get it.”
On Monday, the churchmen will meet here. Blaine and many of the other victims of priests will be in town for the session. Although most were not formally invited, they will be hovering like unappeased spirits. No ultimate reconciliation with the church is possible, they say, until the church ensures immediate suspension and investigation of alleged offenders and until sincere pastoral care is extended to the victims.
Then they will be able to absolve the church.
And then, perhaps, they will finally be able to forgive themselves.
Copyright © 1993, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
THE SINS OF THE FATHERS; Florence Shinkle; Of the Post-Dispatch Staff
St. Louis Post-Dispatch 02-21-1993