|Breach of Faith
By Laura Saari
Orange County Register
January 4, 1987
'I'm totally innocent,' Father Chris had said. But at his sentencing for molesting altar boys, he asked for forgiveness—for himself and the Catholic Church
Just about everyone at St. Bonaventure church in Huntington Beach called the young priest Father Chris. Rarely Father Andersen.
Father Chris. He was, a parishioner said, one of the new breed of Catholic priest: Accessible. Athletic. Easy to get along with. Loved kids. The kind of priest you invite home and you're not embarrassed to crack open a beer or share an off-key joke with him.
But there was a side to this 34-year-old priest that few people saw, an illness tucked out of sight from the public eye like an alcoholic's private stash of hooch.
That side became the stuff of newspaper headlines on April 26, 1986, when it was revealed that Father Andrew Christian Andersen had been charged with molesting at least three altar boys, ages 12 to 14.
"I am totally innocent and intend to fight to clear myself," Andersen said in May, surrendering in court after a week in seclusion. "I am confident," he said, "that justice will prevail. "
Andersen's attorney, William M. Monroe, said, "What we have here is young boys with emerging sexuality having all kinds of strange thoughts about themselves and their bodies."
The case sent a shock coursing through the St. Bonaventure community—a place where parishioners share the same subdivisions, where housewives carpool their kids to the same Catholic school. The area from which St. Bonaventure draws its flock—about 5,000 families, many of whom have belonged to the congregation for most of the church's 20-year history—is a pocket of stable, upper-middle-class American stock buttressed against the transitory, fast-lane, oceanside community that is Huntington Beach.
When the news broke, the church enlisted Susan Davidson, executive director of the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center in Orange to help answer parents and parishioners' questions. The Walsh center provides support, referrals and information about child abuse.
"Someone from the congregation called us and said, 'This congregation really needs some help,'" recalled Davidson. "He said the ones who don't believe the priest is guilty are absolutely terrorizing the ones who do. Any time you've got kids involved where the adults are pitting themselves against each other and against the parents of the reporting child, you have traumatized children." "That meeting (with church members) was ugly," recalled Julie Sawyer, a member of the parish and one of Andersen's supporters.
"People were standing up and demanding information. People felt we should have reprimanded him and handled it on our own. People were standing up and shouting across the church. People wanted to stone him. People were refusing to believe he was guilty."
But, even as parishioners were trying to come to grips with the case, a handful of people in the church knew a deep, dark secret.
In 1983, the mother of an altar boy had reported a disturbing encounter between her son and Andersen to Monsignor Michael Duffy, the head official at St. Bonaventure. While no genital contact had occurred, the mother said, her 12-year-old son had been frightened by the encounter.
Neither the mother nor Duffy contacted law enforcement officials, according to a statement the mother made to Huntington Beach police more than three years after the incident. Instead, Duffy sent Andersen to counseling.
The mother told police that Duffy asked her to write a letter to officials at the Catholic Diocese of Orange detailing her allegations. But, according to the Huntington Beach police report, the letter was later destroyed. As a court-ordered psychological evaluation later stated, Andersen stopped going to counseling and continued to work closely with altar boys.
Those few people—the mother, her son, one or two of the mother's friends and Monsignor Duffy—knew in 1983 that St. Bonaventure had a potential problem.
As the investigation unfolded, it became clear that Andersen had molested at least four altar boys—and possibly others, who were too afraid to come forward, according to Davidson of the Walsh center. One of the molested altar boys said in an interview that he knew of at least 13 victims.
(Altar boys, who assist the priest in preparing the altar and other functions, receive about three hours of training in a group setting, according to Rev. Gary Kinzer, of the Catholic Diocese in Orange: "An associate pastor is assigned for giving them attitudinal training—modeling good worship, and practical training—walking through the Mass.")
In September, Andersen waived his right to a jury trial and asked West Orange County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Cardenas to make a decision based only on police reports.
Both prosecuting and defense attorneys agreed the move was equal to a guilty plea.
Prior to the sentencing, dozens of St. Bonaventure parishioners wrote letters to Cardenas supporting Andersen; some, despite the priest's legal moves, maintained his innocence.
In the end, on Nov. 24, the day of sentencing, Andersen stood outside the courtroom and issued a statement to the television cameras, reporters and members of the congregation gathered around him: "We have all suffered," he said. "I ask for healing and forgiveness not only for myself, but for my church. "
Moments earlier, Cardenas waived a prison term for Andersen. Noting, among other things the "voluminous" letters of support for Andersen, Cardenas sentenced him to five years' probation and ordered him to check into a church rehabilitation center in New Mexico.
Andersen had faced up to 58 years in prison.
When the sentence was delivered, the tense silence of the courtroom gave way to applause and cheers from about 50 St. Bonaventure parishioners. Some leapt to their feet to embrace Andersen.
But one face wasn't smiling.
"I want them to know I was there," said a mother of a molested altar boy, (who asked that her name not be revealed). "I was the fly on the wall. I was sitting in the back of the courtroom. I watched when everyone rushed to Father Chris with hugs and kisses. I heard the people in the hallway saying—even after the judge said he was guilty—that the kids made it up and the parents put words in their mouths. I wanted to scream and say, 'Wake up you people!'"
The Father Chris case, as it came to be called, was hardly an isolated incident. Rather, it was part of the disturbing continuum of child abuse among the ranks of those people most trusted by parents and their children.
Among the recent cases in Orange County: A civil suit alleging that Catholic Church officials ignored complaints that a visiting Irish priest, the Rev. Robert Foley, had molested a Fullerton youth on a camping trip; a former director of the Cypress Boy's Club, convicted of molesting three boys, some of whom he drugged and videotaped; a Lutheran school teacher in El Toro, convicted of five counts of molesting a student; a Boy Scout leader, convicted of sexually molesting seven Westminster boys, five of them members of his troop; a man who taught Sunday School for 20 years in an Anaheim Baptist church, convicted of 47 counts of child molestation involving three former students; [last example redacted because the conviction was reversed].
"This is not exclusive to the Catholic Church," said Davidson of the Walsh center. "There are at least three or four other incidents in church environments or church schools in Orange County that are in the investigative process now. The worst crime of all is the ones we don't know of—those that will never reach the legal system and the victimization will continue. "
The Andersen case left shock waves that, even now, reverberate in the parish—and beyond it.
The families of the molested boys were hard hit. One of the molested boys dropped from the honor roll to become a D student. Two boys, formerly well-adjusted, have become behavior problems to the extent that coaches and teachers, not knowing the boys were molested, have alerted the parents that something is seriously wrong. At least two families have sought professional counseling.
It has alienated families from long-time friends who have continued to believe that the priest was innocent despite the guilty verdict. The case still haunts the judge who handed down the verdict. And the church may face some of its parishioners in court over its actions following the first disclosures that Andersen had a problem.
For a case that seemed simple in the beginning, the reverberations have been complex, indeed.
In the uneven flicker of candlelight, three pews back from the altar, the mother bowed her head and waited her turn for confession. It was April 1983, and her comfortable world of faith was crumbling.
"My stomach was churning. My head was reeling," the woman recalled (she and the other family members involved requested anonymity for this story). She waited until the final parishioner had shared his private sins with Father Andersen. She walked to the altar and sat on a chair, her knees almost touching the priest's.
"I started to get very emotional and cry," she said. "I told him, I just want you to know that as long as we both have to be here in the same place . . . (that) this was between us. I even told him I would pray for him.
"He told me he felt that my son had misinterpreted his signs of affection. . . . I said, 'You mean to tell me that pulling my son's legs on to your lap and stroking him up into his groin is a normal sign of affection? ' "
The mother was the first person to report to Monsignor Duffy that her child had been molested by Andersen. For a period of six months, she said, she badgered Duffy at least every other day to see what he had done to remove Andersen from active assignment with children.
"It was like beating against a wall," she said. "I was starting to get very angry. "
The mother said she did not go to the police because Duffy assured her the church would take care of the situation.
"I felt some overwhelming, enormous guilt," she said. "I felt I should have done more. But as Father Duffy said, we cannot destroy one man on just one allegation. "
By Christmas 1983—more than half a year later—the mother said her patience was wearing thin. Despite her complaints, Andersen continued to work with the altar boys.
"I had had it," she said. "I had to talk to Father Chris again. The only place I could catch him was the confessional. He started walking out, and I said, 'I need to talk to you.' He told me, 'I have been advised not to speak to you and not to have anything to do with you whatsoever.' I said, 'But I need to talk to you.' I went running out of the church, crying.
"I got to my car and I said, I'll be damned if he's going to run me out of the church. I turned back and tried to open the church doors. They were locked. I was abandoned. He was forcing me out of my home, a place I felt comfortable with all my life. "
The mother sat at the kitchen table of her comfortable Huntington Beach home on a recent night and recalled her life in the church. She was close to her grandmother, who worked as a housekeeper for priests.
She knelt by her bed every night and said her prayers. She liked to go to church and light votive candles in private worship. She encouraged her son to become an altar boy.
She was overjoyed, she said, when Andersen took a personal interest in her son.
"I thought, how nice. What a good role model for him to follow. "
Then the molestation happened.
"I was feeling weird," said her son, now 16, who had come into the kitchen. "It was like, whoa, what's going on here? Whoa. This guy is weird. . . . When we were up in his apartment, it was like, God, why would you do this to me?
"For six weeks after it happened, I couldn't look at him," the boy said. "In church, I saw him at the (St. Bonaventure) carnival, and he goes, 'Well, I'm sorry. I hope you'll forgive me. I hope we can be friends again.' I just walked away I was just scared. Just scared and hurt."
The mother said she waited four days before telling her husband about the incident because she was afraid he would react violently. [continued after sidebar]
"I'm one of those people, who, not even knowing you, I'll put my hand on your shoulder," said the father. "I'm a salesman. That's how I make my living. I managed Little League for 16 years, and it's natural for an athlete to pat an athlete or hug him. But when my son said, 'Dad, he touched me different from how you touched me'—that's hard to take. It was like a shock going through my body."
The family members said they feel so abandoned by congregation members and church authorities that they have left St. Bonaventure and the Catholic Church. The son has joined a large, non-denominational church with an active youth program in Santa Ana. The other family members remain without a church.
The crisis, the mother said, has affected more than her relationship with the church. It has affected her marriage.
"After I stopped my husband from confronting Father Chris, it caused resentment and started to cause communication problems," she said. "It's something that just snowballed. It's done a lot to undermine our marriage and our intimacy. It's not just my husband and I. It's affected my kids. It's affected everybody. All of our communication now has to do with surface things: what homework needs to be done, what needs to be done around the house. There's no depth. The intimacy is gone. "
Another mother and father of a molested boy sat one recent evening at their kitchen table, drinking tea, waiting for the call to pick up their son from an after-school activity.
"Our social life was our church," said the mother. "We believed you can't just be a church-going person on Sunday. Now we find it very difficult to go to church ... A church helps its people. Our church didn't help us.
"You look at your church community, you look at who applauded a molester, they don't realize the damage it did to a child who trusted so much," she said, tears rolling down her face.
The parents watched their son endure the playground cries of classmates.
"We pulled him out of school," said the mother. "The kids on the playground kept screaming at him, 'Chester the Molester! '"
They first were alerted that something was wrong with their son when his grades began to slip and he began to seclude himself in his room. Then they found a book in his room with explicit illustrations of homosexual and heterosexual sexual positions—a gift for their son, they said, from the priest.
A psychologist spotted signs that the child had been molested (see related story, this page), and told the parents they would have to report the incident to the police.
The parents said their son is undergoing psychological counseling and is having a difficult time getting his life on an even keel again.
For their son's sake, they're hesitant about talking, even anonymously, with a reporter, and wish sometimes they had never reported the incident.
"My son looked at me and said, 'Mother, why didn't I stop it? ' " the mother said, crying. "I said, 'Why didn't I know?"
Doctrine would say Father Chris wrestled with the devil, and the devil won.
It's difficult to guess the torment in Andersen's soul. The priest is cloistered at the Martin Villa Foundation House in Jemez Springs, N.M., and has not responded to repeated requests—through the center, and through messages left with his brother and his mother, and, prior to his sentencing, through an intermediary in prison—for an interview.
("The question is not whether he wants to talk to you. He may not be able to. On his behalf, I can tell you the man was totally devasted," said his attorney, William Monroe.)
But the court-ordered psychological report on Andersen suggests that he struggled with his sexuality from his days in the seminary, when he first sought counseling.
"Father Andersen is a man with considerable emotional difficulties. These difficulties are long-term and likely stem from the chaotic, abusive and alcoholic family in which he was raised." So states the psychological evaluation of Andersen, performed by Dr. Kenneth Fineman at court request. The report describes Andersen as "likely a mixed personality disorder with narcissistic, schizoid and sociopathic characteristics."
The dark side of Anderson—the side that would molest children—is something most parishioners at St. Bonaventure said they never saw. Some parishioners had such difficulty believing that Andersen could commit a crime that they continued to maintain he was innocent, even after Anderson asked forgiveness.
"You trusted him, and you believe in him, and it's like somebody who believes in God all their life hearing there is no God," said Kelley Rose, 21. She chose Andersen to perform her wedding ceremony in March.
Rose said she and her husband had one of their first arguments over the case—he wouldn't believe that Andersen had molested the altar boys. Her husband wrote Andersen a letter, and the priest, Rose said, sent back a computerized letter asking for prayers and support.
"I was shocked," said Mary Ann McGuckin, a Sunday school teacher who has belonged to St. Bonaventure for 16 years and who has a daughter, 14, and two sons, 11 and 9. "My first reaction was disbelief. ... Now I really feel sorry for him. It's hard to figure out. I can't come up with any answers. "
"We've gone through all the levels of hurt and denial and outrage," said Raymond Bunker, 57, an accountant whose family has belonged to St. Bonaventure for 16 years. "After you pass through all those storms, you come to terms with yourself. You cannot abandon him. "
Bunker wrote a letter to Judge Cardenas supporting Andersen; he said he had welcomed Father Anderson into his home many times and considered him a member of his extended family.
Prior to Andersen's sentencing in late November, dozens of letters from congregation members supporting him arrived at Judge Cardenas' office. More than 60 letters found their way into the public court records prior to sentencing. Many were generated during a 24-hour letter-writing campaign by parishioners who were friends of the priest, according to one of the letter-writers.
"The letters did have an impact on me," Cardenas said. "I had no idea they were part of a campaign. I thought this was all spontaneous, out of love for him. If you read those letters, you can see the deep emotional attachment these people have for the priest. In California rules of court, they list a certain criteria (for sentencing) and one of them is a person's character and reputation in the community. I'm required to look at that as a factor. "
The letters to the judge, handwritten on dime-store stationery, typed on the letterheads of marketing firms and educational institutions and professional offices—there are may professionals in the St. Bonaventure parish—cried for leniency for the priest.
"These were high-level people, intelligent people, very successful people, telling me Father Chris is a victim. These people were trying to convince me that the priest was framed. I ignored that viewpoint," said Cardenas.
"It would not be uncommon to receive a warm embrace from him as a sign of welcome and friendship," wrote Father Jerome Karcher of St. Norbert Catholic Church in Orange in an Aug. 25 letter to the judge.
"It is my sincere hope that Father Anderson will be able to return to active priestly ministry," Karcher wrote, mentioning in the letter that he is the son of of Carl Karcher (who owns the Carl's Jr. restaurant chain and long has taken an active role in supporting groups that combat child abuse).
"I have grave doubts that the charges are true," wrote St. Bonaventure parishioner Dr. Louann Murray, an assistant professor of pediatrics at UCLA, on Oct. 1. "Father Chris is an affectionate man, given to warm hugs. I worry that these hugs might have been misinterpreted by an adolescent. "
"His illness has touched my family in ways I will not share with you here, but I do beg of you for him, not punishment, but treatment, for he is ill, not a criminal," wrote Cherie Cooper on Nov. 18, describing herself as a member of the staff at St. Bonaventure.
Julie Sawyer, 26, sent photographs of her confirmation as a new Catholic. It was Andersen, she said, who influenced her to accept the faith.
"The judge had been getting some letters, just people sending them on their own, and I guess it had an effect on him," she said. "So Father Chris' lawyer thought, let's get some more of these letters.
Within a couple days, there were probably 100 letters. From the time I got the phone call—we set up a phone tree—we had less than 24 hours to write them. There was a group of us who drew together. It was like an underground network. We had to keep it all real hush-hush.
"We felt like the early Christians. There were so many people who wanted to toss Father Chris to the lions. All they could see is he's a horrible person and they should string him up by his you-know-whats. They couldn't remember the man, the man who had helped them and dried their tears, cried with them, held them in sorrow and joy. They forgot that. " She pauses. "I don't think this is anything you ever forget about," she said. "But like any other family, you make it through the tragedies. "
("I never said to anyone, start a campaign," said Anderson's attorney, Monroe. "I did speak with some individual and just urged them to, if there was support in the community, to let them know what, kind of support existed. ")
Two letters in the file asked for a stiffer sentence; both were written by parents of molested alter boys.
At the sentencing, Cardenas said he was "saddened" that there were no letters of sympathy for the victims.
Judge Cardenas lives near St. Bonaventure, and people in his neighborhood weren't shy about talking to him about the case.
"I went to my local camera man, who is a member of that parish," Cardenas said. "I just wanted to drop off some film. The first thing he wanted to talk about is, are you going to get Father Chris some help? I was being badgered in the community. "
Cardenas said he was inclined to give Andersen a harsher-than-average sentence because he was in a position of trust, and because he was a priest.
"I agonized over this case," said the judge. "Before I sentenced him, I did some reading on pedophilia. I discovered that the cure rate is 2 (percent) to 5 percent. So if you ask me, do you think he'll be cured, the answer is no but will he be a repeat offender? No. I think he will refrain out of fear.
"Let's just say ... your everyday Joe Blow touches some boys on the upper thighs," he said. "If Joe Blow comes into your court, he's got a clean record and that's all he's done, he's going to get probation and 90 days. With Father Chris, I not only sent him to the state pen for 90 days (awaiting sentencing), because I wanted him to get a taste of the big house, but number two, I wanted the state prison authorities to tell me what they thought, and they said, we don't want him here. He would have been sexually abused."
Cardenas said he also considered the fact that the priest fondled the boys and did not have intercourse with them.
"Alot of my friends accosted me later and said, 'Gee, why wasn't he sent to prison? ' I said this was not a case of oral copulation or intercourse. It was just touching. " (Deputy District Attorney Michael C. Koski, who had asked that Andersen be sent to prison felt the sentence was not harsh enough—despite the degree of molestation.
("The sexual conduct was relatively lightweight compared with many other cases we handle on a day-to-day level," he said. "What was unusual about the case was the incredibly important position of trust this man held. I feel that when you have this number of victims, the number of counts, and the position of trust, our criminal justice system demands that the person be punished in some significant way, and I don't think the sentence was sufficient in that regard.")
("It really was an appropriate sentence," said Monroe. "When you compare it to the kinds of case I see and the D.A.'s office sees and the judge sees and the court sees—where we see truly abusive conduct—those aspects just didn't exist in this case. ... The horror of it was the special relationship the priest had with the boys.)
Cardenas said he wasn't only influenced by the priest's position of trust, but by the response of the Catholic Church, as well.
"I'll be very candid with you," the judge said. "I was more tempted to come down on Father Chris harshly, because I'm a Catholic, and I'm embarrassed for the church. The hierarchy of the church was rude and irresponsible in dealing with the investigators in Huntington Beach. They tried to sandbag this case. I thought that was immoral. They were in the wrong. They should have come out and said, we made a mistake. ... But they tried to stonewall the police officers and protect the priest.
"They swept the first case under the rug, and the second case comes along and every time the police called, they'd get the runaround. It was not handled in a way people who are advocating the precepts of Christianity would handle it. On a moral scale, most Catholics probably feel a little upset about how this was handled."
Scattered in isolated ones and twos across the cavernous church, the faithful of St. Bonventure gathered on a recent Wednesday night for a prayer service called to begin the healing process.
It was almost as if the pain were so intense that each parishioner needed space—some sense of privacy—to wrestle with it alone.
Parishioners said that Father Chris had not been mentioned in a sermon since last spring, just after the news broke about the molestation.
But now that the sentencing was completed, Monsignor Duffy addressed the faithful.
"One of the good consequences of what happened with Father Chris and the youngsters is that it brings us together. ... At this time, we would like to remember the youngsters who suffered the consequences of Father Chris," he said. At the back of the church, three altar boys clothed in white robes watched silently. "The judge did not say he was not guilty, and it is ungracious of us not to remember the parents and the children who suffered by reason of his acts."
When the news of the molestation first broke, the church held discussions with children in the upper grades at St. Bonaventure school, in addition to bringing in the Adam Walsh Center to help answer parents and parishioners' questions. The church bulletin advertised psychological support, said Nick de los Reyes, the official church psychologist.
"Not being involved as a family (with a molested altar boy), I think the church was very supportive," said Laura Simpson, a member for four years. Simpson said her daughter, 8, keeps asking her when Father Chris is coming back. "They were always there to answer any questions," said Simpson, "particularly Monsignor (Duffy). They offered moral and emotional support when you needed it. " Simpson's view is not universally held within St. Bonaventure. Much of the dissension within the congregation has to do with the church's perceived lack of openness about the molestations.
"I was horrified (when I learned) that he was allowed to remain in contact with children after the first offense (in 1983)," said Ann Crabtree, 49, an active member of the church for seven years. "I'm heartbroken that the church deserted these families in their greatest hour of need." "The mother did not go to the police. She did not go to the district attorney. She didn't go to anyone other than the church. And they said they took care of it, and still left him in charge of the altar boys," said Tina Pohl 37, who attended classes taught by Andersen to prepare her to accept the faith and whose 12-year-old son was confirmed under Andersen's tutelage. "I find that unforgivable. Even if they didn't believe it, the accusation was fair, and they should have taken him away from the altar-boy program. " (Monsignor Duffy, who did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, finally agreed to a meeting and failed to show up—communicating through his secretary that he was attending to the sick. Duffy left with his secretary a five-page statement calling for compassion and announcing the formation of a church outreach program to deal with the molestations.)
Other congregation members supported Duffy's decision not to go to the police after the first report. "If something like this happened in my family, I would come to their defense immediately," said parishioner Laura Simpson. "I would do anything possible to help that family member. People have to look at it that way. "
"The pastor (Duffy) may have felt comfortable that it had been an isolated situation," said church member Raymond Bunker. "And of course he must hear so many things in the confessional. I once heard a priest say the only thing he hadn't heard in a confessional is a perfect suicide. Priests have to be a psychiatrist, a best friend, a father, a mother and a brother, everything. Maybe the incident, serious as it was, he felt it had been resolved. "
People continue to speculate why Duffy and the Diocese of Orange did not act more strongly after the first report in 1983.
Bishop William Johnson, the man in charge of the diocese during most of the crisis, died in July 1986.
"He did take steps to see that he (Father Chris) got psychiatric counseling," said Bishop John Steinbock, the diocesan administrator who has assumed many of Johnson's responsibilities (a new bishop, the Most Rev. Norman F. McFarland, was appointed recently and will be installed Feb. 24).
"To the bishop's knowledge at the time, it was not a serious charge. He did not realize the seriousness of what later was alleged. I don't like to second-guess, the day after the game, what the quarterback should have done. " Steinbock said he tried to reach two families—once directly, with a letter,and another time through an intermediary, after he assumed many of Johnson's duties in July.
"My greatest concern is the hurt and pain felt by the families," he said. "My concern is greatly for their faith and realization of God's love, which is the message of the church, which has been greatly clouded by these events. In the name of the church, I simply wish to express my sorrow with all those who are feeling hurt and pain. Perhaps from all of this, as St. Paul says, 'All things work out into good for those who love God.' Perhaps from the darkness, light will come to many families. "
Steinbock said that as a result of the St. Bonaventure case, the church is studying the initiation of a program that will deal with crises.
As for Father Chris, he said, "He will never again be in ministry with children. "
"The healing has begun at St. Bonaventure," said a man who belongs to St. Bonaventure and declines to be identified because his work involves the justice system. "But it has begun by forgetting. What is it somebody once said, if you forget the sins of the past, you're doomed to repeat them? I just don't want this to happen again. Not for the church's sake. Not for my sake. But for the kids'."
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