Another Ex-Altar Boy Reports P.G. Priest Abused Him
By Debbi Wilgoren
On Monday, reading the newspaper, the young man felt relieved: He wasn't the only one. The priest at his childhood parish had abused somebody else.
The next day's news turned his relief to rage. The Archdiocese of Washington had known about the priest's pedophilia long before assigning him to the parish, St. John the Evangelist in Clinton.
On Thursday, the young man and the victim he had read about told their stories to Prince George's County police.
Detectives in Montgomery County spoke this week with a third man who told them he also was molested by the Rev. Thomas S. Schaefer, one of four Catholic priests removed from their parish assignments last month by the Archdiocese of Washington after they admitted sexually abusing a minor in the 1970s. One, the Rev. Alphonsus Smith, admitted abusing a second youth for five years beginning in 1988.
Eight alleged victims have contacted a Chicago-based support group called Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse Linkup Inc. since the dismissals were revealed. Church officials said that they have spoken with "a handful" of alleged victims this week but that they will not comment on specific allegations until they have conducted their own investigations.
The ousted priests -- Schaefer, 69; Smith, 70; the Rev. Edward B. Pritchard, 50; and the Rev. Edward Hartel, 58 -- served in a total of 24 parishes in the District and its Maryland suburbs, starting with Schaefer's arrival at Holy Name Parish in Northeast Washington in 1953.
The priests, all four of whom also are under investigation by police, were being treated at undisclosed facilities and could not be reached for comment. Their dismissals, announced last weekend, have reverberated through the local Roman Catholic community. Those who were interviewed about their alleged abuse -- as well as their relatives and other parishioners -- said they are filled with bitterness and a sense of betrayal.
"I was his pet for three or four years, and everyone knew that," said the former altar boy from Clinton, now 29 and living in Northwest Washington. "He used to take me to other parishes, and I'd have dinner with all these priests, bishops, everything. All these men knew [Schaefer's history], and none of them ever came to me and said, 'How's it going with Father Schaefer?' "
He said he told police that their furtive encounters often took place in the priest's bedroom while they counted the collection together.
Other alleged victims and parishioners said the violation of physical abuse is magnified by a priest's exalted status.
"If you're a Catholic child in a Catholic school, priests are above man. They're your link to God," said a 34-year-old Bowie woman who grew up attending Church of St. Matthias the Apostle in Lanham, where the abuse that led to the ouster of the four priests occurred.
As a child, the woman worked in the convent after school. Her brothers were altar boys but have told her they were not molested. Her devout parents, she said, are devastated.
"They had this blind trust and this blind faith, and now their eyes have been opened," the woman said, requesting anonymity out of respect for her mother and father. "They thought they were putting their children in a safe haven. And everything they were trying to keep their children away from -- maybe not everything, but a big chunk of it -- they were pushing them into."
The sister of the former altar boy who spoke with Montgomery County police Thursday now has children of her own. They attend the parish elementary school at St. Andrew the Apostle in Silver Spring, just as she and her brother did in the 1960s.
On Wednesday, before putting them to bed, she told her children that no one -- not even a priest -- could touch their private parts, which she described to them as the sections of their bodies that are covered by a bathing suit.
"They know that something happened to [their] uncle and that it was a priest -- a sick, bad priest" -- who did it, the woman said.
To help parishioners cope, the archdiocese held meetings this week at St. Matthias and at Our Lady of Sorrows in Takoma Park -- the parishes where the abuse that the priests admitted occurred -- and at the parishes where the priests were assigned most recently.
The Bowie woman said the St. Matthias meeting began with a bishop apologizing on behalf of Cardinal James A. Hickey, echoing a column Hickey wrote in this week's Catholic Standard. An expert in pedophilia discussed the causes of the disorder and how to recognize signs that a child has been victimized. Emotions ran high.
Some parishioners wept and demanded to know why Schaefer and Pritchard had been reassigned to parish duty after being treated for pedophilia, she said.
Archdiocesan officials have said that in returning the priests to duty, they followed the recommendations of therapists who treated them. Until the mid-1980s, pedophilia was considered curable, they said. Experts now say that child molesters should never work with youngsters again.
Hickey has removed any priest accused of pedophilia since the late 1980s from posts where they have contact with children, archdiocesan spokeswoman Dawn Weyrich Ceol said. But alleged victims and parishioners interviewed this week said that is not enough.
"My question is are they now going to go back and search the files?" the Bowie woman asked. She said she and others at the St. Matthias meeting urged church officials to remove from ministry any priest with a history of pedophilia, here and around the world.
The Washington Archdiocese would not say whether it is considering such an action.
The former St. Matthias altar boy whom the four priests admitted abusing, now 34 and a business executive living in the Baltimore area, said he is willing to press charges. Detectives said they are searching for a youth from Our Lady of Sorrows whom the archdiocese said Smith admitted molesting from 1988 to 1993.
And there is the 29-year-old man from Clinton who came forward this week, after learning about the two others. He said he would testify in court if necessary about the times Schaefer allegedly molested him from 1978 to 1982.
The man said he told police this week that on a typical Sunday, he would help the priest officiate at Mass, turning the pages of his Bible and bringing the wine and wafers for Holy Communion. In the afternoon, they would go upstairs to Schaefer's sitting room, the man said, and sit in leather upholstered chairs to count the collection.
The first time, he said he told police, the abuse occurred as he sat on Schaefer's lap in the sitting room. Later, he recalled, Schaefer would take him into the bedroom. He said the priest often hinted that he was preparing him for a relationship with a woman. Afterward, they went out for dinner, often to the Watergate or the Holiday Inn in Old Town Alexandria, he said.
The man said he waited eight years to confide in someone about the alleged abuse, which ended when he stopped serving as an altar boy at age 16. He told his fiancee, who eventually broke up with him, saying she feared that he would abuse their children.
Fifteen months ago, the man -- a self-described nomad who said he attended eight colleges but never graduated -- went to a lay leader at St. John's with his allegations. She tried to get him to call the archdiocese, but he resisted, insisting that going public would not help him.
After reading about another former altar boy this week, he changed his mind. He said he decided it might help someone else.
PARISHES WHERE FOUR PRIESTS SERVED
Four priests were stripped of their authority last month after they admitted sexually abusing a former altar boy. A look at the area parishes where they had worked:
- St. Bernardine of Siena Parish, Suitland (2/1/90-1/20/95)
- Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, Takoma Park (7/1/82-2/1/90)
- Church of St. Matthias the Apostle Parish, Lanham (11/6/75-7/1/82)
- St. John the Evangelist Parish, Clinton (11/30/72-11/6/75)
- St. Francis Xavier Parish, Newtowne, Md. (6/3/70-11/30/72)
- St. Hugh Parish, Greenbelt (9/26/64-6/3/70)
- St. John the Evangelist Parish, Silver Spring (6/6/64-9/26/64)
- St. Martin Parish, Washington (6/9/56-6/6/64)
- Carroll Manor nursing home (7/1/86-1/20/95)
- St. Hugh Parish, Greenbelt (11/7/83-7/1/86)
- Leave of absence (11/3/82-11/7/83)
- St. John the Evangelist Parish, Clinton; resigned (11/6/75-11/3/82)
- Church of St. Matthias the Apostle Parish, Lanham (2/10/72-11/6/75)
- St. Francis de Sales Parish, Washington (2/25/71-2/10/72)
- Leave of absence (1967)
- Sacred Heart Parish, Bushwood, Md. (9/24/66-2/25/71)
- St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, Silver Spring (9/23/61-9/24/66)
- St. Stephen, Martyr Parish, Washington (10/26/57-9/23/61)
- Holy Name Parish, Washington (6/20/53-10/26/57)
- Shrine of St. Jude, Rockville (3/30/90-1/20/95)
- Holy Cross Parish, Garrett Park (1/4/88-3/30/90)
- Leave of absence (7/8/87-1/4/88)
- Sacred Heart Parish, LaPlata (7/1/85-7/8/87)
- Sabbatical (1/21/85-7/1/85)
- St. Mary of the Mills Parish, Laurel (9/10/75-7/1/85)
- Holy Cross Parish, Garrett Park (6/3/70-9/10/75)
- St. Bernadette Parish, Silver Spring (9/11/65-6/3/70)
- St. Mark Parish, Hyattsville (6/16/62-9/11/65)
- St. Mary, Mother of God Parish, Washington (9/27/94-1/20/95)
- St. Patrick Parish, Washington (5/20/87-9/27/94)
- Leave of absence (9/1/86-5/20/87)
- St. Patrick Parish, Rockville (12/1/80-9/1/86)
- Holy Family Parish, Hillcrest Heights (6/1/78-12/1/80)
- Holy Redeemer Parish, Kensington (6/8/76-6/1/78)
- Church of St. Matthias the Apostle Parish, Lanham (6/4/74-6/8/76)
SOURCE: The Archdiocese of Washington
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