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Confessions: A Glimpse into the Minds of Priests Who Preyed

By Linda Graham Caleca and Richard D. Walton
Indianapolis Star
February 16, 1997

[See links to all the articles in this series from the Indianapolis Star.]

The Rev. Ken Bohlinger knew how to tempt boys.

He'd tell a dirty joke, then look to see who laughed hardest. Or he'd say, "Let's do something nasty," and choose boys who seemed willing.

He'd invite his prey camping. Sexual games of experimentation – suggested by "yours truly," Bohlinger says – began at nightfall in his tent.

It was wrong, he knew. "But it wasn't so wrong that it stopped me."

Monsignor Arthur Sego couldn't stop, either.

For decades, the gregarious priest surrounded himself with girls. He encouraged them to visit him in their swimming suits.

But he was curious for more.

At the rectory, victims charge, he undressed, fondled and photographed them.

Sego admits some abuses, denies others and concludes, "I'm not all bad."

In interviews with The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News, Boblinger and Sego provided rare insights into what drove them to prey on the innocent. Both men, who no longer function as priests, talked of betrayal, God and living with their sinful pasts.

Both say they are suffering, but for different reasons. Shame for his acts overwhelms Bohlinger. Sego misses his family and is deeply lonely.

Bohlinger, who lives in Tucson, Ariz., is brutally frank in answering some questions. He says he decided long ago that if he were found out, he wouldn't lie. "It wouldn't be fair to the children," the 46-year-old said.

Sego. 75, is more cautious. From his priest retirement home near St. Louis, he complains that his legal problems have dragged "on and on." One victim has sued him, so far unsuccessfully. As many as 15 or 16 others have accused him.

Neither Sego nor Bohlinger will say if he is a pedophile. Sego has denied the problem but admits sexually abusing a young girl. Bohlinger prefers just to say he is "attracted to children."

Both men rationalized what they did. Bohlinger is able now to see how his distorted thinking drove him to prey upon boys.

Being a priest, he adds, made it easy.

"Desperation to be liked"

Bohlinger says he didn't pick up lonely kids at the local arcade. He didn't have to.

He had his own flock.

At St. Joan of Arc in Kokomo. At St. Mary's and St. Ambrose in Anderson. At St. Joseph's in Rochester.

Bohlinger didn't say whether he left victims at each parish.

But he is clear on how he knew which boys were "ready."

They were the ones who reveled in his vulgarities, telling him, "'Wow, that was really a good joke – let me tell you one of mine.'"

From there, Bohlinger says, "things would progress."

Bohlinger told himself that he was playing the role of educator, teaching boys about sex. What he was really up to, he's not sure.

"Was I freeing my spirit? You know, to be young again and not have all of the moral values hanging over me? Was I trying to recapture some sort of innocence? I don't know. I honestly don't. I think part of it was a desperation to be liked."

To be liked – despite his immense girth. At one point, Bohlinger weighed 290 pounds.

"Kids don't judge," he says. "A guy who is overweight ... can still be a friend."

He says his acts of abuse were so tied to his poor self-image that he never abused again after he slimmed down in 1986. The diocese sent him to a weight-loss program, where he shed more than 100 pounds.
The program gave him time to reflect, he says.

"The more I thought about the activity with kids, the more I thought, 'How could I? What was I doing?? "
It was then that he made the decision: If confronted, he wouldn't deny his sexual acts.

In 1988, he was confronted.

Bishop William L. Higi was alerted to a charge that Bohlinger had abused a young relative years earlier, and questioned him about it. At that time, Bohlinger says, he tearfully acknowledged abusing young people in the Lafayette Diocese. The charge of sexually touching a family member also was true.

Bohlinger will say only that the relation was a child who did not live in the diocese.

He confirms that his ministry ended with the discovery of his abuses.

"There are days that I wish I was never born," he says.

Bohlinger wrestles with how to help a young man still tormented by the abuse he suffered from the priest at the age of 13. The victim is angry that he never got so much as an apology.

"How do you unring a bell?" Bohlinger asks.

"I wish I could take all of his pain away and somehow make it right. I can't change history. I hope he finds his way."

Bohlinger likens himself to an alcoholic who is one drink away from disaster. At the American Tourister factory outlet he manages in Tucson, he keeps his distance from young customers.

While he offers them help as a salesman, he's not asking them "'Oh, what's your name? Where is your address? Your phone number?'"

Getting too close might trigger old habits, he says.

"I would always go one step too far. The wrong way."

Insatiable curiosity

Arthur Sego just loved the little girls.

He pushed them high in the swings and dug deep with them in the garden. He carried colored pens so he could draw pictures on their cheeks and fingers. He kissed them on their foreheads, and perched them on his lap.

Sometimes, victims remember, his hand would slip up dresses.

He'd call it an accident.

But it was really an obsession.

From his childhood in rural Kentland, Sego had a curiosity about the female body. He says a strict upbringing by his father after the death of his mother left him with "no experience of visualizing a girl or woman."

Looking at a girl's body, Sego has said, "was a new experience."

It was curiosity, he revealed in a deposition, that prompted him to ask young mothers-to-be to strip for him in 1956. That routine continued for five years.

"I was fascinated by their pregnancy and touched their stomachs," he said.

It was fascination in 1970 that drew Sego to 9-year-old Angela Mitchell. Sego, then the pastor at St. Patrick Church in Kokomo, IL was drawn to her because she had a skin condition that left her with large patches of white across her black skin.

"The splotching ... was just all over," he said. "Big splotches on her hands, her arms, face and neck.... Other parts of the body I pursued later."

Twice, admitted Sego, he exposed himself to the child.

"I was erected. There was no orgasm, no ejaculation, no touching," he said.

While Sego downplays the seriousness of his abuses, he gave Mitchell money when she first confronted him in 1994. He says he gave her a $1,000 check as an act of charity to help her pay bills. Mitchell calls it hush money.

"He wanted me to keep it quiet," she says.

So desperate was Sego to hold onto his priesthood that he contended under oath that his admitted acts with Angela didn't "specifically" break his promise of celibacy. That statement is flatly dismissed by Bishop Higi, who says, "I don't know what in the world he is talking about."

Broken Trust: Angela Mitchell was a lonely girl growing up in Kokomo. Her skin condition made her an outcast among the other children. So when her parish priest, Arthur Sego, befriended her, Angela was grateful. She says the priest returned her affection with sexual abuse. Sego admitted exposing himself to the girl and undressing her but denies touching her. Mitchell says he is lying. Sego, now in a rest home, insists he really cared for the girl and is sorry for what he did to her. Staff Photo / Susan Plageman.

Many of Sego's assertions came in connection with the lawsuit brought by Mitchell. Originally filed in Tippecanoe County in 1995, that suit was dismissed because the statute of limitations had run out. Just last week, the Indiana Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, effectively closing that case. But Mitchell's attorney, Robert Weddle, says he is considering taking Mitchell's complaint to federal court.
In a 1995 court deposition, Sego was pressed by Weddle to say what he did to different victims:

Weddle: "What did you do with Linda?"

Sego: "The situation was that I had taken two girls to my room and that I was partially undressed. But I had not exposed myself to her."

Weddle: "You exposed yourself to Karen."

Sego: "I did not expose myself to Karen."

Weddle: "You exposed yourself to Mary."

Sego: "To Mary, yes."

Weddle: "What did you do to Karen?"

Sego: "She accused me of fondling her, touching her inappropriately."

Also under oath, Sego admitted 10 or 12 acts of mutual exposure and fondling with a student nurse in Delphi. And with an adult woman, he said, he attempted intercourse three times.

Sego has difficulty counting his victims. He complains that some exaggerate. Other accusers, he says, are total strangers.

Asked what he would like to say to his accusers, he answered: "Be honest."

Former Parish: Arthur Sego was serving at St. Patrick Church in Kokomo when he abused Angela Mitchell.

Frustrated, Sego insists he was a good priest over decades for "thousands and thousands." He served twice in the bishop's office in Lafayette. In addition to St. Patrick's, he was assigned to St. Charles in Peru, St. Joseph's in Delphi and St. Boniface in Lafayette.

The monsignor points with pride to the recent 50th anniversary of his ordination, an occasion observed with well-wishes from 231 parishioners and 47 priests.

"They said they were holding me in their hearts," he says of the clergymen.

Sego believes he has suffered enough. He called it "extremely painful" that he cannot function as a priest. He is not allowed to wear his collar and can say Mass only inside his priest rest home.

Though he loves the peace and beauty of his Missouri home, he longs for the day his legal problems end.
Then, he hopes, the bishop will let him come home.

"It's lonely," he says, his voice cracking. "My family, they are all busy and far away."

Contemplating their fates

Both Sego and Bohlinger ponder death.

Sego, who suffers from diabetes and heart trouble, has confessed his sins to God. He believes "the good Lord" will give him a few more years to live.

"I can honestly say that the things I have done wrong are over," Sego says, "and that I have made my peace with God.

"He is not going to deny me His mercy."

Bohlinger once considered suicide but now is determined to make the best of his life. He draws a comparison with another sinner, Mary Magdalene. Like the prostitute who was saved by Jesus' love, Bohlinger has "messed up" and now is trying to do what's right.

Still, he believes some tortured moments await him.

"My last thought, probably on this Earth, is going to be, 'Why?'"

 
 

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