Toledo Native Barbara Blaine Crusades against Sexual Abuse in
the Catholic Church
Back in 1969, Blaine was just an awed Catholic girl when Father Chet Warren invited her to Sunday dinner. Warren, assistant pastor at St. Pius, was 42.
Blaine recalls, “I was part of a group of junior high girls called
‘The Deaconettes’ that helped clean up after mass. One Sunday,
Father Warren invited me to stay and have dinner with the priests. It
was a special honor.”
“Pretty soon Father wasn’t looking at the TV anymore — he was looking at me. It was really confusing. He started saying things like he knew I had feelings for him like he had for me.”
“He started telling me things like how I was holier than other
kids and that I was closer to Jesus than other kids.”
“When he started molesting me, I kind of froze. I didn’t move, and I didn’t say a word. I can remember in my mind saying ‘No! Don’t do that — don’t touch me there,” but that’s not what I said. No words came out. I was just in shock.
“I remember him saying ‘Stop shaking. I’m not going to hurt you.You don’t have to be frightened.’”
When it was over, Blaine says Warren warned her not to tell: “He said nobody would understand because none of them were as holy and close to Jesus as we were, and somehow, this was blessed by Jesus ... I felt very guilty, ashamed, dirty and embarrassed. He almost didn’t have to warn me because I wasn’t going to tell anyone.”
Blaine says Warren never threatened bodily harm to keep her silent, but in a prediction that seems as prescient as it seems manipulative, he told her people wouldn’t believe her. He never told her about the death threats and the ostracization that would come from the community.
Living with shame
As time passed, Blaine says the secret consumed her. She says Warren’s abuse continued for four years, through her senior year of high school. Her grades suffered, she slept badly and grew apart from her family.
“I can remember having to lie to my family about where I was,” Blaine says. “When (Warren) would molest me, he would insist I go to confession right away because he said people would become suspicious if I didn’t go to communion and of course I couldn’t go to communion after he molested me because that was a ‘mortal sin.’ I had to figure out how to lie to my parents about where I was when I was actually going to confession elsewhere.”
Blaine also had trouble with boys: “Any time I tried to do anything with a boy my own age, (Warren) would get terribly jealous and mean. It was just easier to stay away from boys.”
Intimacy issues plagued her in later years. “Even after the abuse ended, I didn’t want anything to do with any kind of intimacy.”
A senior in the spring of 1974, Blaine says her life changed after a Catholic retreat. She recalls making confession and telling another priest about Warren: “The priest’s response was ‘Barbara, Jesus loves you. Jesus can forgive anything.’… Obviously, the more appropriate response would have been ‘Barbara, you don’t have anything to be confessing. You didn’t do anything wrong — what (Warren) did is wrong.’ … As sick as that response was that I received from that retreat experience, it gave me enough sense of self-esteem to come back and say ‘That’s it. This isn’t happening anymore.’ ”
Blaine graduated from Notre Dame Academy in 1974 and went on to St. Louis University, a Catholic college, two years later. She earned a master’s degree in social work and went to live in a Catholic worker house in south Chicago, running a homeless shelter. Catholic worker houses are faith-based communities of people who live and work among the poor, accepting voluntary poverty themselves.
In 1985, Blaine read about a priest abusing altar boys. “I became physically ill reading that. I didn’t, at that point, understand that what had happened to me was really abuse. I just knew that whatever had happened between me and Warren was obviously causing this response. … it was post traumatic stress disorder.”
Then she came forward.
Blaine was 29 when she told her family in 1985 about her abuse. Believing Barbara, the Blaines felt angry and betrayed.
Soon after, the family brought Barbara’s allegations to the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales, Father Warren’s religious order. The Blaines wanted to help Barbara and make sure Warren couldn’t harm other children. Barbara says that initial meeting with the Oblates lead to other meetings with the late Bishop Hoffman. “I was led to believe that the Bishop and the Oblates were working hand in hand,” she says.
Rita Blaine, Barbara’s 83-year-old mother, is a devout Catholic who attends church every day and still belongs to St. Pius. Rita Blaine recalls how her expectations of justice went unmet. “I was so convinced that all I had to do was go over and speak to the Oblates. I had every confidence in the world I’d be received. They weren’t belligerent — they listened — but they were very aloof. Then they’d say they’d contact us, but weeks and months would go by without us hearing anything.” Here, Rita Blaine chokes up: “The ordeal — it sticks with you even after years. It’s not something that ever really goes away.”
Warren stayed in ministry until put on leave in September 1992, shortly before Blaine’s story was mentioned on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” As the Oblate provincial then, Father Jim Cryan was Warren’s superior. Cryan says Warren was sent for therapy after the Blaines went to the Oblates, but he resisted, which contributed to his ultimate dismissal from the order.
Blaine sought healing in therapy before becoming more outspoken. Blaine cites several reasons for the change. Among other things, she says she was asked to participate in a 1986 counseling session along with Warren, a therapist and Father Paul Grehl, then Warren’s superior. Blaine says Warren initially denied everything during that session but eventually conceded her claim.
In retrospect, Blaine says the session with Warren did further damage: “Can you imagine that their solution to help me was to reunite me with my molester?”
The Blaines stayed in contact with Bishop Hoffman. They recall a meeting with Hoffman and the whole family in January 1989. The City Paper asked the Toledo Diocese whether Hoffman had met with the Blaines, but the diocese withheld comment. However, a letter signed by Hoffman and addressed to Barbara on Jan. 30, 1989 bolsters the Blaines’ claim. The letter begins “Dear Barbara: The recent gathering with you and your family was a very painful several hours. I can see that the events of yesteryear have caused pain and hurt to you, to your parents and to your brothers and sisters.”
Barbara’s mother, Rita, felt unsatisfied. “Bishop Hoffman sat quietly in the back of the room and didn’t have much to say. … He had a coolness I didn’t expect.”
Blaine also claims the Church repeatedly told her Warren was being “closely monitored”; however, Blaine says she was called by a girl abused by Warren in 1990, five years after Blaine came forward.
Moreover, Blaine says her anger grew, because for years the church told her she was the only Warren accuser before she found out the Oblates knew about Warren’s proclivities in 1970. She says written correspondence between a Warren victim and Bill Ward — formerly the Toledo Oblate provincial, then the Oblates’ general superior in Rome (head of the order) — Warren’s pedophilia was known. Blaine says the Toledo girl wrote Ward to say how Warren loved her and how they would marry. According to Blaine, Ward wrote the girl back and said “Father Warren might need therapy.” Father Jim Cryan read Ward’s correspondence in 1993. He said then — in a recorded conversation with Blaine — that the letters were key in making him believe Blaine, even though they didn’t explicitly mention pedophilia. Today, Cryan says subsequent events made him less clear on whether the Oblate general superior was referring to pedophilia when he wrote that Warren “needs therapy” in the 1970 letter.
The growing frustration led Blaine to appear on national talk shows. During each appearance, Blaine says she avoided naming Warren or Toledo. This wasn’t the case when she was scheduled to appear on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Blaine says she called Hoffman and the Oblates the Friday before her Tuesday appearance and told them she planned to reveal Warren’s name. Warren was put on leave that weekend, seven years after Blaine stepped forward.
Increasing contact with victims and the mounting frustration of trying to inspire Church reform led Blaine to threaten legal action in the mid-’90s. In 1995, she received an $80,000 out-of-court settlement. The cost of the settlement was shared between the Oblates and the Toledo Diocese. As was often church custom before 2002, Blaine’s settlement barred her from disclosing the amount. Cryan couldn’t recall the exact split of the settlement and the current Oblate provincial declined to clarify this, too. The diocese confirms it shared the settlement, but says it doesn’t know the exact figure it paid. Nonetheless, the diocese claims “the majority of the settlement was from the OSFS (Oblates of St. Francis DeSales).” When the diocese was asked how it arrived at this conclusion without knowing the exact numbers, it declined further comment. Last February, the diocese reported it paid a total of $180,750 to victims during the last 54 years, which calls into question how it lost track of Blaine’s settlement details.
Warren’s suspension turned into dismissal from the Oblates. Cryan, Warren’s superior at the time, says Warren was dismissed with full church proceedings. Cryan can’t recall the exact year, but guessed it was 1993 or ’94. Father David Whalen, current Oblate provincial, also says Warren was removed “in full accord of Canon Law,” but declined to confirm the exact year of dismissal. Whalen referred this question to attorney John Hayward who didn’t respond to multiple attempts at contact.
Cryan reflects sadly on the period and openly admits the credibility of Blaine’s pedophilia allegations against Warren, as well as the allegations of others. Cryan seems moved by Warren’s crimes and the church’s poor handling of the situation. He laments his own mishandling of the case, even though he inherited it late in its development. “Looking over those years,” Cryan says, “the overall effect was a sense of failure.”
According to Cryan, the wounds were compounded when Warren took a large sum of money and a car after being dismissed from the Oblates. Cryan says Warren took “at least $30,000 or $35,000,” possibly up to $60,000. But the Oblates never prosecuted. Cryan said the Oblates feared bad publicity from prosecution, but he declined to discuss how Warren got the money.
When asked about the money and car Warren supposedly took, Blaine grows angry. “Victims seek legal settlements as a matter of justice. It’s often a last resort and the church fights the process. Chet Warren, who molested kids, left the Oblates with possibly $60,000 and a car and they didn’t raise a finger. That illustrates the double standard the church hierarchy uses to treat their criminals versus how they treat innocent victims. ”
A lingering problem
Now 75, Warren still lives in Toledo. Never formally “laicized” through church proceedings, Warren is technically a priest, though he lost the church’s sanction to present himself as such when dismissed from the Oblates. To act as a priest, he’d need sanction from a bishop. The diocese says Warren wasn’t granted these faculties after leaving the Oblates.
Warren declined to be interviewed for this story.
At present, Warren defies the long-standing church sanctions against him by presenting himself as a priest: his letter declining interview was signed “Fr. Chet Warren.” Likewise, sources attest to seeing Warren in priestly garb on multiple occasions after his sanctions.
While the church has no legal recourse against Warren for presenting himself as a priest, church sources say it’s incumbent upon the bishop’s office to try to prevent Warren from speciously practicing ministry. A bishop’s office usually does this by notifying the parishes and Catholic institutions within the diocese. With Warren, the diocese says it can’t recall any specific steps taken.
Blaine is upset Warren has never been fully removed from the priesthood. “To me,” she says, “it’s unbelievable they’d let him remain a priest. Whether he’s ever allowed to minister again or not, why shouldn’t they impose their ultimate sanction? In the eyes of the Church, he’s still a priest. Why chance it that he might fall through the cracks and get sanctioned for ministry down the road? He started abusing me in 1969 and, well, he’s still a priest.”
Patrick Wall, a former priest and church law specialist who now advocates for victims, says removing Warren from the Oblates, but not laicizing him, is highly unusual. “Warren’s case is really strange. Sure, canonical laicization trials take time, but it’s standard when a priest is dismissed from his religious community. … It’s still possible he could get faculties to minister elsewhere and be in a position to harm kids while working for the church.”
Cryan says the Oblates didn’t move to have Warren laicized because “removing Warren permanently from the ministry seemed the most effective way of protecting people from him.”
Regardless, Patrick Wall says Hoffman had the ability to start laicization proceedings. Wall says Blair has this authority, too. This defrocking ultimately happens at the Vatican, but Wall says the Toledo bishop has the right to start the process.
When asked if Blair will move to laicize Warren, the diocese didn’t comment.
Besides existing in canonical limbo, Warren has legal troubles. Along with the Toledo Oblates, the diocese and St. Pius church, Warren is currently named as a defendant in a sexual abuse lawsuit.
Blaine says any settlement won against Warren, the Oblates and the diocese is just. She claims to know several other Warren victims. Blaine puts the number at 11 but suspects more. Beyond that, she’s glad about the very recent settlements the diocese reached with others who alleged molestation by other clerics. She calls it “a vindication.”
The movement is born
During the years Blaine was trying to work with the Toledo Diocese, she began to reach out to victims of clerical abuse. SNAP was born in 1989.
Blaine, still living in poverty with her south Chicago Catholic worker community, would organize small meetings in the homeless shelter where she lived.
SNAP grew through small ads and word of mouth. At the first meeting, she recalls people from all walks of life: “We’d spent so many years thinking we were the only ones — it was really affirming and consoling once we found other people.”
SNAP became an activist organization. Blaine sees SNAP’s activist role as critical to preventing future abuse, but says SNAP is “95 percent” about consoling victims within the traditional self-help model. After the clergy scandals exploded in 2002, SNAP’s membership increased to nearly 5,000.
Recently, the nonprofit organization has brought greater donations and created a few paid positions, one of which is for Blaine. As founder and president of SNAP, she served without compensation from 1989 until early in 2003. Because of the pain working for the church caused her while trying to heal, Blaine finally left her Catholic worker community in the early ’90s. She was finishing her master’s degree in divinity and planned to stay with the church for life, but therapy helped her seek healthier environs. She became a lawyer and went to work for Cook County, Ill., as a child’s advocate — a prosecutor who advocates for abused kids.
As a paid employee of SNAP, Blaine made $63,000 last year. She says this is comparable to what she’d make working for Cook County except SNAP has no benefits. She averages an 80-hour work week with traveling and her ubiquitous media presence. Blaine is one of four SNAP employees nationwide, and with last year’s budget at less than $500,000, her status is precarious. “One of the misconceptions about SNAP,” she says, “is that we’ve got a big, stable budget and a bunch of employees: We don’t. Almost everyone who works for SNAP is a volunteer like I was until last year. We’re a nonprofit that operates on donations. I have to make a salary to live so, if the time comes when I can’t be employed by SNAP, I’ll go back to law and volunteer for SNAP as much as I can — just like before.”
Two years ago Blaine finally married. Her husband directs a college legal clinic. Together, they live comfortably but modestly. Blaine describes her marriage as “loving, happy and healthy,” crediting therapy and SNAP with helping her overcome her intimacy issues.
In spite of her struggle, Blaine is still a practicing Catholic. Blaine reflects, “I’ve tried other denominations. They just didn’t fit. My faith is in God — not the men leading the church.”
Blaine’s relationship with the diocese is still strained. Though Hoffman wrote her a letter in 1993 saying “I do believe you when you say that Oblate Father Chet Warren sexually abused you,” Blaine’s quick to point out that Hoffman took more than seven years to validate this. Furthermore, she says, Hoffman never apologized for failing to put Warren out of ministry much sooner. Blaine characterizes the apologies she’s received as begrudging. She says she can only point to one time when a Toledo church official publicly validated her claims about Warren — that, she said, was when a former diocesan official went on TV and said he thought the allegations against Warren were probably true. She says this wasn’t followed with an apology, however.
Cryan feels an acknowledgement and apology were made at an open St. Pius X parish meeting attended by Hoffman shortly before his death. At the meeting were Rita Blaine and Marcia Blaine-Holtz. Blaine-Holtz, a Catholic school teacher, contradicts Cryan’s assessment that there was an apology to the Blaines — or even an acknowledgment of Warren’s guilt. Instead, she characterizes the meeting as “damage control” meant to allay concerns about the current lawsuit involving Warren and St. Pius.
Nonetheless, Blaine expresses hope for the new bishop. She sees Blair’s overtures to release the names of known and suspected molesters as progress. To date, Blair has released some of the 36 acknowledged names; Blair says he won’t release the names of dead priests since “they can’t defend themselves.” Regardless of whether they’re living or dead, Blaine says the bishop has a duty to release every name. “Victims come forward much more easily when they learn they’re not the only one abused by a particular cleric,” she says.
By now, Blaine knows what enmity feels like. She continues tirelessly with SNAP. As long as her road to healing is, she says there are thousands of stories just like hers. “I pray for the Catholic Church to live up to its own Gospel teachings,” Blaine says. “I pray for the day when I’ll be treated like a faithful daughter of the church instead of an enemy.”
After 35 years, Blaine is still striving to be a good Catholic.
Bill Frogameni is a TCP freelance writer.
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