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Priest Who Wrote Books on Marriage Accused of Sex Abuse

By Bob Roberts
WBBM Newsradio 780
November 18, 2005

CHICAGO -- A woman who claims she was sexually abused by a Loyola University professor, known for a series of books on love and relationships, when she was a Loyola freshman 30 years ago is demanding action by the university to assure that it won't happen again.

Diane Ruhl said Father John Powell, then a professor of theology and psychology at Loyola, claimed he was trying to "help awaken her sexual identity." Since then, she said he has written and met with her and her husband and admitted that what he did was wrong.

"He told me this was for my own good. He told me he was helping me," she said. "Because I was vulnerable and naïve, and because he was well-known and popular and spoke about love, I believed him. I trusted him because he was a priest, a Man of God ho, theoretically, would never hurt anyone."

Powell married Jack and Diane Ruhl in July 1977. The Ruhls say that Father Powell told them at the time that she did not have to go through pre-marital counseling because she had already taken his course on love and marriage. Only 27 years later did she admit to her husband that her first sexual experiences were with Powell.

The experience has led both Ruhl and her husband away from the Catholic Church. During a news conference on the Loyola University Lake Shore campus, Ruhl said she has had lasting problems. "I struggle with trusting people. I struggle with depression. I struggle with self-esteem. And despite the fact that I know that he was wrong, and that it was his fault, I still struggle with blame and self-doubt," she said.

Powell now lives in a Jesuit retirement home in Michigan. But Ruhl said she wants assurances and action from Loyola, and the Society of Jesus, the religious order to which Father Powell belongs, and which operates Loyola.

"We need to make sure that the Jesuits, and the board of trustees of this university have a program so that this does not happen again to any other student," she said. Members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said they wanted to see Powell removed from the priesthood, and sales of his books halted.

The priest in charge of conduct inquiries for the Jesuits' Chicago Province, Father James Gschwend, told WBBM that Father Powell is fading physically and mentally and has not been allowed to undertake public ministry for several years.

"He's really not very competent to do anything," Gschwend said. "Physically he his eyes are bad and it's very difficult to speak with him."

Nonetheless, the Ruhls said that last year, Father Powell indicated he was finishing his autobiography.

The Jesuits Oct. 21 announced settlements in several cases involving Father Powell, once a prolific author on psychology and relationships. Powell published more than two dozen books; many of the books are still available from both secular and religious bookstores, although Father Gschwend said, "Sales have plummeted the last several years since he had these allegations."

Gschwend conceded that Father Powell's book royalties have always been assigned to the Jesuits' Chicago province, with much of the money being put toward missionary activities and other charity in both in the United States and overseas.

A Loyola spokesman referred all calls on Father Powell to Father Gschwend, who was unable to say what Loyola is doing specifically to address sexual misconduct involving priests. Asked what the Jesuits as a religious order are doing to try to spot and remove pedophile priests and those engaging in other forms of sexual misconduct, Gschwend said, "Everybody's doing everything they can. The whole country, I hope, is more aware to the problem than we were decades ago."

 
 

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