30 Years of Pain, Shame Revealed
Ex-Catholic School Principal Accused of Molesting Boys
By Kelly McBride
Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)
March 4, 2001
Everyone called him Brother Augie.
As principal of DeSales Catholic High School in Walla Walla in the 1970s, Brother August Ludwig was respected by parents as a solid moral influence. They invited him to dinner and entrusted their children to him on road trips.
Ludwig abused that trust by molesting at least five teenage students, plying some of them with whiskey and arranging to be alone with them in his home or motel rooms, the victims say.
Only now, a quarter century later, is an explosion of anger from his victims forcing the church and August Ludwig to confront these sins of the past.
For Ludwig, it's almost too late. He is 70 years old, in failing health, barely able to get around in the Pennsylvania hospital where he is confined for treatment of a sexual disorder.
Had he molested boys last year, the Catholic Church would have turned him in to the police.
In the 1970s, rumors about Ludwig were ignored and the only recorded complaint was dismissed. Unpunished, Ludwig worked in schools from Hawaii to Virginia. Meanwhile, his victims grew to middle age battling depression, unable to make relationships work and fighting with authority figures - all residue, they say, of their abuse.
In the past two years, the Diocese of Spokane has come to believe five men were abused by Ludwig. Yet church authorities were willing to let him live out the remainder of his life in a picturesque monastery.
Then Philip Determan began telling his story of abuse by Ludwig. He screamed for three years to get results. And he's still not happy.
He wants Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane to issue a public apology in every Catholic church in Walla Walla. Determan and other victims want the bishop to plead for additional victims to come forward. And they want Ludwig charged in criminal court and imprisoned.
None of that is likely to happen.
Road trips with the principal
August Ludwig joined the Society of Mary, also known as the Marianists, as a teenager. He was a monk, meaning he took all the same vows as a priest, but could not say Mass.
By the time he came to Walla Walla in 1971 he had taught in almost a dozen schools in Missouri, Texas and California.
Ludwig endeared himself to parents and the community when he became principal at DeSales, but some of his former students considered him "goofy" and inappropriate. Two former students described how Ludwig would sit opposite a male student and squeeze the boy's legs between his knees.
Other students said Ludwig, like many clergy, had an aura of mystery and worldliness about him.
"He was always taking kids on trips," one of his victims said. "And I wanted to go on one of those trips so bad, because it seemed so cool."
Going to different cities, staying in hotels and eating in restaurants seemed glamorous to students from the small school in a small town.
"I had never gone anywhere without my family until Augie took me to Spokane," Determan said. "It's so easy now, to see how vulnerable we were then. My God, we thought Spokane was the height of sophistication."
When Determan was 16 and a junior at DeSales, his parents planned to leave town one weekend. They asked Ludwig if their son could stay in the Marianist brothers' house.
During that weekend, Determan said, Ludwig invited him to watch television on the couch in the common room.
They were alone. Ludwig began massaging Determan's shoulders, then moved his hands to his genitals, Determan said.
Determan remembers Ludwig as a large, bearded man, close to 6 feet tall and over 200 pounds. The principal pinned the boy in the corner of the couch and reached down his pants. He tried to get the boy to reciprocate, and forcefully kissed him on the mouth, Determan said.
"The whole time he was saying, 'There's really nothing wrong with this, you know,"' Determan said. "'If you think there's something wrong with this, maybe you're the one with a problem."' Determan said he escaped and fled home. He slept in his parents' garage until they returned.
That same year, two other students said they were molested by Ludwig on trips.
During the summer of 1975, Ludwig ushered two girls and a boy to Victoria, British Columbia. The girls roomed together. The 17-year-old boy stayed with Ludwig.
"Every night he said the only room available had just one bed," said the victim, who spoke on the condition he not be named. "That's how naive I was. We all were."
The first night of the trip, Ludwig brought out a pint of whiskey and offered it to the boy.
"We got really drunk, at least I did," he recalls. "Then he tells me he sleeps in the nude."
Shortly after going to bed, Ludwig twice fondled the boy, who decided to sleep on the floor for the rest of the trip, he said.
He didn't tell anyone.
That fall Ludwig took another boy to Boise to watch a football game. Once again there was only one bed and a bottle of booze - Southern Comfort.
The victim, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said he woke up to find Ludwig fondling him. When Ludwig ordered him to, he reciprocated.
It was his first sexual experience. He has never forgiven himself.
Alcohol was also involved in an assault on Richard Determan, Philip's brother.
When he was 19 and studying to be a priest, Richard Determan lived with the brothers in Walla Walla for a month. Toward the end of his stay the brothers held a party, with a lot of alcohol.
"I was very drunk," Richard Determan said.
He blacked out. The next morning he woke up in his bed, naked and bleeding from his rectum, he said.
When he returned from the bathroom, he found Ludwig in the private room, changing the bed sheets. When Richard Determan told Ludwig about the bleeding, Ludwig said that sometimes happens when you drink too much alcohol.
Years later, Richard Determan said he realized he had been raped.
Parents ashamed for son
Ludwig left Walla Walla in 1977 to teach religion at Serra High School in Los Angeles. There were rumors in Walla Walla that the monk was gay and had violated his vow of celibacy with students. But no victims came forward, and Ludwig's departure appeared to be a normal transfer.
Betty and Ray Determan were discussing those rumors at the kitchen table later that year when Philip said, "It's all true," and told his parents about his weekend with Ludwig.
The parents said they were repulsed and ashamed for their son. Betty Determan cried. Ray Determan shouted, "Don't ever go over to that house again," and stormed out of the house.
The Determan family reported the molestation to Brother Ed Gomez, who then was assistant provincial of the California Province of Marianists. It was the only report ever filed with Ludwig's religious superiors until 1990.
Gomez confronted Ludwig in person.
"What was reported and what (Ludwig) told me were two different stories," Gomez said last month during a terse interview from his office in Honolulu, where he works in the development office at Chaminade University. "Nothing was proven at the time."
Gomez said he saw no reason to note the complaint in Ludwig's file. No police report was filed.
Marianist records show that Ludwig took a leave of absence in December of that year, after one semester teaching in Los Angeles. Gomez said the leave was not related to the abuse complaint.
While Ludwig returned to the Marianists eight months later to teach college in Hawaii, the students were trying to forget the abuse.
They graduated from college and moved out into the world. Three of the four men interviewed for this story said they lost their faith in the church, battled depression and struggled in personal relationships.
Philip Determan was plagued by depression; he was hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Richard Determan, who once studied to be a priest, said stepping into a church now would be torture.
The Boise victim said he finds it difficult to be emotionally close and to submit to authority figures. Because of that, his marriage unraveled. His wife divorced him and gained primary custody of their two children.
"Every single job I have, I eventually get into it with the boss," he said. "I can't stand for someone to have control over me."
Ludwig left the Marianists for the Benedictines in 1980. He lived in New Mexico, then moved into a Benedictine monastery in Kentucky where he was ordained as a priest in 1984 or 1985. Officials say there were no allegations of sexual abuse in any of the other locations where Ludwig was stationed.
When his priory in Kentucky folded, Ludwig transferred to the Benedictine abbey in Richmond, Va., where he taught religion at an all-boys Catholic high school. He was appointed headmaster of that school in the spring of 1989.
He was considered by his colleagues to be a fairly good principal. Again officials say there were no complaints of sexual misconduct.
He even ushered a group of students to Europe, shortly before his past caught up with him.
A call to Bishop Skylstad
Ludwig visited Walla Walla in 1990.
One family there still considered themselves Ludwig's benefactors. Because he had taken a vow of poverty, they often sent him cash gifts at Christmas and on the anniversary of his ordination.
The mother of that family called her son. He was 31, recently divorced and having a tough time. He had lost his well-paying job in the medical field and was working at a gas station. She thought he might like to visit with the old family friend.
"Augie's in town," she told him over the phone.
He was silent. The mother said she had heard rumors about Ludwig for years, but never believed them. In that moment of silence, she realized they were true.
"What's wrong? Are you sick?" she badgered her son, until he broke down sobbing.
He told her about his trip to Boise in 1975.
She hung up and called Bishop Skylstad in Spokane.
Skylstad immediately called Richmond Bishop Walter Sullivan and the Abbot Richard McDermott, who was in charge of the Benedictine abbey where Ludwig was living and working.
Both men assured Skylstad that Ludwig would be removed from all contact with children.
Skylstad called the woman's son and offered to pay for counseling, an offer he would make to four other victims and their families.
And he prayed.
"The fact that it happened almost 30 years ago, what is the best way to handle it?" Skylstad said during a recent interview. "I don't want to whitewash something like this. It's a matter of prudence, how I handle it."
Most of the victims are no longer in Walla Walla. One victim who still lives there has told the bishop an apology at this point would cause more pain.
Skylstad said he worries that while an public apology might provide vindication for some victims, it might be spiritually damaging for the hundreds of other Catholic families in church on any Sunday morning.
The bishop wrote a column in the diocesan newspaper, which is circulated to Catholic homes throughout Eastern Washington, decrying all instances of clergy sexual abuse, but didn't mention Ludwig. He urged victims to come forward.
After getting Skylstad's call, Abbot McDermott yanked Ludwig from his job. Ludwig was evaluated by a psychiatrist, then sent to outpatient treatment for almost two years, while he lived in a monastery, McDermott said.
After the treatment, Ludwig was assigned as an assistant pastor at St. Benedict's Catholic Church. McDermott said Ludwig was not specifically restricted from contact with children, but that all he really did was celebrate Mass and visit the hospital.
"He seemed to know his boundaries," McDermott said. "And we didn't have him in the school."
Richmond Bishop Walter Sullivan approved the assignment. Sullivan refused repeated requests to be interviewed and did not respond to a list of questions faxed to his office. In a short letter, Sullivan wrote, "Yes, he was at St. Benedict's Parish for only a brief period of time simply because one of the Benedictine monks had died."
McDermott said Ludwig was at the parish "maybe two years."
He reassigned Ludwig to the monastery in 1998 or 1999, "because Philip (Determan) was acting up."
Victim shouts at bishop
Philip Determan was studying to be a priest at Pope John the 23rd Seminary in Boston, Mass., in 1998.
He had served four years in the Navy and worked for a decade as an economist at the International Monetary Fund. After a difficult struggle to understand his faith, he decided to become a priest candidate for the Diocese of Washington, D.C.
When he was screened, he denied ever suffering sexual abuse, because he suspected he would be turned away from the priesthood.
In seminary he was required to go through intense spiritual counseling. He revealed the abuse in confidence to a spiritual director, who suggested that Determan begin confronting his demons.
He called Bishop Skylstad in 1998, demanding the bishop make the case public.
"It started out with me on bended knee, begging the bishop to do the right thing," Determan said. "The conversation devolved into a shouting match."
He called the bishop a "moral pygmy" for refusing to make a public apology, for the abuse he and his brother suffered.
After the phone call, Skylstad assigned a priest to go through DeSales' old yearbooks to identify and contact any man who could have been a victim. Through that effort, two more men said that Ludwig had assaulted them.
Philip Determan traced Ludwig to the Benedictine monastery in Richmond. When he discovered that Ludwig was still working in a parish, he became consumed by anger.
He called the abbot of the monastery, demanding that he force Ludwig to apologize to his victims.
He called the police in Richmond, to alert them to Ludwig's history. Determan said he desperately wanted Ludwig to be punished for his crimes.
Soon after he began his campaign of phone calls, Determan was dismissed as a candidate for the priesthood.
He claims Skylstad called Determan's superior in D.C., who then dismissed him for lying about the past abuse. Skylstad said he did not make that phone call.
A spokeswoman for the diocese and the director of vocations both refused to comment on Determan's dismissal.
Philip and Richard Determan prepared to file a lawsuit in 1999. They agreed to a settlement in June 2000, after they were deposed by lawyers for the church. The Diocese of Spokane paid them $ 15,000 each. The Marianists paid them $ 20,000 each.
But their bitterness remained, and even increased. Ludwig and the church have yet to publicly admit wrongdoing, they say. Philip Determan admits his anger is frightening, even to him. He justifies it as righteous indignation. "I am a human being who has been unjustly punished," Determan said. "I was not a screaming hysteric. There is a difference between being persistent and irrational.
"My goal is to get that SOB to face up to the fact that he ruined my life," he said.
Responding to Determan, Bishop Sullivan of Richmond wrote, "Perhaps what you interpret as justice may also be interpreted as vengeance."
Philip Determan continued calling the abbot last year, demanding Ludwig be made to apologize. The abbot replied that he was still deciding what to do.
Every month, the calls increased in frequency and intensity. By January, Determan was calling daily, sometimes three times a day, demanding that the abbot lock up Ludwig.
"It's been pretty wearing on my emotional state," said McDermott, 67.
After Determan called the Richmond police, a detective stopped by the abbey to explain that in Virginia criminal charges can be filed against a person who employs a convicted pedophile in a school. Ludwig didn't fit the description because he has never been charged criminally. But the abbot was unnerved.
"That really shook me up, got me scared," McDermott said. "Still, I don't think there are any victims here in Richmond."
Nonetheless, in January, McDermott placed Ludwig in a church-run residential treatment facility in Downington, Pa., that specializes in "boundary issues," a term commonly applied to the problems of sexually abusive or manipulative clergy. He did it "to cover the bases."
McDermott worries that the case will become public in Richmond.
"It gets in the newspaper here and the school, the abbey, everything will suffer," he said.
He is in the middle of a $ 3.5 million capital campaign to enhance the school's curriculum, the teacher's retirement program and the scholarship fund.
"We've made 60 percent of that goal, but if word got out, we'd be shut down," he said.
"I feel badly for everybody," he said. "It's been 30 years. I hope we can get past some things. And you know, the Lord says to forgive. We have to try to do that."
Apologies bring more rage
At least three of the victims said forgiveness is not an option until Ludwig and the church repent. Another victim interviewed for this story said he has put the incident behind him. The newspaper was not able to track down the fifth victim identified by the diocese.
"I think the bishop's doing everything he can," the victim said. "As for Ludwig, I feel sorry for him. There may not be perfect justice in this life, but there will be in the afterlife."
It does not appear that Ludwig has ever admitted the extent of his crimes in Walla Walla. He did not return phone messages left at the hospital where he is being treated.
In 1990, as part of his counseling, Ludwig telephoned the man he victimized in Boise.
"Augie called me at home and he says, 'I'm sorry for any pain I've caused you.,"' the victim recalled. "Then he says, 'I don't know what it is you think I've done, but I'm sorry that I've hurt you."' The conversation sent the victim into a rage.
"I don't know who to hate more, him for doing it, or me for letting him do it, then listening to him on the phone feed me that line of crap," he said.
A Richmond psychiatrist who treated Ludwig was only aware of Philip Determan's allegations. Dr. Patricio Torres-Lisboa wrote to McDermott and Bishop Sullivan in May 1999 that Ludwig "reassured me that he had never done anything else to anyone."
When she asked him about the possibility he abused other boys in Walla Walla, "he responded he was sure he had not done it but also doubted the accuracy of his recollection."
Earlier this year, to placate Philip Determan, the abbot asked Ludwig to write an apology. The note infuriated Determan and inspired him to work even harder to make the church acknowledge his suffering.
The one-line, mistyped letter, read in its entirety: "Philip, I aplogize for everything. August Ludwig"
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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