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  Priest Had Accuser's Respect
Woman Is Suing, Claiming Sex Abuse

By Jennifer A. Bowen
Belleville News-Democrat
February 9, 2002

A New Baden woman who accused a Catholic priest of fondling her on at least three occasions said she didn't stay away after the first episode because she trusted and respected him.

Judy Hangsleben, 52, has filed suit against the Rev. Daniel L. Friedman, a priest at the St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Aviston. She claims he reached down her shirt and touched her breasts three times during different counseling sessions.

"I was very dependent on this man," Hangsleben said. "I trusted him unconditionally. That's why I was in counseling sessions with him."

Hangsleben said she attended monthly counseling sessions with Friedman, 55, for more than four years to talk about being sexually abused as a child.

David Clohessy, head of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said it is common for priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct to spend time building trusting relationships with their victims, only to exploit their vulnerabilities later.

"Going back to him three times simply speaks to the power priests have over their parishioners in general, especially to someone in pain and even more so over someone who has been sexually victimized," Clohessy said. "When you are molested as a child, you learn that you aren't important, your feelings don't matter and your body isn't your own. It is very common for men and women who were abused as children to be abused as adults."

Sexual abuse of adults by priests probably happens more often than people realize because sexual abuse victims are ashamed and blame themselves, Clohessy said. Also, victims are afraid to come forward.

"The church does not take it seriously enough," Clohessy said. "The church handles these allegations internally and they have one goal: to keep it as quiet as possible. Whether it's a handful or hundreds, the bottom line is that anyone who is hurt by a priest, in any circumstance, deserves not the cold shoulder, but deserves the caring hand of the church."

Monsignor James E. Margason, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, said the church is investigating Hangsleben's allegations. Because no children were involved in the alleged abuse, Friedman continues to hold his position as priest in the parish. When children make allegations of sexual misconduct against a priest, the priest is placed on a leave of absence.

Hangsleben said that since filing the lawsuit, she has received several demeaning and hateful calls accusing her of spreading lies.

"I don't understand why so many people are blaming me," she said. "I'm the victim. I'm the one who has been abused. People are incensed when a child is abused. People are angered when a woman is raped. People are angered when women are battered by their husbands. But when a woman is sexually abused by a priest, she becomes a victim all over again. Abuse is abuse, whether it's a child, woman or man."

Friedman was formerly a chaplain at Camp Ondessonk, a Catholic summer camp for children. He was named in a lawsuit filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville by a man who alleged Friedman made sexual advances toward him at the camp in 1986.

In September 1996, Friedman was placed on administrative leave. He later was cleared by the Diocesan Review Board and assigned to be pastor at the Aviston church.

Hangsleben hired an attorney recommended to her by the ACLU, Edwardsville attorney Greg Roosevelt, to handle her lawsuit against Friedman and the diocese. The suit was filed in St. Clair County Court on Tuesday.

She is seeking $100,000 in damages for emotional distress and medical expenses caused by the alleged sexual misconduct.

Hangsleben said that even though she has fielded many nasty phone calls about her lawsuit, she doesn't regret coming forward.

"I hope that any other woman in my position will go to the police and file a report," she said. "I don't believe I'm the only woman in the diocese in this position. This has got to be addressed by the church because it's real, it exists."

A court hearing on Hangsleben's allegations is scheduled to be heard by a judge on April 3.

 
 

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