Sacred Trust Was Violated by Priest
Three Men Abused As Boys at a Lincoln Church Talk about the Fear and Shame They Felt and the Lingering Effects the Abuse Has Had on Their Lives and Their Families' Feelings toward the Church. Rob Butler Patrick Brakhage Unidentified Victim
By Stephen Buttry
Omaha World Herald (Nebraska)
April 14, 2002
The tickling came first. Then the playful priest spun the altar boy in the air, so fast he got dizzy. Finally the priest laid the child on the floor of the church basement and climbed on top. They stayed fully clothed as the priest fondled the boy and rubbed himself back and forth as if having sex.
For years, Rob Butler didn't tell anyone about the weekly abuse by the Rev. Paul Margand at St. Teresa Catholic Church in Lincoln.
The priest succeeded in "making himself so high in your parents' mind that if you tell your parents, they'll say, 'no, that can't be true,'" Butler said in a recent interview.
Butler, who was 11 years old and went by Adam Butler when the abuse started, is one of countless children, mostly boys, who felt shamed or scared into silence following abuse by priests. Margand, who was convicted in 1987 of sexual contact with another boy in Lincoln, is one of hundreds of priests who have been accused of abuse.
Butler said Margand first abused him at altar boy training, then following afterschool religious education classes. Butler went to the public school 14 blocks away and couldn't make it to church in time for class. "All he'd have to do was call my dad and say his son's late, so he was holding me afterward."
Margand, listed in prison records as 5-foot-10 and 199 pounds, could overpower the boys he would hold down on the floor.
As a traumatized boy, Butler could confide in only one friend, an imaginary one: "I could talk to the friend in my head while I couldn't talk to my regular friends about this."
He started hearing the friend's voice in the summer of 1986, halfway through the ordeal that began when he was 11 and continued for two years.
Butler's parents knew something was wrong. He was depressed. His grades dropped. He started seeing counselors in eighth grade. The counselors recognized the psychological symptoms of sexual abuse and asked about it, but Butler always denied it.
Even when his parents asked after Margand was arrested on suspicion of molesting two other boys, Butler could not acknowledge what had happened.
When he was 19, Butler visited his first female counselor. "She kind of picked up that it wasn't a legitimate 'no' that I was giving her." He told the woman what had happened.
In some sexual-abuse cases, victims cope by repressing memory of the abuse. "That was certainly never the case with me," Butler said. "I realistically remembered it every day."
When he could acknowledge the abuse, Butler contacted Omaha attorney Richard Berkshire. Berkshire's correspondence with the attorney for the Lincoln Diocese, former Gov. Robert Crosby, named a physician and three counselors who had provided therapy.
"The abuse continues to haunt and affect him on a daily basis," Berkshire wrote in 1993 to Crosby, who died in 2000.
Letters from Crosby to Berkshire detail a settlement offer from the diocese. Butler said he could not disclose whether he reached a settlement. The Rev. Mark Huber, spokesman for Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, said Bruskewitz would not comment on the Margand case.
Now a 28-year-old student and employee at Creighton University, Butler likens the memory of the abuse to "an unnecessary computer program burning up a lot of memory" in his brain.
"There's no concentrating ability there," Butler said, unable to finish a train of thought during an interview. "My mind's about as good as a goldfish."
LINCOLN - Like a lot of rebellious sons and religious mothers, 12-year-old Patrick Brakhage and his mother debated his need for religious instruction.
"I never liked going to church," Brakhage said. He recalled skipping out of Mass as a fifth- and sixth-grader at St. Teresa.
So his mother arranged private instruction with Margand. "I wanted him to have some sort of religious education," recalled the mother, now living in the Cincinnati area.
She couldn't bring herself to say what the priest had done to her son. She referred to the abuse as "what happened."
Brakhage recounted what happened April 22, 1987, in vulgar detail: "He held me down by my wrists and decided to start grinding on me like I was a little (expletive) doll or something."
The boy later testified that Margand got him onto the floor by asking him to lie down to pray. While the priest was on top of the boy, he talked about Moses.
Brakhage began crying when he got into the car to go home. His mother asked what was wrong. He told her. She knew she needed to protect her son. "I just immediately called and said he would no longer go to the class."
Beyond that, she was unsure what to do. "I was stupid," she said in retrospect.
Few priests in 1987 had been accused publicly of child abuse. The mother said she didn't disbelieve her son, but she wondered. "It goes through your mind that this can't happen, priests can't do that." She didn't tell church officials or police.
Before long, police came to question her son after another boy's parents had reported abuse. Brakhage recalled that he was home alone, "eating a bowl of cereal, watching cartoons or something."
He called his parents and when they arrived, the officer turned on a tape recorder and the boy told what had happened.
When the church learned of the charges, some parishioners had difficulty believing them. "I was kind of shunned by some of the church members," Brakhage's mother said. "Pat did get a lot of ridiculing from some of the other kids he knew."
At Margand's preliminary hearing, the boys had to testify. The prosecutor, Mary Thramer, gave Brakhage two dolls. As the courtroom watched, "I had to put them in position to show what had happened."
The prosecutor, who is now Lancaster County Judge Mary Doyle, asked, "Do you see the man in the room?" At that moment, Brakhage recalled, Margand's face was buried in his hands, so the boy answered no.
The judge instructed Margand to lower his hands and look up. "That's when I broke down and started crying," Brakhage said. He had to be helped from the courtroom.
The boy couldn't cope with it. "It's unfathomable to a 12-year-old boy who's still God-fearing and puts his faith in the church," he said.
He would curse and yell and fight in school. He couldn't focus on classes. "I was always trying to get attention."
The troubled boy spent six months in Rivendell Psychiatric Hospital in Seward, which closed in 1995 amid claims of patient mistreatment. The building now houses St. Gregory the Great Seminary, operated by the Lincoln Diocese.
The family's insurance covered only half the expenses, the mother said. "I was dreading that bill coming, but it never came."
She assumes the church paid the bill. "Nothing was ever said, and I never asked."
The Rev. James Dawson, who was vicar general for the diocese at the time, said he did not recall whether the church paid the bill, but said that sounded likely.
Brakhage's problems continued after his hospitalization. "I was seriously screwed up from that for a long time. I was on the borderline to a life of crime."
A stay in a youth detention center finally helped turn him around. Three years in the Army also helped. So did reading. "I escaped into books."
Now 27, he is transferring to Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., studying sound engineering and lighting.
The wounds that Margand inflicted remain deep enough that Brakhage's mother feared forwarding an interview request to her son. "He's tried very hard over the years to forget it," she said. "He has a lot of hatred for this man."
The son also blames his mother. "He really hates me for pushing him into that class," she said.
Brakhage agreed about the rift between them and about his continuing contempt for Margand. "This guy is still out there. Be aware. Stay away from him," he said. "He's ruined a lot of lives and broken a lot of families' hearts."
Victim who did not want to be identified
LINCOLN - A third victim of Margand remembers few details of the incident 15 years later. He remembers nothing about talking to police and little about testifying in court. What he remembers clearly is fear.
"Until he was actually put away, I remember being scared at night."
His mother remembers him waking up crying. She remembers him sleeping with a baseball bat by his bed.
The man, now married and living in Texas, agreed to an interview on condition that he not be identified. His parents, who still live in Lincoln, agreed to the same terms.
"It's difficult to even talk about," the victim said.
When his mother picked him up at the church from altar boy training the night that Margand abused him, she asked what was wrong. "She could probably tell," the man said. "I suppose my voice sounded something like it does right now."
She could tell. He was sitting on the curb when she came to pick him up. "He saw me coming a block away and jumped up and came running." From his face, his voice, his frantic dash to mom, she could tell. "You know your child, and you know something is wrong," she said, her voice quavering.
The mother asked if he was OK. "I think what I told her was, 'I don't ever want to go back there again,'" he said.
In the car and at home, she asked what was wrong. The 11-year-old boy stumbled through an explanation of the abuse. "I didn't fully understand a lot of what was going on. I knew it was wrong."
The mother told the father, who was a leader in the Serra Club, a Catholic group that encourages and supports men interested in becoming priests.
When the dad learned of the abuse, he called the Rev. James Dawson, the vicar general for the diocese who also was a friend. "I thought this was a church matter," the dad said.
Dawson and the Rev. Myron Pleskac, senior pastor at St. Teresa, came to the family's home. The parents say the priests encouraged them to let the church handle the abuse, rather than going to police.
Pleskac, now pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lincoln, and Dawson, now pastor at St. Michael in Cheney, remember the meeting but said they did not recall what they said.
The parents said the priests told the family they would get help for Margand and their son. Those statements, Dawson said, "sound like what I would say."
The parents said the priests told them more: that they could keep it quiet so the family wouldn't "have to be embarrassed," that "there was not a legal obligation to report this."
About those statements, Dawson said, "I'm not so sure."
Pleskac said, "I don't have that recollection."
Pleskac said the incident was the first suggestion he had heard of sexual misconduct by Margand. "It came as a total surprise to me." The priests said they did not know of victims other than those interviewed for this story.
The parents said police interviewed other parents who had told Pleskac about abuse.
Sgt. Bill Kuhlman, who handled the investigation, does not recall details of the case. But he reviewed the files and confirmed that police did interview other victims. He isn't sure whether the victims or parents had told church officials.
Pleskac said he thinks the boy's parents already had contacted police by the time he and Dawson met with them.
The parents said they contacted police only after talking to a third priest, who has since left the priesthood and married. The parents did not identify him to protect his privacy.
The parents said that priest told them Nebraska law required anyone who has reason to believe a child has been abused to report the abuse to authorities. The law was passed in 1977. The priest knew about the law, he said, from attending diocesan training sessions for teachers and priests.
"You can call the police," the priest told the parents. "Or now that I know, I'm legally bound to report it."
The parents reported the abuse. Officers interviewed the boy and arrested Margand.
The boys who testified at the preliminary hearing were allowed to have someone sit by them. The priest who had encouraged the family to report the abuse sat by the 11-year-old boy.
The boy testified that he stayed to help clean up after an altar boys' class, at Margand's request. "Being nice to priests is what my father always said (I should do), so I said yes."
He testified that Margand held him down for about an hour and would not let him leave, forcing the boy's legs apart with his own legs. Four times during the assault, Margand was interrupted, but the boy could not escape. "I thought of leaving, but it was like my legs wouldn't get up or anything. They were frozen," he testified.
Margand accepted a plea bargain rather than go to trial.
As the father reads news accounts now of priests who molested boys for decades, he regards his son as a hero. "When it occurred, he did what he had to do to get out of there. He told his mom. He spoke to the police. He testified in court. Who knows how many kids he saved?"
His mother remembers the frightened boy telling her, "I can't wait till I'm 17. Then I'll be bigger than he is."
Counseling and time helped him carry the burden that Margand had inflicted. "I think I was lucky that I had a supportive family."
The family says the church didn't provide counseling, despite the initial offer. Dawson said, "I know that the church would have provided it if the parents had wanted it."
Although the 26-year-old Texas man feels the effects of his abuse less as the years pass, "it has lingered," he said. "There's definitely times that it sneaks up on you."
None of these three victims of Margand's abuse, nor their parents, goes to church today. Abuse by a priest, they say, is a violation of a sacred trust.
"From the time we were little," the Lincoln father said, "we had it drilled into us that they have the power to take bread and wine and turn it into the flesh and blood of the son of God. For Catholic kids and a priest, it's a really different deal. It's not like a teacher. It's not like a neighbor or a grandfather."
The mother is angrier at the church than at Margand. "He is sick," she said. "But what the church did as far as trying to cover up and not take care of the kids, that was deliberate."
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