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  Therapy, Lawsuit Brought Man Peace

By Jill Callison
Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, SD)
April 14, 2002

DEADWOOD - Kurt Brick has read the 100-word apology dozens of times since 1999.

The typed, single-spaced lines take up less than one-fourth of the plain white sheet of paper.

The note says, in part, "Recently, the Diocese of Sioux Falls settled a claim brought by a former O'Gorman High School student by the name of Kurt Brick. Our investigation showed that a former priest at O'Gorman High School had an improper relationship with Mr. Brick which may have caused Mr. Brick to suffer injury. On behalf of the church, I personally express my apology to Mr. Brick and his family. When abuse takes place in the church, it is not only illegal, but goes against everything in the Gospel."

It is signed, in blue ink, by Robert Carlson, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls since 1994.

"I asked for it," Brick, 46, says of the apology. "This was something I needed more than anything."

Brick had filed a lawsuit in 1995, accusing William Neuroth of sexually abusing him in the early 1970s when Brick was a high school student and Neuroth was a Catholic priest. The apology note is part of an out-of-court settlement reached with the diocese four years later.

Just 14 years old when the abuse began, Brick says he was smothered in an obsessive relationship by the priest who came to his home, left notes on his car, gave him expensive gifts and, eventually, followed him to Colorado.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Brick says he stumbled through life in the quarter-century that followed, tormented by what he says were daily images of Neuroth's stalking and sexual abuse. Even after he severed contact with the priest, Brick says, he struggled with the emotional trauma before admitting the abuse to his family, getting therapy and, finally, filing the lawsuit.

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The out-of-court settlement in the case included an undisclosed sum of money and the agreement of both parties not to discuss the settlement negotiations. Brick also agreed not to mention or criticize Carlson or two former bishops, the late Lambert Hoch and Paul Dudley, now retired and living in Minnesota.

Neuroth, who is no longer a priest and now lives in Beresford, declined to comment for the story. But, in a deposition taken in September 1995, Neuroth said, "I have never in my life felt that I was abusive in a sexual way toward Kurt Brick."

In a deposition taken that same day, Carlson said that when he questioned Neuroth, the priest denied the abuse claims.

Brick's brother and sister say the few steps diocesan officials took after learning of Neuroth's behavior more than two decades ago weren't enough.

Kevin Brick, 49, the oldest of Kurt's seven siblings, met with then-bishop Hoch in about 1975 to talk about Neuroth. He

" says Hoch assured the family that Neuroth would be removed from O'Gorman, receive help and never deal with children again. The priest stopped teaching in 1975 yet was assigned to different parishes - Tyndall, Bryant, Parker and Canton - until 1994, when he was suspended while serving in Flandreau.

Neuroth then instigated a process to have his status as a priest revoked by church officials.

Kurt's story

The Bricks met Neuroth in 1970, the summer before 14-year-old Kurt began his freshman year at O'Gorman. Neuroth taught meditation and freshman religion at the Catholic high school. He also served as the pastor of Tea, Lennox and Worthing parishes.

Norma Brick-Samuelson, Kurt's mother, says her children offered Neuroth the respect given to any priest by a Catholic family.

"People say, 'Norma, why didn't you do something?' " Brick-Samuelson says. "But it was Father Neuroth. He was a good friend. He was very deep and studious, and I worshipped him. It never dawned on me. ... I thought all priests walked on water."

Neuroth was given free access to the Brick home, and it was not unusual for the priest to stop by unannounced.

Kurt, the youngest of Brick-Samuelson's three sons, says he was flattered when the new priest apparently saw something unique in him. Neuroth told Kurt the two of them were special spiritually and intellectually, Kurt says.

The attention Neuroth paid to Kurt began to intensify. The priest did Kurt's schoolwork and gave him money.

Then it ballooned. He took the teen-ager on trips and gave him gifts, even cars.

In the lawsuit, Kurt claimed that Neuroth began to fondle and molest him. He says he saw no escape.

"I was caught, majorly caught, in a real obsessive relationship," Kurt says.

Kurt says he quickly became good at wearing masks - one with his family, another with friends. A third hid his growing anxiety from his girlfriend, a fourth from teachers.

"I recall so many days of sheer nervousness and panic that I didn't know what to do, so many instances of having to fulfill this man's expectation of me," Kurt says. "And to be both physically abused and mentally abused and to be manipulated, it was incredible."

Kurt says Neuroth displayed an unbelievable ability to know what the teen-ager was doing. Kurt would go to his car after seeing a movie, for example, and find a note from Neuroth tucked under the windshield wipers.

His older siblings saw some of the notes and gifts and began to worry about the relationship between their brother and the priest.

"There were cars, stereos, tennis rackets," says Kurt's sister, Karn Barth.

Adds Kevin Brick, "Trips, cash, constant phone calls, notes everywhere."

In his deposition, Neuroth acknowledged the gifts, saying, "I simply shared with Kurt. I haven't denied that I ... shared with him."

The Brick family members say they didn't understand the precise nature of the relationship. Even after her son had told them everything, Brick-Samuelson says she was unable to say, "My son was sexually abused," for years.

Barth, 48, recalls an alarming visit with Kurt in the late '70sy. He was drinking heavily. At one point in an endless flow of words, Kurt leaned toward his sister and said, "Karn, I was abused by Father Neuroth."

"He hit you?" she asked, puzzled.

"No, he didn't hit me," Kurt replied. "It was awful, and you need to do something."

.In the late 1970s, when Kevin Brick began teaching and directing plays at O'Gorman, he asked to meet with Hoch to talk about Neuroth's behavior.h

"At that point in time, I think about it now, we'd never heard the term sexual predator," Kevin Brick says. "That was not a term used in the 1970s, especially about priests.

"But I felt there was a real problem, and I should go to the bishop because that's what bishops did, they took care of problems."

Kevin Brick says Hoch reassured him that something would be done. But it wasn't enough, the family says now.

After high school

After graduation, Kurt says, the harassment continued. He would come home from nights out with friends and find notes deploring his activities written by Neuroth and stuck to the refrigerator.

His protective siblings intercepted the notes whenever they could.

"My brothers and sisters feared for much more than my well-being," Kurt says. "Things had gotten crazy. They definitely sensed how scared I was."

In the fall of 1974,

Kurt enrolled in Regis University, a Jesuit college in Denver. He says Neuroth came there every other weekend. In high school, Neuroth had given him a secondhand Volkswagen. Before Kurt went to college, Neuroth traded it in for a new Mazda for him.

"At Regis, he began to fall apart," Brick-Samuelson says of her son.

Kurt broke up with a girlfriend after Neuroth wrote to her. Kurt says the note stated he was incapable of loving a woman.

At Christmas break, Kurt told his mother as explicitly as he could about the control Neuroth had over his life.

Even then, she says, she didn't realize what her son was saying. But to help him, Brick-Samuelson agreed to tell the priest that Kurt wasn't home. She turned away his phone calls for several days. About 1 a.m. one morning, Brick-Samuelson says, she was seated at her kitchen table when Neuroth arrived unannounced.

"He came in the back door and went up the stairs and just waved at me," Brick-Samuelson says. "It was not very long that he came down and waved again and left. Kurt said to me, 'Mom, he won't let me have my own life.' "

Kurt returned to Sioux Falls and tried college again, gave it up, tried vocational training, gave it up. When he drove in Sioux Falls, he says, he would look in the rear-view mirror to see Neuroth in the car behind him.

He moved to Rapid City, married in 1977 and became a father. That peaceful interval ended in 1981, when Kurt walked in the house holding his son, Michael, picked up the ringing phone and heard Neuroth's voice on the other end.

"It had taken me by total surprise," Kurt says. "He started the conversation with how much he had missed me and that he'd like to continue communicating with me."

Panicked, Kurt called his brother and sister. Again, Kevin Brick visited with the bishop, now Paul Dudley, who had replaced Hoch. Dudley asked to see Kurt.

Neuroth said in his deposition that he was called in to Dudley's office after making that phone call.

He never contacted Kurt again.

Still, Kurt's life continued to unravel. He quit drinking in 1986, but during those years, he remained withdrawn, seldom seeing his parents, brothers and sisters.

He ran sporting goods stores in Rapid City and Sioux Falls but would not visit the outlet in his hometown, fearing contact with Neuroth, who had been assigned to churches in Parker, then Canton.

His parents and siblings say Kurt's home roiled with anger.

Sometimes, Barth recalls, she would ask her sister-in-law, Alcina, why she stayed.

Kurt would isolate himself from his wife and family, which now included a daughter and another son. He tried different jobs but never stayed long at any.

Getting help

Kurt and his family remained together, living for a time in Texas. His anger and depression continued to build. He told his mother that once, while driving across a bridge, he felt as if his head were exploding and thought about driving into the water.

By the 1990s, the Brick family was back in the Black Hills. One day, near a breaking point, Alcina told her husband that they had to see a counselor.

Kurt went first, in January 1993. That was his breakthrough.

"That's when I began to talk about all the things I had to physically give up to satisfy (Neuroth)," he says.

By that time, things had begun to become horrifyingly clear to his extended family, who had started suspecting sexual abuse based on books they had read, news accounts of other cases and personal stories.

A high school friend told Barth that Neuroth used to ask boys to meet him for exercise at Cathedral elementary school. The friend said the priest would ask the boys to run around the gym naked.

Brick-Samuelson says two nuns took her aside to tell her privately that something was not quite right about Neuroth.

"To this day, Kurt has never talked to me about it," Brick-Samuelson says, her voice shaky. "How do you talk to your mother about sexual abuse?"

In the deposition in 1995, Neuroth said he gave back rubs to a couple of boys in his meditation class. Sometimes they took off their shirts, he said.

Going on

After filing his lawsuit in 1995, Kurt learned of others who also claimed to have been abused by Neuroth. A former Sioux Falls man wrote to Kurt's lawyer, saying Neuroth abused him from age 12 until college graduation.

"I did not tell anyone about this for many years," the California resident wrote in 1995, when he was 40. "I was afraid to say anything. I was afraid this was my fault."

That's how he felt, Kurt says.

"Why didn't anyone recognize that I was leading such an incredible dual life?" he asks now, in frustration. "I was a normal 14-, 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old in the eyes of my peers; then I tried to be a dedicated, religious, personal friend to an individual that was basically controlling my life."

In the deposition, Neuroth reported that in 1974 or 1975, Hoch questioned him about his conduct with another young man.

Hoch also requested that Neuroth undergo psychological tests, which he did. A few months later, Neuroth was sent to Tyndall to stay with another priest before being given a parish assignment.

In the document, he also said that in 1994, he went to Milestone, a treatment program in North Dakota for "professional people" to "visit with them in regards to human sexuality."

"It was for 30 days, but they kept me for 45 days," Neuroth said.

After Barth understood what her brother had been through, she contacted Robert Koenig of Sioux Falls, who was involved in a sexual-abuse lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Rapid City. He offered advice.

Kurt's siblings worried what the stress of a lengthy legal process might do to him.

They took panicked phone calls from a penniless Kurt after the lawsuit had been filed and the Sioux Falls Diocese had sent him to Minneapolis to see a psychiatrist.

After a stay in a psychiatric hospital in Denver, Kurt was prescribed the drug lithium. When he came home at Christmas, family members say, he seemed to feel better than he had in years.

But shortly afterward, Kurt began to exhibit symptoms that couldn't be attributed to emotional turmoil or medication.

After several medical tests found nothing, a scan revealed a benign dermoid tumor in the center of his brain. It had been there since birth, but the medications had aggravated it into growing.

Surgeons removed as much of the tumor as possible and installed a shunt in his brain. He still has daily pain and a loss of short-term memory.

Recently, he learned the tumor is again showing signs of activity.

As he recovered, Kurt was determined to continue with the lawsuit.

He wanted that apology.

"No amount of money, no notoriety would take away that hurt," says Barth.

The siblings' anger on behalf of their brother had grown more acute over the years.

"I had talked to two bishops and was blown off," Kevin Brick says. "They weren't acknowledging that there had been some errors. ... But this was not about vengeance. It's that people were hurt badly and are continuing to be hurt."

Since the settlement, life has been good, says Kurt, not because of the money he received but because now he can leave behind that trapped 14-year-old boy.

Yet some things can't be returned. He hasn't been inside a Catholic church for two decades.

"I don't think it's fair to ask me if I miss the Catholic Church," Kurt says with a hint of anger. "I was raised Catholic, and there will always be that upbringing that I can never replace. But I have to move forward with things that I feel comfortable with spiritually."

His oldest child, Michael, 21, was baptized in the Catholic Church. Daughter Kristine, 17 this month; Daniel, 14; and 7-year-old Patrick recently were baptized in a United Methodist church.

"I still have an incredible fondness for religion," Kurt says. "Am I a spiritual person? Absolutely. Do I trust in God? Absolutely. Do I know he's with me every inch of the day? Absolutely."

Kurt's father, Jim, and some of his siblings remain Catholics. Others are not.

"I just don't do organized religion," says his sister, Barth.

His mother now attends a United Methodist church in Sioux Falls, while Kevin Brick has joined his wife at First Lutheran Church.

"For years, I could look past what had happened, and I could see all the significance and importance of the spiritual dimension, and I could operate in the Catholic Church," Kevin Brick says. "But with the culmination of a lot of this, I felt like a hypocrite. I couldn't sit down with my children and encourage them to be a part of it."

He taught at O'Gorman for 21 years before moving to a job with the Brandon Valley School District in 1998.

Kurt says he will continue to direct his children in a spiritual and Christian way.

"I know I am at peace with my God, and my God is at peace with me," he says.

But some days, Kurt notices what the bishop's apology doesn't say. It doesn't say "Catholic" anywhere, he notes. It implies that Neuroth's obsession with him only "may have" caused Kurt harm. "There's still something vague here," he says.

That addresses a bigger issue which Kurt would like to see the Catholic Church resolve.

"It's simply a matter of who are we to trust," he says, then pauses before concluding, "and I don't know if we can trust the hierarchy of the church until they make an earnest attempt at explaining their role."

 
 

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