Guernsey Residents Shocked by Strange Rituals

Associated Press State & Local Wire
April 20, 2004

To those who knew him, Father Tony was outgoing and extremely devoted to God. That he might have conducted a bizarre, naked bondage ritual - in the church basement no less - is unthinkable.

"He seemed to run his parish real well and everybody liked him," resident Tom Otero said. "It's just unbelievable, it really is."

Several men have told investigators that roughly 20 years ago they allowed themselves to be stripped, blindfolded, suspended upside-down, whipped and have cords tied tightly about their genitals while praying for penance with Father Anthony Jablonowski at St. Anthony Catholic Church.

The ritual was supposed to intensify their prayers and help them get closer to God. But three men said the ordeal was more sexual than religious, and a prosecutor was ready to file sexual abuse charges until a plea agreement was reached.

Until now, church scandals seemed far removed from Guernsey, a southeast Wyoming town of 1,147.

"You read it every day, and pretty soon it's in your own little circle here," Otero, a St. Anthony parishioner, said.

A year ago, the Diocese of Cheyenne received reports of rituals involving Jablonowski when he was priest at St. Anthony from 1980 to 1988. An investigation led to accusations that Jablonowski had molested a 17-year-old boy not involved with the rituals.

Jablonowski, 67, agreed to a deal in which charges of felonious restraint and third-degree sexual assault would not be filed in exchange for a no contest plea to taking indecent liberties with the teenager.

He was given up to seven years in prison. He could be released in a year with good behavior.

Guernsey, nestled amid pine-covered bluffs, is a blue-collar town of railroaders, quarry workers, ranchers and soldiers stationed at the National Guard's Camp Guernsey.

The town is popular for its reservoir and location on the Oregon Trail, where emigrants left deep wagon ruts and scratched their names into Register Cliff.

But the only history talked about these days is that of Father Tony's.

Some residents are "pretty hush-hush about it - the ones who go to the church - but the other ones are like, 'I can't believe it,"' said Cindy Yenger, who knew Jablonowski.

Bud Howshar, a longtime parishioner and hardware store owner, said he had no knowledge of the rituals and remembered Jablonowski as personable.

"I thought he was a very good priest and good shepherd for the community," he said. "He was outgoing. He was a prayerful guy."

District Judge John Brooks received more than 150 cards and letters from around the country supporting Jablonowski.

"Without question, I can say that no other person has had as much of a positive influence in my life as Father Tony," wrote Stephen Newton, who helped the priest with rectory chores as an altar boy.

"Very sensitive," "good role model," "devotion and love of God," "almost like family," wrote others.

"He's an extremely charismatic man," Platte County Attorney Eric Alden said. "And obviously his status as a priest gave him a platform that he could convince people to do something that was seen as not only acceptable, but that this was kind of church-sanctioned."

The Diocese of Cheyenne said the Catholic Church does not condone such rituals.

Jablonowski's attorney, Dallas Laird of Casper, likened the rituals to fraternity or Marine Corps initiation rites, and cited Lakota ceremonies depicted in the movie "A Man Called Horse" and Filipinos who are nailed to crosses as other examples of spiritual sacrifice.

Sex was never an issue, Laird said.

After leaving Guernsey, Jablonowski served in Lander and then Churchtown, Ohio. He left last year to form the Carmelite Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, a monastery in Waterford, Ohio.

He remains a priest but cannot practice publicly, said Monsignor Gerald E. Calovini of the Diocese of Steubenville in Ohio.

Otero, a retired railroad worker, finds the whole affair sad.

"It's just a bad mark on the Catholic religion again and they haven't been doing too good lately anyway."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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