Abuse Reduces Vibrant Faith to a Relic
News Coverage of the Church Sex Scandal Brings Victim & Apos; S Pain Back to the Surface
By Linda Lisanti firstname.lastname@example.org
The Express-Times [Allentown PA]
February 24, 2004
ALLENTOWN -- Juliann Bortz grew up a devout Catholic.
Her family never missed Mass, her home was always open to members of the clergy and both her brothers studied at the seminary.
God was at the center of her existence. She loved Him, revered Him and feared Him.
She still does.
But the faith Bortz thought was unbreakable has not only cracked, it's shattered. And the blow has crushed everything she thought she was.
Bortz can't remember when the abuse started or when it ended. The Allentown woman has tried hard to forget it ever even happened.
As a freshman at Central Catholic High School in Allentown, Bortz was taught by the sisters that to be touched by any boy was a sin.
"So is it still a sin when Father does it?" the 13-year-old was left asking after being abused by a young priest who taught at the high school.
At 54, she now knows the answer. But another, more pressing question has emerged in its place.
Every morning she wakes and each night she lays down to sleep, her mind is filled with wonder whether everything she was taught about God, the church and her faith was a lie.
For years, Bortz avoided the questions by ignoring her aching past and focusing on the future.
She graduated high school, went to college and then straight off to work. Bortz married young at 19, was divorced by 21, then remarried at 25 and started her own family.
All the while, the abuse was a secret she fought to suppress.
It wasn't until 2002 when reports of priest abuse saturated the TV and newspapers that the memories overwhelmed her and she couldn't keep her feelings hidden anymore.
"I thought I was the only one, and then to find out about all these cover-ups," Bortz recalled. "Every night, I would sit in front of the TV and watch CNN and just cry. I couldn't stop. My family thought I was crying because of my religious beliefs."
But she was crying for herself.
Her husband, Jonathon, said he was shocked at the news.
"She had kept it such a hidden secret all this time," he said.
Sitting at her kitchen table on a sunny afternoon, sharing her story, Bortz tries with all her will not to shed a tear. If the recollections get to be too overwhelming, she quickly changes the subject.
She's come a long way from two years ago, when all she did was weep, but the pain is still there.
It always will be.
"It's taken a toll on the whole family," Jonathon Bortz said. "It's created a whole change in her demeanor. ... It's always dwelling on her mind. She's trying to search for what is right."
The relationship between Bortz and her abuser started innocently. The Rev. Frank Fromholzer was like all the other priests who came to dinner at her home or took her and her siblings out for the day.
But Bortz said their connection progressed as Fromholzer would often meet her in the school's weight room where he hoisted her onto the scale. This allowed him to wrap his arms tightly around her breasts.
The priest invited her into his car. Parked in the school's parking lot, they would listen to Elvis music and "neck" as Bortz recalls.
She thought Father was cool.
"Anybody was better than the nuns," Bortz said. "And I thought that being close to a priest was as close as you could get to God."
She would get much closer.
The abuse peaked when Father took Bortz and another girl to the Poconos. He told them they were going to "Paradise," but it was far from what the word conveyed.
Bortz said Fromholzer parked his car in front of a lake and laid out a blanket for the three of them to relax. He took off his collar and told the girls to call him Frank.
Then, he fondled them.
Bortz said Father never told them not to tell. He never said anything.
"It wasn't like this was good or bad. He acted like it was normal."
So, Bortz thought it was too.
"It wasn't until years later that I looked back and said, 'How could you have been so stupid?" she said.
As an adult, Bortz tried to confess. She told two priests, who suggested that she pray or go to confession.
About two years ago, when the priest scandal reached its pinnacle, she also reported it to the Lehigh County District Attorney's Office, the Allentown Police Department and the Allentown Diocese.
The district attorney investigated her claim and announced that he had not found evidence of any prosecutable offense.
As far as Bortz is concerned, her charges are ongoing, but she said the agencies would likely disagree.
When reached at his Naples, Fla., home recently, Fromholzer referred all questions to the diocese.
Diocese spokesperson Matt Kerr would only say that Fromholzer left active ministry in September 2002.
"She came forward and he left active ministry. I think that's about all I can say right now," Kerr said.
In January, Bortz was one of five victims to file a lawsuit against the Allentown Diocese and bishops Edward P. Cullen and Thomas J. Welsh in hopes of finding justice.
The lack of recognition by both the authorities and the church is what Bortz said hurts her the most.
"I can't believe this is my church," she said. "I want it to be different."
Jonathon Bortz said he's been disappointed in the way the church has handled his wife's situation.
"Many people that belong to the Catholic Church and many priests are upstanding people, but through all this, it's been a bitter disappointment that no one has extended a comforting hand to her," he said. "It's like they don't want to deal with her. They've written her off as a nuisance."
He said his wife is not looking for any monetary restitution and it's not a matter of getting even.
"It's wanting to clear her soul and move on with life," he said.
Bortz goes to church now for weddings and funerals, but she has not been to a regular service since March 5, 2003 -- Ash Wednesday.
She said the only reason she went then was because it was supposed to be a time of Lenten renewal, a time of healing for the church and its victims.
But Bortz said it was a farce.
"They didn't talk once about the victims," she recalled. "It was to heal the church, not the victims."
She hasn't been to Mass since.
Sometimes she sits in a church parking lot wanting so bad to go in, but she can't will herself to move.
Instead, she holds mental Masses in her garden filled with flowers, angel statues and wind chimes.
It's her safe place.
All grown up now, Bortz is no longer afraid of Fromholzer. In fact, she wants to see him now. She said she has been waiting for more 40 years to confront him.
She doesn't know what she'd say.
"I'd probably say things that I would go to hell for," she said.
More than anything, Bortz yearns to find peace with her church, her faith and especially herself.
Someday, she hopes to be able to attend Sunday Mass regularly.
"I can cut down the mulberry tree in my back yard, but the roots will still be there. That's the way I feel about my religion," she said. "What's inside of me hasn't changed But I am a sheep without a shepherd."
Reporter Linda Lisanti can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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