Journey to Justice - Part 2
Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Diocese of LaCrosse
By Susan Ramsett
WSAW [Lacrosse WI]
November 18, 2004
Because of the nature of the crime, many cases of sexual abuse by priests come down to "he said, she said," making them difficult to prove or to disprove.
When the alleged incidents happened decades ago it can get even more complicated. Thursday night we have the story of a woman who is still asking for the justice she believes is long overdue and why the church says they've done all they can to help her.
Alice says, "He said, ‘you told. I told you what would happen if you ever talked,’ and then he beats me and beats me and beats me."
Alice's story of clergy abuse begins when she was just 14 years old. She says her unhappy childhood included a dad who was abusive. A depressed and suicidal teenager, she turned to the church for help.
Alice says, "He would hold me when I cried. He didn't report the abuse to anybody. My pastor didn't report the abuse to anybody."
Instead of protecting her from the abuse at home, she claims a Catholic priest, who was in his 30s then, began abusing her physically, sexually and emotionally. Alice says he would force her to have sex with him and then force her into the confessional.
"I had to confess to him because it was all my fault and he didn't have anything to do with it. It was my fault. I took a man of God and caused him to sin. As sick as that relationship was, I thought of him as my boyfriend, my protector."
After years of trying, Alice is still asking the Catholic Diocese of LaCrosse to believe her story and make public the name of the priest she says abused her. So far neither has happened.
Father Lawrence Dunklee says, "It's a case we are familiar with and we know she is experiencing great pain."
Alice says, "As a victim I'm going to fight until something is done with him."
Alice's allegations of abuse don't end with the priest in question. In the years that followed she claims she was also abused by several other clergy members and therapists.
She has piles of correspondence with the Diocese, hospitals, law enforcement and even the Vatican.
Despite her persistence, Father Lawrence Dunklee, the director of the Diocese's Office for Clergy, says they have not been able to substantiate her claims.
Father Dunklee says, "We are aware of the pain she's going through and have tried as best we can and offered a great deal of assistance in the past to her to try to work through these things."
That assistance includes covering $10,000 of her therapy and many hours of pastoral and spiritual counseling by clergy members, but Alice says that's not enough. She still wants answers about the status of her case.
Alice says, "They have not officially told me anything. They refuse to tell me anything. It's none of my business."
A few days after our interview the Diocese agreed to give us a statement about the priest Alice says abused her.
"It is a matter of public record that there has been no finding of wrongdoing on his part arising out of the accusations made against him by (Alice)."
However, the Diocese assured us that for reasons that will remain confidential he is no longer allowed to serve as a priest and is not listed as a priest of the Diocese in the Wisconsin Pastoral Handbook.
Father Dunklee says, "We have not published the name; we have done all we can in dealing with this issue."
In 1992 Alice also took her claims against the priest and the LaCrosse Diocese to court.
Alice says, "What it boiled down to, because of statute of limitations, I lost."
Once that statute of limitations has passed, charges cannot be brought legally. That's why the "journey to justice" often puts all the pressure on churches to decide if a victim is telling the truth.
Father Dunklee says, "We will respond and we will respond justly and pastorally. There are times when we are not going to be able to substantiate, being able to prove one way or another what actually happened."
For now, Alice holds onto her Christian faith and the belief that her abuser will ultimately be brought to justice.
Alice says, "In the end he is the one who's gonna stand before the almighty."
One of the things the Catholic Church has long been criticized for is their policy of not releasing the names of clergy who have been accused or found by the church to be abusers. That's a decision each Diocese makes individually.
In the LaCrosse Diocese it's the policy set by former Bishop Raymond Burke who left in January. He's now the archbishop of the St. Louis Diocese. Burke's successor has not been named yet, but when he is it will be up to him to set the policy on whether to release the names of abusive priests.
Meanwhile, Father Dunklee has taken on the responsibility of assisting abuse victims.
Father Dunklee says, "We're certainly open to the fact that we can improve the process and we will constantly work at that to do it the best we can. I'm sad for all the wounds that have been created and I'm dedicated and committed to the fact that we'll try to heal them as best we can."
Dunklee says they're also trying to make the "journey to justice" less painful for victims by being more open about their policies and their willingness to listen to victims.
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