Sex-Abuse Mediations Shadowed by Suicides
Long-Suppressed Emotions Raised by Claims Involving Clergy and the Portland Archdiocese May Have Been a Factor in 3 Deaths
By Steve Woodward
The Oregonian [Oregon]
August 29, 2005
A week before he died, Larry Lynn Craven called his lawyer, as he often did, to say that he could no longer live with the demons of his childhood sexual abuse.
"He had called me, crying and depressed and saying that he wanted to commit suicide," Daniel J. Gatti recalls. "I kept saying, 'God will get us through this.' "
A week later, on July 21, the Brooks man was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, making him the third clergy sex-abuse plaintiff to commit suicide or apparent suicide in the past nine months.
The deaths are a disturbing undercurrent in the crucial mediations now under way between 66 sex-abuse plaintiffs and the Archdiocese of Portland, and they have prompted Gatti to ask a federal judge for help in preventing more suicides.
"Over the past several months," Gatti wrote in an affidavit filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland, "I have fielded several calls from clients who, with a drink in one hand and a gun in the other, have threatened to commit suicide, and, but for divine intervention and a great deal of talk, I believe that they would have, in fact, committed suicide."
The mediations have stirred up dormant emotions that are rooted in abuse that plaintiffs say took place decades ago.
"One of the hallmarks of trauma is that there is no (time) gap," Michaele P. Dunlap, a Portland clinical psychologist, said of trauma in general. "The mind stays experiencing danger."
Tensions are particularly powerful now, because the high-stakes mediations will largely determine the future course of the nation's first and largest bankruptcy of a Roman Catholic diocese.
Craven's own case was scheduled to go to mediation today. He had sought more than $2 million from the archdiocese for alleged sexual assaults nearly 40 years ago by the Rev. John MacNaughton at what is now known as the St. Mary's Home for Boys in Beaverton.
The deaths of the three plaintiffs point to a complex truth: A big settlement or the promise of a big settlement may satisfy the need of victims to punish their victimizers or alleged victimizers. But often nothing -- sometimes not even intensive therapy -- erases the pain, shame and loss of control some feel decades after the original trauma.
Although sex-abuse victims may be able to stuff the specific details of the abuse into deep recesses of their minds, Dunlap said, they may experience the emotional fallout: substance abuse, mental illness, personality disorders, relationship problems -- and suicide.
Deaths linked to past
In December, Steven D. Colvin died of an apparently deliberate drug overdose that was prompted, his mother thinks, by sexual abuse he suffered three decades ago while an inmate at MacLaren School for Boys in Woodburn. He had sought $2.5 million from the archdiocese.
In February, Peter G. Ryan, 44, shot himself to death more than 30 years after suffering sexual abuse by the late Rev. Maurice Grammond in Seaside. Unlike the others, Ryan already had settled his case for $1 million, a third of which went to his lawyer. The settlement came in the form of an annuity that was to pay $3,000 a month until age 60, with periodic lump-sum payments.
The archdiocese is working with plaintiffs' attorney Gatti on ways to provide emergency counseling for emotionally fragile claimants who can't afford therapy. In keeping with bankruptcy rules, the court must approve spending on programs that are outside the archdiocese's normal course of business.
Families of two suicide victims, Ryan and Colvin, shared their stories with The Oregonian, relating the toll the trauma took not only on those men but also on their loved ones.
In Ryan's case, his sisters urged him to seek therapy after a younger sister, Elizabeth Lannigan, got a phone call from a former classmate. The classmate had settled a sex-abuse claim involving Grammond, who has been accused of molesting more than 50 boys. He suggested Ryan might have been molested, too.
When Ryan began therapy, he didn't believe Grammond had abused him. Then he began to remember.
"It was like a trickle: a little bit here, a little there," Lannigan said. "Then the floodgates opened. It was more than he could handle."
Pleaded to stay home
Lannigan recalled their childhood, when Peter pleaded with their parents not to go to church.
"I remember one time going up to his room, and I saw him in the closet rocking himself," Lannigan said. He was curled in a fetal position.
Lannigan's father once sent her into the priest's residence to retrieve Peter. The bedroom door was open, with boys in various stages of undress. She said she didn't know until adulthood that altar boys don't undress when donning their vestments.
The once-happy Peter grew depressed. He quit wrestling and football because he didn't like physical contact with other boys. By freshman year of high school, he was smoking marijuana. The school expelled him. He fell into a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse, followed by rehabilitation, followed by more abuse. He questioned his sexuality.
But to the very end, his sister Mary Jo Hankel said, Ryan continued to believe in God.
In early March, a Mass of Christian burial was said for Ryan at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Southeast Portland. Ironically, Grammond said his first Mass there in 1950 as a new priest; he asked to have his funeral there. But when Grammond died in 2002, the Rev. Peter Byrne, pastor of St. Ignatius, declined to conduct the funeral, largely out of concern for parishioners.
Three months before Ryan's funeral, the first of the three deaths occurred when Steve Colvin took what his mother thinks was a deliberate drug overdose prompted by memories of sex abuse.
"The coroner didn't call it suicide, but I know," said Pricilla Cowan, a Mormon whose son alleged in a lawsuit that a prison chaplain at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility molested him at least 10 times in 1974, just after he turned 13.
Gave away prized guitar
Just before he died, his mother said, Colvin withdrew thousands of dollars in Social Security disability savings from his bank account. He gave away most of the money and his personal effects to friends. Then he gave his best friend his beloved acoustic guitar.
The next day, he was dead of an overdose.
"Steve was born a potential victim," Cowan said. He was born with epilepsy, attention-deficit disorder and a prominent physical defect -- a malformed nose that invited schoolyard taunts such as "hawk" and "beaknose."
He was disruptive in school. He defied curfews. He fought with his five brothers. He couldn't control his anger. No amount of counseling seemed to help.
"Love wasn't enough," Cowan said. "Even tough love wasn't enough."
One day in 1974, about the time Steve turned 13, he demolished furniture in a rage that terrified his mother. Cowan thought that what was then called the MacLaren School for Boys would change him.
Released about eight months later, Steve descended into alcohol and drug abuse. He moved in and out of prisons and jails, building a rap sheet that included theft, prostitution promotion, assault, robbery, narcotics possession and a parole violation.
Cowan said her son's final years were hellish. He was in and out of the Oregon State Hospital for mental health treatment. Medical records show he was experiencing command hallucinations -- voices directing him to do things, such as kill himself.
One day, Colvin told her something that left her baffled.
"He called and said, 'Mom, I saw that monster today.' I thought he was delusional. He said, 'I saw Michael Sprauer on the street.' "
The name meant nothing to her.
Months later, in June 2003, Colvin told her that he had been molested by Sprauer, who had been MacLaren's chaplain from 1972 to 1975.
Sprauer, whom the archdiocese placed on administrative leave in 2003 pending the outcome of several lawsuits naming him, continues to adamantly deny allegations against him by Colvin and 16 other men. The state of Oregon and the Archdiocese of Portland, both of which are defendants in in the suit brought by Colvin and three others, also assert that Sprauer is innocent.
Still coping with Colvin's death, Cowan treasures the good memories from her son's childhood. She remembers watching him walk backward down the stairs, across the room and out the door. She asked him what he was doing.
"I did something wrong, and I'm going back in time to undo it," he explained.
"My son never would have grown up as a pillar of society," Cowan said, "but he may have done something with his music, he may have stayed sober, he may have gotten married and had a life."
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