Clergy Abuse Scandal Hits Home
Former Reno Priests Accused; Church Investigates, Offers Settlements
By Martha Bellisle
Reno Gazette-Journal [Reno NV]
October 9, 2005
After spending his life drunk to avoid the pain left by abuse, a man shares his childhood secret: A priest, claiming he was investigating concerns that the boy, then 12, might be gay, molested and raped him and demanded his silence.
Two women, now in their 50s, relate how another priest took them as girls to a drive-in theater, and, while sitting between them with a blanket across their laps, allegedly molested them.
Another local woman tells her story of a third Reno priest who she said repeatedly molested and raped her at the rectory, in his car and at a family cabin, leaving her emotionally devastated, addicted and suicidal, she recalls.
While the clergy sex-abuse scandal has raged in other parts of the country since the story broke in Boston in 2002 with news of multimillion-dollar settlements to hundreds of victims, the Diocese of Reno has seemingly remained an oasis in the crisis.
But recent interviews with six people who grew up in Reno and Carson City in religious families indicate that this community was not spared.
While not criminally charged, three different priests in the diocese, David Brusky, Eugene Braun and the late Harold Vieages, have been accused of molesting children in the 1960s and 70s.
And now, 30 or more years after the abuse, the diocese and the accusers are trying to address the damage. The alleged victims say it included alcoholism, drug addiction, criminal activity, attempted suicide, dangerous behavior and broken families.
Some of the accusers are only now coming forward with their allegations. They all say the most important thing they are seeking is an apology from the church.
"I want (the Reno diocese) to say he did it and we're really, really sorry," said one of the two women who claim they were molested at a drive-in by Braun, former pastor at Our Lady of the Snows. "It hurt a lot, especially because at the time he did it, my mom was dying."
"I also would like them to tell us what happened to him since," adds the woman, who now lives in Portland, Ore. "For all I know, he could still be damaging kids."
Braun, reached at his Las Vegas home, denied the allegation.
"I'm very sorry to hear that," he said when told of the women's claims. "If anybody felt I did that, I'm sorry."
Four alleged victims who agreed to share their stories are taking legal action against the diocese: two are working with a lawyer to gather documents, one is preparing for mediation, and another settled with the church last year for $50,000 but is considering having that nullified so she can file a lawsuit.
None of the people are named; it is the policy of the Gazette-Journal to not identify victims or accusers in sexual assault cases.
Brother Matthew Cunningham, chancellor for the Diocese of Reno and spokesman for retired Bishop Phillip Straling, said the diocese is responding to the allegations "in accord with the commitments made in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which was created by the U.S. Conference of Bishops in 2002 and revised in June.
"The diocese has consistently encouraged all victims of abuse by priests, deacons or other church employees to contact one of the victim's advocates to report such abuse and also to file a police report if they choose to do so," he said in a statement on Thursday.
"The diocese pledges to continue its efforts to address the problem of sexual abuse of minors and is committed to educational programs for adults and children that focus on creating safe environments and assisting children in recognizing inappropriate boundary crossings by others."
Priest in Carson City
The story of the Rev. Harold Vieages, who died last year, came from a man too distressed and uncomfortable to talk about the details of the actual abuse with a reporter. Instead, he revealed his story by giving the Gazette-Journal a copy of a report written by a diocese investigator, dated Nov. 4, 2004, in which he was interviewed.
The man, now 49, had kept the alleged abuse secret for 36 years, he said. On the verge of losing another marriage, he finally sat down last year with his wife, parents and the diocese and told them what happened when he was 12 and attending St. Theresa's Elementary School in Carson City.
He was sitting in his seventh-grade classroom, he said, when a nun called him out and said Vieages needed to speak to him. They met at a chapel in a building where the nuns lived, he said.
The priest told him that several parents were concerned that he might be a homosexual, the man said. "(Vieages) said it was his duty to help me with that," the man said. "I told him I didn't know what he meant. I didn't even know what a homosexual was."
Vieages unzipped the boy's pants, and began touching him, the man said. The priest asked the boy if he did this with his friends. The man said he was "scared to hell," he told the investigator.
"You don't talk back to priests -- they were gods," the man told the investigator, adding that he came from a religious family and his aunt was a nun. "I trusted him."
So he didn't fight back, the man said. And he told no one.
But it happened again and again, with the fondling going further each time, the man told the investigator.
"Throughout most of the interview," the investigator wrote, "(the man) was crying intermittently as he was providing his statement. As he was concluding his recollection of this fourth meeting, (he) broke down into an almost convulsing state of crying. He suddenly burst out of the room and went into the bathroom where he could be heard vomiting."
The abuse stopped as suddenly as it began, the man said.
"The last time after he raped me, he just dumped me," the man said of Vieages. "When he came back to the school, he didn't even talk to me."
But the effects have lasted a lifetime, the man said. He started drinking during the abuse, and has been unable to stop. He added cocaine and methamphetamine to the mix, and committed a list of crimes related to his drug and alcohol addictions, he said.
And he attempted suicide three times, with each ending in hospitalization.
He sought help from the diocese, which conducted an investigation. He also met with Cunningham and retired Reno Bishop Phillip Straling, but found little relief beyond their offer to pay for a therapist, he said. When the diocese offered him $35,000, he said he was insulted and decided to hire a lawyer.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever done," he said. "I didn't want to drag this out. If they had treated me different ...."
His case is expected to go to mediation, he said, adding if that fails, he'll take it to trial.
Cunningham said the diocese responded to the allegations against Vieages in accordance with the bishop's charter. He said he met with the man, filed a police report and assigned a victim's advocate to work with him.
Vieages died in January 2004, several months before the allegations were made.
After an investigation, the case was sent to the Diocesan Review Board, Cunningham said. He did not say whether the diocese made a determination on whether the allegations were true.
"The diocese is currently working with (the man) to resolve his legal claim," Cunningham said.
Priest at the drive-in
Two women, one now in Oregon and the other in Colorado, say they grew up in Reno and attended Our Lady of the Snows in the mid-1960s when they were befriended by a priest who liked children.
"He would take us to the drive-in theater and while watching the movie, he would undo his pants and ask us to rub his tummy, and then he would push our hands down," said the woman from Portland, who was 11 or 12 when the alleged molestation occurred.
He never touched her, she said, but he touched her friend.
"They asked me to come along one time, and he was in the middle and put a blanket over us," the woman in Colorado said. "He took my hand and put it on him. Then he put his hand down my pants."
Not knowing how to respond, she said, she said she needed something at the snack bar. Her friend joined her, and she said, "Do you know what he's doing?"
"She said, 'He does it all the time.' "
When she arrived home, the Colorado woman said, she told her best friend, who then told the woman's mother.
"My mom took me into her bedroom and all I remember her saying is you did nothing wrong -- it's going to be taken care of," the Colorado woman said. The mother went to a priest at Snows, "and he told her the priest would be put in a mental hospital. Now I find out he never was."
Braun said he left the church on his own about 30 years ago and denied abusing any children.
"Oh, jeepers. Are you kidding?" he said when told that the two women have made the claims and have hired a lawyer to sue the diocese. "That's terrible."
"I'm retired. I'm 75 years old, and I'm trying to live a quiet life here," he said in a telephone interview from his Las Vegas home. "This type of thing is devastating to everybody."
The Portland woman said they only recently learned that Braun never was institutionalized. They are suing the diocese for an apology and damages, she said.
"I don't think of him as a priest anymore; I think of him as a pedophile," she said. "To me, he was a pedophile who went into the priesthood, probably so he could have access to children."
When asked about Braun, Cunningham declined comment.
"I can't address that," he said.
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