Sins & Silence
Victims Recall Abuse:
Men Recount How Priests Befriended, Abused Them
By Mary Nevans-Pederson
Telegraph Herald [Dubuque IA]
March 6, 2006
[See the main
page of the Sins & Silence series for links to all the articles and
letters to the editor.]
|"I didn't tell anybody. I thought I was the only one at
Larry Kramer, recounting
sexual abuse by the Rev. Robert Reiss during the 1970s
Mel Loes tried to think about something else. Father Patnode was doing
As he did many mornings, Loes, then 16, walked to St. Joseph Catholic
Church in Key West, Iowa, to assist at Mass for the Rev. Joseph Patnode.
And as had happened many of those mornings before Mass, Patnode molested
the altar boy.
Loes had grown used to it.
|Mel Loes says he was sexually abused by
the Rev. Joseph Patnode between 1939 and 1941 at St. Joseph Catholic
Church in Key West, Iowa. TH: Jeremy Portje.
Shortly after Patnode came to St. Joseph's as pastor in 1939, he started
abusing Loes. It usually happened before Mass.
On another occasion, Patnode had the teenager drive him to Preston, Iowa,
for an overnight stay at St. Joseph Church, where Patnode previously was
assigned. That night, in a rectory bedroom, he assaulted Loes.
After the first time he was abused by Patnode, Loes went home and told
his mother, "He's fooling around with me."
He still remembers what his deeply devout mother said:
"Father Patnode wouldn't do that."
The teenager told no one else about the abuse. He thought he was Patnode's
"I couldn't do anything about it," said Loes, now 82. Years
later, he learned that Patnode had abused other teenage boys. At least
10 men, now in their 70s and 80s, have told Loes that as teens they were
molested by Patnode.
An ostensibly innocent but telling entry appears in a parish history book.
It states that Patnode "helped many boys by keeping them at his rectory
and giving them jobs to do."
By the time Loes graduated from Loras Academy in 1941, the pastor had
lost interest in him. "He had other, younger playboys by then,"
Loes joined the Air Force in 1943 and served as a tail-gunner on a B-17,
flying missions over Germany.
He returned home in 1945 and soon married the sweetheart who had waited
for him. Mel and Georgeann Loes had three children, who gave them grandchildren
The memories of his abuse faded in the face of war's more horrific images.
During this time, Loes received a shocking phone call from a friend.
"He told me Father Patnode was abusing his two sons and asked what
he should do. I told him that (Patnode) had done it to me, too. This was
a good Christian man who was so upset. He went to Archbishop (Henry) Rohlman
and Patnode was gone soon after that," Loes said.
Patnode was next assigned to be chaplain of the Mercy Sister Novitiate
in Marion, Iowa, where he worked until he retired in 1964.
"I thought that was great. He wouldn't bother the nuns," Loes
But in October 2002, at a public diocesan gathering of priests in Waterloo,
a priest told Loes that although Patnode was assigned to a facility full
of women, he continued to befriend young males and "take them to
The story Mel Loes tells is similar to those told by scores of other men
and women. The victims usually came from devoutly Catholic homes—homes
where priests were revered and often invited to family functions.
Although Loes had a stable family situation, many of the abused youngsters
came from families disrupted by illness, death, poverty or alcoholism.
Struggling mothers and fathers were happy to push their sons into the
circle of friendship and mentoring offered by an amiable priest who took
an interest in them.
The priests often enlisted teenage boys to work as their drivers. Victims
of Patnode, William Roach and William Goltz claim that the priests either
abused them while en route or after driving to a destination.
The assaults took place in church sacristies, rectories and basements,
in remote woods and rock quarries, in cabins and confessionals.
Priests assigned to parish schools called students into their offices
or the school basement, where they abused them.
Didn't recognize abuse
Daniel Kortenkamp was just 13 when the Rev. Robert Swift began to abuse
Swift was an assistant pastor Sacred Heart Parish and a chaplain at Mercy
Hospital, both in Oelwein, Iowa.
"He would put his hands down our pants and squeeze and rub us. He
said he wanted to see if we were developing normally. He called it 'sex
education,'" said Kortenkamp, 68, of Stevens Point, Wis.
This happened at the hospital and in the church before Mass, Kortenkamp
Kortenkamp, who went on to become a professor of psychology at the University
of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, said he "never experienced any injury
from my abuse."
It was 50 years before he told anyone about it.
"I was very naive. My friends and I thought at the time that he was
just 'queer' and that's what queers do. Of course, Father Swift's behavior
was sexual abuse," he said.
Having said that, Kortenkamp is quick to point out that his four decades
of work in clinical psychology have taught him that "homosexual men
are no more likely to be sexual abusers of children than are heterosexual
Boy befriended by priest
Larry Kramer was being raised by relatives when the Rev. Robert Reiss
came into his life. Kramer's mother had died in a car accident and his
father was an alcoholic.
To pay his tuition, Kramer worked at Visitation Parish School in Stacyville,
One hot day in the 1970s, Reiss invited the teenager into the church rectory
for some lemonade. They went upstairs to the priest's bedroom, where Reiss
had sex with Kramer on the floor.
"I had to look at a picture to get through it," Kramer said,
his voice quavering nearly 30 years later. It was the first of many such
assaults by Reiss.
"I didn't tell anybody. I thought I was the only one at the time
and my uncle, who I lived with, was close to Father. There were rumors
around town, but people were divided about (Reiss)," said Kramer,
who now lives in Byron, Minn.
A few years later, Reiss was given a one-year leave of absence and was
then reassigned to other parishes.
"When he was transferred away, I was never so relieved in my life,"
Reiss next served as pastor in Sabula and Green Island, then in North
In 1990, Reiss was involved in a bizarre incident while living at Immaculate
Conception Parish in North Buena Vista. He befriended an ex-convict who
kidnapped a Maquoketa girl and threatened to rape her. After the girl
escaped, Michael Cavins, 25, drove to the church, where Reiss hid him
Three days later, Dubuque Archdiocesan leaders announced that Reiss had
requested a leave of absence. His activities as a priest were restricted
and in 1997 he was defrocked by the Vatican. He died last year in Mexico
at age 75, and authorities there investigated his death as a murder/robbery.
How cases were handled
Dubuque archdiocesan officials handled each of these cases differently.
• In 2002, when Mel Loes finally told the archdiocese about his
abuse, they admitted they had heard other accusations against Patnode.
Loes volunteered to be a part of Dubuque's archdiocesan Review Board -
a confidential, consultative body that examines all claims of sexual abuse
of minors in the archdiocese.
Less than a year later, Loes quit the board, saying, "I object to
the confidentiality. To me, it means cover-up." He claims the church
continues to "hide priests behind Canon Law" and has turned
his back on the church, which was part of his life for some 80 years.
• Daniel Kortenkamp said working with church officials has been
"like pulling teeth."
Three years ago he made abuse accusations to the archdiocese about Swift
and the Rev. Thomas Knox, who also worked at Sacred Heart in Oelwein.
Correspondence from archdiocesan officials indicated they were already
aware of abuse claims against both priests. Yet, when the archdiocese
published a list of accused priests in January, neither man's name was
"Then I noticed that the table only listed those with 'public accusations,'"
Kortenkamp wrote a letter to the Telegraph Herald naming the priests as
abusers. A few weeks later, the archdiocese added the priests' names to
However, Kortenkamp did praise the archdiocese for making the list public.
• At first, Larry Kramer was bitter about his abuse and angry that
his abuser was allowed to minister in parishes for years before he was
Kramer is satisfied with how the current archdiocesean administration
handled his case when he approached them in 2002.
"I met with the archbishop (Jerome Hanus) and the vicar general (Monsignor
James Barta) and they believed me right away. They both apologized to
me for what (Reiss) did," he said. The archdiocese has paid for his
therapy treatments since then.
"After all, there are different people in (archdiocesan administration)
today. They didn't hurt me," Kramer said.