Joline Gutierrez Krueger: from Dream to Nightmare, This Marriage Lives on

By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
December 8, 2006

If you've never believed that God works in mysterious ways, you haven't met Tahne Lovell.

And after you meet her, your emotions work in mysterious ways, fluttering fast as eye blinks from awe to revulsion, curiosity, pity, pride, incomprehension and admiration.

She had been a happily married Rio Rancho woman, finding love the second time around after a harsh divorce and too many lonely days raising three sons on her own. Larry Lovell, she says, was a godsend.

They had so much in common, meeting in 1993 at the title company where she worked when he was closing the deal on his new Rio Rancho home and they realized they lived on the same street.

Like their middle names - Jo and Joseph.

Like how she left her first marriage in 1991 and how that same year he left the priesthood. Or so he told her.

"He always said our marriage was made in heaven," she says in the gentle, timid voice of a woman who has seen the backside of life too many times.

They married in 1995.

"He had me on a pedestal," the 45-year-old woman says. "He treated me well. I kept thinking, `Is this real?'"

But of course it wasn't. The heaven she thought she had found in Lovell became a hellish nightmare when the past he had never told her about caught up with him in 2003 with a knock on the door and a warrant for his arrest on charges that he had sexually molested four San Gabriel Mission altar boys in California in the early 1980s.

More charges followed, several involving a boy at Sacred Heart parish in Prescott, Ariz., in the 1970s. Several more involving a boy at St. Anthony's Church in Phoenix in the 1980s. All while Lovell was a Roman Catholic priest.

He had already been convicted in 1986 of repeatedly molesting a 14-year-old boy at San Gabriel, where Lovell had been youth pastor in charge of altar boys. For that, he had been given three months probation. The church, having already attempted to "cure" him of his unholy desires at the notorious Servants of the Paraclete retreat in Jemez Springs, removed him from the ministry.

Jemez Springs is why he ended up in New Mexico, and in Tahne Lovell's life.

"When he got arrested, I couldn't imagine him doing something like that," she says. "I was in total shock. My world was just crumbling there and then."

Nothing had tipped her to the darkness of his past. He had a good job as a case manager at the University of New Mexico Mental Health Center. He also had a private practice as a counselor. Once, he had considered running for the school board.

"He helped a lot of people," she says. "He did a lot of good. He was good at what he did."

And then came a dawning horror that she had put her three boys, ages 6 to 12 at the time she had let Lovell into their lives, at risk. Her oldest son had been the one to begin spending time with Lovell long before her romance bloomed, she says.

"He's the one who brought us together," she says. "It was my son's dream to get us together."

But even after learning of the charges, Tahne Lovell didn't leave.

She says her husband tried to explain that the charges were all part of a "witch hunt" prompted by the recent explosion of allegations against pedophile priests. He told her the California charges had to do with an innocent game of wrestling with a 17-year-old boy that the parents had misunderstood, she says. He told her he had lost himself, she says.

"They were all just stories, lies," she says. "I told him, `I'm your wife. You need to confide in me. You need to trust me.' "

Eventually, he told her. Things happened, he said, at every church he had been assigned to. Maybe it involved as many as 15 kids, maybe more.

But he did not tell her until after he was sentenced: 14 years for the incidents at Sacred Heart, 12 years for what happened at St. Anthony's.

The California charges were eventually dropped after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state had erred in attempting to retroactively prosecute old priest sexual abuse cases under a new law.

Given Arizona's good time laws and time already served, Lovell, 58, will remain in an Arizona prison for the next 20 years.

Tahne Lovell says that given his poor health - he's already had two heart attacks in prison - he will die before he will be free.

But Tahne Lovell doesn't leave.

After a year of depression, of feeling betrayed and of many discussions with her preacher, she knew she would never leave.

"You make a commitment when you get married," she says. "In the Bible, it's all black and white."

She had not known her faith when her first marriage collapsed. She does not want to make the same mistake again.

"I felt a very strong need," she says. "I was getting closer to my faith. My preacher says I would be OK to leave him, but in the Bible it doesn't say that. My focus is heaven, and I want to be sure to get there."

All of that despite the protests from her family, the anger from her sons, the allegations that surfaced and were later dropped that one of them might have fallen victim to Lovell's sexual sickness.

"I felt everyone was against me," she says. "But I'm not them. I'm me. I can only do what's right for me."

And right, she thinks, for others.

"I thought, maybe I can be an example," she says. "Maybe I can help others."

So she taped a video for her church about the sanctity of marriage. She spoke at a Wings Ministry support group for people whose loved ones are in prison.

She is speaking, through this column, now.

These days, she and her husband rarely speak about his crimes. They talk about the future, about how she'll never let him live with her because of the possibility that something happened between him and her youngest son, now grown but still living at home.

They will be neighbors. Husband and wife. Forever.

By the time this column runs, she will have moved to El Paso to live closer to her oldest son, stationed at Fort Bliss.

Most of the members of her family, she says, have come around. Or decided it is best to leave things alone.

"They're seeing that God is blessing me," she says. "Things are happening the way it should be. I'm doing what I should be doing, and God is blessing me."


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