"A Crime of Silence"

By Stephen J. Lee
Grand Forks Herald
May 6, 2009

In 1976, when he was 18, Richard Jangula ran into his hometown priest on a flight from Denver to Bismarck.

FARGO — In 1976, when he was 18, Richard Jangula ran into his hometown priest on a flight from Denver to Bismarck. The Rev. Gregory Patejko offered to drive Jangula home to his parents’ new home in Linton, N.D. The Jangula family had farmed near Zeeland, N.D., where Patejko had been their parish priest. In the car, while he was driving, Patejko sexually molested him, Jangula says.

Still a small man at 51, Jangula said he was flummoxed by the attack by the man he was raised to think was next to God.

“What do you do? He was a big guy. What was I supposed to do? Hit the son of a ----? I remember I was in total shock.”

It happened two more times in following days. Jangula never told his parents, lifelong Catholics whose lives revolved around the church and family.

“To tell them what happened to me would have totally devastated them,” Jangula, 51, said this week from his Bismarck home. “My Mom and Dad are probably rolling in their graves hearing about this. But if I had told Dad, God only knows what would have happened.”

Patejko later moved to his native Poland, where he reportedly died.

Bob Schwiderski, Minnesota director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, held a news conference Wednesday outside Fargo diocese headquarters, saying Jangula's case is all too typical. He, too, was abused by a Catholic priest from the time he was 7 until he was 11 in Hector, Minn., Schwiderski said. He finally told people years later and went to the New Ulm diocese to get answers. When he didn't get any, he sued them, got some money and got answers. “I cashed a check for $7,000,” Schwiderski said. “It's not about the money.” He found out 26 other altar boys in that small town, like him, had been abused by the same priest.

Jangula did not attend the news conference, partly because he's not yet comfortable speaking in public about it, he said.

With Schwiderski was Sharon Schanilec, Hawley, Minn., a new member of SNAP. Her son, Geoffrey Hilber, was sexually abused by a priest in the Green Bay, Wis., diocese when he was 14. She never knew until two years ago, and she and Geoffrey went to a SNAP conference, and he spoke about it to others for the first time. But years of alcohol and drug abuse — “the priest used to give them drugs,” she said — had made his life a wreck, and losing his wife and children was the last straw. Last August, at age 39, her son took his life, Schanilec said.

Seeking answers

In 1985, after years of problems, including drinking and depression, Jangula told a priest from back home about the abuse. He was advised to get counseling. In 1994, then Vicar General, Monsignor Wendelyn Vetter, came to his home and got him to sign a document releasing the Fargo diocese from any claims he might have “for any losses, injuries, damages or expenses,” that he suffered through “any sexual, physical or emotional abuse” by Patejko, St. Andrew parish in Zeeland, and the Fargo diocese.

Jangula said he got a modest sum from the diocese, reimbursing him for some counseling.

But he and his wife had four young children at the time and he was barely getting by, still plagued by motional and mental trauma from the abuse, Jangula said.

“You are crawling the walls, and you have medical bills coming out your ears, and a priest tells you to sign these papers and go find a counselor,” Jangula said, describing how he felt church officials unfairly coerced him into signing the legal release. “I'm a one-eyed carpenter. What the hell do I know about finding a counselor?”

Two weeks ago, Jangula contacted SNAP seeking help and a way to help others.

Despite the 33 years that have passed, Jangula said the abuse still haunts him. “I know it's tough for everybody. But I sure would have liked to know what my life would have been like if I hadn't had to deal with this ---- . . .”

Jangula, Schwiderski and Schanilec all say they still have their faith, still attend Catholic Church, at least occasionally. All three sent their children to Catholic schools.

Jangula said he never could “thank God enough” for how Catholic schools in Bismarck helped raise his children, and he has priests for friends for whom “I would crawl on my knees around the world.” But he has bitter memories of how Fargo diocesan officials seemed more worried about getting out of any legal obligation to him, more than worrying about the damage he suffered.

“They told me they had done everything legally and morally they were required to do. I beg to differ.” The money he received in 1994, which he can't disclose, was “enough to pay for some of my medical bills,” Jangula said.

But he's needed more help since then, and hasn't gotten it, he said. A year or two ago, he met with Vicar General, Monsignor Dennis Skongseng and the diocese's coordinator of victim assistance, Briston Fernandes.

“Briston, he just smiled at me and said, ‘You shouldn't have signed that paper,’ ” Jangula said. Tanya Watterud from the diocese said Skongseng and Fernandes would not be made available to comment, nor was Bishop Samuel Aquila.

Watterud read a statement saying the diocese “has taken extraordinary efforts to make the diocese a safe environment for all people. For those who have reported previously having been abused by priests, we have met with them and exerted our best efforts to meet their needs. We have met with Mr. Jangula many times, both recently and years ago, and have, in fact, assisted him in a variety of ways. We regret that he remains unsatisfied with our efforts.”

Schanilec attends church in Fargo and has heard Bishop Aquila has improved the diocese's response to abuse victims. Aquila has removed several priests and made victim's assistances more prominent, similar to most bishops the past 10 years as the issue has surfaced in greater numbers.

Schwiderski said this is the first time Patejko's name has surfaced publicly as a sexual abuser, illustrating a pattern of covering up abusers within the Catholic Church.

“Sexual abuse is a crime of silence,” Schwiderski said. Gesturing toward Bishop Aquila's chancery, he said, “Don't sit in there and say ‘Come to me.’ If they don't want to be Good Samaritans, we will go along the road and help those laying there, bleeding.”

SNAP is a non-profit that receives donations from many people, Schwiderski said. It was started 20 years go by people who were victimized by Catholic priests, but deals with victims of many religious institutions.

Jangula says he knows of at least two other victims of Patejko, who moved back to Poland years ago and died there, reportedly.

Patejko was a priest in Poland and the Netherlands, before coming to the United States, where he served in New Jersey, and in the Fargo diocese, in Zeeland, Ashley, Hope, Page and Aneta, from 1972-1981, Schwiderski said.

Born in 1930 in Poland, ordained in 1953, Patejko served a parish in Texas near Austin from 1985 until he returned to Poland in the early 1990s.

Jangula said officials of the Fargo diocese told him Patejko admitted sexually abusing Jangula when the priest was asked about it.

It seems clear the diocese knew about the abuse and didn't do enough to protect other young men, Jangula said.

“To be honest, I forgave the guy a long time ago,” Jangula said. “But I have a hard time forgetting it. If they knew all this stuff, why in hell didn't they get any help? I would like to know how many more people were treated like I was treated and how many people haven't come forward.”

Contact SNAP at

The Catholic Diocese of Fargo asks people to report any sexual abuse to Briston Fernandes at (701) 356-7965 or online at

Contact Lee at (701) 780-1237 or (7801) 740-9891; e-mail


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