Priest Sex Abuse of Minor in Reedsport Brings Archdiocese Apology
By Lynne Terry
August 24, 2012
|Carolee Horning enjoys romps on the beach at Reedsport with Rupert, her beloved 3-year-old Boxer. She settled a lawsuit with the Archdiocese of Portland in May over the sex abuse she suffered as a teen by the Rev. Edward Altstock, when he was the parish priest in Reedsport.|
At 54, he was old enough to be her father. He told her she was special and showered her with gifts. He became her best friend and then lured her into a sexual relationship. Carolee Horning was only 15.
The Rev. Edward Altstock groomed her, abused her, then moved on from St. John The Apostle Parish in Reedsport, continuing his career while she stumbled toward adulthood, shattered by guilt and shame. She kept the sex abuse secret, just as he had asked, for more than two decades. She never had a boyfriend and never married.
Now 41, she finally recognizes that Altstock was not a soul mate, as she had imagined, but a predator who used her for pleasure. In May, she settled her lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Portland, which oversees the Reedsport church. The deal includes a rare public apology by a high-ranking archdiocese official during Mass this Sunday at St. John.
The apology coincides with a new allegation of priest sex abuse in Woodburn last week.
The Archdiocese of Portland has settled about 300 sex-abuse claims. In a few cases, Archbishop John Vlazny has personally apologized in the parish where the abuse occurred. Sunday will mark the first time the archdiocese will name the victim in an apology at church.
"I was a trusting person, innocent, inexperienced and loving," she says. "He created a trust and a bond and took advantage of that."
Horning, who will attend the service with family and friends, awaits the apology with a mix of fear, anxiety and expectation. This moment has been a long time coming.
She grew up the oldest of three girls in a loving and devout Roman Catholic family. Every weekend, on Saturday night or Sunday morning, the family attended Mass at St. John. Horning was an altar girl from age 10 to 12.
In 1984 when she was 13, Altstock became her parish priest in the congregation of about 130. He quickly became a close family friend, invited to dinner and camping. Altstock singled Horning out, praising her beauty, pure heart and capacity for listening. She felt privileged to be favored by such a respected authority figure.
Altstock surprised her with gifts, including golf clubs and a gold chain necklace with a medallion of the Virgin Mary. He treated her to the movies, took her out to dinner and bought her ice cream. They fished and walked on the beach. When no one was looking, he fondled her. The touching evolved into oral sex, according to her lawsuit.
She thought it was love and hoped it would last forever. Then one day he left the parish for an assignment in Sublimity.
She was devastated.
She graduated from Reedsport High School, never enjoying a youthful flirtation. He wrote her letters and joined her family on vacation. When she moved to Corvallis to attend Oregon State University, Altstock visited. She told her female housemates that he was her best friend.
Horning shrugged off questions from friends about her lack of a romantic life. She didn't need a boyfriend, she told herself. She had one. But over time, her confidence turned into confusion.
At some point in college, she realized he had never loved her.
She felt broken and unworthy.
She graduated from OSU with a bachelor's in speech communications and managed restaurants. She visited her parents regularly and attended Mass with them, trying to repress the past.
"I had two lives," she says. "On the outside, I went through the motions, but inside I was dead."
She lived like this for more than a decade.
Then about three years ago, while working as a manager at Applebee's in Springfield, her boss offered her a promotion in Portland. She refused. She knew Altstock was living in a Catholic retirement community in Beaverton and didn't want to be anywhere close to him.
That's when she realized that the secret she had tried so long to forget was ruining her life.
"You can't run from yourself," she says. "You can't run from the past. At some point, you have to move forward."
During the past three years, Horning has grappled with her past in regular sessions with a therapist. It took her a long time to realize she was a victim and to start to shed the shame. Two years ago, she called a family meeting and told her parents and sisters about the abuse. Tears spilled and love flowed. She felt a weight fall from her shoulders.
Step by step, her life improved. She got a dog, a Boxer she named Rupert, who brings her daily joy. She landed a satisfying job as the manager of a veterinary hospital in Eugene and found spiritual solace by joining the United Lutheran Church in Eugene.
"I never lost faith in God," she says.
She decided to sue the archdiocese to hold it accountable. The two sides agreed to a $480,000 settlement, which was finalized in July. Horning insisted her name be used in court documents and be included in the apology.
The Oregonian does not ordinarily name victims of sex abuse, but Horning does not want to remain anonymous.
"She's really brave to do this," says Gilion Dumas, her lawyer. "Most of the people who bring these cases don't use their real names."
Horning wants to stem speculation in Reedsport, where her parents still live. She hopes the apology will allow them to hold their heads high, placing the blame on the priest. She also hopes to help other victims by showing them that they don't have to hide.
The apology will be read by Monsignor Dennis O'Donovan, the second in command at the archdiocese. According to the settlement, it will name Altstock and acknowledge that he abused Horning when she was a minor.
Altstock still lives in Beaverton but was unavailable for comment. Bud Bunce, the archdiocese spokesman, said Altstock will continue to receive his church pension.
"All of these priests who have been relieved of duty or retired, they still have to live," Bunce said.
He said Horning's complaint is the second the church has received about Altstock. The archdiocese reported that allegation, also involving a girl, to police but no charges were filed and the girl did not sue. Bunce did not have any details and declined to comment about Horning. He said the church regrets any abuse.
"It's totally contrary to what we as Catholics believe and practice," Bunce said.
Horning hopes the apology will help the church heal just as she is healing herself.
"The black mark that I was carrying with me forever is finally going away," she says. "I'm excited about the future. I know there are possibilities out there."