'I Remember Wishing I Could Die and Wondering Why God Wasn't Coming to Help Me'
By Jill Tatge-Rozell
The Kenosha News
October 19, 2013
|Monica Barrett poses in front of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Lake Geneva.|
Monica Barrett, 52, brought moral support with her Oct. 8 when she returned for the first time to the church where she said she was sexually abused at age 8 by the Rev. William Effinger.
“I wasn’t sure how it would affect me,” Barrett, who grew up in Kenosha and attended parochial schools there, said.
St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Lake Geneva looks different than it did that Saturday afternoon in 1968. But the white rectory where the alleged act took place and the tree Barrett remembers crying beneath are still there.
“He kept saying, ‘You’re no good. You’re no good,’” she recalled. “He stood up, smoothed his hair back and said, ‘If you tell anyone, they won’t believe you’ and then he gave me penance to do.”
“It was violent,” she said. “I remember wishing I could die and wondering why God wasn’t coming to help me. I went outside by the big tree near the rectory and cried.”
Friend of family
Effinger was a friend of Barrett’s father and a face she saw daily at St. Mary’s school in Kenosha thereafter.
Decades later, when reports of sexual abuse of other children by Effinger emerged, Barrett went to a Kenosha priest and was referred to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“They were clearly prepared for me,” Barrett said of the first meeting at the archdiocese. “(Archbishop Rembert) Weakland put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll take care of this. You don’t have to talk about it anymore.’”
She waited. Unsatisfied with their response, Barrett filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese. This led to a battery of interviews by church-picked psychologists, and attorneys deposed everyone she knew — even those she had yet to tell of the abuse.
The case was dismissed due to the statute of limitations. Barrett appealed, but the appeal was dismissed based on the Pritzlaff decision.
Pritzlaff v. Archdiocese of Milwaukee was decided by the state Supreme Court on June 27, 1995. The suit involved an adult woman who sued the archdiocese for $3 million for suffering she underwent as a result of an affair she had with a priest as an adult. Judith M. Pritzlaff said the affair, which had started in 1959, wrecked her marriage and caused other problems.
“The Pritzlaff decision had nothing to do with assaults on children,” Barrett said. “I felt like I was raped all over again.”
Effinger, the assistant pastor at St. Mary’s in Kenosha in the 1960s, allegedly molested several children. He was convicted in 1993 of second-degree sexual assault of a boy. He died in prison in 1996.
Church leaders knew
The archdiocese recently released 178 pages on Effinger as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. The records show church leaders had knowledge of the allegations against Effinger, who they transferred from parish to parish.
Included in the documents is a 1998 letter from Weakland in which he writes he had “no real excuse” for transferring Effinger to other parishes and that it was “bad judgment on his part.”
Only one sentence about Barrett is included in the documents that were released, proving, she said, there is much more that needs to be released.
“This whole experience has shattered my sense of faith,” Barrett said. “I do not attend Catholic church. I cannot be involved in a religion whose leaders react to such deep and profound hurt with denial, anger and revictimization. It is no place for me to find spirituality.”
She tried other denominations and is now exploring spirituality though the study of Native American beliefs.
She is continuing her fight for full disclosure and to effect systemic change within the archdiocese as a founding member of a new group called the Survivor and Clergy Leadership Alliance.