Breaking the Silence
By Kevin Sweeney
May 29, 2016
May 29, 2016 The Journal Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of articles The Journal is publishing on the issue of sexual abuse of children by priests in the New Ulm Diocese. Today's article tells the story of Leon, who doesn't wish his last name to be used, who was abused in Glencoe by Fr. Michael Skoblik.
Next Sunday: The church faces the future.
Leon remembers trying never to be the last altar boy out of the sacristy after mass in St. George Parish in Glencoe.
That's usually when Fr. Michael Skoblik would molest him.
"I would show up one minute before mass, and try to be out of there as soon as possible afterward so as not to be the last one," said Leon, who has asked that his last name not be used. "The other altar boys also rushed to get out of there, so I wonder if maybe they had been approached, too."
Being an altar boy was a natural for Leon, who grew up in a devout Catholic family. Born in 1951, Leon was about 12 or 13 when the molestation began. It lasted two years. Leon said he couldn't avoid Skoblik entirely, in part because of his family's devotion to the church.
Leon liked to earn money to supplement his allowance, he said. He worked odd jobs mowing lawns and shoveling show, and took a paper route to help raise some money. Skoblik was one of his customers.
Skoblik would give altar boys a nickel for serving mass on weekdays, and a dime on Sundays.
"I remember him sitting there, rattling his box of change, and holding out the coin for you to come and take it," Leon said. "He'd pinch those coins so tight. When I went to get it, that's when he'd unbuckle my pants and fondle me. He did it right in the damn sacristy."
As Skoblik's paper boy Leon had to go to his house to collect. One time, the priest invited him in. The molestation took a more serious turn.
"I didn't have a clue what was going on," Leon said.
Skoblik pulled Leon's pants down and had him lay face down on the floor. The priest lay on top of him, rubbing against Leon's buttocks. He then took Leon upstairs where he had Leon manipulate him to orgasm, then cleaned himself up with a handkerchief.
Leon never went back to the house.
"If my parents had looked in my little blue collection book they would have seen something was wrong. I was a good paper boy, and was good at collecting. My father wrote a check to send to the Minneapolis paper to cover my bill, and I gave him the money I collected to cover it. But if they had looked in my book, they would have seen Father Skoblik's account would be months behind, because I wasn't going back there."
Skoblik moved on to a parish in Silver Lake. Leon said he never mentioned the molestation to anyone, but he thinks others must have known - Skoblik's housekeeper, for instance, who did his laundry, including his handkerchiefs. He suspects other boys may have been molested.
"About 10 years ago I told my mother about it, and she seemed shocked, but then she said, 'you know, there were rumors going on about him,' so there may have been someone else besides me," he said.
The abuse continues to affect Leon.
"It screwed me up my whole damn life. I hide things. I never talk about my feelings. I'm very defensive about things. I've been married many years and my wife is a saint. I'm sure I've damaged our relationship, damaged her and my daughter, by not talking about things, being defensive, and hiding things from her."
Leon said he feels guilt now that he didn't tell anyone.
"Maybe if I had spoken up, maybe something would have been done. (Skoblik) went on to Silver Lake and apparently was quite a monster there. If I had spoken up, maybe other kids could have been protected.
"But back then, all the church did was move them around," Leon said. "You have to wonder how many there were and if the priests talked to each other about it."
Leon said he blocked out the memories most of his life, but since telling his wife and mother he has been more open.
Leon attended a press conference held by attorney Jeff Anderson at the Landmark Center in St. Paul where priests and victims met.
"There was one guy from the archdiocese with a smirky, creepy attitude. I wasn't up at the front, but if I had to shake his hand afterward I would have had to leave."
Leon said the molestation has taken his faith from him. "Outside of a wedding or a funeral I haven't been in a church for 40 years. I never pray. I have no spiritual life."
Leon said his mother continued to attend church and donate money to the church after he had told her about what had happened to him. He said he felt his mother betrayed him by continuing to support the church.
"It nearly ruined my mother's funeral for me," Leon recalls." The priest at the funeral was about the same age as Skoblik, heavy set, balding, like Skoblik. "I know he (the priest) knew about it because my mother had told him, and she wanted me to talk to him about it. But I couldn't. Watching him in the pulpit, talking about my mother, all I could think about was what had happened."
Leon said he has no trust for any priest. "There are so many of them (sex offenders). It doesn't feel it is a small handful."
Leon doesn't even think there should be one-on-one confessions. "What a great opportunity for a priest to hear your secrets, your mistakes and use it to prey on someone."
His mistrust extends to the church as an organization. "It's supposed to be so honest and upright," said Leon. But instead of its professed concern for the victims of abuse, Leon sees the church trying to limit its financial liability, hiding funds and moving assets, using bankruptcy to protect finances.
Leon knows he needs counseling to help deal with his anger. He has been looking for a counselor for the last six months. He found one who practices near his job, but her case load is full. She did give him the names of others. Leon said that any counselor he sees will have to be a woman. "I would not be comfortable talking to a man," he said.
Leon has filed a civil complaint against the Diocese of New Ulm through the Anderson law firm. He thinks the lawsuits are accomplishing much.
"There are rules now about making a safer environment for kids, not letting priests be alone with kids, not letting it happen to anyone else," he said.
Leon said he does regret the loss of the faith he was raised in.
"Faith is a powerful thing for people to have, and maybe I wish I had it. But he took it from me."