Movie, news of child sex abuse create flashbacks
By Tom West
June 5, 2016
I’ve been having flashbacks in recent days to the worst story I ever covered.
In 1983, a week after I had taken ownership of the newspaper in Janesville, Minn., a burglary occurred in the veterinary office, which was next door to the newspaper. I wrote a small story about the break-in and thought nothing more about it.
Then, a month later, I went to church on Sunday, and halfway through the sermon, the minister broke down on the pulpit, weeping. When the service ended, I turned to the person behind me and asked what happened. He said, “They arrested Doc Hendricks for molesting boys on Friday.”
The authorities had found the kid who had burglarized the office, and when they interrogated him, he told them that the veterinarian, Dr. Roy Hendricks, had molested him. Allegedly there were also other victims.
Hendricks had been mayor for many years, and in the morning of the day he was arrested, he had stopped by to compliment me on the job I was doing with the paper.
When I wrote up the story for the next edition, I remember having tears of my own — mostly from fear. I wondered into what I had gotten my family, and I worried that, being a newcomer, the community would turn on me in favor of its former mayor. As I came to learn, Janesville has many good people, some of whom I still count as friends.
The story, however, was big news. After the next issue came out, many people stopped by the office to talk about it. I remember a retired publisher, about 80 at the time, who came in to tell me, “In my day, we never would have covered something like that.” A woman even claimed to have known — but done nothing — about it.
Ten weeks later, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, several inches of snow had fallen. We were living in the apartment above the newspaper, and I told my wife I would go out and clean off her car for her so she could go Christmas shopping. I walked down the back stairs to the car and saw the police chief, Doc’s brother, and a long time friend of Doc’s all hugging each other behind Doc’s office.
He had just committed suicide while his friend was beating on the locked door, hoping to stop him.
It came out later that growing up in Watertown, Doc had been the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of some migrant workers.
Just a few weeks ago, Doc’s widow, whom I always thought was a good person and unaware of her husband’s sins, passed away.
I retell the story now because it comes within the backdrop of the scandal caused by pedophile Catholic priests. Last week, I watched the movie “Spotlight” which won the Oscar for Best Picture a couple of months ago. It is about an investigative reporting unit of the Boston Globe, who discovered that the church had been covering up for pedophile priests by moving them from parish to parish. In one scene, a reporter tracks down a retired priest who admitted abusing boys, but, in total denial, said he didn’t mean them any harm. He also said that he had been raped as a boy himself.
At the end of the movie, a list of locations where pedophile priest activity had been reported was shown. On the list from Minnesota were Collegeville, Greenbush, Onamia, St. Paul and Minneapolis.
On May 25, the temporary lifting on the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims came to an end. Seventy-four claims have been made against the Diocese of St. Cloud, involving 31 priests. Throughout Minnesota, about 285 priests have been accused.
I knew two of the priests on the list. One, Sylvester Brown, had been the parish priest in Janesville in the 1990s. I was stunned to learn he was on the list; he was widely loved. However, some things occurred earlier in his career in Rochester. Orphaned at an early age, he was sexually abused growing up with relatives. Father Brown died in 2010.
The other was Jack Krough, who was a couple of years behind me in school growing up, and went to the same Methodist Church I did. Krough molested some students while teaching at Austin Pacelli and Winona Cotter high schools. He left the priesthood in 2002, and died in 2014 — a few days after the personnel files of the accused priests were released.
However, anyone who thinks pedophilia is a problem just with priests or just a few communities is thinking too small.
Child sexual abuse happens more frequently than any of us want to believe. To those who were abused as children, the advice here is to get counseling; to those who think it is OK to have sex with children, get counseling. To those who use their own victimization to justify victimizing others, get counseling. Sexually abusing children is not normal; it’s criminal.
Human sexuality is a complex issue, and, as is clear from the state being unwilling to release almost all of the sex offenders at its Moose Lake facility, we don’t know how to exorcise the sex-offending demons.
All we know is that a lot of children’s lives are being permanently ruined by them.