After dispute over epitaph, tombstone at Catholic cemetery reads: She supported priest sexual abuse victims
By Angie Leventis Lourgos
December 30, 2017
|Marguerite Ridgeway |
Photo by Jack Ruhl
[Note: The article includes a video interview with Jack and Diane Ruhl.]
A son says his late mother finally will be able to rest in peace now that a dispute with a Catholic cemetery over her controversial grave marker has been resolved.
Marguerite Ridgeway, of west suburban Lisle, was a faithful Catholic before church sex abuse scandals came to light, including decades-old trauma recounted by her daughter-in-law. Before her 2015 death, Ridgeway closely followed the stories of abuse victims locally and across the country, and her outrage ultimately spurred a break with the church she once loved, according to her son, Jack Ruhl, of Kalamazoo, Mich.
In October, Ruhl had proposed the marker at her grave at Assumption Cemetery in Wheaton bear the message “She supported priest rapist victims.” But the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet, which owns the cemetery, took issue with what it called the “explicit language” of the inscription, calling the word rapist “graphic, offensive and shocking to the senses.”
After compromising with diocese officials, Ruhl recently settled on an alternate epitaph: “She supported priest sexual abuse victims.” He and his wife, Diane Ruhl, who was one of several women who filed lawsuits in 2003 alleging sexual abuse by a Jesuit priest decades ago, drove the 2-foot-long gray granite headstone roughly 175 miles from their Michigan home to Ridgeway’s grave, where it was installed Dec. 22.
On that overcast and chilly afternoon, Jack Ruhl described a sense of closure as he gazed at the new headstone, surrounded by fresh dirt and a decorative Christmas wreath. “I almost feel as though she is smiling down,” he said, adding that he believed a previous Tribune story on the dispute helped prompt the compromise.
While Ruhl said he would have preferred the original language, he was glad to finally get the marker installed.
“I suspect that it is the best I can do for my mother,” said Ruhl, who grew up in south suburban Riverdale . “I am certain that my mother would have wanted this and that she would be happy with this inscription.”
Diocese spokesman Edward Flavin said church officials had no further comment on the headstone, out of respect for the privacy of the Ruhl family. “The Diocese of Joliet made an accommodation for Mr. Ruhl and we are pleased that this matter has been resolved,” he said.
An attorney for the diocese in an Oct. 6 letter had suggested alternate language for the headstone, including “She supported clergy sex abuse victims,” or “She supported victims of clergy sex abuse.”
The letter added that Ridgeway signed a contract in 2001 agreeing that a diocese cemetery official must approve all memorials before they can be placed at the grave.
“This is not a subject that we at the Diocese of Joliet shy away from; it is a sad chapter in our history that we think about daily,” the letter said. “Our concern must be with the many people who visit Assumption Cemetery with the expectation that their quiet time with their loved ones will be peaceful, tranquil and free of stress and anxiety.”
In 2015, the Diocese of Joliet agreed to a settlement of roughly $4 million to 14 men who said priests molested them when they were children decades ago at various suburban churches.
Ridgeway was an adult convert to Catholicism who often described the Holy Communion as her strength, but later in life became angered by the hierarchy’s response to allegations of clergy sexual abuse. She stopped attending Mass and donating to the church, her son said.
Diane Ruhl, who said she ultimately received a settlement from the Jesuit religious order, said she always felt affirmed that her mother-in-law was so moved by her painful story. “She empathized and did something about it,” Diane Ruhl said.
Despite leaving the Catholic church, Ridgeway still wanted to be buried at Assumption Cemetery alongside the grave of her late daughter.
Jack Ruhl felt the marker would be an appropriate way to commemorate his mother’s staunch stance on church sex abuse. “I thoughtfully and specifically chose those words because my mother was never one to candy-coat the truth or mince words,” he said.
Markers at other sites across the country have been erected to promote healing in the wake of clergy sex abuse scandals.
As part of a $9 million settlement in 2005, a monument shaped like a millstone was erected at the Catholic Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, bearing the Biblical quote, “… if anyone causes one of these little ones who trust in me to lose faith, it would be better for that person to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around the neck.”
Two other memorials — a sculpture near a rectory in Mendham, New Jersey, and a garden at a Catholic cathedral in Oakland, Calif. — have been erected to remember victims of clergy sexual abuse.