Catholic Bishops Feel Heat
By Matt Westerhold
September 2, 2018
George Keller is a 1961 graduate of Immaculate Conception grade school.
He is a devout Catholic, has been all his life.
He’s also a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, starting when he was 12 years old.
Keller wants Bishop Daniel Thomas, of the Toledo Diocese, to resign in the wake of a grand jury report released last month of an investigation in Pennsylvania that identified more than 1,000 victims of sexual abuse and more than 300 pedophile priests and bishops in the Keystone state who enabled them.
Watch: Keller was the guest on “Between the Lines” on Friday.
Keller is not the only person asking a bishop to resign. Numerous petitions and letters have been sent to the Pope, who is under fire himself for allegedly not acting to stop abuse former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick committed that was revealed in a report released in June. The petitions are signed by thousands of Catholics across the country asking all bishops in the U.S. to resign.
The Boston Globe is credited with breaking down the wall of silence and first reporting in 2002 about extensive child sexual abuse by priests in the Boston Diocese, and the lengths church leaders went to to protect the priests from being exposed.
One letter asking for all U.S. bishops to resign described the findings of the Pennsylvania grand jury report as revealing “a horror beyond expression,” the Globe reported Aug. 18. The letter states that a mass resignation would be a “public act of repentance and lamentation.” The signatories include a monsignor who serves as pastor at two Catholic parishes, staff at Catholic colleges and schools, lay leaders, and parishioners, the Globe reported.
The Pennsylvania grand jury report covers a 70-year period, dating back to the 1940s. In an Aug. 20 letter to parishioners at churches in the Toledo diocese, Bishop Thomas told them they “were rightly scandalized and aflame with anger” at the findings.
But Keller contends Bishop Thomas — who grew up in a Catholic family in Pennsylvania, went to seminary there and served as a parish priest at various churches and later as an archbishop in the Philadelphia Diocese — must have been more aware at that time of the sexual abuse endured by children than he revealed in his letter.
“He had to have known it,” Keller said, describing Thomas’ words to parishioners as “the very same denial that made it so the abuse could keep happening for all this time.”
Thomas, appointed bishop in Toledo in 2014, suggests in his “Letter to the Faithful” that the grand jury report was the first he’d learned about the sexual abuse and how predator-priests were being protected by church leaders, or at least the extent of it.
“When I learned of the sexual abuse and immorality of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and that of certain other priests and bishops over a period of 70 years recounted in the grand jury report, I was angry, shamed and sick at heart,” Thomas wrote.
For Keller, it just doesn’t add up. The church hierarchy that protected abusers in Pennsylvania operated the same as in Ohio when he was a victim, Keller said. Keller’s story of abuse, and the abuse of other boys are similar in detail to other past reports of abuse, locally, and as described in a grand jury report.
Keller’s abuser — Father Leo Welch — served at St. Mary’s in Sandusky from 1952-56. He was at Immaculate Conception in Bellevue, Keller’s parish, from 1956 until 1962, when he was transferred to Christ the King Church in Toledo. Welch left the priesthood in 1965, according to records the diocese shared with the Register for an article in 2002. It’s unclear, however, if Welch was forced out or if he left voluntarily.
Bishop Thomas did not respond to questions from the Register sent to him this week addressing Keller’s concerns. The diocese did not say if Thomas would meet with Keller, as Keller requested, or if any further comment from him would be forthcoming.
According to Keller, Welch had a cabin with a pond in Bono, Ohio, a small village in Lucas County near Lake Erie, where he’d taken Keller and other boys, beginning when Keller was 12 years old. “The place was like a kids’ dream,” Keller told the Register in 2002. “It was like a summer camp all year long.”
But fun days at the cabin ended with Welch initially wrestling with the boys in a bedroom each evening and then molesting each one. Each boy “took his turn” in the bedroom, Welch said, and they never spoke about it.
Keller said he endured the abuse about twice a month for about two years, but then he stopped going with Welch to the cabin. A year later, however, when he was about 15, Keller said he observed Welch with another boy he suspected was being abused and he complained to the pastor.
Welch was forced out at the Bellevue parish after Keller and other victims of Welch’s came forward. But a year later, Keller encountered Welch at a marina near Toledo with two other boys he suspected Welch was abusing.
He hoped things would improve after the abuses were exposed in 2002, but he’s fearful church leaders still don’t get it.
“Sixteen years later, it’s so sad we’re talking about this story again,” Keller said. “The institution has to change, and it won’t change if Bishop Thomas and other leaders in the church don’t change their attitudes about this and fully acknowledge it.”
On Sunday, George Keller and his wife Sandy will be in a pew at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.