Survivor of Abuse by Mishawaka Priest: "I Finally Feel Vindicated"
By Caleb Bauer
South Bend Tribune
September 25, 2018
|St. Joseph Catholic Parish|
When Bishop Kevin Rhoades decided to release the names of 18 clergy members accused of sexual abuse, he said he had come to understand “that victims deserve to see the names of their abusers made public for all to see.”
“It is my hope that by releasing these names, the innocent victims of these horrific and heartbreaking crimes can finally begin the process of healing,” Rhoades, bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese, said when he first announced his plans.
For Diane Bottorff King, the release of the names last week has brought her some semblance of justice, and a measure of the healing that Rhoades mentioned. She said having her abuser — the Rev. Elden Miller — publicly revealed has left her feeling “better than I have in years.”
Still, she thinks the release came at a time when the diocese had no other choice.
King says she was a victim of abuse by Miller during the 1960s at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Mishawaka; it was the first of four allegations against the priest that the diocese deemed credible. King believes the release of the names should have happened “many, many years ago.” And she, like others, believe there were more priests who abused children than the ones listed in last week’s release.
“Why do they get to police themselves?” she asked of Church leaders. “That’s why this has gotten so out of hand. I think more people should come forward and tell their stories, because it’s a bigger deal than just 18 priests.”
Of the 18 clergy members, eight are now dead and two are in prison. Many served for decades at different parishes throughout the diocese, but the list does not include where or when the abuse occurred, or the number of victims. It also doesn’t specify how many were referred to police or were investigated by law enforcement.
Stephanie Patka, spokeswoman for the diocese, said Rhoades has notified authorities of “every allegation that has come in since he was bishop.” Rhoades has been in the position since 2010.
As for cases before Rhoades’ tenure, she said “we do not necessarily have a record of when law enforcement was notified.”
King did not learn that her allegation against Miller was deemed credible until this year, 12 years after she first came forward. The lack of notification from the diocese for years, she said, adds to her frustration. But she believes she can now start moving past the abuse she suffered.
“It’s messed with my head my whole life,” she said. “Now I finally feel vindicated.”
‘The safest place’
From 1954 to 1971, Miller served at St. Joseph in Mishawaka, before spending nearly two decades at parishes in Columbia City, Fort Wayne and Kendallville. In 1988, he returned to Mishawaka, where he was the pastor at Queen of Peace until his retirement in 2003.
Another one of his victims, Carolyn Andrzejewski-Wilson, had pushed Rhoades to release Miller’s name for nearly two years. Andrzejewski-Wilson told The Tribune last month that she was sexually abused by Miller for more than five years, beginning at the age of 6. Her accusation was found credible by the diocese in 2016.
King grew up in a large Catholic family a block away from St. Joseph, and her siblings were frequently called to help priests and nuns at the parish.
When they moved into their house in the early 1960s, King recalled, her father was thrilled to live close to the church, in a neighborhood he thought was “the safest place in the world.”
But King says that proximity also left her and her youngest brother, Billy Bottorff, vulnerable to abuse by Miller while they were students at the school.
Beginning at the age of 8, King said, she was sexually abused by Miller repeatedly in the church, the rectory and the school. She said her brother was also abused by Miller, beginning in first grade and continuing through sixth grade.
When King tried to tell her mother what was happening, she was ordered to go to church and confess her sins to Miller.
In May 2006, Billy killed himself at age 44, King and family members said. It was the last in a string of suicide attempts that capped off a life that had sunk into alcoholism and drug abuse.
The year before he died, Billy told his sister about the abuse by Miller and instructed her to tell his story. King considers the sexual abuse to be the primary factor that led to Billy’s problems and ultimately his suicide.
“I didn’t think I’d say anything to anybody,” King said, “until Billy came forward and told me about what happened to him.”
Shortly after the death, King sent a letter to Bishop John D’Arcy, who held the position from 1985 to 2010. King set up a meeting with D’Arcy on Oct. 31, 2006, in South Bend. One of her cousins, Mike Thomas, also attended.
“He said that nobody’s ever filed a report” about Miller, King said. “He read parts of (the letter) aloud and kept saying, ‘Is this accurate? Is this accurate?’ I had written him a letter which was extremely, I thought, explicit in detail.”
In a letter sent to King a week later, D’Arcy recounted the meeting.
“It should never happen that a priest should do something like she has described,” D’Arcy wrote. “If it did happen, I indeed apologize in the Name of Christ and the Church.”
D’Arcy also wrote that he would prefer King meet with the diocese’s Vicar General before working with victim advocate Mary Glowaski. At the time, the diocese’s policies involving sexual abuse allegations were different. Now survivors are encouraged to first speak with Glowaski, a trained social worker, before speaking with diocesan officials.
King did not follow up with the diocese because she felt D’Arcy doubted her story.
Another of King’s cousins, John Bottorff Jr., sent D’Arcy a letter on Dec. 7, 2006. Bottorff expressed concern that Miller, who was retired at the time but still able to conduct ministerial duties, had not been removed from public ministry.
“To date, nothing has been done to identify Fr. Miller as a child predator to alert parents to the danger he poses to children,” Bottorff wrote.
On Dec. 18, 2006, Miller was removed from public ministry.
When Miller died in 2008, D’Arcy presided over the funeral Mass, according to a report in Today’s Catholic, the diocesan newspaper.
King, now 64, is retired and living in Elkhart. She spent most of her life as a stay-at-home mother but also worked odd jobs. She hasn’t been to church since Billy first told her about his abuse. She’s not sure if she’ll return to the Catholic Church.
Still, she wants the Church to take additional steps toward reform, including the release of additional information on the abuse committed by the priests on the diocese’s list, like when the abuse occurred and when allegations were filed.
Last week, King took what she considers a step forward: She went to breakfast with a neighbor. She said for years, she has often felt uncomfortable leaving her house.
“I’m feeling empowered now,” King said. “I’m ready to come alive again.”