Think Mcquaid's Priest Abuse List Is Complete? Our Investigation Shows It's Not
By Sean Lahman and Steve Orr
Democrat and Chronicle
January 31, 2019
When Tom Chiarella read last month about sexual abuse allegations against seven priests once assigned to his alma mater, McQuaid Jesuit High School, he was sick to his stomach.
Chiarella had known that sexual abuse had occurred at the Brighton secondary school because he was a victim of it. The trauma hung over his head for years before he could find a way out.
His personal escape culminated in the bold step of telling the world what had happened to him in an article for Esquire magazine in 2003 called "My Education." Chiarella recounted how French teacher John J. Tobin had harassed, stalked and sexually abused him between 1975 and his graduation in 1979.
What disturbed Chiarella were allegations that came to light Jan. 15, when a regional Jesuit organization named 50 priests who had been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. Seven of those priests once taught at McQuaid.
Publication of that list has prompted a new stream of allegations against staff who taught at McQuaid, with the Brighton police and the Democrat and Chronicle receiving multiple calls. At the same time, the release has raised questions about the thoroughness and transparency of efforts to acknowledge and resolve past abuses.
Asked about the Jesuits' list, leaders at McQuaid failed to make clear when and where the misconduct by the seven priests occurred, how many McQuaid students were victimized, and why the school had previously denied knowledge of credible allegations against many of the priests named.
"I think it's amazing, the institutional indifference to these problems," Chiarella said. "They're perpetuating a system where a 15-year-old boy feels he shouldn't and can't speak out."
Known abusers missing from list
For decades, Roman Catholic institutions have been accused of shielding abusive clerics and resisting efforts to bring past sins to light.
McQuaid leaders insist this is not another example of that pattern.
In December, McQuaid officials acknowledged there had been credible accusations against two former priests who worked at the school. But they told the Democrat and Chronicle they weren't aware of any additional names that would appear on the soon-to-be-released list of Jesuit abusers.
In January, a reporter again asked McQuaid's director of communications, Sean Mullen, if the school knew of any other credible allegations of sexual abuse against former Jesuit or lay staff members and he again said no.
But when the regional Jesuit organization released its list, it included five more McQuaid priests than the school had acknowledged, and it made no mention of Tobin, a lay teacher, nor a priest who had also bedeviled Chiarella during this time.
School officials responded by saying they knew nothing about abuse in which any of those priests may have engaged while teaching at the school, and said they were unable to determine if Chiarella's allegations against Tobin were credible because the former teacher was dead.
But public records obtained recently by the Democrat and Chronicle revealed that McQuaid had received at least three independent accusations against Tobin, and the school eventually admitted to a reporter that it had in fact fired Tobin for what Mullen described as "incidences of inappropriate behavior" during a class trip to Europe.
They had also reported the allegations against Tobin, and additional accusations against two other Jesuit teachers, to Brighton police in 2003.
McQuaid silent on credible allegations
14 percent of the priests (seven in all) on the list of 50 priests released by the Jesuits spent time at the secondary school on South Clinton Avenue in Brighton.
Ferreting out where the alleged acts had occurred proved difficult, however.
For instance, the list said that the Rev. Robert Voelkle, who spent much of the 1960s at McQuaid, had abused minors in the 1960s and 1970s. But the list didn't make clear where and when the abuse had occurred, and McQuaid officials said they didn't know.
A Jesuit spokesman, Michael Gabriele, later acknowledged that some of Voelkle's misconduct had occurred while he was at McQuaid, but said he had no more information about it.
Based on vague language in the Jesuit list, the Rev. Thomas Denny also may have committed some of his abusive acts when he was on the McQuaid faculty in the late 1970s.
But despite the fact that two separate investigations by the Jesuits had found allegations against him credible, neither the Jesuit Northeast Province nor McQuaid officials could say if any of Denny's misconduct had occurred while he was at McQuaid.
The Jesuit list did make clear that a priest in training, Leonard Riforgiato, was at McQuaid in the mid-1960s when he engaged in abusive behavior.
School officials initially said they knew nothing about it.
In fact, McQuaid officials at one time had known all about the allegation that Riforgiato had instructed a student to drop his pants ó because that claim was among the information that the school gave Brighton police sixteen years ago.
What's not clear is whether McQuaid knew about this alleged misconduct much earlier. The Jesuit Northeast Province says they first became aware that Riforgiato had been abusing minors in 1969, and that the priest-in-training had admitted his abuse.
It is unclear how McQuaid's parent organization could have been aware of these events for fifty years while local school officials were in the dark.
It's also unclear why the school was unaware of credible allegations against Denny, which the Jesuit province said first came to their attention in 2002, or allegations against Voelkle, which were reported to the Jesuits in 1980.
On multiple occasions, the Democrat and Chronicle invited the school's current president, Rev. Robert Reiser, or other school officials to sit down to discuss these allegations and the institution's response to them. None of those invitations were accepted.
But public records offer some insight into how the school responded to the allegations of sexual abuse published in Esquire magazine.
In April 2003, Esquire sent an advance copy of Chiarella's article to school officials. Titled "My Education," the story focused on the abuse perpetrated by Tobin over several years and an unnamed priest, who Chiarella accused of committing an indecent act.
The school's principal at the time, the Rev. Phillip Judge, shared the article with Brighton police investigators.
The school also sent a letter to alumni notifying them that the Esquire expose was about to be published.
In response, the school received allegations from at least three former students accusing former staff members of sexual abuse. Two made accusations against Tobin. The third named Riforgiato.
Rev. Judge also shared those disclosures with Brighton police, and a BPD investigator interviewed Chiarella and the other complainants. A copy of the police report was obtained by the Democrat and Chronicle via a Freedom of Information request.
Brighton Police Chief Mark Henderson said recently the department's inquiry into those allegations 16 years ago was a brief one. None of the former students wanted to pursue criminal charges, Chiarella refused to reveal the name of the abusive priest, and Tobin and Riforgiato were deceased.
McQuaid officials volunteered no information about Tobin or the 2003 police report when the Democrat and Chronicle inquired last month.
After being pressed, McQuaid's Sean Mullen clarified that the school did not acknowledge these reports because it "was unable to determine if the allegations[s] were credible" because the accused abusers were dead.
Mullen also said that the school had not received any other credible allegations of sexual abuse, either as part of the 2003 outreach to alumni or on other occasions.
But a fresh batch of allegations is just now surfacing.
Public list prompts new allegations
In the days after the latest disclosure of abuse allegations against seven former McQuaid priests, the Democrat and Chronicle heard from several former McQuaid students who allege that they were also victims of abuse while enrolled at the school.
So did the Brighton Police Department.
Henderson said that his investigators had heard from at least four individuals who said they were victims of sexual abuse at McQuaid. Some of those reports involve allegations against individuals who had not previously been identified as abusers.
All but one of the calls focused on priests who worked at McQuaid in the 1950s or early 1960s, Henderson said. One involved an allegation of inappropriate conduct by the Rev. Cornelius Carr, who served as McQuaid's principal from 1960 to 1964.
As Henderson noted, the statute of limitations on offenses in the '50s and '60s has long since lapsed, the alleged perpetrators likely are deceased and prosecution is impossible.
But Brighton investigators interviewed those who contacted them in recent weeks and filled out incident reports nonetheless. Henderson said he sees value in interacting with those who contact the department.
"We offer dialog, we offer an opportunity to be heard and we document their claims," he said. Officers have talked with those who called about the availability of counseling.
The number of people who come forward to voice claims against institutions such as McQuaid could take another jump in the coming months because of passage by the state Legislature this week of the Child Victims Act.
The law extends the deadlines by which victims of child sexual abuse can press criminal charges or bring civil actions, and sets up a one-year window during which lawsuits can be filed no matter how long ago the abuse took place.
It's not unusual for allegations of sexual abuse to go unreported until victims are well into adulthood. Sometimes, they're prompted by their children reaching the age at which their own abuse occurred. Sometimes the victims can't make such disclosures until after their parents have died.
"Some say the usual age of revelation is about 50," said Robert Hoatson, founder of Road to Recovery, a support group for survivors of sexual abuse. "A victim or survivor only comes forward when he/she has the 'tools' to reveal the abuse."
Hoatson, a former Catholic priest, said victims often believe itís a character flaw in them that caused the priest to abuse them.
"A teenager, in particular, who is in the throes of hormonal changes and puberty, is terrified of being outed as gay or 'strange' or whatever," Hoatson said. "Only when another victim or survivor comes forward can they conclude, 'Holy crap, I am not the only one!'"
Revelations proves cathartic
One man who called the Democrat and Chronicle who had multiple encounters with an abusive priest while a student at McQuaid in the 1950s, said he found the burst of publicity about clerical misconduct at the school to be cathartic.
"It's bothered me my whole lifetime. Now, after 62 years I can talk to people and it sounds credible," he said.
The priest in question, the Rev. John Farrand, was among those listed by the Jesuits as having engaged in abusive conduct at some point in their careers. The list said that Farrand, who died in 2003, had admitted to abusing minors in 1961 at a New York City school where he'd been transferred after leaving McQuaid.
But the caller who dealt with Farrand at McQuaid said he was known for showering with boys after they'd finished gym class there, for groping boys in one-on-one meetings and taking select students on overnight trips.
"We all knew it. All the (McQuaid) kids talked about it," said the man, who asked that his name not be used.
As a policy, the Democrat and Chronicle does not report the names of potential victims of sexual abuse unless they have agreed to be identified.
That caller also noted that a fellow McQuaid student, Peter Conroy, had gone on to become a Jesuit priest ó and was included on the list of 50 abusers that the religious order released last month. Conroy admitted in 2002 to fondling two underage girls in Rochester in 1972.
Another man who told the Democrat and Chronicle that he was abused by a priest as a student at McQuaid in the 1970s, said he had never told anyone about what happened to him.
"How could I? Even now, they're minimizing what happened, or dismissing it because it happened so long ago." he said. "But my wounds still haven't healed. I got a great education at McQuaid, but they also gave me this burden that I'm still carrying."
The most recent allegations against McQuaid staff that have come to light so far are those against Tobin dating to the 1970s and 1980s.
It may be that increased scrutiny of child abuse and clerical misconduct has prevented incidents from occurring in more recent years. Itís notable as well that over time, the number of priests who teach at the school has declined to practically none.
Chief Henderson said his department's incident database goes back to 1995, and the only abuse allegations that officers could find were those that came up when Chiarella published his 2003 story in Esquire.
Victims say Jesuits not transparent
Hoatson says that the release of the Jesuit's list is a good first step but does not reflect a truly transparent process.
"The number of victims is crucial to know, and the number of victims for each priest or brother is crucial. Itís why we constantly call for the release of all personnel files of pedophile clergy," Hoatson said. "The Jesuits apologized but did not tell us how much they have paid out in settlements, counseling, etc., and they really werenít very convincing in encouraging other Jesuit victims to come forward. They need to treat victims with more compassion."
Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston-based attorney whose work was featured in the movie Spotlight and who has represented hundreds of alleged abuse victims, questioned the sincerity of the Jesuits' efforts. He said he had already settled claims against at least one priest whose name did not appear on the list released by the Jesuit Northeast Province in January.
"This omission of [that priest] from the list by the Jesuits is an example of why an independent investigation of the Jesuits and of the Catholic Church relative to pedophilia must take place," Garabedian said.
Garabedian questioned whether the threshold for determining whether allegations are credible is set so high that it allows the Jesuits to avoid real transparency.
"Given that the Jesuits have actively practiced the cover up of clergy sexual abuse for decades upon decades, victims question whether the criteria used by the Jesuits in determining if a pedophile priest has been credibly accused is fair or is just a means to name as few pedophile priests as possible," Garabedian said. "Certainly, given the kangaroo court nature of the Catholic Church, there is a need for a truly independent investigation to determine what the Jesuits are hiding and why."
Unmoored by abuse
In his article for Esquire magazine, Chiarella recounted how Tobin had sexually abused him between 1975 and his graduation in 1979.
"To say it unmoored me, that it set me floating for several years ó leading me to lie to just about everyone I ever cared about ó would be about as large and accurate a metaphor as I can muster," he wrote.
Chiarella described in graphic detail the grooming behavior that began on his first day at McQuaid. Weeks later, Tobin offered him a ride home after school, Chiarella wrote, but instead the teacher took him to his own house where he initiated a sexual act.
The abuse continued, Chiarella wrote, and Tobin pressured him to allow other men to participate in the sexual encounters.
"I never liked what he did to me, I never wanted it to happen, and truth be told it only happened several times over one year," Chiarella wrote. "After that, I found ways to gain distance, to keep him at bay, to sick him on other students."
But the relentless pursuit continued. When he attended a summer camp four hours north of Toronto, Tobin showed up unannounced for a visit. The teacher would show up at his house or at his part-time job. He even appeared suddenly when Chiarella was on vacation in Florida with his family.
"Mr. Tobin understood my fear, and he never let up on it. Never. Not for years," Chiarella wrote. "He always let me know he was there, always suggested that I owed him, always claimed that he had a good heart, a warm spot for me, if only I could get over, well, myself."
Chiarella wrote that he later learned that Tobin had tried to ensnare his younger brother.
"I think that John did that pretty regularly," Chiarella told the Democrat and Chronicle last week. "One of my biggest regrets is that I knew other guys were involved. I just took my chance to get away."
Chiarella kept many of the details of his abuse at McQuaid out of the 2003 article, to protect others and to protect himself. He didn't write about Tobin giving him quaaludes and bourbon. He didn't write about seeing priests from McQuaid at bars and popular cruising spots on Monroe Avenue, or at "parties for men who liked to have sex with 16-year old boys."
But Chiarella did write about a priest who pulled down his pants in his office at McQuaid and asked him to perform a sex act.
"I wasn't surprised when he rolled back his chair and exposed [himself]" Chiarella wrote. "I knew what was happening; I knew where I was supposed to go. But he could see me hesitate, and maybe some look of pain crossed my face. 'That's okay,' he said, pulling himself in toward the desk."
He didn't name that priest in his article and declined to identify him when Brighton police inquired about the allegations in his Esquire article.
After the article appeared, Chiarella said he received personal letters from two priests at McQuaid who expressed their sorrow for what they'd read.
But he said he has yet to hear from any officials at McQuaid. Nobody asked him for more details about the abuse he endured. Nobody asked him to identify the priest who asked for sex. Nobody offered support or checked on his well being.
Surviving to talk
In the spring of 2000, a classmate from McQuaid told Chiarella that Tobin had died.
There were rumors that the teacher had been killed while working at a school in Mexico. Chiarella could never find any records to support those claims, and neither could the Democrat and Chronicle. But an obituary confirms that Tobin died in February 2000.
"When I heard that he got murdered in Mexico, I felt so relieved," Chiarella said. "It was a moment of reckoning for me."
Chiarella said that it took him another year to gather the courage to tell the story of the abuse he had endured.
"I didnít want to tell my mom and dad. My whole strategy in life was to keep that knowledge away from them," he said.
Tobin, a Buffalo native, started teaching foreign languages at McQuaid in 1964 and was the school's longtime swim coach. He was fired in 1993 after the unspecified misconduct during a class trip to Europe.
The European misconduct was, school officials now say, the first allegation against Tobin they were made aware of, and they took immediate action by dismissing him.
Today, more than 15 years after he wrote about his experience in Esquire, Chiarellla says he's still struggling to deal with the aftermath of his abuse.
"When I wrote the article, I felt like I was saying to the world: 'see, I'm fine,'" Chiarella said. "I'm more honest about it now. I've had therapy. My kids know."
Chiarella returns to Rochester to visit his mother, but he's never been back to McQuaid.
"I wouldn't go near that building now," he says, "not because I'm terrified; I'm bummed out."
Chiarella taught creative writing at DePauw University in Indiana and was a staff writer and fiction editor at Esquire. He's now a writer-at-large for the magazine. The effects of PTSD forced him to retire, he says. He didn't feel he could read coherently anymore, though his current treatment is helping.
He describes himself as happier today than he was in 2003, but the public admission about his abuse didn't give him the sense of closure he'd hoped for.
"For a long time, I wished I'd never written that goddamned article," he said. "I got offers to join lawsuits but I didn't want to be part of all that."
Chiarella says he's heartened that his article prompted other McQuaid students to reach out to him and share their own stories.
"The only way to survive is to talk about what happened," he says. "I wish somebody could have gone back and helped that 15-year-old kid. All they needed to do was listen."