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  Father John

By Terry Greene
Phoenix New Times (Arizona)
October 25, 1989

Lillian and Al Jones were always proud that their teen-age son, Fred, was such a good Catholic. "I never had to fight him to go to Mass," Lillian says. Fred, a student at a Catholic school, told his mother he wanted to be a priest some day. "I talked to him and said I'd be a proud mother but to give oneself to God is a hard life--think about it awhile," she recalls.

Because they were active in their parish, the Joneses (not their real names) frequently invited priests from St. Mary's in Chandler to dinner. There was one priest in particular who visited often. His name was Father John Giandelone. He befriended Fred, who sometimes stopped by the rectory for what his mom thought were algebra tutoring sessions. "We got so close to Father John, he came to our house like our son," she says. "We loved him to death. He came for Christmas and New Year's. Many times he'd pop in unexpectedly."

On May 26, 1984, the 37-year-old priest popped in for a visit. Fred, 15 at the time, was getting ready for his part-time job at a fast-food restaurant. Fred's girlfriend was also at the house.

After the girlfriend left, Father John strolled into the boy's room and casually shut the door. The boy later told police: "When Father John came over, I knew what he wanted and I hated it. But I did not know what to do."

A few minutes later, Al Jones walked into the bedroom to warn his son not to be late for work. He discovered Father John had just performed oral sex on Fred. Al yelled that he wanted the priest out of the house. Later, he would admit that he was glad he didn't have a gun handy.

Before Father John scrambled out of the room, he instructed Fred to explain to his dad that the priest had just been inspecting his penis to see if his girlfriend had "hurt" him.

"I thought at the time, Dear God, what can I do?'" Lillian Jones recalls. " I was worried that my son would lose his faith. I was worried about his soul."

Al Jones called the Chandler police. When the priest gave himself up a few days later, he and Fred both admitted to detectives that the sexual abuse had gone on for two years, since the boy was thirteen.

"As far as I know, it only happened once," Lillian says. She still does not know her son had been molested for two years. Father John's explanation to police was: "I was lonely, and all I wanted to do was love on him and lay my head on his stomach." Later, Father John confessed to his psychiatrist that he acted out sexually in other ways. He frequented gay bars and picked up prostitutes in Phoenix. He had anonymous sex in San Francisco. "I'm a gay priest," he said.

Perry Harper, the former priest who was once a top administrator in the Phoenix diocese, says he knew of Father John's previous relationship with another boy. Father John, he says, "was an unsuccessful guy who'd drifted from career to career before becoming a priest. Then when he became a priest he suddenly got the instant gratification of being important and respected. He became Father John.' Pedophiles use these things to get to kids."

Harper says that because of his own position in the diocese, he'd been told in 1979 or 1980 that Father John had seduced a fourteen-year-old boy, the son of a minister. He says O'Brien, who was not yet bishop, also knew of the incident. Harper recalls that he told then-Bishop James Rausch. The bishop investigated, says Harper, and "suddenly Giandelone was gone for a couple of months."

Father John Ebbesmeir, a Tempe priest and a friend of Father John's, also recalls the incident, but says: "There were some things with John and some younger person before, but that's all I know."

Father John was eventually reassigned to a teaching post at Bourgade High School by Bishop Thomas O'Brien. Harper says that when he protested that Father John shouldn't teach, the bishop told him to mind his own business.

It was three or four years later, in May 1984, that Father John was caught molesting Fred Jones. Harper recalls that Bishop O'Brien told him to keep the incident quiet: "He told me not to talk to anyone about it." A few days later, Harper says a diocese lawyer instructed him, on behalf of the bishop, to convince the Jones family to drop charges. Harper says he refused.

Father John was immediately whisked away to the Foundation House in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, the center that treats sexually deviant priests. "The Home," as some local priests have nicknamed it, is operated by an order of priests called Servants of the Paraclete. They do not talk to reporters about their program, says a priest named Father Mac who answers the Home's phone.

While at the Home, Father John took a plethysmograph test, which measures penile responses to erotic scenes. The purpose of the test is to determine sexual preference, and Father John was diagnosed as a "homosexual with a 20 to 35 age group preference." But Father John's New Mexico psychiatrist, Dr. John Wilson, noted in court records that the priest came to the Home to get help dealing with "sexual acting out with minor boys."

Fred Jones, the victim, never received therapy. His father, Al, refused it, thinking the abuse happened only once. When Superior Court Judge Robert Gottsfield asked Al Jones if anyone in the family needed counseling, he replied that Fred "appeared to be fine." He said the entire family "would like to forget the whole thing."

Father John, on the other hand, received extensive therapy--at diocese expense. He laid out his family history: He told his counselors that he'd been molested at age six by his cousin and always thought of himself as a " wimp." He "felt overwhelmed and frightened" when he went on a wilderness adventure. He complained he didn't like working with ceramics. In psychodrama at the Home, therapists noted, Father John got "in touch with the scared, hurt child inside him."

It's no wonder Father John was feeling scared. He was facing up to twenty years in prison for four counts of sexual conduct with a minor. Bishop Thomas O'Brien did what he could to keep Father John out of jail. The diocese paid for the priest's lawyer, and O'Brien noted that Father John was making progress in his therapy. He asked the court to spare Father John a painful prison term.

O'Brien's concern impressed Father John's probation officer, who wrote in his presentence report that the priest "has the full support of Bishop O'Brien and the Church. . . . Bishop O'Brien indicated that the Church is spending large amounts of money to rehabilitate Giandelone and will closely monitor his activities and assignments in the future."

Father John, for his part, told the court that if he had to go to jail, he'd be "destroyed."

In 1985, the judge allowed Father John to strike a plea bargain that reduced the original charges to attempted child molesting. He was sentenced to a year in jail, but was allowed to join a work-furlough program that enabled him to work during the day at the diocese and spend each night in jail. He was also put on five years' probation and told to stay away from boys.

Court records say the diocese, after the sentencing, attempted to have the jail time reduced to six months, but the judge refused.

Father John served out his jail time, spent a stint as a chaplain in a Valley nursing home, then left the priesthood voluntarily, says Tim Davern, the diocese chancellor.

"When Father John came over, I knew what he wanted and I hated it. But I did not know what to do."

O'Brien's concern impressed Father John's probation officer.

 
 

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