Capuchins, Ex-Student Tangle in Abuse Case

By Jim Schaefer
Detroit Free Press
February 11, 1995

Paul Isely is a victim of sexual abuse by Capuchin priests that was so traumatic he blocked the memory from his mind for two decades.

Or, the other side says, Isely is a schemer who invented his amnesia to find a loophole in a statute of limitations and sue the Detroit-based Catholic order for everything he can get.

A U.S. District Court jury in Detroit began searching Friday for an answer as lawyers for Isely and the Capuchins fought it out in the first day of a civil trial. The case is the first of 10 lawsuits in Michigan and Wisconsin to go to trial since revelations two years ago of sexual abuse within the order. Isely, 34, of Cambridge, Mass., is suing the order and several individuals for unspecified damages for not protecting him. He accuses three priests of molesting him in Detroit and Wisconsin when he was enrolled in Capuchin programs in the 1970s. Two of the priests, Jim Buser and Gale Leifeld, have died. The third, Jim Wolf, 63, has chosen not to attend the trial.

Heidi Salter, Isely's attorney, said he saw the men as father figures. "It was not only molestation, it was incest by the men he lived with and trusted," Salter said in her opening statement.

An independent investigation in 1993 found at least 14 incidents of sexual abuse in the previous 24 years by Capuchins, who are best-known in Detroit for the soup kitchen that provides up to a thousand meals daily to the poor. The Capuchins have admitted that abuse occurred and say that protective measures have been taken.

Isely, a psychologist who specializes in counseling men abused by clergy, says that under therapy in 1992 he experienced flashbacks of sexual abuse. The alleged acts occurred when he was at St. Lawrence Seminary in Fond du Lac, Wis., in the mid-1970s and after graduation when he spent a year at a boarding house for hopeful priests on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit.

Supporters of the theory of repressed memory say people who experience trauma can subconsciously block the memory to cope. Under therapy, the memories sometimes can be uncovered. But critics say there is no scientific evidence to support it.

Salter said Isely's mother enrolled him and his twin brother in the Capuchin-run high school, hoping her sons would become priests. Instead, she said, her client was abused and his faith remains shaken even today.

Defense attorneys said Isely was a troubled student who used drugs and alcohol and is trying to capitalize on the abuse that occurred to others. They vowed to prove that Isely concocted his amnesia to get around a statute of limitations after attorneys told him in the late 1980s that too much time had passed to file suit.


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