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  Accused Priest's Suicide Shocks Parishioners Rogers Remembered As Teacher, Friend

By Chris Smith
Press Democrat
November 15, 1995

More than 50 friends and parishioners gathered Tuesday night in Arcata to light candles, sing songs and console each other at a prayer service for the Rev. John Rogers, who was found dead of suicide Monday in Belgium.

The service was held at the Cardinal Newman Center, next to the Humboldt State University campus, where Rogers lived and taught until he was recently accused of a molestation from 19 years ago.

"He was a great man, a loving man," said Shelley Daley, whose son, Trevor, now a University of San Francisco junior, had been an altar boy tutored by Rogers.

"We've known him since 1976. He was part of our family," she said. "I sent him a fax of support in Belgium last Friday. I promised him a long letter but I never got a chance" to send it.

Humboldt State President Alistair McCrone said in a statement that in addition to teaching, Rogers "provided counsel to countless Catholic students, staff, faculty and their families" through his work at the Newman Center.

McCrone noted Rogers traveled often to the Mideast and in 1990 took part in a mission that met with Syrian President Hafez Assad and pleaded for help winning the release of Alann Steen, a former Humboldt professor taken hostage in Lebanon in 1987. Steen was set free late in 1991.

"The community is genuinely sad," a tearful William Herbrechtsmeier, chairman of the university's Religious Studies Department, said earlier Tuesday.

Rogers was lecturing at the college and operating and living at the off-campus Catholic ministry, when a Santa Rosa man complained this past summer that Rogers had raped him in 1976 when Rogers was a newly ordained priest.

Bishop Patrick Ziemann of Santa Rosa responded to the accusation in August by sending Rogers to study at a university in Belgium while Ziemann investigated the allegation.

Eleven days ago, Ziemann ordered Rogers to return home to the Santa Rosa Diocese to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. On Monday, Rogers' body was found in a forest near the university in Louveigne. Sources said he had slashed his wrists.

Patrick McBride, 36, who made the molestation complaint against Rogers, has not said anything publicly since word of Rogers' suicide reached Sonoma County. A call to McBride's home Tuesday was answered by a man identifying himself as McBride's roommate. The man said McBride, who has been employed by the diocese, is making no statements.

Ziemann did not answer calls Tuesday.

John Gai, who taught at Humboldt State with Rogers, said he called the priest in Belgium 10 days ago when the community first learned of the allegations.

Rogers "told me that he did not know this person, he had no recollection of the time frame and that the allegations were just untrue," Gai said.

People who knew Rogers gathered Tuesday morning for a Mass at the Newman Center. Present was Eric Duff, an Episcopal minister in Arcata who worked with Rogers through the ministerial association.

"I just felt the sorrow," said Duff. He said Rogers did great good for students and others in Arcata, "regardless of what may have happened in his past."

Deacon Ken Bond said he could not imagine Rogers molesting anyone. Bond said Rogers recently called him several times from Belgium because he knew Bond's father was critically ill.

"In none of those conversations did I have any indication of any difficulties on his end," Bond said. "He was very concerned with difficulties on my end."

Bond said Ziemann will travel to Belgium with Rogers' father later this week to retrieve Rogers' body. A funeral for Rogers will be early next week at St. Bernard's Church in Eureka.

McBride said he was attacked by Rogers at the same church. McBride has said he was 15 and was an aide at the church's Camp St. Michael in north Mendocino County in 1976 when the Rev. Gary Timmons, now jailed in Santa Rosa on suspicion of sexually molesting two boys 20 years ago, told him to accompany Rogers to Eureka for "a special project."

McBride has said he went with Rogers to St. Bernard's, where the two of them drank alcohol. He said he passed out and awoke to find he was being sodomized by Rogers.

McBride has said he kept the attack secret until confiding to his mother in 1988. He said he went to Ziemann this past summer and told him of the attack because he had learned Rogers still was working with young people in Arcata.

A close friend of Rogers, Father Thomas Devereaux of St. John the Baptist Church in Healdsburg, said the accusation is not true. He said Rogers killed himself because "he felt he was already condemned."

Humboldt State officials said Rogers had worked for 10 years at the school as a part-time lecturer. Through the spring semester of 1995, he taught two classes, World Religion and Living Myths.

Department head Herbrechtsmeier said Rogers played an important role in building the religious studies department. Herbrechtsmeier's voice cracked as he described and praised Rogers.

"He had a keen intellect and a very subtle mind," he said. "And along with that, a very refined sense of humor, a very subtle wit."

Herbrechtsmeier said Rogers told him last summer he had received a fellowship to study in Europe, a part of the world he loved and had visited often. Herbrechtsmeier said he was happy for Rogers, but also sorry to see him leave Humboldt State.

"Not many people were capable of teaching the range of courses that he could teach," he said.

Ministers in Arcata said Rogers did a great deal of good at the Newman Center, from counseling students in trouble to comforting friends of people who had committed suicide. Assembly of God Pastor Al Daw said Rogers was treasurer of the ministerial association and in that role provided emergency money to stranded motorists and assisted with community projects that included a homeless shelter and holiday dinners for the poor.

"Father Rogers had a dry sense of humor," Daw said. "He was realistic, but not cynical."

Frank White, a forestry student who lived for the last six years at the center with Rogers, said he had learned of Rogers' reassignment to Belgium just before classes started in August. But the local Catholic community only learned of the reason for the reassignment on Nov. 4.

"The allegation (of molestation) was totally against his character," White said. "This is a caring guy. He was always there for his students."

"Father John gave so much of himself. He was very generous with his time and his love," said the Rev. Mike Kelly of St. Mary's Church in Arcata.

"And he had a great love for the priesthood."

 
 

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