Depression, Fear Gripped Rev. Rogers Church Full for Eureka Funeral
By Mike Geniella
November 23, 1995
Mourners who filled St. Bernard's Church on Wednesday for the funeral of the Rev. John Rogers heard his best friend tell of a man struggling with priestly celibacy and depression when he committed suicide in a Belgian forest.
Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann led a solemn delegation of 40 fellow Roman Catholic priests who traveled from the farthest corners of the diocese in a show of solidarity to pay their respects to Rogers.
The longtime North Coast priest killed himself after he was accused of molesting a 15-year-old boy in 1976 and was summoned home by the bishop.
Rogers, whose body was discovered Nov. 13, left a note saying he was innocent but couldn't bear the embarrassment of the charges. He is the third priest from the Santa Rosa diocese to face child molestation accusations in the past 21 months.
Two Buddhist monks, a Jewish rabbi and an Eastern Orthodox priest joined the ecumenical procession in honor of Rogers, a student of the world's religions.
The overflow crowd of more than 300 people listened intently as the Rev. Thomas Devereaux of Healdsburg described the increasing torment felt by his friend of 30 years when he was sent to Belgium in August.
Rogers was "terrified" of what the future might hold, and told Devereaux on the eve of his departure a few months ago for Europe: "I am afraid I am losing it. I am just hanging on."
"These days are the most traumatic I have ever been through," Devereaux said Rogers told him as he left the United States.
The two corresponded regularly, and Devereaux said Rogers recently referred in a letter to a magazine article about the church. "This is a time of tremendous change, and I don't see the 'official' church helping the process too much. What (the article) said about celibacy, depression, sharing is absolutely on target," Rogers wrote.
The author "certainly describes my experience," the letter read.
"If there is anything that will push me over the edge it will revolve around that constellation of issues, and my own inadequate ways of dealing with them."
Rogers, 48, had been removed in August as chaplain and director of the Newman Center at Humboldt State University after 36-year-old Patrick McBride of Santa Rosa told Ziemann that Rogers had sodomized him nearly 20 years earlier. McBride said he was assaulted at the rectory of St. Bernard's Catholic Church, where Wednesday's funeral Mass was celebrated.
Ziemann sent Rogers to Europe to study while conducting an investigation into the allegation. The bishop ordered Rogers on Nov. 4 to return home for a psychiatric evaluation.
Nine days later, after a round of distraught telephone calls to friends and family members, Rogers was found dead in a forest in Louveigne.
Ziemann sent Rogers away in August, the same month church officials in Santa Rosa and San Francisco agreed to pay $450,000 in a settlement with a man who said priest Austin Peter Keegan had raped him as a boy in the rectory of St. Eugene's Cathedral in Santa Rosa.
After the arrest on Oct. 31 of the Rev. Gary Timmons, a North Coast priest who faces civil and criminal charges of sexual molestation by at least 11 men, McBride again approached the bishop with his accusation against Rogers.
At the time, the bishop was dealing with parishioners shocked by the arrest of Timmons and critical of church officials who did nothing, even though they knew years ago Timmons was taking boys to his room at St. Eugene's.
The bishop said before the Mass that Rogers' death was a blow to him personally and for the diocese.
"It is a difficult time for all of us," Ziemann said. "But we are with Rogers' family, and we're all holding up pretty well."
Ziemann said prohibitions against church recognition of suicide victims were lifted several years ago.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, McBride said: "The whole reason I came forward was that I had lost the innocence of my faith. It's haunted me for so many years. I'm sure there are many people Father Rogers helped and their innocence of faith is intact and they should remember him.
"The frustrating part is that Father Rogers sought a permanent solution to a temporary situation and took his life. That's sad."
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