Priest's Rape Trial Begins
By Elliot Krieger
June 18, 1997
Through hours of testimony yesterday, Lucille Suzanne Farr tried to convince a Superior Court jury that 32 years ago, in a rectory near the campus of the University of Rhode Island, she was raped by a priest.
The man charged with rape, the retired Monsignor Louis Ward Dunn, 76, of Providence, sat before her at the defense table, his chin resting on his hand, listening through his two hearing aids as Farr told of their sexual relationship, which lasted for about two years.
It was the first day of testimony in the trial.
The prosecutor, Asst. Atty. Gen. David Prior, guided Farr as she recalled the spring of 1965, when she was an 18-year-old college freshman who hoped to become a nun. Father Dunn, who at the time was a 44-year-old priest assigned to Christ the King Church, became her confessor and mentor, she said.
She described how one warm and humid night, after working in the rectory, she and Father Dunn shared a bottle of Asti-Spumanti. She took off her blouse and her bra, he rubbed her with talcum powder and then he backed or pushed her to his bedroom and pushed her down onto the bed, where they had sexual intercourse.
Farr, who is 50 and lives with her husband and teenage son on a farm near Santa Rosa, in northern California, said she never reported the incident, and never referred to it as a rape until two years ago.
At times during her testimony, Farr appeared nervous, fidgeting with a speaker wire and with a water cup. But she spoke clearly, in a firm voice, and at key moments she stared directly at Father Dunn.
Father Dunn's lawyer, Bruce E. Vealey, questioned Farr regarding the nature of her relationship with Father Dunn. He asked why, after the alleged rape, Farr continued to have a sexual relationship with Father Dunn.
"He didn't force me physically, but he was in total control of me and my life," Farr said.
The issue of force is crucial. In describing the crime of rape to the jury at the outset of the trial yesterday, Superior Court Judge Stephen J. Fortunato Jr. explained that a central element in a rape must be the use of force or the threat of force.
To build his case against Father Dunn, the prosecutor had Farr describe her upbringing as a devout Roman Catholic who attended Mass daily and who wanted to become a nun and work as a medical missionary.
"I thought that there was nothing greater in the world than to give your life to God," Farr said. "People who were nuns and priests were without any kind of fault. They were almost godlike."
On her arrival at URI in 1964, Farr immediately began attending Christ the King, the Catholic church closest to the campus. Soon she began working part time at the rectory. Father Dunn became her mentor. "He was my world," she said. "He was my priest, my guide, my father."
She testified that one night in the spring of 1965 she was at the rectory doing paperwork for the church. Father Dunn suggested that she take off her blouse. He spread talcum powder on her back and on her breasts, and she and Father Dunn finished drinking a bottle of wine.
"I know that this is really difficult to believe, but I did not consider that sexual in any way," Farr said. "I did not consider that he was in any way a danger to me. . . . He was my priest."
She said that Father Dunn made the sign of the cross on her forehead, then picked her up by the shoulders and pushed her toward his room, where he raped her.
"He kept blessing me," she said. "I couldn't move and I was afraid. I couldn't understand how he could be doing this and blessing me. I was helpless. I was confused. I'd been drinking, and I was dizzy. I was scared. I was alone."
It was, Farr testified, the first time she had ever had sexual intercourse.
"After that time," she said, "he was truly my whole world. I didn't exist anymore. I did everything he told me to do."
Farr continued to work for Father Dunn, cooking and doing paperwork at the rectory. Eventually she moved into the rectory, where, she testifed, her sexual relationship with Father Dunn "not only continued, but it expanded, of course." She lived there on and off for two years before moving to California in 1967.
Under questioning through the afternoon by Father Dunn's lawyer, Farr said that several times before the alleged rape she drank wine with Father Dunn, took off her blouse and allowed him to stroke her breasts.
She said that during the alleged rape, she never told Father Dunn to stop, although she said that she may have tried to get off the bed. "That may be why he crossed my forehead," she said. "I'm not sure."
Farr said that though she had talked at various times over the past 32 years about her relationship with Father Dunn, she had not called it a rape until two years ago.
"It was the first time I was able to look back and see what had happened to me," she said. "Prior to 1995, I couldn't believe that Father Dunn had raped me. I couldn't believe it."
Farr's testimony is central to the trial, as there are no witnesses to the alleged crime, as is true in many rape cases. The prosecutor told the jury at the outset that "the case basically rises or falls" depending on whether the jury believes Farr.
Prior finished presenting his case yesterday afternoon, and Vearey asked the judge to dismiss the charge against Father Dunn. Fortunato said he would rule on that request this morning. If he decides to let the charge stand, the defense is slated to begin presenting its case today.
Last month, Farr and her husband, Kenneth D. Farr, both retired schoolteachers, sued Father Dunn and the Diocese of Providence for damages resulting from the alleged rape.
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