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  Diocese Shamed Sex Victims' Families

By Pat Schneider
Capital Times
May 25, 2002

Madison Catholic Diocese officials shamed parishioners who protested their sons' sexual abuse by a priest or sued the church for compensation, an investigation by The Capital Times has found.

One family's effort to settle a lawsuit in 1995 drew a letter insinuating that they were "evil" for suing the diocese and comparing them to abortion protesters who commit murder for revenge.

"They made you feel shameful for even bringing up the abuse," said a Sun Prairie woman whose brother was one of about a dozen boys who eventually filed suit against the diocese and former priest Michael Trainor, who had been removed from his duties.

A Dane County woman and her husband received a letter from church lawyer Donald Heaney on a settlement offer that warned that "evil begets evil." She said that diocese officials seemed to think they were above the law.

"I knew we weren't evil. Were we evil because we would dare question the authority of the church? That was pretty much how we were brought up," she said this week.

The woman said the utter thoughtlessness of the church became apparent when a form letter sent to her son thanking him for his testimony carried the name of another victim in the salutation.

Madison Diocese spokesman William Brophy said that until a copy was provided Wednesday by The Capital Times, Bishop William Bullock and other diocesan officials had never seen the March 2, 1995, letter that compares the Dane County couple to those who murder doctors who perform abortions.

Brophy said the letter was written by Heaney in his role as attorney for an insurance company involved in the case.

Heaney, of Lathrop and Clark, has represented the diocese in numerous lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct by priests.

In a letter in which he evokes "fundamental Christian principles," Heaney states that he is representing both the diocese and its insurers, and attempting to balance the bishop's pastoral concern with an insurer's reluctance to offer large settlements in cases of "nominal value."

Heaney said in an interview this week he was trying to make the point that "lawsuits are not very well designed to resolve most human problems."

"Why not try to resolve these matters with the resources that churches have - which is essentially spiritual resources?" Heaney said.

Trainor's career in the Madison Diocese ended in 1984 when parents of two boys confronted Bishop Cletus O'Donnell with evidence that Trainor had sexually abused their sons.

Trainor entered a New Mexico facility that treated priest sex abusers, but within months was working in Montana, ministering to families at St. Rose of Lima in the tiny town of Dillon.

The chancellor of the Helena, Mont., diocese confirmed that Trainor worked there as a priest from 1985 to 1991, but church officials there would provide no information on what they knew of Trainor when he arrived there, or why he left.

Trainor resigned from the priesthood in 1991.

O'Donnell died in August 1992 and Bullock was named bishop in April 1993.

Monsignor Paul Swain, a lawyer and vicar who responded in Bullock's stead to The Capital Times' questions on the priest sex abuse issues, said that letters between O'Donnell and the Helena bishop in Trainor's personnel file indicate that the Montana cleric knew of the charges against Trainor.

Nearly a decade passed between a confrontation with O'Donnell - where parents said they were cautioned to keep Trainor's activities secret and were asked to pray for him - and the filing of the first lawsuit in February 1993.

What followed was a three-year legal battle waged by the local blue-chip firm of Lathrop and Clark.

Court records of the proceedings in three cases brought against Trainor and the diocese fill boxes in the clerk's office of the Dane County Circuit Court.

In a series of sworn depositions, the boys who accused Trainor of abuse - men by then, some with families - testified to what emerged as a decade-long pattern of abuse involving boys as young as 9.

One man recalled his shock, fright and embarrassment at the attack when he was 14. "I had always been taught to respect and put the priest up on a pedestal. He was God's right-hand man," he said.

Trainor repeatedly molested youths during his three assignments in the Madison Diocese - at St. Maria Goretti, St. Henry's and St. Thomas Aquinas churches - in settings including a church sacristy, Trainor's living quarters and office, and an area sports club, according to testimony recorded in court documents.

Several boys reported that Trainor abused them on outings. Trainor was taking boys out from the Holy Name Seminary high school so often that priests on the staff complained to the Rev. Michael Burke, rector of the school, that it was disrupting after-school athletic programs and study hall, Burke testified in a June 15, 1995, deposition.

Burke testified that he phoned Trainor and "respectfully asked him not to take the kids out of school." Trainor said "fine," Burke testified.

Burke, who is now pastor at St. Maria Goretti, said at the time he had no concern that anything else was going on, but by the time of his testimony did not doubt that Trainor had been sexually abusing boys. "I just don't have any positive proof," he said.

Holy Name Seminary was closed in June 1995 by Bullock, in the face of vocal opposition by students and their families. Bullock said the seminary was too expensive to continue operating, especially since so few boys continued on to the priesthood.

Swain said this week that the school's closing was not linked to abuse of students there as far as he knew.

Plaintiffs contended in their lawsuits that diocesan officials knew or should have known that Trainor had a proclivity to abuse minors.

When Heaney invited several plaintiffs to point to any evidence that church officials knew of the abuse before May 1984, they could not.

But the Sun Prairie woman tried to. She and her mother recounted a 1982 meeting with the late Rev. Henry Lauters, pastor of St. Henry's church in Watertown, in affadavits filed with the courts.

When the mother told Lauters she wanted to file a complaint against Trainor for abusing her son, Lauters accused her of lying, then opened a door. There stood Trainor.

Trainor came in and accused her son of defaming his character, she testified.

Lauters then patted her on the shoulder, she testified, and told her she was "taking it out on men" because of problems in her marriage.

Her daughter said the family didn't even think of bringing criminal charges then because of the "hush-hush" aura surrounding sexual abuse by priests at that time.

"It was like we were the ones sinning," she recalled, "not Father Mike. I think they are a bunch of hypocrites. If you are here to do God's work, how do you protect something he frowns on?"

Members of several families testified that in 1984 O'Donnell rebuffed their efforts to identify for him other boys they feared might also have been abused.

"He didn't want to turn over that rock," one father remarked.

A decade later the names of three more priests accused of sexual abuse of minors over the years were revealed by their fellow clerics in testimony in the Trainor case.

Swain said this week that no priest accused in Madison of sexual abuse of a minor is active as a priest - anywhere.

Shortly after his arrival in Madison in 1993, Bullock developed a policy on responding to sex abuse claims, as had been recommended in a national meeting of U.S. bishops the year before.

The policy was the basis of the diocese's response to a '70s-era allegation of abuse revealed in late 1993. The priest was suspended, Swain said. Police were not called in, he said, because so much time had elapsed since the abuse. The diocese is considering establishing a community board to review allegations of sex assault, which Swain said would be in addition to referring complaints to civil authorities.

A clearer idea of the makeup of the board might emerge after the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June, which will focus on the national sex abuse scandal.

Swain acknowledged that settlements were paid by the Madison Diocese in some sexual abuse cases.

The diocese declined this week to check its records to tally the amount paid out, but correspondence in the court records of the Trainor cases refers to a rejected offer of $110,000 in one lawsuit.

Swain made a point of saying that any such settlement would not have come from the Sunday collection basket or appeals for special missions. "There is kind of a moral understanding that if people give money to support the Hispanic ministry, that's where the money is going to go," he said, suggesting an example.

The bishops also likely will address confidentiality agreements at their meeting, Swain said.

Heaney said such agreements could be dissolved only if all parties - typically a victim, the diocese, an insurer and a perpetrator - agree. "It can be very hard to accomplish that," he said. Insurance companies, for example, may not want to invite lawsuits by revealing the amount of a settlement.

"The secrecy the church has maintained regarding pedophile priests prohibits survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their families from healing," said Patty Gallagher Marchant, a member of SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. Marchant, now living in Milwaukee, is a survivor of child sexual abuse in the Madison Diocese and under a confidentiality agreement is forbidden to name the abuser.

Marchant says confidentiality agreements are intended to silence victims. "On top of that, secrecy agreements support harboring criminal behavior," she said.

Swain said that in the past the church has been accused of relying too much on lawyers and insurance agencies and psychiatrists in tailoring its response to priest sex abuse. "I'm hopeful going through all this will cleanse us in a way that allows us to be strong as a church, and restore a pastoral response to the balance."

The Dane County couple who sued after their son's abuse and received the letter shaming them sometimes wondered if they were doing the right thing, the wife admitted.

"It caused a great deal of emotional stress," she recalled. "But then this letter came, and as bizarre and horrendous as it was, it told us we did the right thing."

 
 

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