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  Father Lamountain: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' - James Egan: 'No.'

By Jennifer Levitz
Providence Journal-Bulletin
June 2, 2002

* A PAINFUL RETURN: James Egan, above, stands on ground he has avoided since he was a young teenager. It was here, Egan says, that he was sexually abused by the Rev. Michael V. LaMountain, left. Egan's parents, who owned a summer cottage nearby on Spring Lake in Burrillville, urged Egan to do chores for Father LaMountain. Three years ago, LaMountain pleaded guilty to eight counts of sexual abuse involving Egan and four others.

GRAPHIC: Some who live near Warwick's Little Pond once got together to buy a car for their parish priest. The Rev. Michael V. LaMountain had been driving a green moped. He would wear a motorcycle helmet and his Roman Catholic collar.

The engine whined like a weed wacker. It signaled that "Father Mike" was turning onto the dead-end road where the Braggs lived.

William Bragg, head altar boy at St. Kevin's parish in the early 1980s, still recalls the sound. "You know that feeling, as a kid, when you hear the bell of the ice-cream truck and you're so excited? It was the opposite, when you heard the moped."

In 1999 Father LaMountain, then 49, pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree and one count of second-degree sexual assault, and one count of second-degree child molestation on five boys including the three Bragg boys. The abuse had taken place at two parishes, at LaMountain's summer cottages, and on trips, from 1979 until 1992.

To hear the priest's plea, Bill Bragg, father of William, Jason, and Timothy, took Timothy, then in his 20s, to court that day. Timothy had prepared a statement to read. But the two just watched the proceedings through the window in the courtroom door, not wanting to be publicly identified.

With no trial, the details of the sexual abuse were tucked into a court file marked Confidential. The Braggs went home, to their house near Little Pond.

"To this day, in the neighborhood," says Timothy Bragg, "no one talks about it."

FATHER LaMOUNTAIN is the most recent of the six Rhode Island priests to have been convicted of sexual abuse. Thirty-eight people are now suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, saying that the church hierarchy did not supervise its priests.

The lawsuits include three against Father LaMountain, pressed by one of the Braggs and two other people. The cases were quietly inching through the courts until this year. Now, the plaintiffs find themselves in the midst of international turmoil within the Roman Catholic Church.

And yet the emergency summoning of cardinals to Rome; the gathering of Catholics across the country to honor good priests; the picketing of the Boston Archdiocese they all seem so removed from what took place near Little Pond.

"Would I talk to my neighbors about it?" says Betty Bragg, mother of the abused Braggs. "Never. Would they believe us? Yes now that he's been prosecuted. But they would make excuses for the church."

Inside the Braggs' ranch, the television goes all day. Timothy, 30, a paraplegic since a car wreck 10 years ago, is a tool salesman, but mostly these days he watches every news report about the Catholic Church. His mother is "afraid" for him. "He's becoming very obsessed with it," she says. "He feels like he's being called a liar still, to this day.

"People forget," she says. "This happened to kids."

ONE PARISHIONER has tried to forget.

John Kiley used to attend daily Mass at St. John the Baptist, in West Warwick, Father LaMountain's last assignment from the Providence Diocese.

In the deep recession of the early '90s, Kiley, as president of Coventry's Town Council, would ask LaMountain to say a prayer at the town's financial meeting. And the priest once brought Kiley a rosary blessed by the pope.

LaMountain has since admitted to having sexually abused a boy at St. John the Baptist.

"I never read anything about what happened," says Kiley. "If I did, I pushed it out of my mind. I get tears in my eyes thinking about it right now."

But for James Egan, reminders of the priest indelibly mark the reels of memory of adolescence like a thumb on a lens.

Egan, 31, was one of the five boys LaMountain admitted in 1999 to having abused. The abuse had started when Egan was 14, and continued till he was in college.

"That's us, probably in Killarney," said Egan recently, showing pictures of himself with his mother and Father LaMountain in Ireland.

It had been a church trip, just after Egan's graduation from Burrillville High School, in 1989. His mother roomed with LaMountain's mother. James roomed with the priest.

The evidence of the bond between Father LaMountain and the Egan family is exhaustive. In response to lawsuits against the Providence Diocese the lawsuits also name priests, and past, and present bishops church lawyers have asked the 38 plaintiffs to each provide numerous documents. The income-tax returns, records of emergency-room visits, and many other documents amount to hundreds of pieces of paper from each plaintiff.

James Egan's fill plastic grocery bags, in his red Dodge Intrepid.

The Mount Pleasant High School teacher was driving out of Providence recently, his right hand gripping the wheel. It displayed a gold claddagh ring.

Only lately has Egan begun to wear it again. His mother bought it for him on that trip to Ireland.

"That's him," said Egan of another picture, showing LaMountain, in his Roman collar, at a Special Olympics banquet.

In another picture, LaMountain wears a flannel shirt and is settled in by the Egans' Christmas tree. Yet another shows LaMountain, plump and smiling, with young Jim, skinny and grim-faced; they're on their way to Washington, D.C. a trip that the Egans, with six children, would not have been able to easily afford.

Driving, on this recent afternoon after school, Egan headed for Glendale, the Burrillville village where his family lives. This is where they had met Father LaMountain. He was not the family's priest, for the Egans attended a different Catholic church. The priest was their neighbor.

Soon Egan was passing the pines and oaks where as a boy he had caught frogs and salamanders. He turned onto a street along Spring Lake and then stopped at a driveway. It led to two tiny cottages. In May, the only sounds at this summer place came from wind chimes and birds.

Father LaMountain had owned this little compound.

"My hands are getting cold," said Egan. "You know that feeling when you almost get into a car accident and the blood goes to your feet?"

Egan could not recall the last time he had seen the cottages. Looking up the driveway, he removed his sunglasses. With both hands he pushed back his reddish-brown hair.

"I shingled that cottage," he said of the larger one.

Father LaMountain had asked the Egans if 14-year-old James, their youngest, would like to help him fix up the cottages. They were honored.

During this time, the priest often visited the Egans, across the lake. But there was always, it seemed, a reason to go back to the cottages with James.

"Check the pipes, drain the pipes in the winter - that's what he would say," said Egan.

THE YEAR that the Egans were getting close to LaMountain, 1984, the Bragg family, in Warwick, had cut the priest out of their life.

William Bragg, by then almost 15, had started to resist spending time with "Father Mike." The priest had been transferred from St. Kevin's, in Warwick, to St. Joseph's, in Woonsocket, to replace the Rev. P. Henry Leech removed for sexual abuse. (Leech was later convicted of abusing four boys.)

Neither William nor his younger brothers would tell their mother why they did not want to visit LaMountain. They seemed embarrassed, recalls Betty Bragg.

She could see, though, that Timothy, then 12, had "something to tell me." She begged him to do so. Finally he told her that Father LaMountain had rubbed his leg in the car, during an errand; the priest had sometimes taken the boy along to a religious-supplies shop, to pick up the Eucharist.

"Everything came out but nothing came out," says Bragg. She says she now understands why.

"They were trying to cover it up because the priest can do no wrong I had drummed that into their head."

Suspecting that the priest had tried to touch her other sons, too, she wrote him a letter. She said that she had "spoken to the boys" and wanted a guarantee that LaMountain would stay away from them or she would go to the bishop.

She didn't immediately tell her husband, Bill Bragg. He had high blood pressure and a demanding job as a salesman at Sears.

Last month, the Braggs shared the letter that LaMountain had written in response.

"Dear Bill, Betty & Family," he wrote on Jan. 8, 1984, in a cursive hand on stationery from St. Joseph's Rectory, in Woonsocket. "There has been no intention to hurt and I am so terribly sorry for that which has been created.

"I have requested and will take part in a program to help me deal with my confusion and dependency. I pray that as time passes, you will be able to forgive me for the hurt I have caused. Sincerely, Mike."

Betty Bragg assumed that this was the end of it.

ACCORDING to documents filed in Superior Court for the civil suit against the Diocese of Providence, LaMountain wrote another letter in 1984, to another parishioner of St. Kevin's in Warwick.

It was in response to a 22-year-old man, who had written that LaMountain had abused him when he was 14.

"You cannot leave it to a young boy to object to sexual advances," wrote the young man. "The desire to please family and authority figures, in addition to a strong sense of fear, makes this impossible. That is what happened to me."

On Nov. 15, 1984, again on St. Joseph's stationery, LaMountain responded: "I have been and presently am participating in professional assistance."

He said his "desires and fears, acceptance and loneliness were shared, wrongfully so, in a manner so confusing."

The Providence diocese has no indication of Father LaMountain's ever having received counseling or other professional help, William G. Halpin, a spokesman, said last month.

Nor does the diocese have a record of any allegations against LaMountain even though he may have sexually abused minors even before he came to the diocese, in 1976.

In the fall of 1993, says Halpin, the Archdiocese of Baltimore called the Providence Diocese. The call was later referred to by Providence Bishop Louis E. Gelineau in a deposition regarding the lawsuits against the diocese.

According to Gelineau's testimony, the Baltimore archdiocese said that it had received a complaint from the Baltimore police: a 34-year-old man had said that he and others had been fondled by Father LaMountain in the early 1970s, when LaMountain was attending St. Mary's Seminary, in Baltimore.

The Providence diocese began to investigate, Gelineau testified, and told LaMountain, who was on a retreat at the time, not to return to his parish until the investigation was complete. Soon after, however in October 1993 the Baltimore police told the Providence diocese that the case had been closed. As confirmed last month by the Baltimore police, it was closed for "lack of evidence." In February, 1994, the Providence Diocese sent LaMountain, for three months, to the Institute for Continuing Theological Formation, in Rome.

IN WARWICK, Betty and Bill Bragg no longer walk the quarter-mile from their Little Pond house to St. Kevin's parish where they used to bake bread for bazaars and coach basketball. Its asphalt parking lot was laid by their sons.

"Do I believe in a God?" says Betty Bragg. "I don't know anymore. Do I believe in the Catholic Church? Absolutely not."

St. Kevin's is where Michael LaMountain came in 1976, a priest fresh out of the seminary. With his morning coffee, he would greet the pupils at the parish school; the pastor then, the Rev. Raymond Dyer, says the children called him Father Coffee Cup.

Bill and Betty Bragg moved into the neighborhood in the early '80s. They called their new priest Mike.

"That's how he wanted to be called," Bill Bragg told the state police in 1995, when they were investigating LaMountain because of allegations made by James Egan.

Soon Father Mike was stopping by the Braggs', for pizza, to watch television, to chat with Betty Bragg as she cleaned.

She thought, she now says, that she was re-creating the kind of Catholic home in which she had been raised. She also appreciated the priest's attention. She was busy taking care of her elderly mother, and the newest Bragg, a little boy; she believed that the priest could help her keep the three bigger boys "in line."

He was "very, very charismatic," she says. "People took to him."

The priest would take all the St. Kevin's altar boys, including the Braggs, then 10, 11, and 12, to his Burrillville summer cottages for cookouts. Then he began taking only the Bragg boys, asking their parents if they could help out at the cottages.

At first, the excursions to Spring Lake were like slumber parties. On the way, LaMountain would stop at a market and tell the boys to pick out any candy they wanted. Timothy Bragg would select Tangy Taffy. At the lake, LaMountain let the boys patronize the arcade and ice-cream stand.

"He became part of the family," Bill Bragg told the police. "We trusted him, and we thought we were doing the right thing by having the boys with Father LaMountain."

But one time at the cottages, Timothy Bragg recalls and told the police Father LaMountain stepped onto the breezeway, where the boys were sitting cross-legged watching television, and said it was time to "hang loose." The priest was naked.

On subsequent visits, the boys would reluctantly strip down and watch TV. To "wash up," the priest told them, they needed to go skinny-dipping in the lake.

Timothy recalls that Father LaMountain used to ask him to go into another room to massage the priest's back. The priest would then rub Timothy down, including his genitals.

When Timothy returned to the breezeway, he later told the police, he didn't tell his brothers what had happened. "They knew, but we ... I did not tell them; they did not tell me. It was just an understanding we didn't talk about."

Father LaMountain paid the most attention to William, at almost 13 the oldest.

Now 33, married, and preparing for graduate school at the University of British Columbia, William recalls standing in the corner of the cottage's bedroom in his underwear.

The priest, says Bragg, told the boy to take off his "skivvies."

Recalls Bragg: "He would say, 'You can say no if you want.' But as soon as you said no, he would say, 'It's better if you take them off trust me.'

"He's a priest," says Bragg. "If you're going to trust anyone, it's a priest. He's a representative of God."

IN GENERAL, a child of 13 is in the midst of "incredible psychological growth and turmoil," says Dr. Gregory Fritz, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Brown University Medical School, and the medical director at Bradley Hospital, the children's institution.

Adolescence is also, says Fritz, a time of vulnerability: a young person is looking to break away from his or her parents and form a surrogate family.

William Bragg says that LaMountain "got me right at puberty."

Recalling what the priest did to him, Bragg says: "He would get to the groin area ... until you had a reaction. You physically react."

The first time, says Bragg, he vomited. LaMountain said the boy's feelings were "natural."

William told no one. "The whole deal," he says, "is that I thought I must have done something to bring this on."

The abuse continued. "He was always saying, 'This is natural don't be scared,'" recalls Bragg. "He kept pushing it to the point where you tried to put your mind somewhere else to let him do what he always did, so you can get out of there."

Bragg says that he started to hurt himself, making cuts in his skin; he told his mother they were scratches from bushes. His grades, at Bishop Hendricken High School, were slipping. And he became a loner: "I thought people could look at me and see this evil thing."

"Something was bothering him," his father later told the police. "But we didn't know ... me and my wife, we just didn't know what was bothering him."

One day, Betty Bragg went down to the cellar. "I found a noose," she says softly.

William had tried to hang himself.

His mother speaks slowly as she recalls that when William resisted going to see Father LaMountain, she insisted.

There is not a day that goes by, she says, when she and her husband don't "blame ourselves for not seeing this."

It was at about this time that Timothy admitted to his mother that LaMountain had touched him, and she warned the priest away from all her boys. She said nothing to William, however.

So, inexplicably, says William, the three years of abuse suddenly stopped.

Yet the scars of the abuse set him back, he says, as much as 10 years. "I tried to commit suicide two or three times in high school. I went to URI, and had to drop out I thought I was going crazy."

Now, off to graduate school, Bragg is excelling in his studies.

He is not suing the Diocese of Providence, nor is his brother Jason. The two have chosen not to fight Rhode Island's statute of limitations on charges of sexual assault on children. But Timothy's case falls within the statute, and he is suing.

Because of the statute, says William, "Timothy has to carry this load alone."

William notes that he is Timothy's "big brother." Now and then, William gets flashes of regret. Perhaps, he could have stopped the abuse. Perhaps, he could have protected his brothers.

Yet, more vivid are the flashes of his own helplessness as a boy. "When it happens, you never feel like you can stop it. That's what (LaMountain) does to you."

AS A TEENAGER, James Egan was given a '77 Chevy Impala by Father LaMountain. When Egan went to Rhode Island College, in 1989, the priest gave him a lamp and lent him a computer.

Egan was studying special education. At one point the special-ed. professor told the class that if they had any unaddressed "skeletons in the closet," they would be unable to handle the emotional demands of this kind of teaching.

Accompanied by a friend, Egan then drove to St. John the Baptist, in West Warwick. He found Father LaMountain running a church bingo game, and pulled him away. He told him that what had been happening for years was wrong.

"Can you ever forgive me?" asked the priest, Egan recalls. No, said the young man.

Three years later, true to his professor's predictions, Egan was struggling with his past as he tried to teach troubled students at a public school in Coventry. He missed so much time that he had to quit.

It was after this that he went to the state police, in 1995. Asked why he had waited so long, he explained, as recorded in court files:

"When it first happened, I was in too much shock to say anything. I didn't know how to take it, and it kept happening more and more, and I felt worse and worse, because the more it would happen, the less I wanted to tell somebody because I was afraid that they would have blamed me for not coming to them sooner.

"As I got older and older, I was afraid that, you know, people wouldn't understand why I could wait so long, and how could I let it happen? People don't understand the manipulation, the repetition of it, just kind of takes over."

Says Dr. Fritz, the child psychiatrist: People with authority over the young teachers, coaches, priests have emotional power over them.

Fritz is not familiar with the LaMountain case, and did not speak specifically about it, but he said that such relationships can never be appropriate. "It's inherently unequal, even if the kids don't realize it."

WHEN PROVIDENCE Bishop Gelineau learned of the police investigation of LaMountain's alleged abuse two years after hearing of such complaints from the Baltimore police he removed the priest from St. John the Baptist. This was the West Warwick parish LaMountain was leading after serving at St. Joseph's, in Woonsocket.

In West Warwick, LaMountain was a community leader. He was the chaplain for the fire and police departments, and he campaigned against a topless nightclub. He drew Catholics from other towns.

Delivering his homilies, the priest "never referenced a note," recalls James Kiley, the former Coventry councilman. Kiley says that as LaMountain walked down the aisle he'd greet people: "Hi, Mary, how are you doing?" "Hi, Jack getting that grass finally cut?"

After Bishop Gelineau announced Father LaMountain's removal, Kiley heard "nothing but disbelief" from his fellow parishioners.

But some parish children had known.

"All the boys in the eighth-grade class had been on what we called 'the ride,'" to Burrillville with Father LaMountain, Daniel J. Turenne told the police, in statements included in court files for the lawsuits against the diocese.

"As far as I know," said Turenne, "I was the only one that went any further than that first ride. I was always afraid it was my fault."

Turenne was one of the five boys, along with James Egan and the Braggs, whom LaMountain admitted in 1999 to having assaulted.

LAST MONTH, James Egan stood in a semicircle in Providence's Cathedral Square. At this small vigil organized by the national Survivors of Those Abused by Priests, he publicly spoke of a ruined adolescence.

With about 10 other people, he nervously walked past the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul to the double doors of the Diocese of Providence. There he taped up an envelope: it held a list of recommendations on how the Catholic Church could prevent sexual abuse by priests.

But other than this event, says Egan, he stays away from church. Still, he can't always stay away from painful memories.

One recent afternoon they crept into Patrick's Pub, where Egan here called Jimmy was having a drink. Walking across the wooden floor, past the IRELAND-lettered mirror, he carried his Harp Ale to a quiet table near the dart board.

The Providence bar's television gave the latest news of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law. "Here we go," said Egan.

Cardinal Law's legal defense has said that the negligence of a boy and his parents contributed to the boy's abuse by the Rev. Paul Shanley. In Rhode Island, the diocesan lawyers have called in the plaintiffs' parents for depositions; many of the victims, one church lawyer said, "came to meet these priests through their parents."

In Patrick's Pub, Egan began to cry.

"That kills me," he said. "Because if my parents knew, they would have never, ever, let it continue."

He put down his cigarette and leaned forward, tears rolling from his blue eyes: "No parent sends their child to church to be abused. Say what you want about me, but don't go after my parents."

Egan goes on: "They were doing the right thing. They weren't dragging me into bars; they were sending us to be with a priest. They wanted to teach us morals, and respect for people of all walks of life, and provide us with traditions, and feasts, and family, and what's really important in this world.

"And it's the church that pulled that away from me and from my parents."

IN JANUARY of 1999, Father LaMountain was sentenced to nine 12-year suspended sentences, to run concurrently. So, as long as he did not violate his probation, and as long as he registered as a sex offender and underwent sex-offender counseling, he would not be jailed.

The Vatican has not removed LaMountain from the priesthood, according to Providence diocese spokesman Halpin.

According to his state sex-offender registration, LaMountain lives in an apartment complex in North Providence; no apartment number is given. A deposition by Bishop Gelineau does give a number, but last month the landlord said that LaMountain had moved.

Through two St. John the Baptist parishioners who stay in touch with LaMountain, the priest declined to be interviewed for this story. The Rev. Alphonse Lethiez, also of that parish, says of LaMountain: "I know this has affected him deeply."

Since the priest pleaded guilty, William Bragg has seen him once, at a mall. James Egan once found himself driving alongside LaMountain on Route 146.

TO GET TO the Egans', across Spring Lake from the priest's former cottages, James Egan drove past a small beach. The sun glistened off the water where Egan, the Braggs, and other children had played.

On this May afternoon, Jeanne Egan, a nurse, sat in her living room and talked about Michael LaMountain.

"It seems like everything has opened up again," she said of the current abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. "For a while, you kind of set it in the back of your mind. Now it's fresh again, and you're angry."

In the old days, she said, Father Mike would call her and say, "Put on the coffee I'm coming up."

When her teenage son started avoiding the priest, Jeanne Egan would say: "James, you don't give up your old friends for new friends. Mike has been good to you."

Recalling this, she looked at her son, who leaned back on the couch near her. She clenched her hands and tapped her white Reeboks on the floor. "We put him in a terrible position.

"It makes me so angry," she said. "That man did not pay for what he did. We never hear anything from the diocese. But James? He has lost his faith."

CHRISTMAS is the hardest time of the year, said Jeanne Egan. She said that James used to love Christmas.

She smiled at the thought: "I really decorate like you would not believe.

"When things go bad," she continued, "you turn to God. But James? What has he left to turn to?"

She is angry at the church hierarchy. Waving her fist, she said, "I would like nothing better than to go up there and tell them off but there's no one to tell."

She still goes to church, however although even her priest once said, sympathetically, he didn't understand how she had the strength to do so.

"I don't either," said James Egan.

"It's my faith, James," responded his mother. "I believe in God and Christ, not the institution."

Jeanne Egan used to keep a framed picture of Father LaMountain. "I had it right here," she said, motioning to a table holding Mother's Day cards.

Her husband, she said, a retired veterans' counselor, has had a stroke. It's left him, she said the once talkative "typical Irishman" unable to speak clearly.

Jack Egan, in slippers, then walked into the living room. He pointed to a corner by the window.

His wife interpreted his gesture. He was trying to say, she explained, that there had once been a chair in that corner: Father LaMountain's chair.

Inside the Braggs' ranch, the television goes all day. Timothy, 30, a paraplegic since a car wreck 10 years ago, is a tool salesman, but mostly these days he watches every news report about the Catholic Church. His mother is "afraid" for him. "He's becoming very obsessed with it," she says. "He feels like he's being called a liar still, to this day.

"People forget," she says. "This happened to kids."

ONE PARISHIONER has tried to forget.

John Kiley used to attend daily Mass at St. John the Baptist, in West Warwick, Father LaMountain's last assignment from the Providence Diocese.

In the deep recession of the early '90s, Kiley, as president of Coventry's Town Council, would ask LaMountain to say a prayer at the town's financial meeting. And the priest once brought Kiley a rosary blessed by the pope.

LaMountain has since admitted to having sexually abused a boy at St. John the Baptist.

"I never read anything about what happened," says Kiley. "If I did, I pushed it out of my mind. I get tears in my eyes thinking about it right now."

But for James Egan, reminders of the priest indelibly mark the reels of memory of adolescence like a thumb on a lens.

Egan, 31, was one of the five boys LaMountain admitted in 1999 to having abused. The abuse had started when Egan was 14, and continued till he was in college.

"That's us, probably in Killarney," said Egan recently, showing pictures of himself with his mother and Father LaMountain in Ireland.

It had been a church trip, just after Egan's graduation from Burrillville High School, in 1989. His mother roomed with LaMountain's mother. James roomed with the priest.

The evidence of the bond between Father LaMountain and the Egan family is exhaustive. In response to lawsuits against the Providence Diocese the lawsuits also name priests, and past, and present bishops church lawyers have asked the 38 plaintiffs to each provide numerous documents. The income-tax returns, records of emergency-room visits, and many other documents amount to hundreds of pieces of paper from each plaintiff.

James Egan's fill plastic grocery bags, in his red Dodge Intrepid.

The Mount Pleasant High School teacher was driving out of Providence recently, his right hand gripping the wheel. It displayed a gold claddagh ring.

Only lately has Egan begun to wear it again. His mother bought it for him on that trip to Ireland.

"That's him," said Egan of another picture, showing LaMountain, in his Roman collar, at a Special Olympics banquet.

In another picture, LaMountain wears a flannel shirt and is settled in by the Egans' Christmas tree. Yet another shows LaMountain, plump and smiling, with young Jim, skinny and grim-faced; they're on their way to Washington, D.C. a trip that the Egans, with six children, would not have been able to easily afford.

Driving, on this recent afternoon after school, Egan headed for Glendale, the Burrillville village where his family lives. This is where they had met Father LaMountain. He was not the family's priest, for the Egans attended a different Catholic church. The priest was their neighbor.

Soon Egan was passing the pines and oaks where as a boy he had caught frogs and salamanders. He turned onto a street along Spring Lake and then stopped at a driveway. It led to two tiny cottages. In May, the only sounds at this summer place came from wind chimes and birds.

Father LaMountain had owned this little compound.

"My hands are getting cold," said Egan. "You know that feeling when you almost get into a car accident and the blood goes to your feet?"

Egan could not recall the last time he had seen the cottages. Looking up the driveway, he removed his sunglasses. With both hands he pushed back his reddish-brown hair.

"I shingled that cottage," he said of the larger one.

Father LaMountain had asked the Egans if 14-year-old James, their youngest, would like to help him fix up the cottages. They were honored.

During this time, the priest often visited the Egans, across the lake. But there was always, it seemed, a reason to go back to the cottages with James.

that's what he would say," said Egan.

THE YEAR that the Egans were getting close to LaMountain, 1984, the Bragg family, in Warwick, had cut the priest out of their life.

William Bragg, by then almost 15, had started to resist spending time with "Father Mike." The priest had been transferred from St. Kevin's, in Warwick, to St. Joseph's, in Woonsocket, to replace the Rev. P. Henry Leech removed for sexual abuse. (Leech was later convicted of abusing four boys.)

Neither William nor his younger brothers would tell their mother why they did not want to visit LaMountain. They seemed embarrassed, recalls Betty Bragg.

She could see, though, that Timothy, then 12, had "something to tell me." She begged him to do so. Finally he told her that Father LaMountain had rubbed his leg in the car, during an errand; the priest had sometimes taken the boy along to a religious-supplies shop, to pick up the Eucharist.

"Everything came out but nothing came out," says Bragg. She says she now understands why.

"They were trying to cover it up because the priest can do no wrong I had drummed that into their head."

Suspecting that the priest had tried to touch her other sons, too, she wrote him a letter. She said that she had "spoken to the boys" and wanted a guarantee that LaMountain would stay away from them or she would go to the bishop.

She didn't immediately tell her husband, Bill Bragg. He had high blood pressure and a demanding job as a salesman at Sears.

Last month, the Braggs shared the letter that LaMountain had written in response.

"Dear Bill, Betty & Family," he wrote on Jan. 8, 1984, in a cursive hand on stationery from St. Joseph's Rectory, in Woonsocket. "There has been no intention to hurt and I am so terribly sorry for that which has been created.

"I have requested and will take part in a program to help me deal with my confusion and dependency. I pray that as time passes, you will be able to forgive me for the hurt I have caused. Sincerely, Mike."

Betty Bragg assumed that this was the end of it.

ACCORDING to documents filed in Superior Court for the civil suit against the Diocese of Providence, LaMountain wrote another letter in 1984, to another parishioner of St. Kevin's in Warwick.

It was in response to a 22-year-old man, who had written that LaMountain had abused him when he was 14.

"You cannot leave it to a young boy to object to sexual advances," wrote the young man. "The desire to please family and authority figures, in addition to a strong sense of fear, makes this impossible. That is what happened to me."

On Nov. 15, 1984, again on St. Joseph's stationery, LaMountain responded: "I have been and presently am participating in professional assistance."

He said his "desires and fears, acceptance and loneliness were shared, wrongfully so, in a manner so confusing."

The Providence diocese has no indication of Father LaMountain's ever having received counseling or other professional help, William G. Halpin, a spokesman, said last month.

Nor does the diocese have a record of any allegations against LaMountain even though he may have sexually abused minors even before he came to the diocese, in 1976.

In the fall of 1993, says Halpin, the Archdiocese of Baltimore called the Providence Diocese. The call was later referred to by Providence Bishop Louis E. Gelineau in a deposition regarding the lawsuits against the diocese.

According to Gelineau's testimony, the Baltimore archdiocese said that it had received a complaint from the Baltimore police: a 34-year-old man had said that he and others had been fondled by Father LaMountain in the early 1970s, when LaMountain was attending St. Mary's Seminary, in Baltimore.

The Providence diocese began to investigate, Gelineau testified, and told LaMountain, who was on a retreat at the time, not to return to his parish until the investigation was complete. Soon after, however in October 1993 the Baltimore police told the Providence diocese that the case had been closed. As confirmed last month by the Baltimore police, it was closed for "lack of evidence." In February, 1994, the Providence Diocese sent LaMountain, for three months, to the Institute for Continuing Theological Formation, in Rome.

IN WARWICK, Betty and Bill Bragg no longer walk the quarter-mile from their Little Pond house to St. Kevin's parish where they used to bake bread for bazaars and coach basketball. Its asphalt parking lot was laid by their sons.

"Do I believe in a God?" says Betty Bragg. "I don't know anymore. Do I believe in the Catholic Church? Absolutely not."

St. Kevin's is where Michael LaMountain came in 1976, a priest fresh out of the seminary. With his morning coffee, he would greet the pupils at the parish school; the pastor then, the Rev. Raymond Dyer, says the children called him Father Coffee Cup.

Bill and Betty Bragg moved into the neighborhood in the early '80s. They called their new priest Mike.

"That's how he wanted to be called," Bill Bragg told the state police in 1995, when they were investigating LaMountain because of allegations made by James Egan.

Soon Father Mike was stopping by the Braggs', for pizza, to watch television, to chat with Betty Bragg as she cleaned.

She thought, she now says, that she was re-creating the kind of Catholic home in which she had been raised. She also appreciated the priest's attention. She was busy taking care of her elderly mother, and the newest Bragg, a little boy; she believed that the priest could help her keep the three bigger boys "in line."

He was "very, very charismatic," she says. "People took to him."

The priest would take all the St. Kevin's altar boys, including the Braggs, then 10, 11, and 12, to his Burrillville summer cottages for cookouts. Then he began taking only the Bragg boys, asking their parents if they could help out at the cottages.

At first, the excursions to Spring Lake were like slumber parties. On the way, LaMountain would stop at a market and tell the boys to pick out any candy they wanted. Timothy Bragg would select Tangy Taffy. At the lake, LaMountain let the boys patronize the arcade and ice-cream stand.

"He became part of the family," Bill Bragg told the police. "We trusted him, and we thought we were doing the right thing by having the boys with Father LaMountain."

But one time at the cottages, Timothy Bragg recalls and told the police Father LaMountain stepped onto the breezeway, where the boys were sitting cross-legged watching television, and said it was time to "hang loose." The priest was naked.

On subsequent visits, the boys would reluctantly strip down and watch TV. To "wash up," the priest told them, they needed to go skinny-dipping in the lake.

Timothy recalls that Father LaMountain used to ask him to go into another room to massage the priest's back. The priest would then rub Timothy down, including his genitals.

When Timothy returned to the breezeway, he later told the police, he didn't tell his brothers what had happened. "They knew, but we .. I did not tell them; they did not tell me. It was just an understanding we didn't talk about."

Father LaMountain paid the most attention to William, at almost 13 the oldest.

Now 33, married, and preparing for graduate school at the University of British Columbia, William recalls standing in the corner of the cottage's bedroom in his underwear.

The priest, says Bragg, told the boy to take off his "skivvies."

Recalls Bragg: "He would say, 'You can say no if you want.' But as soon as you said no, he would say, 'It's better if you take them off trust me.'

"He's a priest," says Bragg. "If you're going to trust anyone, it's a priest. He's a representative of God."

IN GENERAL, a child of 13 is in the midst of "incredible psychological growth and turmoil," says Dr. Gregory Fritz, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Brown University Medical School, and the medical director at Bradley Hospital, the children's institution.

Adolescence is also, says Fritz, a time of vulnerability: a young person is looking to break away from his or her parents and form a surrogate family.

William Bragg says that LaMountain "got me right at puberty."

Recalling what the priest did to him, Bragg says: "He would get to the groin area .. until you had a reaction. You physically react."

The first time, says Bragg, he vomited. LaMountain said the boy's feelings were "natural."

William told no one. "The whole deal," he says, "is that I thought I must have done something to bring this on."

The abuse continued. "He was always saying, 'This is natural don't be scared,'" recalls Bragg. "He kept pushing it to the point where you tried to put your mind somewhere else to let him do what he always did, so you can get out of there."

Bragg says that he started to hurt himself, making cuts in his skin; he told his mother they were scratches from bushes. His grades, at Bishop Hendricken High School, were slipping. And he became a loner: "I thought people could look at me and see this evil thing."

"Something was bothering him," his father later told the police. "But we didn't know .. me and my wife, we just didn't know what was bothering him."

One day, Betty Bragg went down to the cellar. "I found a noose," she says softly.

William had tried to hang himself.

His mother speaks slowly as she recalls that when William resisted going to see Father LaMountain, she insisted.

There is not a day that goes by, she says, when she and her husband don't "blame ourselves for not seeing this."

It was at about this time that Timothy admitted to his mother that LaMountain had touched him, and she warned the priest away from all her boys. She said nothing to William, however.

So, inexplicably, says William, the three years of abuse suddenly stopped.

Yet the scars of the abuse set him back, he says, as much as 10 years. "I tried to commit suicide two or three times in high school. I went to URI, and had to drop out I thought I was going crazy."

Now, off to graduate school, Bragg is excelling in his studies.

He is not suing the Diocese of Providence, nor is his brother Jason. The two have chosen not to fight Rhode Island's statute of limitations on charges of sexual assault on children. But Timothy's case falls within the statute, and he is suing.

Because of the statute, says William, "Timothy has to carry this load alone."

William notes that he is Timothy's "big brother." Now and then, William gets flashes of regret. Perhaps, he could have stopped the abuse. Perhaps, he could have protected his brothers.

Yet, more vivid are the flashes of his own helplessness as a boy. "When it happens, you never feel like you can stop it. That's what (LaMountain) does to you."

AS A TEENAGER, James Egan was given a '77 Chevy Impala by Father LaMountain. When Egan went to Rhode Island College, in 1989, the priest gave him a lamp and lent him a computer.

Egan was studying special education. At one point the special-ed. professor told the class that if they had any unaddressed "skeletons in the closet," they would be unable to handle the emotional demands of this kind of teaching.

Accompanied by a friend, Egan then drove to St. John the Baptist, in West Warwick. He found Father LaMountain running a church bingo game, and pulled him away. He told him that what had been happening for years was wrong.

"Can you ever forgive me?" asked the priest, Egan recalls. No, said the young man.

Three years later, true to his professor's predictions, Egan was struggling with his past as he tried to teach troubled students at a public school in Coventry. He missed so much time that he had to quit.

It was after this that he went to the state police, in 1995. Asked why he had waited so long, he explained, as recorded in court files:

"When it first happened, I was in too much shock to say anything. I didn't know how to take it, and it kept happening more and more, and I felt worse and worse, because the more it would happen, the less I wanted to tell somebody because I was afraid that they would have blamed me for not coming to them sooner.

"As I got older and older, I was afraid that, you know, people wouldn't understand why I could wait so long, and how could I let it happen? People don't understand the manipulation, the repetition of it, just kind of takes over."

Says Dr. Fritz, the child psychiatrist: People with authority over the young teachers, coaches, priests have emotional power over them.

Fritz is not familiar with the LaMountain case, and did not speak specifically about it, but he said that such relationships can never be appropriate. "It's inherently unequal, even if the kids don't realize it."

WHEN PROVIDENCE Bishop Gelineau learned of the police investigation of LaMountain's alleged abuse two years after hearing of such complaints from the Baltimore police he removed the priest from St. John the Baptist. This was the West Warwick parish LaMountain was leading after serving at St. Joseph's, in Woonsocket.

In West Warwick, LaMountain was a community leader. He was the chaplain for the fire and police departments, and he campaigned against a topless nightclub. He drew Catholics from other towns.

Delivering his homilies, the priest "never referenced a note," recalls James Kiley, the former Coventry councilman. Kiley says that as LaMountain walked down the aisle he'd greet people: "Hi, Mary, how are you doing?" "Hi, Jack getting that grass finally cut?"

After Bishop Gelineau announced Father LaMountain's removal, Kiley heard "nothing but disbelief" from his fellow parishioners.

But some parish children had known.

"All the boys in the eighth-grade class had been on what we called 'the ride,'" to Burrillville with Father LaMountain, Daniel J. Turenne told the police, in statements included in court files for the lawsuits against the diocese.

"As far as I know," said Turenne, "I was the only one that went any further than that first ride. I was always afraid it was my fault."

Turenne was one of the five boys, along with James Egan and the Braggs, whom LaMountain admitted in 1999 to having assaulted.

LAST MONTH, James Egan stood in a semicircle in Providence's Cathedral Square. At this small vigil organized by the national Survivors of Those Abused by Priests, he publicly spoke of a ruined adolescence.

With about 10 other people, he nervously walked past the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul to the double doors of the Diocese of Providence. There he taped up an envelope: it held a list of recommendations on how the Catholic Church could prevent sexual abuse by priests.

But other than this event, says Egan, he stays away from church. Still, he can't always stay away from painful memories.

One recent afternoon they crept into Patrick's Pub, where Egan here called Jimmy was having a drink. Walking across the wooden floor, past the IRELAND-lettered mirror, he carried his Harp Ale to a quiet table near the dart board.

The Providence bar's television gave the latest news of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law. "Here we go," said Egan.

Cardinal Law's legal defense has said that the negligence of a boy and his parents contributed to the boy's abuse by the Rev. Paul Shanley. In Rhode Island, the diocesan lawyers have called in the plaintiffs' parents for depositions; many of the victims, one church lawyer said, "came to meet these priests through their parents."

In Patrick's Pub, Egan began to cry.

"That kills me," he said. "Because if my parents knew, they would have never, ever, let it continue."

He put down his cigarette and leaned forward, tears rolling from his blue eyes: "No parent sends their child to church to be abused. Say what you want about me, but don't go after my parents."

Egan goes on: "They were doing the right thing. They weren't dragging me into bars; they were sending us to be with a priest. They wanted to teach us morals, and respect for people of all walks of life, and provide us with traditions, and feasts, and family, and what's really important in this world.

"And it's the church that pulled that away from me and from my parents."

IN JANUARY of 1999, Father LaMountain was sentenced to nine 12-year suspended sentences, to run concurrently. So, as long as he did not violate his probation, and as long as he registered as a sex offender and underwent sex-offender counseling, he would not be jailed.

The Vatican has not removed LaMountain from the priesthood, according to Providence diocese spokesman Halpin.

According to his state sex-offender registration, LaMountain lives in an apartment complex in North Providence; no apartment number is given. A deposition by Bishop Gelineau does give a number, but last month the landlord said that LaMountain had moved.

Through two St. John the Baptist parishioners who stay in touch with LaMountain, the priest declined to be interviewed for this story. The Rev. Alphonse Lethiez, also of that parish, says of LaMountain: "I know this has affected him deeply."

Since the priest pleaded guilty, William Bragg has seen him once, at a mall. James Egan once found himself driving alongside LaMountain on Route 146.

TO GET TO the Egans', across Spring Lake from the priest's former cottages, James Egan drove past a small beach. The sun glistened off the water where Egan, the Braggs, and other children had played.

On this May afternoon, Jeanne Egan, a nurse, sat in her living room and talked about Michael LaMountain.

"It seems like everything has opened up again," she said of the current abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. "For a while, you kind of set it in the back of your mind. Now it's fresh again, and you're angry."

In the old days, she said, Father Mike would call her and say, "Put on the coffee I'm coming up."

When her teenage son started avoiding the priest, Jeanne Egan would say: "James, you don't give up your old friends for new friends. Mike has been good to you."

Recalling this, she looked at her son, who leaned back on the couch near her. She clenched her hands and tapped her white Reeboks on the floor. "We put him in a terrible position.

"It makes me so angry," she said. "That man did not pay for what he did. We never hear anything from the diocese. But James? He has lost his faith."

CHRISTMAS is the hardest time of the year, said Jeanne Egan. She said that James used to love Christmas.

She smiled at the thought: "I really decorate like you would not believe.

"When things go bad," she continued, "you turn to God. But James? What has he left to turn to?"

She is angry at the church hierarchy. Waving her fist, she said, "I would like nothing better than to go up there and tell them off but there's no one to tell."

She still goes to church, however although even her priest once said, sympathetically, he didn't understand how she had the strength to do so.

"I don't either," said James Egan.

"It's my faith, James," responded his mother. "I believe in God and Christ, not the institution."

Jeanne Egan used to keep a framed picture of Father LaMountain. "I had it right here," she said, motioning to a table holding Mother's Day cards.

Her husband, she said, a retired veterans' counselor, has had a stroke. It's left him, she said the once talkative "typical Irishman" unable to speak clearly.

Jack Egan, in slippers, then walked into the living room. He pointed to a corner by the window.

His wife interpreted his gesture. He was trying to say, she explained, that there had once been a chair in that corner: Father LaMountain's chair. ; ; 1972: Graduated from Our Lady of Providence Seminary.

1976: Graduated from St. Mary's Seminary University, Baltimore.

1976: Assigned to St. Kevin's, Warwick.

1983: Assigned to St. Joseph's, Woonsocket.

1987: Assigned to St. John the Baptist, West Warwick.

1993: Baltimore police investigate Father LaMountain for alleged abuse years earlier, when he was at seminary. Case closed in fall for lack of evidence.

1994: Providence diocese in February sends LaMountain, for three months, to Institute for Continuing Theological Formation in Rome. Father LaMountain returns to St. John the Baptist.

1995: James Egan reports allegations of sexual abuse, by Father LaMountain, from 1984 until 1992, to Rhode Island State Police. Bishop Louis E. Gelineau removes the priest from St. John the Baptist.

1997: Statewide grand jury indicts LaMountain on charges of sexual abuse

1999: LaMountain pleads guilty as trial date approaches. Ordered to register as a sex-offender, and comply with probation. ; * JAMES EGAN - JOURNAL PHOTO , JOHN FREIDAH

* REV. MICHAEL V. LAMOUNTAIN - DIRECTORY OF THE DIOCESE OF PROVIDENCE, 1990

* ABUSED BY PRIEST: James Egan, at top, was abused by the Rev. Michael V. LaMountain from the time he was 14 until he was in college. Bottom left, Jeanne Egan is the mother of James Egan. LaMountain pleaded guilty three years ago. Bottom right, LaMountain takes Egan on a trip to Washington, D.C.

 
 

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