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  Courage Drives Victims to Speak out
After Years of Silence, Protesters Recall Abuse at Hands of Priests

By Richard Vara
Houston Chronicle
June 14, 2002

DALLAS - For Paul Vogel, Thursday was a day of ending years of secrecy. For Kristopher Galland, it was the beginning of his "mission from God."

Both men had protested outside the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting here, Vogel in the morning among a few dozen people, and Galland, surrounded by his family and at least 150 others, at an evening march.

Both told stories of being abused by Catholic priests.

Vogel smoked one cigarette after another, staring a hole in the front of the downtown hotel where church leaders were debating a church-wide sexual abuse protection policy.

"Have you heard of the 'cabin kids?' " Vogel asked, quietly.

Vogel grew up in northwest Minnesota, he said, and his parents worked on the grounds of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville. He and his five siblings were schooled on the abbey grounds and were well acquainted with the order of Benedictine monks who lived there.

He was abused by one priest, Vogel said, and two of his brothers were abused by another.

"It's too much," Vogel said, shaking his head. "It's half my family."

Father Richard Eckroth used to invite kids to his cabin, Vogel recalled. He got his first invitation to the remote location next to Lake Swensen when he was 8, and that's where Eckroth abused him.

Others have come forward to charge Eckroth with abuse, particularly in the wake of the scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church in recent months.

Minnesota Public Radio has reported that the Stearns County Sheriff is investigating the activities of monks and priests who have lived in the monastery over the past 30 years. Eckroth is now 75, living in a retirement center on the grounds of St. John's.

The abbot at St. John's, Father John Klassen, has told reporters he finds the allegations of abuse at the cabin "credible." Eckroth denies everything.

Klassen issued a public letter of apology on behalf of St. John's last week, saying he was "deeply sorry that some members of the Saint John's monastic community have violated such a fundamental part of our commitment by engaging in abusive sexual behavior with people in our schools and parishes."

"My parents are devastated," said Vogel, now 38. He said he left home at 18 and has had very little contact with his parents.

Vogel is an engineer at a Dallas hotel just a few blocks away from the site of the conference. When he found out the conference was coming, he told himself he'd be a "chump" if he didn't take the opportunity to express his outrage - but it means ending years of secrecy.

"I'm worried about my kids," Vogel said, referring to his 15- and 19-year-old sons, who live in another state. "They don't know I'm a victim."

Palming his cell phone, Vogel explained how he had been bucking up his courage: He said he had talked to his brothers three times in the space of a few hours.

"They couldn't come, but I'm here," Vogel said, grimly.

The evening march would mark Galland's first protest - and his family was at his side.

Galland, 34, his wife, Mindi, and his children, Danielle, 6, and Grayson, 3, were among the protesters who sang, marched and prayed their way to the hotel. Galland had arrived at 7:30 a.m. Thursday to stand vigil at the hotel doors.

His story of abuse involves a Diocese of Dallas priest, now a lawyer living in New Orleans. He wants his former tormentor imprisoned.

"He would take me out camping and fishing on overnight trips, then would get me drunk and have his way with me," Galland said. It was a secret he would keep until he was 28.

Galland was 11 years old - the abuse continued until he was 14. "I was scared to death of the man," said Galland.

Galland came forward too late for criminal charges to be brought against the former priest. "I want to get the law changed," Galland said.

 
 

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