Va. Priest Again Accused of Abuse
Norfolk Man Says As Teen He Was Drugged and Assaulted
By Steven G. Vegh
August 11, 2002
A Norfolk man said he was drugged and sexually assaulted as a teenager 28 years ago by the Rev. John E. Leonard, a Richmond priest who in June was cleared by Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of recent allegations of abuse.
Bruce Jeter, 44, said Saturday that he was repeatedly abused during his freshman year at St. John Vianney Seminary, a Catholic high school in Goochland. He is at least the third ex-Vianney student to publicly accuse Leonard of committing abuse during the 1970s, when he was on the faculty.
"I was drugged by Father (Leonard) and abused," Jeter said during an 80-minute interview at the office of his therapist, Norfolk psychologist Susan A. Garvey. Jeter, accompanied by his wife, Donna, described a series of incidents that prompted him to leave the school after his first year.
Jeter, a Norfolk native who attended Saint Pius X School as a boy and now works as a commercial diver, said he reported the abuse to the Diocese of Richmond in 1996.
Sullivan investigated the allegation and exonerated Leonard, saying a witness Jeter named did not corroborate the abuse. The diocese also said that Leonard had denied wrongdoing and that psychological tests indicated he was not an abuser.
Leonard is the priest at St. Michael Church in Glen Allen, outside Richmond. A man who answered the telephone at St. Michael's rectory hung up Saturday when a reporter asked to speak to Leonard.
Jeter said he was speaking publicly for the first time out of anger at Sullivan's stance toward abuse allegations made against Leonard this spring by Thor Gormley of Virginia Beach, Bill Bryant of Arizona and another unnamed ex-Vianney student.
Gormley said Leonard had him and another student drop their pants and underwear in front of a mirror while the priest made inappropriate comments. Jeter is the first to allege genital contact by Leonard.
The bishop cleared Leonard of the allegations made this spring, saying an investigation showed that the priest's behavior during incidents at Vianney had only been "imprudent" and had "blurred boundaries."
But his handling of the case has provoked a wave of controversy. Four members of the diocese's 10-person Sexual Abuse Panel have quit. Several of them, including Jeanne Doucette of Norfolk, said they were upset that the bishop reached his decision without their input.
Therese M. May, an abuse panel member and part of a two-person team appointed to investigate the Leonard allegations, was among those who quit in protest over the process used by Sullivan to exonerate the priest.
May said the investigative team never talked to Jeter during its inquiry into the Leonard case. Jeter confirmed that Saturday.
Jeter said he will talk with a lawyer Monday about pursuing civil or criminal charges.
"The criminal-justice system needs to step in," he said. "I believe the only way justice will happen is through a 12-member jury."
Sullivan's spokesman, the Rev. Pasquale Apuzzo, said Saturday that the bishop, when told of Jeter's public statement, again repeated that the witness Jeter named in 1996 had "vehemently" denied seeing Leonard commit abuse.
Jeter said that the man he cited as a witness told him, "It was a long time ago. I've gotten on with my life. I can't help you."
Garvey said that regardless of the lack of corroboration, she believes Jeter was sexually abused.
"He was raped anally," she said.
Garvey is a clinical psychologist and the owner of Community Psychological Resources in Norfolk. She said her firm has performed psychological evaluations, counseling and other forensic services under contracts with the Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake court systems.
"I've worked with victims of abuse and neglect, including child abuse - especially sexual abuse - for many years," Garvey said.
She said her identification of Jeter as a sexual-abuse victim is based on counseling him over several years. She also had an independent psychologist evaluate Jeter; the results indicated post-traumatic stress, a condition common among victims of child sexual abuse, Garvey said.
"I believe he was drugged and raped - there's no question in my mind. Bruce has been consistent with his story since 1996," she said.
Jeter's account focuses on St. John Vianney, a Catholic boys high school with fewer than 200 students that operated in the countryside in Goochland, west of Richmond, from 1960 until it closed in 1978.
Vianney, Jeter said, portrayed itself to prospective students as combining an excellent education with recreational offerings such as movies, an in-ground swimming pool and a game area with pool tables.
Jeter visited the campus as an eighth-grader and prospective student, and Leonard visited Jeter's family in Norfolk to promote Vianney. "He convinced my parents it was a good place, a safe place."
Arriving in the fall of 1973, Jeter bunked in a dormitory with about 40 other freshmen. The dorms were part of a central building that also housed the classrooms, a gym, priests' rooms and most other facilities.
Jeter took math, science, history and Latin. Every student was assigned a spiritual director from among the priests on the staff, and Jeter's adviser was Leonard.
Freshmen were prohibited from smoking, but Jeter said Leonard offered him his own Victory brand cigarettes. More than once, Leonard entered the dormitory an hour or two after lights-out and woke Jeter, bringing the boy to his own room to smoke or watch television.
Jeter said Leonard also recruited him to build sets and operate theater lights for a student drama, "Child's Play," that the priest was overseeing. In the last couple of weeks before the play opened, rehearsals went on until 2 a.m. or later. Afterward, Leonard had Jeter come to his room and let him cut morning classes.
It was in Leonard's room that the touching and the abuse began, near the end of the school year, Jeter said. In some of the incidents, which occurred when he was 14 or 15 years old, "he'd let you down on his bed and massage you, but it'd always end up past your underwear."
Jeter described in detail another encounter that occurred late in the summer of 1974, shortly before the start of his sophomore year.
Jeter was in the pool when Leonard suggested they shed their swimsuits and skinny-dip. Once the pair were nude, the priest pressed himself against Jeter from behind and fondled the boy. No one else was in the pool.
About 15 minutes later, the noise of an approaching car interrupted, and Leonard told Jeter to get dressed, fast. The pair then walked back to the school building, joined by another student on the way.
Leonard brought the boys to his room and provided beer. "I also remember having a headache. (Leonard) gave me a blue pill," Jeter said.
From that point onward, he remembers distorted faces, and waking up on Leonard's bed, at least 12 hours later, to discover that he had semen in his rectum.
Jeter said he shook as he showered, with Leonard smoking and watching. "I remember him putting his arm around me, walking me down the hall, telling me never to tell my parents."
Jeter returned to Vianney for his sophomore year. But the same day his parents dropped him off, he said, Leonard tried to get him into the priest's room. The teen called his parents, told them a priest had made sexual advances and asked to come home. They picked him up that day.
He never returned to Vianney. He completed his high-school education at the James Barry-Robinson School in Norfolk.
Jeter said he remained scared to tell his parents what happened freshman year. His father is no longer alive, he said, but the story of what he endured has been painful for his mother.
"Father Leonard said they wouldn't believe me and it was my fault. He had his control over me as a young kid," Jeter said.
By his account and Garvey's, Jeter went on as an adult to be distrustful, depressed, a substance abuser and reclusive because of his Vianney experience. He divulged the abuse to his wife and a family therapist after his 2 1/2-year-old daughter died of a progressive illness in 1996.
Jeter said that years of therapy helped him deal with the grief of losing a child and with his experience at Vianney. But the recent national revelations of widespread sexual abuse by some Catholic priests refreshed his pain.
Just four days ago, the Rev. Julian B. Goodman, pastor of Holy Comforter parish in Charlottesville, was expelled by Sullivan from ministry for sexually abusing a student at Vianney from 1976 to 1978. Goodman, who admitted the abuse, was pastor at Blessed Sacrament parish in Norfolk throughout the 1990s.
On Friday, Sullivan removed the Rev. John P. Blankenship from ministry for sexual abuse of a 14-year-old boy in 1982.
Jeter said the scandal in the Catholic Church has been devastating for him.
"When I'm at home, I lock myself in my room over weekends. I can't be a father to my kids, a husband to my wife, you know?"
Going public, Jeter said, gives him the hope that "some day, I can move on and be the things I've always wanted to be."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.