Boys' Shame Helps Conceal Ugly Truth
By Michael Wilson
October 16, 2000
"I could always tell when I was about to be singled out. There was a change. He'd tell the other boys who were along, 'Why don't you go do this, go run that chore, go play in the stream.' I would be kept behind." -- JOSEPH ELLIOTT
"All the worst things you can imagine, and then take it another magnitude, and that's what happened." -- DOUG RAY
Inside the wooden box, Linley Peterson held his breath when he heard the footsteps.
He was 12 years old, not quite 5 1/2 feet tall, about 99 pounds. He lay in the wooden crate in the day room of St. Mary's Home for Boys in Portland, with a pillow and a blanket. Every Sunday.
It was 1951. Every Sunday, most of the other boys at the home for wayward or neglected kids left for the day to visit relatives. Linley had no one, his mother herself sent away while she recovered from a nervous breakdown. On Sundays, he'd go to the day room and tune the beat-up radio to "Amos 'N' Andy." He had to stick his ear right on the speaker to catch it all.
The priest found Linley there.
"Why don't you come up to my room?" the Rev. Maurice Grammond asked, as Linley remembers it. Grammond was 31 years old, fresh out of the seminary the year before, a new priest.
This became a weekly routine, listening to Grammond's radio, until the Sunday the priest "manhandled" him, Peterson recalled later. The boy told him to stop, stop, stop it, and bolted.
He went to his dormitory. Another boy entered. Linley had seen this boy, and others, coming out of Grammond's room before. He asked the boy if it happened to him, too, the manhandling.
"He didn't say nothing to me," Linley recalled. "He just walked out."
Moments later, Grammond stormed in, accusing Linley of spreading lies. "He shut the door and propped it with a bed. He made me take my pants down and beat me with a belt, about 14 or 15 times."
Forty-nine years later, Linley Peterson -- now 61, a former Army paratrooper, 33 years with a freight company in Portland -- lost his composure and broke down telling the story.
"I had my head covered up. Then he raped me."
From that day on, the boy never let himself be caught alone, whether that meant hanging around in groups or slipping into the wooden box, listening for Grammond's squeaky shoe, hiding.
The camping trips
Nearly all the boys hid, concealing the priest's secrets.
In the year 2000, it seems unlikely that a man could hide a quarter-century of child abuse and sexual molestation from everyone: from the secretary in his rectory to the mothers and fathers who tucked their sons in at night.
Grammond shut some boys up with threats, they said, but for many, shame did most of the work.
Some told. Nothing changed.
Grammond might have left town, serving several parishes in his 35 years of active service in the archdiocese, but nothing changed. Interviews with priests in archdiocesan leadership roles in the 1950s and 1960s show how that could happen, how complaints from mothers were handled then.
The Archdiocese of Portland last week settled 23 lawsuits from former altar boys for an undisclosed sum. Two more cases are pending. The archdiocese did not admit fault. Grammond, who now lives in a care home for Alzheimer's patients, denied any abuse.
The case marked the first time many of the men ever discussed the abuse. For years, the boys were alone.
Isolation was key. And the rectory could get hectic.
Grammond took the boys camping. His recollection of the first time, recorded in an amateur autobiography, is chilling: "In the middle of the night, a boy was calling for help. I jumped out of my sleeping bag and grabbed my flashlight. . . . There was a boy standing in the river. If he had taken a couple more steps, he would have been swept away by the current. He had walked in his sleep. We rescued him and the rest of the night I lay in my sleeping bag waiting for the next call for help."
He liked Olallie Lake, a beautiful camping area near Mount Hood. Sometimes they'd go in groups, sometimes he took a boy by himself. No one questioned that. He loved the role of protector, the tough-guy idol to lads whose own fathers couldn't pitch a pup tent.
He wrote of campfire cooking, bear chases, forest adventures: "The boys had a great time on these outings. After I was ordained, I took my altar boys on these trips for 35 years."
Olallie Lake is still beautiful, but not to the boys. Now men with families, they've never taken their children up there, and never will.
Many of their stories start the same: "There's this place called Olallie Lake. . . ."
Doug Ray, 43: "All the worst things you can imagine, and then take it another magnitude, and that's what happened. . . . It was getting to the point that you were a captive, like a sex slave. . . . It's a beautiful place, and I've never gone back."
A man identified as T.K., 39: "On those trips, there was always the one spending the night with him. I don't know really, it just sorta happened. Some of the older kids would start to get a little antsy about that time. Some of those older kids went to bed early -- bam, they were in their sleeping bags. . . . I took the cue from the older boys."
Joseph Elliott, 42: "I could always tell when I was about to be singled out. There was a change. He'd tell the other boys who were along, 'Why don't you go do this, go run that chore, go play in the stream.' I would be kept behind. I probably wasn't a good, willing partner, because I froze."
Doug: "I got home and I was burning hot. I told Mom I didn't want to be an altar boy. We had an argument."
T.K.: "It was pretty violent. Man, if I could've got home I would've got home, if I hadn't been so far away from home. . . . He'd make some of the kids pie-eyed (passing a bottle around in the car), 'Here, it clears the dust out of your throat.' "
Grammond writes of his own dedication to recruiting good altar boys: "To build interest and have faithful servers, we took them on trips. . . . We would stay overnight in motels or condominiums -- what a hassle with 12 or more boys! . . . High up in the mountains at night, we could see billions of stars, and we even saw satellites pass through the sky. The boys had a wonderful time."
"I knew nothing"
Boys who knew little of sex -- just enough to know something wasn't right -- kept quiet. "I thought it was a rite of passage," Elliott said.
"I didn't know what was correct behavior, and what was incorrect," said T.K., an only child raised fatherless.
What would they say? To whom? Who would believe them? He's the priest. One man remembers actually being afraid Grammond would tell on him.
"Could you sit down and have a conversation about this with your mom?" Dan Ryan, 49, asked. "I wouldn't know what to say."
In Seaside, the mother closest to Grammond was Jean Elliott, who in 1966 walked down Oceanway to Our Lady of Victory's little rectory to ask the new priest about the job typing the weekly bulletin. She heard Grammond upstairs, mumbling. Talking to himself is just one in a battery of nervous qualities people describe in the priest -- "always pacing around," "real fidgety," "jingling his change in his pocket," "couldn't sit still."
She became his secretary. The phone would ring -- "Tell them I'm not here," he'd say. Sending her back to the paint store every day until they got his idea of the color "peach" right for the church. Sending back the new refrigerator she'd ordered for the rectory because it was different from the last one, his milk didn't fit right.
She relaxed only when he'd go out someplace and she was alone in the rectory's living room. She worked half-days, until early afternoon. She doesn't remember seeing any boys around.
"Eighteen years, and I knew nothing," she said. "It makes me feel like a fool. I think because I had so much faith in the priests. They were representatives of good, really."
Her son, Joseph, told her last year.
"I felt so sorry for him," she said. She thought back on how small he was on the altar back then. "When you're 10 years old, you're scared, you know? Ashamed, scared."
A question haunts her today: "Had Joe come forward when he was 10 years old, I'm not sure we would have believed him."
No church record of complaints
Those few who spoke up didn't get far.
The archdiocese maintains it had no record of any sex abuse complaints until 1991, six years after Grammond retired for health reasons. Every archbishop who held the office through 1985 while Grammond was a parish priest is dead.
The Rev. John Thatcher, a Jesuit, served at St. Ignatius in Portland from 1957 to 1973 before moving to Washington state, then returning to St. Ignatius. During his first assignment, a mother came to him with her sons, he recalled.
"Her sons were acquainted with Grammond. The mother, she came up to the church and had me talk to the kids," Thatcher, now 84, said in an interview from Spokane, where he is retired. "She came, brought the boys, and I brought them out to the pond and was supposed to have talks with them, but I haven't the slightest recollection of what was said there."
He said he knows what he would have done -- even though he did not supervise Grammond -- if the boys had described abuse: "The only way that priests knew how to handle this situation -- they're deeply troubled about this, they think they've committed sins -- was to hear their confessions."
The Rev. Vincent Cunniff, 80 and retired in Portland, succeeded Grammond at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Oakridge in 1965, when Grammond, feeling exhausted, went on sick leave. Cunniff won't say what he heard about his predecessor: "If you're trying to heal a wound, you don't scratch it."
He received a call a few months ago from the archdiocese chancellor's office, which oversees priests and parishes.
"I first heard of this new scandal when the chancellor called and said my name had been mentioned," he said. "I asked how my name had been mentioned. They said a plaintiff had mentioned my name. I said I'd like to talk to the plaintiff. I recognized the kid as one of my servers at Oakridge."
He won't say what, if anything, the plaintiff told him those years ago. "What did I do about it? If he came to me, something was done about it. It just didn't pass." That's all he would say about Grammond in Oakridge: "Today everybody blabs everything. I wasn't raised that way."
The archdiocese today points out that there is no evidence Grammond was ever moved to a new parish because of a complaint of abuse. On the contrary, rather than hopping between telltale brief parish assignments, Grammond stayed almost 20 years in Seaside.
A mother complains
In Portland, a mother named Carol Rein remembers that Father Grammond used to stop by her home near the church, Our Lady of Sorrows, for coffee, sometimes days in a row, a nervous, mumbling type of guy, but nice, kind, gentle. She'd stop what she was doing and sit with him patiently.
She had a young son. Grammond offered to take him off her hands for the afternoon.
"I was so proud," she recalled.
Then her boy and his friends came home from a trip to a river, each wearing a man's khaki pants, rolled up at the bottom. They told her they'd gotten wet in a stream, and Grammond had them change clothes behind his car, where he kept extra clothes. That happened a couple of times.
Little things like that.
He took boys camping. She'd unpack her son's clothes afterward and see that he hadn't touched his pajamas.
One day she came home and found her son and his young friends playing cards. Naked.
"What are you doing?" she howled.
Playing strip poker, her son said. Father Grammond taught us how.
She went to the church and found the pastor, the Rev. Richard L. Fall, who is now deceased. This is how, almost 40 years later, Rein, who still lives in Portland, recalls the conversation:
"Father Fall, Father Grammond is teaching the boys how to play strip poker," she said.
"You have to be proud of your boy, to tell you," the pastor replied.
"What are you going to do?"
"We're going to send him to Eugene."
"Send him to Eugene?" she asked. "But Father, there's boys there, too."
Never a whisper
Priests in leadership positions in the Archdiocese of Portland during Grammond's tenure said they never heard so much as a whisper about impropriety regarding the priest. But they describe how reports of abuse were dealt with then, a classic pattern of confrontation, attempts at rehabilitation, then reassignment to a new parish. It's the same kind of recycling seen in priest abuse cases nationwide, the crux of negligence lawsuits that have cost the Catholic Church, by some estimates, a billion dollars.
Monsignor Martin H. Thielen, a longtime Portland parish priest and Boy Scout leader, now retired at age 89, said he reported complaints to the archbishop only if he thought they were true. He is skeptical of abuse claims as a rule: "To believe everything that everybody says can be fatal. A man can show a reasonable interest as a spiritual adviser. . . . Let's face it. If a man simply touches a kid, it's not as though he's lusting after the kid."
He recalls confronting accused priests: "If he was convincing enough, nothing was done, and you prayed it didn't come up again. But be vigilant and if it came up again, you'd pursue the charges more strongly.
"Let's say he admits that once or twice this happened. The church is concerned not only for his punishment, but it's also concerned that he be restored to his proper conduct," he said. "If it were not a regular thing, but apparently because of stress or whatever, he would probably be sent to a religious house, and the hope is the guy could be brought back to normality."
Monsignor Edmund Van der Zanden, 89 and now retired in Portland, was the chancellor of the archdiocese from World War II to 1980. He said formal complaints came through his office. He said there were only a few, and he never heard anything about Grammond, but described the process in general:
"If an altar boy or whoever accused a priest of immoral conduct, it was a very secretive process to investigate the charge," he said in an interview. "We were sworn to such secrecy that we were admonished that if we revealed anything we would be suspended and only the pope, the Holy Father, could absolve us."
The priest in question usually admitted the act, Van der Zanden said, and was removed from his parish. But not from active priesthood.
"If they conducted themselves honorably for a certain length of time, they were allowed to be given a new assignment," he said. "They would be sent to maybe an obscure appointment. Nobody realized there had been a problem."
"Nobody will believe you"
Now 39, T.K., a Portland truck driver, spoke up when he was 9. The sexual contact stopped, yes, but he said a different kind of abuse began.
Grammond had asked several boys at a catechism class to be altar boys. He paid each boy 50 cents a Mass. T.K., the only child of a single mother, jumped at the chance to make some money, even though he was younger than the others, in second grade at the time. He'd bring home up to $30 for three months' work.
The priest would take the boy off mom's hands for a night, so she could relax, get some quiet rest. In the rectory of Seaside's church, Grammond showered the boy, once actually stepping under the water with him, and lay him naked on his belly on a table in a living room, T.K. said, touching himself while the boy watched TV.
Finally, T.K., after a particularly rough incident at Olallie Lake, told his mother about Grammond, and at first she didn't believe him. "My mother was not a well-educated person, and she was raised a devout Catholic. Then she came back later and asked what had happened, and I told her in detail."
T.K. has told his version of what happened next under oath in a deposition: His mother went to a retired monsignor, he said. (The monsignor has since died.) He said he'd look into it.
The monsignor called a meeting later, at the Seaside church. T.K. and his mother arrived to find the senior priest and Grammond, who walked through the church to make sure no one was there, even in the choir loft. The meeting began and ended quickly.
The monsignor did all the talking, while Grammond just sat there, T.K. said. "The nuts and the bolts of the conversation came down like this: 'You're a single mother. You work in bars. You don't make a lot of money. Nobody knows you from Adam. This is a man that's highly respected in the community, and how dare you make an accusation like that? Nobody will believe you. So if you want to go to the police, go right ahead, but they won't believe you, and we'll deny everything.' "
Mother and son left and walked to a grill on the next block, sliding into a booth. They ordered sandwiches. His mother told him to never again talk about what happened.
"My mother never set foot in that church again."
It wasn't so easy for T.K. Word got out that the boy had stolen money from the church collections. T.K. said Grammond made the story up.
Other boys beat him up on a weekly basis, while he was in the second and third grades, older altar boys in junior high school. "The goon squad," he calls them now. T.K. remembers one boy, while he kicked him, saying, "This is from Father Grammond."
He graduated and took off from the coast, thankful he'd never see any of those guys ever again.
He was wrong. He'd see them one more time, almost 30 years later, in a lawyer's conference room last March, and think, Oh, man, he got them, too.
You can reach Michael Wilson at 503-294-7663 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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