The Secrets of a Small-Town Priest

By Michael Wilson
The Oregonian
October 15, 2000

[Note from This is the first in a four-part series by Michael Wilson on Rev. Maurice R. Grammond. See also Part 2: Boys' Shame Helps Conceal Ugly Truth (10/16/2000); Part 3: Painful Memories Resurface As Victims Wage Legal Battle (10/17/2000); and Part 4: From Life of Service to Banishment (10/18/2000).]

The boy would talk to God while he walked to school.

God, let me do well on my test today. God, let me make a friend today. God, let me not get beat up today.

The boy was new to the small mill town of Oakridge, east of Eugene, a rougher place than anywhere he'd ever lived. He was 12 years old, and his was a boy's Catholicism. He believed God was looking out for him, listening to him.

He enjoyed Mass at St. Michael's Catholic Church. He wanted to be an altar boy, to please his mother, but more important, to please a girl he saw at church.

He asked the priest to put him on the list and checked every week, but never saw his name.

"Then something wonderful happened," the boy, now grown into a middle-age man, recalled. "Or so I thought at the time."

A new priest came to Oakridge.

The boy had never heard of the Rev. Maurice Grammond. No one in 1950s Oakridge had. Now everyone knows him. An obscure parish priest has become the Archdiocese of Portland's greatest shame.

Grammond was younger than the previous priest, charming where the former was dour, handsome in glasses fashionable at the time, like the ones Henry Fonda wore. The boy came home one day and was surprised to find the priest talking to his parents in the living room.

The priest was surprisingly cool. He dropped mild profanities into his speech, like "hell" and "damn." He smoked. When the boy's father offered a martini, the priest accepted.

The boy went outside and waited, shooting baskets in the driveway. He would ask him for a spot as an altar boy. This time, he hoped, he'd get a yes.

Grammond finally came out the front door. The priest held out his hands for the ball.

"He puts up a set shot with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and it went through," he said, "and I just thought that was the coolest thing in the world."

Grammond told him to come by the rectory.

Right there, it happened. Years later, psychology texts would pick apart and examine every angle and facet of how a pedophile lures his victims. They would label that perfect toss of the basketball with a word the boy had probably never heard before.

The seduction.

Legacy of shame

"Why don't you come up to my room," another boy, now 61, remembered Grammond suggesting. "I've got a radio, we could listen to it there." It became a weekly routine.

"He handed me a book, we'd be looking at pictures, and he'd lean close, put his arm on my shoulder. You didn't think much about it. He'd get your confidence up, like he was your friend.

"I don't know how he suckered me into this."

Orphans. Whiz kids. Misfits. Altar boys. Grammond left a legacy of shame: the shame of boys who'd yet to kiss their first girlfriends, doing unspeakable things with this man; the shame of an archdiocese that admits, through its elder priests, that it quietly handled similar complaints by recycling the accused to a new parish. Although the church found no record of complaint about Grammond, boys remember being ignored, or worse.

Far surpassing Oregon's occasional incidence of abuse lawsuits, by the count of his accusers, Grammond is among the most prolific known pedophiles to wear black robes in this country.

Last week, the Archdiocese of Portland and representatives for 23 men announced the settlement of their sex-abuse lawsuits, even as new cases are being prepared. The archdiocese did not admit fault, and in the past Grammond denied any abuse.

At a time when the mortal failings of the clergy are talk-show fare, the description of Grammond manages to stand out, in his sexual appetite, his gall approaching recklessness, his perversion of the trappings of the faith, his clever masking of his relationships with the boys.

"We'd do some fishing," one boy, now 49, recalls. "At night I remember on more than one occasion . . . this is real hard. I was in the tent and I told him I had a mosquito bite, and he said, 'I need to see it.' He insisted, and I took off my shirt and he said he had to see the rest of me, and he insisted and I said, 'No, no, that's it.' He stood over me, and he took all my clothes off. He took my underwear off, and I fought him and I kept telling him no. I kept telling him no, and he kept insisting. I can remember the light of the campfire through the tent, and then he laid down next to me. That's all I can tell you about that."

From its sensational national outbreak in the 1980s, clergy sex abuse has grown into the Catholic Church's greatest scandal. Every one of the 188 dioceses in the country has faced a pedophilia case.

In his book "Lead Us Not Into Temptation," the definitive text on the topic, author Jason Berry's introduction quotes a former church attorney estimating the cost of litigation at "close to a billion dollars." The church has never released its total payouts.

The financial terms of the Grammond settlement are confidential, but the church agreed to a task force into child-abuse complaints, "healing" services for all families affected by Grammond and an apology from Archbishop John G. Vlazny.

The apology, to be read at Mass throughout the archdiocese today, extends to "any person who has suffered from abuse by any personnel of the archdiocese."

It does not name the priest.

Maurice Grammond served seven parishes and two orphanages of the archdiocese of Portland, from the city's Assumption and Our Lady of Sorrows churches to the rural congregations of Sublimity, Mill City, Verboort, Dexter, St. Michael's in Oakridge and, his last and longest assignment, Our Lady of Victory Church in the coastal tourist town Seaside, a block from the beach.

His contemporaries barely knew him. He seemed like scores of other parish priests, busy in their far-flung posts, dealing with the thousand daily chores of the job between Sundays.

He liked being the new priest. It seemed to be his favorite part of an assignment, the early days, sorting things out, figuring out how the church had been run and where he could make improvements, watching for waste in the meager budgets. Visiting the families. Meeting the boys.

The men describe, collectively, hundreds of sexual encounters. Grammond kept them quiet. It's our secret, he told them. In a rambling, bitter unpublished autobiography, Grammond decries a young boy who "threw himself at me in a sexual manner," as if he foresaw the accusations and sought to head them off.

Today, Grammond is silent, 80 and weakening in a Gresham home for Alzheimer's patients. He speaks only to a couple of acquaintances and his sister.

The impact of the abuse, played out over as many as five decades, is stunning.

Many victims haven't been to a Mass since they wore the altar boy's robes. Some loathe weddings and funerals. They can't go back and start over.

But back then, Grammond was the first priest they'd ever really known, really talked to, laughed with, fished and camped with. He was wonderful, the new priest.

The road to Oakridge

For Grammond, there was never any doubt he'd be a priest. As early as the second grade, when an uncle asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Grammond answered, "the pope."

Maurice Ronald Grammond was born in 1920 to a Portland streetcar motorman and German mother described as domineering and humorless. He recalls his poor childhood wistfully in the autobiography he wrote decades later: stealing turkeys with his brother at Thanksgiving, watching his father guard their outhouse on Halloween night against tricksters out to tip it over, helping his mother bake. He was the oldest of three, an antsy kid; his mother would later tell his secretary, "he was born nervous."

He describes himself as a good student at the University of Portland, a philosophy major at the Jesuit school. After consulting with his parish priest and his bishop, he boarded a train for Mount Angel Seminary. The schedule was demanding, the classwork exhausting, and, overexerted, he soon took a year off for poor health -- a recurring problem throughout his life.

His younger brother, Robert, had fought in World War II and came home shellshocked, with shrapnel in both knees and aches only drinking could soothe. He lived upstairs in their parents' home.

Boyhood buddies, the brothers fought as adults, their sister recalled.

"You should quit drinking and get a job," Maurice told him.

"Don't talk to me, you damn queer," Robert shot back.

There had never been any girls in the picture. "He never had any use for girls," his sister Dolores recalled in an interview. "He hated women."

He left again, to St. Edward's Seminary and St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota. The seminarians studied canon law, church history, the sacraments, theology, Christology. But Grammond would become an intellectually inadventurous priest, best known not for thoughtful sermons, but lightning-fast Masses, not for provocative writings, but a memoir that complains that no one tips priests at weddings anymore.

Yet he writes that he felt he could "convert the whole world" when he was ordained in 1950, a few weeks shy of 30: "I promised the good Lord that I would never do anything to offend Him."

His parents threw him a party, "which was much like a wedding reception," he wrote.

His mother called him "Father" that day, and every day after, for the rest of her life.

The priest was approaching 40 when he arrived in Oakridge, his last 10 years spent bouncing from assignment to assignment in Portland, from a single month at a girls home to three years at Our Lady of Sorrows. Two years at St. Mary's Home for Boys. Three and a half years at Assumption Catholic Church.

Grammond's access to boys leaps off his personnel record: "Prefect of discipline; taught Latin and religion. P.E. teacher for high school boys and upper grade school boys. Director of teen-age club. Coach for high school and grade school -- 3 football and 5 basketball teams. Had to attend 65 basketball games in 3 months. ..."

On the list

The boy waited a while to see if his name was on the altar boy list, and when it wasn't, he went to the rectory. He waited until the last dusty pickup had pulled out of St. Michael's gravel parking lot, and went inside.

He remembers Grammond greeting him warmly and taking him to a back room. While they chatted, Grammond casually changed his clothes.

"I'd never seen a priest in his underwear before," the boy said later. "That made me a little uncomfortable."

But as they talked, the boy soon told the priest about his secret relationship with God, how he was picked on at school and how God watched out for him.

Grammond put him on the list.

There's a saying: If you see an angel and a priest walking down the road together, stick by the priest, for he is closer to God.

One cannot overstate the esteem in which the parish priest was held in rural America. Oregon was no different. Mothers were honored when Father Grammond stopped by for a cup of coffee and a cigarette. He'd ask after their sons: Maybe I could take the boy camping? Boys love to camp. Maybe you could spare him for a few hours to help out at the church?

"Father would call and say he wanted Joe to do something," recalled one mother, "and his dad would say, 'Well, you're going.' I thought, where else could he go where he could be more protected?"

From the vantage point of a church pew in rural Oregon, pedophilia was something that happened far away, as foreign as famine and plague. It wore trench coats and carried lollipops. Parents warned to watch out for strangers. The priest wasn't a stranger. He was more than a man.

"One of the most poignant things about cases of priests molesting children or youths is that they go, naturally, for their easiest targets -- good Catholic families," author Garry Wills writes in his recently published "Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit." "Devout Catholic families will be the least suspicious of a priest's conduct and the most intimidated about challenging the church."

Pedophiles follow patterns: finding access to children, winning their trust with rewards and praise, isolating them physically as well as psychologically.

Pedophile priests accomplish all that in broad daylight. Or in church.

In the rectory, Grammond lavished the boy with praise after his first service on the altar. "You appreciate the intellectual side of the Mass," he told him.

He hugged the boy and gave him a peck on the cheek.

Grammond invited the boy to the rectory on Tuesday nights for "evening prayers." He soon realized evening prayers involved just him and the priest.

Grammond continued to encourage the boy and his growing appetite for the Catholic teachings, telling him he had a gift, telling him he could help him gain admission to the seminary someday. The boy was thrilled.

Grammond gave him a blue book, the teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, dense reading for a teen, but the boy devoured it, jotting down questions at the passages he didn't understand and taking them to Grammond.

He didn't tell his parents about his secret trips to church.

"An altar boy and priest have a confidential relationship," Grammond told him, "that no one else needs to know about."

"There is nothing here"

It was his first job as pastor, but Grammond hated Oakridge. He'd just left Our Lady of Sorrows, after about three years as a busy associate pastor, visiting, in his estimation, more than 1,000 homes, performing many marriages and funerals and meeting families.

"All the people liked me, as I was a young man," he wrote. "I got along with all them while working there. I attended all the functions, taught religion in the school, and coached athletics. I had contact with the youth and if the children like you, they tell their parents."

He left Portland abruptly: "The pastor informed me that in the coming summer I would get my own parish."

The Rev. Robert Cieslinski had been at Oakridge for several years when Grammond arrived to take over.

"When I turned over the keys, he wasn't hearing a thing I'd said," recalled Cieslinski, now retired. "He just kept saying, 'I'm a long way from Portland. I'm a long way from Portland.' "

The nearest town of any size was Eugene, but he didn't have time to go. "My God, there is nothing here!" Grammond blared in his writings. "It is at the end of the road."

He called the parish "impossible" and "hopeless." His memoir sounds condescending about his congregation, and he appears to smirk through tellings of tragedy: "I got a call that a man had blown his head off with a shotgun. I went to anoint him, but since his head was gone, all I could anoint was his hands."

Yet in public he smiled and glad-handed. He stopped in for coffee. He had a martini and tossed a basketball through a hoop.

It was basketball that landed the boy flat on his tailbone, bruising it badly enough that it hurt to walk, to sit down.

At the rectory of St. Michael's, the priest gave him some pills and watched while the boy swallowed, he said. Grammond told him to lie on the couch, on his stomach, and to pull down his pants.

"I remember being self-conscious about how skinny I was," he said. Grammond began massaging his bottom, the boy recalled.

He woke up later -- hours later, as it was dark -- without realizing he'd fallen into a deep sleep. He was wearing only his underwear, under a blanket. He felt groggy and queasy walking home.

Soon after, he realized he was bleeding, in his pants.

He figured he'd ask Grammond what was wrong.

You're bleeding, the priest said, from your fall on your tailbone.

Weeks later, when the boy finally had finished the book, Grammond told him to come by the rectory, that he had a special surprise for him.

He arrived, and remembers Grammond told him to take off all his clothes.

"Don't worry," the priest said, as recalled later. "This is part of a sacred Catholic ceremony between an altar boy and a priest."

Grammond lit scented candles and dimmed the lights and presented the boy with a stole, a long, white scarf draped over the neck and worn on the altar over the appropriate gown. He also gave him a rosary and told him to kneel down. It was time for confession.

The sacrament of reconciliation is a hallmark of Catholicism, wherein the priest is a medium of absolution for the sins man confesses. Catholics are taught that so important, so sacred is the confession, that one cannot receive Holy Communion at Mass without being in a "state of grace" from a reconciliation. Priests are sworn to secrecy from repeating anything uttered in the confessional. For the penitent, it's considered a sin to leave anything out.

Grammond had heard many confessions in the last 10 years before befouling the sacrament on this night, smoking a cigarette in a chair behind the naked, kneeling boy.

"It's time for me to anoint you," he said, approaching the boy.

"I just stood there and let him do it," he said. "If he wanted me to jump off the roof, I would have done it. I'd do anything for him."

You can reach Michael Wilson at 503-294-7663 or by e-mail at


* University of Portland is affiliated with the Congregation of Holy Cross. An incorrect affiliation was reported Sunday in an article about the Rev. Maurice Grammond's history of sexual abuse.


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