The Secrets of a Small-Town Priest
By Michael Wilson
October 15, 2000
[Note from BishopAccountability.org: 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
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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,"
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
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
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
You can reach Michael Wilson at 503-294-7663 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: PUBLISHED CORRECTION RAN 10/16/2000, FOLLOWS:
* 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.