Father Ron Lange, a Louisburg, Wis., native, served more than 30 years as a missionary in Ghana as a member of the Society of the Divine Word. Photo by: Jessica Reilly

Priest with local ties accused of abuse in Ghana

Telegraph Herald [Dubuque IA]

May 15, 2021

By Robert Herguth, Chicago Sun-Times

[Photo above: Father Ron Lange, a Louisburg, Wis., native, served more than 30 years as a missionary in Ghana as a member of the Society of the Divine Word. Photo by: Jessica Reilly]

Even before he was ordained a Catholic priest, the Rev. Ronald Lange went to Ghana in 1968 to do missionary work.

In a profile by the Telegraph Herald years later, Lange spoke of his commitment to learning about Ghana while teaching at schools there and leading a parish with more than a dozen worship sites.

“The people are just so happy to see you,” Lange, a member of the Society of the Divine Word’s Chicago province, and a native of Louisburg, Wis., said at the time. “You don’t even have to be a good priest.”

And he wasn’t, as his order now acknowledges.

In his four decades as a Catholic missionary in Ghana, Lange has been credibly accused of sexually abusing children over “multiple years.”

That’s according to his order’s Chicago hub. Facing scrutiny over its predator priests, including one who’s now on trial in East Timor, the order has for the first time revealed the names and past postings of Divine Word clergy who’ve been part of the Chicago province and been deemed by its leaders to have been credibly accused of child sex abuse anywhere in the world.

Lange, 79, is one of two priests on that list who formally remain part of the Chicago province of the Society of the Divine Word, an international religious order that “focuses on missionary work” and since 1875 has “entered lands where people are in need” and shared “God’s love.”

He’s also one of 26 current, former or deceased members the province now says have had substantiated accusations against them of having sexually abused children.

A number of them were sent out into the world to do their missionary work after serving, training or being ordained at the Divine Word’s Chicago province headquarters, called Techny, along Waukegan Road north of Willow Road in the north suburbs.

Of the 26 order members accused of abusing kids who are included on the new Divine Word list, more than half served in the developing world at some point. Besides Ghana, their postings included: Papua New Guinea, China, Kenya, South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico, Chile and Jamaica.

Notably absent from the list is a defrocked priest named Richard Daschbach, who was ordained at the Divine Word’s sprawling Techny grounds in the 1960s.

For decades, Daschbach has lived in East Timor, a tiny, majority-Catholic nation that once was part of Indonesia. Now 84, Daschbach has run orphanages there and — unbeknownst to the outside world until recent years — systematically sexually assaulted children there. That’s according to authorities who are now prosecuting him for sex crimes, news interviews with victims and victims’ advocates and sources who spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Exporting abusers

The clergy sex abuse scandal in the United States exploded into public view beginning in the 1980s, with allegations of priests having raped children — and, in some cases, bishops having covered up their crimes. There have been waves of such allegations since then, prompting lawsuits and payouts that have left some dioceses struggling financially.

After the horror have come reforms by a church hierarchy in America not known for easily accepting change, aimed at weeding out child molesters from the clerical ranks, dealing more openly with abuse accusations and attempting to promote healing among victims.

Other parts of the developed world, including Europe, also have grappled with similar problems.

But impoverished areas around the world, particularly developing nations, have yet to face and deal with the extent of sexual abuse by clerics — homegrown or sent as missionaries, according to experts who predict this will be the next seismic scandal to face the Catholic church worldwide.

“I think we’ve barely scratched the surface,” Thomas Doyle, a Dominican priest who’s been an advocate for sexual abuse victims since the 1980s, says of the scope of the problem in more remote parts of the world.

‘They’re where we were’

One of the reasons clergy sex abuse has continued or remained hidden in developing parts of the world, according to Tim Law, a Seattle lawyer who’s president of an international group called Ending Clergy Abuse, is the “great reverence by the populace for the clergy there,” in parts of Africa, Asia, Latin America.

Also, he and others say, victims often are reluctant to come forward, fearing the power of the clergy in many places.

“They’re where we were” in the United States “40, 50 years ago in terms of mentality,” Law says.

In much of the West, Catholicism has seen members abandoning the faith and even many of the faithful rarely attending Sunday Mass. But it’s rapidly grown in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.

Many of the Divine Word clergy members credibly accused of molesting kids and included in the new list are not accused of doing so in other countries, despite serving overseas. The accusations against these clerics have been made in the United States.

Among them is the Rev. Jefferson Pool, accused of sexual abuse of children in Ohio in 1977 and in Wisconsin in 1981, according to the Divine Word order. He also served in the Philippines from 1992 to 1998.

Since earlier this year, he has been living in East Troy, Wis., where he remains a member of the order’s Chicago province.

Still priests but banned from ministry

Lange served in Ghana from 1968 to 1991, was back in the United States from 1991 to 1996, returned to Ghana from 1996 to 2013 and since then has been in Missouri, according to his order. It says he’s been credibly accused of sexual abuse in the west African nation over “multiple” years as well as in 1987 in Iowa.

Though both men remain part of the order, Pool and Lange are now “prohibited from performing public ministry, are not able to wear clerical attire or identify themselves as priests or religious and are not to have any contact with minors,” according to the Society of the Divine Word. “Their conduct is monitored.”

The Divine Word order — whose worldwide headquarters is in Rome, the heart of Catholicism — describes itself as “the world’s largest Roman Catholic order of priests and brothers who focus on missionary work,” with more than 6,000 missionaries. Of the 10 largest male religious orders, it says it is “the fastest-growing over the past 50 years.