DavidClohessy.com [St. Louis MO]
October 18, 2021
By David Clohessy
The trusted religious authority figures who molested two people I hold dear have passed away. My friends and colleagues are Steve Theisen & Barbara Blaine. Their predators are Sr. Josephine Schmitz and Fr. Chet Warren.
Church officials kept quiet about these child molesters’ deaths (as they’ve done countless times before), even though publicizing them would surely have brought some measure of comfort to those who were hurt and assaulted by these predators.
Steve was the first person I can recall who spoke publicly about being sexually victimized as a boy by a nun. He was extraordinarily honest and moving, and my heart ached for him every time he shared his horrific childhood experiences.
For many years, Steve spearheaded SNAP’s frustrating efforts to squeeze even a modicum of compassion and action out of the nation’s largest organization of sisters, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
(The painful details are here.)
In this effort, he was joined by other brave survivors who had been violated by sisters, including Mary Dispenza, Mary Guentner, Gabrielle Azzaro Landa, Murriello-Vernon and Ann Gleeson. (I’m sure I’m forgetting others who are just as worthy of mention and appreciation.)
They met with disbelief by rejection by many. And with ducking, dodging and deceit by the nuns’ hierarchy. I personally found dealing with the LCWR to be among the most depressing part of my SNAP experience, leavened only by the wonderful nun survivors who kept stepping up time and time again.
Those of us who came forward in the 1980s and 1990s often heard “Priests abusing kids! I don’t believe it!”
After 2002, we didn’t hear that so much.
Those who were assaulted by nuns and spoke up in the 2000s often heard “Really? Nuns abuse kids too?”
And now, nearly 20 years after 2002, we still hear these misguided comments far too often, as Steve well knows.
Like any good SNAP leader, Steve’s focus grew beyond his perpetrator and those who concealed her crimes. He started SNAP’s Iowa chapter, came to many regional and national events, and served on the SNAP board, lending his calming presence and good sense to the organization’s leadership during a very difficult time.
Steve stumbled across his perpetrator’s death notice. He wasn’t keeping close tabs on her. (She was 98 when she passed away.) He didn’t express any strong reaction to the news, either at the time or days later.
I’m no therapist. But I’ve talked with thousands of survivors. And I believe Steve’s equanimity here is a real sign that he’s done an impressive amount of recovery work.
I’ll never be able to say enough good things about Steve and what he’s done for our movement. I only hope that underneath his deep and genuine humility, he feels proud of the role he’s played in protecting the vulnerable and healing the wounded, no matter who the perpetrator was.
Barbara is of course someone else about whom I’ll never be able to say enough good things. Without her, my life would have taken a much darker path.
She was the first clergy sex abuse survivor I ever met, way back in the late 1980s. She treated me with the utmost compassion. Her drive to protect others from abuse was palpable.
We helped one another through our early personal struggles to get our respective bishops – Michael McAuliffe in Missouri and John Hoffman in Ohio – to oust the priests who molested us and warn others about them. (For years, both of us failed in this effort.)
And right from the get-go, it was clear to me that Hoffman dealt with Barbara in an incredibly condescending, dismissive and hurtful way, no matter how hard she tried to ‘get him to understand’ the trauma she and others suffered at the hands of Fr. Warren.
Sadly, since Barbara started speaking up decades ago, little seems to have changed in the Toledo Catholic hierarchy.
Toledo Bishop Daniel Thomas dealt with Warren’s death by doing and saying nothing. It only became public knowledge because a concerned Catholic contacted Barbara’s twin sister who in turn contacted our indefatigable Toledo SNAP leader Claudia Vercellotti.
After decades of promising ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’ regarding clergy sex crimes and cover ups, Toledo’s bishop can’t even bring himself to bring comfort to the afflicted by publicly acknowledging the death of his diocese’s most notorious predator priest.
(Wait! Maybe that designation should actually go to Fr. Gerald Robinson who is not just accused of molesting children, but who’s also been convicted of murdering a nun.)
Another aside: Weeks ago, another serial Toledo diocesan staffer who headed a youth program, Terry Steinbauer, passed away. He was Claudia’s predator. Again, rather than showing some compassion and honoring his pledges of ‘transparency’ and announcing Terry Steinbauer’s passing, Thomas chose to do what he and his brother bishops do so well: keep silent about child sex crimes.)
Anyway, here’s hoping that all who were assaulted or betrayed by Warren, including Barbara’s wonderful family, feels some comfort that he can’t hurt anyone any more.
Finally, it’s coincidence, but there’s pending legislation in Steve’s state (Iowa) and Barbara’s state (Ohio) that would temporarily repeal the statute of limitations on child sex crimes. It would be an appropriate honor to both of them, and of course a sorely-needed help for vulnerable kids and wounded adults as well, were these measures to pass. Please spread the word.