Trusting Young Victims, All Easy Prey

By Richard D. Walton and Linda Graham Caleca
Indianapolis Star
February 16, 1997

[See links to all the articles in this series from the Indianapolis Star.]

Little Linda Schrader believed the kindly priest when he told her he'd never hurt her.

Then Arthur Sego sat atop the child and rubbed her breasts.

When he finished, he instructed the obedient girl to kneel.

Sego prayed over her, recalls Schrader, who — at 46 — struggles to believe again.

"If you can't trust a priest," the suburban Indianapolis woman says. "who can you trust?"

A central Indiana couple trusted Ron Voss. A cherished friend, the Rev. Voss called their young son "almost perfect." Then, when he had him off alone, Voss sexually abused him.

"Our son suffered," says the victim's mother.

"This guy betrayed him."

Betrayal — it forever links those who put their trust in men of faith, only to discover that the priests' true creed was satisfying sexual cravings.

Those who fell prey to abusive priests of the Lafayette Diocese tell stories of despair, anger, shame — and loss.

Schrader lost a religion. She bears the guilt of raising her children outside of the Catholic faith.

For the Voss victim's parents, more than trust was broken. So were their hearts.

Their tormented son, who used drugs to numb the pain of his molestation, died tragically after he revealed his abuse.

Taken from a victim of the Rev. Ken Bohlinger was innocence — "a lot of who I was." says the young man. Ten years later, the victim can't speak of his nights with the former Anderson priest without crying.

For some abuse survivors, so painful are the memories that for years they suppressed them.

They were deeply distrustful of those closest to them, but could not fathom why.

Most of her life, Angela Mitchell distrusted men.

She says she was 33 when she started remembering what Sego did to her as a child.

The "screams" inside her, as she calls them, have taken a physical toll. The trauma aggravates Mitchell's asthma, repeatedly putting her in the hospital.

The Kokomo woman says that as a girl, she accompanied Sego on a trip to pick up Communion bread. Afterward, she says. the priest molested her.

"He took something from me that I wasn't ready to give."

As if the pain from their abuse weren't enough, some victims lived for years with an added burden: that they were somehow to blame.

"Our little secret"

As a sixth-grader at St. Charles School in Peru, Linda Schrader thought something was wrong with her. The nuns were always sending her to talk to the priest.

To the naive country girl, that priest seemed like Christ on Earth. So when Sego locked his rectory door and told her to remove her blouse, she wondered why but obeyed.

"Here he was praying over me and I was his prey, easy prey," Schrader says. "I had no clue what was going on."

Schrader says the priest made her feel special, wanted, at a time when she questioned her own father's love.

Sego, far from helping to mend her family rift, exploited it. He told the girl he loved her "like a daughter" and suggested that only he truly cared for her.

Another young pupil. Cristi Smith Wysong, recalls that Sego made her feel special, too. She says he called her his "angel," and proposed a "game."

"He had his robe on and he would pull his penis out and say it was an elephant. And then he would say, 'Do you want to touch the elephant' " Wysong says.

In an interview. Sego said he didn't remember Cristi Wysong. His only response to her accusations came in a court deposition. Asked if he had a pet elephant, he said, "I did. Golly." He did not elaborate.

Sego suggests that both Mitchell and Schrader exaggerate what he did to them.

He said under oath that he undressed Mitchell and exposed himself to her, but did not touch her. He also denies touching Schrader, but admits he had her undress and dance for him.

The victims say Sego is lying. Some say he not only abused them, he threatened them after the acts.

The devil, Sego told Wysong, would get her if she told.

To Schrader the priest said, "This is our little secret."

It was a secret Schrader would keep for most of her life. For through decades of unexplained anger and distrust of men, she clung to the illusion that Sego actually cared for her.

Only a year ago did she come to accept that she was victimized, a little girl in the clutches of a master manipulator.

Schrader has reconciled with her father, who loved her all along. And she draws strength from other victims who have come forward with their stories.

With Sego's dirty secret finally out. Schrader now knows there never was anything wrong with her.

"I'm a good person," she says. "I didn't ask for this."

Pain Remains: Memories of her childhood abuse still haunt Linda Schrader, who says she was a naive country girl when victimized by her priest. Arthur Sego. Staff Photo / Susan Plageman

Tragic cycle

The boy Father Voss called nearly perfect bore his dark secret into adulthood.

In a call home from college one night, he started releasing the pain.

"Mom," he said, "I think I'm going insane — help me."

Only years later did he finally confide to his mother what was wrong — that he had been molested by a Roman Catholic priest. He didn't name his abuser, though, and soon after died of a heart attack. It fell to his outraged father to learn the abuser's identity: "Ron Voss — son of a bitch."

The victim's mother insisted on confronting Voss.

She recently recounted that conversation for a reporter.

At the meeting, she says, she read from a statement. It bespoke treachery and loss.

"You have no idea what it is to labor, to birth a human being — to give life," she told Voss. "Beyond words!"

With her she had a photo and a pair of shoes. "This is all I have left of my son!" she cried.

The woman, who says her boy was 13 or 14 when he was abused, blasted Voss with questions.

"Do you know how sick it is to sexually take advantage of a young person?" she asked.

"How do I live (with) this agony forever and forever?"

And of her son's abuse: "Where were you, Ron — and how did you do it?"

Voss began to speak.

Sickened, she cut him off.

The woman says the priest admitted molesting her son, but amazingly proclaimed he didn't know he "was doing anything wrong."

Had he himself been molested by a priest? she asked.

Yes, Voss answered.

"And ... the priest said he loved me."

Documented information shows Voss told others as well of his sexual relationship with a priest, starting when Voss was 15 or 16.

Far from viewing himself as a victim. Voss has said the relationship was nurturing.

A diocese official who said he knew nothing of Voss' own victimization acknowledged Voss had been slow to grasp the full extent of "boundaries" he violated with young people.

The victim's mother shudders at that mentality.

Still, she recalls that during her confrontation with Voss, the priest seemed drained, devastated.

At the end, he started to cry.

Exposed as an abuser, Voss said: "This is just so humiliating."

The woman put her arms around him. Even though Voss had damaged her son, she still felt compassion. Ron "was like my son, like my brother . . .

"I said, 'it is humiliating. Look what you've done.' "

Near death and back

What Father Bohlinger did to an Anderson boy is depicted on a curled piece of red cardboard.

It is a collage of disturbing images — shaped like a cross. The victim, now in his early 20s, fashioned it to help cope with his abuse by a man he trusted, a man, he says, who "seemed like he wanted to be your friend."

The top of the cross is a rose entangled in barbed wire. Below are pictures of a bare-breasted woman and a Smirnoff vodka bottle, symbolizing the pornography and alcohol Bohlinger used to entice his young parishioner.

Cut from a magazine, these words:

"Your childhood isn't lost."

But for this former altar boy at St. Mary Church in Anderson, it was. He nearly lost his life.

For two days, the teen lay in critical condition after taking a drug overdose the victim blames on his sexual abuse.

He recalls that he was 13 when he accompanied Bohlinger on two camping trips, each time with at least one other boy. Driving to the wooded area, Bohlinger stopped to buy liquor and beer, and the pornographic magazines.

The priest told the boys that what they were doing wasn't wrong, but urged them not to tell their parents. "They wouldn't understand," the victim recalls Bohlinger saying.

During the day, the campers fished and hiked.

At night - in Bohlinger's tent - "we'd start drinking ... and look at the magazines."

"He would masturbate in front of us and we would masturbate in front of him."

Ask the man whether the priest touched him and he starts to cry. He waves his hands and says softly, "Not gonna go there." Later, though, he acknowledges there was "mutual" touching. Bohlinger, who now lives in Arizona and no longer works as a priest, says he doesn't recall touching the boys but admits to the masturbating.

After his time with Bohlinger, the altar boy's personality changed. He smashed a hole in a wall. His parents discovered hard-core pornography in his room. Then there was the overdose.

His mother remembers the desperate drive to the hospital, slapping her son's face to keep him awake.

For more than a year, his parents agonized over what had gone wrong. Each morning they clasped hands and prayed for their son's healing.

The breakthrough came.

At 17, the victim says, he checked himself into a drug and alcohol treatment center. There, he mentioned that the first time he ever got drunk was with a priest. His statement shocked listeners, and he went on to reveal the whole story of abuse.

Like other victims, he struggles with feelings of guilt and wonders whether he'll trust again.

Does he hate Bohlinger? The young man's eyes narrow. A tear streams down his cheek.

"I don't hate him," he says. "I'm very, very angry at him."


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