Bishop's Words Reveal Struggle over Friends Who Abused

Indianapolis Star
February 17, 1997

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Two of the worst sexual abusers in the Lafayette Diocese were close friends of Bishop William L. Higi. Monsignor Arthur Sego lived and traveled with the bishop. The Rev. Ron Voss grew up in the same neighborhood as Higi in Anderson.

When the abuses of his two friends came to light, it fell to Higi to discipline them. Sego, now retired, is supervised at a priest rest home in Missouri. Voss received therapy and moved to Haiti. He resigned from the priesthood in 1993.

Below, Higi and his vicar general, the Rev. Robert Sell, talk about the pain of finding abusers in the priesthood. Their comments come from interviews and written responses.

William Higi [and] Robert Sell

Bishop Higi on his shock at learning that Sego was an abuser:

"I had no clues at all, none whatsoever. (In) hindsight, you can look back. He was very attracted to children. They flocked to him. People thought that was wonderful. ... But I had no inkling that he was suffering from this illness. He wasn't an obscene man."

Higi on disciplining his friend Voss:

"We knew each other for years. While it would be easy to concentrate on how difficult it
was to do what you have to do, on the other hand, the safety of children and the good of the church and the reputation of the priesthood supersede any other considerations."

Higi on punishing pedophile priests:

"If you accept the professional view that it's a disorder, incarceration doesn't seem to do anything to address the disorder. . If you're concerned about victims and concerned that this never happen again, it's difficult for me to see how incarceration addresses the basic challenges that are there."

Higi on feeling anger at abusive priests:

"It's a sad thing when someone has this illness. There is a tendency to become angry because it's often confused with a moral defect. Do you get angry when someone who is very close to you dies of cancer? I think you do, but you have to realize that it is an illness."

Ron Voss [and] Arthur Sego

Vicar General Sell on Higi's friendship with Sego and Voss:

"I don't think it was a case of either one of them taking advantage of a friendship with the bishop ... (It was) an unfortunate coincidence that these two gentlemen who happen to be personal friends of the bishop were in fact the perpetrators of some very wrongful acts."

Higi on his continuing relationship with Voss and on having lived with Sego:

"(The) issue is whether I act responsibly when concerns about priests are brought to my attention. The number of times I may have shook hands with Ron Voss or if I spent time visiting him this past summer (in Haiti) or the number of times I have had dinner with Art Sego is irrelevant to that point."

Higi on the anguish abusers feel at leaving the ministry:

"The pain that individuals who have to give up the priesthood suffer is ... probably more acute than any incarceration would ever be."

Higi on his feelings for victims and their abusers:

"I have the greatest empathy for somebody who has ended up in this situation. ... My heart bleeds for the (victims). I can't begin to imagine the agony. And I also empathize for those who have been perpetrators. They have to be absolutely miserable when they begin to comprehend what has happened."

Sell on the pain Higi suffered at his friends' abuses:

"I can recall some – many – painful discussions with the bishop about his own personal feeling of betrayal. And his own feeling of, 'I should have seen, I should have known.'

"He could easily identify with the victims who had obviously been betrayed and been abused. ... (He) felt that the trust and confidence that he had placed in these men was misplaced."

Higi on the pain of disciplining his friends:

"My personal feelings are irrelevant. ... The issue is whether this man (the bishop) acts decisively and responsibly."


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