Faithful Must Protect Flocks from Abuse, Speakers Urge

By Ginnie Graham
Tulsa World
August 18, 2004

The mother of a son who suffered through years of depression and then committed suicide at age 29 after having been molested as a child by a priest said Tuesday night that church members must look out for each other.

Janet Patterson was the main speaker before about 200 people at a meeting of the Voice of the Faithful's Tulsa chapter at All Souls Unitarian Church.

"I don't want to see the Catholic Church crumble in any way, shape or form," Patterson said. "I want to see it purified. I want to see it become what Christ expected."

Her son, Eric, was molested by a priest in his school in Kansas when he was 12. Eric didn't tell his family about the abuse until his second hospitalization for manic depression and suicidal tendencies when he was in his late 20s.

He began to struggle with depression in college but started medication under a psychiatrist's care and became active in the church. Eric taught children in the church, volunteered at a nursing home, went to church daily and was active in a pro-life group.

But when he applied to seminary, he was rejected.

Patterson said she found out after his death that the rejection was triggered by Eric's admission to a seminary psychologist that he had been abused by a priest.

In 1999, Eric shot himself. His suicide note was written six days before his death.

"Victims of sexual abuse take the blame, shame, guilt and abuse into themselves, when it should be placed on those who abuse," Patterson said.

After her son's death, Patterson learned that the Rev. Robert K. Larson, who she said molested Eric, had been accused of molestation in other parishes and had retired in 1988 for "stress-related problems."

"What we found is that over a 30-year period, he abused most of the time," she said. "I can forgive that former priest because I realize people are sick and need help. But it is hard for me to forgive the fact that people in important, high-ranking positions could have and should have stopped this man."

Larson is now in prison for molestation. He is expected to be released in 2006.

Patterson said sexual abuse by religious leaders occurs in every religion and that talking about the experiences is not an attack on an entire faith.

"We all have to watch out for each other to make it a safer and better world," she said.

Patterson is the spokeswoman for the Kansas chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and serves on its national board.

Former Tulsan Luke Martin recounted having been molested by a priest while attending a Catholic school here. He was so young when the abuse occurred that he had problems as he grew older.

"When you're that young, you don't understand what is happening," Martin said. "I didn't even know what sex was. I didn't have the vocabulary."

Martin said classmates have begun to talk about their own abuse by the same priest. Some are in counseling, and at least one is battling alcoholism and drug addiction.

"I want to challenge everyone to think," Martin said. "We're taught to be nice lambs and follow along. But that's how people get hurt. We need to ask tough questions and think critically -- not just church leaders, but community members, too."

Voice of the Faithful's Tulsa chapter was formed in May by people from various parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa.

It is the 202nd chapter of the international organization, which has more than 30,000 members in 50 states and is endorsed by 39 foreign countries. The group's goals are to support people who have been abused; to support priests "of integrity;" and to work to change the structure of the Catholic Church.

Bishop Edward Slattery attended Tuesday's meeting. He had issued a memo about it to diocese pastors on Aug. 12.

Slattery wrote that he was grateful for the group's initiative and looked forward to working with the organization.

Ginnie Graham 581-8376

[Note: This HTML version was scanned by from a hardcopy in our files, and checked against that copy.]


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.