|Emotional Stigmata: Living
As the Victim of Clergy Sexual Abuse
5. Church Acknowledges Alleged Abuse
St. Anthony’s reports two men alleged they were sexually abused as minors by Father Theodore ‘Ted’ Feely
By Melissa Wangall
Editor’s note: This article contains sexually explicit material
that may not be suitable for all readers. Reader discretion is advised.
All non-clergy members’ names have been changed due to the graphic nature of the alleged abuse and the age of the victim at the time of the alleged abuse.
Thomas White wishes religious affiliations had come forward with their knowledge of sexual abuse sooner. He feels things may have been different for him.
“I think the biggest part is that your whole childhood is stolen,” White said. “I went from preadolescence into adulthood. I think the biggest thing they stole was what could have been.”
White was allegedly sexually abused by Father Theodore “Ted” Feely, assistant pastor at St. Anthony’s Church in Rockford, in the summer of 1969 while on a trip to the Wisconsin Dells. White was 13 at the time of the alleged abuse, Feely 38.
White now feels disenfranchised with the church, and hasn’t regularly attended mass since 2002.
“I have more respect for organized crime,” White said. “At least they admitted what they were. They never denied what they did.
“It only makes sense for a bishop to come forward if he listens to his heart and says we have a perpetrator; and to also let the victims know there’s help available,” White added. “That’s the Christian thing to do. Will they do it? That’s what’s frustrating.”
White is also angry the church never issued an apology. “I never got an apology from them [the church], only from the scribe [who took down details of White’s abuse],” he said.
Bishop Thomas Doran of the Rockford Diocese wrote in a letter to “the people of the Rockford Diocese” in January 2004: “I am especially sorrowful when the abuser is someone affiliated with the Diocese of Rockford—be they priest, deacon, religious, lay minister or volunteer. We reach out to each and every victim in sorrow for the sins of our brethren. We fervently pray and hope that God will help you heal.”
Bishop Doran’s letter is viewable online at www.rockford-diocese.org/audit/BishopLtr.htm. [The letter is no longer available at that URL, but BishopAccountability.org has saved a copy: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/usccb/natureandscope/dioceses/rockfordil.htm.]
The Rev. Monsignor David D. Kagan, a vicar general and moderator of the Curia of the Rockford Diocese, did not return phone calls for comment on this series.
Father Luke Poczworowski, present pastor of St. Anthony’s, said in a recent phone conversation: “I was surprised [about allegations against Feely made in 2002]. I was not aware of that [alleged abuse during 1969]. ... We have given them [survivors/victims] counseling. The case is closed.
“To my knowledge, Feely was moved four times,” Poczworowski added. “When he went to California, I lost contact with him.”
The Conventual Franciscan Order of St. Bonaventure, to which St. Anthony’s priests belong, used to have one province, including Wisconsin, Michigan, California, Illinois, and Iowa. After Feely’s move to California from Rockford, the province was split into two provinces, and Feely decided to join the California district.
Anne Curley, who handles public relations for the Franciscans, assured the church “had absolutely no idea [alleged] abuse was going on [in 1969]… It was impossible to have a thorough investigation [in 2002, due to Feely being deceased].”
When asked why Feely was moved around so often, Curley said: “There was no awareness of any problem at that point. It was just a normal rotation in terms of St. Anthony’s.”
The provincial of the California Conventual Franciscan Friars said Feely’s personnel file did not look different when compared with others of his status during that time. There were more priests than available assignments, so priests were pulled as needed. Written reasons for movement are not available, as notations were not kept at the time, and provincials from Feely’s era are deceased, although Friars from Feely’s era were also surprised allegations were made against him. None had “suspected any problems,” Curley said.
White insists Feely gave him a $100 bill every day of the four days spent in the Wisconsin Dells. He said he believes the money came from the church’s general fund.
Curley explained: “Franciscans take a vow of poverty...and are paid a monthly stipend divvied from donations and clergy’s salary.”
Money is also budgeted for church programs and other expenses per needs.
“The assumption was made they [Franciscans] would do what they could for anyone who came forward that indicated they had a problem,” Curley said.
St. Anthony’s goes public
The following is from a June 25, 2002, Rockford Register Star article by Geri Nikolai and Edith C. Webster:
The Rev. Luke Poczworowski informed parishioners at weekend Masses that two men [one being Thomas White] have made claims of abuse by the Rev. Ted Feely, who was at St. Anthony from 1968 to 1972. Both men were minors at the time of the alleged abuse.
“I wanted to be proactive,” Poczworowski said. “I have always been up front with my parishioners, and I don’t want that to change.”
Poczworowski said he conferred with Bishop Thomas Doran of the Rockford Diocese and his parish council before going public with the news.
In a follow-up letter to church members, Poczworowski asked anyone who has been victimized by a Franciscan to call the order’s regional headquarters in Chicago at 800-230-5774. He told parishioners some of them may be able to help by providing information to Franciscan investigators.
The Catholic Diocese issued the following statement to the media in 2002 following the revelation of the allegations: “We are deeply saddened by the allegations of sexual abuse of minors that have been made against a priest who was assigned to St. Anthony Parish in Rockford between 1968 and 1972. Because the priest was a Franciscan friar and because the parish was owned and served by the Conventual Franciscans of St. Bonaventure, based in Chicago, they have begun an investigation of those allegations.
“Our first concern, of course, is for the victims of any abuse. The Franciscans have asked anyone with information relevant to their investigation to contact them or the Winnebago County State’s Attorney, and we concur with that recommendation.
“The parish was not under the control of the Diocese at the time, so the Diocese is not involved in the investigation. However, we want to express our deep sorrow for any cases that have occurred anywhere, and we extend our deepest sympathy and apologies to all victims of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse of anyone, but especially of minors, is a grave evil. We deplore it and are committed to doing all that is humanly possible to prevent it from occurring in the future.”
Bishop Doran himself issued the following statement to the press in 2002: “Let me be clear: Sexual abuse by anyone—but most especially innocent children—is both an unspeakable sin and a serious crime. I find it despicable and repugnant. It is both a travesty and a tragedy, and any perpetrator will have to answer to his or her God for such a truly awful and horrible breach of trust and faith.”
Dr. Owen Phelps, Rockford Diocese communications director, said in an Aug. 12, 2005, e-mail that his “records indicate that the bishop has commented on the issue of sexual abuse in his column in The Observer, the Diocese’s weekly newspaper, at least 11 times since the start of January 2002—basically in the same vein as the statement above.”
Phelps added, “All employees and volunteers for the Diocese are required to attend special training in prevention of sexual abuse of minors, and many thousands have taken that course.”
Rockford Diocese’s sexual abuse report
In 2002, Rockford Diocese released a report concerning allegations of sexual abuse occurring in the Diocese from 1950 to 2002. “Six priests from religious orders were turned over to the superiors of their respective religious orders for resolution,” according to the “Report on the History of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests in the Diocese of Rockford.” Priest and order names were not released.
The Rockford Diocese did not employ the priests on the list at the time allegations were made. Some alleged instances were not reported until decades after the incident.
“There is no clergyman in parish ministry in the Diocese of Rockford today who has ever had an allegation made against him,” the report states.
The report also explains that anyone wishing to make an allegation is advised to call local authorities and the Diocese of Rockford victim abuse line at 815-962-9347. A victim assistant coordinator is also available.
The Diocese has had an intervention team to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct by priests since 1987, and is taking more steps to prevent future sexual abuse by clergy.
According to the Rockford Diocese Web site, the Diocese screens and tests candidates for the priesthood and deaconate (including background checks, psychological tests, and one-on-one interviews). It also conducts ongoing training and education (focused on detection and prevention), and responds promptly and decisively to allegations of sexual abuse.
The Diocese also removes clergymen from ministry when the allegations against them are credible. Diocesan children are also involved with a “Personal Safety Program,” offered by Carrie Lynn Children’s Center in Rockford. This program helps kids in kindergarten through sixth grades identify abuse, avoid abuse, and know what to do if they are abused.
“The Rockford Diocese is compliant with all articles of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, implemented in 2002,” the Diocese Web site reads. “Since the last compliance audit, the Diocese has not received any allegations of sexual abuse wherein the victim is still a minor. The Diocese has not transferred any priest or deacon who has had a credible allegation of sexual abuse made against him to another ministerial assignment since the last audit.”
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People reads, “Offending priest or deacon is to be permanently removed from ministry and, if warranted, dismissed from the clerical state.”
Before the implementation of the charter in 2002, the church had taken other steps against sexual abuse against minors.
Phelps said, “No priest found guilty of sexual abuse would be sent to another parish where he would be in contact with children.”
Many people question the motives behind allegations made against clergy members. Is it money accusers are after?
In a Feb. 3, 2005, article by Michael Fisher of The Press-Enterprise newspaper in southern California, Robin Woolsey, a former parishioner of Queen of Angels Church in Riverside, Calif., said: “It’s an opportunity to make a buck by leveling charges that really can’t be defended.”
Woolsey used to meet Feely before the school and church were opened.
“I was alone with him many, many times, and never once did anything happen or did I feel uncomfortable,” Woolsey said.
Former altar boy Rob Meier echoed Woolsey’s comments by saying: “We [him and his brother] were in and out of the rectory all the time, and we never experienced anything like that.”
White responds by saying: “…typical response of a Catholic with blinders on. They don’t want to believe their pastor could be capable…of molesting a 13-year-old boy.
“You are fortunate if it didn’t happen to you or your children. I consider you blessed,” White added.
Julie Barthels, Rockford Sexual Assault Counseling (RSAC) clinical director, said: “If other persons come forward and deny any abuse by a charged clergy, this doesn’t mean the priest didn’t abuse someone else. Offenders usually choose someone they perceive as vulnerable, which can lead to questions [from the abused] such as ‘Why me?’ and thoughts such as ‘There must be something wrong with me since no one else was abused.’”
Barthels added: “Telling someone it’s [sexual abuse] in the past, and to just put it behind them is going to set them back.”
Determining if Father Feely, a Franciscan Friar, did sexually abuse minors is one thing we may never know—he passed away in September 1991.
White said telling his story might bring him some peace as well as help others.
“A lot of them [abused people] take their secret to the grave,” White said. “[But] the meetings do help. Anyone who was abused, go to the SNAP [The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests] Web site [www.snapnetwork.org]. They’re anonymous. Please come forward. They can point you in the right direction.”
White has been affiliated with this organization for the past year. It is a support group aimed at helping sexual abuse survivors and victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. White has benefited, but is also angry the church never told him these groups existed, even though SNAP holds demonstrations against clergy who cannot or will not fess up to past and present sexual misconducts.
The Web site of www.ncrnew.org/abuse offers links to sexual abuse information, and www.survivorsfirst.org has a database of clergy alleged or convicted of sexual abuse.
“There’s always hope things will get better,” Barthels said. “And I’ve watched it happen. If I didn’t see it, I wouldn’t be able to keep this job.” Barthels has 20 years of experience and has worked at RSAC for nine years.
Thomas White has not filed a legal complaint against St. Anthony’s Church, but has legal counsel. His attorney, Jeff Anderson, is credited with representing more than 700 cases of sexual abuse by clergy.
In a recent e-mail, Thomas White wrote: “I remember so many times just praying to die but always hoping to live to tell the truth in my heart. That time has come.”
Bishop Doran wrote in his January 2004 letter to the “people of
the Rockford Diocese”: “My heart aches and my prayers rise
to heaven for anyone who has ever been abused by anyone. Any abuse that
has ever happened at the hands of someone in the priesthood or religious
life is a terrible crime and an unspeakable sin, and it truly breaks my
heart. It is tragic that any priest trusted by people to act in the person
of Christ has failed in that trust.”
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