Victim Feels She 'Didn't Get the Truth'
Reno woman who settled with diocese says she was told the priest was incapacitated; now she learns he's doing just fine

By Martha Bellisle
Reno Gazette-Journal
October 9, 2005

THE ACCUSERS: Three women talk about the abuse they say they received at the hands of Father David Brusky. 14A [See articles about the other two women 1 2.]

THE ACCUSED: Father David Brusky spent much of his adult life in Africa missions and now lives in an assisted-living facility following a 1997 stroke. 15A [See a bio of Brusky with a chronology of assignments and an article about his current living situation.]

A local woman who says she was molested and raped by a Reno priest in the 1970s and received a $50,000 settlement from the Diocese of Reno last November says Bishop Phillip Straling and his lawyer misled her about the priest's condition and his access to other children.

The woman, one of at least six women who say they were molested as adolescents by Father David Brusky at two Reno churches, says Straling, who retired in June, told her the priest had suffered several strokes, was incapacitated, lived in a secured extended-care facility and couldn't communicate.

The unnamed victim of an alleged sexual assault in the 1970s is silhouetted recently in front of Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church in Reno, where she said the assault took place. Photo by Scott Sady / Reno Gazette-Journal.

She says Straling and the diocese lawyer reassured her during November's settlement conference that Brusky could not hurt any others.

The woman's lawyer, Tom Drendel, says he also was given the impression that Brusky was mentally and physically disabled. And another woman who says she was molested by Brusky and was interviewed by a diocese investigator said this man told her that Brusky would never be sent to prison "because of his ill health and that his mind was gone."

But after learning that Brusky's stroke occurred eight years ago, not recently, and that he is coherent and well and living in Milwaukee, the woman says she feels she was lied to.

"They (diocese attorney Sharon Parker and Straling) said they were unable to interview him because he was extremely ill and could not speak and probably would not recover," the woman says.

"I felt like they were accepting responsibility," she says, "but I didn't get the truth."

Brother Matthew Cunningham, diocese chancellor, says what they knew about Brusky's condition came from his religious superiors in Milwaukee. "We learned that he had had a stroke, was in poor health and was living in a supervised care facility that was operated by the community."

Cunningham did not respond to the woman's claim that she was told Brusky was incapacitated.

The woman says she learned Brusky was not bedridden about a month ago when the mother of another alleged victim called the religious order. To the mother's surprise, Brusky got on the telephone and said he was doing well, had gone through rehabilitation since the 1997 stroke and was even driving. In a Sept. 20 letter to her, he wrote clearly and intelligently about her family.

A strong handshake

A Reno Gazette-Journal reporter visited Brusky two weeks ago and talked with him for 90 minutes at his "independent living" complex in a Milwaukee suburb, in a residential neighborhood next to a shopping mall. The reporter found a warm, friendly, articulate man with a strong handshake who shared stories of his time in Africa and Reno and who accurately recounted his 30 years of job assignments since leaving Reno.

However, Brusky, 79, became forgetful when asked about the woman's allegations of abuse, which began, she says, when she was 13 and Brusky was in his 40s.

When asked about allegations made by another woman, who said Brusky molested her in an apple orchard when she was in 5th grade, and another woman who said he molested her in the rectory, Brusky said he could not recall those incidents either. He remembered the girls, but couldn't recall any molestations. He said his religious order sent him to a treatment center for "sexaholics" in the 1980s, but he said he didn't believe he needed help.

Since learning of Brusky's condition, the woman who settled with the diocese in November says she is now considering having her settlement nullified by the court so she can sue the diocese. The woman -- and other women interviewed for this story -- are not named because it is the Gazette-Journal's policy to withhold names of accusers or victims in sexual assault cases.

The woman says she wants to believe in the Catholic Church and knows of many good priests and nuns. But she says she feels betrayed by diocese leaders whom she says protected a "pedophile" and tried to sweep the issue under a rug.

Diocese/lawyer react

Attempts to reach Straling through calls and e-mails during the past two weeks were unsuccessful. His secretary, Donna Kennedy, said he was on vacation in the Mediterranean and had left no number.

She and Cunningham said they e-mailed Straling about the information requested from the Gazette-Journal. Cunningham said Straling called him last week and left a message that Straling had received the information, but the bishop did not leave a response.

Cunningham said in a statement Thursday that the diocese first learned of the claims against Brusky in 2003 from Washoe District Attorney Richard Gammick and contacted the woman and her lawyer. The diocese "extended an offer of counseling and spiritual or pastoral assistance" to the woman and did not hear from them again until March 2004.

"The Society of the Divine Savior was contacted since Father Brusky is a member of that religious community and was when he was served in Reno," Cunningham said. "We were told that Father Brusky had been removed from ministry some years ago, that he had no present assignment and would not have an assignment in the future.

"Because Father Brusky is elderly and infirm and under supervision, dismissal from the priesthood was not sought," he said.

Parker, the diocese lawyer, said in an e-mail to the Reno Gazette-Journal on Sept. 30 that her information about Brusky came from his religious order.

"I do not have any first-hand knowledge about Father Brusky," Parker said. "What I learned about his condition when I was working on this case was what I was told by Brusky's religious superiors in Wisconsin -- namely that he had suffered a stroke, that he was physically and mentally fragile, and that he was prone to outbursts of anger."

Brusky, however, said he met with "a man from Reno" last year who told him about the allegations and talked at length about whether they were true.

Parker said Brusky's superiors did not say he couldn't talk, "and I never made such a representation to (the woman) or her counsel Tom Drendel.

"To the contrary, Brusky's superiors informed me that they had spoken with him about the allegations. Also, Bishop Straling never made such a representation in my presence, and I do not believe that the bishop ever had any direct dealings with Brusky's religious superiors, but relied solely on what I (or others) told him those superiors had said," Parker said.

Wisconsin response

In Milwaukee, Father John Gorman, the personnel director for the Society of the Divine Savior, or Salvatorians, said the religious order considered Brusky "incapacitated." Gorman said while Brusky can speak, he is suffering the residual effects of the stroke and has trouble thinking of events sequentially.

"He's not the same Father David," Gorman said.

Father Peter Schuessler, the provincial for the Salvatorians, said both his religious order and the Diocese of Reno put their "policies into action" when the allegations were made by the Reno woman.

Gorman added: "For many years, (Brusky) has been under full restrictions and has no access to children and practices no public ministry."

Mark Leitner, the lawyer for the Salvatorians in Milwaukee, said the restrictions on Brusky began in 1988, after a secretary in a parish in Bryte, Calif., filed a sexual harassment report against Brusky, who was a priest there.

Schuessler also said the religious order, unlike dioceses, does not like to laicize, or defrock, priests who are accused of molestation. Unlike a diocese, which is a community under the control of a bishop, the Salvatorians is a Catholic religious group much like the Jesuits and the Franciscans.

"We feel we have a moral obligation to keep people off the street," he said. "We are dedicated to the safety of children."

Victim's life ruined

The woman who settled with the diocese first met Brusky when he was assigned as associate pastor at Our Lady of the Snows parish in March 1973, soon after serving for years as a "bush padre" in Tanzania in East Africa.

She attended the church and its school, she says.

"I remember him pushing us against the wall in the playground before and after school, and French kissing the girls and rubbing his body up against us," she says. She soon became "the special one" to the priest, she says.

She was having trouble at home with her father and Brusky offered to help her, she says, adding, "he would call me out of class and would tell the teachers that he was counseling me."

The priest molested her at the rectory, in his car and at the family's cabin at a nearby lake, she says. The abuse ranged from kissing and fondling, to oral sex, and then rape.

"I had my first drink the day of the rape," she recalls. "I remember walking home and stopping at the ditch to try to wash the blood out of my panties so my mother wouldn't see."

She then went to her parent's liquor cabinet and made a vodka collins, her father's drink.

A successful student and outgoing teen soon became a troubled child, her mother recalled in a statement to her daughter's private attorney before the woman's settlement with the church. Besides drinking and using drugs, the girl attempted suicide several times -- once with a bottle of Valium when she was 14, and another time by driving 60 mph into a parked car. She suffered contusions and was hospitalized for days following both attempts.

"I was so ashamed," the woman says.

Brusky was affectionate while her father was not, she recalls. He gave her rides home from school in his convertible, and told her that she seduced him with her body movements and bedroom eyes. He also warned her about revealing their secret and said the voodoo he learned in Africa allowed him to always know what she was doing.

The abuse went on for years, even after Brusky left Snows and was assigned to Saint Albert the Great parish, she says. While her schoolwork deteriorated to the point that her mother, a devout Catholic, moved her to different schools, the priest went on to molest others, says the woman. She learned about other molestations from former classmates, she says.

However, Cunningham says he was the principal of the school at Our Lady of the Snows from 1972-77 and heard no allegations of sexual abuse.

"I honestly never heard any complaints of that type about any priest, him included," Cunningham said in an interview last week.

At the same time, Brusky earned the trust of the diocese.

In a letter from then-Bishop Joseph Green dated Oct. 24, 1974, Brusky was told that he was appointed director of the Catholic Youth Organization and the director of scouting.

"I know of your dedication to the youth of St. Albert's," Green wrote, "and am confident that this interest will extend to a far greater number of children through these new appointments."

Brusky left Reno, however, soon after the father of one young student filed a complaint with the diocese and then-Bishop Norman McFarland. The father related his story to the woman's lawyer while they were gathering statements from victims for the possible lawsuit against the diocese.

The man said his daughter had told him that Brusky molested her after a softball game: The priest had pinned her against a wall and kissed her while running his hands under her clothes.

He soon was assigned to a church in Milwaukee, where he worked for three years, according to the Catholic directory.

Legal action years later

The woman who settled with the church last year had filed a report in 1989 with Reno police claiming sexual assault after she told the therapist she was seeing at the time about the abuse. It was the first time she had told anyone. By law, the therapist was required to report such claims, and she says they filed the complaint together.

But the charges were beyond the statute of limitations, so nothing happened.

Through the 1990s, she continued to struggle with various drug and alcohol addictions, as well as eating disorders and sleeping disorders. She had nightmares that "something was chasing me," and underwent therapy, where she was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

She didn't approach the diocese about the abuse until 2001, after her younger sister told her for the first time that she had been molested by Brusky, too.

She met with a private lawyer and before contacting the diocese, they interviewed others who said they had been victimized by the priest. They also tried to get the police records but were unsuccessful, so they contacted Gammick.

"Gammick wrote back and said he couldn't help us, but then they called from the church saying Gammick had contacted them," the woman says. "He told the Catholic church about our lawsuit. It blew the whole thing. He really screwed me."

She says they were still in the investigation phase, and disclosing their plans early meant information could be hidden or lost, or a counter-offensive could be staged.

The woman's lawyer, Tom Drendel, says: "That was the most offensive thing that happened in this case. (Gammick's) job is to protect victims. That was very frustrating."

Gammick said he didn't remember the specifics of her case but said it was around the time that Bishop Straling had contacted him about thechurch's interest in cooperating more with law enforcement.

"I may have contacted the diocese to see if they had any information. I don't recall if I did or who I contacted," he said, adding: "I'm not responsible to keep anything secret."

Once in negotiations, the diocese conducted its own investigation, interviewing various women and Brusky. They then agreed to settle with the woman for $50,000.

"We met with the bishop and we really believed (he cared)," the woman said. "He seemed genuinely to be concerned. He was crying. He was pouring our water and his hands were shaking."

She said she also met with Straling alone.

"He said, 'I don't want any shame. You did nothing wrong. Pedophiles are sick people,'" she said. "He said how sorry he was that anybody had put his hands on me. I felt like they were accepting responsibility."

She said she told Straling that she wanted to know if Brusky felt any remorse, and she wanted assurances that he would not have access to children.

That's when they said Brusky had suffered a stroke and was seriously ill, she said.

Drendel said that Sharon Parker, the lawyer for the diocese, told her Brusky was physically or mentally unable to do anything to anyone.

"It was clear that he was incapacitated mentally from the stroke and he was out of the loop so he didn't have contact with any members of the public," Drendel said.

Parker also told them that the diocese may not seek "canonical" criminal action against Brusky, which is punitive action taken through church channels.

In an e-mail to Drendel dated June 16, 2004, Parker said Brusky had been removed from the ministry "on the basis of a previous allegation against him." She said going after him now "would be a bit like prosecuting someone already doing a life sentence."

The woman accepted the diocese settlement and planned to move on.

Phone call changes everything

Curious about Brusky's condition, the mother of several young women who say they were molested by the priest called the Salvatorian order one month ago. Brusky got on the phone and said he was doing well. He told her he had gone through rehab and was able to drive.

A visit by the Reno Gazette-Journal confirmed his condition.

Sitting on a couch in a common area at an "assisted-living" facility called the Alexian House, Brusky sat attentive and sharp in a silver athletic jacket and navy pants. He talked with a soft, friendly voice and laughed easily.

He said his stroke occurred in 1997 while he was back in Africa teaching philosophy to seminarians. He was hospitalized there, then flown back to a hospital in Milwaukee for a several-week stay. He then moved into another Salvatorian home called the Jordan House and started his rehabilitation, he said.

"The stroke affected my right side and I don't hear out of this ear," he said. "I've been doing rehab ever since, doing exercises."

He said his religious order removed him from public ministry because the doctor said another stroke "would be the end of me." But he said he "celebrates Mass from the pew" during the daily 11 a.m. church services in the chapel downstairs.

"And in the afternoon at 4:30 we have a Mass here at the chapel, so once in a while I celebrate Mass here," he said.

He said he still has a driver's license and "once in a while I drive short distances."

He began to fumble his words, however, when asked whether he was removed from public ministry because of allegations of sexual abuse. And he paused and rubbed his temples with his hands when asked if he remembered the young girl who claims he molested and raped her in Reno.

After more questions about the woman, he acknowledged that he was called to the provincial's office last year and a man from Reno told him that several people, including the woman, were making allegations.

"I just couldn't remember," Brusky said. "He asked me did I feel I was blocking it because of the stroke. I can't remember anything."

When told that the diocese had settled with the woman for $50,000, he said: "Oh really?"

"They never told you?" he was asked.

"No," he said.

When the provincial called and asked the reporter to end the interview and leave his apartment, Brusky seemed distressed.

"Now look at the hole you put me in," he said.

"I'm sorry," was the reply.

"Everybody's sorry," he said.

After learning of his condition, the woman who settled with the diocese said she was angry that he was able to live his life as though nothing happened.

"He gets to remain a priest -- he's still holy, even after he ruined my life," she said. "Why is he so much more special? They're taking care of him."

She said she was especially upset that he could drive a car.

"Intellectually, I know he's not coming to get me, but he scared me a lot. He used to put his hands over my mouth and would put me in a closet for punishment," she said. "When you're a victim you always wonder where he is, especially when you have children.

"I feel that bad things can still happen to people."


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