Bishops Didn't Oust Abusive Priest

By Jill Callison
Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, SD)
June 22, 2003

A South Dakota priest who spent 29 months in prison for trying to rape a disabled nursing home patient continued to serve in religious assignments for 12 years after his 1981 release.

Bruce MacArthur, who was ordained in the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, acknowledges abusing 30 young girls in South Dakota and Wisconsin during his 34 years as a priest. In 1978, he pleaded guilty to attempted sexual assault and was sentenced to five years in a Texas prison.

Church officials in Sioux Falls knew about MacArthur's behavior. In 1963 and again in 1965, then-Bishop Lambert Hoch ordered the priest into treatment programs after receiving reports of molestations.

But MacArthur continued to offend - raping at least one girl while he was undergoing treatment in Wisconsin. She has since filed a lawsuit against him and the Sioux Falls diocese.

In a telephone interview last week, the 81-year-old MacArthur made his first public statements about his past. He said he began abusing victims in the early 1960s.

It wasn't until 1992, when at least one victim sought help from the Sioux Falls diocese - three decades after she was abused - that MacArthur was barred from serving as a Roman Catholic priest.

In fact, just two years earlier, in 1990, Bishop Paul Dudley of Sioux Falls had written a letter to Bishop Michael Pfeifer of San Angelo, Texas, asking that MacArthur be allowed to serve there. In the letter, Dudley mentioned the extensive counseling MacArthur had received for "sexual issues" but said he was in "good standing" with the Sioux Falls diocese.

Hoch died in 1990. Dudley, who served the Sioux Falls diocese from 1978 to 1995, declined to answer questions for this story, saying he has no access to diocesan files at his home in Northfield, Minn.

Bishop Robert Carlson, the current leader of the 125,000 Catholics in eastern South Dakota said, "In retrospect, I do not believe it was the right decision" to allow MacArthur to continue in the priesthood.

Diocesan Chancellor Jerry Klein said details of MacArthur's activities and whereabouts over the years are sketchy. Much of what the Sioux Falls diocese knows today comes from victims of MacArthur who came forward for help in recent years, he said.

The men who served as bishop and chancellor in the El Paso, Texas, diocese, where MacArthur was assigned at the time of his prison sentence, both are dead. In 1978, when MacArthur was sentenced, the Sioux Falls diocese was between bishops for much of the year.

"The file is what we have to work with, and the file is what I suspect Bishop (Paul) Dudley had to deal with, since (MacArthur) was gone long before Bishop Dudley got here," Klein said. "It's tough to tell what was known or unknown or what was done at the time."

MacArthur, now living in Gallup, N.M., said he wanted to stop repeatedly abusing girls, some of whom were as young as 8 years old. But he was unable to stop.

"I was no longer pure of heart. I was dead of heart," he said.

Estimated 30 young victims

Revelations of repeated sexual abuse by a small number of priests and efforts by some bishops to cover it up have rocked the Catholic church nationwide for 18 months.

Since January 2002, when the scandal erupted, four bishops have resigned over sex-abuse issues. An estimated 425 priests among nearly 46,000 in the United States have been removed from ministry, according to the National Federation of Priests' Councils.

Last year, the nation's Catholic bishops approved a charter that sets standards for reporting sexual abuse for dioceses. The bishops established a panel of 13 prominent lay Catholics to keep track of their efforts to rid the priesthood of sexual molesters.

But last week, as the bishops met in St. Louis to review progress made in the past year, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating resigned as head of that panel after being criticized by fellow board members and bishops for comments comparing secretive bishops with the Mafia.

The Catholic church today faces more than 1,000 lawsuits and new criminal investigations of priests and dioceses.

Last month, a Florida woman filed a lawsuit against MacArthur, Carlson, Dudley, the Sioux Falls diocese and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It alleges that from 1965 to 1970 MacArthur abused her from the age of 10 to 15 when he was temporarily assigned to Wisconsin.

Judy Glassman DeLonga, who filed the lawsuit, was not his first victim, MacArthur said.

He said he began sexually abusing young girls after Hoch, bishop from 1956 until 1978, sent him to Washington, D.C., in 1958 to study for a master's degree in psychology.

MacArthur estimated that he abused or raped 30 young girls in the 1960s and 70s. Some of the abuse was physical; at other times, it was emotional.

"Sometimes, you know, you're giving them the impression you're going to do something like that; other times, you actually do it," he said. "My own personal opinion is that the ones I intimidated are just as bad. I'm a priest. They never expected that from me."

Dr. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, called MacArthur a repeat sexual offender.

"He's sounding like one of these high-frequency abusers who's pretty dangerous," he said. "They act out on multiple occasions. They have victims of different ages as well."

MacArthur apparently is someone with a clear sexual attraction to children, Finkelhor said. He was looking for situations where he could indulge that. If he hadn't entered the priesthood, he probably would have chosen another profession offering contact with children.

Personal demons unleashed

MacArthur came to the priesthood as a belated vocation. Raised in Mobridge, he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. A gunner, MacArthur said his ship took part in five battles and never lost a person in action.

However, he described himself as a coward. That's why, he said, he first pursued the air corps, a military option which would have prohibited him from running away in fear.

A former altar boy, MacArthur entered a seminary in Collegeville, Minn., after he left the service.

In the early years of his priesthood, MacArthur said, he served in Milbank and Webster. But records indicate he actually was assigned to St. Lawrence in Milbank and Sacred Heart in Yankton.

After Hoch sent him to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., MacArthur said, his personal demons surfaced. An instructor there spoke about psychopaths. Fascinated, MacArthur began reading everything he could find about the amoral and asocial personality.

"I became a devil in the right sense of the word, without concept of punishment," he said.

About two years after returning to South Dakota, MacArthur was assigned to St. Peter the Apostle Church in Platte. Sue Merritt, now of Sioux Falls, thinks she may have been his first victim there. She also thinks he approached others in Platte.

In the summer of 1963, someone reported MacArthur's actions to Hoch. He was gone the next day, Merritt said.

In a letter to the archbishop of the Milwaukee archdiocese dated Feb. 28, 1965, Hoch wrote, "During the summer of 1963 I was alerted to his (MacArthur's) problem."

Hoch sent MacArthur to Via Coeli, a New Mexico clinic that offered treatment for pedophilia.

MacArthur was reassigned to St. William's Church in Ramona in 1964. In the 1965 letter, Hoch said the "same problem" had reoccurred. Hoch made arrangements in the letter with the Milwaukee archdiocese to send MacArthur to Wisconsin, where he could work in a parish and undergo more treatment.

During those years, MacArthur met DeLonga, then 10 years old and hospitalized for an illness. His abuse began immediately, she has said.

At the same time, MacArthur was receiving professional treatment for his attraction to children. He offers differing views of its success. At one point in the interview, he said his counselor couldn't imagine a fellow priest would abuse children.

"He did not do any good," he said. "He just gave me tests. Tests, tests, tests."

Later, he said that in Milwaukee, at least one colleague was able to help him.

Texas imprisonment

In 1970, after spending five years in Wisconsin, MacArthur returned to South Dakota. He served in parishes in Britton and Seneca before being assigned to the El Paso diocese.

MacArthur had asked to go to Texas to be near his ill mother, and Hoch acquiesced, arranging the priest's transfer. MacArthur thinks Hoch felt guilty that his decision to send the priest to graduate school had led to his troubles.

MacArthur said he can't remember where or when the molestations occurred.

"Oh, I was always caught, I was caught many times," MacArthur said. "I wanted to get caught. Isn't that something?"

In 1978, an El Paso grand jury indicted MacArthur for the attempted rape of a 54-year-old nursing home patient who had a congenital disease that left her unable to speak or control her motor functions. A nurse's aide witnessed the incident.

"Whether she would have given her OK or not, it makes no difference," MacArthur said. "As a priest, the very thought of lust is a grave evil."

MacArthur said he spent "two, three, four, five months" in prison. Records from the Texas Department of Public Safety indicate he actually was incarcerated much longer - from Oct. 4, 1978, to March 26, 1981, after receiving a five-year sentence for attempted sexual assault.

In prison, he learned how reprehensible his behavior was and stopped it, MacArthur said.

He attributes that realization to black inmates he met.

He said even though they had killed or robbed, they had a sense of Christ and a sense of morals.

"I began to realize what I'd been doing," MacArthur said.

After his release from prison, MacArthur spent six or seven years in Mexico doing mission work, then served a parish in Africa. He had hoped the rigors of Africa would bring about his death, he said.

Susan Martinez, chancellor of the Diocese of El Paso, said earlier this month that she had never heard of MacArthur. He no longer is connected to that diocese or the Diocese of San Angelo, where he also spent two years, MacArthur said.

Changing knowledge

The failure of Catholic bishops to recognize the dangers in allowing sexual-offender priests to remain in contact with children has drawn much criticism. But Finkelhor said even people who specialize in treating child molesters can be fooled.

Much of today's understanding about effectively treating and managing child molesters dates from the late 1970s, he said.

"In some respect, I am more indulgent of supervisors who really didn't know what to do with these guys prior to 1980," Finkelhor said.

"But when they were still kind of moving them around without sufficient oversight and giving them real opportunities to molest and not informing their new supervisors and not really confronting them, I think that got a lot harder to justify after 1980."

Letters indicate church officials in Sioux Falls knew in 1978 of MacArthur's imprisonment.

Klein said he did not know the length of MacArthur's jail sentence until he was told by a reporter Friday.

"We didn't know what kind of sentence had ever been carried out," he said.

Last year the national bishops' council adopted a policy dismissing priests who are convicted of a sexual offense.

The Rev. Gregory Tschakert, who served as the Sioux Falls diocese's chancellor from 1985 to 1992, said Dudley always has been a great advocate for those who were victims of sexual abuse.

"Even before (this), his pastoral instincts were so right on to reach out to people who were victimized," said Tschakert. "He did a lot of good in that way."

'Good at manipulating'

Nine years after MacArthur's release from prison in Texas, Dudley asked Pfeifer, the San Angelo bishop, to allow the priest to serve there.

Earlier this month, Pfeifer said he received no reports of improper behavior on MacArthur's part during his years in San Angelo. Pfeifer doesn't recall being told MacArthur had served a prison term for attempted rape.

In 1992, MacArthur wrote to Pfeifer, saying he was going to retire. At Dudley's request, MacArthur said, he asked for withdrawal of permission to function as a priest. He said the only time he says Mass today is for his victims. and only in the privacy of the recreational vehicle he calls home.

DeLonga, one of his victims, asked Carlson last year to arrange a meeting with MacArthur so he could apologize in person. It had an effect she didn't expect.

"He's a very sick man, but he's very charming," she said.

"He said to me, you're the only friend I have, and I thought, oh, gosh, he's very good at manipulating. I could feel myself getting pulled in."

Province review board

On June 12, Archbishop Harry Flynn took the first step to establish a provincial review board to oversee the sexual-abuse policies and practices of the 10 dioceses in the Province of St. Paul and Minneapolis. That includes both dioceses in South Dakota.

This diocese has had a sexual-abuse policy in place for more than a decade. The diocese updated the policy for its priests, other members of religious orders and staff in 1993.

A diocesan misconduct-review board also has been established to review reported cases of sexual abuse. That board looks at any report of sexual abuse, not just those committed by clergy, Carlson said.

"Every time I preach, I assume that there are people out there who have been abused," he said. "We've worked with victims for years."

Over the past four decades, the Sioux Falls diocese had received six separate reports of sexual abuse of young girls by MacArthur, Carlson said earlier this year.

After DeLonga filed her lawsuit, she was contacted by two women who also were raised in Beaver Dam, Wis. They told her MacArthur had molested them.

"I specifically asked if he'd abused anyone else in Beaver Dam, and he said no," DeLonga said, referring to her meeting with MacArthur last year.

Jerry Topczewski, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said earlier this month that no one has contacted the archdiocese with complaints against MacArthur.

When DeLonga's lawsuit was made public, no one in Milwaukee was familiar with MacArthur's name, Topczewski said.

"We've gone through our files exhaustively in the last 16 months," he said. "This was a name that wasn't on anybody's screen."

DeLonga said she also was contacted by a South Dakota woman who was molested by MacArthur. She doesn't know whether the woman had ever reported the abuse to the Sioux Falls diocese.

Carlson said that after the lawsuit was filed, he was contacted by a new victim of MacArthur's. He also has heard from someone who suspects a family member was molested.

Today, MacArthur divides his time between El Paso and Gallup, where he is a volunteer with the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa.

Although the Navajos refer to him as "the priest," only once has he told anyone he was a priest, MacArthur said. The sisters keep track of him but only as a volunteer, he said. No one knows of his past except the local priests who regularly hear his confession.

MacArthur claims he is in the first stages of Alzheimer's disease and said his sister also has it.

The local diocese's lay review board is considering asking MacArthur to move to a center near St. Louis, which houses sexually abusive priests. He wants to continue working with the nuns, MacArthur said, but he will move if it is the bishop's wish.

Only by serving others can he begin to atone for the wrongs he did, he said.

"I think of myself as the greatest sinner on earth, and I guess I always will," he said.

Reach reporter Jill Callison at 605-331-2307 or

Bruce MacArthur's career in the catholic church

1953: Bruce MacArthur is ordained in Sioux Falls. He serves in Milbank and Yankton.

1958: MacArthur attends Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

1961: MacArthur is assigned to Platte, where he allegedly begins sexually abusing girls.

1963: Sioux Falls Bishop Lambert Hoch orders MacArthur into treatment at Via Coeli, a New Mexico clinic offering treatment for pedophilia.

1964: MacArthur is reassigned to Ramona. Bishop Hoch writes in 1965 that the "same problems" have reoccurred.

1965: Bishop Hoch sends MacArthur to the Milwaukee diocese, where he is to work in a parish and get treatment. MacArthur's sexual abuse of Judy Glassman DeLonga allegedly begins.

1970: MacArthur returns to South Dakota, where he serves in Britton and Seneca.

1973: MacArthur requests and receives a transfer to Texas.

1978: MacArthur is arrested for the attempted rape of a 54-year-old nursing home resident.

1978-1981: MacArthur is imprisoned in Texas for 29 months for the attempted rape.

1980s: MacArthur works in missions in Mexico and serves a parish in Africa.

1990: Bishop Paul Dudley writes to the San Angelo, Texas, parish that MacArthur has had extensive counseling for "sexual issues" but is in "good standing" with the Sioux Falls diocese.

1992: MacArthur is dismissed from the priesthood.

May 2003: DeLonga files a lawsuit against MacArthur, Bishop Dudley, Bishop Robert Carlson, the Diocese of Sioux Falls and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, alleging abuse from 1965 to 1970.


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