Priest Allowed to Serve Even after Prison Sentence

Associated Press, carried in Aberdeen News [Sioux Falls SD]
Downloaded June 22, 2003

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - A South Dakota priest who spent time in prison for trying to rape someone was able to continue serving in religious assignments after his release.

Bruce MacArthur, who was ordained in the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, had spent 29 months in prison for trying to rape a disabled nursing home patient. But he was allowed to serve in the church for another 12 years after his 1981 release, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported Sunday.

MacArthur has acknowledged 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 - allegedly raping a girl while he was undergoing treatment in Wisconsin. She has since filed a lawsuit against him and the Sioux Falls diocese.

Hoch died in 1990.

In a telephone interview with the Argus Leader last week, the 81-year-old MacArthur said he began abusing victims in the early 1960s.

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 said he was unable to stop.

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

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

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

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 1970s. 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," MacArthur 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."

Carlson said that after DeLonga's 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.

Revelations of repeated sexual abuse by priests and efforts by some bishops to cover it up have rocked the Catholic church nationwide.

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. 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 to the Mafia.

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

Today, MacArthur divides his time between El Paso, Texas 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. MacArthur claims he is in the first stages of Alzheimer's disease.

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," MacArthur said.


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