Victim to Women: Come Forward

By Roy Wood
The Cincinnati Post [Cincinnati OH]
Downloaded October 3, 2003

A 35-year-old West Chester woman who says she was sexually abused by a Cincinnati priest in the 1980s is urging other women who have found themselves in similar circumstances to come forward.

"Victims don't have to be ashamed. You didn't create this," Christy Miller said Thursday while leveling allegations against the Rev. Thomas Brunner, a teacher at Mount Notre Dame High School in the 1980s.

Brunner, 55, resigned last month as pastor of St. Patrick Church in Troy, a post he had held since 1995. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has identified him as one of five priests returned to ministry under restrictions a decade or more ago after substantiated reports of sexual abuse of minors.

Miller is a client of Mason attorney Konrad Kircher, who Thursday filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk and the Rev. David Kelley, accusing him of molesting 21 people who are plaintiffs in the action.

Miller has not sued, but Kircher said Miller's claims might be incorporated into future litigation against the archdiocese and Brunner.

Kircher said the allegations against Brunner would constitute felony criminal charges, if the case were handled criminally as opposed to a civil lawsuit.

The archdiocese said last month that the principal of Mount Notre Dame High School, where Brunner was chaplain, reported in 1985 that two students made accusations against him that he did not deny. He left the school and received counseling. In 1989, a young woman reported to the archdiocese that Brunner had abused her in the 1970s. He received a psychological evaluation, which concluded that he could function as a pastor.

Brunner could not be reached for comment Thursday, and the archdiocese had no new comment on his case.

Miller said she went to the Reading school from 1983 to 1985. When they met, she was "a slightly shy 14-year-old" and Brunner was her religion teacher, the school's chaplain and its music ministry leader.

"The relationship started out as a friendly teacher-student one," Miller said. "My involvement with Tom was furthered when I decided to join music ministry. Once I joined, I realized I needed a ride home from practice. Tom came to the rescue. He would be happy to take me home."

Miller said she and her family became friends with the priest, and after her brother became critically ill, her parents depended on Brunner "to act as the family priest and counsel me, help me when they couldn't be there for me."

She said she considered him not only a person of power and authority, "but someone that I could trust and rely on. Today I realize that he was leading me right into his arms. He saw an opportunity and took advantage."

The first physical contact occurred in his office at school, Miller said.

"Even after 18 years, I can vividly remember it. He was sitting behind his desk and asked me for a kiss."

Miller said part of her knew it was wrong, but Brunner assured her it was OK.

"I kissed him. I do not know that I will ever fully understand why," she said.

After that, things progressed quickly, she said. They talked on the phone for hours, keeping it a secret from her parents.

"During this time, he had me convinced that this was 'true love,' just like 'The Thorn Birds' characters Ralph and Meggie. He even began to address me as Meggie and I called him Ralph when we were writing notes to each other."

She said that by the end of her freshman year, they went everywhere together and that while Brunner covered his tracks, "regardless of what made logical sense, I was always the first one picked up and the last one dropped off."

"Wherever we were, there were stolen kisses and caresses. It seemed to be a challenge to him."

Many people gave questioning looks, but no one ever said anything, Miller said.

She ended the relationship the summer of her sophomore year, she said.

"A friend had caught us in the chapel once and she told me this was wrong. I guess I started to think about things at that point. I wanted to go out with my friends and date boys my own age."

Once when she did go out with a boy, Brunner said she had to go to confession to him to be forgiven for her sins, Miller said.

When her junior year began, Brunner called her to his office and threatened to keep her out of music ministry if she told anyone about their relationship, Miller said.

She agreed, provided Brunner never had another relationship with a student. But soon after, she caught him with another student.

She told a teacher, who initially tried to handle the problem on her own. The teacher then got the principal involved, and Brunner left the school at the end of the school year.

Her parents didn't go public with the allegations because they didn't want to put her through the ordeal of having to repeat what Brunner had done to her, she said.

Miller said she wishes he had been removed from the priesthood then.

"I used to tell myself that it was a relationship that had gone bad," she said. "Now I realize that he was calculating and manipulative. He knew exactly what he was doing and preyed on my weakness and innocence to pleasure himself.

"It wasn't until a few months ago that I realized the depth of what had happened to me."

Miller said she has "lost all faith in priests because of what they let happen to me and to thousands of others like me," she said. "I still have feelings of shame and anger. What happened to me has had lasting effects on my life and my ability to have a good relationship."


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