Mike Moore: Abuse Victim Leans on Normalcy

By Mike Moore
The Journal Times [Wisconsin]
Downloaded March 3, 2004

Victims of clergy sexual abuse often refer to themselves as survivors. That's what Chuck Linneman is.

The former Burlington resident has seen the reports of other victims who couldn't deal with their past. They used a bottle or a syringe to try to cope. Linneman turned to a different tonic. He became an overachiever.

"It was my way to fight to be normal," Linneman said.

He's succeeded in that battle. A newlywed helping to raise an 8-year-old stepson, Linneman has a good life. He's a 35-year-old middle school teacher in Illinois who's hoping to coach his math team to the state title this weekend.

Oh, he was still affected by the episode he says happened one night 20-some years ago when the Rev. Franklyn Becker invited him to stay at a rectory in the Milwaukee area. That did plenty to stunt Linneman's emotional growth.

"I know it's affected my relationships with others," he said. "It's hard to get close to somebody."

The anger and the tears had to stay locked in a vault within him. If he showed any unusual signs, his family and friends would know something was wrong. Life became an acting job. It wasn't until two years ago that Linneman found the guts to step forward and report his abuse. Most of his friends still don't know.

Religious followers, especially us Catholics, invest heaps of trust in our clergy. When Becker took him to see the movie "The Blue Lagoon," Linneman said, it sent up some red flags for his mom. He went anyway. There was no harm in seeing it with a priest, right? Trust, that's the reason last week's report shakes us. That report showed about 3 percent of the clergy in Milwaukee's archdiocese had been tagged with substantiated claims of abuse. Sometimes it's hard to remember 97 percent still deserve our trust, especially if those numbers don't match our experiences. Besides Becker, who was yanked from active ministry two years ago, Linneman has known two other priests who've been caught up in abuse allegations.

"That's the troubling thing for me," he said. "I haven't known that many priests in my lifetime."

Most recently, the Rev. Michael Benham was removed because he sexually abused a boy while at St. John Nepomuk in Racine more than two decades ago. Benham presided at Linneman's sister's wedding while at St. Charles Borromeo in Burlington and baptized Linneman's niece and nephew. When St. Charles scheduled a listening session to hear parishioners' concerns and questions about Benham's removal, Linneman made it a point to drive up and speak.

Most of the other victims he's met have left the church. Sometimes Linneman's wife wonders if he should join them.

"I think she's angry for me," he said. "She's talked to me several times about, `Maybe we should change religions.' " He decided to stay put, even asking her to go through the grueling process of getting her first marriage annulled so they could be married as Catholics. Faith, after all, is rooted in more than just one man's collar.

"For me, it's like I can't leave now, because then they'll beat me," he said. "This is my religion. This is what my ancestors were. To give that up, I'd feel defeated, in a way."

When Linneman came forward, his case was well beyond the statute of limitations to prosecute criminally, but his eyes are set on more important goals. Recently he joined 50 or 60 other victims from the Milwaukee archdiocese in a group mediation process, trying to improve church policies and get victims the help they need. Before that, he said, the archdiocese offered him a chance to go through individual mediation. He was told he'd be the one making the demands - he heard one person got college expenses paid - but something didn't smell right. He hadn't initiated the contact, for one thing.

"I almost felt they wanted to make me a poster child," he said.

Linneman's been pleased with the progress so far since the "Dallas charter," a national Catholic document that promises a priest will be pulled after even one instance of proven abuse.

Of course, having a policy is one thing. Doing it is another. That's the next thing Linneman would like to see negotiations produce: a way to make sure bishops are held accountable if they continue to cover up cases of sexual abuse.

"There's nothing that's really going to hold them to that," Linneman said. "If they don't do it, who's going to punish them?"


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