Priests' Victims Still Hurting

By Steve Arney
Pantagraph [Bloomington IL]
April 24, 2004

BLOOMINGTON -- What happened to Rick Springer, the optimistic teenage Catholic convert who wanted to become a priest?

The youngster confided to a priest about the sexual thoughts filling his mind at age 14. Springer said the priest was so concerned that he invited him to the rectory for counseling to free him of his perversions.

The rectory counseling included an order from the priest that Springer drop his pants.

Rick Springer didn't become a priest.

He became a depressed alcoholic who couldn't keep a job, who couldn't form relationships, who could love but not be loved and who eventually became homeless.

His recovery started in 1981 with alcoholism recovery. Now he speaks freely about the sexual abuse that happened in 1952.

He reported the abuse to another priest. He doesn't know what sanctions were taken but said the abusive priest died in good standing in the church.

Springer, now 66, drives a cab in Chicago.

At the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Bloomington on Friday, Springer joined two other survivors, both from Lincoln, on a panel that opened a one-day conference on abuse by priests.

Survivors and their allies spoke of bishops who covered up abusers and attempt to discredit or buy off victims.

Ninety people attended.

The Lincoln survivors say they have been harassed and received anonymous threats after they joined a lawsuit in the 1990s that included 11 other men. All claim The Rev. Norman Goodman molested them.

Survivor Lance Rainforth said he's still Catholic, and he can separate religion from what happened to him -- a man committed a crime. What astonished Rainforth is that the Peoria-based diocese first tried to talk him into a cash settlement -- before he was seeking any money -- and then acted like his enemy.

Of the victims, he said, "the church just abandoned them."

One reason the Catholic church abuse scandal won't die is that it's still unfolding, said conference speaker Claudia Vercellotti, 34, who heads Ohio's Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

She arrived late and frazzled. She explained her tardiness: She was in Ohio on Thursday night at a hospital helping a sexual abuse survivor who had taken a handful of pills and washed it down with liquor.

He survived.

Her base is Toledo, but she doesn't think it matters because bishops across the country covered up the scandals. Those cover-ups now are being exposed -- in part by an autonomous commission formed by the bishops themselves.

Toledo, Bloomington, Chicago, the stories sound about the same -- the stories of 10,000 documented victims and an uncounted legion more.

Those who sue are accused of trying to exploit the situation for gain, said Vercellotti, a survivor who didn't sue. She carts around plastic canisters of play money to demonstrate: In Toledo, she said, $181,570 has been paid to victims and $693,515 went to lawyers.

Thank the lawyers too, said speaker Joseph Klest, an attorney for survivors.

Without the lawsuits, there would have been no press attention, he said, and without the media focus, there would have been no pressure for the reforms that began with a bishops conference in 2002 in Dallas.


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