Ex-Priest's Family Comes to Grips with His Crimes

By Bill McClellan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [Missouri]
October 27, 2004

Carol has a hard time remembering her brother as a child. Norman was five years older, and he went into the seminary high school, which meant he left home after eighth grade. But still, shouldn't there be some memories? There aren't. Nothing concrete, anyway. Nothing that could possibly explain the man he turned out to be.

The Rev. Norman H. Christian was ordained in October of 1961. He was first assigned to a parish in Kirkwood. Then he was moved to another parish. Then another and another. In January of 1986, he told his sister he was going on a sabbatical to New Mexico. Actually, he was already there when he wrote her a letter. His return address was in care of the Servants of the Paraclete. Later, the Servants would gain a certain unhappy notoriety for their efforts to cure pedophilia, but at the time, the name meant nothing to Carol.

Her brother wrote that he was dealing with an addiction. He said he did not intend to discuss it and he hoped the family "will have the kindness not to ask too many questions." Whatever the mysterious addiction was, he was soon cured and he returned to the St. Louis area to resume his priestly work.

Shortly thereafter, Carol heard some disturbing news from her daughter, Susan. Father Norman had been taking her to gay movies. What? Carol thought her brother had been counseling Susan, who was having a difficult adolescence. Instead, he was taking her to X-rated movies and telling her of his own sexual exploits. Later, Carol would hear from other relatives that her brother had been sent to New Mexico only after eight boys had come forward with allegations of sexual abuse.

In 1995, he was removed from the ministry and sent to a center for "Wounded Brothers" in Robertsville, Mo. A year later, Carol received, at her home, a letter addressed to her brother. He told her it was from one of his victims, a young man who had reached an out-of-court settlement with the church. The letter was about some payments, Christian explained. To Carol, the whole thing was a nightmare, but her brother did not seem at all concerned.

Ten days ago, Carol received a phone call. Your brother is dying, a man said. We don't know how much longer he has, but it is not long.

Carol had long felt a need to reach out to her brother's victims. She did not know how many there were. Dozens? Hundreds? She talked to her daughter, Susan, and to a niece, Patricia. Perhaps we should contact somebody from SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and see if they know of any victims, suggested Patricia. So Patricia got on the Internet and was soon in touch with David Clohessy, the St. Louisan who is the national director of SNAP. Did he know of any victims of the priest's? Yes, he did. He knew a man who went to the police last year and reported that Christian had sexually assaulted him 35 years ago. Christian had been arrested - the family knew that - but the case had been dropped for lack of evidence. The man then filed a civil suit.

We'd like to talk to him, said Patricia. Clohessy checked with the man and then gave Patricia his phone number. Is there a message you'd like to get to my uncle before he dies? Patricia asked. Yes, said the man. Tell him, "You didn't get away with it. I told people about what you did and they believed me, not you. You're dying in shame and God will deal with you and all of those who have protected your kind."

Patricia wrote it down word for word and then drove to the church-run nursing home where her uncle is dying. I have a message from somebody who wishes he could be here, she said. Then she told her uncle the name of the man from whom the message had come. Her uncle looked away. She read the statement. She asked her uncle if he had anything to say. He shook his head.

Monday night, Patricia, Susan and Carol met the man. He brought his wife. He was 10 years old when Christian befriended him. His parents were separated. Slowly and haltingly, he told his story.

We're very sorry, said Carol.


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