Journey to Justice-Part 1
Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Diocese of LaCrosse
By Susan Ramsett
WSAW [Lacrosse WI]
Downloaded November 19, 2004
He would molest her and then buy her presents. That's the cycle of sexual abuse a local woman describes at the hand of a former Catholic priest from Hewitt. His victim has asked us not to show her face to avoid any embarrassment for her two children who are too young to fully understand what their mother has been through.
She shares the painful story of her long "journey to justice."
Brenda says, "I just feel so much better that his name is out there. It can't be a secret anymore."
His name is Raymond Bornbach, and the secret is sexual abuse. Bornbach used to be a Catholic priest in the area but the Diocese of LaCrosse removed him from ministry this past summer.
Father Lawrence Dunklee says, "The charter is very clear, if there is even one case in a priest's life where he has admitted to or has been substantially confirmed that there has been an act of sexual abuse of a minor, he is to be removed from ministry."
Brenda says, "I'm not ashamed of what happened to me, it's not my fault. It's not anything I did to make him touch me in those ways."
Brenda was just nine years old when the sexual abuse began. It ended a year later after she remembers the priest's housekeeper walking in on them in his bedroom.
"I never saw him after that. That day he bought me a bike and sent me home with a brand new bike."
Brenda says Bornbach always gave her presents afterwards, but the gifts the priest gave her will never replace what he stole.
Brenda says, "He took my childhood. He made me grow up at nine. I didn't get to be a kid."
It wasn't until Brenda became a mom that she was ready to tell the church her story. She says the abuse she suffered was affecting her ability to trust anyone else with her children.
By that point Bornbach was almost 90 years old.
Brenda says, "They didn't do anything to make the process smooth and easy. It was a fight all the way for me."
Brenda spent the next 18 months going back and forth with Diocese officials. Her requests to speak directly with then Bishop Raymond Burke were repeatedly denied. One year later she was finally invited to meet with Burke face to face two weeks before he was leaving for a new post in Missouri.
Brenda says, "The bishop's answer to me was, ‘I cannot please everybody, we don't feel this man's a threat at his age.’"
Burke promised to get back to Brenda with a decision before leaving for his new job as archbishop in St. Louis.
Brenda says, "That day came and went and nobody called me. I never heard from the bishop again."
But Brenda didn't give up. She continued to lobby members of the Diocese's sexual abuse review board. In March of this year, supported by her husband, Brenda traveled to LaCrosse to tell them her story.
Afterwards, they sent a private investigator to interview her and her family. Still, no answers. She says what happened next shocked and sickened her; it was a phone call from her abuser. Father Bornbach asked to see her.
Brenda says, "He said things like ‘don't you remember we were best friends? Do you remember the bike I bought you? Do you still have it?' He said we were best friends. Best friends don't treat each other this way."
It's called intimidation, and it's a classic sign of guilt. That's what Brenda says a member of the review board told her. Bornbach's call also came just as he was scheduled to face the board, something he told Brenda he was too sick and too old to do.
Brenda says, "I said ‘you should have thought about this a long time ago.’ I didn't feel sorry for him, I felt sick."
Ultimately, Bornbach did face the review board. In August Brenda finally received a letter saying the Diocese believed her story, but there was still something Brenda wanted; his name released to the public, something that goes against the policy left behind by Bishop Burke.
Father Lawrence Dunklee says when they get a new Bishop, Burke's successor could change that. Meanwhile, he's trying to make the process less painful for victims like Brenda. He knows that means better access to the review board and Diocese officials.
Father Dunklee says, "The action or inaction at times of bishops who have failed to react appropriately, that's something we need to do everything we can to reinforce that we will respond, and we will respond justly. I want to make it very clear that one incident of abuse by one priest or one deacon against one child or one young person is unacceptable. It will not be tolerated."
Although policy wouldn't allow the Diocese to release Bornbach's name, there was nothing stopping Brenda from making the letter public.
When the news appeared in local papers, she says calls and letters started pouring in, many from those who say they were also Bornbach's victims thanking her for her courage and for showing them they're not alone.
Now, she's working to heal the past and looking to the future.
Brenda says, "I'm so glad it's out in the open. We are talking to our children about good touch, bad touch. They know when it's wrong. If anything good came out of this, that's the best thing."
The "journey to justice" hasn't only been painful for victims of sexual abuse; it's also been painful for the Catholic Church as a whole.
Father Dunklee says the majority of priests in the LaCrosse Diocese are good and faithful men who dedicate their lives to serving others, but the abuse scandal has hurt them all.
During our interview, Father Dunklee also shared a personal story. He was meeting a friend for lunch at an airport in Minneapolis when a woman who had been abused by a priest came up to their table and spit at him.
Father Dunklee says, "My friend, who was rather astounded, said ‘you must be terribly, terribly angry,’ and I said, ‘no, I'm just terribly, terribly sad. I'm sad for all of the pain, all that woman has gone through. I'm sad for all the wounds that have been created and I'm dedicated and committed to trying to heal them as best we can."
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