Sins & Silence
Victims Recall Abuse: Girls Also Victims of Molestation by Catholic Priests

By Mary Nevans-Pederson
Telegraph Herald [Dubuque IA]
March 6, 2006

[See the main page of the Sins & Silence series for links to all the articles and letters to the editor.]

Most of the children and teens predatory priests abused were male, but girls were not safe, either.

Of the 20 plaintiffs in the recent $5 million settlement with the Archdiocese of Dubuque, 12 were men and eight were women. Five of those women identified one priest, the Rev. Patrick McElliot, as their abuser.

By contrast, only one of the 37 plaintiffs who settled lawsuits with the Davenport (Iowa) Diocese in 2002 was a woman.

In court documents, McElliot's female victims described bizarre rituals in which the priest forced them to participate.

He abused one girl as she held up her dress while praying the rosary. He took pornographic pictures of another girl in the church rectory. One girl was forced to read sexually explicit material while the priest tape-recorded her. He then pulled down her panties, blessed her with a medal and sexually abused her.

Jane F. Rodell

A handful of women have accused the Rev. Henry Dunkel of sexually abusing them in the late 1940s. Some of them were his own nieces.

Jane Flynn Rodell said Dunkel "groomed" her for two years before he started sexually abusing her at St. Columbkille Catholic Church in 1947.

One night, the priest, then 26, instructed her to sneak out of a school dance to meet him for a driving lesson. He stopped the car near a cemetery and started to kiss her.

"I was horrified. I knew it was wrong and I pushed him away. He screamed at me to get out of the car and if I told anybody, he'd hurt me or someone in my family," said Rodell, now 73, of Indian Creek, Ill.

"I couldn't tell anybody. I thought I'd committed a sin."

More than four decades later, she found out Dunkel had abused her older sister and other St. Columbkille classmates. It was the priest's first assignment.

Benita Kirschbaum

Dunkel also had his eyes on Benita Kane Kirschbaum. His increasingly friendly advances toward the junior high school student developed into sexual abuse when she was in the ninth grade.

"I was so naive. He would teach me to drive by having me sit between his legs. Other times I had to put my head down on his lap so no one could see me," said Kirschbaum, now 72, of Bloomington, Minn.

The priest insinuated himself more deeply into her life. Her father had died five years earlier.

"I needed the attention. I felt special," Kirschbaum said.

In a church confessional, Dunkel raped the 15-year-old Kirschbaum. During the act, he professed his love for her.

"I felt like a mess and was totally confused," she said. "I had to change my bloody clothes before my family saw them."

For the next 16 years, Dunkel had sex with Kirschbaum regularly, she said. The engraving on a ring he gave her read, "Remember you are mine."

"I was under his power. He exploited me," she said.

Eventually she met and married Curt Kirschbaum. When she told Dunkel, he tried to rape her and threatened to kill her. The priest stalked and verbally harassed the couple until his death in 1998, she said.

In 1992, Kirschbaum confronted archdiocesan officials with her story and demanded Dunkel be defrocked. His priestly activities were restricted and Kirschbaum settled with the archdiocese, entering into a confidentiality agreement about the details of the settlement.

In 2002, she and two others filed a class-action lawsuit seeking to nullify all such agreements between the church and victims. The suit was dropped in 2004.


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