Defrocked Priest's Victim Wants Apology

By Dave LeMieux
Muskegon Chronicle [Michigan]
January 13, 2007

Rage welled up inside him when Jack Wentzlof saw the photo of the Rev. Michael McKenna sticking out of a stack of dog-eared Muskegon Chronicles on Christmas Day.

The one-time altar boy at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Muskegon Heights was visiting his mother's winter home in Tucson, Ariz., for the holiday.

Wentzlof's anger grew as he read the Dec. 12 story detailing McKenna's recent removal from public ministry because of substantial evidence that he had sexually abused several boys in the 1970s.

"I told my mom, 'It's about time the son-of-a ... got it,' " Wentzlof said.

His mother listened in stunned silence as Wentzlof told her how McKenna had given him a "back rub" that went too far during an overnight stay at the priest's Muskegon-area residence during the mid-1970s.

It was the first time he'd told the story to anyone, Wentzlof says.

"She couldn't believe it," Wentzlof said. "She said, 'That was 30 years ago. You should just let it go.' "

Wentzlof told his mother church authorities were urging anyone who had been abused to come forward, he said.

He said his mother answered, "Anyone who responds just wants the church's money."

But that's not his motivation. "I want to get it out of me," Wentzlof said.

Left with deep distrust

Now 42, Wentzlof lives in Santa Rosa, Calif., near San Francisco. He grew up in Roosevelt Park and attended Sacred Heart Elementary. He graduated from Muskegon Catholic Central in 1982.

The fallout from his encounter with McKenna left him with a deep distrust of counselors, Wentzlof said. He is coming forward now as a form of self-therapy.

Although criminal charges can no longer be filed against McKenna because the statute of limitations has run out, Wentzlof recently filed a police report with the Muskegon Heights Police Department.

"I harbored it for 30 years," Wentzlof said. "I was so proud of the victim that came forward. I want to let him know there are others out there."

Earlier this week, a second former Muskegon priest, Rev. David LeBlanc, was forced out of the clergy following allegations of sexual abuse while serving at St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church in 1971.

'See how a priest lives'

Wentzlof said he was a 13-year-old altar boy when he accepted McKenna's offer to spend the night at his residence and "see how a priest lives."

Wentzlof's mother was a dedicated church-goer who readily gave her permission.

"The other altar boys were doing it," Wentzlof said. "It was kind of like a thing we all did, an overnight deal. I thought, 'Why not?' "

McKenna showed Wentzlof around the house.

"Then he started acting like his back was aching and saying, 'I live alone and can't get anyone to give me a back rub,' " Wentzlof said.

"We didn't give back rubs in my family," Wenzlof remembers thinking at the time.

Wentzlof said McKenna kept after him until he agreed to give the priest a back rub.

"It was the first time I'd seen a priest with his shirt off," Wenzlof said. "He had a mole on his left shoulder. I still remember the blubbery feeling of his back. I didn't like it."

When he finished, Wentzlof said McKenna said it was his turn.

"I said I didn't want a back rub, but he said it was OK," Wentzlof said. "I thought, 'It should be OK. He's a priest, right?' "

Wentzlof said he was lying face down on a daybed in one of the house's front rooms, McKenna kneeling over him.

"He started rubbing my back and then he started going lower, where my pants should be, and I freaked," Wentzlof said.

Wentzlof squirmed out from beneath McKenna. "I said I wanted to go home. I wanted to see my mom."

Wentzlof said McKenna tried to placate him with a promise of ice cream, then disappeared into a back bedroom.

"I remember, distinctly, sitting there by myself for what seemed like an eternity. I sat and watched TV. I was confused. I was wondering when the ice cream would get there."

McKenna was able to persuade Wentzlof to stay the night. Wentzlof slept, or tried to, in a room separate from McKenna.

"I couldn't wait to get home."

Although he said he knew what had happened wasn't right, Wentzlof never told anyone about it.

Making his problems worse

Wentzlof's life was tempestuous even before his overnight stay at McKenna's. His home life had been unsettled since his parents went through a bitter divorce when he was 4.

"A lot of other dramatic things happened," he said. "The last thing I needed was McKenna crawling on my back."

Wentzlof paid a price for his silence. His attitude turned sour. "My mom's a really holy person and I rebelled against it," he said. "From that point on, nobody knew what to do with me."

An attempt at counseling by another clergyman ended in disaster. To this day, Wentzlof said, he does not trust authority figures.

As soon as he graduated from Muskegon Catholic Central in 1982, Wentzlof moved in with his father in Arizona.

His life since has not been easy.

Wentzlof's first marriage ended in divorce within five years.

"I kind of rushed into it," he said. "I wanted to prove to everybody I was not (a homosexual). I went about life wrong from the beginning."

Wentzlof is fiercely proud of his two children, who are attending college in Arizona.

Currently unemployed, Wentzlof has made a living as a laborer. "I'm pretty well busted up from doing carpentry and digging rock in quarries for so long," he said.

Bar fights have been a regular occurrence in Wentzlof's life, and he's seen the inside of a jail cell.

Wentzlof is trying to sort out his life and he's angry.

"I want an apology. You don't screw up a young person and then send them out into the world."


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