Priest Was Ousted at St. Mary's in Sex Case

By Abe Levy
February 19, 2009

A Marianist priest who became a dean and director of an alumni travel program at St. Mary's University was forced to resign two years ago after his religious order validated a claim that he sexually abused an underage woman.

The finding against Father Charles H. Miller was made public earlier this week by a St. Louis woman, who said she was 17 when he sexually abused her in 1980 in San Antonio.

The Society of Mary, whose U.S. province is based in St. Louis, wrote her a letter in 2007 deeming her claim "credible."

The order has kept the matter private, saying the victim wanted it that way. The woman, now 47, said that when the finding wasn't made public, as she requested, she came forward this week out of frustration.

In the letter, the order said it barred Miller, now 75, from public ministry, forced him to resign from St. Mary's and placed him on a "safety plan," which includes monitoring his whereabouts and keeping him away from children and youths.

He was sent to the order's General Administration building in Rome to live and work, the order's spokeswoman said.

Sex-abuse victims aren't identified by the San Antonio Express-News. The woman has not sought criminal charges or a civil suit because the statute of limitations prevented it, she said. She also said she hasn't requested money from the order.

The woman first contacted the Marianist order in 2005. At the time, Miller was director of the Roamin' Rattlers, organizing overseas trips for former students and university associates.

During his roughly 25 years at St. Mary's, he was a theology professor and dean of the humanities department known for his expertise in the Holy Land.

In May 2007, the Marianists review board backed the woman and offered her therapy.

St. Mary's, which is owned by the Marianists, complied immediately with the review board's recommendations, said Dianne Pipes, chief of staff and communications.

As part of the investigation, the Marianists said they learned Miller had been involved with two other women. Both were adults and requested no action be taken.

The St. Louis woman said Miller has maintained his innocence; the order declined to comment on that.

A terrified teenager

The woman said she met Miller when she was 10. Her family attended Masses at the Marianist community house in St. Louis. Miller celebrated Mass at the family's home, where he also attended informal events, she said.

At 14, she said, he fondled her. As a 17-year-old high school senior, she stayed at the order's community house in San Antonio while visiting potential colleges. It was there that Miller first molested her, she said, and subsequently during camping trips he took her on while she was here.

"I was terrified. I froze. I was sexually naive," she said of these episodes. "I didn't quite get it and knew I was uncomfortable."

Afterward, she buried the memories, she said, because her family was "very Catholic."

Reviewing old family photos in 2005, she began to unlock her memories, she said.

Increasingly upset and feeling violated, she said she wrote Miller a letter that same year, asking him to acknowledge the abuse. She also wrote the Marianists a letter notifying them what happened, she said.

She said she assumed the letter would trigger a full investigation. Instead, the order didn't consider the letter a formal complaint until she wrote another letter in early 2007 specifically requesting its review board take up the matter.

She also wrote the Archdiocese of San Antonio, which she thinks helped expedite her complaint.

Before Miller moved to Rome last year, she met with him, along with her therapist, her husband and the order's provincial, she said. There, she recounted to him how much his actions hurt her, she said.

Going public — or not

Initially, she said, she did ask the Marianists to handle her claim internally but believed they eventually would publicize it, once verified, to protect other potential victims.

Helped by the victims advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, she said she learned other Catholic institutions have publicized similar findings in church newsletters and Web sites.

"I didn't understand how any of this works. I kept going through them to try to get them to do the right thing," she said. "I didn't want to ruin the Marianist name or St. Mary's University because of him. But the hierarchy of the Marianists are not willing to do what they should to protect people on their own."

The Marianists' top U.S. supervisor, Brother Stephen Glodek, said in a statement that the order acted responsibly.

"During the entire process regarding Father Charles Miller, the Marianists proceeded — each step of the way — as the victim requested," he wrote. "The pace of the Marianist response corresponded to the victim's gradual awareness of what happened and how she wanted the Marianists to proceed."

The Marianist spokeswoman said the order maintained regular contact with the woman and searched for other victims.

The woman said the order, by keeping the outcome quiet, had not met the standard of being "open and transparent" as outlined in the so-called Dallas charter.

U.S. bishops crafted the landmark charter policy in 2002 to respond to the then-emerging national sex-abuse scandal.


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