Update - Small Turnout for Vigil

By Brett Larson
Mille Lacs Messenger
July 15, 2009 turnout-for-vigil&catid=34:current-news&Itemid=76

Bob Schwiderski, the Minnesota director of SNAP — Support Network for those Abused by Priests — was able to garner a lot of media attention for his Saturday, July 11, silent vigil and press conference outside the Crosier community in Onamia.

The event, which was open to survivors of clergy sexual abuse, their loved ones and the media, was publicized on the websites of WCCO in the Twin Cities, KTTC in Rochester, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Duluth News Tribune. A press conference and hour-long silent vigil were on the agenda, along with a confidential support group meeting for victims and their loved ones. It was scheduled to coincide with the Crosier community's all-school reunion.

In spite of the coverage, the event was sparsely attended.

Besides Schwiderski, the only ones who came were two family members and one local news reporter.

Both family members left before the silent vigil, which did not occur. The support group was also cancelled.

Schwiderski, who has been an advocate for sexual abuse victims since the early 1990s, was undaunted. He took the opportunity to make a video with RoseAnne Spahn-Meyer, an Onamia native whose brother, Chuck Spahn, was abused by a Crosier brother when he was altar boy in Onamia.

Spahn was part of one of the original lawsuits that uncovered evidence of sexual abuse by Crosiers and led to a $1.7 million settlement with some of the victims in February of this year.

Schwiderski and Spahn-Meyer are both unsatisfied with the Crosiers' response to sexual abuse by members of their order. She said the Crosiers — who strengthened their sexual misconduct policy and asked victims to step forward — did not help her family. "They scooped up Brother Madigan and hid him from us," Spahn-Meyer said. "But we know where he is and we're keeping an eye on him."

She said the family wanted an apology and wanted the names and photos of all credibly accused Crosiers released in order to protect others from the type of abuse that happened to her brother. "To think that we couldn't be safe in this small, rural town," Spahn-Meyer said. "It just shakes your trust in the world."

Schwiderski is also outspoken about his dissatisfaction with the Crosiers' response. He believes the Crosiers should go to each parish where known or suspected abusers served and ask victims to step forward, but he doesn't believe the order has done so. He also said the Crosiers, after promising to release all names of credibly accused abusers, continued to withhold information. He said two credibly accused abusers continue to work in public roles with the order.

The Crosiers say all offenders have been removed from public roles (see below).

On a mission

Schwiderski is motivated by his own experience of abuse at the hands of a priest in Hector, Minn., where he grew up. From the age of 7 to 11 he was sexually abused by a diocesan priest, as was his older brother.

He believes now that the abuse contributed to alcoholism and promiscuity. He sent his three children to Catholic school, and one day at mass, when he saw his son dressed as an altar boy — "It all came crashing down," he said.?He drank heavily and telephoned priests in search of answers to his questions and help in overcoming his childhood trauma.

"In 1990," Schwiderski said, "I hired a lawyer because the church would not help me." Schwiderski found other victims of the priest, both in his own hometown and another parish where the man had served. "If you were an altar boy in Hector, you were abused by that son of a bitch," he said.

Schwiderski said the priest was moved to another parish, even after Schwiderski's brother told his father what had happened, and his father told the bishop. Although his court case resulted in a strengthened sexual misconduct policy in his home diocese, Schwiderski does not believe litigation is the key to healing. He became empowered by sharing his story and listening to others who had suffered similar abuse, and he keeps moving forward in his mission to encourage other victims to speak out and force the church to face the realities of sexual abuse.

"We have to eliminate the primary social sickness in this country, which is sexual abuse of children," Schwiderski said. "People have to know it's O.K. to break the silence."

Praying for healing

The Crosiers acknowledged the demonstration and released a statement in response from prior provincial Thomas Carkhuff. The statement begins, "Today, as many of our Crosier Alumni meet together in this All School Reunion, SNAP has gathered a group of people across the street from our Crosier Community of Onamia, Minnesota, to remember those who suffered sexual abuse in the past by some members of the Crosier Order. We join with them in praying for healing for those who have been hurt by any form of sexual misconduct."

Carkhuff admits that Crosiers have committed sexual abuse and says the Crosiers are "deeply sorry for the pain and suffering which these scandalous acts have brought upon sexual misconduct survivors and their families."

The statement also says the Crosiers are committed to stopping the cycle of sexual abuse and lists the actions the Crosiers have taken to deal with the problem, including a strengthened sexual misconduct policy. Among other things, the policy:

• "Requires, as does the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the removal from public ministry of anyone who has been found to have committed sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult;

• Mandates the notification of civil authorities if there is suspicion or knowledge that a child or vulnerable adult has been abused;

• Directs us to conduct more thorough background investigations on those seeking to enter the Order."

Finally, the statement outlines additional steps the order has taken toward preventing sexual misconduct:

• "In 2002, we commissioned a third-party investigation of every allegation of sexual misconduct against a Crosier priest, brother, or employee to ensure accountability and the safety of the people the Order serves. That investigation found that the most recent incident of sexual abuse of a minor reported to the Crosiers occurred more than 15 years prior to the 2002 investigation. (A summary of how this investigation was conducted appears on the Crosier website at"

• "Every current Crosier who has been found to have committed sexual abuse of a minor has been removed from public ministry, has been named publicly, and will remain under restrictions as long as they remain Crosiers. There have been no reported incidents of further sexual abuse of a minor by a Crosier after he has been placed under restriction."

• "In our priory communities in Onamia and Phoenix, we have also taken up very deliberate work in addressing issues of sexual health; we also work to better understand all appropriate and inappropriate boundaries in our relationships with everyone."

• "Personally and communally, we work with qualified and trained professionals to deal with any of our men who have committed any sexual misconduct. Since 2003, we have worked with Project Pathfinder, Inc., an organization dedicated to the elimination of sexual violence and abuse. They, along with other skilled experts, have helped us develop and implement a province Program of Accountability and Care."

The statement concludes as follows: "We Crosiers recognize that full and frank disclosure about sexual misconduct is important to speed the healing process and empower unknown victims to come forward and seek help. We strongly encourage individuals to report any information regarding incidents of sexual misconduct to the Provincial (602-443-7100) or a member of the Crosier First Contact Team." Team members are listed at


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.