Attorney Shares Story of Sex Abuse by Priest Old Tiles Unleash a Flood of Memories

By Kathleen Lavey
Detroit Free Press
September 1, 2010

Vintage ceramic tile and linoleum in his new workplace led attorney Gregory Guggemos to recall his days at St. Vincent home for children in the 1950s, he said Tuesday.

Guggemos said he was abused at that home by its founder, Msgr. John Slowey, who led Catholic Social Services of Lansing.

He settled a claim against the Catholic Diocese of Lansing for $225,000 last month. He said he hopes telling his story will help his healing process -- and other victims of clergy abuse.

"I know now I did nothing wrong when I was at the orphanage. I have no responsibility for being sexually abused. I am a victim," said Guggemos, who formerly lived in Haslett.

His voice at times breaking with emotion, Guggemos read a 10-page statement at a news conference Tuesday detailing what he called the years-long process of recalling the abuse.

"I don't recall ever being this nervous in front of a judge," he said afterward.

Guggemos' claim against the diocese was paid Aug. 17. That's a week before Bishop Earl Boyea, leader of the 10-county Lansing diocese, said he believed another priest, the Rev. John Martin, abused at least a half-dozen boys who attended St. Isidore church in Laingsburg during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Slowey and Martin are both deceased.

Michael Diebold, spokesman for the diocese, said no other allegation has been made about Slowey, who founded the St. Vincent home on West Willow Street in 1952.

Guggemos, who lives in northern Michigan, said he and three of his five siblings were sent to the home in June 1954 when their mother became ill. They stayed until the next spring.

For years, Guggemos said, he had no recollection of his months at the orphanage, but began to think about that period after his mother died in August 1999. He delivered gifts to children at the home and took a tour of it shortly before Christmas of that year.

He said the ceramic tile and green-and-white linoleum in the building triggered memories. So did a particular door.

"When I saw this door, I experienced a tremendous knot in my stomach and a sense of fear that I had never felt before," he said. "I felt frozen in time. My heart began to race and my breathing became very rapid and shallow. I stood still and allowed these feelings to continue to surface.

By the end of 2001, Guggemos said, he had become convinced that something traumatic happened to him while he was at the home, and that Slowey was involved.

Guggemos hired a private investigator to look into Slowey's career. The investigator tracked Slowey's transfers from one place to another and told Guggemos that Slowey's history was consistent with reassignments of abusive priests.

Guggemos said that, at that time, he did not read the private investigator's written report. He received advice from other lawyers that the statute of limitations on his case had expired, so he decided not to pursue it.

In January 2008, Guggemos said, he started a new job in a historic building that had ceramic tile and linoleum similar to that in St. Vincent.

"I started feeling depressed and experienced a persistent sense of fear that I had never experienced before," he said.

Guggemos was hospitalized in January 2009 and has had difficulty working since. In April 2009, he said, a psychiatrist urged him to open the investigator's report, which contained a photo of Slowey.

"When I saw his picture, I threw all the papers up in the air and started crying uncontrollably," he said. "I had an immediate flashback to him, the orphanage and one incident of being sexually abused."

Guggemos took his story to a diocesan review board last fall.

"If there are any other people out there who were abused by Father Slowey or any other priest, we want them to come forward," Diebold said. "Our primary goal is to promote healing for the victims."

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