"No One Asks for This:’ Man Says He Was Sexually Abused by Fort Wayne Catholic Priest
By Holly V. Hays
November 2, 2018
|The Rev. Michael J. Buescher in 1978.|
It's been 30 years, and Brian Cook is still trying to understand what happened to him during the summer of 1980.
As his friends mowed lawns, played baseball and rode through Fort Wayne on their 10-speed bikes, Cook stood at the precipice of a dark, decades-long journey.
Cook was sexually abused by a priest in the St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Fort Wayne during a series of meetings in 1980, he told IndyStar during a recent interview.
The former Fr. Michael Buescher is among 20 priests or deacons identified by the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese as being “credibly” accused of sexually abusing minors. He was assigned to Cook's parish, St. Charles Borromeo, from 1979 to 1984.
IndyStar does not typically name victims of alleged sex abuse or assault. Motivated in part by the results of a sweeping Pennsylvania grand jury report that identified more than 1,000 victims of clergy abuse, Cook is now speaking publicly about his experiences.
Cook, who the diocese confirmed reported his abuse last summer, wants other survivors of clergy abuse to know they’re not alone.
"No one asks for this,” Cook said.
He began meeting with Buescher at his mother’s suggestion. The family — Cook, his two siblings and his mother — had relocated from Ohio to Fort Wayne after the parents’ divorce. He was starting a new school. He needed a mentor. Someone he could trust.
It started with long hugs, Cook said. Shoulder and back rubs because the 12-year-old seemed “tense.” Kisses on his face and mouth.
“Each time was a little bit further, little bit further,” Cook, now 49, said.
Until one day, the priest offered a massage to relieve the young boy’s tension. He asked Cook to take his clothes off and lay on the bed. He did.
“I left my body,” Cook remembered in a written account of the incidents.
|Brian Cook is seen here in fall 1980, just a few months after he says he was sexually abused by a priest in the St. Charles Borromeo parish in Fort Wayne. (Photo: Provided by Brian Cook)|
According to the diocese, Buescher is the subject of six allegations, including Cook's.
Buescher declined to speak to a reporter when reached by phone. IndyStar also sent a letter to Buescher's home seeking comment on the allegations, to which he did not respond.
Buescher was ordained in 1979. He left the ministry in 1989 and voluntarily left the clerical state two years later.
Before he was defrocked, Buescher worked in parishes in Fort Wayne, Mishawaka, Pierceton and Ligonier, living for a time in the rectory at Marian High School in Mishawaka and coordinating priests at the Culver Military Academy.
Dioceses can't always track what happens to these accused priests after they leave. Unless charged with a criminal offense, many can slip away, creating new lives for themselves as their victims try to do the same.
And in Cook’s case, his priest came to Indianapolis.
Speaking his truth
It was a secret only a few people knew.
But one day in 2017, Cook woke up determined to confront the diocese.
If he’d planned the trip, he probably would have canceled it. But he made the drive from his Ohio home to Fort Wayne to meet with Mary Glowaski, the diocesan victim assistance coordinator.
He told her his story. And she believed him.
A bittersweet victory.
“One of the reasons that you’re believed is because other people had come forward,” Cook said. “It was a relief to know that you’re believed, but there’s also a sadness that other people had come forward.”
In fact, one of the reasons his case was so believable, Glowaski told IndyStar, was because there were others like it, which isn't uncommon in cases of clergy abuse. Cook gave the diocese permission to discuss the details of his case with a reporter.
"As I listened to Brian's story, there were several things that he said that were exactly the same experiences that were expressed or said with some of the previous victims (of Buescher)," she said. "Some of the same things were done, some of the same things were said, some of the same language, by the person who abused."
The Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese was one of several in Indiana to announce such lists after the explosive Pennsylvania grand jury report.
In Indianapolis, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson released a list of nearly 30 clergymen accused of abuse: 19 priests from the archdiocese, four who worked in the diocese, two accused of misconduct with “vulnerable” adults, and four who died before allegations were reported.
See the local list: Archdiocese of Indianapolis names priests accused of sex abuse
Bishop Kevin Rhoades, of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese, was the subject of some criticism following the release of the report, which included actions he took while serving as Bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a post he held from 2004 to 2009.
Critics described him as hesitant to disclose details of allegations against two now-deceased priests because of its potential to cause “scandal.”
However, he did alert church officials and prosecutors about one of the men in 2006 and the other in 2007.
|Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend previously served as the bishop for the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo: James Robinson, Evening Sun)|
Rhoades worked with members of the Diocesan Review Board, a combination of laypeople and clergy responsible for assessing allegations received by the diocese, to identify more than 60 allegations against 20 priests or deacons.
To Glowaski’s knowledge, the list is a complete record of all priests in the diocese who have been “credibly” accused. There are some accusations that are not accounted for because they either could not be properly investigated or the victim-survivor does not want to make a full report.
But credibility and believability are two different things, Glowaski said.
“If we can’t say that something’s not credible, that does not mean that we don’t believe the person who made the allegation,” she said. “But we have to be very responsible about putting a name on a list.”
Why survivors hesitate
There are many reasons Cook kept his abuse a secret.
It was shameful. Awkward to talk about. He didn’t want to burden his parents and siblings with his pain. And in the beginning, he wasn’t sure he knew what had happened to him.
“If I went to someone, what I would have told them?” he said. “I mean, I’d never heard of that. I didn’t even know what sexual abuse was. Much less from a priest.”
There are many others like Cook who are trying to navigate the waves of emotion that come decades after clergy abuse.
Glowaski has worked with victims in their 30s and in their 80s. What sets priest abuse apart from other forms of sex abuse, Glowaski said, is that, oftentimes, a priest is the physical embodiment of Christ to a child. Some of them have told her the abuse robbed them of their souls.
“The victim-survivors work so hard — my experience is they want so badly to have this trusted relationship with God, and that’s been wounded,” she said. “Deeply, deeply wounded.”
Many of them feel ashamed to speak up. As if the abuse were their fault, coming from a higher power.
“Some of them, their families don’t know. Some of them, their wives or husbands don’t know,” Glowaski said. “And so, we try to help them understand that the shame is not theirs, it’s ours.”
Judy Jones is the Midwest regional leader for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Her brother was abused by a priest during their youth in Ohio. He spoke up, she said, but wasn't always heard.
“My mother was so Catholic that she refused to believe her own son,” she said.
Many survivors struggle with post-traumatic stress, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness. Some take their own lives. The damage, she said, doesn’t stop when the abuse does.
“It affects them their whole life,” Jones said. “There’ll be triggers, things that will bring up the memory. And they deal with it every day.”
While acknowledging the list would help victims begin to heal, SNAP officials questioned whether the list was comprehensive, as priests identified as accused abusers by watchdog groups do not appear on the list released by Rhoades and the review board.
“SNAP believes that the only way to learn the whole truth about any diocese or archdiocese is through a secular investigation where the investigators have subpoena power and can give an unbiased report,” the organization said in a written statement.
In a written statement, Attorney General Curtis Hill's office said although the conduct detailed in the Pennsylvania report is “beyond reprehensible,” such investigations in Indiana must begin locally, with specific allegations against a person or persons.
Even if Cook wanted to report the allegations to police, there’s only so much that can be done.
What Cook described would have been considered a Class C felony in the early 1980s. According to Indiana Code, the statute of limitations for such an act committed before July 1, 2014, would be five years.
During the three school years he spent at St. Charles Borromeo, Cook didn't talk about the things that happened in Buescher’s private quarters. As his friends became altar boys, Cook refused, afraid to be alone with another priest.
And when he saw Buescher at school and church, they carried on as if nothing happened.
“I took communion from him,” Cook said.
Dioceses naming priests: the debate
But what happens to an accused priest once they’ve left the church?
In Buescher’s case, he moved to Indianapolis. In 2001, he took a job at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Indianapolis as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. In 2012, he took over the vocational rehabilitation and employment office.
Once accused priests leave the priesthood, there's only so much the diocese can do to intervene if that man moves on to a job where "harm could be done," Glowaski said.
"There’s nothing in canon law that would address this," said Father Mark Gurtner, the diocese's vicar general and a canon lawyer, "and I do know that it’s been our practice as a diocese that if we know that someone should be notified of something, we have done that."
Buescher's position at the VA did not put him in direct contact with children.
And once they leave the priesthood, the Church also loses the authority — and, often, the ability — to keep track of them.
"It's not as if we can monitor these people because they become, in a sense, private citizens again," Gurtner said. "Priests, we can monitor."
There's a debate within the Catholic community as to whether releasing these lists is the appropriate response. Some argue releasing the accusations without having determined true guilt is not a solution, because it neither protects the reputation of the priests nor determines true credibility.
But one way to keep an eye on these men, Gurtner said, is to release the lists.
"It is so helpful for the healing of victims to be able to see that, because they know they’ll be believed," Gurtner said. "So that the general populace knows about these allegations would be another reason, but again, I think that’s one of those points being debated."
IndyStar has no evidence that Buescher sexually abused anyone after leaving the priesthood, nor has IndyStar been contacted by other victims alleging abuse by Buescher. An online search of Indiana court records did not find any criminal filings against him.
A VA spokesman told IndyStar a review of Buescher’s record shows neither a 2011 background check nor an internal investigation in 2016 found evidence of “derogatory information.”
“VA finds these allegations reprehensible,” a spokesperson said in a written statement. He did not say when or how the administration became aware of the allegations, but confirmed Buescher retired effective Sept. 28.
He will be allowed to collect retirement benefits, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. A representative of the OPM did not respond to several messages seeking more information about the nature of those benefits.
What bothers Cook, his accuser, is thatthe diocese was well aware of the allegations against Buescher and instead chose to protect itself by not naming him, he said.
“That’s the part that really pisses me off,” he said, “is they just say, ‘Oh, OK, that happened? We’re just gonna sweep it under the rug.’”
Regardless of what canon law says about the church’s ability to intervene, the question remains: Do they have a moral obligation to immediately come forward with allegations?
"I still don’t think the Church has come to a concrete answer on that," Gurtner said. "The answer in our diocese is yes. I mean, that’s why we put out the list."
Cook thinks that decision is best left to people outside of the institution.
“I don’t have that answer,” Cook said, “but it’s not up to the Church themselves to decide.”
'I'll never fully understand it'
Cook still remembers the little things.
Parking his brother’s baby-blue Schwinn next to that beige-brick building. Walking to the west side of the rectory to find the priest’s private quarters. The feeling of Buescher’s beard on his face.
“It's not like we can just erase the file in your memory,” he said. “You think about it. You experience it. Often.”
He left Fort Wayne years ago and now lives in Ohio with his wife of more than 20 years and their teenage children. He used to work in real estate, but hasn’t been gainfully employed in years. He battles post-traumatic stress and depressive episodes.
He hasn’t reported the incident to law enforcement, nor has he sued the church. He feels he can make a difference in other ways.
So, he’s baring his soul. Exploring his trauma. It’s a risk, but he believesit’s worth it to help others.
“I’ll never fully understand it,” he said. “But what I can learn is how to deal with it, and hopefully help others.”
|Brian Cook (Photo: Provided by Brian Cook)|
Cook wants to inspire change. Namely, expanding Indiana’s statute of limitations to allow victims more time to report. He wants to see more transparency from the church, including a notification system that would alert previous and current students or churchgoers of abusive priests.
“If you were a company in the U.S., and you had a defective product, our government makes you issue a recall and notify people who bought or may have bought that,” he said. “Why isn’t the Catholic Church responsible for notifying every parishioner, every student that that priest could have come in touch with?”
Despite what he’s been through, Cook still goes to mass a few times a year — although now it’s mostly because he wants his children, ages 15 and 13, to have faith.
“I don’t necessarily believe in Catholicism,” Cook said, “but I still have faith in humanity.”
Date of Ordination: June 16, 1979
Removed from parish ministry: November 1989
Loss of clerical state: May 14, 1991
Number of credible allegations: 6
July 9, 1979 – St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Fort Wayne
August 1, 1983 – Part-time membership on the faculty of Bishop Dwenger High School, Fort Wayne; continuing at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Fort Wayne
July 9, 1984 – Chaplain, Marian High School, Mishawaka
August 8, 1985 – Culver Military Academy
December 20, 1985 – St. Francis Xavier Parish, Pierceton
June 24, 1986 – St. Patrick Parish, Ligonier; Blessed Sacrament Parish, Albion
How to report abuse to the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese
If you or someone you know has allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct involving a member of the clergy in the Diocese of Fort-Wayne South Bend, contact Mary Glowaski, the diocese’s victim assistance coordinator. Glowaski can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or via phone 260-399-1458.
How to report abuse to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis
If you or someone you know has allegations of abuse by a member of the clergy in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, contact the archdiocesan victim assistance coordinator, Carla Hill. Hill can be reached 317-236-1548 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1548, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reports can also be submitted online at archdioceseofindianapolis.ethicspoint.com.