Let up Prey
The Ugly, Dark Secret of Priests Who Are Child Molesters
By Terry Greene
Phoenix New Times (Arizona)
October 25, 1989
In its answer to the lawsuit, the diocese admits that Father George molested the children but denies negligence.
Father George, who has a separate lawyer, denies he even molested the boys or that he was negligent. In his answer to the lawsuit, he asks that the case be dismissed. The names of all victims and their families, the church volunteer who first called police about Bredemann, a nun who works in the diocese and the former top-level diocesan priest have been changed in this article. INTRODUCTION to priest feature
On May 26, 1984, Father John Maurice Giandelone, a Roman Catholic priest and a teacher at Bourgade High School, visited his favorite Catholic family at their home. After chatting for a few minutes with the parents, Father John strolled into their fifteen-year-old son's bedroom and quietly shut the door. When the boy's father walked into the room a few minutes later, he discovered that Father John had just performed oral sex on the boy.
Father John eventually admitted he'd had a sexual relationship with the same boy for two years—he even molested the boy just before Mass in the rectory of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Chandler. In August 1985, another local Catholic priest, Father Joseph Marcel Lessard of St. Jerome's, was arrested for sexually abusing a thirteen-year-old boy. Father Joe performed oral sex on the youth while trying out the boy's waterbed at the family's home. The boy's unsuspecting parents—devoted Catholics—were resting in an adjoining bedroom.
After the youth screamed to his parents that Father Joe was "doing homosexual things" to him, the priest insisted the boy "must have been dreaming." Later, Father Joe admitted to the act and called it a "spur of the moment thing" that he couldn't explain. On December 1, 1988, yet another priest from the Diocese of Phoenix, Father George Bredemann of St. Catherine's in South Phoenix, was arrested for sexually abusing three boys, ages eight, ten and thirteen, at his ramshackle desert hideaway he called the "Castle."
Father George at first denied molesting any boys. He later confessed he'd molested many boys before he became a priest in middle age. He admitted sexually abusing another boy at St. Teresa's Parish in Scottsdale—his first parish assignment. He also eventually confessed to molesting the three boys at the Castle.
A New Times investigation reveals that in each of the three local cases, the diocese buried its head in the sand by ignoring early warnings that the priests might be pedophiles—adults who crave sex with children.
After their arrests, none of the three priests was fired, although all were immediately suspended from parish work until they'd completed psychological treatment. Two still are priests today; one eventually quit the priesthood.
In all three local cases, the priests had worked hard to befriend the parents to gain their trust and access to their children. When caught, all three initially denied having sexual relations with their victims. And numerous people, clergy and lay, defended the priests. In some instances, the victims' families—not the priests—were ostracized by their fellow Catholics.
Diocesan officials spent more time and money on the offending priests than on the victims. The priests were prosecuted for their crimes, but in each case the diocese asked judges for—and received—lenient sentences and paid for months of expensive, highly specialized professional counseling for the offending clerics.
A Catholic order, the Servants of the Paraclete, maintains a center in the northern New Mexico mountains that treats pedophile priests. No such center— or even a formal counseling procedure locally—exists for the victims, who are especially vulnerable and in need of counseling.
In the three local cases, most of the victims came from troubled families and at least three had been sexually abused before. One victim was sexually abusing his sisters during the same time Father George was molesting him.
The diocese's attempts to heal victims through counseling varied from case to case. Three victims say they received no offers of counseling; others say they were counseled by parish priests. The priest-counselors, of course, were faced with an innate conflict: Should they protect the Church as an institution by suggesting that the victims put the incidents behind them and forgive the offending priests, or should they be more concerned about the emotional damage inflicted on the victims?
The local incidents have occurred while the Church nationally is facing a critical shortage of applicants for the priesthood. And the Church's own documents warn that there is a wave of pedophilia in the priesthood that could cost the Church an avalanche of bad publicity and billions of dollars in legal expenses.
A former priest-administrator in the diocese says Bishop Thomas O'Brien, the current diocese head, has tried to cover up sex cases not because he was defending the pedophiles but because he was trying to protect the Church.
"The Church is like this big supernova thing and the devil's out there trying to hurt the Church, and there are bad people out there telling lies about it and the bishop has to defend it," says the former administrator. " Part of defending it is covering things up."
Although most priests and nuns in the diocese say they love and respect O'Brien, some are disappointed with his handling of the pedophilia crisis. " Let's face it, the Church is political," says a nun who works in the diocese and asked not to be identified because she fears repercussions from the bishop. "Protecting the Church is the name of the game. The Church is the most co-dependent society in the country. These priests are in the confessional or saying Mass after they do all this garbage and that gives them a sense that they are above morality."
During its investigation of pedophilia in the diocese, New Times interviewed priests and nuns, families of the priests' victims, pedophilia experts, lawyers and parishioners. The newspaper obtained secret Church documents and memos, notes from experts who treated the priests, court records and local police reports.
Bishop O'Brien has refused five requests by New Times for interviews to discuss the diocese's handling of the three specific cases. But he has publicly blasted local media and has hammered home his point about irresponsible journalism in his editorials in the Catholic Sun, a local church newspaper widely read by parishioners.
Under siege from critics in July in the wake of Father George's sentencing, O'Brien conducted his first—and only—press conference on pedophilia. Stammering, sweating and shaking so hard he had to hold one hand in the other to quell the trembling, the bishop took heat for asking for a lenient sentence for Father George. But he confined his remarks only to the Bredemann case. He did not propose a diocesan policy on pedophilia, as at least one other bishop has done when he was faced with a scandal.
Father Timothy Davern, the diocese chancellor and the bishop's right-hand man, explained two months ago that the Church—and the bishop—is just learning about pedophilia and its dangers. He claimed that Father George Bredemann was the first clear-cut diocese pedophile priest to be arrested. " This is really the first case we've had," Davern said.
That's not true.
There were the Lessard and Giandelone cases. And in the Giandelone case, the diocese was alerted four years before his arrest that Father John may have been sexually involved with a youth.
According to a former diocesan official and a Tempe priest, Father John was involved with a boy in 1979 or 1980. O'Brien, who became bishop in 1982, reportedly knew about the first incident. But two years later, in 1984, O'Brien allowed Father John to teach at Bourgade Catholic High School. When Father John was arrested that year, O'Brien didn't fire the priest, despite Father John's confession in court documents and psychological reports that he'd molested his latest victim for two years. A former priest-administrator in the diocese claims he was encouraged by a diocese lawyer to convince the victim to drop charges.
The former priest refused. But eventually the parents decided not to prosecute. They were unaware at the time, and the diocese didn't bother to inform them, that Giandelone had molested their child for two years.
Eventually, O'Brien pleaded for a lenient sentence for Father John, who got extensive counseling and spent his year of jail time working on furlough in the diocese library.
Bishop O'Brien asked the judge for a lenient sentence for Father George, too. O'Brien has said he may convene a Church trial to see if Father George should remain a priest. He did not call for such a trial for the other two priests.
In the case of Father George, local church officials and parishioners ignored numerous warning signs of aberrant behavior. Father George, a crude and disheveled man with a flabby belly, often paraded around naked at the Castle in front of young boys. One of Father George's strongest supporters, a parishioner who wrote the court on his behalf, freely acknowledges the nudity and the fact that the priest once engaged in "horseplay" by rubbing Ben Gay on the genitals of a young boy.
The bishop refuses to talk about the cases but he has been well aware of the potential danger of pedophilia in the Church since at least 1985. Father Tony Sotelo, a parish priest at Immaculate Conception in downtown Phoenix, recalls that O'Brien warned his priests about it during a church convocation in Flagstaff "three or four years ago."
"To be very frank," Sotelo says, "he said not to mess around with boys. To be careful. And I don't want any boys staying overnight in the rectory,' things like that. But it was only one paragraph of a whole long talk about a lot of other things." Sotelo also says that a couple of years ago a "priest lawyer" talked to all diocesan priests at a Scottsdale meeting "about just that topic." Sotelo recalls: "He said, Remember, if any of you are guilty of any of this, you're finished with your priesthood anyway.' He said, I want you to know just how serious this really is.'"
The Church nationally has preferred to deal with the problem in secrecy. In 1985, when it became clear that pedophilia in the priesthood was a nationwide crisis, a confidential document detailing how to protect the Church from embarrassment and lawsuits was sent to all bishops. Father James McFadden, O'Brien's right-hand man at the time, says the bishop did receive it. (See related story on this page.) The 93-page document arrived after Father John Giandelone admitted his two-year affair with the youth, but probably before Father Joe Lessard was arrested. And it certainly arrived well before Father George was arrested.
The document emphasizes a strong public relations policy that includes distancing bishops from pedophile priests. It also suggests sending offending priests for treatment in states that don't have mandatory sex-offender reporting laws. Practically all of the document deals with pedophilia as an institutional and internal political problem and suggests ways of trying to avoid bad publicity. Very little of the document discusses the impact of pedophile priests on their victims.
Bishop O'Brien, like other church officials, also has been exposed to news stories detailing the Church's national pedophilia scandal. (See related story on page 28.) The National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly newspaper widely read by the Catholic clergy, began reporting the problem in 1985. The paper has called for bishops to be open about pedophilia cases and to take a "pastoral," rather than a self-protective, approach with the victims. "The response cannot be that of an institution, but of a church," the paper warned bishops in 1988.
In response to the scandal, Raymond Hunthausen, the liberal archbishop of Seattle, put together a team of cleric and lay professionals to treat victims. And he stressed public disclosure of facts, even if they were embarrassing to his priests.
By the time Father George Bredemann was arrested, Bishop O'Brien still had no such policy in place. The bishop, however, has publicly stated his distrust of the press. That may be why the diocese sent out a secret memo last month to its 250 priests. The September 19 memo warned priests that a New Times reporter was looking into the problem of pedophilia in the diocese. Although it didn't directly order priests not to talk, it said: "It has been wisely suggested that, if at all possible, the diocese should alert priests, in advance, to adverse publicity. Fortunately, in this case we are able to do so. . . . Obviously this type of publicity is hurtful to all priests and to the Church."
Experts acknowledge that screening for pedophiles is difficult. But what about teaching youngsters about pedophiles?
Unlike other institutions, like Scouting, the local diocese has not trained its youngsters with "yell and tell" videos that warn about molesters. Local parochial schools do use puppet shows to alert younger kids about molesters, says Marge Injasoulian, the diocese communications director.
Father Charles Kieffer, vocations director for the diocese, tells New Times that he knows his profession attracts child molesters because, like schoolteachers and doctors, priests have almost unlimited access to children. Kieffer says it's hard to screen for pedophiles because they may appear to be perfectly normal and are usually not honest in psychological testing about their sexual disorder. But he says that, since he came on board four years ago, the diocese has tightened up its screening for priesthood applicants by checking out resumes more thoroughly and requiring more psychological testing.
Former priest Perry Harper, who once held a high post in the diocese, says he left the priesthood because he was angered by what he saw as Bishop O'Brien's toleration of corruption, including homosexual acting-out by some priests. But Harper (not his real name) acknowledges that he was fired by O'Brien and is still annoyed at him. Harper is now a white-collar worker in a small town and consented to an interview only if his real name was not used.
Harper says he was "suspended" by O'Brien after an argument. "I told the bishop a couple of years ago that I was fed up with him and all the garbage that he was keeping quiet," says Harper. He claims that he told the bishop that he would also start telling the police about criminal behavior by priests. "I told him I could no longer carry out my vow of obedience to him," Harper says. "The bishop told me I'd lost my faith. Essentially he fired me. I had already decided to quit."
O'Brien has refused to discuss with New Times the Church's handling of pedophile priests, its response to sexual-abuse victims, charges of cover-ups of sex incidents, Harper's allegations or any other related topic.
The issues of homosexuality and pedophilia have rarely been openly discussed by Catholic clergy nationwide. But the issues have been dissected in national papers read by clergy and church officials.
The national Catholic press has written countless stories on pedophile priests. The stories have pointed out that homosexuality, a sexual preference, differs from pedophilia, which is a sexual disorder. But the stories have also pointed out that tolerating active sexuality by priests who've vowed lifelong celibacy may send a message that pedophilia will be tolerated, too.
Vern Bullough, author of Sexual Variation in Society and History, told the National Catholic Reporter two years ago: "I think there is a gay subculture within the Catholic clergy and probably a rationalization among some priests that having sex with young boys is not the heinous sin that others might think."
Some current and former local priests say pedophile priests justify their acts by considering voyeurism, fondling and masturbating a child "less of a sin" than intercourse.
The cases of Father John, Father Joe, and Father George reveal similar patterns of rationalizing and denial.
Father John, who in 1984 confessed he'd been abusing the same boy for two years, spent a year in jail, underwent extensive counseling and eventually left the priesthood.
Father Joe was luckier. When the diocese interceded on his behalf in 1986, he didn't have to go to jail despite the fact that he admitted in court papers that he'd molested a thirteen-year-old. At the time of Father John's arrest, sexual conduct with a minor carried a mandatory prison sentence of no less than five years. But in 1985, before Father Joe's case went to trial, the Arizona State Legislature approved harsher mandatory prison sentences for sex crimes against children. Under the new law, Father Joe could have been sent to prison for 25 years for his crime. Bishop O'Brien, who told police he'd had a "confessional" conversation with the priest, refused to talk to police about the case, according to court records.
However, the bishop and his former right-hand man, then-Chancellor James McFadden, would speak up when it was in Father Joe's best interest: They asked the court for a lenient sentence. Father Joe was not sent to jail. Superior Court Judge Michael Ryan put the priest on three years' probation and told him to stay away from little boys. The embarrassed cleric, who said he "just wanted to put all this behind me," transferred to a Midwestern diocese, where he is a priest-chaplain in a hospital. If Father Joe complies with the terms of his probation, he will have no criminal record. The case was never publicly acknowledged by the bishop.
Father George, the rowdy nudist priest, eventually confessed to molesting three young boys at his desert hideaway and to molesting as many as nineteen boys in his life. Two of Father George's victims have filed a negligence lawsuit against the priest and the diocese. The bishop, dozens of parishioners and local priests wrote the judge and asked for leniency.
The bishop said Father George was showing remorse for his actions and noted the priest had done many good things for his parish. Father George could have spent the rest of his life in prison for the sexual abuse of three boys. But instead he is spending a year in jail and must serve a lifetime probation. One of the terms of his probation is that he must never spend unsupervised time with children.
The sentence sparked outrage from some people as being too lenient. The irony is that Judge Robert Hertzberg, by restricting Father George's access to minors and insisting on lifetime probation, pronounced the harshest sentence a pedophile priest in Phoenix has received in the past five years.
Father George refused repeated requests by New Times for interviews, and the two other men could not be found for comment. But the incidents—and the diocese's response to them—are etched in public records and in the memories of the priests and parishioners.
"These priests are in the confessional or saying Mass after they do all this garbage, and that gives them a sense that they are above morality."
The diocese was alerted four years before his arrest that Father John may have been sexually involved with a youth.
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