Father Joe

By Terry Greene Priests
Phoenix New Times (Arizona)
October 25, 1989

The road dips into rocky washes, winds through forests of saguaros and climbs up a windswept hill to a toppled wooden cross that marks the entrance to Father George Bredemann's twenty-acre kingdom.

Father George spent practically every weekend at his "Castle." Nestled a few miles south of U.S. 60-89, the highway that links Sun City West and Wickenburg, the priest's desert hideaway is miles away from the nearest neighbors and can be reached only by the primitive dirt road.

The grounds are strewn with donations from Catholic charities and loving parishioners, gifts meant to help the priest as he built his retreat for altar boys, retarded Boy Scouts and troubled youths.

Even when Father George was there, the donations rotted and rusted randomly throughout the acreage--lawn chairs, loose nails, barbecue grills, stoves, wheelbarrows, mattresses, rolls of carpet and padding, used lumber, insulation, roofing, a children's swimming pool. There are also empty beer cans and vodka bottles. At the far end of the hill there are thirteen old toilets and several sinks, and next to them is a grave marked by a wooden cross that bears no name. The grave contains the ashes of a Catholic who wished to be buried at the Castle, says deputy county attorney Cindi Nannetti, who prosecuted Bredemann.

The Castle itself is a two-story shack built by the priest and a few parishioners. On the first floor is a kitchen, living room and a medical room with a doctor's examining table and a large picture of a tortured Christ. On the second floor is Father George's bedroom, where he and the boys slept. It's a room that can be reached only by a set of stairs that swing upward; it's designed for absolute privacy from the rest of the house.

"The pollution up at the Castle is an example of how chaotic that man's emotions are," says one nun, who declines to be identified. "Take a look at the term castle.' It's the epitome of absolute control. That was his refuge. I don't think he ever had an intention of completing it. He was living a life of absolute fantasy, and the children were part of that fantasy, somehow."

Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Father George Bredemann would pull out his CB radio and alert neighbor boys that he had arrived. Usually, he already had a couple of altar servers (he called them "critters"), a retarded youth or perhaps a troubled boy in need of counseling with him in his old van. Practically the first thing Father George did when he arrived at the Castle-- assuming there were no women around--was to take off his clothes. The middle- aged overweight priest loved to swim, stroll and cook naked when only he and the boys were at the Castle. Sometimes, he'd have a boy sleep naked with him in his bed.

"George was a little crude," explains Fred Noll, a semi-retired mechanic and St. Catherine's parishioner who became good friends with the priest after fixing his van.

Noll, who wrote the court on Father George's behalf and is still the priest's most loyal defender, recalls: "Many times after being out at the Castle working all day and living in a building that has no cooling, after the sun goes down you take a shower and sit around in the nude to cool off. I know there were times when we were out there and we'd sit around nude. He's not too modest. I usually had to wear shorts, at least."

Often, Father George would ask the boys if they wanted to take off their clothes, too. It was natural, Father George told them. Nothing wrong with it. One boy later told police that Father George once shot a .22 caliber rifle nestled next to his own naked penis to prove that such a gun had no dangerous recoil.

Father George's nudity upset at least five altar boys who were later interviewed by police. One boy said the nudity embarrassed him so much he would always pretend to fall asleep downstairs in front of the TV. That way, he wouldn't have to go "upstairs" where the priest slept. Prosecutor Nannetti says Father George paraded around nude to "groom" the boys for future sexual activity.

"He didn't see anything wrong with being nude in front of young boys and older men," says Noll. "But if there was ever a lady out there, he never sat around in the nude. He did respect that. But I don't think he differentiated between young boys and men--we were all made the same way and all had the same parts. I never seen George ever do anything you'd consider hanky panky with young kids."

But in the summer of 1989, after he struck his plea bargain, Father George admitted to a polygraph examiner that he'd been sexually involved with a thirteen-year-old boy on at least two occasions while he lived in Scottsdale. He claimed he woke up in the night to discover this particular boy was performing oral sex on him. Father George admitted enjoying it. The priest also told the same examiner that in 1985 he'd engaged in mutual masturbation at least twice with another thirteen-year-old boy.

GEORGE BREDEMANN came to St. Teresa's Parish in Scottsdale as a middle-aged seminarian in 1980, after he was recruited by Father Jack Cunningham, the former vocations director for the diocese. Bredemann became good friends with Monsignor James McMahon, the pastor at St. Teresa's.

Davern, the diocese chancellor, admits that there were several letters in Bredemann's file recommending that he not become a priest. Davern says the letters do not mention any behavior with children but instead complain of Bredemann's crudity and sloppiness. A few nuns at St. Teresa's Parish also recommended the priest not be ordained, one sister tells New Times. The diocese ordered Bredemann to spend an extra year in training for the priesthood and then ordained him in 1983, Davern says. Bredemann remained at the Scottsdale church until the bishop transferred him to St. Catherine's in South Phoenix in 1985. The diocese says there was no scandal that prompted Father George's sudden transfer. A vacancy just came up at the other parish, says Davern. Several priests--including McMahon and Cunningham--who lived with Father George at the Scottsdale parish say in court documents that Bredemann never gave any hint of misbehavior with young boys.

But Father George took an unusual interest in troubled thirteen-year-old Allen Fisher (not his real name). Allen, his adoptive parents and the seven other Fisher children were active in St. Teresa's parish. Father George frequently dined at their home and volunteered to be godfather to one of the children. He frequently offered to take Allen to the Castle for "counseling."

Allen's past had been a nightmare. Until he was seven, he lived in a car with his mother, grandfather and sisters, says John Fisher, Allen's adoptive father. John also says that before he and his wife adopted Allen, a foster family caught the seven-year-old trying to have intercourse with their little girl.

"I should have realized that George saw Allen as the perfect victim--one who knew how to keep secrets. I feel very stupid," recalls John.

On at least one occasion at the Castle, Father George persuaded Allen to take off his clothes to "meditate" with him. On another, Father George rubbed Ben Gay on Allen's genitals. Fred Noll explains that was not a sexual move, but simply "horseplay."

"The kid had hurt his back and George had still not outgrown horseplay," says Noll. "Father George was rubbing liniment on his back, and the boy was nude. He rubbed it on his behind and so forth and it sort of stings and so forth."

Father George denied for months after his arrest that he'd ever acted out sexually with Allen. Halfway through his therapy at the Home in Jemez Springs, he explained to his psychiatrist that he was sleeping nude with Allen one night and woke up to discover his hand had accidentally slipped on Allen's penis. He removed his hand immediately, he told the doctor.

After the plea bargain, Father George admitted to therapists that he'd fondled Allen's penis. But he blamed Allen for initiating the sex.

John Fisher later learned that Allen was molesting his three adoptive sisters at the same time Father George was molesting Allen. John immediately banished the boy from his family of eight children and sent him to a group home run by the state. Allen ran away and is now in Adobe Mountain School, a state-run youth prison.

"He already had problems," says John Fisher. "But Father George tripled them."

Ironically, it was the Fisher family, not Father George, who faced ostracism at St. Teresa's parish. John Fisher says neither McMahon nor the diocese offered the family any counseling after the priest's arrest. Bishop O'Brien did call up six months later, John Fisher says, after Father George was sentenced and the bishop had been thrashed by the media, to offer counseling.

"I got irked at Monsignor McMahon," says John Fisher. "He went to the seventh and eighth grades at St. Teresa's school immediately and said he didn't believe a word about Father George. . . . Our own pastor put us in the position of being liars. I took the kids out of that school." Later, after Father George admitted his guilt, McMahon wrote John a "conciliatory letter." But he didn't apologize, says John. McMahon refused comment to New Times.

John says some people at St. Teresa's still think Father George is innocent. "The community is flat stupid," he says. "They don't see a pedophile. All they see is a priest."

DORIS LOGAN, who was the housekeeper at St. Catherine's parish, where Father George was transferred from the Scottsdale parish, remembers the day in 1988 when Maria Martinez (not her real name) brought her sons to the rectory for counseling with Father George. The divorced woman's sons, Carlos and Miguel, were eight and ten years old at the time and had been molested by their next-door neighbor. Maria's brother suggested she take the boys to Father George because he was so good with kids.

"Father George was asking questions to the boys like Did he touch you here?' and he had the door open," says Logan. "He said he didn't want to close the door because they had been molested. And if you get them in a closed room they might fear that I was going to do the same thing.'"

Father George was interested in the boys, although he was never particularly interested in their sister, who'd also been molested. The children's father, Eduardo, a housepainter, says he wanted to move the boys to his South Dakota home. He recalls that Father George objected because it would interfere with their counseling. "He said moving them would maybe hurt them more," Eduardo says. "I now realize that he just wanted to be with the boys."

Eventually, Father George found a trailer for Eduardo and persuaded him to live in Phoenix with the children. He often stopped by the trailer to take the boys to the Castle. "There was usually a case of beer and some gin and vodka in the van," says Eduardo. "To me that was unusual, but he was a priest. . . . A priest was always basically the one you could trust. This was a man of God, and I've always been taught he was higher than me. Someone right below Jesus."

In June 1988, after the Martinez boys had been counseled by Father George for several months, the priest broke his wrists, a shoulder and several ribs in a construction accident at the Castle. He persuaded Eduardo to let the boys tend him at the Castle.

Once there, according to court records, Father George told the boys his hands wouldn't work well enough to fit a rubber catheter on his penis. The boys would have to help. "He claimed he needed to wear this device to avoid urinating on his clothing," a probation officer wrote in the priest's presentence report. "The juvenile victims put baby powder on the defendant's penis and rubbed it in. This caused the defendant's penis to become erect. The juveniles then slipped this device on the defendant's erect penis. As the juveniles were putting this device on, the defendant ejaculated into the catheter."

One day later that summer, church volunteer Michelle Brown (not her real name) drove to the Castle with a surprise load of supplies for Father George and the two boys.

Brown said the boys and the priest were naked when she arrived. She later wrote to the court: "The two boys were extra hyper, running around, laughing and talking about what had just happened. One said to the other, Mine got bigger than yours did.' The other said, No, Father George's got biggest and he shot furthest.' The boys went into more detail about the game they had been playing out back . . . to see whose could get hardest and how long before you could shoot and it would get soft again."

Michelle Brown called the Phoenix police, who in turn contacted the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office for investigation. Eduardo was shocked when he heard his children were molested again. "When the police called me over to the school, and they were talking to the boys, it felt like the floor fell out below my feet," he says. "I wanted to pick up a gun and hunt him down."

Father George was arrested in December 1988 and was sentenced in July 1989. The next month, the boys and their parents filed suit in Superior Court for unspecified damages, naming Father George, the diocese and St. Catherine's church. The suit alleges that the church and its officials were negligent because they should have known of Father George's "prior and dangerous propensities toward child molestation."

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. Some parishioners at St. Catherine's accuse the family of exploiting the boys' misfortune for money. "There's a side to those parents that people don't even know about," says Doris Logan, who argues that Father George's actions were part of a long line of "abandonments" of the children. "Father George took care of them when they had nothing. They didn't even have a place to live. The story is the mother abandoned them and left them for Father George to take care of."

Eduardo angrily denies the children were abandoned. "I never said Father George didn't do anything for us," says Eduardo. "But he did it to get at my kids." He adds, "I never thought I'd sue my church. But someone's got to pay."

Some parishioners at St. Catherine's are equally upset with Michelle Brown, the volunteer who told police about Father George. Fred Noll insists that Brown herself had wanted to seduce the priest. He describes her as a woman scorned. "In George's words, not mine," says Noll, "| she is a spoiled little rich girl.'" Michelle Brown replies, "I don't care what Fred Noll says."

Brown tells New Times that she was a victim of angry parishioners loyal to Father George and of priests who she feels have shunned her.

"St. Catherine's parish is a victim, too," she says. "It's a poor Hispanic parish with people who aren't aware that these things go on. When you show a priest to people like that, they think he's God and there's no way they'll think he's done anything wrong. They'll defend him to the end."

FATHER GEORGE was charged with three counts of child molestation and five counts of indecent exposure. The child molestation counts centered on sexual activities with the Martinez boys and Allen Fisher. The indecent exposure charges, which were later dropped, stem from his romping around naked in front of altar boys.

When Father George was charged with the crimes, Bishop O'Brien immediately suspended him and sent him to the Home in Jemez Springs. According to psychological reports later filed with the court, Father George seemed to get a lot out of his therapy. He cheerfully scaled mountains, drew pictures, submitted to "spirituality profiles" given by Home staffers and, according to one priest, was an "alive giver-presider" during services.

At the Home, Father George initially professed his innocence, and he laid out his past to psychiatrists. Gradually, during his five months at Jemez Springs, he admitted molesting numerous boys while he worked for the Boy Scouts and later for the Phoenix diocese.

Bredemann had attended three different seminaries before finally being ordained in middle age. The diocese recruiter, Father Jack Cunningham, says he checked records only at the last seminary George attended.

Had Cunningham checked with the Redemptorist Seminary in Chicago, he would have been told by an official named Father Andre that "George should never be ordained." Father Andre tells New Times that he remembers two things about George Bredemann that didn't sit right with him: First, he was a loner who was always tinkering with clocks and had a messy room. Second, he was the sort of man you just knew would not make a good priest.

There were other red flags. Bredemann could never seem to settle down. He had tried being a Lutheran. And a Baptist. He'd been a carnival hawker and a teacher before he joined up as an executive with the Boy Scouts of America.

Bredemann had a strange relationship with the Scouting organization. He admitted he'd been molested at Boy Scout camp when he was thirteen, by a riflery instructor named Bob. But he later worked for the Chicago Council of the Scouts for ten years. He told his psychiatrist in Jemez Springs that his job involved the "three M's: money, manpower and membership." William Crowley, a friend of Bredemann's from Chicago, later wrote the court that Bredemann had another job: "to check out new applicants who were to become Scout leaders, that they were not gay or had lesbian traits." Scouting officials in Chicago, who are aware of the pedophilia problem in their own ranks and formally warn youngsters about molesters, say they never heard of such screening. "I have no knowledge of a job like that," says Ken Walters, director of support services for the Chicago council.

Father George also had a Scout troop, court records say, and he admitted that he was aroused when he saw his troop members undressing--although he insisted he never molested them. But then last summer, he told a psychiatrist that he had sexually abused fifteen boys before becoming a priest. Father George said those victims weren't Boy Scouts--they were members of the YMCA.

Walters says he does not know if Bredemann ever got in trouble for molesting Scouts--his personnel file has been shipped and stored at Scout headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Father George also told his psychiatrist at Jemez Springs that he'd never had sexual intercourse with a woman but had been engaged three times. The psychiatrist noted that it was odd that Bredemann described each of his fiancees as if they were children: "a little hillbilly," a "little Jewess" and a "too-good girl." Psychologists and psychiatrists repeatedly say Father George was a skilled manipulator. Psychologist Stephen Gray observed: " His facial expression is one of pleasantness; he smiles a great deal. . . . It felt manipulative, as if he could gain some sort of advantage."

Gray noted that Father George tried to influence his plethysmograph test, which measures penile erections, by suppressing or attempting arousal. "I have concerns about attempts to produce arousal on the part of the client," Gray wrote in a report last May 11 to Judge Hertzberg.

Despite those alleged efforts at sabotage, Gray added, Father George's plethysmograph revealed that "young children, prepubescent and adolescent, seem to produce the most arousal."

Gray also came to a conclusion about Father George's activities at the Castle: "George Bredemann's accounts of the sexual activities that occurred at the Castle are, in a word, unbelievable. To say that he walked around nude in the presence of minors and that he verbally encouraged other minors to be nude in his presence and those activities were without sexual motivation, given his history . . . is just not believable."

DORIS LOGAN RECALLS the day earlier this year when Father George, who was out of jail on bail while negotiating his plea bargain, invited her and other St. Catherine's parishioners up to the Castle. The purpose: to organize a letter-writing campaign. "On the blackboard, he had an outline of how this letter should be written. He had everybody copy it down. That was just before he copped his plea. He said, It's very important that you write these letters before I go down for the plea.' Quite naturally he did, because he didn't want the people to know he was going to plead guilty. I knew because I worked there. But he never told the others. So many people who wrote those letters even today believe he was railroaded, he's a saint."

Over 100 letters from St. Catherine's and St. Teresa's parishioners and diocese priests poured into Superior Court before Father George's July sentencing. The letters extolled the priest's work with children and pleaded for leniency. The priest was crude, the parishioners admitted, but that was just Father George.

One St. Catherine's parishioner said she had visited the Castle with her family: "At the time of our stay there, the bathroom was a doorless room off the living room, consisting of a five-gallon drywall bucket with a seat. Privacy was a luxury he couldn't afford, and didn't seem to need. While some might take offense at this open attitude, those who know him accept this as part of his character."

Bishop Thomas O'Brien also wrote a letter on behalf of Father George. O'Brien wrote: "There was nothing in his past to indicate that he had any problems of this nature." The bishop said he felt "profound compassion" for the victims and noted that Father George had made "progress while in therapy" at the Home. O'Brien asked that Father George be sentenced to a year in the county jail's work-furlough program--just as he had asked for Father John Giandelone several years before.

Only four letters were written to the court on the victims' behalf. One came from Carlos, the eight-year-old boy Father George eventually admitted he'd molested.

The boy scrawled his poorly spelled letter on a piece of notebook paper: "I hope you give fouther Gorge 15 years in jail and so dose my bruother. . . . So plese plese put him in jail for that long beacuse he did something rong and god sed not to do that stuff he's not a post to do that stuff because he is a preast."

BECAUSE OF ARIZONA'S stringent laws, Father George could have served eighty years in jail for molesting Allen and Miguel and Carlos. But in May 1989, the six counts of indecent exposure were dropped, and the child molestation charges were reduced to three counts of attempted child molestation. Even with the lesser charges, which Father George pleaded guilty to, the priest could have been sentenced to twenty years in prison.

Three months later, Judge Robert Hertzberg sentenced Father George to a year in jail and lifetime probation with no unsupervised contact with minors. If he violates his probation and molests kids, he can be sent to prison for twenty years without a trial. The judge listed the reasons he decided to spare the priest a prison term: the support of the Church and letters from parishioners; Father George's own "contrition" and "abiding desire " to overcome his "sexual disorder"; no prior criminal record; the willingness of the probation department to monitor the priest for life; the availability of therapy.

Prosecutor Cindi Nannetti says she agreed to the plea bargain because she feared the jury would believe the priest over troubled young boys who had been molested before. But she says she asked for a fifteen-year prison sentence, which was standard for the lesser charges. "I think George is a real sick puppy," Nannetti says. "He's so damn blatant about everything."

Bishop O'Brien was criticized by newspaper columnists and radio talk-show hosts for writing his letter to the judge. Critics also pointed out the bishop did not contact the victims directly.

At his press conference after the sentencing, the jittery bishop explained that his lawyers told him not to contact victims directly because he might appear to be tampering with witnesses. He said he publicly offered counseling to the victims by talking to a group of parishioners at St. Catherine's and by repeating the offers in the press. "I had the best intentions in the world, " he told reporters. "These are difficult situations for people, but the faith still remains, by and large. It's bound to shake some people, but they still believe in the Lord and they still believe in the Church." FATHER GEORGE, who is working as a trustee in Maricopa County Jail, calls Fred Noll every day. In Noll's eyes, Father George is a martyr.

"To this day, I believe he was innocent," says Noll. "It was a trumped up charge from a vindictive lady who didn't get her way." Noll maintains that Father George's only crime was romping au naturel with the boys at the Castle.

Noll, ignoring the fact that Catholics outnumber Mormons in the Valley, claims the priest also is a victim of religious prejudice: "His attorney told him that by plea bargaining he'd come up with a lesser sentence than if he went up before a jury, because the city is primarily Mormon and a Catholic priest would have as much chance as a snowball in hell if he goes before a Mormon jury."

Noll adds: "George still thinks he's innocent. He didn't do anything wrong in his mind."

But last July, one day before he was to be sentenced and after the bishop, fellow priests and numerous parishioners had written to the court pleading his case, Father George briefly threw off his cloak of denial.

Father George wrote the judge: "I am a man who has a sexual attraction to young boys and a priest who is responsible for abusing a special position of trust in abusing these children.

"The words I'm sorry' are totally inadequate to address what I've done."

"He was living a life of absolute fantasy, and the children were part of that fantasy, somehow."

The middle-aged overweight priest loved to swim, stroll and cook naked when only he and the boys were at the Castle.

"I should have realized that George saw Allen as the perfect victim--one who knew how to keep secrets."

"He already had problems. But Father George tripled them."

"Our own pastor put us in the position of being liars."

The boy scrawled: "I hope you give fouther Gorge 15 years in jail and so dose my bruother."


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