Ex-Pupil Testifies of Abuse by Priests Memory Repressed, Man Tells Jurors

By Jim Schaefer
Detroit Free Press
February 14, 1995

Wiping his eyes and pausing for long stretches, a Massachusetts man Monday testified of being sexually abused by three Capuchin priests and detailed a three-day ordeal in 1978 while he was sick and bedridden in Detroit.

"He helped me sit up. . . . I was leaning on him," testified Paul Isely, who is suing the Detroit-based order. "I was laying in bed and the next thing I knew, this guy was masturbating me."

Isely, 34, was about 17 at the time and living with members of the Catholic order in a house on West Grand Boulevard. The nine-month stay in the home was part of a program for young men considering the priesthood. Isely, who had come to Detroit after graduating from a Capuchin-run high school in Wisconsin, became ill with a fever early on during his stay at the house. After seeking hospital treatment, he was confined to a bed for three days.

During that time, he testified, he was abused by an older student and the Rev. Jim Wolf, who was then pastor of Detroit St. John Evangelist Church, adjacent to the home.

On the stand Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, Isely identified Wolf as the one who fondled and performed fellatio on him.

The lawsuit claims Wolf, Jim Buser and Gale Leifeld abused him in Capuchin programs during the 1970s. Isely said he contemplated suicide after the abuse.

Buser and Leifeld have died. Wolf, who is no longer in Detroit, has chosen not to attend the trial.

The lawsuit also demands unspecified damages from the order and several supervisors for not protecting Isely, who now lives in Cambridge, Mass.

The trial, which began Friday and is expected to last about a month, is the first of 10 civil lawsuits in Michigan and Wisconsin that have been filed since revelations two years ago of abuse within the order. The Capuchins have admitted there was abuse, but deny that Isely was one of the victims. The Capuchins say they have taken corrective measures.

Isely normally would have been barred from filing suit because too much time has passed from when the abuse supposedly took place, but he claims that he repressed the memory of it until late 1992.

Supporters of the theory of repressed memory say victims of trauma hide their recollections to cope. Critics say there is no scientific evidence this is possible.

Isely testified the abuse began as early as age 13, when he enrolled in high school at St. Lawrence Seminary in Fond du Lac, Wis. He said that Buser, the freshman counselor, often would awaken him at night, force him to kneel for long periods on a staircase and call him to his office or bedroom.

There, the priest would ask him sexual questions, fondle him and expose himself, Isely said.

"He said he liked me because I was like a girl," he said. "I didn't have much body hair."

Isely told jurors that Leifeld, who was principal of the school, molested him during his sophomore year while he was on "movie crew" -- a group of boys who ran the projector from a booth in an auditorium.

Isely testified of once discovering his twin brother, who also was a student, with Leifeld in an office. His brother's clothes were rumpled.

"It was like the world stopped. I was stunned," Isely said.

Then, with his brother watching, the priest pulled down Isely's pants and whispered that he was then going to sodomize him, Isely said.

A secretary walked in and Leifeld left out of another door, Isely said. The secretary also is dead.

Isely said he didn't remember this abuse until a couple of years ago.

In earlier testimony Monday, a Capuchin priest testified on Isely's behalf that he, too, was abused when he was a student at the same time in the same school. The priest said he thinks he also might have repressed the memory. He is not a party to Isely's suit.


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