Academy Priest Faces Sex Probe Former Cadet Cites Relationship
By Erin Emery
April 20, 2000
Air Force Academy - A Catholic priest stationed at the Air Force Academy has been under investigation for allegedly having an improper sexual relationship with a female cadet in the 1980s.
The investigation involving the Rev. Pat Nicholson, 54, a lieutenant colonel and cadet chaplain, and the former cadet, Maj. Susan Archibald, who graduated from the academy 13 years ago, began Nov. 8 after she turned over love letters.
Archibald notified the academy that she had a sexual relationship with Nicholson that began in the spring of 1984, while she was an 18-year-old freshman. Archibald told authorities that she believes more women have been sexually involved with the priest.
The former cadet told officials that she first went to Nicholson for counseling. Within a week, the relationship turned sexual. Archibald told investigators that she spent weekends at Nicholson's home at the academy, sneaked out of the cadet dormitory at night and had intercourse with him on numerous occasions.
In November, she provided the academy with seven of 54 love letters that she said Nicholson wrote to her while she was still a cadet. Once the academy received the love letters, the superintendent turned the investigation over to the Office of Special Investigations.
In a letter postmarked July 2, 1985, Nicholson wrote: 'I feel magnetized to you physically and mentally and sexually, too. ... I should have told you from the very start how complicated this relationship could get. ... Anyway, the whole thing I have done to you is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life.
'I want to be a great, great friend to - for you. I want you to always feel loved for and cared for by me.'
The letter ended this way: 'I love you, (signed) Pat' and was followed by a postscript: 'Please, please don't leave this letter around.'
Though the academy received the letters in November, Nicholson continued to say mass in the Catholic Chapel until last month, Archibald said. On Wednesday morning, a fellow chaplain said Nicholson was in a meeting with cadets. By Wednesday afternoon, he was 'no longer available.'
Contacted at his home Wednesday, Nicholson told a reporter: 'I'm sorry, they have told me that I'm unable to talk to you.' In a statement, the academy said Wednesday: 'Allegations have been made regarding an unprofessional relationship between a chaplain and former cadet from 16 years agoUpon learning of the allegations, the chaplain's duties with cadets were curtailed pending the outcome of the investigation. All allegations have now been investigated, and the investigation is complete. No current cadets are involved. Command action involving the chaplain is pending.
'The chaplain remains stationed at the Air Force Academy but no longer performs chaplain's duties. Due to the Privacy Act, we cannot provide any additional information at this time,' Neil Talbott, chief of media relations, said in the statement. He said 'the outcome should be determined in two to three months.'
Archibald said Nicholson had been 'offered an Article 15 and accepted,' and she was disappointed to learn Wednesday that he was still at the academy. An Article 15 is an administrative regulation that covers a broad range of violations and is not open to the public.
Archibald - a faculty member from 1993 to 1998, when Nicholson was away from the academy - said she decided to tell authorities about her relationship with Nicholson because she wanted the truth to come out. She also wants the Catholic Church and the Air Force to do a better job investigating complaints from women who make allegations against men in superior positions or positions of trust. The statute of limitations for Article 15 is two years.
'She is not seeking anything except for the law to operate. In other words, that he be treated as the law suggests he should be treated,' said Robert Cusick, Archibald's attorney and a former lawyer in the Navy. 'In my view, these are a very aggravated set of circumstances. You have a Catholic priest in his late 30s. She's 18 years old and conditioned to think priests know the right thing to do, that priests are counselors, that priests are spiritual. She's a freshman at the Air Force Academy, and they are conditioned to be in awe of senior officers. His power and influence over her was tremendously disproportional.'
Still, Archibald admits that she had sexual relations with Nicholson as recently as last summer, when she encountered him at the academy. In the fall, she began asking him some pointed questions about the relationship they shared while she was a cadet.
'I was asking him what he was thinking when he got involved with me. How could he have done that? And I asked him if he could become involved with other cadets, and he actually admitted that he could, which I thought was strange,' Archibald said. 'I think there's a part of him that wanted somebody to stop him.'
Archibald, then Susan Loomans, grew up in the small, rural town of Horicon, Wis. Across the street was St. Malachy's Catholic Church, where Susan, the youngest of six children, attended grade school. She excelled in sports, Scouts and academics. On Sundays, she was a lector at the family church.
She had a sheltered life, she said. Raised by older parents, now 78 years old, she said her mother privately hoped that her youngest daughter would become a nun. In high school, she visited the Air Force Academy and fell in love with the place. By the summer of 1983, she was in basic training. The stress was tremendous, but it became overwhelming in February or March of 1984.
She had to turn in a roommate for drinking and other violations - part of the honor code. In the end, the roommate was expelled, and so were two seniors who were within weeks of graduation. Some seniors harassed her because they thought she was the catalyst for what happened. Others praised her.
A commander suggested she talk to 'Father Pat,' then a captain, who wore dress blues under his holy vestments. After mass one Sunday, she asked to speak to him in private.
'I told him how terribly embarrassed I wasand I was afraid to tell my parents. And he offered to write to them for me, which he did,' she said.
And then he suggested: Come back for more counseling. She trusted him with her problem because, after all, she was raised by devout parents who instilled a belief that a priest is akin to a 'junior God,' she said.
As they were about to part, something peculiar happened. 'He embraced me, but it was not your typical priest-parishioner embrace,' she said. 'It was just too long and too close. It wasn't a pat-on-the-back hug, it was a pull-you-real-close embrace. He said how special I was,' Archibald said.
The relationship was different from the start. Nicholson called that afternoon and almost every day thereafter. He arranged a counseling session - after hours, at his office - within days after their first meeting.
'The thing that was strange is when the counseling session started, when I talked to him, he wanted me to sit on his lap,' she said. 'It started on his lap, and we would talk. He was always very fun to be with because he would joke. ... He has a very engaging personality. He could always make me laugh and feel good. I'd sit on his lap for a while, and then he would start to kiss me.'
Even though she wasn't supposed to leave the cadet area, she and Nicholson arranged to meet. She'd sneak out of the dorm and go to his house. When he pulled into the parking lot near the dorm, he pushed a button to deactivate the overhead light. 'I think he must have been thinking, 'I don't want anyone to see that she's getting into my car' - either for his sake or for my sake, maybe both,' Archibald said.
Soon, she was spending the weekend at Nicholson's home.
'I would officially go through the process of signing out in the log book: 'I'm spending the weekend at Father Pat's house."
She said she had intercourse with him, perhaps as early as the first weekend after she had gone to him for help. 'I hadn't had any relationships prior to that point,' she said. 'I casually dated, fairly infrequently when I was in high school, but I had no sexual experience whatsoever when that started. So he pretty much had to initiate it and instruct.'
The two also spent time hiking, seeing movies and going to dinner. She played racquetball with him. During her summer and Christmas breaks in 1984, he visited the family home in Wisconsin.
'When I asked my parents if he could come and stay with us, for example, in the summertime, my mother was overjoyed that a priest would come and stay in our house. She saw that I had somebody who was protecting me. ... So when he came to our house, it was 'The Big Event," Archibald said. 'He said mass in our living room, and my mother just beamed. She thought, you know, 'Our house is blessed forever now."
But even when he stayed at the family home, the two had 'sexual contact,' Archibald said.
When she told her mother five months ago that the relationship was inappropriate, her mother 'started praying the Rosary all day,' Archibald said.
Why wasn't she able to stop his advances? Why didn't she say no?
'When I look back at those things that happened, I say: 'Why did you do it? Why did you do these things.' And it was like I couldn't stop. He had so much influence over me. My complete trust.
'Everybody really thought very highly of this priest, and I know that there may have been other women or girls that had crushes on him, and to think that he picked me. He made me feel important in the fact that I knew that he was breaking his vows and breaking the rules, for me. It made it seem like I was worthy of that risk. I guess it had to do with the power that he had brought as a priest and as a senior officer,' Archibald said.
In the summer between her freshman and sophomore year, Nicholson was reassigned. He went to study theology at Boston College for one year. Then, he was transferred to an Air Force base in Alabama, where he was an instructor at a theology school. Later, according to Archibald, Nicholson entered a monastery. He then spent time in his native Ireland before recently returning to the academy.
After he left, she retreated to her studies. She made only a few friends. She missed him terribly, although he visited her when he could during her sophomore year, and the two spent time in hotel rooms.
During her senior year, she told an academy psychologist about the relationship. He told her that the 'reality was that the relationship was abusive,' but Archibald didn't believe him 'because the priest had pretty much brainwashed me.'
She graduated in 1987 and became an officer overseas. She earned a master's degree and built a house - things that distracted her from the memory of Nicholson. In 1993, she returned to teach geology at the academy and began to have serious doubts about her 'romance.'
'I had a lot of contact with cadets. I taught students; I was a captain then. I would see the girls that were the freshmen then. And I know I looked young and sort of naive, and they looked very much the same way - very scared, vulnerable, young, needing a lot of things. And I started to think, how could someone who is 38, and an officer, a captain and then a major, how could they become involved with a freshman cadet?
'The realization that he had abused me or taken advantage of me was almost too scary to admit. I'd much rather have believed that I was special, that it was a genuine relationship, but I started to have doubts. I was there in the same setting where a lot of stuff happened and a lot of the memories came back. And I felt I couldn't go into the chapel without feeling physically ill. And I attributed that to my missing him so much, but part of me was starting to realize that this was really about something else.'
Still, she had told no one. Not even her husband-to-be, Ian Archibald, also an academy grad, whom she married at St. Malachy's in Wisconsin in November 1997.
Last summer, while trying to sell a home she owned in Monument, Archibald found out that Nicholson was back at the academy. She called him. He invited her over.
She hadn't seen him in years and decided to go to his apartment.
'I needed to confront him. I had been carrying this around for a long time. It was very traumatic because the same thing that happened to me when I was 18 started all over again,' she said.
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