Local Man to Testify against Church
He Says He Was Abused Long Ago by the Same Priest Accused by a Portland Man

By Melissa Martin
Mail Tribune
December 21, 2001

A Rogue Valley man has agreed to testify in a $4 million sexual abuse case against the Archdiocese of Portland, saying he was abused by a priest in Medford when he was a boy.

This summer, Raymond read a newspaper article about a taxi driver's lawsuit, in which the man alleged he was sexually abused a half-century ago by a priest.

The story flooded Raymond's mind with memories, taking him back to 1949, when he was an 11-year-old student at St. Mary's Academy in Medford. He said the same priest, the late Rev. William McLeod, called him into the parish house on Oakdale Avenue for religion class; when no one else was around, the priest touched him in a sexual way.

Problem crosses all denominations

Research suggests that 3.3 percent of priests - about 2,000 out of 60,000 priests in the United States - have abused children or teenagers, said Thomas Plante, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University in California and editor of "Bless Me Father, for I Have Sinned" (Praeger 1999).

That's about the same percentage as Protestant clergy and Jewish rabbis who abuse, but it's lower than the 7 to 8 percent of the general population who abuse, he said.

"The Catholics get all the press, but the data shows the numbers are not different than other denominations," Plante said. He conducts evaluations for priests, spiritual directors and leaders from dioceses and religious orders on the West Coast.

In the past, the church tended to cover up cases or to ship abusers to remote parishes.

But for the past decade, the church has been sending troubled priests to places such as St. Luke's Institute in Suitland, Md., for in-patient treatment, Plante said. After treatment, the priests are moved to administrative or other roles where they won't be in contact with children or teenagers.

"I think the dioceses and religious orders are getting more sophisticated, savvy and thoughtful in dealing with the cases," Plante said.

Raymond's memory was jogged by a July lawsuit filed by a 74-year-old taxi driver who alleges McLeod sexually abused him for five years at All Saints Parish in Portland. Raymond has not joined the lawsuit, but he's among three men who have agreed to submit testimony in the case. He submitted a written deposition - his description of the incident - this week to the plaintiff's attorney. The lawsuit has a spring court date, but is likely to be settled out of court, said Portland attorney Kelly Clark, who represents the taxi driver.

Oregon law allows victims of child abuse to file claims even if the alleged abuse took place decades earlier. In the taxicab driver's case, the alleged abuse took place more than 50 years ago. The Portland incidents occurred between 1938 and 1941 before the alleged abuse of Raymond.

Raymond, who asked that his real name not be used for fear of reprisal, claims McLeod, who died in March 1969, abused him in a single incident.

"I could never tell anybody," Raymond said. "My dad died in 1981 and I never told him because we weren't close. My Mom died in 1972 and I couldn't tell her. She had a bad heart and it would have upset her.

"My first thought is that I would tell my teacher or the nun, but then I thought, they'd scold me for even suggesting it."

But members of Sacred Heart Parish Church, where McLeod served for 20 years, from 1949-69, tell a different story about the priest.

"The allegations are just that - allegations," said Joel Reeder, a retired Medford attorney who led a campaign to build a new school for St. Mary's during McLeod's tenure. "I'd be surprised if there's any truth to it."

Portland resident Don Zeleznik, who was an altar boy at Sacred Heart Parish in Medford for about eight years, said he spent many Sunday mornings riding with the priest to Mass in Jacksonville.

"I was alone in the car with him and with other young boys," Zeleznik said. "He took us to basketball tournaments, baseball games. I traveled at night with him sometimes. Not one time did I even suspect or think that he was anything but one of the best spiritual and moral leaders I've ever known."

Parishioner George Longie remembers Father McLeod as someone who preached a short sermon.

"One time he said, 'I know you won't want to listen to my sermon today because the World Series is on, so let's get going.' " Longie said. "I have everything good to say about Father McLeod."

But Raymond remembers him as a stern priest who smoked with teenagers on the front steps of the church.

Raymond said he told his story to the Mail Tribune not for financial gain from a lawsuit but to help other victims. He said being abused by a priest, whom he trusted and respected, led to his teenage involvement with a neighbor who was charged with sexual abuse. It also contributed to his two failed marriages, he said.

Raymond, who has remained in the Roman Catholic Church, said he's received counseling for psychiatric problems stemming from the abuse and he believes that healing has taken place.

An older adult accusing a priest from his childhood is more believable if he describes a specific event such as Raymond has - rather than claiming to have a repressed memory - and if he's reluctant to join a lawsuit, according to the Rev. Kibbie Ruth, executive director of the Pastoral Center for Abuse Prevention in San Mateo, Calif. The center helps train seminarians studying for the priesthood.

"It's phenomenally embarrassing for someone in this age group to talk about this," said Ruth, who has traveled the country holding abuse prevention seminars for 18 years. "It's difficult because of the shame involved and because of the religious issues. People wonder, 'This is the priest who married me; is my marriage still good? Am I still baptized? Does this change everything about his ministry?'

"Back then, children couldn't tell their stories and even if they did, the system wouldn't respond," Ruth said.

But the Catholic church has spent more than $1 billion on the problem since the 1980s, said Richard Sipe of La Jolla, Calif., who has been researching priest abuse cases for 40 years and has written three books on the subject. He is a married lay priest who remains in good standing with the Vatican.

The largest settlement came from a Texas jury in 1997 - $119 million against the Archdiocese of Dallas, which was accused of covering up the abuse committed by a priest who was later sentenced to life in prison. To avoid bankruptcy, the archdiocese settled for $23 million.

Last fall, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Archdiocese of Orange reached a $5.2 million settlement with a man who accused a priest of molesting him when he was a student in a parochial high school a decade ago. The dioceses agreed to establish a toll-free number and a Web site for people to report allegations anonymously.

"It's in the system," Sipe said. "Many of (the perpetrators) were sexually abused themselves by a priest when they were young. The pattern continues. If you have a superior - a rector of a seminary or spiritual director, or a bishop - having sex with a priest, the priest can turn around and find someone more vulnerable for his sexual partner."

The church has responded at the entry level; it now conducts police record checks on candidates and trains young priests to set boundaries when they work with women and children, said the Rev. Liam Cary, a priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Medford. Seminarians take seriously their vow of celibacy - a life of singleness - and their vow of chastity - a life of sexual purity - he said.

And the Archdiocese of Portland's seminary application requires a psychological evaluation, said Bud Bunce, director of communications.

Ruth, an ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, agrees that churches are becoming more open and responsive to the problems.

"Churches, little by little, are being pushed, mainly by their insurance companies to get rid of this," she said. "It's often a financial motivation, not a love and care for children."

Sipe recommends two more responses the Catholic church could take - allow priests to marry and ordain women.

"It would shift the whole power system in the church," Sipe said. "Women are nonentities in the Catholic church. The pope, bishop, all the power structure is male. When women get in, they can change things."

Church culture makes them easy prey for abusers

No church is immune from the specter of child abuse.

Churches are an easy target for abusers because they always need volunteers and because they have trusting attitudes, said the Rev. Kibbie Ruth, executive director of the Pastoral Center for Abuse Prevention in San Mateo, Calif.

"The criteria for volunteers in most congregations is, 'Do they breathe?' " Ruth said. "We don't usually screen people, and once they say they'll do it, we just sort of leave them alone."

Churches should set up a three-fold program for volunteers who work with children or youth - screening, training and accountability, said Medford Police Chief Eric Mellgren. He and his wife have helped start screening programs in local churches.

During the screening process, church leaders should do a police records check on the volunteer and interview the volunteer, asking pointed questions such as, "Have you ever been involved sexually with a child?" Mellgren remembers the time his wife felt uneasy about a man who suddenly showed up at their Grants Pass church wanting to volunteer in a program that served 150 children, yet refusing to follow church protocol. "The man told her, 'I don't want to be interviewed because I'm on parole for child abuse,' " Mellgren said.

That reinforced Mellgren's belief that churches need to do everything they can to protect children.

"Predatory child abusers go to places where they collect kids," Mellgren said. "Churches can become a ripe picking ground."

Besides an interview and police records check, churches should train volunteers, he said. The Boys Scouts have a successful model, which includes the two-adult rule - never be in a room with a child alone - and be careful how you hug a child, Mellgren said.

He also recommends that churches use caution when an activity ends that the child leaves with the person who brought him.

After training, churches should follow up with accountability, checking in on volunteers to make sure they follow the rules.

It's important for adults who work with children to respect the boundaries, Ruth said.

"People assume that all children are available for hugs," Ruth said. "You don't want to promote never touching a child. But we need to help adults understand the child needs to say it's comfortable or uncomfortable."

She cites the example of a girl with curly, red hair who gets too many adult hands on her head.

"When you ask kids what touches they don't like, they say, 'A pat on the head,' " Ruth said. "We try to help people respect children."

Reach reporter Melissa Martin at 776-4497, or e-mail


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.