Victim Remembers, Recounts for Bishops 'That Horrible Night'
The St. Cloud Man Told of Being Sexually Abused at Age 11 by the Parish Priest Whom He Had Thought of As His Best Friend

By Warren Wolfe
Star Tribune
June 14, 2002

Dallas, Texas — At age 11, Craig Martin said, his best friend was his priest at St. Peter's Church in Forest Lake, a man who offered kindness, love, outings and fishing.

    And something else. The Rev. Joseph Heitzer, now dead, became Martin's abuser.

    Martin's emotional presentation was the first of four by victims of sexual abuse to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Thursday morning as the church leaders met to debate a proposed mandatory policy on sexual abuse.

    Now 46 and a St. Cloud businessman who owns Friends Bar and Restaurant in nearby Waite Park, he also is a junior at St. Cloud State University, working on a degree in social work.

    Heitzer died at age 55 in 1969, a year after Martin was abused. He apparently suffered a heart attack while in alcoholism treatment in the Twin Cities, said the Rev. Kevin McDonough, vicar general of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

    "There's some indication that leaders of the archdiocese knew about allegations that Father Heitzer abused some children," McDonough said in Dallas shortly after Martin spoke. He said he has talked with two other men who said they were sexually abused by Heitzer as children.

    Referring to himself in the third person or as "John Doe" _ because that way, "I can revisit my pain and not hurt myself again" _ Martin said he is amazed that instead of directing his anger toward the priest after the abuse, he directed it at his parents.

    "Mom and Dad," he said with a sob, "I am terribly sorry for how I have treated you. I now know that I only have love in my heart for both of you."

    His parents "thought it was a great idea" when Heitzer asked permission to take Martin on the fishing trip that led to abuse. Martin said he didn't trust his parents after that.

He said he became sexually active soon after Heitzer abused him in a motel room during an overnight fishing trip. He developed "very unhealthy attitudes toward women" and sought out women "in a predatory way." He also became an alcoholic.

Referring to himself, Martin said: "John remembers the motel that night with the priest, but hardly anything else. John has no idea how he got home. It is only 35 years later that John is starting to remember that horrible night."

Married with three children, Martin credited his wife, Julie, for leading him back to the church. "Your faith sustains me, and it is the beacon that has helped lead me here today. Thank you. I love you."

Martin reported the abuse two or three years ago, when he contacted Phyllis Willersheidt, the sex-abuse-victims advocate for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. She put him in touch with McDonough. The men now consider themselves friends, both said.

"Kevin has assisted me most in this journey when he has taken off his collar, stepped away from being a church executive, and dealt with me person to person. I thank him for those times.

"However, those times when the church has forced him to wear his collar are times that I have felt conflict and felt alone," Martin said. "Those are times where I do not feel as though my church wants to help me down this very difficult path.

"Many times, people like John Doe must reach a low point in their lives before they can ask for help," he told the bishops. "John found that the pain was so intense in his life that the fear of being retraumatized was less threatening" and he began therapy and contacted the archdiocese.

Two years ago, the archdiocese began paying for Martin's therapy and will continue as long as he and his therapist consider the work helpful, McDonough said.

The Rev. Robert Sipe, pastor at St. Peter's, said Thursday that he hasn't "heard a thing" about the allegations against Heitzer, and said he hadn't heard of the priest. It's possible that Heitzer was a visiting or weekend pastor at St. Peter's at the time, Sipe said.

    After quoting from the Paul Simon song "The Sounds of Silence," Martin said he favors some system of reconciliation between church officials and victims instead of lawsuits, which he said frequently revictimize those who have been abused and cause additional conflict within the church.

    Martin urged the bishops to set up an independent fund to help victims and offenders, and to use resources of social workers, medical experts and law-enforcement agencies to help and protect victims.

Martin attended all four "listening sessions" about sexual abuse that St. Cloud Bishop John Kinney held in recent weeks, and spoke at the last one a week ago in Princeton, Kinney said.

"We needed to hear what Craig and the others had to tell us," said Kinney, who repeated his frustration over the failure of bishops to take stronger action in the early 1990s, when he headed a national committee addressing the problem.

"We will never be the same after today," Kinney said. "We have heard horrific stories that must be told, and we must remember those stories as we vote Friday on a new policy."


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