Altar Boy: Law Told Me to Stay Quiet on Abuse
By Robin Washington
October 31, 2002
A former Missouri altar boy said that in the early 1980s he told then-Bishop Bernard Law that a parish priest was molesting him, only to be told by Law to keep quiet about the abuse.
The alleged victim, who asked that his name be withheld, said he sought Law's help a second time a few months later and was similarly rebuffed. "He cut me off. He didn't want to hear a lot of the details," he said of the alleged abuse at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Branson, Mo., at the hands of the now-deceased Rev. Paul McHugh in 1982. "He told me I was obligated not to speak to anyone else about it. He said we need to protect the church," the now-31-year-old Californian added.
The accusation counters Law's sworn deposition in the Rev. Paul R. Shanley civil case, in which Law reportedly claimed he dealt with only one abuser priest - the Rev. Leonard Chambers - during his tenure as head of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.
It's also at odds with Law's answer to a direct question about the abuse, asked by Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer representing Rodney Ford, who was present at the deposition which concluded two weeks ago. Ford's son Gregory, is an alleged victim of Shanley.
"He said he had no recollection whatsoever of any child coming to him complaining about abuse by a priest," Ford said, adding the cardinal did remember McHugh.
Though the alleged victim has retained counsel - Rebecca Randles of Kansas City and Boston's Stan Spero - he has not filed suit. But because the matter was mentioned in the Shanley case, archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Morrissey said it was part of pending litigation and she could not comment.
Ford said Law acknowledged he probably visited Our Lady of the Lake. "He said it was possible that he was at that parish doing fill-in work, but he doesn't remember specifically," Ford said.
An item on the parish's Web site indicates Law spent time there, reading: "Fr. McHugh died on June 4, 1983, after a short illness. After Fr. McHugh's untimely death, Bishop Bernard Law came to the parish during June and July to preside at the weekend Masses."
It was in an earlier visit by Law before McHugh's death that the alleged victim, then 12 years old, said he first told him of the abuse. "He was at the church for one reason or another. It was always such a big deal when the bishop came," he said.
"(Law) knew me well. He knew I wanted to be a priest," he added, saying his vocational interest was inspired by a predecessor to McHugh whom he respected and trusted.
When McHugh arrived, he said, he assumed a similar relationship would develop. Instead, he said, it led to visits with McHugh in the rectory, where the priest taught him to masturbate. "I was pretty confused. He was saying these were some of the things a priest needs to deal with.
"There was another event two weeks later. That time it was more mutual and more wine. Right about that time, I talked to Bishop Law about it." Though he said Law offered a prayer for him and said the story "needed to be kept secret for the good of the church," the alleged victim said the conversation could not have been misconstrued as confession.
As the abuse continued, he said, he started drinking, smoking marijuana and cutting school before eventually approaching Law again.
"The second time he said, 'We need to be careful with this type of information. There are people outside the church who wouldn't understand and would do harm to the church.' He mentioned Judas.
"I never told my parents. I never told anybody until four months ago," he said, adding his drug use and behavioral problems increased and plagued him much of his life.
Randles, his lawyer, called the alleged abuse a tragedy that could have been prevented. "Here was an individual who had an opportunity to stop ongoing abuse at the time. Instead, it became a relationship over a period of time where many, many incidents occurred," she said.
Though Randles is an experienced litigator who previously argued the only priest sex abuse case to be heard in Missouri - where she won a $ 1.2 million judgment, later overturned on appeal - her client isn't sure he will pursue a case or how he feels about cash judgments.
"No offense to lawyers, but $ 28 billion for smoking? For dropping a cup of coffee? Come on," he said. But he would like an apology, he said, or an explanation why the person who could have stopped the abuse failed to do so.
"I feel so betrayed by him and, in effect, by the church, by God," he said. "I pray with my daughter every night before she goes to bed. Most of the time I feel like a fraud. That's not how I should feel."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.