Ex-Priest Breaks Code of Silence

By Gregory D. Kesich
Portland Press Herald (Maine)
July 31, 2005

In the summer of 1963, Francis McGillicuddy, a young priest and director of a church-run girls camp on Poland's Worthley Pond, noticed something odd about one of the camp's guests, the Monsignor Henry Boltz.

Boltz, a leading figure in Maine's Roman Catholic Church, had befriended a teenage boy from the camp staff. This boy, McGillicuddy observed, accompanied the elderly prelate on shopping trips and to the movies and made long visits inside Boltz's private cabin on the grounds of Camp Pesquasawasis.

McGillicuddy felt something was wrong. He couldn't say what it was, but he wanted to stop it.

"I called the staff together and said the monsignor's cabin was out of bounds," he recalled. "No one was to go down there for any reason."

Within days, Boltz left. For years, McGillicuddy never really knew why.

"You would never even breathe that a priest would commit sexual abuse," he said. "It would never be verbalized. It was unthinkable."

Earlier this month, the church said what McGillicuddy could not.

A court-ordered release of the names of 23 deceased priests, one monk and a nun accused of sexual abuse of children included the name of Henry Boltz, who died in 1970. Later, in letters distributed inside church leaflets, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland announced that the charges against Boltz were credible.

If Boltz were alive today, he likely would be removed from active ministry and investigated. His case could have been referred to the Vatican for trial.

McGillicuddy, who left the priesthood in 1972 to marry, is one of the few clergy members from that period willing to talk about his experience in the priesthood. He describes a closed culture where the priests were kept apart from the people they served and the authority of church leaders was unquestioned.

Sex was almost never discussed, he said, but he realizes now that it was part of life for many of his colleagues. A priest's loyalty to his brothers was expected, and it was sometimes enforced by church hierarchy. Secrets were kept. Sometimes people even kept secrets from themselves.

McGillicuddy knows. Now 77, he still cries when he remembers that as a vulnerable young man, just out of the seminary, he was the object of sexual advances by an older priest who had been his mentor. Tearfully, McGillicuddy realizes that he has been affected as well.

"I'd kind of put it behind me," he said. "It's like it didn't exist. But when the (priest sex-abuse scandal) hit in Boston, I started crying all the time and I didn't know why."

McGillicuddy reported his experience to church authorities and now receives counseling paid for by the diocese.

Priests, even former priests, are rarely willing to talk about their experiences, said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Their vows of loyalty to their bishop and the bond they share with their colleagues create pressure to protect wrongdoers.

"It's not unusual to hear these stories, but it is unusual for them to be told publicly," Clohessy said. "The priesthood is a small, shrinking closely knit band of lonely men who depend on each other for support. The temptation to be quiet must be very great."

Boltz's name was not the only one connected to the church sex-abuse scandal that McGillicuddy recognized from his days as a priest in Greater Portland during the 1960s and '70s.

The Rev. Antonio Girardin, who is accused of molesting one girl and three boys between 1943 and 1971, was a genial drinking companion with great sense of humor. The Rev. Thomas Lee, removed from the ministry last year after allegations that he molested a child in his parish in Boothbay Harbor, used to join McGillicuddy on ski trips.

The Rev. Paul Shanley, convicted in a Massachusetts court this year of repeatedly raping a young boy during the 1980s, was a seminary classmate at St. John's in Brighton. McGillicuddy remembers him as "handsome and popular."

McGillicuddy said he never suspected any of them until their names surfaced in the scandal.


Today, McGillicuddy is a retired social worker, living with his wife, Elaine, a former nun. They have been active members of Pax Christi, the Roman Catholic peace group, and Corpus, a church reform organization that favors allowing priests to marry and the ordination of women.

In 1958 McGillicuddy was ordained and assigned to a Portland parish. He was one of three assistant pastors who lived in the rectory with the pastor.

It was not an exalted position.

"In the pecking order in the rectories, there was the pastor, the housekeeper, the cat and the associate pastor," he said. "You had no sense of ownership in the parish. You were there for a time and then you moved on to somewhere else."

The young priests were taught to keep their friendships within the clergy, and all his friends were priests. This created a "great gulf" between the priests and the people in their parishes, McGillicuddy said.

Many priests in the diocese knew no other life. A common custom was to send boys into the seminary when they finished parochial school, usually around the age of 13.

"When that happens it's bound to be a disaster for a lot of them," McGillicuddy said. "They are not developed yet, and psychosexually they stay at the age they were when they went in. It's a very explosive kind of situation."

Early in his priesthood, McGillicuddy was given the summer job of managing Camp Pesquasawasis, which everyone called Camp Pesky. It was a great relief, he says. It let him get out of clerical clothes for the summer and work with a wide range of people out from under the thumb of his pastor.

McGillicuddy hired his staff from young males in his parish, mostly Cheverus High School boys.

Early on he became troubled by Boltz's presence at the camp.

Boltz, then in his 70s, was one of the highest ranking leaders of the Maine church. He was the organist and music director for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. The male choir he led, called the Choristers, included two singers who went on to professional careers with the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York.

Boltz was an imposing figure. He socialized with the bishop and the other top figures in the diocese and hosted them for outdoor dinners at his Camp Pesky cabin. When he was assigned to a parish in Rockland, Boltz reportedly used his connections to stay at the cathedral.

"The bishop backed down," McGillicuddy said. "In those years, this was rare if not unique."

But Boltz had a darker side, according to recently released church records.

Since his death, four men have come forward and said Boltz molested them during the 1940s and 1950s. One described being taken to the priest's camp, where he was assaulted violently. The man said he had to sleep "with one eye open."


McGillicuddy recalled that Boltz would vacation at Camp Pesky and clearly had a favorite among the teenagers on the staff.

When the young man left camp to join a monastery in McGillicuddy's third year at the camp, McGillicuddy noticed that Boltz seemed to be growing closer to another young man.

"I knew that it was unhealthy to have the monsignor commandeering one of these boys, taking him down to his cabin, going to the movies with him, being his companion and all that. Not a healthy thing, but (sexual abuse) didn't even enter your mind," he said.

"I was running the camp and he was staying there as a guest in his own place, and he had no right to commandeer one of my staff, so I felt comfortable" ordering the staff to stay out of Boltz's cabin.

After the meeting at which McGillicuddy issued the order, Boltz left the camp and never returned. A few weeks later, McGillicuddy was reproached by another prelate of the church.

"What are you doing to the old monsignor?" McGillicuddy said the diocesan chancellor asked him.

McGillicuddy felt criticized, as if he had done something wrong.

"I was only doing my job," he remembers replying.

"I felt it was a safe answer, and he just dropped it," he said.


Today the incident with Boltz would have been handled differently, said diocesan spokeswoman Sue Bernard.

All clergy, church employees and volunteers who work with children, 5,000 people in all, have been trained to prevent child abuse. No one is ever supposed to work alone with a child, and anyone who witnesses an adult behaving as Boltz did is trained to report it to the diocese.

"That kind of thing would be noticed and reported," she said. "Then we would handle it from there."

McGillicuddy says he made no connection between Boltz's situation with the camp staff and something that had happened to him only a few years earlier.

McGillicuddy came from a poor family in New Brunswick and had no money to go to college. An older priest took an interest in him and helped him meet a wealthy family who paid his tuition at Holy Cross College. The priest advised him to read novels like "The Brothers Karamazoff" and "War and Peace" in addition to theology as a student at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Mass.

After McGillicuddy's ordination to the priesthood, the two men were staying at a Boston hotel and drinking. The older man made a sexual advance. McGillicuddy refused.

"The next day, he told me he was just testing me to see if I was gay," McGillicuddy said.

McGillicuddy said he tried to bury the incident. While he never completely repressed the memory, he succeeded in not thinking about it. He never told anyone, not even his wife.

Remarkably, he didn't even think about it when he saw Boltz, another older priest, take advantage of another vulnerable young man. He never reported either incident and was sure that no one would have wanted him to.

It was a culture that encouraged secrets, he said.

"There was a loyalty to the church, a kind of primary responsibility to protect the church and the reputation of the church," he said. "A priest being the front-line person, they would have the responsibility to do that, to close ranks, not rock the boat."


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