On the Contrary: Father O'Sullivan

By John Grogan
Philadelphia Inquirer
October 3, 2005

They called themselves the Philadelphia Rovers. They were altar boys at St. Monica's Parish in South Philadelphia, and the Rovers was their social club, founded by the boys' spiritual leader, Father Raymond O. Leneweaver.

The priest rewarded the boys for their service to the church by taking them sledding and swimming. He made up custom T-shirts for them and taught them wrestling moves.

The parents were thrilled. What better role model for boys growing up on the streets of South Philly in the 1970s?

As Lou Mosca, of Sewell, N.J., who was a member of the group, told me by e-mail: "My parents loved this guy. They were thrilled that a parish priest took the time to take their son swimming, to dinner, to the movies. Unfortunately they did not live to see what a monster he really was."

Yes, there was a dirty secret.

What the parents did not know - but Leneweaver's superiors did - was that the priest was a serial child rapist, who began assaulting boys as young as 11 shortly after his ordination in 1962 and was moved around the archdiocese several times to skirt scandal, according the grand jury that spent the last three years investigating clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Exploiting trust

Leneweaver soon began assaulting the boys in his Rovers club.

The grand jury report documents a barrage of incidents, from improper touching to forced anal penetration, and states: "Father Leneweaver... gave the boys money or gifts afterwards. He assaulted the boys in the seminary swimming pool, in the ocean, in his rectory bedroom, at the church's summer camp, and in the church itself, in the sacristy behind the altar."

He was a relentless predator. And still he remained in active ministry for 18 years, even after repeatedly confessing his crimes to church higher-ups. Mosca was not targeted by the priest, yet he still feels victimized.

"What really pisses me off is not that I was a part of Leneweaver's fantasies but... the lie this guy lived for years at St. Monica's," he wrote.

In all the decades of abuse cited by the grand jury, this case stands out, both for the sheer volume of lives Leneweaver destroyed and for the years of archdiocesan duplicity that enabled him to continue. (Even after he left the priesthood in 1980, he was able to land teaching jobs in two public schools because the church kept his past a secret.)

For me, personally, the case stands out for another reason.

A different club

I, too, was an altar boy who belonged to a similar social club run by the assistant pastor at our church, Our Lady of Refuge, outside Detroit.

We would meet at the church on summer mornings, and Father O'Sullivan would drill us on our duties, teaching us the proper decorum for ringing bells, lighting incense, and walking with candles. And then he would take us swimming or horseback riding or to a ball game.

When I was 13, he hired me to work in the rectory, answering phones. Often, on slow evenings, he would invite me into the basement to play pool. Just Father Dan and me alone.

Like Leneweaver, this priest was young and dynamic and popular. Unlike him, he never to my knowledge did anything even approaching wrong. Never took advantage of our naivete or abused our trust.

I knew him for years, into adulthood (he was on the altar at my wedding), and the closest I saw him come to impropriety was when he angrily shoved an older bully against a wall for picking on me. Now, that'spriestly indiscretion I can embrace.

It is an odd testament to the crisis Catholics find themselves in today that I feel compelled, 35 years later, to point out that a priest who spent a lot of time with the parish's youth did so with pure intentions.

Two boys' clubs. Two priests. Good and evil in stark contrast.

If Leneweaver and the men who failed to stop him stand for everything that is wrong with the church, then the countless priests like the Father O'Sullivan of my youth, quietly living their vows, are the baseline of goodness that make these amoral criminals the exception, not the rule.


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