Man Suing Boys Town is 'Tired of the Secrets'

By Todd Cooper
Omaha World Herald
October 27, 2005

The cards were designed for visitors to record comments — no doubt compliments — about their tours of Boys Town.

But Darren Boudreau said he used them for a different reason: to pour out his pain.

Line by line, Boudreau, a student who worked as a tour guide at the facility in the late 1980s, said he scrawled his own review of the home for troubled teens, things like, "Someone needs to investigate Father (Richard) Colbert. He is sexually abusing people." And: "Father Colbert is hurting young boys. Someone needs to stop him."

He said he shoved the complaints in the comment card box, sans his signature.

And, he said, he never reported the abuse to anyone — until now.

In a lawsuit filed last month, Boudreau alleged that Colbert developed "psychologically dependent relationships" with students, including himself, to "recruit them for sex."

In recent interviews, he spilled, in detail, his allegations of more than two dozen assaults — including several in a locker room and others in a sacristy, a place where priests prepare for Mass.

Boudreau is the fifth former student to allege abuse while at Boys Town. Four other lawsuits against Boys Town, filed more than two years ago, still are awaiting trial.

But Boudreau's lawsuit, even more than the others, puts the Rev. Val Peter and Boys Town attorneys in a potentially awkward position: They must weigh the claims of a 34-year-old man — whose adult life has been as troubled as his childhood — against the suspicions Peter had of a priest he fired.

Boudreau's allegations reopened questions about Colbert's sudden termination from Boys Town 17 years ago — a departure that former staff and students described as hushed.

In an interview, Peter, who retired this year as Boys Town's executive director, and attorney James Martin Davis discussed Colbert's actions involving another student — actions that Peter said "smelled" and that led him to fire Colbert. Peter denied that Colbert was ushered out in silence.

And Davis promised to thoroughly investigate Boudreau's claims.

Inevitably, the probe will pose the questions: Is Boudreau's life troubled because of abuse? Or did his troubled life cause him to cook up stories of abuse?

"I'd like to find out the truth," Peter said.

Boudreau, of Gillette, Wyo., and his attorney, Patrick Noaker of St. Paul, Minn., question whether Peter sought to find out the extent of Colbert's actions at Boys Town.

Namely, the two question whether Peter and Boys Town did enough to protect children by: supervising Colbert at Boys Town; investigating Colbert after his termination; and conveying the nature of his termination to Colbert's bosses at his Missouri-based religious order.

In the 17 years since he was fired from Boys Town, Colbert has served four Missouri parishes — the last in Warsaw, Mo. The priest is back at his religious order — the Society of the Precious Blood in Liberty, Mo. — while Boudreau's allegations are investigated.

Colbert, who talked to The World-Herald in 2003 about his departure from Boys Town, declined to be interviewed for this article.

Richard Herndon, an attorney for Colbert and the order, said Colbert "vehemently denies any wrongdoing."

He said Colbert "does not remember the plaintiff at all."

Boudreau remembers Colbert all too well. And the picture Boudreau paints is vivid and sordid.

In lengthy interviews, Boudreau described a childhood riddled with suicide attempts, drugs and sex abuse. He arrived at Boys Town, he said, eager to escape an abusive father.

He found Father Colbert.

Boudreau said Colbert, his religion teacher and a priest at Dowd Memorial Chapel on the Boys Town campus, immediately befriended him, counseling him on his father's abuse and assuring him he was in a safe place.

"Looking back, he was almost overcomforting," Boudreau said.

Boudreau said Colbert made his first advances within a month of Boudreau's arrival on campus. Preparing for Mass at the chapel, Boudreau said, Colbert reached over and helped Boudreau button up his altar boy's gown. Boudreau said he could feel Colbert's erect penis pressed into his back.

Soon after, Boudreau said, Colbert would take him swimming during down times at the Field House.

After the first few swim sessions, Boudreau said, Colbert would stand naked next to a locker — his penis erect. When Boudreau rushed to get dressed, he said, Colbert told him: "You don't have to hide from me, we're friends."

Eventually, Boudreau said, Colbert grew bolder, molesting Boudreau in the locker room. At first, Boudreau said, Colbert acted concerned. "This is between us, right?" he would say, according to Boudreau. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

Boudreau said the acts worsened from touching to oral sex and digital penetration but not anal sex.

When pressed, Boudreau detailed the acts. He said he still could smell Colbert's scent — what he described as a mixture of mild body odor and cologne. He also described the priest in detail, from his close-cut flattop to the stripes on his swimsuit.

Boudreau admitted he was fuzzy on certain dates. Gaps in his timeline are apparent: He originally said he was abused for about a year, beginning in mid-1985 and ending in 1986 when he believed Colbert "disappeared" from campus.

But Davis notes that Boudreau didn't enroll in Boys Town until July 1987. And Colbert didn't depart Boys Town until September 1988, when Peter fired him after the questionable touching of another student.

Noaker, Boudreau's attorney, said mistakes in dates are common among adults trying to recount their childhood. The bottom line, he said, is that Boys Town's timeline places Colbert at the village with Boudreau.

But can Noaker prove abuse?

Boudreau said he doesn't believe anyone witnessed the incidents. And he said he didn't tell anyone about them while he was at Boys Town.

The reason? Boudreau said Colbert would threaten to send him back to his dad — or worse.

"He'd say, 'I can forgive your sins, but I can also do the opposite,'" Boudreau said. " 'I can send you to hell.'"

Boudreau's lawsuit is the first complaint filed in court against Colbert, but it isn't the first complaint against the priest.

In 1988, Peter fired Colbert over a relationship Colbert had with a Boys Town student who was at St. Joseph Hospital, now known as Creighton University Medical Center.

Peter said a St. Joseph's doctor walked into a room to find the boy lying on his side and Colbert's hand on the small of his back. Colbert's fingers were near the boy's waistline, Peter said.

In 2003, Colbert told The World-Herald he was trying to soothe the boy, who was having a seizure. He said he touched the boy over his clothing in his thigh and rump area.

Peter disputed that account. "It was flesh on flesh," he said.

The doctor who witnessed the touching called a Boys Town doctor, who alerted Boys Town security. Peter said Boys Town personnel called Child Protective Services, as required by law. But Peter said the agency declined to investigate because there wasn't evidence of abuse.

However, Peter said, Boys Town's staff investigators — who Peter said are akin to an internal affairs unit — checked into the incident and Colbert's history at Boys Town.

The student denied that the relationship was sexual.

In the 2003 interview, Colbert told The World-Herald that the relationship was inappropriate — involving "dinner and things like that" — but not sexual.

Davis said Boys Town security further investigated and found that Colbert once was seen at another student's bedside with his shirt off. The reason? It was hot, Colbert explained, according to Davis' account of Boys Town's investigation. Both Colbert and the student denied doing anything sexual.

Peter said the investigation didn't uncover outright abuse allegations against Colbert.

However, Peter said, the touching at the hospital, and the relationship with that boy, was enough.

"Well, what would you say if you saw it?" Peter asked. "Wouldn't you say, 'Huh?' You wouldn't give it the least interpretation. You'd give it the worst."

Peter said he relayed his interpretation in letters to both Colbert and to his religious order.

Peter recounted the letters' contents but said he couldn't release copies because they are part of Colbert's personnel file.

In the Sept. 2, 1988, letter to Colbert, Peter said he admonished the priest to have no written or verbal contact with students at Boys Town.

In the letter to the Rev. Thomas L. Albers, supervisor of Colbert at his religious order, Peter said he wrote that Colbert had been engaging in "inappropriate role modeling of a most serious nature."

Noaker, who represents more than 100 victims of priest abuse across the country, credited Peter for firing Colbert but cringed at the characterization of Colbert's actions. Case after case, Noaker said, priests and their leaders vaguely refer to suspected abuse as "inappropriate role modeling" or "inappropriate relationships."

Peter stood by his description. And he said he clearly conveyed his concerns in subsequent phone calls to Colbert's supervisor at the religious order.

"I said, 'You ought to look very seriously into this person's background," Peter said. "I said, 'There's something wrong! I can smell it. I can't prove it. But there's something wrong. Fix it!"

"(Albers) knew I was hot under the collar."

Reached at his parish in Sedalia, Mo., Albers didn't dispute Peter's account of their talk.

"I suspect it is (accurate)," Albers said. "'Hot under the collar' — I don't use those words. He certainly was involved in it to the point that it was clear that he was concerned."

Albers declined to discuss what investigation took place after Peter's phone call.

Colbert acknowledged in the 2003 interview that, after he left Boys Town, the youth who had been at the hospital accused Colbert of sexual abuse — a charge Colbert denied.

The boy eventually retracted the accusation. The Rev. Mark Miller, who succeeded Albers as director of Colbert's order, said in 2003 that the order's conclusion was "not sexual misconduct."

In the 2003 interview, Colbert said Boys Town sent a letter to him that "explicitly stated there was no sexual abuse."

Peter begged to differ.

"It's simply not true," he said. "The letter does not say that."

Since Boys Town, Colbert has been assigned to parishes in Pilot Grove, Jefferson City, Fayette and Warsaw, Mo.

"I didn't know any of that," Peter said. "When I heard that, I was angry. I thought, 'Why? Didn't they do what they were supposed to do?'"

The Rev. Gregory Higley, vicar general of the Jefferson City (Mo.) diocese, declined to respond to Peter's comments. In a statement, he said no one in the diocese has ever alleged sexual abuse against Colbert. He declined to comment further.

Noaker, Boudreau's attorney, questioned whether Peter and Boys Town properly followed up after firing Colbert.

Now, when a priest is accused of wrongdoing, the Catholic Church often announces the allegations and encourages others to come forward. After recent lawsuits, Girls and Boys Town has done the same.

It was a different scene in 1988. Public pronouncements about priests were rare, press releases even more so.

A dozen former employees and students have said they had no idea what happened to Colbert. Several said he "just disappeared" without explanation.

Peter denied that a hush surrounded Colbert's exit.

Peter said he sent seven letters to Boys Town department heads, informing them of Colbert's firing. He said the letter didn't specify the nature of the allegations because employment laws limited what he could say.

Peter said he didn't gather the staff and students to make an announcement because he didn't do that for anyone he fired.

"You do it for one, you do it for all," he said. "You don't think the story was out as to why? C'mon."

Noaker called that a cop-out.

With serious indiscretions suspected, Noaker said, Boys Town owed its students an invitation to come forward if they had concerns.

Peter said he has always worked to flesh out the source of students' problems. Since 1985, he said, Boys Town has surveyed students anonymously twice a year, encouraging them to air complaints about anyone.

Peter said he resents that Boys Town has been "caught in the jet wash" of the church's scandal.

"Am I mad at the bishops who (shuffled priests)? Horribly mad at them," Peter said. "They're giving everybody a bad name.

"But the fact that there are cover-ups in the church doesn't mean that we've done it."

Boudreau knows there's no covering up his record.

After graduating from Boys Town in 1989, he became a Marine. He said he suffered from a severe mental illness that caused "a lot of performance problems" and led to his discharge in the early 1990s under an "other-than-honorable" designation.

He then wandered from job to job — working in construction and roofing and as a mechanic all over Wyoming and Montana.

He also alternated between jail cells and psychiatric wards.

Boudreau, who has a history of drug use, has been convicted of three felonies — theft, property destruction and interfering with a police officer. He spent July 1997 to July 1998 in a Wyoming prison for ramming an unoccupied car with his truck and for bouncing a check he used to buy more than $ 1,000 in clothes.

He is on five years' probation for resisting arrest after police interrupted a suicide attempt at a house in Laramie in 2003.

Boudreau said he woke up from that drug-induced incident in a psychiatric unit — one of at least five times he has been hospitalized after suicide attempts.

Now, Boudreau said he has stabilized his life through counseling and medication that counteracts his depression and schizo-affective disorder, a condition that causes him to hear voices.

He filed the lawsuit within weeks of filing for bankruptcy. Nearly $ 40,000 of the $ 54,000 in liabilities listed on his bankruptcy filing were hospital bills.

But Boudreau said he doesn't care whether "any money comes out of this lawsuit" — and his attorney notes that any judgment in his favor would go to his creditors.

First, however, Boudreau must convince others of his claims.

Boudreau pointed out two other students he believed were abused by Colbert. He said he walked in on Colbert with one boy while the two were naked in the locker room of the Field House.

Reached recently, that former student, now 35, said he didn't recall ever seeing Colbert naked. "Unless I'm blanking on a memory," he said. The second student also denied abuse by Colbert.

Davis said he can't recommend that Boys Town settle with any accuser without corroboration. On that note, Davis said, none of Boudreau's supervisors at the visitors center remembers seeing any anonymous scrawls about Colbert.

Boudreau is nonplussed. He swears he wrote on the comment cards. And he swears by his story.

"I'm tired of the secrets," he said. "I know people are going to look at my past and try to discredit what I'm saying.

"I also know what Father Colbert put me through. I kept it secret for 20 years. I'm tired of living like that."


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