The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind., Kevin Leininger Column: Woman Vows to Continue Treatment for Abuse

By Kevin Leininger
News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana)
January 3, 2008

Jan. 3--A new year is supposed to bring new possibilities.

But Michele Locke knows her future will remain captive to the past until she deals with what a New Haven priest allegedly did to her more than 50 years ago -- a journey of healing she vows to complete despite the church's recent decision to cut funding for the counseling she credits for her emotional survival.

"Every time I go, I see huge areas where I didn't even know I had problems.

"I'm getting stronger all the time; I'm not hiding under my dining room table anymore, and I'm no longer afraid of strange men," said Locke, 64, who five years ago told me how Father William Ehrman molested her in the rectory of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, beginning about 1954 and continuing for at least two years.

"I may be able to stop (seeing a therapist) in six months to a year. But until I'm ready I can't go less often than I am, even if I have to pay for it myself."

The elementary teacher now living in Battle Creek, Mich., might have to do just that. Effective Jan. 1, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend is paying for 24 group or individual counseling sessions per year -- a reduction of about 75 percent.

Locke has been attending one individual and one group session per week.

The diocese will continue to pay $75 for each group session and $125 for individual counseling, which are customary rates, according to Ruth Ann Sprunger, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Allen County.

Diocese spokesman Vince LaBarbera said he was unaware of the change approved in May by the Diocesan Review Board and could not comment.

Although diocese Victims Assistance Coordinator Mary Glowaski said the new reimbursement schedule is based on "established professional standards," Sprunger said there is no one-size-fits-all way to determine how much counseling is needed. "Everybody reacts differently," said Sprunger, noting some insurance policies base reimbursement on the frequency of counseling and others on doctors' evaluations of need.

The church, however, is no for-profit corporation. As God's instrument on Earth, its mission transcends the bottom line -- as Bishop John D'Arcy himself acknowledged shortly after I first reported Locke's story in late 2002. Saying an investigation had determined Locke's claims to be credible, D'Arcy told parishioners at St. John's: "Christ said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life.' The church is a place of truth, and you have a right to hear the truth."

But this surely is the truth, too: Having acknowledged the possibility of Locke's abuse by one of its priests, the church has a moral responsibility -- if not a legal obligation -- to make her whole if possible.

Does that mean it should simply give Locke or other past or future victims of abuse a blank check? Of course not.

As the diocese stated in a 2005 letter to Locke, it "cannot change the past or erase it from memory ... the diocese's procedures try to balance the desire and ability to help those who claimed to be harmed while at the same time upholding its ability to properly support the many other pastoral needs of individuals within the diocese."

But Locke and Dr. Lynn Lupini, the Battle Creek psychologist who has treated her for years, aren't looking for a blank check.

Lupini said she recommended twice-a-week counseling because that's what she believed her patient needed.

Any decrease, she said, could affect recovery. "The arbitrariness (of the review board's decision) is frustrating," Lupini said.

Locke's 37-year-old son, Randy, is beyond frustrated. Long angry about the church's response to his mother's abuse claims, he was incensed by the diocese's implication his mother can get by on 75 percent fewer visits to Lupini's office.

"What's your timetable for recovering from being molested? Two years?" he asked. Concern for victims of sexual abuse has been a highlight of D'Arcy's priesthood, both here and in Boston.

But the diocese's decision undermines Locke's desire to regain control of her own decisions and life -- which continues to complicate her relationship with a church she still loves, but can't yet trust.

"Last summer I couldn't get on a plane because I saw a priest get on and it just hit me all over again," she said. "I did finally get on with the help of a stewardess. I don't want to be a victim. This isn't about money. It's about giving me a choice."


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