Painful Memories Resurface As Victims Wage Legal Battle
Allegations of Abuse Prompt Former Altar Boys to Speak Out

By Michael Wilson
The Oregonian
October 17, 2000

[Note from This is the first in a four-part series by Michael Wilson on Rev. Maurice R. Grammond. See also Part 1: The Secrets of a Small-Town Priest (10/15/2000); Part 2: Boys' Shame Helps Conceal Ugly Truth (10/16/2000); and Part 4: From Life of Service to Banishment (10/18/2000).]

Driving out of the woods toward Portland, antiques dealer Dan Ryan snapped his head and stared at the radio as if it were alive.

That December day last year, a newscaster said a former Seaside altar boy had sued a retired priest, the Rev. Maurice Grammond, alleging sexual abuse in the late 1960s and early 1970s while Grammond was pastor of Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church.

The priest.

Images jumped at him: Grammond visiting his parents, telling the boy to sit on his lap.

That was a Tuesday. On Wednesday, the story ran in a newspaper, without naming the priest or the altar boy except by his initials, J.W.E. "The young man also participated in youth activities at the church," the story read, "which included sleepovers in the rectory and camping and ski trips."

It hit Ryan harder: Grammond in the tent. He and Grammond in the same sleeping bag. The boy complaining about mosquito bites. Grammond telling him to pull down his pants.

By Thursday, Ryan couldn't think of anything else. It was all Grammond, and it was all bad.

He walked out to his barn and found a rope. He tied a noose. He placed it over his head. Crying, he flung the other end of the rope toward the rafters above. He missed.

He tried again.

Making the call

If you were standing in front of all the former altar boys today and had to guess which one started all this, you probably wouldn't pick J.W.E., Joseph W. Elliott, 41, slim, gentle, a friendly guy who calls his mom "Mother." "People should never confuse gentleness with weakness," a friend of Elliott's said.

It all started with a made-for-TV movie last year called "Judgment," about a priest who abused kids -- a forgettable feature, but it stuck with Elliott.

"It was my story," he said.

He thought about it for awhile before going to his mother. She'd been Grammond's secretary. She cried as he told her and encouraged him to go down to the archdiocese and report it. She didn't care how big he was now, she was still his mother, and she was mad. If they give you trouble, she told him, they're going to deal with me.

He called the Archdiocese of Portland and spoke with the vicar general, who oversees matters pertaining to the clergy. The Rev. Charles Lienert wrote back, offering a counselor for Elliott "for what you believe happened to you."

Elliott stewed: "I was going to be believed."

He called a lawyer, David Slader in Portland, who specializes in sex-abuse cases. They filed the lawsuit in December.

Eventually, the plaintiffs numbered 25, and the Archdiocese of Portland last week settled 23 lawsuits from former altar boys for an undisclosed sum, although Grammond denies any abuse. Two cases remain unresolved.

When Elliott first spoke out, there was an instant and overwhelmingly skeptical backlash: Here we go again. He waited all these years, until the priest had Alzheimer's disease and couldn't even defend himself. J.W.E. took a beating on the talk shows. The archdiocese countersued. A process server delivered his summons at the Hollywood hair salon where he worked.

"I was sick," he said. "It made me suicidal. It made me hide out. It brought out the whole gamut of emotions."

Then the lawyer's phone started ringing.

Joining "Little Joey"

Doug Ray, 43, a six-year city councilman in his hometown of Seaside, was floored by the news of the lawsuit. Memories rushed at him.

"Little snapshots of things I hadn't thought of in three decades," he said. "Infinite sadness. Really deep, infinite sadness. De-energizing."

He pegged J.W.E. for Elliott, "Little Joey," a childhood buddy with whom he'd lost touch.

He hadn't seen Grammond since 1983, at a party his parents threw after his wedding. The priest came. Ray froze when he saw him and described Grammond's smile as a "weird look of ownership he gave me."

He did not pick up the phone and call the lawyer. Instead, his phone rang. An investigator for Slader's office, combing old altar boy lists for witnesses, had come across Ray's name and wanted to talk with him about the lawsuit.

"It kinda freaked me out," Ray recalled. "I knew Joey knew about me, and I knew about him."

He didn't give the investigator much: "I just acknowledged that a lot of bad things happened to little guys."

Then he saw his old friend strafed in the media, denounced by anonymous callers on talk radio. At the same time, the snapshots kept coming. Camping trips. In the rectory. He and Grammond and other boys, all at the same time.

"The more I was remembering, I was just really crashing down bad."

He called the lawyer.

"He did the same thing to me"

Linley Peterson, 61, was sitting at his dinner table when he heard the news on TV in the next room.

"They said his name," the freight worker recalled. "It was just like it happened the day before."

When Peterson's mother suffered a nervous breakdown at the hands of an abusive husband, the boy was sent to St. Mary's Home for Boys in Portland, a place for wayward kids. His sisters went to a Catholic girls home. He liked it at St. Mary's and thought, through a boy's vision of the future, he'd live there the rest of his life. Then, he said, Grammond, just a year out of the seminary at age 31, abused him and, when the boy balked, beat him with a belt and raped him.

Peterson didn't hesitate about calling: "I don't know if you have just this one guy or what," he told the lawyer, "but he did the same thing to me when I was a boy." Slader wanted to meet with him, but Peterson told him no.

"I'm embarrassed yet when I tell this, that I let him do it," he said. "Father Grammond taught me a damn good lesson. Never let anyone take advantage of me."

"We all went through it"

Grammond's only living relative, his sister, Dolores, saw the story on the television in her home outside Portland.

Oh, no.

She called her brother at the suburban care center for Alzheimer's patients, where he'd lived since the summer, after he collapsed in his apartment at the priests' retirement community.

They'd never been close. She resented the way he abandoned the family when he became a priest, the way their mother doted on him anyway from the minute he put on that white collar. His unpublished autobiography mentions her all of once, as a little girl.

"Well, I see you made TV. Aren't you proud of yourself?" she later recalled telling him on the phone. "Wouldn't mother be proud of you? You better be happy she's not alive, because when she got through with you, you'd wish you were dead."

" 'I didn't do nothing,' " he told her. " 'I never touched anybody. They're just lying.' "

They hung up.

Later, she mentioned the story to one of her sons. He looked at her.

And said: "We all went through it."

"You what?" she recalls shouting. " 'This is disgusting. They ought to take him out and hang him. Why didn't you tell me before this?' My kids could always talk to me. . . ."

The sons told their mother about the sleepovers at Our Lady of Victory. They'd run and hide at bedtime, and he'd lock them out. They'd sleep outside in sleeping bags they'd stashed in the bushes.

One of her sons was 9 when he told his grandmother, Grammond's mother. She doted on her son the priest and scolded the boy, ordering him to say nothing more about it and to "go pray," the son told his mother later.

Two of the priest's nephews picked up the phone and became plaintiffs. Dolores asked that her last name be withheld from this story to protect their identities, and her own.

"I just wanted out"

"I stood in the barn for half an hour, trying to hang myself," recalled Ryan, the antiques dealer, now 49. "I just wanted out. I tried to throw that rope over the beam, but I just couldn't do it."

He gave up and went back inside his house. He didn't talk to anyone, screening calls from his family and friends.

He just sat, alone, watching the scenes behind his eyes. "I would lose hours at a time. I'd look up at the clock, and two hours had gone by."

He kept coming back to the lawsuit. "I wanted to tell J.E. he wasn't alone." After about a month, he picked up the phone.

Strangers linked by a secret

They came together in March for a plaintiffs' meeting, a brunch at the lawyer's office, boys turned men. They described it later as something beyond awkward -- strangers linked by each man's deepest secret.

Most thought they were the only one. But look at all these guys.

A couple of old friends greeted each other after decades of silence. Others, such as Ryan, searched the room for a familiar face, finding none. Many of the men, from different parishes at different decades, had never met.

A truck driver, identified in the lawsuit by the initials T.K., showed up angry. He described what he'd been through: "I took all of this bad stuff and stuffed it in this box -- this comes from me, not some psychologist -- and I stuffed it in the back of my mind. I was always worried about where my next meal was coming from."

He remembers the last time he saw Grammond, in 1985 or 1986. He'd stopped in Seaside, passing through, for a pop at a grocery store. The priest was in the parking lot.

"He was going to come and say something to me, and I just pointed at him, and he stopped dead in his tracks," T.K. said. "If he would have come over, I probably would have killed him."

When he heard about the lawsuit, southbound from Seattle in his rig, he was so startled he jerked the wheel and nearly jackknifed. Now this. He went to one meeting with the other plaintiffs and that was enough.

"A lot of those guys were pounding on me in the '70s," he said.

"What's happened happened. There's nothing I can do about that. Sitting around having a big old pity party isn't going to help me. That's just the way I'm built. I don't say that to offend the other clients. I came into this on my own two feet, and I'll get out on my own two feet, and I don't want to lean on anybody."

The meeting opened with a standard get-up-and-introduce-yourself round that quickly became a spontaneous therapy session, as men described abuses from Grammond.

Ryan broke down. The trucker handed him a tissue.

"They moved me"

What they didn't know -- the other altar boys who stepped forward to help, the skeptics, the talk-show detractors -- was that Slader and Elliott had Grammond on tape.

Eleven days before they filed the lawsuit, Dec. 2, Elliott called the priest from the lawyer's office. They recorded the call.

It's a common, and perfectly legal, tactic Slader has used before in sex-abuse cases: Get the guy on tape before he suspects anything, before he has a lawyer telling him to keep his mouth shut. Elliott had tried the call once before but was too nervous to get the priest talking.

A nurse answered: "Season's greetings."

Elliott asked for Grammond, who has Alzheimer's disease, and she connected him to the priest's cottage at the care center. The priest said hello, his voice deep and rough from a lifetime of cigarettes. When Elliott explained that "I'm still trying to work things out in my mind," Grammond said he had the flu.

"OK," Elliott said. "It's, um, it's really been eating at me."

"Yeah, I've been thinking about you. You kids that throw yourself at other people," Grammond said, his words coming out fast now. "You know what you want, and you throw yourself at people to get what you want. And there were others of them that did that. They throw you at you. They want this. They want some kind of excitement so they throw themselves at somebody, to see if they'll go along and do what they want. That's what they do."

"So why did you pick me?" Elliott asked.

"Well, you picked me. I didn't pick you. You picked me. You were looking for excitement."

"No, I wasn't," Elliott said.

Grammond said that was all in the past now. Elliott asked him about his vows of celibacy.

"Well, I violated them," the priest said. "You were throwing yourself, remember throwing yourself at me? And then, of course, you throw yourself at me, I'd oblige. Not always. Don't do it anymore. I'm through with all that."

"Are you through with all that?"

"Oh, certainly. Stupid kids."

Elliott said he wasn't stupid; he was just an innocent kid.

"No, you took part in the whole thing," Grammond replied. "Don't kid yourself anything."

"Oh, well, I agree I participated."

"Sure you did."

"But I didn't know any better," Elliott said. "I thought it was kind of a rite of passage when you started, you know, having sex with me. I thought that was kind of the way things went."

"No, no, no, no, no. You were looking for what you wanted, and you were shooting for it."

"I really had no idea of sex at that point. I'd never had sex before."

"Well, it's part of us," Grammond said. "Part of all human beings."

Elliott asked what the archdiocese did "when they found out you were having, you know, problems with young boys?"

"They moved me."

The priest sounds lucid on the tape, though at times, his memory seems spotty. Grammond said he didn't remember Elliott's mother, his secretary of 18 years, and he remembers Elliott only because he'd called. "I don't remember anybody else. It's all past. Past years ago. Thirty years ago." He said his family is gone, "brothers and sisters gone and everything is gone." He doesn't mention his sister, Dolores.

They return to the subject of boys. Grammond said "very few of them" threw themselves at him. Elliott plays along, asks why he didn't just say no.

"Well, you get carried away. You figure you please them. That's what they want, so you please them."

A nurse came on the line and asked if Elliott was aware of Grammond's dementia.

"He seems to be remembering me," Elliott said. The nurse said Grammond seemed to be getting excited, that he thinks he's only been at the center for three weeks when it had been six months, but he seemed to be more aware "of the far past."

"Well," Elliott said, "I would be in his far past."

She put Grammond back on the line, and Elliott asked for an apology.

"All right," Grammond said, "I'm sorry for what happened in the past. Aren't you?"

Elliott said the abuse messed up his life.

"Well, get over that," Grammond said. "Wake up." He told him to see a psychologist. Elliott said he might and asked if he could call again. Grammond said he didn't care.

Before hanging up the phone, the priest said, "Say some prayers for me."

You can reach Michael Wilson at 503-294-7663 or by e-mail at


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