From Life of Service to Banishment
His Church Tries to Forget Grammond, but the Pain He Inflicted Can't Be Erased

By Michael Wilson
The Oregonian
October 18, 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 3: Painful Memories Resurface As Victims Wage Legal Battle (10/17/2000).]

The priest is fading away.

He has few visitors. He never really fit into the role of beloved parish priest anyway, showing little patience for small-town people and their small-town problems.

But now he's banished from the churches he once served. With 15 years at Our Lady of Victory in Seaside, the Rev. Maurice Grammond was its longest-serving priest; yet when the parish celebrated its centennial this summer, the historical pamphlets ignored him. When he reached his 50-year anniversary in the priesthood in May, a huge celebration for many priests, their Golden Jubilee, the regional Catholic weekly gave him a paragraph about his schooling. No list of parishes where he served. No picture.

In little judgment calls like those across Western Oregon, he's being deleted from the written record of half a century.

He's losing weight. His mind is slipping.

"He thinks he's in residence at the Mallory Hotel. He isn't coherent in any way, shape or form," said Robert Harris, whose brother, a priest, was Grammond's closest friend until his death. He said Grammond, who has Alzheimer's disease, has no idea about the lawsuits that accused him of sexually abusing former altar boys.

He wants to go out.

He lives at a Gresham care home, in a unit for "moderate functioning" residents. The halls don't stop, they always turn a corner, so no one gets lost and panics, feeling trapped. It's a dead end without dead ends.

He sleeps alone in a private room, spends most of the day in bed, watching TV, reading Field & Stream-type magazines.

On July 25, Grammond turned 80 there.

The day before, he called his sister Dolores, his closest living family member. She lives a couple of hours away, but she wasn't coming, not after what he did to her boys. She sent him a card with 10 bucks inside.

They didn't talk long. They never do anymore. He told her he wanted his car.

"I need to see the archbishop," Grammond said.

She didn't ask what he'd possibly want to say to the archbishop. She just told him no.

The home had built little shelves outside each door, to help residents find their bedrooms when they've forgotten the room number. Beside most doors, there are vases with flowers, knickknacks, pictures of couples in little frames. Smiling images from the past -- their own young faces there to guide old minds and bodies back to bed.

Outside the priest's room, the shelves are empty.

Listen to the story "I want you to play a game with me," the man on the video screen says.

"Because I'm almost 40 years old now, and if you're watching this on tape, all you see is an older guy here telling a story. I want you to close your eyes and listen to the story. This is a 9-year-old boy that trusts a priest, that was brought up to believe this is as close as you can get to God."

At the Multnomah County Courthouse, the file "J.W.E. v. Maurice Grammond and the Archdiocese of Portland" will remain slim, the case having settled behind closed doors. Twenty-three men and the archdiocese announced the settlement last week; the financial terms remain confidential.

The file is a quick read. The real case isn't on paper. It's on video.

David Slader, the lawyer for most of the men suing Grammond, hired a filmmaker and, with a camera and small crew, visited several clients at their homes. They hoped to distill their stories into a film to present to the judges overseeing the settlement negotiations.

The men on the video haven't even seen it. Men interviewed for this series gave The Oregonian permission to view their own segments.

This summer, the judges watched it, as did the lawyers. So did Portland Archbishop John G. Vlazny.

They watched the men, speaking before strangers and a camera, most telling their stories for only the second or third time ever, unflinching in the details.

But more haunting are the glimpses into what these men have suffered. All describe deep loss: wives, friends, peace of mind, self-assurance, trust, faith. None is whole.

"Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and say, 'Why didn't I pull away from him? Grab my clothes and go straight home to Dad?' " a former altar boy says in his own living room, his eyes puffy from unexpectedly crying at the memory of what happened when he was 12. "I wish I had done that, but I didn't."

He recalls a friend's funeral shortly after he broke off contact with Grammond. "I didn't make the sign of the cross . . . and I haven't made the sign of the cross since then, and that was basically the end of my faith and of the church and Christianity. I can't see a priest or a minister without thinking of Father Grammond, and I have to fight not to give up on God, too. I'm so ashamed of myself. And that's my story."

Every pedophile leaves a scar. But Grammond's abuse, they say almost to a man, served to cut them off from Catholicism. Boys who served three Masses a week and dutifully studied for catechism class grew to shun even the concept of religion, the core belief that there is a God. The community of the church is closed to them, good priests long ago written off.

A man identified as T.K. described his mother's recent death: "I held her in my arms as she died, and as the last breath left her body, the one thing that hurt me the most is that she was a devout Catholic, that she couldn't have last rites because she wouldn't allow a priest from the parish to come and give her last rites. That's one of the things I will never, ever forgive the Catholic Church for."

His children have grown up being told "there is no God" and were forbidden, no questions, from attending any church.

The truck driver says in the video, filmed in April, that he hasn't slept well since news of the first lawsuit broke. While other men have been comforted by joining the case and taking action, he's feeling worse. Without warning, while driving his rig, he'll picture himself, an adult, standing in the corner while Grammond, his pants open, stands behind the boy version of himself, age 9, who is watching TV as he's been told.

"The only way I can deal with it is to literally scream," T.K. said. "To physically scream in that truck to deal with that problem at that time. Because if I don't, because of the situation I'm in, I'm afraid I could lose control and not only injure myself, but people around me."

Among the most powerful video interviews is that of the man who said the least: Dan Ryan, an antiques dealer who contemplated suicide when he heard of the first lawsuit.

"I don't remember a lot," he said. "I don't know what to say. I gotta tell you, this feels like I'm in a pressure cooker."

He described hearing about the case -- "I wanted to kill him, so bad" -- and tying a hangman's noose. On the tape, his breathing quickens to the brink of hyperventilation, his voice reduced to a throaty growl.

"If I don't talk about this and get this out of me, I'm gonna die. I feel like I'm gonna explode."

He doesn't get much farther in his story before he breaks down into a state beyond crying, falling forward in his chair, his hands balled into tight fists, shaking and growling and choking, all at once.

The camera keeps recording for a minute, then the screen goes blank.

Someone told Grammond left Our Lady of Victory in June 1985 on a sick leave. He began to hear his mother's voice, he wrote in his unpublished memoir, telling him to retire. He heard doctors telling him, too. He was granted a medical retirement in 1988.

Three years later, out of nowhere, after who knows how many close calls, it happened.

Someone told. A former altar boy, listening to ladies after Mass talking about the good old days with Father Grammond, blurted out that they weren't that good.

Grammond was called down, unaware, to a conference room in the East Burnside archdiocese pastoral center in Portland. When he entered the room, he saw then-Archbishop William Levada, the Rev. Charles Lienert and a counselor, there to deal with a possibly volatile confrontation.

Grammond denied the former altar boy's description of sex abuse, recalled Lienert, the vicar of clergy, a personnel director for priests. Levada ordered him off to a weeklong psychological evaluation. Grammond said OK.

The evaluation was inconclusive. He denied everything, and the therapist called him "uncooperative." Levada ordered him to take more tests, in town this time. Grammond refused.

"The fact that he was not cooperative made us concerned," Lienert said.

Priest suspended So Levada formally suspended him from the priesthood, a grave punishment. In effect, Grammond was forbidden from representing himself as a priest. No performing Mass in public, no marriages or Holy Communion or confession or baptism. Only defrocking -- stripping a priest entirely of his priesthood -- is more severe.

As far as Lienert knows, Grammond never violated his punishment. He ended up at St. John Vianney, a Beaverton cul-de-sac of retired priests, until a priest found him collapsed in 1999, when he was moved to a Gresham care home for Alzheimer's patients.

Earlier this year, when the lawsuits started rolling in, the archdiocese looked into defrocking Grammond, Lienert said. But under church law, the statute of limitations had passed.

None of this made it into Grammond's unpublished memoir. "When I get to heaven I will get all the answers," he wrote. "Even with all the heartaches that I have had, I am grateful and thankful to Almighty God for choosing me to be a priest."

At Our Lady Seaside hasn't changed much, a small town that has not doubled in population in the last 30 years, holding at around 6,000 today. Same arcade down the street from the church, same bumper cars, same cotton candy, same piped-in carnival music. Just different tourists.

Same church. Jean Elliott remembers sitting in a pew toward the front of Our Lady of Victory in Seaside in December, when Lienert stepped to the pulpit and read a letter from the archbishop.

Archbishop Vlazny said he was very concerned with the allegations against a former Seaside priest and asked anyone who believed he had been harmed to make contact. As for Grammond's accuser, "we met with him and offered professional counseling, which he accepted. The archdiocese told him that it was willing to discuss any additional assistance he might need. For whatever his reasons, he chose not to deal further with the archdiocese."

In her pew that morning, Jean Elliott was aghast. That priest was talking about her son. She heard the message as: The church did everything it could to help, but this ingrate decided he'd go for the money.

In fact, Joseph Elliott's reasons for suing revolved largely around Lienert's earlier invitation to Elliott to seek counseling "for what you believe happened to you." His tone, to Elliott, suggested doubt. Lienert said later in an interview he meant no disrespect: "I really regret that I offended him."

Many in the church hadn't heard about the case yet. Jean Elliott felt everyone there was looking at her.

"If I could've died, I would've died on the spot," she said. "I wanted to get out of there, but I couldn't."

Seventy-four years old, she'd worked for the church as a secretary for 31 years, 18 of them with Grammond, almost since she converted to Catholicism in the 1960s at age 37. She had done everything there, from putting typed bulletins in the church pews to overseeing installment of stained glass in the windows.

"I said, 'That's it. I will never go to church here again, ever,' " she recalled. And she stopped going there for Mass.

Longtime parishioners said they never suspected anything untoward about Grammond. One woman praised his fiscal judgment, pointing out that he built the parish hall they were sitting in. Another remembered Grammond scolding her once for wearing slacks in church.

"It's just a shame he can't defend himself now," a woman said. "Why didn't they come forward sooner?"

Perhaps no one was more stunned by the allegations than former altar boys he had never touched. "He had a big impact on my life," said John Stadter, formerly of Seaside, now a tech worker in Coos Bay. "He introduced me to a lot of things, camping-wise and outdoors-wise, that my father wouldn't have. I credit him with a lot of my interest in the outdoors."

A Seaside parishioner wrote an open letter: "I love Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, and I can't help but grieve to think there are some who would cripple God's church, leaving her in debt without property and resources, in order to receive justice for an injury only God can heal."

But after a Seaside city councilman came forward in tears at a Memorial Day press conference, people stopped him on the street and congratulated him.

"I'm going to get my life back, but it'll be better," Doug Ray said. "It's not good to have a secret from your wife, who's your best friend in the world. You shouldn't have any, but I did."

Childhood blocked out Ray had blocked out a lot of his childhood, like other plaintiffs, by staying very busy. He saw the world as a Marine embassy guard, working in hot spots like El Salvador.

It was easy not to think about Grammond, and pretty soon he didn't at all, until the attorney's office called about Joe Elliott.

He saw Joe's mother recently. They sat in Ray's living room and remembered. Jean Elliott told him she can't believe how, in 18 years, she never noticed anything.

"It's not your fault," Ray told her. "There's no way you could have known. It's not, Jean."

"Your mother," she said, "her and I, we'd have probably gone and wrung his neck."

Last Sunday, priests all over Western Oregon read an apology from the archbishop during Mass, part of the court settlement. Several of the former altar boys of Seaside decided to go listen.

They met in the parking lot outside Our Lady of Victory and entered the church for the first time, in some cases, since they were teens: Joe Elliott and his mother, Doug Ray and his wife, two others with their wives. Dan Ryan drove in from Portland.

At the end of Mass, the congregation sat, but as the Rev. Nicholas Nimela, the pastor, began the apology, Ryan slowly rose.

He stood alone, staring silently, arms folded, as the priest read. No one else moved.

When Nimela got to the part in the apology inviting the men to return "to our spiritual home," a woman toward the back of the church began to clap. Then others.

As the church filled with applause, the men did something unthinkable a few months ago, a few weeks ago, a few days ago. They smiled in church.

Twenty-three men have settled their cases against Grammond and the archdiocese. Two others, brothers, are in litigation.

And still they come.

A retired cab driver on disability after an accident launched him through his windshield called The Oregonian this summer, remembering his days as an altar boy at Oakridge. A journalist near Seattle saw his childhood buddies from Seaside come forward last spring. He was shocked. "Up to then, I thought I'd been the only one," he said last week. "I thought I was responsible."

Archbishop Vlazny, through a church spokesman, declined requests for an interview. The former altar boys who met Vlazny praised his straight talk and his approach to the case.

Lienert, a priest overseeing priests for 12 years, said the case had been hard on the clergy.

"These things are very painful to priests," Lienert said. "You have to trust in God. You have to live your faith. There's no such thing as a life without suffering. It's part of our Christian faith that we have to suffer as the Lord did."

"I'm family" Grammond's sister, Dolores, 71, calls the Alzheimer's home every couple of weeks and sees him every couple of months. She bundles up his few pieces of mail and sends it along, and keeps his magazine subscriptions current.

"I don't like it, but I do it. I'm family, so it's my responsibility," she said. "He's my brother. I've got to see he's cared for properly."

Their visits are short, their conversations an exchange of pleasantries. They've never talked about what her sons told her, that Grammond abused them, too.

"He knows I know," she said.

"I can tell when I go in there, he watches me. I can tell by the way he's acting, he's waiting for me to say something," she said. "I don't want to listen to it. I don't care what he has to say.

"To take a look at him and everything, you'd never think he'd do anything like that. Especially to his nephews."

"We band of brothers" The mediation was exhausting, with one man at a time entering the private chambers of U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken to discuss his settlement. Offer, counteroffer, second offer, counteroffer.

At one point in the large courtroom where they waited their turns, one of the plaintiffs, an English teacher, stood up and read from Shakespeare's "Henry V," the St. Crispin's Day speech, when the king rouses his outnumbered men for battle:

"But we in it shall be remember'd; we few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. . . ."

Their lawyer printed up T-shirts later: "We Band of Brothers."

But the speech keeps going: ". . . Be he ne'er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition."

Gentle his condition. Earlier this year, Dan Ryan hid out in his house in the woods with a murderous hatred of all priests. In August, when the archbishop spoke to the men in a group in the courtroom, Ryan was the first to rise and shake his hand.

Gentle his condition: T.K., who openly admits he'd cheerfully beat up several of the other Seaside plaintiffs who beat him up as a kid, donated a chunk of his settlement to renovate a playground. "It was like, 'This is what I gotta do.' I know this stuff is going to be used by kids, being kids."

Gentle his condition: Ron Sullivan is a former altar boy who, at age 10, fought off Grammond in the front seat of the priest's locked car. He stayed with the church. Earlier this summer, at a point in the Mass when congregants voice special intentions, Sullivan rose and asked the church to pray for Maurice Grammond.

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


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