Using God to sexually abuse children

Wife Amy grew up in a Catholic family in Belleville, Illinois, a moderate-sized city across the Mississippi river from St. Louis.

This week, a report from the Archdiocese of Chicago, identifies 22 priests from the Diocese of Belleville as child sexual predators.

One is Father Garrett Neal Dee, who served in Belleville from 1974-76 and from 1965-68 in Alton, where I lived and worked for 12 years at The Telegraph.  He went “absent on leave” while at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Groom, TX, in 2003 and his whereabouts now are “unknown,” the report says.

Another priest, now retired served at St. Bernard’s in Wood River, which lies just East of Alton, from 1958-69.  Another was in Alton in the 60s and returned to another church there in 1981.  He died in 1983.  Same for Father J. Cullen O’Brien.  He began his priesthood at SS Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in Alton in 1943, then two other Catholic Churches in the area before returning to St. Patrick’s in Alton in 1969 but left in 1970 and died eight years later.

Father Frank Westhoff began mass at St. Patrick’s in Alton in 1962, moved to a Springfield church in 1969 and then to Decatur before being listed as “absent on leave” in 1976 and again from 1986-88.  He died in 2006

The “Spotllight” Boston Globe investigative team, who discovered widespread sexual abuse by priests in and around Boston and then nationally and worldwide, found that “absent on leave” was the church’s way of saying a priest is receiving treatment for his predatory sexual abuse of children.

When I showed the list, Amy shook her head and “no, that number of too low.”  She suggested the number of sexual predators in and around her home down is easily more than double what the report claims.

The report named close to 400 in Illinois.  Many are now dead or their whereabouts is “unknown.”  Some live in “retirement residences” of the Catholic Church.  Many remained priests until they died.

Father Roger P. Schoenhofen, who began his priestly duties at St. Henry’s Preparatory Seminary in Belleville in 1964 until 1984.  Later he served with the Missionary Oblates for St. Henry’s Community and the Oblate Youth Mission Band before King’s House in Belleville for six years before getting treatment at the Retreat and Renewal Center there for a year before going to SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Alton for 10 years.  He died there.

Any and I married in 1977 and left Alton in 1981.  We lived and worked among several of the sexual predators protected by the Catholic Church there.

In a report by a grand jury in Harrisburg, PA, last year, investigators said “a priest told a boy he was fondling that it was OK because he was “an instrument of God.”

“Roman Catholic priests across Pennsylvania used religious rituals, symbols of the faith and the threat of eternity in hell to groom, molest and rape children,” the report said.

In the movie Spotlight, about the Boston Globe investigation, a victim said “talking with a priest was like talking with God.”

Catholic leaders aren’t the only religions rife with ministers who use God as a tool for rape and abuse.

Rachael Denhollander was seven when she came under the spell of a college-age religious counselor at Westwood Baptist Church in Kalamazoo, Mich.  When Sandy Burdick, the licensed counselor who led the church’s sexual support group, noticed the attentions of the young minister, he told Rachel’s mother, who turned to the church’s Bible study group for help and support.

The leaders of that group told her she overreacted and they told their kids to avoid contact with Rachael because doing so might get them accused. They told to her “just forget about it and keep quiet.”

Denhollander kept quiet for too many years but decided but decided keeping quiet about sexual abuse was wrong and became the woman whose details of sexual abuse by Larry Nasser, the USA Gymnastic doctor, who added sexual molestation to his treatment of her and other young gymnasts.  She is now an attorney and he is in prison.

The attitude of “keeping quiet” exists among religious leaders and followers in many denominations.

In 2017, an assistant pastor at Agape Bible Church in Thornton, Colo., went to prison for 13 years to repeatedly assaulting adolescent girls.  A police investigation found the girl’s father was told by church leaders to not call the police because “biblical counseling” would take care of the matter.

“His interest was in protecting the church and its reputation than protecting his daughter,” testified an investigating officer.

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Seminary, told a rape victim to “forgive her assailant rather than call the police.” It cost him his job.

Megachurch Pastor Bill Hybels retired early after his habit of lewd comments, unwanted kisses and invitations to hotel rooms to women became too obvious to ignore.

“Sexual abuse is the most underreported thing — both in and outside the church — that exists,” says Boz Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson and a former Florida assistant state attorney.

Last month, an investigation printed by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News found more 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers face allegations of sexual misconduct against more than 700 victims.

To date, more than 250 are charged and the paper named 220 pastors, ministers, deacons, volunteers and Sunday school teachers found guilty in cases over the past 20 years.

Some, the report said, molested children as young as 3 years old.

“The thing that makes me saddest is that we didn’t do it ourselves,” Pastor Wade Burleson in Oklahoma told NBC News. “That’s why you need a free press in America.”

Burleson has called for “an independent non-profit to run and a database of church predators.”

Law professor Lesley Wexler of the University of Illinois studies how large institutions react to the need for change to groups like the #MeToo movement that sparked calls for reform of a pattern of sexual abuse and intimidation against women. She is not sure the church will change.

“Sometimes institutions reform when massive bad behavior is brought to light and sometimes they don’t,” she says. “If you think about the Catholic Church and the aftermath of the Boston Globe reporting, even today we don’t see them being as nearly as proactive as they should be.”

Think sexual abuse of minors and children isn’t happening where we live?  The report of the Archdiocese of Chicago identified 22 priests as sexual predators in my wife’s hometown. The Virginia Sexual Offenders Registry identified 77 sexual predators in Arlington County, were we lived for 23 years, and 36 in our now home county of Floyd.

In 1962, I was 15 when a 26-year-old woman introduced me to sexual activities.  She also gave me my first drink of alcohol and I abused the stuff for more than three decades before joining Alcoholics Anonymous.  They’ve helped me stay sober for 24 years, nine months and 15 days on March 21.

Look the number of sexual abuse cases that have come before Floyd County Circuit Court.

Sexual abuse lives among us in Floyd County.  The Farm Credit manager and his son went to prison for possession of child pornography.  A former high school basketball coach must remain on the Virginia Sexual Offender database for life after pleading guilty to sexually molesting underage students.  He’s the third coach in our county caught and prosecuted.

What about ministers?

In Floyd County, Rev. Nathan Ray Phillips, a 61-year-old Indian Valley Pentecostal minister faces trial on charges of aggravated sexual battery by a parent against a child between the ages of 13 to 17. forcible rape of a helpless victim and indecent liberties with a minor.

His jury trial starts October 21.

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