|14-year-old Brian Teeman, sex abuse|
victim of Msgr. Thomas O'Brien
shot himself in November 1983. Will
the bishops at the summit address
the relationship between clergy abuse
and suicide during their summit?
Sex Abuse Victims and Clerical Suicide —
A Study of the Toxic Legacy of Clerical Molestation
By Randy Engel
On February 21-24, 2019, Pope Francis will convene an international “summit” on clerical sexual abuse and the protection of minors (and vulnerable adults) in the Church in the New Synod Hall in Rome. The meeting will focus on three particular areas — responsibility, accountability and transparency. It will include plenary sessions, working groups, moments of common prayer and listening to testimonies, a penitential liturgy and a final Eucharistic celebration. The plenary sessions with be directed by the Italian Jesuit, Father Federico Lombardi, former Director of the Vatican Press Office from 2006 to 2010.
In attendance will be an estimated 130 presidents of Catholic episcopal bureaucracies from around the world. Included in this configuration is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) which, if the truth be told, has been a major player for decades both in the promotion of clerical homosexuality and the cover-up of sexual abuse cases by bishops, priests, and religious (male and female) in the United States.
Members of the Preparatory Committee for the February meeting include Cardinal Blasé Cupich, head of the Chicago Archdiocese; Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai (Bombay), India; and sex abuse “experts” Archbishop Charles Scicluna, a papal trouble-shooter from Malta, and German Jesuit Rev. Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable and President of the Centre for Child Protection (CCP) at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. The CCP will be the subject of a future article in the Catholic Inquisitor.
In a December 12, 2018 statement issued by the Vatican Press Office headed by Opus Dei numerary and spin-master, Greg Burke (now retired), the Catholic laity was told:
Each of us needs to own this challenge (of a comprehensive and communal response that will bring healing to victim survivors), coming together in solidarity, humility and penitence to repair the damage done, sharing a common commitment to transparency and holding everyone in the church accountable (bold added).
Unfortunately, when it come to “repairing the damage done” to victims of clerical sexual abuse, the sad, unvarnished truth is that NO ONE including the current occupant of the Chair of Peter and the Catholic hierarchy, and no amount of financial compensation or belated apologies can EVER bring back the years of childhood innocence which have been brutally stolen from young victims of clerical abuse, most especially when said victims have SUICIDED — died by their own hand.
I began to collect information and data on the connection between pederasty and the suicide of victims and their clerical perpetrators in 1987 when I started my research for The Rite of Sodomy. which was published nineteen years later in 2006. This article on one of the deadly outcomes of clerical sexual abuse is based on a small selection of suicide cases from my files.
But first, some historical footnotes about suicide and its relationship to homosexuality and pederasty.
Homosexuality, Pederasty and Suicide
From ancient Athens where suicide, murder and assassination by Athenian boy lovers or their quarry were not unknown; to Victorian London’s “molly houses” where same-sex prostitution and criminality flourished; to turn-of-the 20th century homosexual scandals and suicides associated with Germany’s Alfred Krupp, aka, the “Cannon King’s” pederast affair with young boys in Berlin and Capri; to the modern Castro District of San Francisco where “domestic violence” aka “love crimes” between same-sex male and female couples remains a serious “psychosexual” problem for both public health and law enforcement officials — homosexuality, pederasty and suicide have always maintained a symbiotic relationship.
Like its secular counterpart, the clerical homosexual world, of which pederasty is a subset, is historically and universally a world of sexual deviancy, violence and criminality including drug use, pornography, rape, prostitution, homicide, murder, blackmail, robbery and embezzlement, and SUICIDE, the latter being the main subject of this commentary.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise to either Francis or the Catholic hierarchy or the Catholic laity that the current epidemic of suicide among homosexual clerical predators and their victims is unlikely to be curbed, much less ended any time soon unless the root causes are addressed at the February summit.
Church Teachings on the Malice of Suicide
The 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law, Canon 1240 §1 specifically provides: “Unless they gave before death a sign of repentance, the following are deprived of ecclesiastical burial: 3°: Those who kill themselves by deliberate counsel.”
However, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1184 §1 avoids the specific category of those who directly suicide. It reads: “Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals 3/ other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.”
Admittedly, I find the use of the phrase “without public scandal of the faithful,” manifestly ironic given that this very same clause has been called forth ad nauseam by members of the Catholic hierarchy to explain away their cowardness and lack of true faith in not reporting crimes of pederasty to secular law enforcement authorities.
Part III, Paragraph 2282 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1992, states that “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”
Paragraph 2283 provides that “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him [sic] alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. [After death?] The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”
In summary, direct suicide has been defined as self-murder, and as such, objectively speaking, stands condemned by Holy Scripture, the Catholic Church and Tradition. Deliberate suicide is unlawful and a mortal sin, which is why, in hatred of the sin, the Church has, in the past, denied the unrepentant suicide a Christian burial.
There are obvious exceptions to this rule, of course, including minors, and adults who are of unsound mind, or under the influence of mind-altering medications.
However, the unfortunate trend today is to not deny any suicide a Catholic burial on the mistaken belief that no sane person would deliberately take his own life, and therefore no suicide is culpable for his actions.
The Suicide of Victims of Pederasty
While most boys and girls, young men and women, who have been sexually abused by clerics and religious contemplate suicide at some stage of their lives, statistically more females attempt suicide, but more males complete the act and kill themselves.
The more intellectual, sensitive and creative the victim the more traumatic and long-lasting the effects of the assault. The greater the religiosity of the parents of the victim and their attachment to the Church, the less likely the victim (especially a boy) is to reveal the abuse to them.
Many victims of clerical sexual suffer life-long episodes of lack of trust, and never feel really safe from harm. For them, suicide is always a lingering option.
The anti-authority attitudes engendered by the abuse is likely to be reflected in increased anti-social behaviors including illegal drug use, petty theft, and truancy. Physical and emotional disorders especially in the form of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa are common to abuse victims of both sexes and are often precursors to suicide attempts.
Oral/anal sexual penetration or attempted penetration of minors, especially acts of sodomy and fellatio performed on young boys, dramatically increases the rate of suicide of abuse victims. The performance of adult homosexual acts on minor boys also increases the likelihood that they will adopt a homosexual death-style. In addition to the nature of the sexual abuse, the duration of the abuse which sometimes covers a period of many years is a key factor in the high incidence of suicide among abuse victims.
Approximately 25% of childhood sexual abuse victims state that they were initially unaffected by the assault. However, later interviews reveal that sexual abuse, especially clerical sexual abuse, leaves mental, emotional, physical and spiritual scars that are never fully erased by the victim.
Long-term healing comes to victims of clerical sexual abuse largely from facing the reality of their abuse and confronting their abuser where possible, and recognizing that while they can never regain a lost childhood – it is lost forever – they can find new life (separate from the abuse) and new hope and peace with God in the world to come.
Cases Studies Involving Victim Suicide
· The Case of Brian Teeman – Diocese of St. Joseph/Kansas City
Brian was an 8th grade high school freshmen at Archbishop O’Hara High School. when he took his own life with a gunshot wound at his family home on November 1, 1983. He was only 14 years old. The perpetrator, Msgr. Thomas J. O’Brien, abused Brian when he was an 11-year-old altar boy at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Independence, Mo. The sex acts took place before Mass. The priest bought the victim’s silence with threats including the threat of hell and excommunication.
The diocese was aware of O’Brien’s criminal proclivities involving young boys, but covered-up the abuse by sending O’Brien for psychological in-patient “evaluation” and “treatment,” first to the Paraclete Fathers in New Mexico and later to the St. Luke Institute in far-away Maryland.
The Teeman family never knew the reason for their son’s suicide, until 28 years later, when they were notified by another of O’Brien’s victims, that their son had also been sexually abused by Msgr. O’Brien. The diocese spent $1.4 million fighting the case, but eventually settled the “wrongful death re suicide” suit for $2.25 million in July 2013. The settlement was not covered by the Chicago Insurance Company. In addition, the diocese was forced to pay out millions more for dozens of additional victims of O’Brien.
Msgr. O’Brien retired in 2002, but did not “retire” from pederasty and continued to rack up additional victims. At the time of his death in October 2013 at the age of 87, six more cases were pending. Monsignor Thomas J. O’Brien never spent a single day in jail, nor was he defrocked.
The case of sex abuse victims of Catholic priests suiciding is not reserved only to the United States. Just before the Christmas of 2007, a 13-year-old boy, Bartek Obloj, hanged himself in his home in the village of Hlundo, Poland. He left a suicide letter stating that his parish rector, Fr. Stanislaw Kaszowski, had molested him. Local state officials later testified that the priest’s “sadistic behavior” and “sexual exploits” were notorious, but complaints to the Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Przemyśl, Archbishop Jozef Michalik, at the time, the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, fell upon deaf ears.
Father Kaszowski denied Obloj’s accusations and refused to attend a court hearing on the charges made against him. Later, his superiors moved him to another a parish just twenty miles away. No further information is available on the case.
Although convicted civilian pederasts face harsh prison sentences in Poland, clerical perverts are rarely prosecuted “for the good of the Church,” and victims of sexual abuse receive neither attention nor therapy nor financial compensation. Such was the case even when Karol Józef Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II, was archbishop of Krakow.
· The Case of Brian Gergely – Diocese of Altoona - Johnstown
Brian Gergely’s abuse in the sacristy and confessional at the hand of Monsignor Francis McCaa, pastor of Holy Name Parish in Ebensburg, Penn., began at the age of 10 and continued for more than four years. Gergely killed himself at age 46 in July 2016 by hanging in his family’s garage, shortly after the Pennsylvania legislature, under pressure from the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, failed to pass a law to lift the statute of limitations on lawsuits and criminal prosecutions against the church. Gergely would not have profited from the measure as he had already settled his case with the diocese in 2005, but he had continued to advocate for other victims of clerical sexual abuse.
Family members said that Brian had forgiven McCaa for his crime and that his suicide was motivated by a sense hopelessness that other victims of clerical abuse will ever receive full justice from the Catholic Church. According to his lawyer, Richard M. Serbin, Gergely’s suicide was the 4th suicide among the abuse victims he represented and that didn’t include those who met premature deaths from illegal drug use and alcoholism related to their early abuse. While scores of the boys were abused by Monsignor McCaa, he received no jail time and was not defrocked.
· The Case of John K. Houston – Archdiocese of Chicago
In 1980, a ten-year old altar boy at St. Bede’s Church in the Archdiocese of Chicago was sexually abused by Rev. Norbert Maday. That altar boy and former Marine and veteran of the Gulf War, John Houston, took his own life at the age of 33 in October 2002. Or perhaps it would be more truthful to say that Maday and Cardinal Francis George took the young man’s life – Maday when he sexually assaulted Houston, and Cardinal George when he excused and fawned over the convicted pederast and attempted to get Maday a “Get Out of Jail Early” card, while nary giving a passing glance to Houston and the dozens of Maday’s other victims who were robbed of their childhood and set upon a path of alcohol and illegal drug use.
As with the majority of clerical abuse cases in the United States, the statute of limitations for Illinois prevented Cook County authorities from pursuing the Houston case in 1992. It was only after a geographical quirk of fate (Maday crossed state lines to Wisconsin), that the serial predator was eventually convicted in 1994 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the sexually abuse of two young boys and for threatening to kill one of the victim’s brothers if the victim squealed. From the deposition that Cardinal George gave on the Houston Case, it is clear that he was one of those prelates who never met a clerical pederast he didn’t like, including the unrepentant laicized Maday, currently a registered sex offender in Wisconsin.
· The Case of Rev. James Norman Chevedden S.J.
The Chevedden case is an unusual in that it falls under the Vatican’s category of “vulnerable adults” (never fully defined), and not minors. Thus the priest was not a minor when he was abused, but was in his early 50s; His abuser, Brother Charles Leonard Connor, was a serial sexual predator from the same Jesuit order, the largest religious order in the United States.
Ordained a Jesuit priest on July 31, 1978, Chevedden loved the priesthood from the time he was a young boy. He learned Mandarin and taught abroad in Taiwan for almost 20 years. Then in the summer of 1995, he underwent a psychotic mental breakdown and was returned to San Francisco for treatment by his superiors. One year later, in 1996, he took up residence at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, Calif. In 1998, he seriously injured his spine and feet by jumping off of a scaffold at the Jesuit facility. It was not a suicide attempt, but the result of not taking his regular medications.
It was at the Sacred Heart Center that one of his caretakers, Brother “Charlie” Connor began to sexually molest Chevedden. When the priest resisted his sexual advances, Connor sent the victim’s wheelchair careening into a barrier as punishment. Anxious and fearful he would not be believed, Chevedden remained silent about his abuse.
In the meantime, Connor, along with other Jesuit perps, continued to abuse and sodomize two mentally disabled young men who lived and worked the Sacred Heart Center for more than two decades. For this crime, on January 17, 2001, Connor was sentenced to six months house arrest away from the center, and the Jesuits, who claimed they didn’t know about the abuse, paid out a $7.5 million settlement to “John Doe” and “James Doe.” In 2002, Connor was permitted to return to the Sacred Heart Center which at this point was housing at least five sexual predators from the Jesuit California Province.
It was at this time that Chevedden gathered up enough courage to report Connor’s abuse to his family, his therapist, and his Jesuit superiors.
According to San Francisco psychiatrist, Dr. George Maloof, whom the Jesuits paid to treat the priest for two years before his death, “Chevedden had paranoid delusions, but I have no doubt that he was accurate in what he described. He was very precise in detailing and documenting what transpired.”
Maloof stated that the main concern of the Jesuit superiors was to keep Chevedden’s allegations from becoming public. “They didn’t want another case involving Brother Connor,” Maloof said. “They were determined to quash any further disclosures of abuse.” On the other hand, Maloof said, “Chevedden was ready to blow the whistle and make the issue public.”
“Regrettably,” Maloof said, “he [Maloof] put the brakes on the priest and persuaded him to work out a compromise with his superiors if he wished to remain with the Society of Jesus. Restrictions were placed on Connor’s activities and whereabouts at the center, but were not strictly observed by Connor. Maloof said he warned the Jesuit leaders that they were making a big mistake in not separating the victim from his abuser and that the loose environment was “completely unsupportable.” Unfortunately, his dire warnings went unheeded by the Jesuit superiors.
On May 19, 2004, Chevedden’s 56th birthday, the priest was given permission to appear for jury duty in downtown San Jose. His superior assigned one of its known sex offenders from the center to drive him to the courthouse. Chevedden never returned to the Sacred Heart Center. That afternoon, shortly after the jurors were dismissed, Rev. James Chevedden jumped to his death from the roof of the courthouse parking garage. Three years later, on Dec 14, 2007, the Chevedden family reached a $1.6 million “wrongful death” settlement with the California Province of the Jesuits without the latter admitting liability.
· Mass Suicide in Diocese of Ballarat, Australia
The Diocese of Ballarat, which covers the 41 dioceses of the Central Highlands of Victoria, has been one of the Catholic Church’s international epicenters of suicides of clerical sexual abuse victims, almost all males.
In May and December 2015, the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse heard weeks of testimony of a pedophile/pederast ring that operated in Ballarat for more than 30 years. In the early 1970s, it is reported that every boy between the ages of 10 to 16 at St. Alipius Primary School was molested by ring members which included all male teachers and the chaplain. Of the 33 boys captured in a grade four class picture, 12 were said to have suicided. Most were victims of the infamous Father Gerald Ridsdale.
Take a gander at Ridsdale’s clerical record and rap sheet:
Ridsdale began culling young male victims prior to his ordination. He attended three seminaries – in Werribee (Australia), Genoa (Italy) and Dublin (Ireland). After his ordination on July 25, 1961, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Ballarat, he went on to claim new victims in parishes in Horsham, Inglewood, Camperdown, Ballarat North, Mildura, Swan Hill, Warrnambool, Ballarat East, Apollo Bay, Edenhope, Melbourne and Mortlake.
In 1980, Bishop Ronald A. Mulkearns gave Ridsdale a “study leave” at the National Pastoral Institute where he offended. From 1982 to 1985 he was assigned to the Catholic Enquiry Center in Sydney where he assaulted his altar boy. In the fall of 1989, Mulkearns sent the serial predator to the U.S. to the Paraclete Father’s “rehabilitation center” at Jemez Springs, New Mexico where Ridsdale later admitted he claimed more victims. When he returned to Australia, he was reassigned as a hospital chaplain in New South Wales. His crimes were not reported to the police.
In May 1993, Ridsdale was arrested for child sexual assault and sentenced to two years and three months, but was released after three months. At his first court hearing he was accompanied by Cardinal George Pell, who had served as a priest in the Ballarat area from 1971 to 1987, and Father Adrian McIInerney, the pastor of St. Alipius Parish They were present to give character witness on behalf of Ridsdale. Later, Pell excused himself for his act of “priestly solidarity” by claiming that he didn’t know the extent of the Ridsdale’s crimes.
In November 1993, Ridsdale was laicized.
In August 1994, he is was arrested for abusing 20 boys and one girl from 1961 to 1981 and sentenced to prison for 18 years. In August 2006 he was sentenced to 13 years after abusing 10 boys from 1970 to 1987. In April 2014 he was sentence to eight years for abusing 11 boys and three girls from 1961-1980. Ridsdale managed to claim more than 130 known victims, and an estimated 1000 unknown victims. In April 2019, he is eligible for parole at the age of 84.
I believe that this sampling of hundreds of files on victim abuse suicides from a collection started 32 years ago, clearly demonstrates the urgent need of the Holy See to acknowledge and address the tragedy of clerical victim suicide and make it priority topic at the February 2019 meeting in Rome.
To be continued.....
To be continued.....