Catholics need a Truth & Reconciliation Commission

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By Jack Crowe

After the fall of Apartheid in South Africa, Nelson Mandela initiated, and Archbishop Tutu oversaw, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, giving voice to the many unheard victims of black suppression. No such cleansing commission has emerged from the Catholic hierarchy about the priest sexual abuse scandal. Instead, the Church has left it to grand juries and plaintiffs' attorneys to publish the worst abuses and cover-ups. But I have a voice too. What follows is my personal truth report about priest sexual abuse in my life. 

Fr. Bob

My father was called Bud and grew up in Oak Park. In the '20s and '30s, Bud attended St. Catherine's grade school with his cousin Francis Robert Crowe (called Bob). Together they attended Fenwick High School, then newly opened and run by Dominican priests.

After serving in World War II, Bud married my mother and settled in suburban Westchester. In 1947, his cousin Bob was ordained a Dominican priest and returned to Fenwick where he taught Latin and was athletic director from 1953 to 1958.

Fr. Bob often visited our house and also often took one of my brothers to see Fenwick sporting events. After he was reassigned in the early '60s to St. Martin De Porres, a mission church serving black parishioners in Amarillo, Texas, he visited us once a year.

He was a pre-Vatican II priest and spoke about novenas and rosaries. He favored the scapular, two small pieces of cloth with an image of a saint. When I was a boy, he told me that if a person died wearing one, they would go directly to heaven no matter what they had done.

When my father died in 1972, Fr. Bob presided at the funeral. When I married at St. Catherine's in 1989, Fr. Bob came up for the wedding.

My mother died later that same year, and after her funeral, one of my brothers shared that, as a young child, Fr. Bob had repeatedly sexually assaulted him.

Another sibling remembered that Dad thought it was funny that this son folded himself under the kitchen sink and refused to come out when Fr. Bob visited the house. We recalled that Fr. Bob seemed to depart abruptly from Fenwick when he left for Texas years ago.

After 30 years in Amarillo, Fr. Bob retired to the Dominican Priory in River Forest. He lived into his 90s. We shunned him after learning my brother's news. 

The Knights of Columbus chapter in Amarillo still bears his name. 

Fr. Ruge and Fr. Becker

During the mid-'70s, Fr. Kenneth Ruge was associate pastor at our parish, Divine Infant in Westchester. He was socially awkward and more concerned with the church sound system than the parishioners.

Fr. Ruge took young boys — some of my schoolmates — for weekends at a camping trailer in downstate Illinois that he shared with Fr. Robert Becker, a seminary classmate.

Fathers Ruge and Becker would ply the boys, some as young as 7, with alcohol, show them pornography and then sexually assault them.

Complaints eventually arrived at the Archdiocese of Chicago. Fr. Becker remained the lead canon lawyer at the Archdiocese and president of the Canon Law Society of America. He died in 1989.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's team reassigned Fr. Ruge to Catholic Charities where he worked as a maintenance man until he died in 2002.

Several of those involved in handling this case are still around. Bishop Raymond Goedert, in his 90s, lives at the Cardinal's mansion in Chicago. A Catholic senior housing center in Maywood is named for him.

Then a canon lawyer, Fr. Thomas Paprocki is now Bishop of Springfield, Illinois. A few years ago, when the Illinois legislature voted to permit gay marriage, he held an exorcism at the Springfield Cathedral. He has made no such extravagant gesture in favor of children abused by priests during his watch.

Bob Dietz and Fr. Choate

I was a Catholic seminarian in Boston for two years in the late '70s. I have never shared publicly what happened there. My thinking changed recently when I read about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick who sexually harassed seminarians at his summer home. In June, Pope Francis forced McCarrick to resign because, shades of Fr. Bob, McCarrick had abused the child of a close friend.

In high school, I was music director at St. Domatila's, a nearby parish run by Servite priests, including Fr. Larry Choate, a young priest who led our youth group.

After high school, I joined a seminary run by the Society of African Missionaries in Dedham outside Boston. We lived on a 160-acre, wooded campus and attended classes at Boston College.

When I arrived, I was 18 years old, had never been away from home and, I now realize, was still grieving my father's death.

An older seminarian befriended me. Bob Dietz was a 22-year-old college senior. He stopped by my room each evening for long talks. One evening, he suggested giving me a back rub, and a nightly back rub routine commenced.

Back rubs became more than back rubs, and I began feeling guilty. Dietz explained that I — but not he — was being very sinful. I found myself experiencing that peculiarly Catholic mix of sex, celibacy, and secrecy.

Sophomore year, some college friends from high school drove from Chicago for a visit. They brought Fr. Choate, whose suitcase clinked with vodka bottles.

One evening, loaded with drink, Fr. Choate groped my friend in the seminary basement. The friend pried Fr. Choate off. For the rest of the visit, Fr. Choate maintained a steely silence.

I left the seminary at the end of that year. Dietz transferred to a different seminary and later died of AIDS. For many years, Fr. Choate worked at Holy Trinity High School and as pastor at St. Francis Parish on the West Side. He died in 2017 at the age of 70 years.

Fr. Reuter

From 1975 to 1990, Fr. Reuter was president of Loyola Academy in Wilmette. I met him in 1995 when we were launching a new Catholic high school in Pilsen called Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.

In 2005, I was looking for allies to support opening another Cristo Rey-style high school on the West Side. Fr. Reuter was helpful advising me on how to build confidence in the project with the Jesuits. In 2008, Christ the King Jesuit College Prep opened in Austin, the first new Catholic high school there in 80 years.

At the time, Fr. Reuter worked in the chaplains department at Loyola Hospital and said Sunday Mass at Ascension Parish in Oak Park.

In 2010, Ascension Parish announced that Fr. Reuter would no longer say Mass because of an inappropriate relationship with a student at Loyola Academy. A second victim then came forward saying that in the late 1980s, he had worked in a Loyola Academy school office. Over two years, Fr. Reuter would secretly kiss him on the lips and inappropriately hug him while the student was working. Reuter has been prohibited from public ministry since 2010.

So there you have it. I am one Catholic, but I count five Catholic priests and one seminarian who engaged in sexual assault or inappropriate sexual contact with a variety of victims from children to young adults.

I am not optimistic that the Church will face this issue in a way that is materially different from the past. Secrecy is built into the DNA of the clerical Church. This is why I am not impressed by calls from Pope Francis and other bishops for public acts of penance. Absent disclosure of the facts, most of which are still buried in Church archives, public penance is an empty gong.

If we want to heal the Church, the only way I see forward is for victims to tell their stories and get the truth out.

Jack Crowe, a longtime Oak Park resident, is the executive director of Year Up - Chicago.

Reader Comments

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Bill Dwyer  

Posted: December 10th, 2018 3:19 PM

It would help if we lengthened the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse children to 20 years at least. As I understand it, many victims of child sexual abuse repress it until they're in their mid to late 20s.

Drew Rein  

Posted: December 10th, 2018 9:30 AM

This has gone on far too long and the consequences are devastating to the victims. Peace to those who have suffered.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: December 8th, 2018 8:32 PM

Thank you for sharing Mr. Crowe. Unfortunately, I understand what you have been going through.

Steve Miller  

Posted: December 8th, 2018 7:29 PM

O.M.(God). Jack, thank you for this, and may you find peace. I am shaken and broken by the profound truth of your words. I spent my formative years in the Catholic faith, and while I never experienced what you did, I utterly believe that the experiences you have bravely shared happened. I pray for the moment that we may pray together, cry together, testify together. And I call upon the enlightened community of OP and RF to live up to our ideals. We have been confronted with some tough truths this year. Does not Jack's truth demand the same?

Mary Kay O'Grady  

Posted: December 5th, 2018 11:58 AM

I applaud your courage. It might be too late for what you seek. The church (no capital letter) seems hellbent on its march to irrelevancy.

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