Thursday, March 21, 2002

By predators

Entire families victimized

        Her son was molested by a priest. His life, she says, will never be the same.

        Nor will hers.

        It happened 15 years ago. “Our son's grades started slipping,” she says. “And he stopped eating.” The worried parents thought maybe he was anorexic or pushing himself too hard at school or, well, just about anything but that he was being sexually assaulted by a priest.

        “We knew something was wrong. So he began going to a therapist.” The boy, who was 15, didn't tell the therapist what had happened to him. “I think he blamed himself,” his mother says. “Or maybe he just didn't think anybody would believe him.”

        Finally — when he was in graduate school — he phoned his mom to say he couldn't continue his job while going to school. A problem with his supervisor, he said. A little exasperated, his mother encouraged him to try to get along.

        “You don't understand,” the young man said desperately. “Shades of the past” was how he put it. An older man in a position of authority was preying on him. Sexually. Then he told his mother everything.

        “Don't tell Dad,” he said.

        What had happened to him made him feel unclean, as though it was his fault. “Why did he pick me?” he would say. And his mother would listen, then berate herself. “Why didn't I know?”

        Her son's abuser, the Rev. Ken Schoettmer, admitted last summer that he had sexual contact with three teen-age boys. “My son's case was too old to prosecute,” the woman says. The time limit in Ohio is six years. “Most of the victims who have come forward are not children,” she says. “They step forward after they are more mature, when they understand what happened to them.”

A shameful record

        The archdiocese admitted last week that during the past 15 years it “substantiated” allegations against fewer than five priests, all of whom remain in priestly roles but pose no threat to children. One would hope that Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, who made the statement at a press conference, might be more specific about how this feat has been accomplished. Most professionals would envy his record.

        “Pedophiles have to be in recovery all their lives,” says Jill Bley, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating sexual compulsives. “They have to be monitored constantly, and there is no such thing as a cure.”

        The archbishop guessed an average of five children came forward to accuse each of the dishonored priests. Most of us would guess that some children simply didn't come forward. And given the church's shameful record, one might also suspect that some children came forward but their claims were not “substantiated.”

        The woman says her son now has spoken about the abuse to the rest of the family, but he still cannot bear to speak of it publicly. “The other kids were devastated. They felt like my husband and I did. Sadness. Guilt. Anger. How did we miss this?”

        He is now a successful professional, her boy, she says proudly. “But his life would have been so much easier.” He is continuing therapy and takes anti-depressants. “This will shadow his life forever.”

        And hers.
       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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