My story is one of the worst I have ever heard. I know of a number of families where each of the siblings was in turn horribly abused, but as far as an individual is concerned, mine is one of the worst. Of course they are all horrible. The day that we are no longer shocked by these accounts is the day that we become spiritually dead and numb to evil.
I was born and raised in Livonia, a suburb of Detroit. Livonia was one of the new suburbs that were part of the growth out from the city center. Our family’s parish, St. Michael, was an example of the expanding growth of the auto industry. My father was an accountant at Ford. At its heyday, the parish was very large, and a new church, a new rectory and a new school were built which had something like 1200 students. I was one of two children; my sister (still living) was three years older. My sister is three years older than I am. She had gone through the progression of Sacraments before me and I was getting ready to do this as well…I was 9 years old at the time.
A really important aspect of this time is the fact that my mother was very ill and in a wheelchair. She had very severe rheumatoid arthritis. I am sure all of you know that these abusers have a sixth sense for children that are vulnerable and in difficult situations. They pursue their deranged aims by attempting to be a surrogate parent, and are very successful at grooming the whole family. My mother was a devout Catholic and to her the church could do no wrong. She never had any inkling of what was happening.
For two years from 1967-9, I was abused by two priests, Robert Burkholder and Jason Sigler. These priests were part of a secret society of at least four priests, the two mentioned and also Harry Benjamin and Edward Olszewski.
Let me describe a little of what this society did. Their society was an underground society. Their aim was to recruit boys into this society – they would abuse us and teach us about their secret life where they would protect each other. They were recruiting boys that they would mold by introducing us to repeated homosexual behavior during our years of puberty; they wanted to permanently change our orientation into that of being homosexual. Boys would be brought into the priesthood; then, in turn, those priests would recruit others.
As I think about this now, my impression is that this had been going on a long time and that these priests had connections elsewhere. I recall that part of their program was to brainwash me into believing that sexual relations with a man or child was normal, whereas sexual relations with a woman were wrong, dirty, unnatural and forbidden. To this day, although I have no homosexual desires, I am plagued by the guilt of normal attraction to women.
A period of grooming started the process… I was taken on car rides and to an ice cream restaurant named Cloverdales by Burkholder. The rectory at St. Michael’s was their little chamber of horrors. The four priests would set up parties in the top floor of the rectory where they would bring ice cream, treats and beer and invite groups of boys. We had baseball on the TV. (That year, 1968, was the Tigers’ championship season, and I was a HUGE fan. However, after these parties, even though my family had tickets to the World Series, I refused to go. I never watched baseball again.)
Then the games would begin. Children were forcibly held down and sodomized, orally raped, slapped and hit, insulted and victimized in the most evil acts. It still turns my stomach to recall it. The amazing thing was that no one suspected. They had perfected means by which they would slap and abuse the boys into submission, but leave no mark.
There were many abuse instances where I was alone with one of the abusers. I cannot detail all that occurred. I will describe just two memories. In the rectory, I would sometimes be victimized by both Sigler and Burkholder at the same time. I recall being forced to sit in a chair – it was a school kind of chair. They hit me and punched me when I resisted. They would insult me with things like “shut up and be quiet, you know what’s good for you”. Each of the priests had a ‘preference’… for Burkholder it was oral rape while Sigler’s was forced sodomy. During these times with both of them, I would usually black out.
Over the course of these two years, I became increasingly resistant and began to fight back. The last instance I recall clearly. I was invited by Burkholder into the sacristy of the church for a ‘special confession’ (there could be a whole book written about the perversion of the sacraments by these types). It was December in Michigan, well below freezing. When we were in the sacristy, he made a move on me and I resisted. The episode turned into a real fight. I tried to hit him and push him away. I recall being thrown down on the floor and striking my head along a row of doors where the vestments were kept. You see, resisting him made him enraged. He was a huge man, probably 250 pounds. He ended up sitting on my chest and orally raping me. After he had ejaculated, he angrily threw me out of the church in the freezing snow, where I walked three miles back to home.
Remember, my mother was dying during this time. She died in the middle of the abuse.
You might ask, what was the effect on me. This brief account is too short to tell much, although I am now 60, and after 25 years of therapy, I still am uncomfortable and sometimes terrified of intimacy. For many years, I suffered from terrifying panic attacks every evening at 8:30, the time of the parties. I would simply start yelling at my children and feel terrified and out of control. A whole list of pernicious health problems occurred as well.
The AOD never offered to pay for medical treatment, even though I maxed out my insurance and spent thousands of my own money.
What is the status of these four fine citizen priests, you might ask? Seventeen men in New Mexico settled child sex abuse and cover up in cases involving Sigler for $13 million in 1993. This is but the tip of the iceberg of all the millions that various dioceses have lost on him. Sigler was released from prison after six years and the AOD never said a word in protest. The Michigan AG claims that he abused over 50 boys, and that he and Burkholder were the worst pedophiles in Michigan history.
Sigler is now free, living in a very nice house in Albuquerque NM.
Burkholder retired comfortably to Hawaii. The AOD never reported his crimes to authorities. Finally when he was nearing 80 he spent 6 weeks in jail. Thankfully he is deceased.
Benjamin was convicted but managed to serve only one year in jail. He is listed on the VA sex offender registry as a “violent offender”. Did the AOD object when he was released? He lives in a very nice house four blocks from two schools and a day care center.
Olszewski was accused by multiple victims and convicted of child abuse but is now free and living comfortably in Miami. He is not on the government’s sex offender registry which indicates he was never reported by the AOD.
When I approached the AOD (I think it was in 1998), one of the auxiliary bishops replied in a letter, at least admitting that these events were true. I then applied for help with the cost of therapy. At that time I did not seek a monetary settlement.
The AOD has the idea that therapy should last about 12 weeks and then your funding is cut off. Each time I had to go back to the intake person and have my therapist write them to tell them I still needed help. Off and on I received some therapy help for about 8 years. By that time they really just wanted to get rid of me because they perceived me to be a pest. At one point, a year after the funding was cut off, they still had not responded to dozens of my calls and emails. I finally got an auxiliary bishop of Dallas to intercede for me. They finally agreed to fund therapy again but for only a year, however when I read what they agreed to, it was that I would have to first go through my insurance and they would pay any difference, which amounted to a whopping $20 a session. There was so much red tape and forms I never bothered. That was the last I heard from them.
They have repeatedly lied to me or at least were confused about the facts. While at the very first, I did not seek a settlement from them, eventually I did. I asked Msg. Bugarin why I had never received a settlement although I had asked for 20 years. He replied, “There must be a misunderstanding, we don’t give out settlements”. Yet, I have the AOD’s OWN PUBLIC DOCUMENT which shows a record of settlements from the last 20 years, the last one was for $750,000.00. I still have no answer as to why they give settlements to some (very few) survivors and not to others. I have never received a dime.
At that point I decided to try to obtain a lawyer and try litigation. What happened is so typical of how the AOD treats survivors. Did they try to understand or apologize for what happened? Hardly. They unleashed their corporate attorneys on me. After two years, I received nothing. I was sent a one paragraph letter saying that since the crime was past the statutes of limitation, there was nothing they were going to give me.
When the AOD realized that they were going to be facing bankruptcy from the lawsuits that were being lobbed at them, they took action to sequester the assets of the diocese into a shell company. (This is a frequent tactic of many dioceses) It was laughable at in the press conference announcing this, when McGrath (a cover up man if there ever was one) announced, “This has nothing to do with the ongoing legal situation; this is a canonical procedure that we have been planning since 1911,” I was told that laughter among the reporters was heard out to the street.
The attorney I hired was none other than Mitch Garabedian, a legend. (He is the attorney in the Spotlight film) After we received that nasty letter, and NO OTHER WORD OR RESPONSE from the AOD, Mitch mentioned to me that he thought the AOD was one of the worst dioceses he had ever dealt with –and that’s saying a lot! He said that all the other dioceses offer to settle with the victim. The AOD rarely does and instead of the people’s money going to aid survivors, it goes to the high power corporate attorney firm.
My impression is that the people on the AOD “team” dealing with survivors are folks whose job it is to insulate the archbishop from actually ever meeting a human survivor. I have never heard of Vigneron actually meeting any survivors individually or with anyone from SNAP. He is content with a little homily once a year about it and ignoring any real people…his behavior is a prime example of the fact that talk is cheap. I believe that through 25 years of fighting with them, I doubt that the archbishop(s) and cardinal(s) had ever even heard of me. I believe all their money goes into the high power legal corporation that they unleashed on me. How do you think that made a survivor feel?
At one point, I asked that I be given a copy of all that was in my file, but they refused.
When the AOD learned that I was going to speak to the Attorney General about the history of my case, they cut off funding for therapy once again…they told me “it is not our policy to help with anyone who is involved in ongoing legal activity.” The AG was very interested to hear about that!
BTW one of the favorite tactics of the AOD is to wash their hands of a priest after he is transferred to another diocese – “we have no further information.” Another favorite dodge is to announce that the abuser is a member of a religious order, so “we have no information on the individual and he is out of our jurisdiction”.
I will close with this information from the office of the Attorney General:
The department has received 641 tips on its clergy abuse hotline, identified 270 priests alleged to be abusers and received allegations involving 552 victims of clergy sexual abuse, Nessel said. She estimated the department would identify “several thousand” victims by the end of the investigation.
“The vast majority of the cases can’t be prosecuted based on the statute of limitations issues,” Nessel said.
Question: so why if the AG cites 270 priests, does the AOD list only 86 on their site??