Readers, my in-box is filling up with appeals from individual Catholics to take a look at bad things happening in their own parishes, and so forth. For a while I was able to answer most of them, to tell them that I just don’t have the time or the resources to do it. Now I can’t even do that. I appreciate so much the outreach, but I am stretched to the limit.
This e-mail came in this week, though, and I’m going to post it because it’s a follow-up to one of the Diocese of Lincoln posts I did a few weeks back. Talking to Stan Schulte of that diocese about how his uncle, Father Jim Benton, allegedly abused him when he was a teenager really shook me up. (Fr. Jim Benton denies it.) I greatly admired Schulte for risking the rejection and anger of his fellow Lincoln Catholics, as well as some in his extended family, for speaking out. I want to include this e-mail as a sign of the good that comes from Schulte’s courage. I post it with the permission of the man who sent it:
I was posting a story on a message board when I walked away from the Catholic Church and the reasoning behind it. I ended up Googling my priest’s name, Father Jim Benton and came across your article and story from Stan Schulte. I instantly began to tremble and still have an anxiety feeling hours later.
Here’s my story:
I did a #walkaway from the Catholic Church in the early 2000’s. Growing up we were every Sunday mass, Wednesday CCD, altar boys, etc. However, there was an experience that changed my view on the church. Starting around 7th grade (I believe) we got a new priest in that seemed like the absolute best, attended every baseball, football game of ours, took all the boys to restaurants/ice cream, showered us with gifts for birthdays, Christmas, etc. We were a small town (approx 6500) and there were probably 10-12 boys in this group my age middle to upper middle class.
One night he wanted to take us fishing and overnight camping at a farm pond — not a house within a half mile of this pond. Started fun of fishing, swimming, campfire, then it went south after dark. I do vividly remember I remained in my swim trucks the entire night. He wanted to keep wrestling, which I remember everything was fun to start. More WWF style. The part that started getting to me was he’d pin me down and rub his face all over our chest and blow on our stomachs and backs like you do to babies. We eventually moved onto ghost stories with only a flashlight in an old barn. The priest told one where he turned out the flashlight and was breathing down the back of my neck and ears, then he pinned me to the ground and started that f*cking blowing on my stomach back. To this day I swear to God I felt a rock hard against my leg. Eventually there were a couple of us who broke free and dead sprint to the farmhouse. To this day I don’t fully remember what happened when the lights went out. I don’t remember the run to the house, I don’t remember my parents coming. It’s like I blocked those parts out permanently.
My parents came and I never discussed the reason why they were called to come pick up, just that I was scared out in the middle of nowhere. I hid it from them for a long time before I broke it to them the real reason why I wanted out.
(I just spoke to my mom and the reason I don’t remember the car ride home, it was because it was Father Jim who drove me home early. She said I sprinted into the house and locked myself in my room. This would have been around the summer of 1998. I was a member of the Seward St. Vincent De Paul church.
I asked the letter-writer if I could post his story, and offered him anonymity, as an alleged victim of unwanted sexual attention from a priest. He responded:
Feel free to. You can also use my name. I’m not hiding the story any longer.
His name is Chad Sabatka.
Jeff Hoover is another Lincoln man who, as a teenager in 2002, said that Father Benton came on to him on a camping trip. The Diocese of Lincoln has previously acknowledged the allegation, but said that after investigation, it couldn’t substantiate it. In the comment section of an August 13 story in the Lincoln Journal Star, Hoover posted these remarks:
Hoover provided to me a photocopy of now-retired Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz’s letter to him back in 2002:
In 2006, Fr. James Benton was featured in Lincoln Journal Star for having taken in Vietnamese teenage boys, with their parents’ permission. There was no mention of any abuse having taken place, at all. Father Benton remembers them fondly, apparently, because he posted this photo to his Facebook page (I’ve obscured the faces of the young men):
There is no evidence, to my knowledge, that Father Benton molested these men as teenagers. But what does the Diocese of Lincoln have in its files? The Attorney General of Nebraska announced this week that it was going to investigate the Diocese of Lincoln over these claims. Hoover and Schulte spoke to the Omaha World-Herald about it:
Jeff Hoover, who said he was groped by a priest during a camping trip in the early 1980s, said he was encouraged that an investigator with the Attorney General’s Office had contacted him, saying he was “very interested in knowing what happened to you.”
Hoover and two other alleged victims interviewed by The World-Herald said they had no faith in an internal investigation of past abuse that was launched recently by Lincoln Bishop James Conley after publication of new accounts of abuse by priests within the diocese. Hoover and the others said that their reports in the past had been dismissed as unsubstantiated or “misremembering.”
“The only way that justice will be served for the past victims, and for future victims, is if we get an external investigation,” said Dr. Stan Schulte, a Lincoln chiropractor who said he was abused by a priest in the 1990s.
I hope that the AG will find those Vietnamese men and their families, and talk to them about their experiences with Father Benton.
I asked Stan Schulte by e-mail today for his thoughts since he went public with his abuse story nearly a month ago in an exclusive TAC interview. He wrote back the following:
Since my article came out with you, I have had multiple other victims come forward. I am happy to know that my coming forward has allowed others to have the courage to do the same.
In my correspondence with Jeff, I have become very disturbed and concerned at the pattern of coverup within our diocese going back decades. Jeff came forward in 1997 and then again in 2002. Bishop Bruskewitz informed Jeff that my uncle would be assigned to the Retreat House away from children and that they would inform him if there was any new information regarding his case. They told him, at that time, his story was “unsubstantiated”.
I know for a fact that my uncle only had a brief assignment there and then was assigned right back into multiple parishes and allowed to be around children, without informing Jeff. This pattern of moving the accused priests around is all to common and something we have now seen across the country in order for the diocese to cover it up. These parishes were exposed to a priest with known problems and yet the chancery felt that covering it up was more important than informing parents to be careful. The important piece in all of this is that Bishop Conley, himself, was involved in assigning my uncle to multiple parishes having full knowledge of his history and the correspondence with Jeff. This shows complete lack of transparency on his part, even today, when all he wants to do is act as though the situation has been settled.
I also became aware that my uncle made multiple attempts to touch Jeff’s genitals. When I came forward in November, I specifically asked the chancery to tell me what happened in 2002. All I was told is that the victim told them that my uncle touched his hip. I then asked the depth of the investigation that they did at the time to prove it was “unsubstantiated”. I was told that all the chancery did was ask other kids who were on that trip with Jeff if they were touched. This infuriates me. This also shows me the complete ignorance that they have and the lack of thoroughness that they care to do in getting to the truth.
How are we to trust their transparency? The quality of investigation is only as good as the quality of the questions that they ask. If they were to ask my siblings if they had been touched by my uncle, their answer would’ve been “no”, yet that, in no way, means that it didn’t happen to me. The real question they should’ve asked is, “Was Jeff forced to sleep in the same bed as my uncle, without the full knowledge of his parents?” These questions will lead to much different answers.
Jeff was also told in his correspondence from 2002, that he would be informed if anything changed. After my coming forward in November, he should’ve been informed that multiple other victims with very similar occurrences had come forward and therefore, his story was now “substantiated”. This unfortunately never happened. They chose to leave Jeff in the dark, once again. That shows an incredible lack of concern for abuse victims. Jeff could’ve been suicidal or had become an alcoholic, as so many other victims have become.
I had also mentioned in my previous interview with you, that my uncle had been sent out to the East coast for what we had thought was counseling back in 2002. Now, we are unsure if that even occurred. It seems that all they did was give him some time off due to stress. This, once again, shows complete lack of support for priests within the diocese, even when there is a known problem.
For the past 10 months, I have been asking repeatedly that my uncle receive residential treatment for his problems, yet, have heard nothing back for over 4 months. I am being told that they need to do their own internal assessment to see if he has a problem. This is after 3 individuals have come forward, over the course of almost 40 years, without any prior knowledge of the other incidents at the time. This is evidently not good enough for them to realize that he has a problem.
I have lost complete faith in the leadership within our diocese. Repeated coverup in my uncle’s case alone, makes me very concerned that this has been a pattern for decades.
I truly believe that the Msgr. Kalin incidents need to be looked into more thoroughly. Bishop Conley has completely ignored this very important piece of the puzzle and continues to focus the attention on a few recent priests. If Msgr. Kalin repeatedly made homosexual advances on multiple men, that is extremely relevant. This would expose the underlying culture that has been prevalent for decades. Without a thorough investigation into these allegations, we will never be able to get to the root of this problem.
Although I know that there are many good priests within our diocese, I truly believe that there are others, currently, out in our diocese who are a threat to children. Had I not come forward in November, my uncle would still be a threat. Without a thorough, external, independent investigation into the past history of our diocese, going back decades, we will continue to have legitimate concerns of continued coverup.
I encourage those other victims, who have yet to come forward, to please do so. I know it can be incredibly scary, but please know that our church needs you at this time in order for true healing to take place.
In other Lincoln news, Bishop James Conley has hired an outside company to set up a hotline for victims of clerical sexual abuse in his diocese to report it.