I’m sitting on the cold floor in the basement of the rectory. Curled up with my knees to my chest and my back to the wall.
After an immeasurable amount of time, I realize I can’t hear HIM any more. Hoping that means HE’s upstairs — taking a shower or gone— I push myself up off the floor. I run up the stairs, taking them two at a time. I make a hard, 180 degree turn to get to the West door of the rectory. I open the inner door and am hit with a blast of blue-white light.
I glance down and to the left and see the latch to the screen door. I push it.
Running. No, not running. Floating. Down a tunnel.
A black tube with the only color a circle of green way off in the distance. But I know I’m running and moving fast because my eye level rises and then drops down again as I float — jump? — up and over something. I glance back over my shoulder at the rectory door.
I’m beyond the curve of the church and out of sight of the rectory. I keep running west on the sidewalk that runs along Clayton Road and quickly cover the 100 or so yards to the intersection of McCutcheon Avenue and Clayton Road. As I do so, the color gradually returns to the world and my field of view widens. I dart across the street at the stop sign on Clayton Road and run over to one of the pine trees that is across the street. I dive between and under the branches near its base and, safe and relatively out of sight under the tree’s branches, sit there breathing hard and wondering what the hell just happened. I’m staring at the sign on the corner and repeating what it says over and over again.
Mc-Cutch-E-On. Mc-Cutch-E-On. Mc-Cutch-E-On.
And my ass feels like it’s on fire.
Torment not Treatment
In a perfect world, my experience being sexually exploited, abused, assaulted, and raped by a priest named Fr. LeRoy Valentine at the Church of the Immacolata in Richmond Heights, Missouri — a suburb of St. Louis — would be the low point of my story.
But we don’t live in a perfect world.
Instead, we live in a world in which — contrary to the promises of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who would have you believe survivors are provided with the services of an Assistance Coordinator and help dealing with what we’ve endured — survivors of abuse by priests receive only further, this time psychological, abuse.
Financed by the donations of the faithful.
The Sins of the Fathers
That’s a question I often receive, and this piece is my attempt to give a high-level answer that question, focusing on the misdeeds of a number of prominent cardinals.
Fr. LeRoy Valentine
It all started with a hug.
Fr. LeRoy Valentine had come to Immacolata in the late Summer of 1977, fresh out of the seminary.
He immediately took an interest in the boys of the parish; both the altar boys and younger ones. I gravitated to him, in part because my father was busy at work, and I valued Fr. Valentine’s hugs, even if they did go on too long when he first started hugging me at the end of Face to Face confession.
Then one evening, I think later on in the Fall of 1977, Fr. Valentine had three other boys and me over the rectory for a party; to eat pizza, drink REAL Coke — not RC or Vess cola — and play board games. Fr. V also spent time with at least me individually that night, and I think at least one other guy as well, watching TV in a separate room.
I quickly became one of Fr. Valentine’s favorites and hugs and trips and board games led to Special Training in the sacristy. Then we would go over to the rectory where, eventually, the really bad stuff happened.
I wasn’t the only boy Fr. LeRoy Valentine did this to; pretty much every weekend Fr. Valentine would hang out with some group of boys at “Youth Group;” at a pool, or in a basement, and/or taking them caving or camping.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan
As I write this, Cardinal Timothy Dolan is putting himself forth — and being but forth by the press — as a reformer; as one of the few bishops who is willing to do what it takes to address the Catholic church’s sexual abuse crisis.
As one of the good guys.
And it’s working.
That terrifies me, given what I know about the real Timothy Cardinal Dolan.
- Cardinal Dolan knew of — he SAW with his own eyes — Fr. LeRoy Valentine’s inappropriate behavior with boys at the Church of the Immacolata in Richmond Heights, MO, a suburb of St. Louis. And he did nothing. He just turned a blind eye to what Fr. Valentine was doing to us, as a DM I recently received confirms: Hello Chris my name is ____, I graduated from Immacolata in 198_, (I) was a alter boy and had to get “hair cuts” from Fr. Valentine in his bedroom, so I unfortunately know too. What angers me as much is several times leaving Valentines bedroom, fr. Timothy Dolan, now Cardinal Dolan lived in the room next door & would be standing right there & never did anything.
- Cardinal Dolan Gaslighted me in early March 2002, telling me nothing happened. In Cardinal Dolan’s own words: I know Fr. Valentine well.We were at the seminary together. We lived and worked together at Immacolata. I know Leroy Valentine didn’t do any of the things he’s being accused of. I know he would never do anything to hurt a child.
- When Fr. Valentine resigned a couple weeks after I contacted and talked to then-Bishop and now-Cardinal Dolan due to multiple allegations — something I was unaware of until 2018 — Cardinal Dolan never contacted me to let me know that Fr. Valentine had resigned and that my memories might indeed mean something. I didn’t know about Fr. Valentine’s resignation because it wasn’t covered by the local papers.
- As I learned in May 2011, and as was confirmed by Bishop Rick Stika in 2018, Cardinal Dolan hid the existence of my conversations with him from the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Dolan also hid my conversation with a female psychologist who I believe was Nancy Brown. I assume he did so in an effort to protect himself and to hide his involvement in the scandal of Fr. Valentine.
Cardinals Justin Rigali and Raymond Burke
Love is proactive.
It acts without being asked.
But Cardinal Justin Rigali and Cardinal Raymond Burke, like Cardinal Dolan, were anything but proactive when it came to Fr. LeRoy Valentine.
Cardinal Justin Rigali
When I first came forward in 2002, Cardinal Justin Rigali was Archbishop of St. Louis. As I said above, Cardinal Dolan hid my existence from the Archdiocese of St. Louis. As a result, it’s possible Cardinal Rigali wasn’t aware of MY existence due to Cardinal Dolan’s efforts. However, what Cardinal Rigali HAD to know was that Fr. LeRoy Valentine resigned, due to multiple allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, in late March 2002. But at no point did Cardinal Rigali…
- Ensure the people of St. Louis knew Fr. Valentine had resigned.
- Put out a call for possible unknown victims of Fr. Valentine, and any like me who had previously come forward and been told that nothing happened, to come back to the Archdiocese of St. Louis for help.
Cardinal Rigali also allowed Fr. Valentine to live, unsupervised, in a private residence after he resigned.
Cardinal Raymond Burke
Cardinal Rigali was succeeded by Cardinal Raymond Burke as Archbishop of St. Louis. As with his predecessor, at no point did Cardinal Burke…
- Ensure the people of St. Louis knew Fr. Valentine had resigned.
- Put out a call for possible unknown victims of Fr. Valentine, and those like me who had previously come forward and been told that nothing happened, to come back to the Archdiocese of St. Louis for help.
Similarly, Cardinal Burke allowed Fr. LeRoy Valentine, a known serial abuser of children, to live, unsupervised, in a private residence.
But Dolan Hid You From Us!
But we didn’t know about you!
Because Cardinal Dolan hid your existence from us!
I’m sure that’s the first thing Cardinal Rigali and Cardinal Burke will say if asked why they didn’t help me.
But it’s no excuse.
At a minimum, both Cardinal Rigali and Cardinal Burke knew Fr. LeRoy Valentine had resigned due to multiple credible allegations.
Maybe not mine, but by at least five other people.
However, unlike the call for victims to come forward that Cardinal Rigali issued in early March 2002, no such notice — no request for people to come forward — was given when Fr. Valentine resigned at the end of March 2002.
By 2011, my life had fallen apart.
I had lost everything.
My marriage, my home, my family, and my savings.
After seeing a parade of psychologists — and exploring a host of diagnoses including Depression, ADHD, and Asperger’s Syndrome — and running out of other explanations, I started to revisit my experiences with Fr. Valentine. After a couple of years, I again contacted the Archdiocese of St. Louis in April 2011, wanting to meet with them and ask a simple question…
Are you SURE my memories don’t mean anything?
On May 9, 2011, I met with Deacon Philip Hengen, the head of the Office of Child and Youth Protection of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and the other members of an Review (now called an Investigatory) Team — a team which, to my surprise and shock, and contrary to the stated policy of the Archdiocese of St. Louis at the time, included not one but two lawyers — and again told them my story.
What little they said by way of diagnosis was the same thing I was told in 2002.
And the problems I was having?
They were my father’s fault.
In July 2011 Deacon Hengen did ask to talk to the psychologist I was working with and that I was paying out of my own pocket. However, despite my signing everything I needed to sign and making sure he had my psychologist’s contact information and vice versa, he never did.
All I know is what my psychologist told me.
In 20 years of doing this I’ve never had someone, who truly wanted to get in touch with me, fail to get in touch with me.
Screw-Up or Strategy?
Not knowing if the problems I was having with getting help through Deacon Phil Hengen were due to his just following orders, or if he was simply incompetent, I did what any reasonable person would do.
I went over his head.
I brought the problems I was having to the attention of Monsignor Richard Hanneke, who I knew personally and who was the vicar for priests and, as it turned out, Deacon Hengen’s boss.
However, after initially seeming sympathetic to my plight, after meeting with his superiors Hanneke would only refer me back to Hengen, even though Hanneke knew I didn’t trust Hengen.
That made it clear to me that what I was experiencing was NOT a bureaucratic screw-up or a problem with an incompetent employee.
Rather, it was a strategy.
A strategy designed to make me just go away.
And create a problem with the Statute Of Limitations should I decide to sue.
Of all the terrible days I’ve had over the past fifteen years, easily the worst was May 10, 2013.
That was the day when the Archdiocese of St. Louis announced they were removing Fr. Valentine from priestly ministry due to a complaint made by someone who came forward in 2012.
And didn’t bother to warn me.
Much less help me.
In early 2014, under COURT ORDER, the Archdiocese of St. Louis produced a spreadsheet of allegations. It was incomplete. I know, because my allegation wasn’t in the matrix.
With or Without Names, St. Louis Archdiocese's "Matrix" of Sex Offenders Leaves Questions
It has been a week of starts and stops for Ken Chackes, the attorney representing Jane Doe, a young woman who claims…
In an attempt to get some help, and because of the problems I was having, I filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Louis. First, the Archdiocese tried to remove my parents from my lawsuit As Friends. Second, they never made an attempt to negotiate; they never changed their offer. Finally, when I was forced to settle my lawsuit, they refused to acknowledge that it happened in the settlement agreement.
At the same time the Archdiocese of St. Louis was removing Fr. Valentine, and ignoring me, I discovered that I had cancer. Malignant Melanoma. No, the church didn’t GIVE me Cancer. However, as a result of the discovery process of the lawsuit they filed, the Archdiocese of St. Louis MUST have known.
On February 5, 2018 I received the following e-mail from Sandra Price, Executive Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
You chose to litigate your claims of sexual abuse by Rev. Leroy Valentine. Your claims were acknowledged by Deacon Phil Hengen, the Archdiocese of Saint Louis and the court system. This matter has been fully settled through litigation and is final. Because your claim has been fully settled and is final the Archdiocese of Saint Louis will not be responding to any further inquiries regarding these claims. Please know that YOU AND ALL VICTIMS OF ABUSE are in my prayers and I do hope that you are able to find peace in the future. I wish you the best.
Archdiocese of St. Louis
The sense of peace that e-mail gave me was short-lived.
In Aisha Sultan’s April 21, 2018 piece Priest Sex Abuse Survivor Says Trauma Lingers the Archdiocese of St. Louis said something very different…
…“The archdiocese’s record of Mr. O’Leary’s allegations are significantly different; however, due to a court order as well as our own ethical obligation, we are not at liberty to discuss Mr. O’Leary’s case.” Jones also said the information O’Leary shared initially changed multiple times by the time he broke off communication...
How is a(n “acknowledged”) survivor of supposed to find any peace when he’s given a glimmer of hope — an acknowledgement that It Happened — only to have that hope crushed?