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I once worked for a priest who abused children: Sexual Assault and the Pennsylvania Report on abuse by Catholic Priests

August 20, 2018

A new report was published recently that documents the systemic abuses by Catholic priests in the state of Pennsylvania.

Last week Democracy Now devoted two segments to this issue, with one segment looking at information about 300 priests abuses over 1,000 children and the Catholic Church covered it up. The second segment interviewed someone who was a survivor of abuse and a former priest who left and is now works for an organization that provides support to the victims of predatory clergy.

The second segment from Democracy now referred to the Catholic Church as a “criminal enterprise,” because of how they have tried to cover up and suppress that the abuse had been occurred. Considering the evidence, it doesn’t seem unreasonable at all to refer to the church’s role in the cover-up of the abuse by the priests as a criminal enterprise. What else do you call an institution that sanctions abuse and then tries to cover it up?

What is equally alarming are some of the responses to the new evidence of priests abusing children and the church hierarchy covering it up. A few days ago the president of the Catholic League made a statement in response to the claim that the priests raped these children.

This is an obscene lie. Most of the alleged victims were not raped: they were groped or otherwise abused, but not penetrated, which is what the word “rape” means.

Such a statement not only reflects how institutions consistently defend violence, it demonstrates a complete lack of empathy for the victims and the trauma they are experiencing and will experience for the rest of their lives.

This sort of sentiment from leaders in the Catholic Church is not unusual. In 2015, a New York Catholic Bishop claimed that the priests who have engaged in abuse of children can’t take all the blame. Bishop Robert Cunningham of the diocese of Syracuse, NY, stated that the “age of reason in the Catholic church is seven, so those boys are culpable for their actions.”

The recent reporting on the new evidence that the Catholic Church has once again attempted to cover up the abuse and harm committed by priests against children has led me to reflect a bit about my own experience working in the Catholic Church.

I once worked for a priest who abused children

I came to Grand Rapids in 1982, because I was offered a job as a youth minister at St. James Catholic Church. At the time, I had just returned from working as a teacher in a small school in Puerto Rico and wasn’t sure where I would land, so I took the offer from a priest to come to Grand Rapids.

The priest at St. James who invited me to work there was Fr. Charles Antekeier. Antekeier was a rather conservative priest who was part of the Catholic Charismatic movement, which adopted some fundamentalists religious views, but maintained a deep commitment to Rome and the church hierarchy.

I loved the work with the youth, both at the grade school and through the congregation, but I soon realized that Fr. Antekeier was a rather rigid leader and would not tolerate anyone who questioned him. A friend of mine at the time, who was head of the Peace & Justice committee at the church had organized an event to hear from two local priests who had just come back from Nicaragua to talk about the role that some catholic priests were playing in the revolution there. Fr. Antekeier was not pleased by this event and made it a point to invite Nicaraguans to speak at a mass the following week. However, the Nicaraguans he invited were part of the Word of God community in Ann Arbor, which was a reactionary group that supported the Nicaraguan dictatorship that had been overthrown in 1979.

I was then told by Fr. Antekeier that I needed to go to Ann Arbor and spend a week at the Word of God community, so I could be presented the real truth about what was happening there. I refused, saying that I already had work commitments with the youth of the church. Fr. Antekeier then told me to pack my stuff and leave that same day, as I was fired from my job.

In 2015, Fr. Charles Antekeier was permanently removed from doing any ministry work, since it was revealed that while he was pastor of St. James Church, he abused youth in the parish in the early 1980s. I remember seeing a news story about this and then read the formal statement from the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese.

I was not surprised by this revelation, since I always had a suspicion about Antekeier’s relationship to the families at St. James, especially since his authority could not be questioned. However, I do struggle with the fact that this priest was probably abusing children while I was working at the church and I had no idea it was taking place.

There have been several other Catholic priests in Grand Rapids who have also been accused of abuse, some who were sued and others who have had legal action taken against them. However, the primary response by the Catholic Church is to reassign them to another parish, to place them in jobs that minimize public interaction or to allow them to live out their lives without any real consequences.

The other day, I re-watched the film Spotlight, which dramatizes the Catholic Church cover-up of priest abuses in Boston over several decades. In one scene in the movie, Micheal Keaton’s character is having a drink with a guy who is a lawyer that works for the Catholic Church. The lawyer is trying to pressure Keaton’s character to stop the investigation by the Boston Globe and Keaton’s character then says, “this is how it happens isn’t it. A guy leans on a guy and suddenly the whole town just looks the other way.”

We can’t continue to look the other way. We have to stand up, speak out and do whatever it takes to not allow this kind of harm, this kind of abuse, this kind of violence to continue. As Dr. King once said, “Silence is the voice of complicity.”

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