MO--SNAP: “For once, archbishop, do a bit more”
For immediate release: Saturday, Feb. 21
On Monday, Gary P. Wolken, a serial child predator and defrocked Catholic priest, will walk free from a prison in Bonne Terre Missouri. In his 40s, he’s charismatic, charming, well-educated and well-spoken, so he’ll have plenty of chances to molest again.
That’s why we urge St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson to do a bit more, for once, about a predator priest. We urge him to:
--start this weekend personally visiting every parish where Wolken worked,
--beg victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to call police,
--make this plea in church bulletins and websites (including the archdiocesan website),
--use the archdiocesan newspaper to also prod people with information and suspicions about Wolken to call law enforcement, and
--hold a news conference to warn parents, parishioners and the public about Wolken, stressing that he might face more charges – and be kept away from more kids – if everyone who saw, suspected or suffered his crimes speaks up.
We ask Carlson to do this kind of outreach for one simple reason: it's effective. Pleas to victims to "speak up" help bring forward others who are suffering in silence, shame and self-blame. They help police and prosecutors pursue predators. And they’re what Carlson should do to restore faith in the Catholic hierarchy and safeguard the Catholic flock.
(We believe it’s disingenuous and dangerous for bishops to recruit, educate, ordain, hire, train, supervise, transfer and shield predator priests, but then defrock them when their crimes hit the headlines and do nothing else to protect the vulnerable from them.)
Wolken “admitted exposing himself to a boy, inappropriately touching him, and having oral sex with him over a three-year period, beginning when the child was 5,” according to the Associated Press. The crimes took place in Ballwin as Wolken baby-sat him from August 1997 to July 2000.
(According to the AP, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, who wrote to state Probation and Parole board that Wolken "poses a danger to all citizens.")
(Wolken was assigned Our Lady of Sorrows in south city. We suspect he worked, perhaps briefly, in other parishes too. In 2007, he was allegedly defrocked but as best we can tell, no Catholic officials told parents, parishioners or the public about this until years later.)
Caring Catholic officials need not sit passively by just because Carlson likely will. Brave pastors could, on their own, use their pulpits, parish websites and church bulletins to warn parents about Wolken and beg more victims to step forward. We long for the day even one or two compassionate and courageous priests would take such caring actions.
“Why would Carlson do this kind of outreach? Wouldn’t the publicity possibly generate more lawsuits?” some might ask. We would answer
-- It’s what a truly caring shepherd would do.
-- It’s what Jesus taught us to do (in the parable of the lost sheep).
-- It’s what bishops have repeatedly pledged they would do – try and help victims.
-- It’s what all bishops are required to do by the US Bishops Conference abuse policy.
-- It would actually reduce the chances of further lawsuits. (Most victims sue because they see bishops still acting recklessly, callously and deceitfully in these cases. When bishops act responsibly, victims feel little or no need to sue, and subject themselves to long, grueling, scary and uncertain legal processes.)
In a deposition last year, Archbishop Robert Carlson said “In everything we do, once we’ve experienced it, we reflect on our actions and we ask what we can do better.”
In light of that remark, and in light of Wolken’s youth, smarts and egregious crimes, we urge Carlson go above the bare minimum, show real leadership, aggressively reach out and prove that he’s willing to do now something more and different than he did 30 years ago when he first began dealing with clergy sex cases.
A few interesting facts about Wolken:
--The civil suit against Wolken and the archdiocese charged that “as early as 1994, employees at an archdiocese school noticed the priest having inappropriate physical contact with children” and “Wolken was subsequently ordered to undergo therapy, where he admitted being sexually attracted to children. While still undergoing therapy, Wolken began sexually abusing the boy. . .”
--He says he was abused as a child by a priest. (We suspect it was Fr. Donald Straub.)
--When he was arrested, he lived with another predator priest, Fr. Michael Campbell, and then-Bishop Tim Dolan.
--Before his sentencing, Dolan wrote to the judge seeking leniency.
--Dolan won’t release the letter. http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news3/2003_03_15_Heinen_DolanSent_Gary_Wolken_4.htm
--Then-Archbishop Justin Rigali wrote a similar letter.
--Though Wolken was a seminarian or priest for almost 20 years, the archdiocesan website contains not a single mention of him.
--After being sued, the archdiocese agreed to pay $1.675 million to the family of one boy sexually abused by Wolken, “the highest amount yet paid for a case in the archdiocese.”
--He was arrested in March of 2002, the same month his former seminary classmate, Fr. Bryan Kuchar, was arrested on child sex charges. (Fr. Kuchar was found guilty in a trial in St. Louis County.)
--Wolken sought early release at least once but failed to get it.
--He was the first St. Louis priest to plead guilty (in Dec. 2002) after the clergy sex abuse crisis erupted in January of 2002.
--Wolken pleaded guilty to two counts of statutory sodomy and six counts of child molestation and was sentenced to 15 years.
--In recent years, the only St. Louis predator priest to receive a longer sentence was Fr. Thomas Graham. (His conviction, and 20 year sentence, were tossed out on the statute of limitations.)
--Weeks after the archdiocese settled with the boys’ family, they settled with another 18 victims.
--Judge John Kintz oversaw the Wolken case. The prosecutor was Rob Livergood. The victim’s therapist was Therese Evans. And defense lawyer J. Martin Hadican represented Wolken (and has done so for many predator priests going back to the early 1980s, perhaps even earlier).
We are proud of and grateful to the brave victim and his family for helping police and prosecutors keep Wolken away from kids for years. We hope that they feel proud of themselves. It takes real courage to go through the criminal process. But it’s the best way to safeguard youngsters.
Our hearts ache for them now. It must be very hard to know that he’ll again be walking free.
Here’s a summary of Wolken’s history, according to BishopAccountability.org:
Convicted 2002 of abuse of boy over a 3 yr period beginning about 1997 when he was 5 yrs old. Sentenced to 15 yrs in prison. Tried for early release in 2006. Had abused another boy 25 yrs ago but not prosecuted. Sent for therapy. He was in therapy when he abused this plaintiff. Civil suit filed 4/04 and settled for $1.675M.
And here’s what we sent to the parole board about Wolken in 2006:
Soon, you will have an opportunity to send an important message to people across Missouri. It's a diverse group, made up of hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by priests, ministers, rabbis, nuns, brothers, and bishops. It also includes law enforcement officials who work hard to get predators off the streets, and average citizens who are concerned about the abuse of children. Most important, however, are the scores of wounded men whose childhood innocence was snatched away by one of the St. Louis Catholic Church's most notorious serial child molesters. We refer, of course, to Father Gary Wolken, whose parole you will be considering on Tuesday, August 17. These citizens are hoping, some even praying, that you will wisely deny his request for parole.
During his career in Missouri there were strong suspicions that Wolken was molesting children. Church officials were aware that Wolken had a history of molesting young boys. He seemed to target the most innocent and helpless, preying on his friend’s five year old son.
Wolken, as you know, was sentenced in 2003 after pleading guilty to sexual abuse of a minor. He was given 15 years. We are told that, by law, he has now become eligible for parole. As you consider all the nuances of the law and Wolken's sentence, we hope that you will give equal consideration to the sentence imposed on each of his victims. Consider not just the victim he admitted to in this conviction, but to the others we fear are trapped in secrecy and shame.
In SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, we have provided support to many who have been victimized by members of the clergy. Every single one of these was a child betrayed by the ultimate figure of trust--a clergy person, from whom they expected nothing but kindness and God's love. The fallout from their experiences with has been profound. Many suffer a lifetime sentence of psychological turmoil. Some have chronic depression, some fear intimacy, some have problems with other authority figures. Many now struggle with addictive behaviors, learned at a young age to escape the pain, shame and guilt of their assaults. Nearly all have an unending, spiritual restlessness resulting from an early, painful loss of faith.
We realize that Wolken may appear to be contrite and cooperative in the prison setting. Wolken's "good" behavior with other adults in jail is far less significant than his horrific behavior with innocent children while wearing his Roman collar. We strongly believe he is still a dangerous threat to children. We see no reason to think his time in prison has "cured" him of his compulsive need to assault the innocent.
As a parole official, you must realize how important the cooperation of average citizens is in the enforcement of the law. If crime victims and witnesses do not come forward and cooperate with prosecutors, criminals will not be punished, and the innocent will suffer. The entire system is built, in effect, on trust. It's trust that criminals will be caught; trust that the punishment will be appropriate to the deed. It may be an old-fashioned viewpoint, but we believe that the punishment ought to fit the crime. If parole is granted to Gary Wolken, many people--from victims, to police to prosecutors--will feel that their trust in the system has been violated. And violating this trust will inevitably deter other crime victims from speaking up.
Please also think for a moment of the Missouri child who is being sexually abused today, whether by some relative, a neighbor or a priest. How will he or she feel when the youth sees one of our state's most notorious child molesters get out of jail at this early opportunity? Will it encourage this child to come forward and bravely report his own victimization? Certainly not.
At tomorrow's hearing, you will be given an opportunity to make a difference in the fight against child sexual abuse, to bring some peace of mind to the victims of this priest (and others), and to send a message to thousands of concerned citizens. We hope that you will decide to deny Gary Wolken's request for parole.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We were founded in 1988 and have more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)