News Story of the Day

Surviving Hillcrest

Letta Cartlidge created a group for missionary kids who’d attended her boarding school in Jos, Nigeria. The stories of abuse poured in.
December 13, 2022

It was on a Friday in spring 2021 that Letta Cartlidge decided she had seen enough.

In her backyard in a suburb of Denver, Colorado, a stack of bangles on her arm and an oversized cardigan draped around her shoulders, Cartlidge explained to the Century how on April 15, 2021, James McDowell, a former principal at Hillcrest—a boarding school primarily for the children of missionaries in Jos, Nigeria—admitted in a private Facebook group for Hillcrest alumni that he had “molested” two students during his tenure.

As Cartlidge, a 1992 graduate of Hillcrest, watched reactions to McDowell’s post pour in, she estimated that about 30 percent of the people who commented were either angry or used it as an opportunity to share their own stories of abuse by other Hillcrest staff. The other 70 percent called McDowell brave for coming forward and assured him of God’s grace.

It was when the 70 percent began verbally attacking the 30 percent that Cartlidge knew she had to do something. The next day, she created a new Facebook group—Hillcrest Survivors—where people who’d had a negative experience at the school, herself among them, could speak freely and begin to process what had happened to them.

By fall 2022, Cartlidge’s Facebook group had 236 members. Perhaps more significantly, it had launched a nine-member steering committee that has started lobbying Hillcrest leadership for a professional, independent investigation of several decades worth of sexual, physical, and religious abuse allegations.

An independent investigation is key, said Rich Darr, cofounder of Missionary Kids Safety Net, because missionaries are particularly susceptible to a worldview in which literally nothing is more important than winning souls to Christ. According to the theology many of them adopt, Jesus can only save the people who believe in him the exact way they do.

“And the kicker is, Jesus is coming back at any moment,” Darr said— “to take those who are saved to heaven, and everybody else is going to burn in hell.”

Advocates Demand Oakland Bishop Add 100+ Priests to List of Alleged Abusers

NBC News [San Francisco, CA]

December 13, 2022

By Candice Nguyen, Michael Bott and Mark Villarreal

Read original article


Leaders representing the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) unveiled a list of East Bay church officials, mostly priests, they say have been accused of sexual abuse. Standing at 227 names, SNAP says its list is more than three times longer than the list released by Oakland Bishop Michael Barber in 2019.

Advocates from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests gathered Tuesday at the doorstep of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland to unveil a list of East Bay priests they say have been accused of sexual abuse, mostly against children. 

“We’ve painstakingly gone through all the records we could find,” said Dan McNevin, a survivor of clergy abuse and one of the architects behind SNAP’s list, detailing his process of combing through court filings, news reports and other publicly available sources for bits of new information.

Former Catholic priest convicted in 1985 sex assault in Loudoun

Washington Post

December 12, 2022

By Tom Jackman


Scott A. Asalone, a rector in Purcellville, was removed from his church in 1993, but not arrested until 2020. The victim went on to become a D.C. councilman.

A former Catholic priest from Loudoun County, who was quietly discharged from his parish after abuse allegations in the 1990s, was convicted Monday in Loudoun circuit court of felony carnal knowledge of a minor for abusing a boy who would go on to become a D.C. councilman.

Scott A. Asalone, 66, who worked as a stockbroker and consultant in New Jersey for nearly three decades after leaving his parish, was arrested in March 2020, and released on bond during the pandemic. Jury selection for his trial was scheduled to begin Monday when Asalone decided to enter an “Alford” plea, in which a defendant doesn’t admit guilt but admits the prosecution has enough evidence to convict. Loudoun Circuit Court Judge James E. Plowman then found Asalone guilty, and set sentencing for April 13. He faces a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of ten.

Asalone’s victim in the case, former D.C. councilman David Grosso, was present in the courtroom and preparing to testify. After Asalone’s arrest in 2020, Grosso publicly acknowledged that, “The minor he assaulted was me.” Grosso was 14, and Asalone was 29, when the abuse occurred between April and September 1985.

“It felt good for me to be there,” Grosso said Monday, “to see the judge walk him through the charge, and find that he really is guilty of assaulting me … He realized the case was too strong against him.”

Asalone’s lawyer, Barry Coburn, declined to comment after the hearing. Coburn also represents former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in a number of pending federal and state sex abuse cases.

Was a beloved Bay Area priest also a pedophile? Survivor hopes lawsuit will spark change

Was a beloved Bay Area priest also a pedophile? Survivor hopes lawsuit will spark change

Dec. 9, 2022Updated: Dec. 9, 2022 10:10 a.m.

On a chilly November morning, Derek Lewis sat on a bench in front of a haunted little white building, remembering.

The 34-year-old Hayward man’s psychologist says it’s good to come to this quiet spot in Contra Costa County to confront the past. The structure used to house the office and living area of the head priest at the church that was once next door. Inside the building, as well as inside the church, Lewis said, the priest sexually abused him repeatedly over two years starting when Lewis was about 8 years old, inflicting trauma that set his young life on a tortuous path.

Lewis looked away from the building, hiding tears, as he described what it was like inside: the old brown carpet, the musty smell, the portrait of Jesus looking on as the priest reached to touch him.

“An ugly place,” Lewis said.

After some 25 years of avoiding memories from Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in the small city of Brentwood, Lewis is taking what he describes as the next step in his recovery. He filed suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland on Nov. 29, making use of a 2019 California law that extended the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse to sue their abuser or abuser’s employer. The complaint is one in a flurry filed in recent months as the deadline to file new litigation approaches on Dec. 31.

Though Father John G. Garcia is dead and can’t face the allegations, Lewis said he suspects there are more victims and wants to empower them to come forward.

“Just because it’s a really hard thing to live with and stay quiet about,” he said.

CA 'Look-Back' Window Closing For Adult Victims Of Childhood Sex Abuse

The legal window for adults to sue their childhood sexual abuser despite the statute of limitations will soon close in California.

Amy Coney Barrett urged to step away from gay rights case because of faith affiliation

Read full story Here....


The US supreme court justice’s history with the People of Praise raises questions about her impartiality in upcoming case

Former members of Amy Coney Barrett’s secretive faith group, the People of Praise, are calling on the US supreme court justice to recuse herself from an upcoming case involving gay rights, saying Barrett’s continued affiliation with the Christian group means she has participated in discriminatory policies against LGBTQ+ people.

The former members are part of a network of “survivors” of the controversial charismatic group who say Barrett’s “lifelong and continued” membership in the People of Praise make her too biased to fairly adjudicate an upcoming case that will decide whether private business owners have a right to decline services to potential clients based on their sexual orientation.

New lawsuits filed against Hanna Boys Center as CA clergy sexual abuse law deadline approaches

ByDan Noyes via KGO logo
Saturday, November 19, 2022 11:24AM

SONOMA, Calif. (KGO) -- More than a dozen new lawsuits have been filed against Hanna Boys Center of Sonoma by men who say they were abused by Catholic priests and staff there when they were children. We've been speaking to survivors, former staff, and officials now running the residential treatment center.

A state law that allows survivors of clergy sexual abuse to file lawsuits -- no matter how long ago it happened -- expires at the end of next month. As a result, there has been a rush of new complaints.

No question, Hanna Boys Center has done some good over the years, helping kids struggling with school or family life.

Paul Keschke reported in 1998, "The boys who range in age from 9 to 17 are treated firmly, but with respect."

VIDEO: Survivor of priest sex abuse speaks out as new CA law leads to many lawsuits


A survivor of Camp St. Michael speaks to I-Team's Dan Noyes as California law now allows victims to sue priests for sex abuse, even decades later.

ABC7 News has covered the residential treatment center run by the Catholic Church, including a report from 1998 featuring Hanna's director at the time, Father John Crews, who said, "I tell the guys 'You're not a man yet, but you're gonna be.'"

But, the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa just paid a large settlement to a man who says Father Crews and Hanna Boys Center staff sexually assaulted him over the course of three years, starting when he was 11. David Love tells the I-Team he still struggles with the memories: "I was in town and someone that looked like Father Crews was standing in line. I wet myself, and I couldn't move, and I left."

In 25 years of covering the clergy abuse crisis, I-Team has never heard an account of such horrific, depraved abuse. Love says to this day, he can't sleep because his attackers often came at night.

MORE: Report names 263 Catholic clergy accused of sexual misconduct in Bay Area

"You don't know what the nightmares are like waking up, not knowing where you're at. Thinking you're back there. I go through this every night, Dan. Every night," he said.

Widow says she was groped by Catholic priest during grief counseling session

The Honduran exile also claims in a federal lawsuit that the Diocese of Knoxville tried to protect the priest by tarring her reputation.
Nov. 16, 2022, 3:37 PM EST

A Honduran asylum-seeker living in Tennessee alleges in a federal lawsuit that the Diocese of Knoxville tried to sabotage a police investigation after she accused a priest of groping her during a grief counseling session following her husband’s death. 

Identified in court papers as Jane Doe, the mother of three alleges in the lawsuit filed on Nov. 10  that the diocese “obstructed law enforcement” and tried to intimidate her into “abandoning her cooperation with the criminal prosecution” of the Rev. Antony Devassey Punnackal.

The lawsuit also states that Punnackal hired a private investigator to dig up the widow’s employment records, and she became a pariah in the Hispanic community of Gatlinburg after “agents” of the diocese began spreading false rumors about her.

“The complaint speaks for itself,” the widow’s lawyer, Andrew Fels, told NBC News, when asked to elaborate. He is seeking $5 million in damages for his client. 

Punnackal, who was the pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Gatlinburg, was indicted in January by a Sevier County grand jury on two counts of sexual battery against the Honduran woman. That case is ongoing.

Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
St. Mary's Catholic Church in Gatlinburg, Tenn.Google

His lawyer, Travis McCarter, said in an email that Punnackal “maintains his innocence, as he has from the beginning of this process.”

“The Plaintiff’s Complaint is riddled with misrepresentations as to the character and conduct of Father Punnackal that we look forward to challenging in open court,” McCarter said. 

In an earlier interview with Knox News, McCarter’s associate, Michael Green, said that “we’ve found nothing to suggest the diocese interfered with the investigation.”

“The diocese was made aware of the filing Monday morning,” diocesan spokesman Jim Wogan said in an email to NBC News. “We have always maintained that the proper way to address the claims is through the courts, which we will do. We trust the process and will not comment while this case is being litigated.”

As for Punnackal, Wogan said the priest was “taken out of active ministry in the diocese on Jan. 6, 2022.”

This is not the first time that the Diocese of Knoxville, led by Bishop Rick Stika, has been accused of trying to cover up alleged sex misconduct by a priest. In February, a former church organist claimed in an ongoing lawsuit that he was raped by a seminarian in 2019 and that Stika and his allies in the diocese tried to intimidate the accuser “into silence.”

Richard Stika, bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville, Tenn., on Feb. 8, 2019.
Bishop Richard Stika at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville, Tenn., on Feb. 8, 2019.Calvin Mattheis / USA Today Network

“Bishop Stika was notified of the filing,” Wogan said in February. “The diocese expects the process to be fair and thorough and looks forward to the opportunity to vigorously defend itself if this matter moves forward.”

The Knoxville bishop is not named as a defendant in the federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Tennessee, but the diocese is and so is the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, the religious congregation to which Punnackal belongs. 

Stika has not commented on the allegations and attempts to reach him by phone were unsuccessful. The Carmelites of Mary Immaculate did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Stika’s alleged abuse of his authority has sparked a rebellion by some members of his flock and drawn criticism from prominent lay Roman Catholics like Jeannie Gaffigan, a comedy writer best known for producing the shows of her husband, the comedian Jim Gaffigan. She also co-hosts a podcast called “Field Hospital” that has been examining the wider Catholic priest sex abuse scandal.

New allegations in Agape lawsuits include sexual abuse, ‘pandemic’ of suicide attempts

New allegations in Agape lawsuits include sexual abuse, ‘pandemic’ of suicide attempts

Kansas City Star [Kansas City MO]

November 15, 2022

By Judy L. Thomas and Laura Bauer


New court filings reveal some of the most brutal allegations of abuse at Agape Boarding School so far, including one former student’s account that two staffers sexually assaulted him.

Those details were outlined in motions filed Monday in 19 civil lawsuits requesting that the Cedar County judge overseeing those cases allow attorneys to seek punitive damages. The new allegations cover a period from 2007 to 2021 with many — including the sexual assault claim — from the past three years.

Changes to Missouri law in 2020 require attorneys to file an amended petition if they are seeking punitive damages on behalf of their clients. The law also allows the filing of an amended petition if new information arises that was overlooked or unknown at the time the case started.

In a separate case, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office filed an injunction in September to close the school, saying current students’ safety was in jeopardy. The case has been tied up in court ever since.

The new motion in the civil lawsuits contains seven pages of detailed allegations that describe broken noses, attempted suicides that were a “pandemic among students,” and intense physical assaults that resulted in outside medical treatment.

A former student, identified as M.N., was at the school from 2017 to 2019 and alleged that a staff member punched him in the testicles and he “had to be taken to the hospital where he underwent an ultrasound, and it was determined that he suffered a traumatic groin injury.”

Some alleged the abuse began during their transport to the Christian school near Stockton, Missouri, or soon after their arrival. One said he was groped during his intake process, and others described excruciating physical restraints that left them with bruises and damaged nerves.

“These are aggravating circumstances that Plaintiff should be permitted to introduce to the jury at trial so they can decide if punitive damages are appropriate in this case,” the motion for leave said in the lawsuit regarding R.B., a student at Agape from 2007 to 2012. “Plaintiff has clearly carried his burden.”

That lawsuit is among the 19.

Robert Bucklin, 28, who is identified in the motion and lawsuit as R.B. but has gone public in the past year with his identity, declined to comment Tuesday. The motion describes him being “strangled” by a staff member with the cord of a hair trimmer until he nearly lost consciousness. He also alleges he attempted suicide 15 to 20 times during his nearly six years at the school and drank chemicals to do so.

Ryan Frazier, whose law firm is representing Bucklin and the other 18 former students, said Agape “misled parents to believe that it is a school with a heart, a place that can get rebellious boys back on track, with love and care.”

“However, many former students of Agape Boarding School tell a different story,” Frazier said. “These individuals were mentally and physically abused under the disguise of discipline, some reporting they experienced sexual abuse as well.”

The lawsuits, Frazier said, were filed to allow former students to “pursue justice for the trauma they endured and to give them an opportunity to have their voices heard.”

Agape attorney John Schultz said the school has provided more than 6,000 boys over three decades an opportunity to “get their life back on track and toward a bright future.”

“We are disappointed to learn of the sensational allegations that some of our former boys are making now …,” Schultz said in a comment Tuesday, which he also provided for an earlier story. “We have read many specific allegations that we know could not have happened given the 24/7 supervision that extends to the sleeping quarter, shower bays, classroom, dining hall and all outdoor activities.

“We intend to file a response, denying the allegations and look forward to a trial where evidence can be presented to refute these allegations.”

After M.N., who said he was punched in the testicles, returned home for a brief time in May 2018, he was transported back to the school. He said he was picked up in the middle of the night by Robert Graves and former dean of students Brent Jackson, the motion said. Graves, a former Agape student himself, is the son-in-law of the late Agape founder James Clemensen and until recently was a Cedar County Sheriff’s deputy.

The boy testified in a deposition that Graves and Jackson came into his room and woke him up. Parents often pay a transport company to pick up and deliver their children to boarding schools like Agape.

M.N. begged them not to take him back to Agape, the motion said. When the boy yelled for help, he said Jackson grabbed him, punched him in the stomach and then slammed him to the ground.

“Graves then put M.N. in handcuffs and dragged him outside to their car,” the motion said. “M.N. recalls uncontrollably vomiting in the car from the trauma.”

The former deputy was mentioned in the motion several times. One of those times was regarding an incident with a student identified as C.M. who within two weeks of arriving tried to commit suicide by hanging himself in the bathroom, according to the motion.

C.M. was at the school in 2017 and 2018.

Graves “grabbed C.M. by the collar and drug him across the floor into the intake room and told C.M. that if he ever tried to commit suicide again while at Agape, Graves would ‘put him in hell himself,’” the motion said.

The documents name numerous other Agape staff members, three of whom are among the five currently charged in Cedar County with physically abusing students. Those men — Seth Duncan, Agape medical coordinator Scott Dumar and Trent Hartman — all have pleaded not guilty and have court hearings on those felonies scheduled next month.

Duncan and Dumar, along with staffer Dan Goldsmith — a former corrections officer in Pennsylvania — and Bryan Clemensen, Agape director and son of its late founder, have been found by the state Department of Social Services to have abused or neglected students, according to the court motion. All except Duncan still work at the Christian boarding school while they appeal the findings.

A former student identified as W.H. attended the school from 2019 to 2020, according to the motion. He said he was physically restrained on multiple occasions and later sought treatment for injuries sustained in those incidents.

“Before and during the restraints initiated by Duncan, W.H. was in control, and not a threat of harm to himself or others,” the motion said. “Rather, W.H. testified that Duncan initiated the restraint, for example, because W.H. stopped doing workouts because he was having trouble breathing.”

The motion also describes another incident involving the former student and two other staff members.

“W.H. was also escorted alone from the shower bay to the gym where he was isolated, pinned down, and restrained by staff,” it said. “During the restraint, W.H. testified that his shorts were pulled to his knees and he (said) something was forced up his anus by the staff, causing him to pass out.”

In June 2021, The Star reported allegations by two former students who said they were gang raped by staff at Agape in 2009 and 2010. The two men were not at the school at the same time and did not know each other. Both said they were sexually assaulted by five staff members, with one staffer named in both alleged attacks. He still works at the school.

The recent sexual assault allegation by W.H. described a similar assault by two staffers. One of those two staffers who W.H. said attacked him also was identified in the 2010 gang rape allegation. The Star reached out to that staff member last year and received no response.

The new motion said Agape’s Ministry Staff handbook “expressly prohibits” any child abuse or neglect at any time. That includes physical abuse, physical neglect, sexual abuse, medical neglect, mental abuse, bizarre discipline and corporal punishment, the motion said. “

Agape admits that the only circumstances under which a student should be physically touched or restrained by staff is ‘where it is reasonably necessary to prevent an individual from physically harming himself or another individual,’” the filing said.

According to the motion, Goldsmith said that Agape staff began “physically restraining students with handcuffs based on the loose advice/recommendation of a Cedar County Sheriff’s deputy and the direction of Bryan Clemensen.” Goldsmith said that he keeps a pair of handcuffs at his house and “has personally handcuffed Agape students on more than one occasion and for continuous days.”

The motion said Goldsmith still works at Agape.

The rebel priest standing up to the Catholic Church

For 62 years, Peter Murnane has been a Dominican priest.

He remained so through the storm after he poured blood on the floor of the US Consul’s office. When he provided a safe house for the asylum seeker Ahmed Zaoui. When he broke into the Waihopai spy base, was prosecuted and acquitted. Even when he gave a sermon explaining why he thought Australia’s top Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, was not a good bloke.

Only now, at 82 years old, have the Dominicans seemingly had enough of their rebel priest after Murnane refused instructions to pulp his new book, Clerical Errors, which clinically examines the Catholic Church’s dismal sexual abuse record, lays out a long treatise on Pell and argues the entire church should be dismantled.

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