A path of abuse crosses church lines
By STEPHEN NOHLGREN, Times Staff Writer
Two brothers, former altar boys now adults, had come forward. Two Catholic priests molested them 25 years ago, they said, as had an Episcopal priest and an Episcopal seminarian.
The brothers said circumstances and the priests' comments left them with a terrible thought: Men of the cloth had traded them around.
The older brother quoted Episcopal priest Richard Pollard saying: "I know I can make it feel better than Father Reason does."
The young brother remembers William Smith, the Episcopal seminarian, saying "Is this what Father Pollard does to you?"
The Catholic church, better versed in dealing with such allegations than it would like, sent letters to parishioners, inviting other victims to come forward.
Episcopal officials were less forthcoming. Seven years earlier, they found out that Father Pollard was a molester. But they kept quiet about it around All Saints' Episcopal Church, where he was pastor, until the brothers surfaced.
Even now, they haven't told parishioners about the seminarian with the sordid past.
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Priests and altar boys socialized freely in the 1970s. The boys worked hard, and the priests rewarded them with small gifts, dinners, movies and the like. Often these relationships forged nurturing bonds. Sometimes the activity turned criminal.
The brothers, who are Catholic, said Father Hubert Reason, pastor at St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Church for 10 years, would give them money and alcohol. In groups of three, Father Reason would take altar boys across the bridge to Tampa for professional wrestling. He would choose which of them would drive, though they were too young for licenses. Two boys would wait at the will-call window while whoever drove would stay in the car with Reason.
"If you went with him, you knew it was going to happen," the younger brother said.
The older brother estimates that in the years he was about 12 to 14 years old, Reason molested him at least 100 times. Each brother figured the other was suffering the same, but they never spoke of it. Not to each other, and certainly not to their parents.
"We were brought up that a priest was somebody on a pedestal," the younger brother said. "Priests could do no wrong. We couldn't tell anybody. How could you tell your parents?"
The older brother said his parents would never let him quit altar boy service without a good reason, a reason he said he could never tell. So he stole from money donated for offerings at St. Ignatius, hoping he would be caught and dismissed. He never was.
The older brother said he realized he was being passed from priest to priest the day Pollard, whom he knew as a friend of the family, called the house, discovered he was alone and came over. He showed up in priestly garb, black shirt, white collar, took the boy to his bedroom and committed fellatio.
"I realized something was going on," he said. "Pollard said, 'I know I can make it feel better than Father Reason does.' I realized I was being shared."
The younger brother thinks he was shared, too. He said Pollard would fondle him when he went to the priest's house for Greek lessons. There, he met a young Episcopalian named William J. Smith, whom All Saints' had sponsored as a "postulant," a step toward becoming a priest. Smith attended seminary out of state but often spent time in Tarpon Springs.
The younger brother said Smith came over when he was home alone one day and, out of the blue, molested him. The priest asked: "Is this what Father Pollard does to you?"
The younger brother said he was 14 or 15 when he was molested by a fourth religious figure, Father Gerry Appleby, a priest from Texas working at St. Ignatius. He said a husband and wife drove him and the priest home from a night-time church function. They were in the back seat.
Before that night, he said, Appleby had not made the slightest overture. Without a word, he said, Appleby unzipped their pants and forced him into mutual masturbation. "He was telling me, 'Hurry up! Hurry up! We are getting close.' "
At the time, the younger brother said, all he could do was take it. Now, he wonders: How could Appleby dare be so bold unless someone had clued him in.
The next day, the younger brother said, Appleby "cornered me in the (church) hallway and told me I needed to confess for what I had done the night before."
Talking about it
For 25 years, the former altar boys kept their secrets. Then in May, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office announced that Appleby was under investigation. Someone else had come forward.
"I thought, 'This is it. I'm coming out. I'm not alone,' " the older brother said. "People have to start knowing. There's got to be a stop to this."
The first conversation was with his brother. They relived the humiliations, the wrestling matches they attended with Reason and their indignities with Pollard. The younger brother said he had been molested by Smith and Appleby.
The older brother, who still attends St. Ignatius on occasional holidays, told his story to pastor Joe Pellegrino, who immediately got the brothers to Bishop Robert Lynch, head of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.
"Pellegrino and Lynch encouraged us to do everything we had to do," the younger brother said. "Get counseling, go to the police. Tell the Episcopal bishop."
Since Lynch took over the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg in 1995, the church had identified at least 12 abusive priests who had worked within the diocese. By the time the boys came forward last summer, the diocese had developed a protocol: Read statements in parishes where abusive priests had worked, name the priest and invite unknown victims to come forward for support and healing.
The Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, with one-tenth the membership of the Catholic Diocese, was keeping shameful revelations closer to the vest.
Internal Episcopal documents show that by early 1995, Pollard had admitted to church officials that he repeatedly molested a parishioner, starting when the boy was 6. In criminal court, that could qualify as a capital sexual offense, punishable by life in prison. Episcopal church officials reported nothing to authorities or to the broader church.
Pollard, who was retired by then, was allowed to continue to perform burials and Eucharist celebrations under controlled conditions. The Episcopal church gave the victim at least $1,000 for counseling.
Those decisions were made during the tenure of Bishop Rogers Harris, now retired. He said he had only one victim, it happened long ago and there had been nothing since. "It was not church policy at the time" to report such molestations to the broader church, "but it is now."
This summer, after Lynch called with what he told his Episcopal counterparts were "very credible" allegations from the brothers, the Episcopal church took stricter action.
Bishop John Lipscomb reported the accusations to parishioners and forced Pollard to renounce his priesthood.
The announcement prompted a fourth man to come forward. He said Pollard molested him when he was 8. He said he had told his parents and a school nurse at the time, but no one believed him.
"Our churches need to be safe houses of God," Episcopal spokesman Jim Dela said. "We absolutely need parishioners to know that if they have been abused in any shape or form, to come forward and tell us. We need to know."
The Episcopal church continues to remain silent on its other accused: William Smith, the seminarian.
After the younger Catholic brother told Episcopal officials that Smith molested him and another boy, the No. 2 Episcopal administrator, Michael Durning, traced Smith through diocesan and national church records. Durning discovered that after leaving Tarpon Springs, Smith entered the priesthood, molested children and went to prison in Wisconsin, where he still lives.
Did Smith leave two victims behind in Tarpon Springs, or more? Episcopal officials don't know. They never told parishioners what they knew about him. They never encouraged other victims to come forward.
"The information we had on Smith was anecdotal," Dela said. "Since he was no longer a priest and we hadn't talked to him, and we didn't have a confession of guilt and didn't have any jurisdiction over him, we didn't have any solid evidence. We didn't bring him up."
In August, prosecutors charged Pollard with nine counts of capital sexual battery, based on allegations from two men who said they were younger than 12 when he molested them. He has pleaded not guilty. Through his lawyer, he said he did not molest the two brothers. Much of the information for this story is contained in Pollard's criminal file.
Appleby was defrocked by the Vatican in 1995. In 1996, another former St. Ignatius altar boy filed a lawsuit that said Appleby assaulted him and his twin brother when they were 11. R.S.B., as he is known in court pleadings, received $4,800 for therapy from Appleby's religious order in Texas and from the St. Petersburg Diocese.
The Pinellas Sheriff's Office investigated whether to charge Appleby with a crime and turned its findings over to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office.
Neither Appleby nor officials in his former order, the Missionaries of the Holy Family in San Antonio, could be reached.
Father Reason died in 1984.
Catholic church lawyer Joe DiVito said diocese records show no overlap at St. Ignatius between the Catholic priests. Appleby arrived in March 1978, two months after Reason left amid accusations of financial irregularities and problems with alcohol. DiVito said Reason's personnel file includes no indication that anyone complained of sexual misconduct.
Smith, the former All Saints' seminarian, was defrocked after admitting to criminal sexual abuse of minors. A 14-year-old hitchhiker said Smith picked him up, molested him for several days, telephoned another pedophile and passed him along.
A registered sex offender in Wisconsin, Smith said he never had sex with minors during his time in Tarpon Springs. "I have no knowledge of the stuff," Smith said. "I'm dumbfounded."
The brothers still live in the area, the older one in Pasco, the younger one in Pinellas. They said the Catholic church has offered to pay for their therapy, possibly including past counseling bills. "Lynch told me, 'If there is anything we can do financially, let us know,' " the older brother said.
Twenty five years of keeping quiet has taken its toll. The brothers said they developed a fear of the cycle of abuse, that their wives might not trust them around their children. The older brother never would change his daughter's diaper.
Despite all that the younger brother has come to understand, at times he blames himself: "Why did I let this go on? All I had to do was say no."
-- Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at 727-893-8442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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