Thomas Stitts and the 40-year Minnesota “memory loss”

Posted by Joelle Casteix on August 16, 2014 in Clergy Abuse Crisis, Minnesota

A couple of things struck me about the recently released clergy file of St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese priest Thomas Stitts. I saved the best for last, so be sure to read to the end.

There is the 1985 “mystery letter.” The letter, which became known around the time of Stitts’ death, allegedly “named names” of scandalous priests in archdiocese. Rumors abounded that details in the letter were licentious and detailed. Priests all over the archdiocese begged Archbishop Roach to keep the document a secret. 

Where did the letter go? According to the file, it mysteriously disappeared and was allegedly destroyed. Something tells me that copies are still floating around. Stitts knew he was dying and had nothing to lose by writing the letter. He also had nothing to lose by making lots of copies.


Stitts: Subject of a 40-year cover-up. And a writer of scandalous letters.

Stitts: Subject of a 40-year cover-up. And a letter writer.


But what really gets me is the severe, archdiocese-wide case of memory loss.

It starts in 1995, when the first lawsuits against the archdiocese and Stitts became public. At that time, an archdiocese spokesperson told the public and the press that they had NO PREVIOUS knowledge of allegations against Stitts. Kevin McDonough says the same thing to priests in the archdiocese.

The problem: it’s a big fat lie. Documents in the files date back to 1979. Not to mention the 1985 bombshell letter, and at least one investigation.

But if you read the letters closely, it gets worse. The archdiocese, including Archbishop John Roach, had knowledge as far back as 1973 that Stitts was abusing kids (page four). This isn’t a new issue in 1993. By the time the archdiocese made its 1995 claim, they had known for 22 years that Stitts was a child molester and that he had admitted to molesting children in every one of his assignments.

By 2013, when the Archdiocese finally publicly disclosed Stitts name, they had known for 40 years that Stitts was a child molester.

And yet the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis claims “transparency”?

40 years. Just think about that.



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Two parenting must reads

Posted by Joelle Casteix on August 14, 2014 in armored child, Parenting
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1) Call the cops, not your college president.

There has been a ton of press about the problem of sexual assaults on campus. Recent government intervention—telling universities that they must have better “policies” and “procedures” to handle the crime—is ALL wrong.

Why? Check out this article from (the most unlikely of places) the Harvard Gazette. Funny that the author didn’t put two and two together about universities’ investigations of sexual assault. But I have, so consider yourself warned …

The same goes for ANY internal investigation of sexual abuse, whether it be a high school, the Boy Scouts, a church, or sports club.

An institution’s first job is to protect itself. If you need an example, take a look at the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. The very recent scandal in St. Paul, MN is a good place to start. This isn’t from 10 or 20 years ago, this is right now.

The moral of the story? If you or someone you love is a victim of sexual assault or child sexual abuse, call the police, not your college president or bishop. And read the article above.

2) The problem isn’t the faith; and it’s not the good people in the faith. It’s the bad people who can smell an innocent soul a mile away.

I recently gave a talk at a local, large Christian Church. One of the topics I mentioned was why predators are attracted to jobs in the clergy. I was approached by a woman afterward who told me something that has stuck with me since: “People need to know this. Bad people are attracted to good people, BECAUSE they are good. Then bad people exploit good people, because good people forgive too easily.”

The topic came from this excellent article by Joe Navarro, MA. If you attend any kind of church, no matter your faith or the record on sexual or financial abuse, you will find it a very interesting read.



Katie Reed at Andrea Hurst agrees to represent THE WELL-ARMORED CHILD

Posted by Joelle Casteix on August 10, 2014 in armored child, Parenting
1 Comment

I teased last week that I had secured an agent for THE WELL-ARMORED CHILD. Now that the paperwork is signed and the deal is sealed, I am very excited to disclose the big news that Katie Reed at Andrea Hurst and Associates Literary Management (knows a good thing when she sees it and) is representing my parents’ guide to preventing abuse.

Katie is smart, savvy and an excellent editor. Most importantly, as a mother herself, she understands the importance of the cause. And yes, I am really excited about it.

Dust off your credit cards folks, because there’s going to be a book to buy.




Indiegogo campaign helps survivors expand support groups

Posted by Joelle Casteix on August 7, 2014 in Clergy Abuse Crisis
1 Comment

Even $5 can make a huge difference.

I have often mentioned my volunteer work with SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. They are the nation’s largest and oldest support group for adult survivors who were sexually abused as children in religious and institutional settings.

In the past few years, their mission has expanded dramatically to help a wide range of victims from many denominations, institutions, and organizations. Don’t let the word “priest” fool you—at their convention last week, I met survivors from/of universities, protestant churches, incest, orthodox, Judaism, Islam, boarding schools, group homes, and the list (quite tragically) goes on and on.

Some of SNAP’s volunteer leaders have come together for a project-specific Indiegogo campaign. They are raising the money to send 2 leaders to 3 cities to train other survivors to set up and grow support groups. It’s a small project, but will have a HUGE impact on survivors in the cities where new groups are formed.



Consider giving $1 or $5 or $3,000. All gifts are tax deductible and will have a DIRECT effect on survivor healing.




Posted by Joelle Casteix on August 5, 2014 in armored child, Parenting, Shameless Plugs
1 Comment

I am very excited to announce that I have found a literary agent for THE WELL-ARMORED CHILD. Since I haven’t “signed on the dotted line” yet, I’ll keep the name under wraps.

Besides, everyone loves a little suspense. It builds character.

And yeah … I’m excited.



Just because they shout the loudest, doesn’t mean they’re right

Posted by Joelle Casteix on August 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

The big discussion at the 2014 SNAP conference was “everybody’s favorite pontiff,” Pope Francis.

Journalist Jason Berry—who faced raised eyebrows for earlier comments criticizing SNAP’s methods and “skillset“—told the group at his conference speech that SNAP should work strategically to “get a place at the table” and negotiate with the Vatican. (Note: Berry did apologize to the larger group and individuals for his July 29 remarks)

As much as I like and respect Jason, I think he is being suckered in by former Fox News journo/now Vatican communications guy Greg Burke’s carefully crafted Papal PR Machine. It’s the machine that always ensures there are plenty of photographers around to take photos of the Pope washing the feet of an Islamic woman, driving a car, living in a small apartment, and personally calling letter-writers. (In case you haven’t noticed, the PR move of calling letter writers was so successful, it’s been copied by Barack Obama, who is facing abysmal favorability poll numbers).

Pope Francis kneels to wash the foot of a man in a pre-Easter ritual


But just because the papal PR machine is shouting the loudest, doesn’t mean it’s right.

Fortunately, survivors ain’t buying it. I, for one, think a few “authentic gestures” are required.

What’s an “authentic gesture,” you ask?

Authentic gestures DO NOT include secret meetings with carefully picked survivors (who are asked to attend Mass and are sworn to secrecy until after the meeting). Authentic measures are NOT apologies, and certainly do not describe the deliberate and criminal cover-up of sexual abuse as “sins of omission.”

I’ll go back to my old rallying cry: I’ll believe that the Pope is a champion for real change when he fires convicted child endangerer (I guess that can be a word in this case) and Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn. THAT would be an authentic gesture. Super easy stuff. But too hard for Pope Francis, apparently.

Until then, I’ll pass on a seat at the Vatican’s table. I don’t like the Kool-aid they serve.



Wandering Wadeson: A banned priest is exposed

Posted by Joelle Casteix on July 28, 2014 in armored child, Child safety, Clergy Abuse Crisis

I know it’s been a little quiet here at The Worthy Adversary. I have been pounding away at the manuscript for The Well-Armored Child, and it’s summer, so there’s not a lot of quiet time around the house.

But things have not been quiet in the Archdiocese of Hagatna, Guam. And every time I think that things are winding down, something new happens.

Here’s the low-down:

Fr. John Wadeson is a twice-accused priest who was banned from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. A former member of the Divine Word Missionaries, Wadeson bounced around (New York, Trenton, LA, San Francisco, and Portland) until he found a home on Guam.

Although his past was well-known and posted on the internet, Guam Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron allowed the priest to live and work in the diocese. Apuron even made Wadeson a part of his inner circle, taking the priest to Honolulu to celebrate Apuron’s 30th anniversary.

Apuron (center) and Wadeson (second from right) party down in Hawaii

Apuron (center) and Wadeson (second from right) party down in Hawaii

Then word got out. Local Catholic blogger and whistleblower Tim Rohr started posting information about Wadeson’s past. Other Guam Catholics joined him in his outrage. Why was a twice-accused priest allowed to live and work on Guam? What about zero tolerance? Why was Apuron allegedly punishing whistleblowing priests, but protecting known predators.

Apuron did nothing.

On July 15, one of Apuron’s critics, Fr. Matthew Blockley, reached out to me and asked for SNAP’s help. He remembered that I have been on Guam in 2010 and thought that SNAP could force Apuron’s hand. I was skeptical (I can count on one had the number of times that a statement from SNAP forced an archbishop to action), but I wrote the statement and SNAP sent it out on July 18.

And damn, if it didn’t work.

The media picked it up. Now, Apuron wasn’t just being criticized by locals. Wadeson was in the news and others had noticed. Apuron removed Wadeson on July 23.

Then, the shuffling began

Just like Michael Kelly, who fled the country after a civil jury determined in 2012 that he had molested a 12-year-old boy, Wadeson promptly fled Guam on July 24—but not before making a statement saying that all of the allegations against him are false.

Rumors circulated Wadeson was on his way to San Francisco, where he had worked with families and children in the past (he is in the video at 2:50). So, SNAP held an event in San Francisco on July 24 (note that Guam is on the other side of the International dateline and is a day ahead), which got the attention of the SF Archdiocese. They issued a statement saying that Wadeson could not work there

. The Associated Press, who picked up the story on July 25, quoted LA Archdiocese lawyer Michael Hennigan restating that Wadeson has no permission to work in LA.

Wadeson was not going to let three archdioceses, local Guam Catholics, SNAP, and the international press have the last word. Today, he put an ad in the Sunday Catholic Paper, saying that he is innocent and is going to sue anyone who continues to discuss the charges against him. Looks like his attorney will be a little busy …

And this all happened in less than two weeks.

Now what? Well, we don’t know where Wadeson is. But here’s what I do know:

1) Apuron should immediately begin the process of removing Wadeson from the priesthood. No one will take him, he has two allegations, and he refuses to sit still long enough to “show his innocence.” If I were him and I were innocent, I would have stayed in Guam and demanded that LA and SF turn over any proof that I am an offender. He didn’t do that.

2) Pope Francis should come down on Apuron … and hard. Now granted, Apuron is part of a long line of bishops who should be removed (Like convicted child-endangering Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn, and discredited St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt). But employing a twice-accused and banned priest, punishing whistleblowers, and then acting like a bully when local Catholics beg for change are NOT ways to be a pastoral leader.

3) Victims and Catholics need to continue to stand together for change on the island. Tim Rohr, Matthew Blockley, and SNAP are unlikely allies who may disagree on many things. But we do agree on this: sex abuse and cover-up have no place anywhere.

4) Guam should send Wadeson and other credibly accused and/or banned clerics to secure facilities where they have no access to children. But that’s just a pipe dream.

So now, back to the manuscript. But something tells me that the Wadeson saga is far from over.



Pope Francis, Eric Swearingen and another failure of “Zero Tolerance”

Posted by Joelle Casteix on July 14, 2014 in Clergy Abuse Crisis

If Pope Francis were truly sorry for the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church, he’s take a gander at a little Catholic diocese is California, where a cleric found guilty of abuse in a civil trial is still a powerful priest.

Here’s the situation: Fresno priest Eric Swearingen was recently appointed the pastor of a Visalia, California, parish and will oversee four parishes and a school.

Swearingen: Found guilty, still a priest

Swearingen: Found guilty, still a priest

The problem? Well in 2006, a civil jury found 9-3 that Swearingen had sexually abused Army Sgt. Juan Rocha when Rocha was a child. 

How is Fresno Bishop Armando Ochoa able to justify this? Well, his predecessor Bishop John Steinbock said the jury “got it wrong.” But Ochoa takes a different tack.

Swearingen’s trial ended in a mistrial because the jury did not think that the Fresno diocese was liable for the abuse. So Ochoa believes that Swearingen has a “get out of jail free card” and that his civil guilty verdict doesn’t count.

But remember: a CIVIL JURY found the Swearingen HAD abused Rocha. And in a 2008 settlement, the Diocese of Fresno settled with Rocha for a large, undisclosed sum.

This is low-hanging fruit for Francis. Why should victims accept the Pope’s apology when men like Swearingen are frolicking around with full access to children?

In a Visalia Delta-News article about Swearingen’s recent appointment, the cleric’s supporters, including a private eye hired for the family, are still trying to damage Rocha’s credibility. Parishioners applaud how Swearingen can “relate” to them. That alone should send chills down your spine.

How many more court victories does Rocha need to show them that Swearingen must be removed?

The only way that this will change is if parishioners stand up and raise a stink. Refuse to go to Mass. Protest. Hold meetings and invite the media. Tell Bishop Ochoa in a very public way that they deserve better than a priest who was civilly found guilty of child sexual abuse. They must tell Bishop Ochoa and Pope Francis that children and victims are far more important than predator priests. Parents and parishioners NEED to stand up for their children.

Because “Zero Tolerance” is a failure. Francis’ failure.



What is “grooming” and how do child predators target children?

Posted by Joelle Casteix on June 25, 2014 in armored child, Child safety, Parenting
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Grooming is a predator’s “ticket” to your child. It is the careful means by which a predator befriends, flatters, builds trust, removes inhibitions, and blurs sexual and body boundaries in order to make a child an “easy” target for abuse—a child who does not fight back and is far less likely to report.

Grooming is a slow and insidious process, intended to manipulate the child into thinking that the abuse is his or her fault and ensure that the child is confused and will not actively resist. It is such a successful tactic that the majority of child sexual abuse is not under physical force or the threat of physical force. It also helps a predator ensure that the victim is less likely to report the crime, due to the child’s shame, guilt, and confusion.

Many predators also carefully groom families so that if the child does disclose, his or her parents will not believe the child.

Some signs of grooming include when a predator:

  • Shares secrets with a child
  • Gives a child gifts or money
  • Gives a child alcohol, drugs, or pornography
  • Spends large amounts of time with the child alone
  • Engages in long hugging, touching, kissing or “accidental” touching that is sexualized
  • Takes the child alone on overnight trips
  • Tells the child s/he is “mature” for his/her age
  • Engages in sexual talk or jokes
  • Discusses adult subjects with the child, including marital problems, emotional troubles, financial difficulties
  • Threatens the child if the child tells the adult’s secrets

This list is by no means comprehensive. But remember: your gut is usually your best guide. If something makes you feel “hinky”, go with your gut, ask questions, and do everything in your power to stop the cycle of abuse.

The Best Revolutions Begin With One Small Action

Posted by Joelle Casteix on June 23, 2014 in Hawaii
1 Comment

This blog has long rallied against the problem of the cover-up of sexual abuse in public schools. Unfortunately, the victims in these cases—when they are ready and able to come forward and get accountability— usually don’t have criminal and civil rights to expose the abuse. As a result, victims and the public are seldom, if ever, able to learn the full story.

The only times we do get a peek into how alleged sex offenders in public school are treated (unless they are arrested) is when scandal breaks. For example, when the Miramonte child sex abuse scandal broke in Los Angeles, we learned a ton: accused teachers were suspended with pay; teachers arrested for abuse were getting huge payoffs; teachers unions were paying big money to block bills which would have expedited the removal of sex-offending teachers; and, of course, we learned about the infamous “teacher jail,” where teachers accused of inappropriate contact sit idly at taxpayer expense.

For parents and the 99.9% of good teachers out there, this is appalling stuff. Children are second priorities and the reputations of an entire class of hard-working, law-abiding public educators are sullied.

But a little law in Hawaii may be starting a revolution.

On Friday, Hawaii’s civil window for victims of child sex abuse was extended for two more years. But it was also expanded. The new law added the state and counties as potential defendants. That means that if kids were sexually abused in public schools and institutions, they have the next two years to come forward and expose the crime. And if the crime was covered up by a government official, school administration, or bureaucracy, we will find that out, too.

My hope? Other states will look to Hawaii as an example. And a revolution will begin.



Big News: Hawaii Civil Window for child sex abuse victims EXTENDED; Includes public schools

Posted by Joelle Casteix on June 21, 2014 in Child safety, Clergy Abuse Crisis, Hawaii

Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie just signed a law that extends Hawaii’s two-year civil window for sex abuse victims.

But there’s more: victims in public schools are NOW eligible for accountability under the new law. For the first time, sex offenders in public schools and the people who covered up for them—including powerful unions and other gov’t officials—are liable for the crimes of predatory gov’t employees.

Thank you Senator Maile Shimabukuro for your tireless work on behalf of victims.

From the Honolulu Star Advertiser:

New law adds time to file abuse suits

By Derrick DePledge 

Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Friday signed a bill into law that will extend a window for another two years to file lawsuits over decades-old childhood sexual abus
e and allow suits to be brought against the state and counties.

Dozens of child sex abuse lawsuits have been filed in Hawaii against the clergy, churches and others over the past two years after the state temporarily lifted the statute of limitations to bring claims. The new law extends the window until April 2016 and adds the state and counties as potential defendants.

Victims must prove gross negligence on the part of private organizations or the state — a legal standard meant to discourage frivolous accusations.
The Roman Catholic Church and others have opposed lifting the statute of limitations on lawsuits, arguing that it is difficult to defend against abuse c
laims that could be decades old. But the church had urged that the state and counties be covered by the law if it were extended, contending it was unfair to hold only private organizations financially accountable for abuse.

Abercrombie vetoed a similar bill in 2011, citing concerns about due process rights and the unknown financial liability to the state.

“I think the issue trumps the state’s interest as expressed then,” the governor said Friday. “I think you have to put the human condition first.”

Abercrombie also signed a bill into law Friday that lifts the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of first- and second-degree sexual assault and for the continuous sexual assault of a minor under age 14. Murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and murder-for-hire had been the only other crimes under state law with no statute of limitations.

“People can tell their story, and they don’t have to do it within a certain amount of time,” said state Rep. Mele Carroll (D, Lanai-Molo­kai-Paia-Hana), chairwoman of the House Human Services Committee, who had worked on both sex abuse bills.

Abercrombie signed several other criminal justice bills into law Friday, part of a flurry of bill signings this week. The governor has a Monday deadline to inform the Legislature of bills on his potential veto list. All bills awaiting action that are not on the list automatically become law.

The signings Friday included a law that clarifies that police officers cannot legally have sex with prostitutes as part of sting operations, a law that criminalizes so-called “revenge porn” as a privacy violation and a law that sets a mandatory minimum of one year in prison for habitual property crime.

New laws would also establish a fund for victims of human trafficking, financed by fees on people convicted of labor trafficking and prostitution crimes, and a fund to fight Internet crimes against children, financed by fees on people convicted of child abuse and enticement offenses.

The law on Internet crimes against children is known nationally as “Alicia’s Law,” named for Alicia Koza­kiew­icz, a Pittsburgh girl who was 13 when she was abducted and assaulted in 2002 by a man she met in an Internet chat room.

Lawsuit: White House “Model” program didn’t report child sex abuse

Posted by Joelle Casteix on June 20, 2014 in Child safety

**Update** Thanks Glenn Reynolds for the INSTALANCHE!

This press release crossed my desk this morning. Apparently, the White House and the US Department of Education didn’t check to make sure that their “model” program knew how to report suspected abuse.

As I have noted before, child-on-child abuse is just as damaging as any other kind of child sexual abuse and should NEVER be covered up.

Sac Lawsuit: “Model” Educational Program Didn’t Report Sexual Abuse

Six-Year-Old Violently Molested by 10-Year-Old

White House-Praised Program Knew of Risk, Did Nothing

Regulators Cited After School Program for “lack of supervision” in Restrooms

In a lawsuit filed last month, the mother of a 6-year-old victim of child sex abuse charges that officials at a popular Sacramento-area after school program knew that a 10-year-old student had a history of sexually provocative behavior at the school, but did not inform parents or Child Protective Services of the danger.

The suit, filed in Placer County Superior Court, says that STAR NOVA, an afterschool program operating at Twelve Bridges Elementary, had evidence that a 10-year-old student in the program had engaged in dangerous behaviors, including making other children undress, sexually-explicit language, and violence. Instead of intervening and contacting Child and Protective Services or law enforcement, school administrators did nothing to stop the child.

In March 2013, the lawsuit says, the now emboldened 10-year-old took the six-year-old special needs student into the bathroom, where he forcibly undressed the younger boy and sexually assaulted him. The victim reported the abuse to his mother, who informed officials at Twelve Bridges Elementary. School officials filed a report with CPS that day. As a result of an investigation by Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division, the STAR NOVA Program was cited with a civil penalty and required to inform all new and returning parents of the allegations, which Social Services deemed credible.

Twelve Bridges Elementary is in the West Placer Unified School District. Because the 10-year-old is a minor, his identity and current situation are confidential.

“STAR NOVA boasts that it was selected as a model program by the White House and U.S. Department of Education. Yet, when a child in the program exhibited dangerous sexual behavior, STAR NOVA turned a blind eye.” said Dr. Joseph C. George, an attorney for the victim. “As a result, an extremely vulnerable six-year-old special needs child was sexually assaulted.”

He also praised the victim in this case.

“It is extremely difficult for a child to talk about sexual violence,” George said. “The fact that this child told his mother about the abuse is the only reason a sexually violent child was stopped. STAR NOVA administrators could have intervened and saved the victim and others from the trauma of abuse, but they didn’t. Organizations like that should not be allowed to supervise children.”

You can read the lawsuit here .

A bishop’s “epic fail” is a lesson to all of us: How to report abuse

Posted by Joelle Casteix on June 14, 2014 in armored child, Child safety, Clergy Abuse Crisis, Parenting
1 Comment

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson has a lesson for all of us, and I don’t think it’s the lesson he intended.

The situation: When asked by victims’ attorney Jeff Anderson in a recent deposition if he knew in the 1984 that child sex abuse was a crime, Carlson responded, “I’m not sure if I did or I didn’t.” The result: he didn’t report. Countless children were put at risk and many others were abused because he couldn’t pick up the phone and call the police.

Which leads to the following question: Do YOU know how to report suspected or witnessed abuse?

I am going to go into much greater detail on this subject in my upcoming book, but I feel that it’s necessary to post and repost this information as much as possible.

First, some assumptions: I consider everyone a mandatory reporter. Child sex abuse is a crime with lasting consequences. There is a victim and an alleged criminal. If you see or suspect abuse, it’s an adult’s civic and moral obligation to report.

If you are a mandatory reporter in the eyes of the law, your employer should provide you specific training on your reporting procedures. If you have not had that training in the past year, demand that your employer provide it to all mandatory reporters at your work.

How to report child sexual abuse

If you are a victim or witness abuse:

1) If you are a victim of sexual assault, call 911. If it is not an emergency requiring immediate medical care, call your local police department and ask to speak to someone who can take a report of the sexual assault of a(n) child/adult. If you feel that it’s necessary to call 911, do it.

2) If you see sexual abuse taking place, call 911. Treat the crime like a robbery, car accident or shooting. It’s a crime that needs immediate attention.

NOTE: Do not rely on your institution (whether it be a church, school, university, community group, or your boss) to do the reporting for you. If you witnessed a shooting, you would call the cops, not your supervisor. Child sex abuse is the same. Plus, we have seen time and time again that institutions (especially churches and universities) are NOT in the abuse investigation business. Internal investigations do not protect victims and do not protect the rights of the accused. 

If you suspect child sex abuse:

1) Call the ChildHelpUSA national child abuse reporting hotline at 1-800-4ACHILD. They also have a website that is well worth your review now, before you encounter a situation where you need immediate answers. When you call the hotline, a trained crisis operation will talk to you about what you saw, what you suspect, and the next steps you should take. They will carefully walk you through the entire process.

2) Call the specific agency in your state that handles the investigation of child sex crimes. You can read a list of them here. I suggest going over them now, before you are in a situation where you need to report.

3) If you suspect that a child who is not your child is being abused and the parents are not the suspected abusers, talk to the parents. If you think that the parents will not take action and the child is in danger, call ChildHelpUSA. They will help you assess your suspicions and alert you of the next steps you should take.

NOTE: You are not an investigator and you do not need to have “proof” of the abuse to report. That is the job of the police. Report your suspicions and let law enforcement do its job.

Some red flags:

1) Your employer says that you should report suspected abuse to them before calling the police or ChildHelp. (Think of it this way – if there was a shooting going on, you would call 911 without getting your supervisor on the phone, right?)

2) If an employer or institution says that they “need to investigate this internally” before calling ChildHelp, the police, or social services.

My take? Report anyway.

And if you’re scared or reticent of “making a mistake” by reporting:

Organizations like ChildHelp were founded to help people correctly report crimes. They also can tell a concerned adult when there is no crime to report.

Now what?

Most of us will never be in a situation where we need to report. But we will encounter people who need our help. Learn what sexual behaviors in children are healthy and which ones need direct attention. Learn the signs of abuse. Learn the signs of sexual grooming.

Most importantly: Talk to your kids. Chances are they will listen.

Carlson plays the memory card … and loses

Posted by Joelle Casteix on June 11, 2014 in Child safety, Clergy Abuse Crisis, Minnesota
1 Comment

Yesterday, attorneys for victims of child sexual abuse in Minnesota and Missouri released a recent sworn deposition of St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson. In the deposition, which can be read here and viewed in excerpts below, Carlson states 193 times that he “does not remember” various incidents regarding the sexual abuse of children.


But one particular statement stuck out.

From the Huffington Post:

(Attorney for victims Jeff) Anderson went on to ask Carlson whether he knew in 1984, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that it was crime for a priest to engage in sex with a child.

“I’m not sure if I did or didn’t,” Carlson said.

Archbishop Carlson: taking "selective memory" to new heights

Archbishop Carlson: taking “selective memory” to new heights

So I did a little research into priests in Minnesota who were arrested for sexual abuse in the 1980s. As auxillary bishop of the archdiocese, Carlson would have intimate knowledge of the activities in his own and neighboring dioceses.

I found some interesting material:

1979 – St. Cloud priest Fr. Raoul Gauthier is charged with sexual assault on a 37-year-old developmentally disabled man. He fled the country before he could be tried.

1980 – Duluth Diocese priest Dennis Puhl is convicted of 4th degree sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy. He was sentenced to 21 months, but a judge stayed the conviction. Puhl instead served five years probation on the condition he receive treatment in a church-run facility.

1982 – Fr. Gilbert Gustafson of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese pleads guilty to the sexual abuse of a boy. He serves 4 1/2 months in jail. Although convicted, he was not removed from the ministry until 2002, but still can be found doing leadership training for nuns in the state.

1984 – In the Crookson diocese in the northern part of the state, Fr. Richard Boyd is convicted of the possession of child pornography. He is allowed to remain a priest until 2003. He claims that “innuendo and gossip” about his conviction have made it hard for him to be an effective minister.

1987 – Fr. Michael J. Stevens of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese pleads guilty to “sexual misconduct with a minor.” Like Gustafson, Stevens is allowed to remain in the priesthood until 2002.

1989 – Fr. William Nicholas Garding of the St. Cloud Diocese pleads guilty to third-degree sexual assault of a minor and is given a stayed sentence of ten years. He eventually serves six months in jail

Carlson knew full well that child sex abuse was a crime. He simply didn’t care.


Vetting and the board of the Vatican Bank

Posted by Joelle Casteix on June 9, 2014 in Child safety, Clergy Abuse Crisis

Last week, Pope Francis sacked his entire Vatican “watchdog” board, replacing them with an international “who’s who” list of financial reform and investigation gurus.

One of the names on the list surprised me: Juan Zarate. Zarate shot to prominence as the member of George Bush’s Treasury Department. He was a tenacious investigator who went after America’s enemies and other global terrorists where it hurt the most: their bank accounts. But that’s not the surprising part.

The surprising part is this: Juan Zarate was a year behind me at Mater Dei High School in Orange County, California. The Vatican probably knew that, since Mater Dei gave Juan its “Ring of Honor” award in 2002. But did the Vatican vet Mater Dei?

I didn’t know Juan very well in high school. But I did know this: he was an all-around awesome guy. He was friendly, outgoing, nice to everyone, smart and funny. In a school where it was very easy to fall into “cliques,” everyone seemed to know and like Juan. In fact, as he became more and more successful, everyone rooted for him. There was not a better, more hard-working or nicer guy out there. He has deserved every accolade he has received.

But the high school he attended was a very dark place.

Juan Zarate

Juan Zarate

Juan was a 1989 grad of Mater Dei, a school rife with priests and teachers who were molesting students with the tacit approval of school administrators. The principal during his first two years was notorious offender Msgr. Michael Harris, who has been credibly accused of sexual abuse by approximately 30 boys. Harris was well-known for inviting high school boys to his home to watch movies, swim, and dabble in his private upstairs wet bar.

Victims—most of whom were classmates of Juan’s older siblings—began to come forward in the mid-90s, after at least one committed suicide. Church lawyers, who knew that Harris had molested the boys, forced these victims to be deposed for days, intimidated the boys, and did little to nothing to stop the cleric. Harris was finally removed from the priesthood in 1994, when he refused to obey Bishop McFarland’s orders to stay away from Santa Margarita High School events. In 2001, former Santa Margarita student Ryan DiMaria won a large civil suit against the Diocese of Orange and Harris, and by 2003, nine more boys had come forward.

But that’s just the beginning of Mater Dei’s problems during Juan’s tenure … and before his time there … and after his graduation. Other credibly accused, arrested, or admitted abusers include track coach C.R. Richardson, Dean of Students Bernie Balsis, Vice Principal John Merino—all three sued by former students in 2003. There was Fr. Jerome Hanson, who was sent to Mater Dei after he was caught in a cemetery sexually abusing a boy. There was my perpetrator Thomas Hodgman, substitute priest Gus Krumm, basketball coach Jeff Andrade, and choral director Larry Stukenholtz. There was former Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann and priest Fr. Bertand Horvath … and who knows who else?

Then, there are the enablers: administrators like Lucretia Dominguez, John Weling, and Greg Dhuyvetter, who knew about abuse and did nothing (all of whom are still employed in Catholic schools or administrative positions). Or folks like basketball coach Gary McKnight, who allowed an abuser back on campus with no punishment whatsoever. Then there is the current administration, who—for the past 20 or so years—allowed people like Andrade, Stukenholtz, and their protectors to escape jail.

I wonder if the Vatican knows that.

I realize that Juan is tasked with financial oversight. But in his case, terrorism was very close to home. Hopefully, he will remember his classmates who were hurt so terribly and use his position to shine sunlight on very dark and secret crimes that may be hidden in the Vatican accounts.



When a child is abused … by another child

Posted by Joelle Casteix on June 5, 2014 in armored child, Child safety, Parenting
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I have written on this subject before. But today’s story out of Sacramento is more tragic and upsetting.

The mother of an eight-year-old sodomy victim has filed a lawsuit against the mobile home park where the crime happened in 2013. She charges that the management of Sacramento’s Park Royal Estates Mobile Home Park knew that a 15-year-old boy was raping and terrorizing resident children in key-access, monitored, and “secured” areas of the park. But instead of calling the cops and reporting their suspicions, staffers kept quiet.

Fortunately, the boy immediately reported to his mother, who called the police. The 15-year-old is now in jail. He has allegedly raped at least one other child in the park.

Why wouldn’t park staffers report what they knew or suspected? Maybe it was fear of the 15-year-old. Maybe it was fear of his parents. Perhaps staffers feared that parents would pick up their children and move out of the park if they knew what was happening. Maybe they just though it was “child’s play.” Whatever the rationale, it was wrong. It’s a cover-up as tragic as the clergy sex abuse crisis … especially since, like clerics who offend and are moved around, juveniles who offend get a “free pass” and no help to actually stop the behavior.

But I am not here to talk about the legal aspects of this case. For this discussion, legal liability is irrelevant. I want to talk about the teen who abused.

The sexual abuse of a child is horrific enough, but when the abuser is a minor, the consequences are far more tragic than what most people realize.

Crimes by juveniles are some of the least likely to be reported, no matter how violent or traumatic they are to the victim.


  • Parents of the perpetrator are likely to minimize the severity of the crime or deny the crime,
  • The perpetrator is likely the victim of a crime and/or suffering from extreme mental illness with no access to care,
  • The victim and the perpetrator are peers, in a sense. The terror of the abuse infiltrates a child’s social circles and peer groups,
  • The perpetrator is more likely to come from a violent home or the “system,” where intervention is difficult,
  • Parents of the victim are less likely to believe that a child can commit such a horrible crime,
  • Many adults believe that a child can easily fight off another child,
  • The crimes are often wrongly attributed to children’s sexual exploration or “child’s play,”
  • Other adults tend to romanticize their own childhoods, and can find it difficult to realize the severity of the abuse.

So now, we have a victim who is totally terrorized, alienated from his/her peers, afraid to report, or not believed.

But let’s say that the child DOES report, as in this case. Then we have a whole new tragedy.

  • The juvenile justice system is not equipped to treat sex offending children—mostly because society barely understands the problem,
  • The perpetrator receives little, if any, therapeutic help for his/her criminal behavior or the mental illness that caused the behavior,
  • If the juvenile is convicted, his/her record is sealed and his/her name does not appear on any registries,
  • If the minor offends again as a minor or an adult, it is difficult—if not impossible—for the victim to get access to the perpetrator’s history.

I have worked with dozens of victims who have been abused by older siblings, baby sitters, camp counselors, neighborhood kids or teens at church of school. Their story is the same: they are more disenfranchised than many other victims of abuse. As they grow into adulthood, they find it difficult to get help or to reach out to friends and family, who simply can’t understand the severity of the crime.

So now what do we do?

  • Talk to your kids about bullies and other children who threaten, hurt or terrorize other children,
  • Keep your eye out—does your child try to hide from other children out of fear, or does he make excuses to stay inside when he used to love to be with other kids?
  • Never push your child to play with kids that your child fears,
  • Listen to your child when they talk about the social dynamics of their peer group,
  • Don’t assume that girls are incapable of abuse,
  • Watch you child at play. Sometimes, abuse can happen right under your nose.

Most importantly: report when you suspect a crime. The ChildHelp hotline is staffed 24/7 with crisis counselors and offers “crisis intervention, information, literature, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are anonymous and confidential.” 



Friday Round-up: Aldana, Adrian, Arizona, and the AG

Posted by Joelle Casteix on May 30, 2014 in About me, Child safety, Clergy Abuse Crisis, Corporate Ethics, Penn State
1 Comment

It’s been an interesting week:

Ricardo “Richard” Aldana is goin’ to the pokey

Former JSerra High School teacher Richard Aldana was convicted on three felony counts of lewd acts upon a child. The victim was a 14-year-old student. Aldana faces up to eight years in jail.

JSerra is an independent (not owned by the Diocese of Orange) Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, CA.

Aldana: Convicted of lewd acts with 14-year-old, faces up to 8 years

Aldana: Convicted of lewd acts with 14-year-old, faces up to 8 years

When allegations against Aldana became public in 2011, students rallied around the former Spanish teacher, wearing “Free Aldana” t-shirts, setting up a Facebook page demanding school officials reinstate him, and harassing the victim.

They disguised themselves as supporters, but were instead uninformed, attack mobs trying to silence victims. Fortunately, the police aren’t intimidated by a bunch of affluent high school punks.

Which leads us to our next story:

Adrian, Michigan: Taking victim harassment to a whole new level

My May 15 post about admitted child sex offender Thomas Hodgman went viral. The post was viewed more than 10,000 times, shared on almost 1700 Facebook pages, and generated 82 comments.

And the comments were nasty. Fortunately, with a huge public court win, tons of public documents and the truth on my side, the commenters did little more than show the sad, reckless and dangerous state of higher education in Michigan.

But here’s what’s telling: Aldana was convicted of lewd acts with a 14-year-old. I fought for 15 years to expose the truth about a teacher who abused me starting when I was 15—just one year older than Aldana’s victim. When I got the truth I needed, Hodgman was out of the state with little hope of extradition. There is also a big question about whether the criminal statute of limitations in my case is still valid. But according to commenters defending Hodgman, I should have known better and need to let a “good educator” get on with his life.

Sorry folks, but “good educators” don’t commit lewd acts with students. They should go to jail, especially when they admit to the crimes.

Arizona: Where parishioners have (rightfully!) had enough

Parishioners at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish and School in Phoenix have had enough. Their founding pastor was credibly accused of abuse. Another former pastor is in the process of being defrocked by the Vatican. A third priest assigned there was sentenced to 10 years in jail in 1992 for abusing minors.

Now, we learn that a group of parents has presented a list of demands to the Diocese of Phoenix. Their number-one request: the immediate removal of current pastor, Fr. John Ehrich. They say that he has sexually harassed parishioners and acted inappropriately with children. Ehrich has since quit and the diocese refuses to make a comment, saying it’s “an internal matter.

Internal, indeed. Good for the parishioners. They deserve far better.

The AG: Silence can kill, and not just in the auto industry

My friend and colleague Mark Crawford has an op-ed in the May 24 New Jersey Star Ledger. In it, he calls on AG Eric Holder to to vigorously investigate the actions of religious and charitable institutions for their criminal attempts to conceal and minimize dangerous predators — actions that included the sexual abuse of children in this country.”

Because, he says, if the Department of Justice can investigate the possible criminal activity by automaker GM when it comes to faulty ignition switches, they can certainly investigate religious and charitable institutions (including colleges and universities) for the cover-up of child sexual abuse.

I agree. Investigate them, punish them, revoke federal funding, and tax the lot of them. Need a sample case so that the Catholic Church won’t say they are being “unfairly targeted?” I got one for you: Adrian College.



No secrets: It’s easy for kids to keep promises … for the wrong people

Posted by Joelle Casteix on May 21, 2014 in armored child, armored kid, Child safety, Parenting, resources
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One of the most important things I teach parents about empowering children against abuse is: “no secrets.”

Yesterday I was reminded about how important it is to REINFORCE this lesson as children get older. Although the following story does not involve abuse, it shows how easy it is for a child to keep a secret with a “trusted adult” … even if the adult is wrong or should not be trusted.



The Story

Family X is a local family who has a daughter with a chronic illness. If Daughter X is exposed to sick kids, her likelihood of infection is exponentially higher than other children’s. If infected, a simple cold or flu could kill her. A vomiting illness could land Daughter X in the hospital. The result? Family X is vigilant. Daughter X wears a mask in public, and they ask people whom they encounter to let them know if they or their children are sick.

Last weekend, Family X had a small family gathering to celebrate an important milestone. At the party, Cousin X began throwing up in the bathroom. Family X’s 11-year-old son, who is not ill, was there. When Aunt X found out, she told Son X, “Please don’t tell anyone, especially your mother. I don’t want to ruin the party.”

So, not wanting to disobey or upset his beloved aunt, Son X kept quiet. Until he began vomiting the next day.

When Mother X was taking care of the-now-terribly-ill Son X, she asked him, “Did you know of anyone who was sick?”

Barfing and needing his mother’s care, Son X told her the secret.

Mother X was rightfully upset. Now, Son X was suffering and Daughter X was at severe risk. Had the aunt simply told Son X to wash his hands and tell his mother about the situation, Family X could have taken the necessary precautions, including making sure that all surfaces were clean and the sick cousin was quarantined (which should have happened anyway). But Aunt X decided to make that call and swear a child to secrecy. Now, everyone was at risk.

But what was also upsetting was the ease with which Son X kept his aunt’s secret. Although Son X is a child, he knew that by keeping the secret, there was a huge risk. But he loves and trusts his aunt. He truly believes that such an aunt would never do anything to put him or Family X in harm’s way.

See where I am going here?

This is why children usually don’t report sexual abuse.

Because the abuser is a loved and trusted adult—whether a family member, scout leader, minister, neighbor, or camp counselor—he or she can easily tell the child, “Don’t tell anyone.” And the child will obey. The more loved and trusted the adult is, the more likely the child is to keep the secret. And if a child has been groomed over a period of weeks or months, he or she is even less likely to tell.

So, now what do you do?

– Reinforce the “no secrets” rule (make sure to differentiate between “secrets” and “surprises.” Secrets are never told. Surprises are things like parties and presents).

– Give your child a situation and ask the what he or she would do. For example, you could say, “What if Mrs. Cooper showed you something and made you promise to never tell. What would you do?” Depending on the child’s answer, you can say that he or she should never keep an adult’s secret.

You can go on and say that adults should never have secrets with kids. Always tell mom/dad anytime an adult—no matter how much the child loves the adult—wants to have a special secret. Even if it’s something as simple as a extra snack. Or a barfing cousin.

Don’t wait until it’s too late.


Kids sharing secrets amongst themselves is an issue for a later post.

It all started with a support group

Posted by Joelle Casteix on May 20, 2014 in armored child, Clergy Abuse Crisis, Shameless Plugs

This past Sunday, I had a bit of an epiphany.

I was getting ready to receive an award for my work on behalf of SNAP for creating awareness for support groups. The organization honoring us—SHARE! The Self Help and Recovery Exchange—is an awesome non-profit that provides more than 140 support groups a week, helps people in crisis find temporary-to-permanent housing, and offers volunteer-to-job training (among a myriad of other services). What struck me about the group is that they empower people to help themselves—instead of allowing the vulnerable to become a “part of the system” and relying on useless handouts without the tools and capabilities to function in society. But I digress. photo

I was worried: I needed to give a 5-minute speech. I didn’t really want to talk about me or my story, because that wasn’t what the award was about. I didn’t want to talk about “my” work, because let’s face it: I don’t and can’t do the work that I do alone.

But then, it dawned on me: It all started with a support group.

The explosion in child sex abuse awareness and prevention did not start with a bunch of doctors standing up and saying, “We have an epidemic!” The child sex abuse and cover-up crisis in the Catholic Church and other religious organizations was not exposed when a bunch of judges to awakened one night and said, “I am going to commence a trial right now and expose this crap.” And none of it was started by lawyers. It started in a support group meeting.

The movement began a victim reached out find other victims and when a parent wanted to find out the truth about her child. Together and separately, they started to heal. Then they met more victims. Soon, they discovered they had civil and criminal rights and worked with law enforcement to punish wrongdoers. Then they realized: we can change our laws to help more victims and protect children from being abused in the first place. As laws were changed and abuse and cover-up were exposed, more victims came forward. Where did they go? They went to support group meetings. Now instead of a cycle of abuse and pain, survivors of sexual abuse had created a cycle of support, healing and change.

Receiving the SHARE! award with Esther Miller, SNAP leader and founder of Whoop Ass Healing

Receiving the SHARE! award with Esther Miller, SNAP leader and founder of Whoop Ass Healing

No one gave us a handout. We were (and still are) politically incorrect in many circles. Religious leaders lambast us in the media and try to vilify us. But they won’t succeed. Why? Because we empowered ourselves to create the cycle of healing.

And like other persecuted groups, we stood up and said it was time for us to be counted.

What happened? We fought for more victim and child-friendly laws across the country. We exposed predators and those who covered up for predators world-wide. We have gotten the notice of international judicial bodies who have decided to help us. We have reached out to families and communities and showed them that it is safe and easy to protect their children from abuse.

But what is the most important thing we have done? We have done something that has transcended the “scandal.” We have opened the dialogue in homes and families, schools and communities. People are talking and walking into our cycle of healing whether that be in our meetings or the meetings of other wonderful organizations. The Catholic Church and other institutions did not start or continue the cycle of healing. Victims did. Without support groups, none of this would have been possible.

Suddenly, I had something fill up my five minutes.

Other amazing honorees at the SHARE! Awards included the LA County Client Coalition; John Hall with Secular Organizations for Sobreity; Veterans in Film and Television, the Center for Lupus Care; and actress and suicide prevention activist Mariette Hartley.

With fellow honoree Mariette Hartley

With fellow honoree Mariette Hartley



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Need more proof that colleges can’t investigate sex abuse?

Posted by Joelle Casteix on May 15, 2014 in Child safety, Parenting

A little backwater college in Michigan will give you all the proof you need.

You would think that in the middle of a national scandal surrounding sexual assaults on campus that colleges would take the time to remove faculty members who are convicted or admitted child sex offenders.

But not Michigan’s Adrian College. Little do the parents of Adrian students know that their $40,000 annual tuition includes the salary of an admitted child molester.

Adrian: Where $40K/year gets you one-on-one time with an admitted child sex offender.

Adrian: Where $40K/year gets you one-on-one time with an admitted child sex offender.

In 2003, music professor Thomas Hodgman was sued in California for child sex abuse. At the time of the alleged abuse, Hodgman was a high school teacher in Southern California. When one of his victims alerted Adrian officials of her lawsuit, the school conducted an “investigation.” Hodgman denied the allegations, calling them “bogus.” The victim was never interviewed. Then, the victim went a step further and met with then-College President Stanley Caine, imploring him to at least remove Hodgman until the case was resolved.

He said no.

In 2005, the sex abuse case against Hodgman settled for $1.6 million. Documents released as a part of the settlement showed that Hodgman admitted to sexually molesting a number of his high school students, including the victim who sued him.

The victim took the documents to Adrian College. The school decided to let Hodgman keep his job.

Fast forward nine years. The victim in the case, despite what Adrian College officials did to her, has gone on to have an award-winning career as an advocate for child victims of sexual abuse. But she has never been able to get Hodgman removed from his job.

This week, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is writing the US Department of Education. They believe that Adrian—by keeping Hodgman on the job and not alerting parents and students—may be in violation of the Clery Act and Title IX.

I hope the U.S. Department of Education takes a long, hard look at Adrian College. I hope that a lot of people rightfully lose their jobs. I hope that Adrian loses access to federal financial aid.

Why? Because I am the victim who has been working for ten years for justice. I can’t put this particular fight aside any longer – for myself, for the other girls Hodgman admitted molesting and for the girls who are put at risk every day.


Read about Joelle’s recent honors by SHARE! and the City of Los Angeles here.


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