Documents: Church knew of abuse
Allegations were never reported, records show
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has admitted that one of its former priests, Harry Monroe, was a child molester.
But church officials have never acknowledged they knew anything about the abuse while it was happening.
Now, a host of new documents obtained through a court petition by The Indianapolis Star reveal that church officials knew about allegations against Monroe by 1976 — early in an era of sex abuse that lasted from 1974 to 1984.
The documents also make it clear that two former Indianapolis archbishops — the Most Rev. George J. Biskup and the Most Rev. Edward T. O’Meara — were aware of abuse allegations at the time, never reported them to police and continued to assign Monroe to new parish positions, where he preyed on other children.
The newly revealed records — coupled with others already public — show a church hierarchy that twice sought medical evaluations and care for Monroe through a clinic that treated abusive priests from across the country.
“This is a smoking gun,” said David Clohessy, national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “It is a clear indication that the hierarchy knew very early on, not about one incident, not about mere suspicions, but they knew enough and were worried enough that they sent him out of state for treatment.”
The attorney for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, however, said the church acted to ensure that a troubled priest received state-of-the-art treatment. Monroe was returned to ministry only after officials were assured he posed no threat to children.
“In this case, the bishop looked to the experts,” attorney Jay Mercer said, “and the experts said to him this was not a concern.”
“Keep our fingers crossed”
Records show that archdiocesan officials had grave doubts about Monroe’s fitness for the priesthood before he even left the seminary.
In 1969, while a student at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Monroe expressed concerns to his mentors about his psychological fitness. But church leaders later allowed him to bypass psychological testing.
In 1972, Monroe was arrested on a charge of indecent exposure after he swam naked in the Ohio River. After the case was dropped, priest personnel director Monsignor Joseph D. Brokhage expressed relief to Monroe that “those ridiculous charges of last summer have been dismissed.” He sent Monroe a copy of the letter from Floyd County officials, then urged Monroe to destroy it.
And in 1974, as Monroe was about to enter the priesthood, Brokhage wrote that he had “some reservations about Harry” but lamented that “at this late date nothing can be done but to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.”
Over the next decade, Monroe would sexually abuse boys on camping trips, in motel rooms and in parish rectories — all while serving as a priest in Indianapolis, Terre Haute and in Perry County, along the Ohio River. Frequently, he would offer the boys — ages 10 to 15 — beer, liquor or marijuana as an enticement.
Since 2005, 13 accusers have filed lawsuits against Monroe and the archdiocese claiming the unchecked abuse has caused them a variety of problems.
Some say it led them to abandon their church and their faith or to struggle against authority. Several resorted to drug and alcohol abuse. Some have problems with physical intimacy. And one Terre Haute mother who hasn’t filed a suit blames her son’s suicide on the abuse he suffered at the hands of Harry Monroe.
Many of Monroe’s victims kept quiet about their abuse while it was happening out of fear or embarrassment. Others say the church should have been aware of what was happening.
One victim said a pastor walked into the rectory when he and Monroe were naked on the floor, then slammed the door and left without ever reporting it. The mother from Terre Haute said she was headed to police with her son’s allegations when her pastor told her to let the church handle it. But nothing was reported to authorities.
Efforts to reach Monroe were unsuccessful. His last known residence was in Nashville, Tenn., in 2006.
Complaints spark response
The church handled it, records show, by turning to the House of Affirmation, a private organization with clinics in Massachusetts, California and England that was set up primarily to treat priests with psychological problems.
In August 1976, Brokhage wrote a letter to House of Affirmation officials pleading for aid with a priest he described as “desperately in need of help.” The church had received complaints from parents about the young priest’s “association and activities with young boys.”
“Looking back,” Brokhage wrote, “one can see that even during his deacon internship he spent most of his time with sixth-grade boys.”
That includes camping trips with boys, including one instance reported by a mother that involved her son having his pants removed and peanut butter smeared on his buttocks.
Mercer, the Indianapolis archdiocese attorney, said it isn’t clear that this letter can be connected to Monroe because the person who wrote it is dead and Monroe is not mentioned by name.
“There’s nothing that says Harry Monroe was involved in this. You can read everything you want between the lines, but I don’t think that is what it says,” Mercer said. “I don’t think those letters from Brokhage say anything about anything sexual going on.”
However, the context points to Monroe:
The letter came from Monroe’s personnel file. The priest mentioned in the letter was 28 (Monroe’s age at the time) and had been ordained two years earlier (as was Monroe). Monroe acknowledged in depositions that he went to the House of Affirmation. And in September 1976, less than a month after the Brokhage letter, House of Affirmation officials wrote Biskup to inform him that Monroe had completed three days of psychological testing and evaluation.
“I think the evidence speaks for itself. It’s obviously Monroe,” said Pat Noaker, the Minnesota attorney representing the 13 plaintiffs in the lawsuits.
The evaluation showed Monroe was emotionally immature, with a rigid personality, but concluded he was not mentally ill. “We also did not view him as presenting the profile of a child molester,” wrote the psychologist and therapy director.
Noaker said church officials failed to follow one key recommendation from the House of Affirmation that might have helped: ensuring that Monroe received follow-up psychotherapy.
Within days of the all-clear, Biskup transferred Monroe from St. Andrew parish in Indianapolis to St. Catherine, where new allegations of abuse arose. And more would follow in Terre Haute, where Monroe was transferred in 1979.
It was there that Melissa Limcaco, the mother dissuaded from going to police, said the pastor told her five boys had made sexual abuse claims about Harry Monroe. Court documents include letters from at least three families with abuse claims that were sent to O’Meara in 1981.
Looking to experts
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has denied any legal liability in the 13 lawsuits it now faces about Monroe. It says the deaths of key figures in the case — both archbishops and Brokhage — make it hard to see the context in paperwork.
Mercer, the archdiocesan attorney, said the records show church officials twice sought treatment for Monroe with the House of Affirmation, which they thought was a “state-of-the-art” facility at the time. Twice, he said, they put Monroe back into ministry after receiving assurances that he was not a threat to children.
Both times, however, that proved to be wrong. More abuse cases followed.
Mercer said it is unfair, on another level, to view people’s actions — or lack of action — in the 1970s and early 1980s through the prism of today’s attitudes about what should constitute a red flag that abuse is occurring.
To make that point, the archdiocese plans to call Penn State University professor Philip Jenkins to testify that even the peanut butter incident might not have triggered alarms back then.
“In the context of the ’70s, it is amazing and frankly shocking what really quite mainstream experts would say about many of these cases and responses,” said Jenkins, who will be compensated by the archdiocese for his testimony.
Clohessy, with the abuse victims network, described such a defense as “just laughable and pathetic.”
“Honestly,” Clohessy said, “it has never, in any modern time period, been permissible for adults to touch children’s private parts.”
The House of Affirmation was no stranger to sexual abuse cases involving priests.
Patrick Wall, a former priest and now a California attorney, said he has personally dealt with more than 50 cases involving the House of Affirmation. He said it was a far cry from an independent voice on the mental health of priests and the risks they presented to children.
It was not affiliated with any hospital, it operated in secrecy, and it never reported abusers to police. Above all, Wall said, its dependence on the patronage of bishops created an incentive to report progress even when there was none.
“It was completely Catholic. Nobody else was welcome. You had to be sent there by your bishop,” he said. “The recidivism rate was just insane.”
The House of Affirmation, headquartered in Massachusetts, closed amid financial scandal in 1989. The Rev. Thomas Kane, its co-founder, was the subject of sex abuse allegations in 1995 that were settled by the Catholic Diocese of Worcester.
But Mercer, the archdiocesan attorney, defended the House of Affirmation, saying that when Monroe arrived for a yearlong stay in 1981, it was still considered on the cutting edge of clinics for sex abusers.
Located in Montara, Calif., the House of Affirmation’s West Coast hub was an attractive place where priests could retire, and Wall said people from the local Catholic diocese would go there for retreats.
“It was kind of a good mob operation,” he said. “The front looked just fine.”
The clinic’s director wrote Monroe in advance of his visit, telling him to bring swimwear. He also said a monthly stipend from the archdiocese would be useful so he could “join other residents for occasional dining-out, movies, concerts, etc., which we consider most therapeutic and strongly encourage.”
Monroe arrived with a suitcase of troubles. In sworn statements and a post-priesthood letter he wrote to O’Meara, he said he was suppressing his homosexuality and was engulfed in raging substance abuse. Those things, along with an immaturity that made him feel more comfortable around kids, prompted the child abuse, Monroe said.
Still, his greatest fear was that psychological testing might lead church officials to discover his homosexuality. “I left for the House of Affirmation with the intention of proving one point– that there was nothing wrong with me,” he said.
His substance abuse, he said, was never addressed: “The whole time I was in Montara I drank like a fish. I continued to use drugs. And that’s not really conducive for making the kind of changes that you need to make for good mental health.”
Even before Monroe returned from California in June 1982, O’Meara gave him his final assignment: as a co-pastor at three parishes in Perry County. Two years later, O’Meara would finally give up on Monroe. Allegations of abuse during this period would arise later.
But neither O’Meara nor any other officials in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis would ever go to police. The criminal statute of limitations expired before the victims came forward as adults.
And Monroe was never prosecuted.
Call Star reporter Robert King at (317) 444-6089.