Victim was seven when abused by priest

BY MIKE THOMAS Religion Reporter/

Less than a year ago, Therese Albrecht wanted to kill herself.

Four decades after allegedly being raped and sodomized by a Catholic priest at St. John de la Salle School on the South Side, the burden of her secret shame had become too much to bear.

“I’ve been down the road of therapy and psych meds and wanting nothing more than to die and thinking about suicide all the time,” the 48-year-old Steger resident said Tuesday

“Because it’s a very depressing way to have to live, to bury a secret that’s so big and so bad and you can’t tell a soul because you were threatened by your abuser that if you were to tell, you would go to hell.

“And of course, I believed him. I looked up to him like he was Jesus.”

Albrecht spoke at a news conference called to discuss the record $12.6 million settlement the Archdiocese of Chicago reached with 16 victims of sexual abuse by priests.

“Today is not a happy, joyous day for me,” she said at her lawyer’s Loop office. “I have indescribable anger and profound sadness over what’s happened to me, what’s happened to other kids while they left him in the ministry knowing that he was a rapist and a sodomizer.”

Albrecht said she reported her abuse and abuser, the Rev. Joseph R. Bennett, to the archdiocese in 2004, but, “They acted like they didn’t believe me; they delayed and delayed and delayed.”

In 2006, Cardinal Francis George removed Bennett from ministry, citing the allegations by Albrecht and another woman who says she also was sexually abused by Bennett at St. John de la Salle in the late 1960s.

Bennett’s last appointment was at Holy Ghost Church in South Holland. He now lives in Indiana.

“This man gave me my First Communion. . . . This man was there when I was confirmed,” Albrecht said. “This man married the older sister in my family. . . . He was a family friend as well as our parish priest, and he returned the friendship that my parents gave him and the trust by raping and sodomizing their daughter.”

But, Albrecht added, “My life is different today because now I feel believed by the archdiocese and by Cardinal George, and that makes a big difference.”

Another victim at the news conference, Denver resident Bob Brancato, 39, choked up and wiped away tears as he told of being raped at ages 12 and 13 by his Catholic school principal and the priest to whom he reported the abuse at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Wheeling.

That priest, James R. Steel, resigned in 1992. In 2006, a review board substantiated Brancato’s claims — four years after he came forward.

“After all those years, 26 years of burying it deep inside, suicide attempts, I now know that it wasn’t my fault,” Brancato said.

And he sees hope in the latest developments.

“The archdiocese,” he said, “has finally taken that cloak of secrecy out of the equation.”