Alleged clergy abuse haunts local man

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Editor’s note: This article contains sexually explicit material that may not be suitable for all readers. Reader discretion is advised.

All non-clergy members’ names have been changed due to the nature of the alleged abuse and the age of the victim at the time of the alleged abuse.

Thomas White was relaxing in the sweat room at his local health club when muffled noises came from behind the blurry transparent door. He peered through the hot mist surrounding him. Through the door, White could make out a man bending forward, his face contorted.

White squinted, not sure what he was seeing. The man swayed back and forth as a hand reached from behind him, grabbing his naked shoulder. White felt horrified, finally recognizing the sodomy happening before his eyes.

White bolted out of the steam room and into the shower farthest away. His goal was to wash away his sweat and leave as quickly as possible.

White’s terror turned to panic as a man stepped from behind the bent-over man. This man walked past White with an erection. White recognized him as a cleric from his boyhood church.

“Oh my God!” White murmured to himself, before dashing away and escaping into the locker room. He dressed hurriedly, not fully believing what he had seen.

White pulled on his clothes. He heard other men in the locker room calling his former cleric by name as he, too, exited the showers, confirming White’s recognition.

White left the health club and took refuge in his car, not sure what to do, only knowing he needed to speak with the cleric.

White watched as the man who had been sodomized exited the gym. A few minutes later, his former spiritual leader opened the door. White sat and watched the man get into his car and drive away.

White followed the cleric all the way to his house, confronting him at the front door of his home.

“How you doin’, Jerry?” asked the cleric.

“I’m not Jerry. My name is Thomas.”

“Oh, I remember you from church.”

“I saw what you did with that man back there in the health club in the shower.”

“Which one?”

“The man that you were anally copulating.”

The cleric replied, “That man’s been after me for a long time.”

White said, “As I saw it, you were sodomizing him.”

White began to cry. Through his tears, he said, “I was abused by Father Ted-”

“Feely,” finished the cleric. “He was a Franciscan.”

White asked, “How much did you know about the abuse going on in 1969?”

The cleric replied, “I didn’t know too much.”

White continued to cry as the religious leader stood with his head down.

After a long pause, the cleric stated, “You taught me a valuable lesson.”

“How’d I do that?”

“You taught me not to do such foolish things in public places.”

White stared at the one who was supposed to always protect him and show him the true path in life. “I’ll pray for you,” White said to the cleric.

Thomas White walked away.

Thomas White

Thomas White was born in Rockford in the mid-1950s, a light haired, brown-eyed innocent. His parents were hard working, blue collar, religious, strict Polish-Italians. He had four siblings, three older than he.

White enjoyed a relatively normal childhood, although there were some family problems. His father was an alcoholic, albeit a functioning one. He and his wife both worked for a local manufacturing company for more than 30 years, living paycheck to paycheck, but creating a life for themselves. His mother was a devout Catholic, but his father had not attended church services since the eighth grade, for reasons still unknown and questioned by a concerned family. Leaving school and beginning work to help support his family may have been a reason.

From his very beginnings, White was involved with the church. He was baptized, received first communion, and attended mass regularly at St. Anthony’s of Padua Church, 1010 Ferguson St., Rockford. He attended public school, but maintained his religious teachings by attending the Catholic Christian Doctrine (CCD) starting in seventh grade. He was also involved with the Christian Youth Organization (CYO), which had various activities provided by the church, including basketball, pool, football, and bowling, again starting in seventh grade.

White suffered from asthma and various allergies from the time he was 2 years old. As a result, although he went to church activities and sports, he was usually sitting on the bench.

White remembers: “I used to have to watch my brother and his friends running around and swimming in our above-ground pool through a screen door. It was torture.”

Finally, White’s mother relented and told Thomas to “go swimming.” Swimming strengthened his lungs, and he became more active in sports.

He did well in school, receiving mostly As and Bs. His parents wouldn’t let him participate in activities if his grades went lower.

This strictness remained in other aspects of White’s life. He and one of his brothers were forced to quit their paper routes and denied entry into Boy Scouts. Their parents feared pedophiles and flashers, who were making headlines at the time, were too much of a risk for their boys. They had complete faith and trust in their church, however.

Everything seemed well in White’s life. He was enjoying his youth, doing well in school, and participating in church activities. He even dreamed of becoming a priest, this sentiment spurred by one Father Casimir Cypher of St. Anthony’s and Father Russel Winton in Milwaukee, the brother of a cousin.

Father Casimir coached boys’ sports teams, and gave advice and direction. He occasionally watched sports with White’s father, came to dinner, and shared a beer. White calls him “a great man of integrity.” Casimir was, unfortunately, tortuously martyred in Honduras in 1975 while doing missionary work.

Father Theodore “Ted” Feely also watched sports and drank beer with White’s father, and came to dinner. But there was much more to Ted Feely than most people knew.

Feely, a Conventual Franciscan Friar of the Province of St. Bonaventure in Chicago sent to Rockford in 1969 (his fifth parish in 10 years), has been accused of three alleged instances of sexual misconduct.

John Clark, a student at St. Anthony’s during Feely’s residence, remembers Feely as “Creepy Feely.” He tells of an instance on the steps of St. Anthony’s Church when he was 13.

Feely had wanted to show Clark and two of his friends his wristwatch. Feely pulled his sleeve all the way up his arm to do so. Clark remembers, “real skinny, white arms.”

Feely then proceeded to show the boys the crucifix around his neck. To do so, he opened his cossack wide, revealing his pale chest. The boys walked away, murmuring how “creepy” Feely was.

“We picked up on the fact there was something off about Feely,” Clark said. “I don’t know why Thomas didn’t.”

Clark told his older brother about the incident, who warned John to “stay the hell away from that guy.” John did, and eventually ended his relationship with the church at 14, subsequently throwing off his Catholic religion at the age of 18.

Grooming his alleged victims

A new Sisters’ Convent was built across the street from St. Anthony’s during Feely’s time at the church. The priests of the parish took turns sleeping there for security reasons. The priests would invite groups of boys for sleepovers. Sometimes they were invited one at a time. When Feely did either, he would allegedly purchase beer for the youngsters.

Thomas White’s brother George remembers these rebellious nights away from home. George did, however, have reservations about Father Feely. George said Father Feely would allegedly always sleep naked and tried to convince the young boys to sleep bare. George said Feely would tell them: “It’s unhealthy to wear briefs. It’s better for you to sleep naked.”

The boys would usually sleep in underwear and T-shirts. According to Rockford’s Sexual Assault Counseling (RSAC) Clinical Director Julie Barthels, “These methods are used to groom victims [for future sexual contact].”

George had looked up to Father Ted. “He did ever

ything with us,” George said. “He took us everywhere. He was a priest being a mentor to young boys.”

His opinions changed when Feely invited George to sleep at the convent alone. He plied George with scotch. While asleep on a mattress, George alleges he awoke to a naked Feely spooning him. Half asleep, 15-year-old George knocked Feely out of his bed and onto the floor. Feely had an erection.

George asked, “What are you doing?!”

Feely mumbled a reply and returned to his own bed.

George explains of his experiences with clergy: “They were holy men on this earth. You don’t think they’re going to be the predators. You don’t think it’s ever going to happen to you.”

In an article titled “Child Sexual Abuse: Offenders, disclosures and school-based initiatives—statistical data included,” by Jonathon Fieldman, Feely’s alleged behavior is consistent with a technique called “desensitization.” This method includes “systematic progression in physical and verbal contact, which helps assess risk of discovery,” Fieldman wrote.

Feely also took to enticing boys to hit him. He claimed a high pain tolerance. In one instance, George punched Feely in the chest after being egged on, releasing rage from Feely’s previous attempted assault. Feely was sent to SwedishAmerican Hospital with three broken ribs.

After Feely’s assault attempt, he gave George free rein of his car, which shortly after had a ruined transmission, courtesy of George. He also bought George alcohol and gave him money. The threat of repeal of special privileges is a common method used by offenders to maintain victim silence, Fieldman reported.

These instances were not revealed until 2002. If they had been revealed earlier, Thomas White may have become a different man.

From the July 20-26, 2005, issue

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