Wis. Dells trip allegedly robs boy of childhood

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112248387821697.jpg’, ”, ”);

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 graphic nature of the alleged abuse and the age of the victim at the time of the alleged abuse.

“In children lies the world’s tomorrow,” reads a quote by Pope John Paul II published by Rockford’s St. Anthony’s of Padua Church in a historical overview.

The deceased pope’s words ring true—for better or worse, children are the future.

In June 2005, I met with Thomas White. As I walked up the stairs leading to the sunny main floor of his house, I wondered what to expect. It had been about 36 years since a priest had allegedly sexually abused this man. He wanted to share his story to encourage others abused by his alleged perpetrator to come forward, realize they are not alone, and seek help. I had been told tales of abuse before, but never by a stranger.

White is about 6 feet, nearing 50 years of age with a few extra pounds packed on. For our meeting, he was dressed very casually in black gym shorts, white T-shirt, and black baseball cap bearing a hunting logo. The hat hid a shaved head (removed of hair after an unsuccessful dye job). White wore wire-rim glasses, and his tired eyes were explained as he said he’d “been up since 2:30 in the morning with night terrors,” a common aftereffect of abuse as stated in an article titled “Child Sexual Abuse: Offenders, disclosure and school-based initiatives—statistical data included” by Jonathon Fieldman.

White’s fingernails are very short, and he’s constantly fidgeting. He speaks a lot with his hands and often exudes facial gestures. As we began our talk, White emphasized statements with a wide spread of his arms or a thump on the table. When he spoke of a happy memory, he smiled broadly and his eyes lit up as his speech quickened. When I pressed him to concentrate on the negative aspects of his life, his eyebrows squinted close, his mouth puckered in, and he kept his arms close to his body, some tears escaping from his eyes. I hated to make him so motionless. But we continued, and White shared the story of how he was allegedly sexually abused by his pastor when he was just 13, on a trip to Wisconsin Dells.

A trip to Wisconsin Dells

In the summer of 1969, Catholic priest Theodore “Ted” Feely, assistant pastor at St. Anthony’s Church, visited Thomas White’s house. Thomas was in the back yard, tossing a tennis ball against the garage. His father and siblings were not at home.

Feely asked Thomas’s mother if Thomas would like to accompany him to Wisconsin Dells for four days. Feely told her he needed someone to come along to keep him alert. Feely said Thomas was only playing in the back yard, anyway, and the trip to the Dells would be fun.

The boy’s mother did not see the invitation as anything more than a pillar of the community trying to give her son some enjoyment. She also was trying to make up for Thomas’s inability to participate in all of the activities of his brother, a byproduct of Thomas’s asthma.

Thomas’s mother, Mary, gave him $20, a substantial amount at the time, and told him not to spend it all his first day. Mary didn’t know it, but Feely’s behaviors were consistent with a common abuser tactic called “desensitization.”

“Desensitization involves creating a facade of caring attributes and has been shown to overcome barriers to abuse, including parents,” Fieldman explained.

Rockford Sexual Assault Counseling (RSAC) Clinical Director Julie Barthels added, “Trips are not an uncommon thing [for offenders to use in their ploys].”

Thomas said: “A person thinks pedophile, and they think of a person lurking in the dark, or a person lurking in a schoolroom or [who] hangs out in school yards. It’s unbelievable [that]…some priests are pedophiles.”

Thomas is quick to point out there are priests of integrity. “They’re not all pedophiles,” he said.

On the way to the Wisconsin Dells, Feely allegedly offered 13-year-old Thomas a Camel filter cigarette, knowing he had asthma. Feely said he wouldn’t tell anyone about Thomas smoking. Thomas accepted the smoke.

When arriving at the hotel around 6 p.m., Thomas noticed there was only one king-sized bed in the room. He promptly stated he would sleep on the couch in an adjoining room. Feely said it was OK, they could both sleep on the bed. He had purchased a single to save money.

Throughout the evening, Feely allegedly fed his young charge Balantine scotch, Budweiser beer, and more Camel filter cigarettes, continually gaining Thomas’s trust.

Thomas, on the cusp of adolescence, reveled in these acts of rebellion. “Extra-familial (versus offenders within the family) sexual offenders often give drugs and alcohol to victims to increase compliance with sexual acts,” Fieldman wrote.

As the night wore on, Thomas took to the bed in his underwear, woozy after his evening of alcohol consumption.

Thomas woke in the middle of the night to 5-foot, 10-inch Father Ted Feely allegedly choking him. Feely kept lanky Thomas in a chokehold while he allegedly sodomized the boy, who had until this point dreamt of becoming a priest.

“I wanted to be a priest, until I was molested,” Thomas said.

Feely also allegedly masturbated Thomas while attacking him, leading to years of psychological scarring.

“This is a common problem dealt with by survivors,” Barthels said. “They need to know the body has natural reactions that can’t be controlled. When you put your hand on a hot stove, you reflexively pull it back. It’s the same way with sexual responses. It doesn’t mean you enjoyed or wanted the abuse.”

Thomas tried to fight back, but his 13-year-old body was no match for a 38-year-old man. When Feely released him, the adolescent rushed to the bathroom, “petrified.” He became nauseated. As he stood in the restroom, Feely called out, “Are you gonna come back to bed?” Thomas responded with a defiant “No.”

Thomas eventually made his way to the couch, which was separate from the bedroom. He sat up the rest of the night, vigilant.

After a sleepless night, Thomas again took to the bathroom, this time to scrub himself in the shower. He began to wash himself. Blood ran between his legs as Feely asked from the doorway of the bathroom if Thomas wanted any help. Thomas said, “Get the f— out of here!” Feely allegedly only laughed as he masturbated to the shadowy form behind the see-through shower curtain.

After his shower, Feely asked Thomas what he would like to do. Thomas said he wanted to just be alone. Feely gave him $100, and Thomas hit the boardwalk. He did not return until nightfall.

On Thomas’s second night at the hotel, Feely allegedly attempted to assault him again. Thomas was sitting up on the couch, drinking coffee, and fighting to stay awake. At one point, he slumped over on the armrest. He awoke to an erection in front of his face. Thomas held up one of his shoes as a weapon and said, “If you don’t get out of here, I’ll kick your f—ing ass.” Feely returned to the bed.

The rest of Thomas’s traumatic stay in the Wisconsin Dells was spent walking the streets with money provided by Feely, sitting awake at night on the couch—too fearful to rest for even a minute—and beginning the defense mechanism of repression.

On the way home from the Wisconsin Dells, the alleged rape was discussed. Feely said, “You know what happened that first night, that was between you and me.”

Thomas responded, “What you did to me was wrong.”

“It would destroy your parents,” Feely said. “They won’t believe you, anyway. Everybody likes me. Even your friends won’t believe you.”

When Thomas returned home, he acted as if the trip had been fun. He didn’t think his parents would believe a beloved priest would show any form of malice toward their son. His brother George, whom Feely had allegedly attempted to assault, felt something was wrong.

“I knew something happened to him,” George said. “I could see it in his eyes. I asked him what happened, but he wouldn’t tell me

Thomas felt lost, confused, and helpless. He had no one to turn to and was convinced no one would believe him. Finally, he went to the one place that had previously offered him solace—he went to church.

Thomas attended confession at St. Peter and Paul’s. He told his confessor what allegedly happened to him. As soon as words incriminating a priest escaped the youngster’s lips, his confessional door was thrown open. He was grabbed by the hair and thrown down the stairs of the church.

“Don’t you ever come back here again speaking of that blasphemy!” the confessor yelled at him as he scrambled away.

Thomas stopped attending church services, unbeknownst to his parents. He would tell his mother he was attending a later mass with his brother and then skip altogether.

Shortly after his return from the Wisconsin Dells, Thomas attempted suicide. He swallowed 100 aspirin and some of his father’s pain medication. He lived, but this, too, was depressing. He thought death was “moving on to a better place.”

According to the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) Web site of www.icasa.org, suicide rates among sexually abused males are 14 to 15 times higher than other males. Thomas still attended some Christian Youth Organization (CYO) functions, mainly because of his idol, Father Casimir.

Thomas said Feely kept up his alleged abuse, touching Thomas’s leg, grabbing his rear and groin, and chasing him around a table when they were caught alone.

After the summer, Thomas ended all connections with St. Anthony’s of Padua Church. He did not tell Father Casimir or his own father of the alleged abuse because he believed “they would have killed Feely.”

“In cases of sexual abuse, secrecy and intense feelings of shame often prevent children from seeking help,” states Jim Hopper, Ph.D., in an article titled “Child Abuse Statistics, Research and Resources.” Self-blame is also a major problem.

“Even if kids tell their parents they’re not at fault, inside they feel it was,” Rockford Sexual Assault Clinical Director Julie Barthels said. This can lead to depression and low self-esteem, among other problems.

From the July 27-Aug. 2, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!