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The Case of Father Jerry
In 1996, a senior official in the Catholic church confided to a friendof CounterPunch, the Catholic church in America had thus far paid out $500million to settle priest abuse cases. On July 24, 1997, a Dallas jury imposeda $119.6 million in overall damages – the largest penalty ever levied onthe Catholic Church – for what was described as “grossly negligenthandling” of the sexual abuses perpetrated by one priest. If the Dallasverdict holds up on appeal, the National Catholic Reporter reckons the estimatedamount of pay-outs related to clergy sex abuse will approach $1 billion.
Many of such cases never reach the court filing stage and of those thatdo, the vast majority never go to trial. Often the testimony of the victimsis so powerful that Church officials move immediately to negotiations fora settlement. We’ve also been told that the go-ahead for pay-outs oftenamounting to millions of dollars comes from Rome.
Like other orders in the vast world network of Catholic organizationsthe Society of Jesus is headquartered in Rome and we invite the Jesuits’top men to consider as a matter of most urgent concern the case of FatherJerold W. Lindner, known as Father Jerry. The case against him, if believed,discloses a record not only of appalling sexual predation on children asyoung as four, but also a callous negligence on the part of his Jesuit superiorsin California that we find entirely breath-taking.
Lives are terribly damaged by such abuse and though the testimony againstFather Jerry has been said to be damning it appears quite possible thatthere may be a far wider scale to his predations. We are running this storyin part because we hope that anyone with knowledge of Father Jerry’s activitiesat least since 1975 will contact the attorney, Michael Meadows of Casper,Meadows & Schwartz, in Walnut Creek, California, who is acting for theplaintiffs.
The allegations against Father Jerry, which he denies, entered the legalarena last year, when Meadows filed suit on behalf of Bart and William Lynch.Twenty-four years ago, when the boys were four and eight years old, theyattended a camp-out near the Bay Area of families associated with the ChristianFamily Movement. As Kathleen Smith, a mother involved with the Movementdescribes it, “CFM is an international group of lay people, approvedby the Vatican and the Oakland California diocese”. Mrs. Smith recallsthat in the mid-1970s she approached Father Jerry to act as the spiritualadvisor for the lay organization. He accepted and acted in that capacityuntil 1979.
Bart was four, he remembers, when Father Jerry assaulted him in the courseof a CFM camping trip. “Violence is the key issue, even more importantthan the sexual abuse. I literally feared for my life. Whispering in myear, Father Jerry said, ‘You want to live, don’t you. Don’t tell anyone,or I’ll kill you.’” This was after Father Jerry had sodomized the four-yearold. “I remember blood in my pants and Father Jerry burying them inthe woods.”
Marylou T, a CFM parent, recalls that afternoon. “It was a mysteryto me as to why Father Jerry ended up with the Lynch boys. That afternoonwhen it came time to make dinner everyone came back except Bart, Will andFather Jerry. People went in little groups looking for them. Finally, aftersome time passed, Father Jerry and the two boys appeared from the woods.Everyone clapped.”
William Lynch remembers that “during Memorial and Labor Day camp-outsFather Jerry forced my brother and me to have sexual contact while he wassodomizing me.” We should stress here that these are not accounts evokedby the dubious therapeutic processes associated with so-called “recoveredmemory.” These are recollections that the Lynch brothers say that theyhave born painfully virtually all their lives. Until recently a burden ofshame prevented them from discussing aspects of the assaults even betweenthemselves.
As Meadows and his investigator began to excavate Father Jerry’s careerthey reached numerous families in the Christian Family Movement and eventuallycame in contact with two women now in their late twenties and early thirties,both with stories to tell about Father Jerry. Court documents describe DebbieL remembering that when she was about eight Father Jerry was at her family’shouse for dinner. They had fondue, one of her favorite meals. Because ofthe fondue, Debbie thinks this might have been a special day for her, suchas her first communion. There was a tradition in her family that if youdropped your bread in the fondue, you had to kiss someone of the oppositesex. Debbie recalls Father Jerry deliberately dropping his bread, then turningto her and winking, telling her out loud that he would kiss her later.
After dinner Debbie went down to the “sub-basement” possiblyto play a game with one of her siblings, or possibly to hide. In any caseshe ended up alone. She heard her mother’s footsteps on the floor just aboveher. Then came Father Jerry’s footsteps on the stair and Debbie recalls”trying to run away”. Father Jerry then began “grabbing meand pinning me down on the bed which was there.” She remembers “himlaying on top of me. He had his robe on…kissing me..”. She next recallslocking herself in the bathroom and refusing to come out. When she was finallymade to come out, to say goodbye, “I couldn’t even look at him.”Asnoted above, Father Jerry has denied all charges of sexual misconduct. Specifically,in the case of Debbie L’s deposition testimony Father Jerry has testifiedin a deposition that, “I don’t remember doing this. I don’t think Idid it”.
Krista N is a member of another family in the Christian Fellowship Movement.Krista was about seven at the time of an episode which occurred when shewent with her family to visit friends. She was wearing a dress belongingto the daughter of another CFM family and looked “cute” in it.In court documents Krista recollects Father Jerry “drinking a lot beforedinner” and then, when she and her friends were playing in a room “FatherJerry appears in a doorway and motions to me with his finger, indicatingI should go over to him”.
Finally Father Jerry sat down and put Krista on his lap. “He heldonto me tightly for a good half an hour and because he was a priest, I obedientlylet him hold me. My back was to his front.” When the call for dinneroccurred all the children ran out of the room, but Krista says Father Jerrywould not let her go. Then “he turned me around to face him. He startedkissing me and making sighs. His lips were wet and he used his face andtongue all over my face and neck…making strange sounds that I hadn’t heardbefore, sort of like sighs and groans”.
Like the Lynch boys, both Debbie and Krista have undergone painful difficultiesadjusting to adult circumstances, and have endured self-destructive behavior,acute depression and an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame.
As Michael Meadows, the Walnut Creek attorney acting for the Lynch brothers,embarked on the case, the discovery process revealed the fact that FatherJerry’s brother Larry Lindner had complained to the Jesuits in 1991 aboutmolestation that Larry says he had personally witnessed.
Back in the early 1980s, Larry Lindner was in the Los Angeles PoliceDepartment. “In l985, while in Lancaster, California, where we livedfor thirteen years, I caught my brother molesting my daughter, Tiffany,who was 9 at the time.”
In fact this was Easter Sunday, 1985, according to documents acquiredin discovery. “Jerry was in our living room with my daughter. The kitchen,living room and dining room were all together. I was sitting at the servicebar at the pass-through between the dining room and the kitchen, havinga cup of coffee. I had been outside feeding the animals, and had just returnedinside the house and sat down at the bar. I don’t think Jerry saw me comeback in.
“I could hear some conversation about playing the tickle game. Iwas sitting there, watching them play, and I began to really watch how theywere playing. They were just tickling. Then they starting playing ‘blankie,’and he would lay on the floor, on his back, and she would then lie on topof him, as his blanket. He would grab her and roll her on top of him, andthen rub her up and down his body. All of a sudden I saw that he had anerection.
“I told Tiffany to go outside, and as she left, he rolled over ontohis stomach. I then told him to leave immediately, telling him that he wasaroused and that wasn’t right. He wouldn’t get up from the floor till hiserection subsided. He then got up and I followed him out to his car. I wasso afraid he would see my four children again.
“The kids wanted to know where Uncle Jerry was. I told the kidsthat I caught Uncle Jerry doing things that no adult should do to a childand I told him to leave. We were all standing in the kitchen, and the kidswere acting strange. I asked the kids what was going on. The kids said no,he’s your brother. I said I don’t care, I want to know. The two girls toldme that Jerry had kissed them by holding their face real hard, and thensticking his tongue in their mouth.
“My oldest son then told us a story about him, that Jerry had sexuallymolested him every night during a family reunion. He was eleven years oldat the time. When I found that out, it made a lot of sense, because everymorning I would find my son curled up in a ball, in the living room withthe girls. I asked him why he wanted to sleep with the girls. He answered,just because. However, my mom insisted that he stay in the bedroom at night.
“My son told us that he was orally copulated and sodomized.
“When asked, while standing there in the farmhouse kitchen, whyhe didn’t tell me at that time, and he said because he was your brother.The children were raised Catholic.
“The next day, after work, I drove down to Loyola where Jerry was,and went into the rectory and asked to talk to Jerry. I confronted him withwhat my children said, and asked him whether my children were telling thetruth. Jerry said your children are telling the truth. I told him, ‘I shouldarrest you, but I want you to know that you are sick, you are a pedophileand need help.’ Jerry promised to seek help, but didn’t.”
Larry Lindner has lived in Klamath Falls, Oregon since 1990. Recentlyhe learned of yet another episode from those Lancaster years. Under theregular pretext of taking his niece to the local store Father Jerry wouldinstead drive out into the desert and force his niece into various sexualacts. Larry’s daughter states the return drives were accompanied by threatsof her never seeing her family again should she tell what happened.
In his confrontation with his brother, Larry Lindner said that even thoughhe was an LAPD cop working in the criminal division at the time, he wouldnot press matters officially so long as Father Jerry sought help, a conditionto which Father Jerry readily agreed. Today, Larry Lindner expresses greatregret that he did not instantly call LAPD’s Exploited Child Unit. As thingsplayed out, it was more than five years before Larry took action, impelledby news from within his family leading him to believe that Father Jerryhad done nothing on his own behalf. Larry was also stirred to action byhis daughter, now 15, experiencing some painfully vivid recollections ofthe assaults in Lancaster by her uncle.
We come now to the conduct, in sofar as it is known, of the Jesuits onbeing told of the allegations against one of their order, a man who hadbeen teaching at the Jesuit-run Loyola High School in Los Angeles for 23years. Father Jerry is now 53. From 1964 to 1966 he did two years’ novitiateat what is now Sacred Heart Jesuit Center of Los Gatos. He graduated fromLoyola University, a Jesuit institution in Los Angeles, in l968. He tooka Master’s degree from St Louis University in 1971 and a Master’s in Divinityfrom the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, in 1976, whereupon he beganhis teaching career, starting at San Francisco’s St Ignatius High School.
In the early 1990s Larry Lindner spoke about his brother’s sexual assaultsto his local priest in Klamath Falls, who advised him to call the Rector,Father Richard Cobb, at Loyola High School. He did so and told the Rectorabout his brother’s conduct, and his concerns about his brother needinghelp.
According to Larry Lindner, the Rector reacted by saying, “Oh myGod, the handwriting has been on the wall and all of us have been obliviousto this. Your brother has been involved in different activities or clubswith kids, from Boy Scouts to science fiction groups to chess clubs, andhe was also involved in taking youth to Europe.” (These were lengthyexcursions, involving as many as 47 boys on a trip.)
Larry Lindner says the Rector thereupon advised him to call the FatherProvincial, Paul Belcher, the senior Jesuit in California, at the Novitiatein Los Gatos. He left a message and a day later got a call from the FatherProvincial, to the effect that though Father Jerry denied all charges hewas being sent for “further evaluation”. Amid his conciliatoryremarks, the Father Provincial probed, asking Larry Lindner repeatedly whathe wanted “out of this”, and was Larry looking for the Jesuitsto pay the bills for his children’s therapy. According to Lindner, he saidhe wasn’t interested in money, only help for his brother. This time around,Lindner was determined to follow up, to see what was being done. But hissubsequent attempts to reach the Father Provincial were rebuffed, he says,until the final attempt, which found a curt and uninformative Father Provincial.
Father Jerry has testified in a deposition that the Jesuit response in1992 was to allow him back into the classrooms of Loyola High School afterone semester’s hiatus at St Luke’s psychiatric hospital in Silver Spring,Maryland, for evaluation and treatment. St Luke’s is not a Jesuit institution.After this interlude, Father Jerry resumed his previous life, includingthe summer trips to Europe with young groups and the multifarious after-schoolactivities.
In 1997, Casper, Meadows and Schwartz filed on behalf of Will and BartLynch against the California Western Province of the Society of Jesus, charginggross acts of sexual misconduct against children by one of the order’s members.
But before the formal charges were laid, the Jesuits were made awareof the accusations against Father Jerry made by the two Lynch brothers.In May of 1997, so Father Jerry has testified, he met with the Father Provincial,John Privett and also with Father Sonny Manuel, another senior Jesuit. Accordingto testimony, Manuel said it was okay for Father Jerry to continue teachingat Loyola High, but that he couldn’t lead youth groups to Europe becausethe agency running the trips would have to be informed of the lawsuit.
In early June of 1997 Father Jerry has testified he was sent by the Jesuitsto a California psychiatrist, and then again told he could resume normalteaching activities. In August of 1997 his superiors informed him he wasbeing placed on leave of absence and being sent back to St Lukes, wherehe enrolled on September 1, for a nine-month session.
He returned to California in May of 1998 and has said that the Jesuitsinformed him that on completion of “the evaluation” at St Luke’she was once again free to return to the classroom. Father Jerry has indicatedhe’s now looking for a change in career, though not, it seems, vocation.
Father Jerry taught at Loyola High School from 1982 to 1997. This Jesuit-runschool is in a predominantly Puerto Rican and Korean neighborhood and manyof the youth in the activities run by Father Jerry have come from thesetwo ethnic groups. Father Jerry’s outreach campaigns to youth extended beyondCalifornia, not just in the travels to Europe but also to the Midwest duringhis sojourn in St Louis when he was taking his Master’s.
In St Louis, so his brother says, Father Jerry won the sobriquet “FatherFlanagan” because, instead of staying in Jesuit housing, he took overan abandoned house and with the help of car dealerships, fixed up the placeas a refuge for homeless boys, lived there with them. Larry Lindner saysthat he gathered from family members that Father Jerry left St Louis undera cloud.
On the face of it, the Jesuits appear to have been strangely lax in thewake of appalling allegations against one of their members. After LarryLindner made his accusation to the senior Jesuit in California, he sayshe was never again contacted. Nor were his children. Following two sessionsin St Lukes, the Society of Jesus was content to see Father Jerry returnto the classroom with no hindrance from his Order.
Here at CounterPunch we applaud the courage of the Lynch brothers inembarking on their struggle and urge any of our readers with informationon the topic to contact the Lynchs’ lawyer in Walnut Creek.
Michael Meadows can be contacted at 925-947-1147. CP