The Case of Father Jerry

In 1996, a senior official in the Catholic church confided to a friend of CounterPunch, the Catholic church in America had thus far paid out $500 million to settle priest abuse cases. On July 24, 1997, a Dallas jury imposed a $119.6 million in overall damages – the largest penalty ever levied on the Catholic Church – for what was described as “grossly negligent handling” of the sexual abuses perpetrated by one priest. If the Dallas verdict holds up on appeal, the National Catholic Reporter reckons the estimated amount of pay-outs related to clergy sex abuse will approach $1 billion. [And this was seven years ago, when this piece was written. AC. ]

Many of such cases never reach the court filing stage and of those that do, the vast majority never go to trial. Often the testimony of the victims is so powerful that Church officials move immediately to negotiations for a settlement. We’ve also been told that the go-ahead for pay-outs often amounting to millions of dollars comes from Rome.

Like other orders in the vast world network of Catholic organizations the 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 Father Jerold W. Lindner, known as Father Jerry. The case against him, if believed, discloses a record not only of appalling sexual predation on children as young as four, but also a callous negligence on the part of his Jesuit superiors in California that we find entirely breath-taking.

Lives are terribly damaged by such abuse and though the testimony against Father Jerry has been said to be damning it appears quite possible that there may be a far wider scale to his predations. We are running this story in part because we hope that anyone with knowledge of Father Jerry’s activities at least since 1975 will contact the attorney, Michael Meadows of Casper, Meadows & Schwartz, in Walnut Creek, California, who is acting for the plaintiffs.

The allegations against Father Jerry, which he denies, entered the legal arena 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, they attended a camp-out near the Bay Area of families associated with the Christian Family Movement. As Kathleen Smith, a mother involved with the Movement describes it, “CFM is an international group of lay people, approved by the Vatican and the Oakland California diocese”. Mrs. Smith recalls that in the mid-1970s she approached Father Jerry to act as the spiritual advisor for the lay organization. He accepted and acted in that capacity until 1979.

Bart was four, he remembers, when Father Jerry assaulted him in the course of a CFM camping trip. “Violence is the key issue, even more important than the sexual abuse. I literally feared for my life. Whispering in my ear, 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-year old. “I remember blood in my pants and Father Jerry burying them in the woods.”

Marylou T, a CFM parent, recalls that afternoon. “It was a mystery to me as to why Father Jerry ended up with the Lynch boys. That afternoon when it came time to make dinner everyone came back except Bart, Will and Father Jerry. People went in little groups looking for them. Finally, after some time passed, Father Jerry and the two boys appeared from the woods. Everyone clapped.”

William Lynch remembers that “during Memorial and Labor Day camp-outs Father Jerry forced my brother and me to have sexual contact while he was sodomizing me.” We should stress here that these are not accounts evoked by the dubious therapeutic processes associated with so-called “recovered memory”. These are recollections that the Lynch brothers say that they have born painfully virtually all their lives. Until recently a burden of shame prevented them from discussing aspects of the assaults even between themselves.

As Meadows and his investigator began to excavate Father Jerry’s career they reached numerous families in the Christian Family Movement and eventually came in contact with two women now in their late twenties and early thirties, both with stories to tell about Father Jerry. Court documents describe Debbie L remembering that when she was about eight Father Jerry was at her family’s house for dinner. They had fondue, one of her favorite meals. Because of the fondue, Debbie thinks this might have been a special day for her, such as her first communion. There was a tradition in her family that if you dropped your bread in the fondue, you had to kiss someone of the opposite sex. Debbie recalls Father Jerry deliberately dropping his bread, then turning to her and winking, telling her out loud that he would kiss her later.

After dinner Debbie went down to the “sub-basement” possibly to play a game with one of her siblings, or possibly to hide. In any case she ended up alone. She heard her mother’s footsteps on the floor just above her. Then came Father Jerry’s footsteps on the stair and Debbie recalls “trying to run away”. Father Jerry then began “grabbing me and pinning me down on the bed which was there.” She remembers “him laying on top of me. He had his robe on…kissing me..”. She next recalls locking herself in the bathroom and refusing to come out. When she was finally made to come out, to say goodbye, “I couldn’t even look at him. “As noted above, Father Jerry has denied all charges of sexual misconduct. Specifically, in the case of Debbie L’s deposition testimony Father Jerry has testified in a deposition that, “I don’t remember doing this. I don’t think I did 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 she went with her family to visit friends. She was wearing a dress belonging to the daughter of another CFM family and looked “cute” in it. In court documents Krista recollects Father Jerry “drinking a lot before dinner” and then, when she and her friends were playing in a room “Father Jerry appears in a doorway and motions to me with his finger, indicating I should go over to him”.

Finally Father Jerry sat down and put Krista on his lap. “He held onto me tightly for a good half an hour and because he was a priest, I obediently let him hold me. My back was to his front.” When the call for dinner occurred all the children ran out of the room, but Krista says Father Jerry would not let her go. Then “he turned me around to face him. He started kissing me and making sighs. His lips were wet and he used his face and tongue all over my face and neck…making strange sounds that I hadn’t heard before, sort of like sighs and groans”.

Like the Lynch boys, both Debbie and Krista have undergone painful difficulties adjusting 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 Father Jerry’s brother Larry Lindner had complained to the Jesuits in 1991 about molestation that Larry says he had personally witnessed.

Back in the early 1980s, Larry Lindner was in the Los Angeles Police Department. “In l985, while in Lancaster, California, where we lived for 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 acquired in 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 service bar at the pass-through between the dining room and the kitchen, having a cup of coffee. I had been outside feeding the animals, and had just returned inside the house and sat down at the bar. I don’t think Jerry saw me come back in.

“I could hear some conversation about playing the tickle game. I was sitting there, watching them play, and I began to really watch how they were 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 top of him, as his blanket. He would grab her and roll her on top of him, and then rub her up and down his body. All of a sudden I saw that he had an erection.

“I told Tiffany to go outside, and as she left, he rolled over onto his stomach. I then told him to leave immediately, telling him that he was aroused and that wasn’t right. He wouldn’t get up from the floor till his erection subsided. He then got up and I followed him out to his car. I was so afraid he would see my four children again.

“The kids wanted to know where Uncle Jerry was. I told the kids that I caught Uncle Jerry doing things that no adult should do to a child and I told him to leave. We were all standing in the kitchen, and the kids were 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 told me that Jerry had kissed them by holding their face real hard, and then sticking his tongue in their mouth.

“My oldest son then told us a story about him, that Jerry had sexually molested him every night during a family reunion. He was eleven years old at the time. When I found that out, it made a lot of sense, because every morning I would find my son curled up in a ball, in the living room with the 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, why he 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 with what my children said, and asked him whether my children were telling the truth. Jerry said your children are telling the truth. I told him, ‘I should arrest you, but I want you to know that you are sick, you are a pedophile and need help.’ Jerry promised to seek help, but didn’t.”

Larry Lindner has lived in Klamath Falls, Oregon since 1990. Recently he learned of yet another episode from those Lancaster years. Under the regular pretext of taking his niece to the local store Father Jerry would instead drive out into the desert and force his niece into various sexual acts. Larry’s daughter states the return drives were accompanied by threats of her never seeing her family again should she tell what happened.

In his confrontation with his brother, Larry Lindner said that even though he was an LAPD cop working in the criminal division at the time, he would not press matters officially so long as Father Jerry sought help, a condition to which Father Jerry readily agreed. Today, Larry Lindner expresses great regret that he did not instantly call LAPD’s Exploited Child Unit. As things played out, it was more than five years before Larry took action, impelled by news from within his family leading him to believe that Father Jerry had done nothing on his own behalf. Larry was also stirred to action by his daughter, now 15, experiencing some painfully vivid recollections of the assaults in Lancaster by her uncle.

We come now to the conduct, in so far as it is known, of the Jesuits on being told of the allegations against one of their order, a man who had been teaching at the Jesuit-run Loyola High School in Los Angeles for 23 years. Father Jerry is now 53. From 1964 to 1966 he did two years’ novitiate at what is now Sacred Heart Jesuit Center of Los Gatos. He graduated from Loyola University, a Jesuit institution in Los Angeles, in l968. He took a Master’s degree from St Louis University in 1971 and a Master’s in Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, in 1976, whereupon he began his teaching career, starting at San Francisco’s St Ignatius High School.

In the early 1990s Larry Lindner spoke about his brother’s sexual assaults to 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 Rector about his brother’s conduct, and his concerns about his brother needing help.

According to Larry Lindner, the Rector reacted by saying, “Oh my God, the handwriting has been on the wall and all of us have been oblivious to this. Your brother has been involved in different activities or clubs with kids, from Boy Scouts to science fiction groups to chess clubs, and he was also involved in taking youth to Europe.” (These were lengthy excursions, involving as many as 47 boys on a trip.)

Larry Lindner says the Rector thereupon advised him to call the Father Provincial, Paul Belcher, the senior Jesuit in California, at the Novitiate in Los Gatos. He left a message and a day later got a call from the Father Provincial, to the effect that though Father Jerry denied all charges he was being sent for “further evaluation”. Amid his conciliatory remarks, the Father Provincial probed, asking Larry Lindner repeatedly what he wanted “out of this”, and was Larry looking for the Jesuits to pay the bills for his children’s therapy. According to Lindner, he said he 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 his subsequent 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 in 1992 was to allow him back into the classrooms of Loyola High School after one 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, including the summer trips to Europe with young groups and the multifarious after-school activities.

In 1997, Casper, Meadows and Schwartz filed on behalf of Will and Bart Lynch against the California Western Province of the Society of Jesus, charging gross acts of sexual misconduct against children by one of the order’s members.

But before the formal charges were laid, the Jesuits were made aware of 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. According to testimony, Manuel said it was okay for Father Jerry to continue teaching at Loyola High, but that he couldn’t lead youth groups to Europe because the 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 Jesuits to a California psychiatrist, and then again told he could resume normal teaching activities. In August of 1997 his superiors informed him he was being placed on leave of absence and being sent back to St Lukes, where he enrolled on September 1, for a nine-month session.

He returned to California in May of 1998 and has said that the Jesuits informed him that on completion of “the evaluation” at St Luke’s he was once again free to return to the classroom. Father Jerry has indicated he’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-run school is in a predominantly Puerto Rican and Korean neighborhood and many of the youth in the activities run by Father Jerry have come from these two ethnic groups. Father Jerry’s outreach campaigns to youth extended beyond California, not just in the travels to Europe but also to the Midwest during his sojourn in St Louis when he was taking his Master’s.

In St Louis, so his brother says, Father Jerry won the sobriquet “Father Flanagan” because, instead of staying in Jesuit housing, he took over an abandoned house and with the help of car dealerships, fixed up the place as a refuge for homeless boys, lived there with them. Larry Lindner says that he gathered from family members that Father Jerry left St Louis under a cloud.

On the face of it, the Jesuits appear to have been strangely lax in the wake of appalling allegations against one of their members. After Larry Lindner made his accusation to the senior Jesuit in California, he says he was never again contacted. Nor were his children. Following two sessions in St Lukes, the Society of Jesus was content to see Father Jerry return to the classroom with no hindrance from his Order.

Here at CounterPunch we applaud the courage of the Lynch brothers in embarking on their struggle and urge any of our readers with information on the topic to contact the Lynchs’ lawyer in Walnut Creek.

Michael Meadows can be contacted at 925-947-1147. CP