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  • Writer's pictureJ. Basil Dannebohm

My 22-year battle with the Big Bad Wolf




Jeremy Basil Dannebohm
J. Basil Dannebohm

As a child, I was fortunate to attend a Roman Catholic elementary and middle school conducted by the Sisters Adorers of the Blood of Christ. Desiring to continue my Catholic education, I left home and attended a Catholic High School with a residency program, conducted by the Capuchin Franciscan Friars. Catholic education was the firm foundation that formed my character, my faith, and ultimately, my future.


Maintaining my commitment to Catholic education, I chose to attend a Catholic university. It was there that my life took a dramatic turn.


I befriended a priest who was a member of the faculty at both the university and a local Catholic high school. He was determined to establish an Eastern Rite Fellowship in the community. He was highly persuasive, and incredibly determined. As our friendship grew, he decided it was best that he assumed on the role of my spiritual father.


Bear in mind most of the men in my life I genuinely trusted were priests.


Jeremy Basil Dannebohm
Jeremy Dannebohm (1987)

Sadly, only a few weeks prior to entering college I learned that my high school spiritual director had been arrested on multiple charges of sexual incidents with minors. This was long before such activity became so mainstream, well before the explosion that rocked the Catholic faith as allegations began to surface in of the Archdiocese of Boston.


None the less, I realized that not all priests were predators and that throughout my life, countless members of the clergy demonstrated a genuine Christ-like approach to their vocation. I trusted this Eastern Rite priest just as I had numerous others because I saw no cause for alarm. I trusted him as both my spiritual director and father confessor.


Aware that I had remaining funds from my student loan and that I had just received a credit card, the Byzantine priest leveraged obedience and penance as a means by which to convince me that I should use the funds to purchase necessary liturgical elements to establish an Eastern Rite mission. I purchased chapel sized icons, hanging lamps, and numerous altar books.


Conception Seminary College
Conception Seminary College

The priest was invited to celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Conception Seminary College in Conception, Missouri. He informed me he was also invited to meet with Archbishop Judson Procyk, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. At his urging and relentless pressure, I missed classes and transported him to Conception Seminary, where he celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the assembled student body.


A few weeks later, even though I was quickly acquiring a lot of debt (and no way to repay it) at his request, I purchased the airfare for his visit to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Once again, he asked that I serve as his driver, missing yet more classes. Feeling the pressure of obedience to a spiritual father, I agreed.


I remember the trip like it was yesterday.


We arrived in Kansas City, Missouri just after sunset. The priest wanted to eat and requested that we dine at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in the affluent Plaza neighborhood. I agreed and paid the tab. As we left the restaurant, it was starting to snow. Being an 18-year-old who had never driven in a metropolitan area, the weather made me nervous. We were to travel to North Kansas City, where we would stay the night at the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. The facility, which was formally a minor seminary, offered guest rooms and served as a retreat center. There were no other guests during our stay.


The visibility was significantly decreased as our vehicle made the slow trek to the center. Upon arrival, we were greeted by an older priest and shown to our rooms.


Savior Pastoral Center - Kansas City, KS

Later that evening, the priest came to my room saying that he wanted to look around the center. I agreed. We visited the chapel and other public spaces. Father then opened a door that led to a swimming pool. There was very little light. He asked me to join him for a swim. He stripped down to his underwear and jumped in the pool. I declined, stating that I didn’t like swimming. He continued to urge me to swim. I continued to decline.


Tired from the drive and the trek through the snow, I excused myself and retired to my room.


A short time later, Father knocked at my door and asked if he could come in to visit about the travel details for his upcoming trip. While I was already in my pajamas (long sleeve button up night shirt and pants), I nevertheless consented and allowed him to enter the room.


He said he wanted to pray for the upcoming journey. Upon concluding his prayer, he gave me a hug. He then looked me in the eyes and proceeded to place his hand into the elastic top my pajama pants.


Immediately I fled the room.


At first, I ran down the hall, then slowed to a walk as I looked for a place to go where I could avoid confrontation. Father found me in a lobby area and stated that he was “just kidding.” He further encouraged me not to be so stuffy and to simply relax, that it was “just a little joke.”


I didn’t see it as a joke.


None the less, I told him I was fine and that it was necessary that we both get some rest. Him, for his upcoming trip and me for my journey back to the university after dropping him off at the airport.


He reluctantly agreed.


The next morning, I met him at my vehicle when it was time to transport him to the airport. He attempted to make small talk on the trip to Kansas City International Airport. I apologized for my silence, stating that I was “having difficulty waking up.” I dropped him off at the airport and returned to the university.


The next day, I called him and informed him that I had fallen ill and would be unable to pick him up from the airport upon his return. He could read between the lines that I was hurt and incredibly uncomfortable. He hung up on me and I never spoke to him again. Instead, upon his return, I endured attacks from a middle-aged man who had a strange fixation and dynamic with the priest.


I made no mention of the incident, all the while being passively attacked by the priest and his protégé, who lied to the faithful informing them that I had abandoned the mission due to my mental instability.


You might ask why I never spoke up.


Clergy abuse was not yet as mainstream of a subject as it is today. I knew that if I said anything, I would be shunned, slandered, and essentially exiled.


Having already endured a childhood of "sissy" accusations, combined with the fact that I was 18 (what some consider, “an adult”) I was convinced that nobody would believe my story. Worse yet, the good priests in might life might opt to distance themselves from me considering I had such an accusation against one of their own.


I maintained my silence for so many years because I observed that when other victims in other cases have come forward with similar stories, the Catholic Church had a track record of casting judgement or blame on the victim. There are those who even suggest that such accounts are fabricated. For my part, I remember the event in great detail. One would simply need to review my credit card statements and the historical weather data for that date to know that my story is true.


Jeremy Basil Dannebohm

What happened to me as an 18-year-old Catholic significantly damaged my state of mental health and shook my faith to the core. I dropped his classes in which I was enrolled, though I continued to discern my vocation. I explored numerous religious orders and attended a handful of retreats. The damage, however, was done and I could not bring myself to any form of stability in my discernment. I was admittedly surprised that I was able to pass the psychological examinations required for entry into any form of religious life.


In my case, this priest, who taught not only college students, but high school students (minors), took advantage of me sexually, financially, and spiritually. To say it screwed me up would be a gross understatement.


He eventually ended up abandoning his pastoral duties and relocating to the West Coast where he allegedly took up residence with a gay lover. He told his parishioners and the chancery that he "was going to California to attend a training for hospital chaplains." He took with him money and liturgical supplies that belonged to the parish, as well as my dignity.


He never returned to Kansas.


Ultimately because of the incident that occurred at the hands of a Byzantine priest, I ended up leaving the Catholic Faith. However, I refused to allow my departure to hinder my relationship with God. Instead, I became a member of what I came to know as the true faith: the Orthodox Church.


I don’t regret my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy.


Without such a conversion, I might have lost my spirituality all together. In the Orthodox Church, I found peace, I found welcome, I developed a much more mystical and far more intimate relationship with God. The hierarchs, clergy and the faithful treat me with love, compassion, and respect.


Jeremy Basil Dannebohm
J. Basil Dannebohm

As I grew in the Orthodox faith, I became involved in pastoral ministry, regularly assisting at the altar. I found purpose in serving the Divine Liturgy, assisting a Patriarch, three Metropolitan Archbishops, several bishops and numerous clergy. As an Orthodox Christian, I studied both Eastern and Western Theology, I read the entire collection of the Apostolic Fathers, numerous books on canon law, liturgy, and spirituality. I focused my attention on missionary service, including a visit to Kosovo, working with mission churches in Alaska, and serving as a keynote speaker at various church gatherings and retreats.

By 2012, I was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease (the first of what would be a series of neurological declines) and started to question my life’s journey. I spent many years feeling discontent. It certainly didn’t help that by this point, the media was reporting, almost weekly, more and more stories of abuse at the hands of Catholic priests. My faith was strong but I lacked closure on the events that unfolded years before.


The beginning of that closure would come several years later in 2018, when I found myself traveling for a short-term business endeavor. When I arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport, I was walking through the terminal, and I noticed a Catholic monk who looked familiar. Indeed, it was an old friend.


He informed me that he was in Pittsburgh to attend a conference for Byzantine Catholic clergy which focused on 'safe environment' training (the monk had bi-ritual faculties). I shared with him that I wished such safeguards had been in place when I was younger.


“Perhaps it would have prevented Father NAMED REDACTED from sexually assaulting me,” I said sarcastically.


“Did you say, Father NAMED REDACTED,” he asked with a look of concern.


I affirmed that I had indeed said that individual’s name. He asked me to describe the priest, which I did.


He then took out his phone and pulled up a photo of the priest and asked me if this was the man to whom I was referring. Indeed, it was.


“He’s here,” the monk said.


I informed him that it was impossible. The priest that sexually assaulted me ran off to California to live with his homosexual lover. He was no longer active in the priesthood.


“No,” the monk said. “It is very much him and he is very much here.”


The news came as a shock to me. For years I thought I would never have to hear that name or see that person again. Learning of his presence, I immediately feared the worst: that at some point our paths would once again cross. It had taken me years to forget what happened. Now all of a sudden it came rushing back to me.


I looked on social media and saw tagged images of the priest on various parish posts. His name was listed as the chaplain of a convent. There was no denying it, he was definitely back in ministry.


Archbishop William Skurla (Archeparchy of Pittsburgh)

I waited a week or so before I finally mustered up the courage to contact the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. I knew I had to speak up. However, that didn't make it any easier.


It seemed, however, that ahead of my call, the monk had also made contact with the Chancery to express his concern. After leaving a message with the Executive Secretary, I later received a phone call from the archbishop. The call was to inform me that he had received word about my report. He went on to inform me that he contacted the priest of concern. He told me that during the conversation, the priest, resigned effective immediately and declined to answer any further questions.


I asked how it was possible that a man who had left the priesthood to live with his homosexual lover could suddenly be reinstated and assigned on the other side of the country. He again apologized explained that the priest had been dishonest on his resume and that his references were never adequately checked by his previous bishop. The Archeparchy received the priest after consulting with the bishop who oversaw an Eastern Catholic Eparchy on the West Coast. It was his responsibility to thoroughly check the priest's credentials. He did not. As a result, that priest, after an alleged break-up with his gay lover, was able to return to ministry with no problem.


The Archbishop, who was very sympathetic, encouraged me to meet with the Archeparchy’s attorney. I consented and met with her a few days later.


She told me that there were no records that the priest had ever visited Archbishop Procyk. This was peculiar because I personally arranged the travel. She reaffirmed that the priest had very recently left ministry and was in the process of securing an apartment. She requested that I go before a diocesan tribunal to share my story so that he might be “appropriately disciplined.”


I declined and informed her that I would ensure he was “appropriately disciplined” by law enforcement, not by the Catholic Church. I reported the matter to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. A few weeks later, two agents visited my office and recorded my account. They assured me that the matter would be carefully investigated.


Because I did not go before the Archeparchy's tribunal, according to the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, the priest would not be added to the list of "credibly accused."


The KBI, on the other hand, were on the case.


I had my reasons for declining the opportunity to speak before a tribunal.


Foremost was that the priest would be present. A man I put out of my mind for 18 years was by no means somebody I wanted to see again face-to-face. It was bad enough to learn that he was somehow a priest in good standing again - especially after a significant hiatus. If I had to see the man in-person again, I wouldn't let it be in a chancery, no, it would be in a courtroom.


I also observed that by and large the only thing the Catholic Church truly regretted about clergy abuse was getting caught. The Catholic Church has a notorious reputation for victim shaming, attempts to discredit, and silence those who have had the courage to come forward.


My final reason was that to me it seemed absurd to meet with a group of individuals who might ultimately end up representing the accused in a court of law. I had no desire to meet with anybody who might attempt to defend a man who did the unspeakable as a priest.


A little over a year later, I received an update from investigators. Their research led them to quite a back story on the priest that sexually assaulted me.


After he left the priesthood in Kansas, the priest did indeed relocate to California, where he did indeed reside with a homosexual lover. They also discovered that he had created a false resume which landed him a job as the executive director of a youth symphony. He never disclosed that he was ever a priest. He remained in the youth symphony job until he and his lover decided to part ways. With no place to go, he once again falsified a resume and was able to be “transferred” from “ministry” in California across the country to Pennsylvania.


As for that trip he made to Pittsburgh some two-decades prior on my dime?


All indications were that he was visiting a gay man he met on the internet for a sexual rendezvous. However, he did make a brief visit to Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary to purchase some books.


After receiving the update, I shared the information with a Roman Catholic priest who was a friend of mine and knew the priest-abuser quite well. He was candid with me. “Nobody ever appropriately vetted that man. Not when he came to us from the Orthodox. Not when he left the diocese. And apparently, not when he returned to active ministry. The Church failed, and sadly, this happens all the time,” he said.


Wicked men such as the one who assaulted me are hiding within plain sight. Thanks to the cult of personality, very often even the lay faithful cover the tracks of their religious idols, justifying their behavior and decrying it as conspiracy. Men like the man who robbed me of my dignity often become social media "influencers," speakers on the Catholic circuit, and best-selling authors. Countless men just like the one who made me his victim go on to become bishops, some are even elevated to the Roman Catholic College of Cardinals.


More often than not, the only regret on the part of the Church (of any denomination, rite, or jurisdiction) is that these men get caught. For the victims, however, the apologies given are hollow and meaningless — especially since they are usually issued merely as public relations efforts.


The problem won't go away anytime soon.


Rather, the only real difference since clergy abuse became more widely known is that heightened measures are being taken by the Church to cover up the indiscretions. The Archdiocese of Boston recently issued a very public denouncement of the state's decision to rescind the statute of limitations on clergy abuse cases. Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, serves as Chairman of a Vatican committee tasked with combatting sexual abuse.


Moreover, so-called "safe environment" programs are at best, a farce. The only people naive enough to believe otherwise are the ones who have never been victims at the hands of the wicked men and gone through "the process." Those members of the faithful are many, we victims are the stigmatized few.


Thus, the big bad wolves will continue to prey on sheep.


 
Former Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt

UPDATE ON THE CASE:


The Kansas Bureau of Investigation completed their investigation toward the conclusion of Attorney General Derek Schmidt's term of office. During that time, an agent informed me that mine was one of 30 cases referred for prosecution. He noted that the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh refused to cooperate. This didn't surprise me. Since coming forward with my story, I've been presented with far too many similar accounts concerning abuse and cover-up in the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. The Catholic Diocese of Wichita and the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix (Ironically referred to as "Holy Protection Eparchy") were likewise notified of the case. Similarly, neither would cooperate, nor list the priest as credible accused without first going through their own canonical tribunal process. Finally, the agent noted that there are likely other victims of my abuser and that while the District Attorney's office wants to ensure justice, the statute of limitations prevents further action. My abuser now resides in a shady apartment on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Though inactive, he remains on the Archeparchy's payroll. I am grateful to former Attorney General Schmidt and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for their work on behalf of the sheep who fell victim to wolves.

 

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