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L.A. Priest Blamed for Legacy of Pain

Ten, including relatives, say the Jesuit molested them. He denies it and has not been charged.

December 14, 2002|Glenn F. Bunting | Times Staff Writer

During 16 years at Loyola High School, Father Jerold Lindner was admired as an energetic teacher exceptionally devoted to his students. Superiors lauded him as the model of "a Christian educator." A colleague in the English department nominated him as "chairman for life."

Others outside the school say they knew a different Lindner. Ten men and women portray the Jesuit as a molester who haunted their childhoods, abusing them on Sundays after Mass, during holiday gatherings and on Catholic family camping trips -- nearly always while wearing his clerical collar.

These encounters allegedly began in the 1950s, continued through the 1970s, when Lindner was entering the priesthood, and persisted into the 1980s, while he was teaching at Loyola High, a private, all-boys prep school west of downtown Los Angeles.

Jesuit leaders say they first learned about Lindner's past a decade ago, when his brother told them that the priest had sexually abused three nieces, a nephew and a younger sibling. After sending Lindner for a psychiatric evaluation, Jesuit superiors deemed the allegations not credible and put him back in the classroom.

Fresh charges surfaced in 1997, when two brothers asserted in a lawsuit that Lindner sodomized them years earlier during weekend retreats in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Jesuits then removed the priest from Loyola and negotiated a secret $625,000 settlement with the brothers. As before, Lindner's superiors did not inform law enforcement authorities, parents or teachers about the allegations.

In a sworn deposition, Lindner denied ever abusing anyone. In a statement to The Times, he said: "I have devoted my life to helping people, and I insist that the accusations against me are not true." He said the Catholic sex-abuse crisis has "created an atmosphere where people like me are presumed guilty until proven innocent."

Lindner, 58, has never been criminally charged, and Loyola officials say they know of no allegations that he molested students or other members of the high school community. He is under investigation by L.A. County sheriff's detectives and the district attorney's office.

The priest's accusers depict a man who began molesting when he was a child and continued to do so even as he soldiered through the rigorous Jesuit rituals of indoctrination. Family members and victims kept quiet and sometimes defended the priest, a Times investigation found.

Lindner's superiors, when confronted with explosive accusations, tried to keep them "internal to the Society of Jesus," as one Loyola administrator put it in a memo.

In interviews and legal documents, the 10 men and women have said they were molested while growing up in Los Angeles County, the San Francisco Bay Area and suburban Phoenix. Eight agreed to be identified by name in this article.

Several said Lindner ordered them to lie still while he sexually abused them. Afterward, they said, he called them "dirty" and threatened to harm them if they told anyone.

Four of Lindner's accusers said they were so traumatized that they tried to commit suicide as teenagers. Others reported suffering failed marriages, depression, flashbacks and a loss of faith.

Many said they had remained silent until now because of a deep sense of shame and because they feared retaliation by Lindner. The alleged victims said they are angry -- at the priest and at the Jesuits.

"We all want him behind bars, where he belongs," said Tamara Roehm, 35, of Lancaster, one of Lindner's nieces.

The priest's mother, 80, said recently that the accounts of victims within her own family had persuaded her that Lindner preyed on young people.

"I know that Jerry needs help, and so do his victims," Isabelle Lindner said in an interview at her Phoenix-area home. "If he wasn't a priest and didn't have the Jesuits standing behind him, I think he would be in jail."

Lindner now lives in the Bay Area town of Los Gatos at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, a picturesque retreat overlooking the Santa Clara Valley.

The Jesuits say they have barred him from teaching or ministering to the public, but he is free to travel and tutor seminarians and has collected a living allowance from the order.

In preparing this report, The Times reviewed internal Jesuit records, numerous letters Lindner wrote over two decades, and documents related to the lawsuit by the two brothers, including a sworn deposition of Lindner on June 10, 1998.

Loyola High administrators last month informed parents and alumni of the allegations against Lindner for the first time. They took the step after learning The Times was preparing an article on the priest.

In a Nov. 18 letter to parents and alumni, Father Robert T. Walsh, Loyola's president, said administrators learned of sexual-abuse accusations against Lindner in 1997 and "immediately relieved him of his teaching and school duties." The letter made no mention of the 1992 allegations. Walsh and other Loyola officials declined to answer questions about Lindner.

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