Editor’s Note: To protect the identity of certain students who attended the
Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, all names placed in square
brackets are pseudonyms.
Dear Bishop Gaydos:
|The Pontifical College Josephinum|
Msgr. Gregory L. Higley, Msgr.
Stephen C. Bosso, and the Rev.
Michael R. Christensen may
conjure the allusion of extreme
hazing: a skewed practical joke
of no consequence. But that is
not the case, as the ongoing
exposé of the culture of abuse
among the clergy continuously
tells us. The disclosure that
institutionalized sexual abuse
is sanctioned from the papal
throne to lowest country
curate is astounding.
Critics will view this story as vicious tittle-tattle. Experts will
see the message for what it is: ritualized bullying sanctioned by
administrators at the Pontifical College Josephinum (PCJ or the
Josh) in Columbus, Ohio.
The truth about the Josephinum drama lay in the written record
of Higley, Bosso, and Christensen: documentation of life-altering events as they unfolded in the second half of their collegiate careers; a record of how they persevered in pain and fear of reprisal, adapting their lives and moral fiber to the culture of abuse.
Today, as vicar general of the diocese of Jefferson City, Higley works assiduously to coddle child molesters. Bosso, as rector (2000-2005)
St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Fla., allowed predatory clergymen to teach at the Palm Beach diocesan academy. An interesting side note is that both Higley and Bosso relied on their long-time association with O’Connell to achieve their current status. Bosso was named rector of St. Vincent after O’Connell took over the leadership of the Palm Beach diocese. Higley’s manifest destiny can be traced to his high school days at St. Thomas where he studied O’Connell as a role model.
Christensen, by contrast, was taken by surprise early on his clerical career when he discovered that two of his early assignments were to replace disreputable priests:
“We never signed on for this!” he once wrote to me.
Sexual Assault: An Extenuated Saga
and his college chums is self-
evident. We only have to review
briefly the modern-day the
tragedy of Tyler Clementi, the
18-year-old Rutgers student who
plunged to his death from the
George Washington Bridge after
his roommate streamed live video
to the Internet of his romantic
evening with his boyfriend. Links
to the story of Tyler Clementi are
published at the end of this post.
Higley, Bosso, and Christensen were trapped by the insidious culture of abuse that coincided with the laissez-faire environment nurtured by PCJ administrators and faculty alike. The status quo was a wink and nod until their situation was over-shadowed a few months later by a second scandal involving a Josephinum graduate student — Gregory J. Fuller — and a college freshman, whom we will identify
as with the pseudonym of Ambrose Parish.
The administration’s approach to the culture of abuse was to cosset the offenders and contain the damage. This attitude was crystallized in the fall of 1973 when the students returned for classes: a new regime implemented a “No Alcohol” interdict for the college of liberal arts and the graduate school of theology. The Bible college
had gone dry.
The ineffectual rector, Msgr. Thomas Campbell, appointed Msgr. Leonard J. Fick, the dean of academics, stepped in as interim dean of men in an effort to repair the damage perpetrated by the Rev. David A. Sartorius, REX, and others. The Rev. Juan Garcia was named assistant dean of men.
“More or less Garcia is just a puppet for Fick,” Higley notes in a letter dated 8 October 1973. “He doesn’t say much cause he doesn’t know much about the rules. He’s a real nice guy and I don’t see any favorit[ism] toward the Spicks.”
Christensen confirms Higley’s account in a letter dated 28 August 1973, 11:30 p.m.:
“Fick is doing half of Garcia’s job till Garcia gets the hang of the things.”
The Josephinum: Captive Students
Governed by Fear
Prohibition may have become the new order
of the day in the fall of 1973, but the Josh correspondence is littered with references of substance abuse: alcohol, narcotics, and prescription medications.
REX, for example, was dismissed from both
his administrative and faculty positions
during the summer recess. And, yet, he
still was allowed access to the Josh campus
facilities and students even though the
decision-makers and gate-keepers were
well-aware of his predation (The Rev.
Albert A. Krupp, dean of spiritual
formation (1968-1980), helped REX
secure a management position with
the Columbus YMCA with further
intervention by Msgr. Fick).
As Christensen notes in his letter dated
18 November 1973, twelve months after
I reported that REX had raped a college
“[REX] had a huge drink-in Friday. [Rafe Monckton, a Jefferson City seminarian who now is a circuit court judge in Central Missouri] called up [now the Rev.] Bob Fields, a frosh from Jeff, and asked him indelicate questions. Needless to say, I did not attend that party.” Note: The Rev. Robert Fields was a member of PCJ freshman class of 1973, along with the Rev. Gary Pool.
The Josephinum: Trauma as the Status Quo
The new PCJ regime targeted alcohol consumption with weak enforcement. Students, encouraged by the cycle of abuse embedded in the seminary culture, maintained private reserves in their quarters, now declared to be “No Drink” zones.
The change in status quo merely augmented the trauma experienced by these undergraduates as Msgr. Mouch and Msgr. Fick attempted inculcate a new method of mind control.
Christensen describes the situation in a letter dated 28 August 1973,
“Msgr. Fick demanded conferences with Bosso and Fuller immediately. Bosso got chewed out for booze. Fuller hasn’t gone yet. [Spencer Abbott] and others whose names I don’t know who also got told by Msgr. Fick to shape up or else.”
Gregory Fuller follows up with this commentary:
“Did S. Bosso or M. Christensen tell you that Bosso and I had to go see Msgr. Fick about certain incidents that went on last year?” Fuller asks in a letter dated 15 September 1973. “He wasn’t as irritated as I thought he would be. All in all he told us to watch ourselves this year and we are taking his advice seriously thus far . . . The new associate dean of men is Father Garcia . . . .”
|The Rev. Gregory J. Fuller referenced the Josephinum pub brawl|
in his 15 September 1973 correspondence.
The Josephinum: Collateral Damage in a Culture of Abuse
Nonetheless, alcohol consumption continued unabated as a coping mechanism for many of the students. A typical weekend would begin
with bourbon and end with tea and brandy.
The severity of the damage in the second event illustrates the situation in which Christensen confirms Fuller’s account. The letter
is dated 28 August 1973, 11:30 p.m.:
“Bought a fifth of rum and sloe gin and I brought what left of the whiskey [from home]! We drank ‘ice tea’ and [had a] ‘cookies’ party last night! Good Grief! Haven’t gone to the put yet and may never go! The indignity of it all – a teenage dive! (Went Wednesday: were the last ones there.)”
And then he adds dismissively:
“The new law on booze is tough! . . . . The place is full of booze too, and no one knows how to get rid of it. We can’t even take ice to the rooms from the kitchen.”
Maintenance services, in fact, could not keep up with the scale of consumption. Each Monday morning staff members were confronted with over-flowing trash chutes at the end of each hallway: stuffed with gallon bottles, beer cans, and beverage containers, evidence of three days of hard drinking that began usually at noon the previous Friday and did not end until the wee hours of Monday.
The Josephinum: A Bonfire Flares
Although the administration instituted prohibition, this apathetic policy only exacerbated the culture of abuse embedded in the seminary environment. To compensate for the lack of alcohol, the Josephinum open a pub in an underground tunnel that connected the college and theology buildings. Both undergraduate and graduate students had access to the premises: college juniors and senior were assigned to tend bar on a rotating basis.
Bosso notes the status quo at PCJ in a letter dated Saturday,
8 December 1973:
“Coming back with no booze was bad enough but then the administration said that they would enforce the rule. Well, there
has been some boozing going on but, on a very limited basis. As a matter of fact I have been almost nihil.
“At the beginning of the year Gregory Fuller and myself were called into Fick’s office and told that they found out everything that went on last year and that we had better cut the shit out this year or we will find our asses out on High Street thumbing home. Well, before Gregory and myself went to see Fick (but after we found out that he wanted to see us individually) we decided that we would stand firm and not mention any names . . .”
|Feast of the Immaculate Conception: Msgr. Stephen Bosso discusses alcohol abuse at the Pontifical College Josephinum in his letter dated 8 December 1973.|
The severity of the abuse cycle began to surface feverishly as the fall of 1973 morphed into the personal attacks on Higley and Bosso during the Easter recess of 1974.
Christensen describes the crisis at the Josephinum as a debilitating prelude to the Easter 1974 disaster with an incident that occurred on Thursday, 25 October 1973:
“Fuller has been drunk 3-4 days now. Fuller . . . Bosso . . . [and others] also had a semi-brawl in the pub Thursday,” according to Christensen’s letter dated 28 October 1973. “They threw beer . . . and chairs . . . etc. A note from ‘Pub Management’ was up the next day saying suspension from the pub for a week would occur for that from now on.”
Bosso adds this proviso to the October incident in his Saturday,
8 December 1973, correspondence, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception:
“We . . . decided that if we were going to get kicked out that a
few people would go with us. I would hate to mention names but, one, [the Rev.] Albert Krupp [dean of spiritual formation] (and the Kruppians), [the Rev.] Ralph Huntzinger, and certainly others. But,
as I said, it never came to that. As far as the Pub goes, I never go down there except to tend the bar, which is only once a week and then only if I can’t find a replacement.”
|Rev. Michael R. Houle|
Bishop Kenny High School
and Substance Abuse
Christensen’s letter, dated Sunday Morning,
28 October 1973, illustrates that the effort
of the PCJ administration to contain alcohol
and drug only intensified the bitterness of
the students toward their mentors and the paradigm of truth:
“Michael Houle and I saw [Adam Nunn]
one night . . . . [at] a big drink party.
I left at 12 midnight, but Houle wanted
to stay. He came back at 2:00 a.m.,
and fell down and threw up at the end
of hall here on 2-S. [Tracey Kirk,
the student nurse] was with him. Mike
had wanted to see me. I heard him and
went down to his room, but [Tracey]
said it was would be no use to talk try
to talk to him . . . [We] feared he
Houle, following ordination for the diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., returned to the Josh as director of development (1986-1989). But his career there was abbreviated due to circumstances that remain murky
to this day.
Houle returned to the St. Augustine diocese. He continues to serve as a member of board of trustees of St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, an appointment by Bosso when he became rector and supported by O’Connell when he became bishop of Palm Beach.
The Josephinum: Battered Psyches
|Msgr. Fick Tribute:|
“[Grant Priestly] was out today. He was
in the state mental hospital for 12 days.
He attempted suicide with valium and
wine. [Grant] was stripped and checked
for crabs when he came into receiving
at the hospital.”
By November 1973, Christensen believed
that the Bosso-Fuller pub brawl had sunk
below the administration’s radar, offering
some respite for Bosso, Fuller, and their
cohort of friends:
“The entire drinking thing has been settled,” he notes in 18 November 1973 correspondence. “Fuller saw Msgr. Durst and was reassured [that career toward ordination was on track].”
He soon discovered he was mistaken. He pinpoints the extent of the problem of substance abuse among the student population with this example in correspondence dated 27 November 1973:
“[Jason Vicars] is degenerating into a dreadful physical condition.
It’s really pitiful, too. Who knows what’s wrong with him!?!?”
“Jason Vicars” was my roommate: in Josephinum parlance, “Potty Pal,” because we shared quarters connected by a half-bath.
Christensen then records a similar situation in a letter dated
8 December 1973:
“I found out that Krupp has already sent two freshmen to psychiatrists this semester! And I imagine . . . it’s probably worse. After two times, one of the kids refused to go back anymore.”
Two years later, Christensen notes that these matters remain unchanged. According to his letter dated 1 February 1975:
“Four people are currently seeing psychiatrists (including poor [Giles Pope]! He came to see me for opposing advice!), so you can see NOTHING has changed. And all the ODC whoring is still occurring.”
The Josephinum: Demoralized Seminarians
Higley, Bosso, and Christensen returned to the Josephinum in the fall of 1974 demoralized and severely depressed. They were well-aware that the administration had minimized the Easter crisis as a kerfuffle and now perceived the three young men as problematic.
Christensen first described the nascent Fuller situation in a letter dated 14 October 1973:
“Fuller is very possessive and jealous of me, this year, even though he sees little of me as — the formerly close friends do. He thought, he told me, I was depriving him something. He’s really paranoid about [Kit Parson] too, because [Kit] saw a candle [burning] in Fuller’s room at 1:30 a.m., and mentioned it to him.
|Christensen notes the onset of issues affecting Gregory J. Fuller in|
correspondence dated 14 October 1973, as well as the inability of the
Josephinum administration and faculty to support students in crisis.
“This is all because two freshmen hang around Fuller so much . . . . and he sees one of them a lot, till 2:30 [a.m.] on one morning.
“Anyway, Fuller ask me all the time how often certain people come to see me, how long do they stay, and where I have been, who did I go with, etc., with moderation, of course, but I still notice it! We kidded him about these two freshmen being his children, and he said if he has any children at all, it’s just one — and it’s me!”
The Josephinum: Derailed Morality
By the spring of 1974 Christensen began to document a situation vividly, not suspecting that the relationship would nearly derail his ordination as well as Higley’s and Bosso’s.
“Fuller and that big blond kid [Ambrose Parish] he hangs around with had a ‘lover’s fight’ this past week,” he writes in a letter dated 16 March 1974. “It’s been going on for three days.
“They’re both screwed up, and they came [and] ask me what to do, and what the other one says . . . Then Fuller got pissed off for me telling things, even though I told what I said, and said NO confidentiality, and so last night I told both of them to leave me out of it period. I get along with both of them still, but have refused to listen to them when they are fighting.”
|Christensen began documenting the Fuller situation |
in letter dated Saturday Afternoon, 16 March 1974.
At the Pontifical College Josephinum, Greg Fuller was affiliated with the diocese of Salinas, Kan. He was a caring, intelligent, and talented young man, who had studied previously at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. He, his twin sister, and his brother were reared by their grandparents.
And, then, just prior to Easter, Fuller began to exhibit behavior that threaten his career even more than the drunken pub brawl and severely damage the reputations Higley, Bosso, and Christensen:
“Fuller is now pretending he’s a little boy,” Christensen writes in a letter dated 1 April 1974. “He’s on the verge of being psycho. I wonder what will happen to him?”
|Msgr. Bosso and Msgr. Higley continue to recover slowly from Easter 1974 assault |
and the Rev. Albert A. Krupp fails to support their cause, according to correspondence
dated Ascension Thursday, 24 May 1974.
Acutely aware that Higley and Bosso were assaulted in April, Fuller received his undergraduate degree in late May. Christensen comments in a letter dated 24 May 1974 about Fuller’s off-campus graduation party:
“We had filet mignon for graduation . . . The part at [the] Ramada Inn was a drunken smash with everyone trying to hustle ass. Actually it made me sick. I left at 11:00 p.m. with [Dunstan Muir] and Fuller . . . Fuller and [Ambrose Parish] both ended up drunk and passed out in my rooms that night.”
The Josephinum: Hope Dismayed
Within seven months after the Easter episode, the sexual relationship between Fuller — now a first-year theologian — and “Ambrose Parish” was emerging as an untenable situation.
The Fuller/“Parish” relationship unfolded to deleterious effect. Unlike the Cox-Pool scandal, the damage to the principals and their confidantes was electric as Bosso and Fuller started the last phase of their ordination process and Higley entered his sophomore year of college at the Josephinum.
“I am very down on PCJ,” Christensen writes in a letter dated 3 June 1974. “Obviously nothing has changed since the time when you were there. PCJ needs a purge, and that would eventually kill the place, just as purge for the same reasons has been killing Conception [Abby, near Kansas City, Mo.]. . . . Actually, I’m so disgusted with PCJ, I really doubt if I can ever wear the propaganda [cassock] outside PCJ, with honor, for I feel I’m living a lie in it otherwise.”
|Suggesting a “purge” in a letter dated 3 June 1974.|
The tragedy of the situation is that the cycle of abuse continues to
this day . . . .
Tyler Clementi Tribute:
In Honor of Tyler Clementi on Facebook
Rutgers Freshman Posts Goodbye on Facebook
Dan Savage’s Message To Gay Youth: ’It Gets Better
3 Levels of Tolerance and What They Mean for Bullying
Rutgers student Tyler Clementi’s suicide spurs action across U.S.
A Surreptitious Broadcast and a Fatal Leap
Suicides Put Light on Pressures of Gay Teenagers
Next Time: The story of Msgr. Higley’s college career at the Josephinum will continue with the next posting.