Summary "The Depth of His Sin"
(By Daniel Hocking - Copyright 1997)
This book describes a true-life tragedy that took place over a ten year time period. This is a story about Sue Hertel, a practicing Catholic, who was seduced by the priest who had also served as her counselor. They had a sexual affair over a five year period during which time Sue became pregnant. The priest, then, told her to get an abortion. He gave her $500.00 cash "to get it taken care of." The priest decided he wanted to end the affair and could not understand why Sue could not accept it. By this time, Sue had fallen deeply in love with him. As the priest pulled away, Sue became more distraught. The priest began mistreating her; treating her in a cold manner; and even withheld the sacraments of the church from her. Sue became more and more despondent.
She finally confided in close friends about her relationship with the Catholic priest. When these friends went to the priest and confronted him, he adamantly denied the allegations and claimed that "she was fantasizing; that he had never treated her differently from any other parishioner; that she had a school-girl crush on him." One of these close friends had been a priest for eight years before leaving the priesthood to marry a woman. A woman who had been preparing to become a nun. When they became even more concerned about Sue's emotional and physical health, they contacted Bishop Ryan of the Springfield Diocese -- not once -- but three times. They told him about the affair and gave him examples of how the priest was mistreating Sue. Bishop Ryan said, "There isn't anything I can do about it," and he did absolutely nothing. These friends even took Sue to the bishop to talk to him directly about the situation. He never contacted the wayward priest.
During this same time period, Bishop Ryan entered a three month alcoholism treatment program and Monsignor Paul Sheridan assumed administrative duties during his absence. Sue's two close friends made a special trip to talk to Sheridan because they were "worried about Sue and were afraid her case would fall through the cracks." They were also preparing to leave for new jobs in Colorado and wanted someone to help their friend. When they approached Monsignor Sheridan, he gave them 15 minutes of his time and did not even sit down. Afterwards, he did nothing. The friends had voiced grave concerns "that something tragic was going to happen to Sue if someone doesn't do anything to help her." Their predictions proved to be accurate. Shortly after they met with Bishop Ryan and Monsignor Sheridan, Sue's condition deteriorated; especially after the abortion. Sue was in a weakened emotional and physical condition because of the relationship with the priest. When she tried to get up out of her bed, she passed out and fell; trapping both of her legs beneath the full weight of her body. No one found her for forty-eight hours; when she was discovered, her rescuers initially declared her dead and a priest administered last rites. She would ultimately have a total of twenty eight surgeries -- including the amputation of her left leg and part of her right foot.
After the amputation, the priest tried to distance himself even more from Sue telling her: "You're not a whole woman anymore." All the while, he was still serving as her priest. He would frequently avoid her in church; denied her participation in church activities; and withheld church sacraments. More and more parishioners approached the priest with the rumors they were hearing. He would always deny the rumors and said: "Sue is crazy and is suffering from a fatal attraction type of relationship for me." Sue was aware of these lies and was greatly hurt and angered whenever they got back to her. As a result of the accident and her consequent handicap, Sue went on disability and became dependent on the priest for assistance from church funds. This financial dependence kept her connected to him in a quicksand of psychopathology. As the priest distanced himself from her, she became even more obsessed with him. It was impossible for her to go even one day, without contact with him. It was as if she was addicted to him and had to have some type of contact with him -- her "fix." On some days, she would call him thirty to forty times a day. When she did contact him he would either hang up on her or, he would lay the phone down and continue to work while she held the phone to her ear. Other times, she would drive by the rectory in hopes of catching a glimpse of him. Her whole life was consumed by and revolved around the priest. This continued for a decade of her life!
Over the years, Sue had contact with many mental health professionals who were told about the affair and her fixation with the priest. But they did nothing. Their failure to address issues of victimization as well as their failure to do anything to sever the relationship that was destroying Sue, kept her trapped and guaranteed she would not and could not, improve. Her friends watched her slowly sinking and one of the friends, in desperation, made a midnight-hour call to me to help her friend. I agreed to see her on a pro bono basis and started a process that continues to this date.
Once she became involved in treatment, I did what the Bishop, Monsignor, and the multiple mental health professionals should have done many years ago. That is, I confronted and obtained a confession from the offending priest. I also obtained his agreement to pay for Sue's treatment. I had an audience with the Bishop and one of his Vicar Generals. In the very early stages, I also contacted one of Sue's best friends (from childhood) who is also a priest in Decatur, Father Don Wolford. He had lived with the offending priest for three years and had suspicions about his involvement with Sue. He was also the priest who administered last rites to Sue after her near fatal "accident." He immediately stated: "I believe Sue and I thank God somebody is finally doing something about this." Father Don would become Sue's champion and would, himself, have to deal with attempted manipulations by the priest as well as diocesan attorneys; attempts to get him to turn against Sue.
The initial part of my treatment focused on severing Sue's fixation with, and obsessive connection to, the priest. One of the options used to facilitate this process was to help her understand how she had been victimized by the priest, her bishop, and the mental health providers who failed her. Within this context, I informed her of possible legal options she had open to her: such as civil litigation against the priest and the diocese. Once she set the legal options in motion, she ended up fighting the lower and higher state courts on the issue of statute of limitations. Eventually, her case would go all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court. Along the way, depositions were taken from the priest as well as the bishop himself. The sensational aspects of this case were quickly picked up by the news media and provided Sue some sense of victory when the priest's picture and admission to the affair and abortion were printed.
The book weaves together volumes of information obtained over three years of providing treatment to her. In effect, the reader gains access to usually confidential areas: the therapy sessions; the church rectory; the top of the diocesan power structure; the attorneys' office; and the courtroom. Comprehensive clinical progress notes were kept at all times. Letters to and from the priest documenting his lies about Sue as well as his eventual admission are included. Actual comments by the bishop and the priest from affidavits and depositions are also included. Sue's own words from progress notes, personal letters, and court documents are cited in the book. The book shows how our broader social and legal system is still ignorant of victimization and, consequently, contributes to the forces that guarantee that such abuse of power will happen again.