IT HAPPENED HERE, TOO
By ANDREW MCGINN
In his 50 years in the priesthood, Father Bill Brunner rarely, if ever, wore a collar and black suit.
But once, while still serving in California, the missionary priest from Jefferson decided to don the proper uniform of a Catholic clergyman before making one of his regular trips to Las Vegas to help at the cathedral there.
Like he did every other time, he stopped to stretch his legs at a particular rest stop.
“As I was walking in, this big hunk of a truck driver spit in my face,” Brunner, now 83, recalled recently with trademark candor. “You goddamn priests, he said, preying on little boys.”
The nation at the time was just beginning to come to terms with a news story out of Boston that the Roman Catholic Church — the universal church that Jesus Christ left on Earth — had become what appeared to be a haven for serial pedophiles.
Of all the times to break out the collar and suit, Brunner was now guilty by association, but he refused to turn the other cheek.
“Huh-uh. Not me,” he countered. “You’ve got the wrong one.”
“I could tell he kind of wanted to say he was sorry,” Brunner added, “but didn’t.
“We’ve paid the price that way.”
His frustration only grew when he moved back home to Jefferson in semi-retirement in 2003.
Brother Dick asked if he remembered the Nash family, then proceeded to relay a story of how one of the family’s eight kids, Daniel, had recently come forward with allegations of sexual abuse by a former priest at their home parish, Jefferson’s own St. Joseph Catholic Church.
“He was furious nothing was done,” Brunner said of his now-late brother, a well-liked high school science teacher in town.
“I was furious, like him,” he added.
To a handful of concerned parishioners, the Diocese of Sioux City seemed unwilling to entertain much discussion about Daniel Nash, who filed suit against the diocese and its former priest, the Rev. George McFadden.
The lawsuit was eventually dismissed in 2005 on grounds that any crime McFadden may have committed between 1969 and 1972 — when Nash was between fifth and seventh grades — was beyond the statute of limitations.
More than a decade later, the state of Iowa may consider the matter settled, but Nash will forever be tormented by what he describes as unrelenting sexual abuse as a child in Jefferson.
“It’s a train crash you will never be able to climb out of,” said Nash, who turned 60 in June.
This summer’s turn of events — with multiple states launching investigations into decades’ worth of sexual transgressions by Catholic clergy, along with the systemic cover-up of their crimes — have convinced Brunner, for one, that Daniel Nash’s name should be more than just something that’s whispered among members of the parish.
The entire community needs to know what happened, to show “that it did happen, that it could still happen,” Brunner said.
“I’m angry with the silence, the secrecy of it,” said Brunner, who became an advocate for Nash shortly after hearing his story.
This has arguably been the longest, hottest summer in modern history for the Catholic Church, with even Pope Francis, the 266th pope of the church, implicated in the cover-up of alleged sex abuse by clergy.
The summer started with the removal from ministry of a prominent cardinal — Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington — after the Archdiocese of New York said it substantiated a 47-year-old claim of sexual assault by a man who was 16 at the time.
Now 88, McCarrick was a priest in New York when he allegedly molested the altar boy who was planning to become a priest.
McCarrick resigned in July.
Then came last month’s searing, 7,000-word letter by the former papal ambassador to the U.S. accusing Francis of knowing about McCarrick’s criminal past and his improper behavior with adult seminarians.
But nothing is likely to be more incendiary than the 900-page report by a Pennsylvania grand jury a few weeks ago detailing the exploits of more than 300 “predator priests” who roamed that state for decades. The grand jury was able to identify more than 1,000 victims from the church’s own records — girls, as well as boys — but stated the real number of victims is likely in the thousands.
Many victims, the report stated, are still afraid to come forward.
At the behest of the Pennsylvania attorney general, the grand jury spent two years documenting act after act of depravity, and how offenders were scuttled from one parish to another.
Other states have since opened similar investigations, even though the crimes are likely too old to be prosecuted.
“We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated,” the grand jurors in Pennsylvania wrote.
In its report, the Pennsylvania grand jury called on the state legislature to lift, entirely, the criminal statute of limitations on cases of sex abuse.
But more than anything, the report reads like a transcript of proceedings from Nuremberg or The Hague, establishing a public record of mass wrongdoing.
The report begins, “We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this. We know some of you have heard some of it before. There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.”
Daniel Nash grew up on the corner of North Wilson Avenue and East Reed Street in Jefferson.
With a view of St. Joseph Church and its rectory from the upstairs bathroom of his house, he had a recurring fantasy as a kid of taking aim with his .22-caliber rifle, looking through the scope, and shooting Father George McFadden, the man he says destroyed his life.
Instead, sometime around eighth or ninth grade, he unsuccessfully tried to turn the gun on himself, finding the rifle too long to stick in his mouth.
“I’ve failed so many times in my suicide attempts it’s almost embarrassing,” said Nash, a 1977 graduate of Jefferson High School. “I’m not surviving or thriving. I’m just trying to stay alive from one day to the next. I’m smart enough and loved enough, and those two things are just enough to keep you from killing yourself.”
He said he’s never been the same person — and his marriage has suffered — since McFadden allegedly singled him out for repeated abuse beginning in 1969.
“I became his concubine,” Nash said.
‘Lost in the group’
Before fifth grade, Danny, as he was called, was a sweet and innocent kid with terrible eyesight who suffered from dyslexia and what we now know as ADHD.
As the sixth of eight kids, he began to feel like something of an afterthought.
“I was totally lost in the group,” he said of his siblings.
He said his parents, Francis and Marian, were “overly” Catholic, and they most definitely weren’t huggers. If anything, as Daniel Nash tells it, he felt his dad’s fists growing up more than he did his embrace.
“Attention,” he said, “was sparsely dispensed.”
There was already one priest in the family — Francis’ brother, Thomas — but it came to be expected that Danny, too, would one day enter the priesthood.
At the dinner before his sister’s wedding in November 1969, with his uncle and Father McFadden in attendance, his future was spelled out.
“My dad announced I was going to be the next priest in the family,” Nash recalled.
The very next day, as local photographer Mick Finn snapped pictures of the wedding party, McFadden took it upon himself to make sure the kid brother didn’t intrude in the proceedings.
That, Nash said, entailed being kept off to the side, where McFadden bear-hugged him from behind, running his hands over the outside of his clothes.
“I was stunned,” Nash said. “I was not able to move or say a word. He had his weight down on me.”
McFadden’s alleged infatuation with Nash only seemed to grow, and Nash soon found himself trapped in a horror show.
Not only did Nash become an altar boy, he was made to help out around the church every Saturday morning doing odd jobs.
“Anytime he called,” Nash said of McFadden, “without question, I had to get up and go.”
McFadden’s alleged advances escalated from over-the-clothes fondling to flesh-to-flesh contact, including rape.
Now 94 and living in Fort Wayne, Ind., McFadden continues to publicly assert his innocence.
“I swear on my mother’s grave I never touched him,” McFadden said last week when contacted by The Jefferson Herald.
Nash’s suit was one of 27 filed in state district court between 2003 and 2006 involving McFadden, according to court records.
Michael Ellwanger, a Sioux City attorney whose firm has represented the diocese since 1998, said that in his deposition, McFadden “admitted many of the allegations, some he was unsure about it and some he denied.”
Nash estimates he was abused, on average, two to three times a week until McFadden’s departure from Jefferson in 1972.
Nash would do his best to thwart the assaults, but was powerless.
“That struggling,” he said, “was what he liked.”
Nash wound up hiding bloody pairs of underwear under a floorboard in his parents’ house.
Nash felt he had no one to turn to — not the local police, who were all Catholic and members of the Knights of Columbus, and not even his own father, who once confronted Father McFadden with surprising results.
With every fiber of his being, Daniel Nash had come to dread Saturday mornings, the day he did odds and ends around the church.
“My mother would find me on the floor in the fetal position,” he said.
Once, while in sixth grade, Nash said, his dad intervened, vowing to get to the bottom of the problem. He paid McFadden a visit.
Francis Nash returned home a short time later.
“All my dad did was give me this filthy, dirty look,” Nash said. “I still had to be an altar boy. I still had to work at the church.”
Daniel Nash, his dad made clear, was still going to become a priest.
Instead, he turned to heavy drinking.
By seventh grade, he was downing so much lime vodka on Friday nights that he would vomit off the church steps on Saturday mornings.
For the past 22 years, Nash has lived in Ithaca, N.Y., with his wife Patti and their son James, now 23.
Despite obtaining two master’s degrees in art, his life today could hardly be called living.
On permanent disability since 1998, Nash grapples with what’s known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder, a form of PTSD that stems from prolonged, repeated trauma — the kind found in organized child sex rings or even concentration camps.
He’s been hospitalized numerous times.
Nash said he feels some parishioners back at St. Joseph look at him with scorn, blaming him for the church’s troubles.
Some older members of the church “will not talk to me,” he said.
He remembers one parishioner — a school teacher — phoning him after the abuse came to light.
“She said, ‘You sound fine,’” Nash said.
His own brothers and sisters refused to believe him, he said, until widespread media reports after 2002 about rampant child sex abuse within the Catholic Church.
Even still, among the portraits hanging in the St. Joseph Parish Center of past parish priests since 1893, one picture is missing.
McFadden is no longer pictured.
“The priest was God,” Nash said.
As Brunner explains, Catholics were instructed early on in life not to question their priests.
And outside of Catholicism, Brunner said, there could be “no salvation.”
“That’s what they taught,” he said.
An unabashed liberal Democrat, Brunner decided to fully retire three years ago to Bristol, R.I., where the Missionary Society of St. Columban has a retirement home, but not before running afoul of the Sioux City Diocese.
In his first stage of retirement, Brunner had agreed to pastor at St. Joseph on a volunteer basis when needed.
“My homilies were real different,” he confessed. “I was talking about renewal in the Catholic Church.”
In other words, he championed the ordination of women, and advocated for married clergy.
“Some of my homilies got back to the bishop,” Brunner said.
As a result — after a life abroad in the Philippines and Alaska, and time spent counseling his fellow Iowans during the farm crisis of the 1980s — Brunner was finally forbidden from giving the sacraments in his home church.
There was another order as well, he said. It stated he needed to stop talking about Daniel Nash.
Even now, denial
McFadden arrived in Jefferson 49 years ago as a ball of young, charismatic energy.
“People loved him,” Brunner said. “He followed poor old Father McGuire.”
Father John McGuire, pastor at St. Joe since 1955, was so frail, Nash remembered, he had to be led around by the organist.
When McGuire would bless the St. Joe catechism classes, “It would be such a mumble of Latin you couldn’t understand any enunciation,” Nash recalled.
By comparison, Brunner explained, McFadden was “young and a go-getter.”
It was McFadden who would oversee construction of the St. Joseph Parish Center and its dedication in the summer of 1971.
The memory of McFadden’s sociable demeanor is still snookering some parishioners who remember him, Brunner said.
“Once you get that in your system,” he said, “it’s a safe zone. Even now, the denial is there.”
What’s indisputable is that Nash wasn’t the only person — male or female — to accuse McFadden of sexual abuse later in life.
Brunner and Nash believe McFadden was purposefully moved to Jefferson in 1969 from parishes in Sioux City to avoid claims of sexual abuse there from becoming public.
“The diocese has considered Jefferson safe,” Brunner said. “Nobody’s going to report it.”
Nash said his own uncle, the now-late Rev. Thomas Nash, was on the panel that knowingly moved McFadden to Jefferson.
From Jefferson, according to the watchdog site BishopAccountability.org, McFadden was moved to Le Mars and then to Sibley.
McFadden was allowed to retire from the church in 1992, and continues to collect a pension.
“You can’t take a pension away from someone,” McFadden said.
The Sioux City Diocese first was told of misconduct involving McFadden in 1991, according to an earlier statement from then-Bishop Daniel DiNardo, who left the diocese in 2004 for Houston and is now the youngest cardinal in America.
McFadden denies that he sexually abused Daniel Nash — and potentially others — while in Jefferson.
“He got me in trouble, and I never touched him under the clothing,” said McFadden, a Sioux City native. “I never went to court or nothing. I just got sued by people who said I fondled them.”
He considers it a settled matter.
“We paid ’em off,” McFadden said.
The diocese paid Nash $150,000 in 2007, according to Ellwanger, the attorney who represents the 24-county diocese.
“This was a success for the Catholic Church,” Nash said. “They won.”
Bipartisan efforts by the Iowa Senate to extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims — most recently this past March — have repeatedly died in the Iowa House.
Unlike in Pennsylvania, Iowa’s attorney general doesn’t have the authority to call a statewide investigative grand jury, according to Lynn Hicks, communications director for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office prosecutes cases referred to it by county attorneys — and there haven’t been any recent, specific allegations of abuse involving priests or the Catholic Church, Hicks said.
However, he said, the state of Iowa is looking at options as it monitors recent actions by other states.
Nash said he first came forward with his allegations in 1996, while caring for his mother in her final days, confiding in the local priest at the time.
The priest, he said, reportedly told Marian Nash, as she lay dying from ALS, that the church “would take good care of Dan.”
That priest was moved from Jefferson shortly after, Nash said.
Nash now wishes he’d gone straight to law enforcement instead.
“Do not turn to the church, like so many of us have done,” he said, offering advice to survivors who haven’t yet come forward.
At the very least, Brunner believes priests like McFadden should be defrocked.
McFadden confirmed he was never laicized.
The diocese, he said, told him he could no longer celebrate Mass in public — but, he said, he was old enough to retire anyway.
“They told me to pray for my victims,” he said, accusing Nash of having “something against the church” and insisting he’s the victim of a “witch hunt.”
McFadden was joined this summer by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in a life of church-ordered “prayer and penance.”
“I want to go to heaven,” McFadden said.
“I think I will.”