Breaking the silence | AspenTimes.com

Breaking the silence

Roger Marolt

The recent spate of molestation charges around the state against Father Robert White are more than allegations to me. As teenagers here, five friends of mine and I lived perilously close to being pulled through the thin, dark veneer that hid his sphere of horror for decades. As the story broke in The Denver Post last month, I read with eerie recognition. Victims told of being groped by Father White while wrestling. They recounted sexual encounters during ski trips with the priest to his cabin in Frisco and youth group swim outings to the Glenwood Hot Springs. They told of Father White allowing them to drive his new Buick while he slid his hand along their thighs from the passenger seat, and much worse. It was a synopsis of our own local youth group under his purview. There were signs about his perverse proclivities early on. Once, we missed Sunday Mass due to a weekend camping trip. Father White offered to say a special “makeup” Mass for us. During the offering of peace, Father White hugged me tightly for a long time while rubbing his hand up and down my back. It felt wrong. Afterward, we boys reservedly talked about it. We hashed out the “creepy” feeling it gave us. We decided that Father White was just a “touchy-feely” kind of priest. It never occurred to us that he might be a pedophile.Father White had an assistant who was our youth group director. He was a former coach who liked to wrestle; he had been Father White’s friend since he was a teenager. Occasionally Father White joined in on the wrestling. He weighed over 200 pounds but was not aggressive. Once, he chose me to wrestle with him. I feared hurting him so I lackadaisically went through the motions. Before I knew it, he had all 130 pounds of me on the ground. For a long time he just laid on top of me. I couldn’t move him. I was scared. I got loose, and he looked at me with blazing eyes and a thin smile that left me cold. I vowed never to get near that man again. Out of embarrassment I never talked about this with my friends who witnessed the whole thing. I think for the same reason, they never teased me about it. Even still, we never considered that he was a sexual predator. Two others in my group of friends had more severe encounters with him. One got conned into another wrestling match. This time, when Father White got him on the ground, he grabbed his crotch. My friend was so humiliated by the incident that he kept silent about it for years.Father White’s undoing in Aspen finally came one day while he was walking past the other friend’s yard. His parents were out. Father White asked for some water. In the kitchen, he grabbed my friend in a way that left no doubt about his intentions. My friend pushed him away and yelled at him to leave. My friend told his parents. His dad called the rest of our parents. They all called the archdiocese in Denver. Father White was around for a few more months and then was quietly transferred to another parish by the bishop. On his sudden departure, the parish bemoaned the loss of a kind, gentle, and well-loved pastor. Those of us who knew why kept silent. To this day none of us can tell you why.It’s easy to cast blame on the Catholic Church, our parents, or even us kids as we grew up for not doing more to protect children in other parishes where Father White would continue his evil. But, it wasn’t that simple. You have to remember that there was no protocol for this type of thing in 1979, in Aspen. It was unimaginable. Those of us who knew about it were paralyzed with shock. In case you are wondering, our parents never put reverence for the cloth ahead of our well-being, either. The day she learned of the incident, my mother called Archbishop Casey’s office in Denver and told him to do something about that dangerous man immediately. She told him she would kill Father White if he ever came close to her children. She was desperate. She didn’t know what else to do. She meant what she said. Other parents made similar calls. The problem was not in having faith in the church, it was in failing to realize they were appealing to a mere man.I would like to tell you that my friends and I warded off Father White’s advances because of our upbringing, clearly knowing the difference between right and wrong, and having the courage and confidence to stand up for ourselves. That’s only partially true. To give full credit to that would be unfair to other victims who suffered more horribly at his hands.While these things played a role in our survival, I can’t discount the teenage environment that was prevalent here in Aspen in the late 1970s. We were homophobic. The prevailing schoolyard fear of homosexuality probably protected us. In the end, we will be called to answer for our youthful insensitivity, but back then it helped save us from hell on earth. There’s nothing comfortable in talking about this. And in case you think that problems like this were confined to the Catholic Church, and what are obvious courses of action now were obvious then, I can tell you that they absolutely were not. From middle school through high school, I know of at least seven teachers who had sex with students in the Aspen school system. It resulted in two pregnancies. I can also tell you what happened to the teachers when their deeds became quietly known. Most left after a few years, apparently by choice, two of them lasted in our school system until their retirements, some 20 years later! We didn’t even bother to send them away. They were only heterosexual pedophiles and Father White was gay. Sexual predators hide behind the sacred establishments we cherish and need. Father White gained legitimacy through the Catholic Church. The teachers used our schools. The revered institution they all took advantage of is this sanctuary we call Aspen, this place of refuge and safety we have created, and sell. Archbishop Casey was not an evil man for transferring Father White from parish to parish, knowing full well he was a danger to children. Nor was the Aspen school board for sheltering sexual predators continuing to work under their watch. They were fools, and idiots, and jackasses and egomaniacs who hadn’t the decency to do the right thing. They were ambitious people embarrassed by dirty incidents that happened under their administrations and did what they had to … to cover them up.I would love to take comfort in the fact that protocol has changed since those days some quarter of a century ago. Unfortunately, I can’t. Sex offenders thrive on complacency. They seek out places where we feel safe. They are amongst us. Unaware, we are still looking up to them, inadvertently holding them beyond reproach.You can alter systems and tear down institutions, but human nature doesn’t waver. People who want to do unspeakable harm to our children continue to look for positions of trust where they can operate … undetected by the community!I never considered myself to be a victim of Father White. In writing this story, I realize that I was. Because sexual predators invade the security, peace and strength we look for in our safe havens, we’re all victims.Roger Marolt can be contacted at roger@maroltllp.com

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