A Case Study of Sexual Abuse
Osgood worked as a restaurant manager at the Village Inn Pancake House, where one
In September 1965, Osgood began seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Warren Brown, who had been recommended by Dr. Braceland of the Institute of Living. In a few months, Brown was optimistic, according to Osgood, about Osgood’s return to ministry.36NHAG, p. 4015. Letter of Donald Osgood to Bishop Ernest J. Primeau, January 19, 1966. Bishop Primeau was dubious. Osgood’s reputation in New Hampshire was not good, and “he would be of more value in another diocese perhaps in the West,” that is, as far from New Hampshire as possible. Osgood had written Primeau that he would like to work in “certain areas in which I could be of most value to the church.” Primeau thought this meant music or the choir, and said that “my first reaction to this is that these are the areas which contributed to his delinquency.” (I am not sure of the connection between music and delinquency, but this remark perhaps implies that Osgood had been after choir boys). Primeau wanted to recommend Osgood to another diocese, but informed Brown that such a recommendation “will depend in great measure on your appraisal of his ability to avoid scandalous lapses.”37NHAG, p. 4014. Letter of Bishop of Manchester to Warren Brown, M.D., February 4, 1966.
Brown, according to the diocese of Manchester, pronounced Osgood fit to work,38NHAG, p. 3875. “In the letters of February 15 and June 14, 1966, to the Diocese of Manchester, Dr. Brown recommended that he [Osgood] could return to ministry with some sort of supervision.” Letter of Msgr. Francis J. Christian, Chancellor, Diocese of Manchester to Rev. Ron Wolf, Chancellor, Archdiocese of Santa Fe, February 24, 1993. and so, despite all the bizarre circumstances and the bishop’s statements that Osgood could fool psychiatrists, the bishop of Manchester took Osgood back and in January 1967 put him in All Saints parish in Lancaster, New Hampshire. In September 1967, a woman approached a Father Crosby at a conference and warned him that “there was much talk about Father Osgood and his effectiveness as a priest was being shattered.” A layman called Crosby and said that rumors were circulating that Osgood was meeting with groups of boys twelve years of age and up, and there were liquor for the older teens and “um, pictures” at these meetings. There were also rumors of “physical actions.”39NHAG, pp. 3967-68. Memo of September 15, 1967.
Hansberry immediately called Osgood in for a talk. Osgood was “very sincere in his denial of any improper actions,” but admitted that he had showed the boys Playboy-type magazines that teens were familiar with, and that he now realized it was imprudent to have done this. Hansberry wrote that, “I have no reason to doubt Father Osgood’s veracity in this regard. He seems very sincere and determined to make a go of it.”40NHAG, p. 3966. Report of Interview with Rev. Donald M. Osgood, September 17, 1967, signed Thomas S. Hansberry. Hansberry had a positive will to believe Osgood, possibly because Hansberry realized that he was stuck with Osgood. He could not palm Osgood off on another diocese, and Rome would not remove Osgood from the priesthood.
Hansberry continued his investigations of the rumors about Osgood. One family had been befriended by Osgood, but broke off the relationship after Osgood “showed their fourteen-year-old boy a book with pictures of nude men” and had done the same with other boys. The family felt no hostility to Osgood; they regretted that his ability to work with young people was ruined: “They like him and had hoped for great things from him. They do not want to hurt him in any way.”41NHAG, p. 3965. Confidential Report, October 9, 1965 signed T. S. H. [Thomas S. Hansberry].
Osgood, sensing doom, decided to try for a transfer to Washington, D. C. Bishop Primeau wrote a semi-complete account of Osgood’s career in a letter to Cardinal Boyle, then archbishop of Washington:
Several years ago, Father Osgood was involved in a number of homosexual incidents which occasioned his suspension. I arranged for an examination for him at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., and, upon the advice of the experts there, gave him permission to work as a layman in Albuquerque, New Mexico while under the direction of a recommended psychiatrist in that city. Three years later this doctor advised me that Father Osgood had completed his treatment and he recommended him for active duty in the priesthood.42NHAG, p. 3963. Letter of Bishop of Manchester to Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, February 27, 1968.
But Bishop Primeau neglected to mention that the homosexual incidents involved boys in their mid-teens, that the police were involved, that there was a homosexual ring, and that Osgood was sent to Via Coeli.
The Chief of Police of Lancaster, Larry Connarry, called the Manchester Chancery, according to notes, and warned that “a police investigation is in order.” Connarry was retiring within a few days and feared “that if a non-Catholic comes in the whole thing might blow sky high.”43NHAG, p. 3970. Undated memo with the initials R. E. M. In January 1968, another informant reported similar rumors about Osgood and said the father of one of the boys whom Osgood approached is “an anti-Catholic Protestant who threatens to tear Father Osgood limb from limb.” But Catholics who complained about Osgood’s sexual behavior nonetheless did not want to hurt him because he was “very understanding, always available, very helpful.” With all his problems, Osgood was better than their pastor, who “never answers sick calls, never visits the hospital, does not care for the seriously ill, is not interested in CCD, is wrapped up in renovating the church, has an inferiority complex which causes him to rant and rave at the people in the church for no reason, and the spiritual life of the parish is very low.”44NHAG, p. 3971. Memo,“Confidential to the Bishop,” January 26, 1968, apparently by Thomas Hansberry. The second page of the memo is missing. In some ways, an affable molester was better than a neurotic grump.
Hansberry told Osgood to get out of town immediately. Osgood claimed it was all gossip, but started looking for another diocese, such as Santa Fe, in which to work. He also was considering laicization, but did not know how to start another career at age forty. Osgood finally started seeking laicization, but asked the diocese of Manchester to finance his studies toward a teaching certificate so that he could support himself.45NHAG, p. 3962. Letter of Donald Osgood to Msgr. Tom [Thomas S. Hansberry, Chancellor], April 11, 1968. Osgood indicated that he was living in Albuquerque at this time. The diocese offered to help with the laicization, but did not offer any tuition aid.46NHAG, p. 3961. Letter of Msgr. Thomas S. Hansberry to Don [Donald Osgood], May 7, 1968. In May 1968, Osgood again mentioned laicization, but nothing came of this. Osgood’s last known address was in 1970, in El Monte, California. After that the diocese had no further word of him. The first lawsuits were filed in 1994.
The portrait of Osgood in his file would be worthy of a novel by John Kennedy Toole, author of A Confederacy of Dunces. Osgood is a caricature of a likeable, gay con artist, who enjoyed playing the organ, parties, and the bodies of young males, especially choir boys. Almost everyone liked Osgood, even those who were aware of his faults and crimes. Bishops affectionately called him a “young man,” even when he was in his late thirties. A murderer turned for help to Osgood, whom he knew only as a restaurant manager, probably because he had experienced Osgood as “kindness itself.” The victims, however, did not experience this side of Osgood. One victim recently wrote:
I was a victim of Father Osgood. I was thirteen at the time and I went to St. Joseph’s grammar school. I was in the eighth grade and the ideal type for this kind of predator. My father was an alcoholic and there were six children in my family. My mother worked most of the time as a waitress. My teacher at the time was Sister Francena. Father Osgood often came to class to “get my help.” I remember very little about what actually happened, but I remember being downstairs in the school in some kind of storeroom. I remember resisting Father Osgood. I also remember he always had liquor in the trunk of his car. I remember going to confession to Father Osgood nearly every week. We each knew who was on the other side of the curtain. I have visions of other things but my recollection is very foggy about most incidents.
I went to the convent where Sister Francena was retired. I believe it was in Derry, New Hampshire. I was very surprised that she was that old since it had only been about eight years since I was in her class. She was my favorite. The first thing she said to me was although she could not remember my name, she has prayed for me since I left the school. She found out about Father Osgood and carried significant guilt for sending me with him all those times. I went to twelve different schools before I got out of high school. My father was a car salesman and we moved a lot. I am now a “fairly normal” adult. Married for the third time. Three children, two boys twenty-five and twenty-two, and one girl (deceased from a drug overdose age thirty-three). Very difficult part of my life! I was an alcoholic. Quit drinking twenty-five years ago. (Another story) I would be interested in learning more about Father Osgood and what happened to me. It’s interesting in your column you mention a chiropractor and his reference to “psychic trauma.” I saw a psychiatrist that espoused the same theory about me. I often wonder if Father Osgood was involved in my “psychic trauma.” The following year I went to St. Thomas Aquinas HS in Dover. There I encountered Father [redacted]. He was primarily after my cousin Richard. I remember the liquor in the trunk with him as well and I remember him exposing himself to both of us on several occasions. My cousin told my aunt and she called the Bishop. Father [redacted] was transferred to a parish in northern New Hampshire.47Personal communication to author. The priest at the end of the communication has not been publicly accused.
The poison in the Church continues year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation: Alcoholism, divorce, drug use, death. Perhaps Osgood had himself been abused as a young teenager (as the chiropractor intimated), and reenacted the abuse again and again and again.
Church authorities did not approve of Osgood’s behavior, but they lumped all his activity under the name “homosexuality” because all his sexual activity appears to have been with males over the age of puberty. Church authorities regarded sex with young teens as being on the same level as sex with adult males. They did not see the harm that was being done to the boys when Osgood lured them into sexual relations.
They did not see the harm because Church authorities saw morality in terms of acts: oral sex or anal sex was “sodomitical.” The act was wrong and the primary evil was that Osgood had committed a sin and needed to repent. This was true, but the authorities were blind to the harm that Osgood was causing by his acts. Underlying this failure is a voluntaristic, nominalistic moral theology, which I discuss at length in Chapter Sixteen of my book, Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church. Briefly, the authorities regarded acts as wrong because God had forbidden them and did not consider that God had forbidden them because these acts harmed the creation. One can regard all homosexual acts as wrong and still see that there is a vast difference between the harm done to a willing, consenting adult partner and to a confused thirteen-year-old boy.
Church authorities were oblivious to the hell into which Osgood plunged his victims. They did not realize that for a teenager to be homosexually initiated by a priest is psychologically a very damaging experience. A boy feels that his whole world of values is shattered, that the foundations of his faith are destroyed, and that the whole adult world is a lie. No one showed any concern for Osgood’s young sexual partners. Church officials in Manchester knew that some of them were young teenagers, but did not reflect on how Osgood’s sexual approaches affected both the faith and psychological balance of the victims. As one of Rev. J. Roy Jenness’s (the Genest of the report) victims said, “As horrific as the sex itself was, what was more horrific to all of us is that we trusted these men. In our eyes and in our parent’s eyes, these men – priests – were here to serve God.”48Bill Zajac, “Four Brothers File Priest Abuse Suit,” Springfield Republican, December 13, 2003.
Church authorities went to great pains to assure that the minutiae of canon law were observed – they were like those who tithed mint and dill and cumin and neglected the weightier matters of the law: truth, justice, and mercy.
Fitzgerald and the bishops of Manchester would have liked to see Osgood out of the priesthood, but they all knew that Rome would make involuntary laicization as difficult as possible. Osgood too knew this, and was careful to put into writing protestations that he knew fully well what he was doing when he took his ordination vows, so no one could claim that he did not act in full knowledge of what was required of him. Why did the Vatican make it so difficult to remove abusive priests? That is still a mystery. Did Italians think that Americans were naïve in objecting to priests having sex with teenage boys? Or was the Vatican permeated by a clericalist attitude that thought keeping a man in the priesthood was the most important thing in the world, that being “degraded” to the lay state was too much of a punishment even for acts of child abuse?
Because bishops knew that the Vatican would not remove abusers, American bishops had to make the best of the situation by keeping public scandal down, persuading police not to charge abusive priests, transferring priests so that their reputation could start afresh, palming them off on other bishops, and parking them in treatment facilities. No one except Fitzgerald had the courage to tell the Vatican (and that includes the popes) that the policy was wrong and was ruining the lives of tens of thousands of young Catholics. The Vatican set the rules; bishops, like everyone else, had to follow them. Obeying the law of the Church and the will of Church authorities was the way to please God; unfortunately, help for suffering children was not demanded by canon law.
35 NHAH, p. 4010. Letter of Don [Osgood] to Msgr. Tom [Hansberry], June 10, 1965.
36 NHAG, p. 4015. Letter of Donald Osgood to Bishop Ernest J. Primeau, January 19, 1966.
37 NHAG, p. 4014. Letter of Bishop of Manchester to Warren Brown, M.D., February 4, 1966.
38 NHAG, p. 3875. “In the letters of February 15 and June 14, 1966, to the Diocese of Manchester, Dr. Brown recommended that he [Osgood] could return to ministry with some sort of supervision.” Letter of Msgr. Francis J. Christian, Chancellor, Diocese of Manchester to Rev. Ron Wolf, Chancellor, Archdiocese of Santa Fe, February 24, 1993.
39 NHAG, pp. 3967-68. Memo of September 15, 1967.
40 NHAG, p. 3966. Report of Interview with Rev. Donald M. Osgood, September 17, 1967, signed Thomas S. Hansberry.
41 NHAG, p. 3965. Confidential Report, October 9, 1965 signed T. S. H. [Thomas S. Hansberry].
42 NHAG, p. 3963. Letter of Bishop of Manchester to Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, February 27, 1968.
43 NHAG, p. 3970. Undated memo with the initials R. E. M.
44 NHAG, p. 3971. Memo,“Confidential to the Bishop,” January 26, 1968, apparently by Thomas Hansberry. The second page of the memo is missing.
45 NHAG, p. 3962. Letter of Donald Osgood to Msgr. Tom [Thomas S. Hansberry, Chancellor], April 11, 1968. Osgood indicated that he was living in Albuquerque at this time.
46 NHAG, p. 3961. Letter of Msgr. Thomas S. Hansberry to Don [Donald Osgood], May 7, 1968.
47 Personal communication to author. The priest at the end of the communication has not been publicly accused.
48 Bill Zajac, “Four Brothers File Priest Abuse Suit,” Springfield Republican, December 13, 2003.