FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MORE WITNESSES EMERGE
IN BISHOP RYAN CASE
Nearly fifteen months have passed since Stephen Brady, the President of Roman Catholic Faithful, wrote to Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Daniel Ryan to inform him that two priests had come forward to charge him with sexually harassing them. And one of the priests making the accusation said that Ryan had threatened to send him to a psychiatric center when it became apparent to him that the priest had talked to others about his conduct.
After it was learned that the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, had provided Ryan with confidential statements made by the two priests, Brady decided to hold a press conference on February 3, 1997, to publicly reveal the charges. The Wanderer interviewed both of the priests involved in the case, although the interviews were not printed so as to permit a prominent American priest to pursue his contacts in the Vatican to affect Ryan's quiet removal.
The prominent American priest subsequently took one of Ryan's priest-accusers to Rome in late February of last year. A high-ranking curial official listened to the evidence presented against Bishop Ryan. Although there were reports that the Vatican later made three requests of Ryan to resign as ordinary of the Diocese of Springfield, Ryan remained in power, continuing to deny all of the charges made against. him. The priest-accuser who had gone to Rome last year was later given protection by the Holy See, which informed Ryan that he could not contact his accuser. The priest continues to insist that his story is accurate, but he is not willing to come forward publicly at this point.
Above and beyond the salacious charges brought by the priests against Bishop Ryan, the real story in this matter has always revolved around Ryan's abuse of his episcopal power and how the Vatican has ignored the pleas of both the clergy and the faithful in the Springfield diocese to correct the situation there by demanding, not requesting, Ryan's resignation. The faithful were told by the prominent American priest who had gone to Rome to be patient, that the Vatican would act to remedy the situation. But nothing happened. Ryan remained in power, although he continued to be dogged by Stephen Brady whenever he appeared publicly in the Springfield diocese.
Things came to a head in December of 1997, however. A priest in Lincoln, Illinois, which is located in the Diocese of Peoria, was accused of having molested several young men over the course of a twenty year period. The secular press, which had buried the Ryan story, mentioned the charges against Ryan while running accounts of the Lincoln story. When asked to comment on Stephen Brady's accusations about Ryan's personal and ecclesiastical conduct, Kathleen Sass, Ryan's spokeswoman, told The Daily Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) that Brady's comments "are based in ignorance of good church teaching."
Sass's comments caught the eye of one Sandra Elraghy, a resident of Springfield who had never met Stephen Brady. A student at Springfield College who works at a laundromat in Springfield, Elraghy had been a prostitute in the Illinois capital until 1990. She was thoroughly familiar with the street life of that city, and telephoned Brady to inform him that she had been in a car with two male hustlers on several occasions when they were picked up by "the bish," that is, Bishop Daniel Ryan. She provided Brady with extensive information in an audio-taped interview with him on Friday, December 12, 1997.
Elraghy named Frank Robert Bergen and Kent "L." as two of the male prostitutes who had been hired by Ryan to provide him with sexual favors for money. The information Elraghy, who is now taking instructions in the Catholic faith, provided about the bishop's sexual trysts corroborated the stories by the two priests interviewed by The Wanderer last year. It also substantiated the information that Brady had received from a number of independent sources, including an anonymous letter he received last year which listed a number of male hustlers who were known to be consorts of Bishop Ryan.
Elraghy did not know where to find Frank Bergen, but believed that he could be found in an Illinois correctional facility, which turned out to be the case. He agreed to cooperate with Brady on one condition: that Brady find him an orthodox Catholic priest to hear his confession. Armed with this new information, Brady sent out a press release to announce a press conference to be held in Springfield on Tuesday, December 30, 1997. He notified both the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Cacciavillan, and the Archbishop of Chicago, the Most Reverend Francis George, of the pending press conference.
To Brady's surprise, a representative of Archbishop George contacted him, requesting him to postpone the December 30 press conference. The representative, Jimmy Lago, said that the archdiocese would conduct a thorough investigation of the matter. Brady, who had postponed a press conference in January of last year so as to provide the Vatican with more time to digest the information he had sent them about the priest-accusers, was more than a little skeptical. However, he agreed to postpone the press conference after Lago assured him that a serious investigation of the matter would be conducted by the archdiocese.
The press conference was scheduled to deal with the new evidence of Ryan's homosexual behavior, as well as developments in the Lincoln case. Brady was receptive to not discussing the Ryan situation at that conference if Lago attested in writing that he represented Archbishop George, and that the archdiocese was conducting an investigation into the matter. Brady says that he made it clear to Lago that he would distribute the statement to members of Roman Catholic Faithful and to members of the press as a means of explaining why the new evidence would not be presented at the press conference. Brady kept his part of the bargain and did not mention the evidence possessed by Sandra Elraghy or Frank Robert Bergen.
Lago, however, appeared to double-cross Brady and James Bendell, RCF's attorney. He made a statement to The Daily Pantagraph, published on January 6, 1998, that "There's a lot of allegations, but no proof. Nobody is willing or able to even step forward at this point." Lago knew that two priests had made accusations in 1997, and he was aware of evidence possessed by Elraghy and Bergen. Lago had even spoken to Elraghy personally. Brady and Bendell considered Lago's remarks to be evidence of bad faith. Bendell wrote Lago a letter that same day, January 6, 1998, telling him that "RCF must now consider relations between us as totally broken, and we are proceeding with our campaign to remove Ryan, including the rescheduling of the press conference with the woman mentioned above."
Lago told The Wanderer on January 7, 1998 that he did not give permission to Brady to distribute his statement to the press. He said that he stood by his statement to the Pantagraph, that he personally knew of no one who had evidence who was willing to come forward at that point. When confronted with the fact that there are people who have come forward with first-hand information, Lago stuck to his published comments. He insisted that his investigation was a serious one and that he would make no further comments to the press. He did not respond when asked why he could not have given a simple "no comment" or "this matter is under investigation" when questioned by the secular press.
Brady told The Wanderer that he did tell Lago that his statement attesting to the seriousness of the Archdiocese of Chicago's investigation would be given to the press. He believed that Lago was not serving as an honest broker in the matter, and therefore rescheduled the press conference to reveal the Elraghy and Bergen charges on Thursday, January 15, 1998.
Entreaties were made by high-ranking ecclesiastical officials to convince Brady to cancel the press conference. One such official admitted that the Vatican had known all about Ryan's homosexual activity for many years. He said that it would take time to remove Ryan, but assured Brady that Ryan would be removed. Another prominent cleric, the one who had gone to Rome in 1997, argued that the good of the church demanded that Brady cancel the press conference, that it would be unseemly for the new charges to become a matter of the public record. This priest went so far as to telephone Brady's wife, Joanne, to say that the press conference, if held, would be an example of pride and anger, not fidelity to the church.
Brady listened to all of the entreaties. However, it was his judgment that the information had to be revealed publicly, especially in light of the fact that the Vatican had known about Ryan's activities all the time. Too much harm had been done to the state of the church in Springfield to permit this new evidence to languish in the Vatican bureaucracy for another five or six years. The press conference, therefore, went on as scheduled on Thursday evening, January 15, 1998.
Attended by over seventy people, including four reporters from the secular media (and one woman who claimed to represent the Vatican in the matter, a woman who has ghost-written articles about the Springfield diocese in The Wanderer), the press conference began with a moving statement by Jo Ann Brady.
Mrs. Brady made a point-by-point rebuttal of the accusations levelled against RCF by the prominent priest who had telephoned her the day before. Looking straight at the woman who has served as a conduit of information for this priest, Brady said that the press conference was being held out of love for the church, out of a concern for the salvation of the souls of her children. She went on to say that arriving at the decision to hold the press conference was not easy, but that it became easier when it was learned that the Vatican had known that a practicing homosexual was serving as the ordinary of a diocese. Her comments were echoed by Pamela Bultmann, a board member of RCF.
Stephen Brady then read a letter sent to him by Frank Robert Bergen. The letter stated the nature of the charges he was making against Bishop Ryan and three other priests, one of whom has been dead for several years. The charges were identical in nature to those made last year by the two priests. Bergen went on to explain his reason for coming forward:
"I am writing this letter and making the truth be known in order to clear my conscience of the abuse that was done to me and my faith, and the faith of countless others. And to help those involved seek help for their wrongs. I'm in no way seeking to be a gold digger or trouble-maker.
"For the last fourteen and one-half years of my life I have been a male prostitute and an abuser of illicit drugs. Thanks to God's grace I have found sobriety in the [last] thirteen months.
"In 1983 I ran away from home in central Illinois. I was almost 16 years old. I had no money, no job, and an attitude of indifference. I wound up in downtown Springfield at 4th [Street] and Washington at the Amtrak station turning tricks in order to have the basic needs of life. In that time frame I heard of a good date that paid well, called 'the bish. . . .'" Bergen went on to describe Bishop Daniel Ryan's conduct, explaining that he would "pay between $50 and $100, buy you clothes, take you to eat, and buy groceries, pay rent, and pay utilities if asked and he was in a good mood. These drunken sprees of his continued with me and others until his going into alcohol drug treatment in the late eighties." He also described his illicit activities with other priests. And he wrote that Ryan heard his confession and absolved him of his sins each and every time he had a sexual encounter with him. If this is so, Ryan has excommunicated himself. And it is reserved to the Holy See alone to remove such an excommunication.
Bergen, who is dying of AIDS, wrote, "The only reason I came forward was to stop the abuse of position by this man and others, and to finally once and for all clear my conscience. Before making this statement I was able to find a priest who heard my confession so I could say this with a clean heart. I hope the church of central Illinois strengthens itself out of all this. I was not paid, forced or coerced into making this statement. I am also not the only one who did this, there are at least 6-10 other people I know by name who dated Bishop Ryan too. To them I say please come forward and stop what's happening. Some of these were also minors.
In my background you will find that I was an addict and a convicted felon. Please don't let this cloud you as this is the truth. I say this with my right hand to God and affirm with my dying breath. To Bishop Ryan and the others, I'm sorry I had to do this, but it has to stop for the good of all. For those that wish to slander me and to cover this up or plain don't want to believe this could ever happen, we are all human with all its problems. Sometimes a wolf does come in sheep's clothing."
Brady said that Bergen was exploring his legal options with James Bendell, who now represents Bergen with respect to the possibility of the bringing of a civil suit against Ryan. There is also the possibility that the state's attorney's office in Sangamon County will be given evidence for the purpose of pursuing criminal charges against Ryan for having sexually abused a minor.
Brady then introduced Sandra Elraghy, who explained why she had come forward to present her evidence against Bishop Ryan (a typed transcript of her December 12, 1997 interview with Brady was provided to the press).
"The only reason I have agreed to come here tonight to attest to Bishop Daniel Ryan's corruption is because of the intercession of the Holy Spirit and, lest we forget, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of the Church, who must be very sorrowful at the sins of her beloved people.
"We are all sinners who fall short of the grace of God, but we can be filled with goodness, not evil. The only way is by turning back to our roots, the Holy Roman Catholic Church. For all of this I have agreed to come forward to what I know to be the absolute truth. . . .to help gather lost souls for Christ.
"I know, of course, that I am nothing to many worldly people, but the Holy Ghost, through the intercession of the Queen of Peace, Mary, Mother of God, our only hope, has chosen not only me but others like Frank Robert Bergen to come forward with their knowledge of the church's corruption in the Springfield area. I have only given a small portion of information, and hopefully others will come forward with their own knowledge. I feel I have been chosen to begin something that creates scandal, when really the church should have taken care of this long ago. It is a pity to know that so many have been deceived, that so many are not being truly faithful to God. The atrocities, hypocrisies, lies, deceptions and deceit of Satan must be uncovered. I hope that by somehow making my small gesture, as Frank Bergen, my friend and brother in Christ, is making, that others will be inspired in Godly manners. Only then will the true foundation of the Church be restored.
In a detailed statement which took her four drafts to complete, Elraghy concluded by saying, "By all the faithful joining together, only then will the Church's restoration begin. By doing this perhaps we can be an example to others throughout the world. And God will look upon us with mercy.
"Many people know not only of Bishop Daniel Ryan's abuse of young male hustlers/prostitutes, but of his sexual harassment of his own priests. Truly, the vileness must be eradicated. The fox is truly guarding the henhouse around here and it is about time somebody spoke out about the truth. Why me, you may ask? Because I have everything heavenly to attain. I pray that by speaking out changes will be made.
"I began my journey by calling Stephen Brady of RCF because I had read a Springfield State Journal-Register newspaper article where a spokesperson for Bishop Ryan's office had said "The RCF is basing their issues on ignorance." Therefore, I can no longer remain silent. I hope and pray by telling the truth that I shall be set free of my own human bondages, and that others will also be blessed. As Christ said, "The truth shall set you free."
Brady then asked this reporter to make a brief statement. I stressed the fact that the evidence presented by Bergen and Elraghy corroborated the stories told last year by the two priests. And I then read excerpts of comments made about the serious nature of sodomite behavior on the part of bishops and priests. One such quotation, from the Third Lateran Council (1179) will suffice:
"Anyone caught in the practice of sin against nature, on account of which the wrath of God was unleashed upon the children of disobedience, if he is a cleric, let him be demoted from his state and kept in reclusion in a monastery to do penance; if he is a layman, let him be excommunicated and kept rigorously distant from the communion of the faithful."
The secular press had a number of questions for Brady, Elraghy and this reporter. Many of the questions centered on the credibility of Bergen and Elraghy. I reiterated what I had said during my brief remarks, that both Bergen and Elraghy corroborated the stories told by the two priests in 1997. Brady said that he had other information, which he was not yet ready to release, which also verified what had been revealed at the press conference. The questioning of the witness's credibility became so pronounced at one point I said, "Look, you are reporters. You have the names of two people who were part of the street life of this city. They have said that there are others who have knowledge of all of this. Do your job as investigative reporters. Go to the streets of this city and get the information that is there for you to get.
A reporter from WMAY Radio in Springfield asked me if these charges could be considered academic if Bishop Ryan stopped his homosexual behavior after going into an alcohol treatment program in the late-'80s. "Assuming for the moment that he did stop his behavior at that time," I said, "you still have the problem of his threatening to send a priest in late-1996 and early-1997 to a psychiatric center because he knew the priest had information about him. This is an abuse of his episcopal power, and that is what makes this story relevant even if he has stopped his homosexual activity." Others pointed out that he has never admitted any of his activity, indeed, has continued to protest his innocence of all of the charges made against him. If the charges are true, as one person in the audience noted, then he owes a public apology for the abuse of his authority. As Sandra Elraghy noted, "Weakness is one thing. We are all weak. Abuse of power is something else."
A layman named Mark Thomas told the reporters that they were treating Sandra Elraghy the same way the press in Washington had been treating Paula Jones. Each woman is accusing a man who has been protected by the press. It is interesting, he asserted, that the weak and the powerless can be trashed by the media without any serious investigation of the charges they make against the mighty and the powerful. Another woman said that St. Paul and St. Mary Magdalene were among the greatest sinners in the history of the Church, and they proved themselves to be rather credible once they had reformed their lives. This woman also asked about the status of priests ordained in the diocese if Ryan had indeed excommunicated himself by absolving Bergen of the sins he had committed with him.
Brady thanked everyone for coming to the press conference. Once again, however, the secular media buried the story. And the woman who claimed to be representing the Vatican let it be known quite publicly to several people after the press conference that it was Archbishop George who had telephoned Stephen Brady to plead with him not to have the press conference. Brady himself had kept George's identity confidential; however, the woman ostensibly working for the Vatican at the behest of a prominent American priest, couldn't resist the opportunity to let people know that she had "inside information: about the events that led up to the press conference.
Brady told The Wanderer after the press conference that he believed it was important to have held it in light of the fact that the Vatican has known about the situation in Springfield for years.
The Wanderer attempted to interview Bergen at the Jacksonville, Illinois, Correctional Facility on Friday, January 16, 1998. However, I was denied permission for the interview; the warden said that I had to get permission from the central corrections office in Springfield before gaining admission to the prison. Attempts will be made to interview Bergen by phone.
Bergen did write another letter to Brady. Dated January 13, 1998, he said:
"Every human being has desires and lust, but when powerful people use it to help destroy the weak, you have to expose the problem. Unfortunately in Springfield it got out of hand for many years. Why didn't I expose this years ago? Because I lost my faith due to years of abuse, and how do you say openly with any dignity that, yes, for years I had sex for money with priests because the devil held my hand through the guise of chemical dependency and eventually caught AIDS and will die? I need for myself and others for the record to be set straight as I'm done hurting myself and want those that hurt me to STOP!. . . .Being a priest is a lifestyle in itself. Having a double identity is like having a split personality and I want no one comforting me or absolving me who has a hidden agenda."
He said that "The best thing I've gotten out of all this so far is the cross I wear around my neck. The feeling I get from it is one of a great love for me. He died for us no matter what the costs."
Although questions are raised in an editorial, one can be raised now: What price is the Holy See willing to pay to keep Bishop Daniel Ryan in power? The silencing of Frank Bergen and Sandra Elraghy? Time will tell.
*Published by The Wanderer Press, 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107.