Editor's Note: This story contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse of minors and adults that readers might find disturbing. This material is not intended for children. If you or someone you know was sexually abused, contact local law enforcement for help.
When Craig Edward Fuiten was dying of AIDS, he implored his older sister, Sandra, to speak out about Illinois Bp. Daniel L. Ryan and tell how the prelate preyed upon young men in Springfield to feed his seemingly unquenchable homosexual lust.
The siblings sat at the kitchen table one night in 1993 while Craig made Hamburger Helper. His deep brown eyes looked troubled — by something beyond the disease that was ending his life. "Do you know about Bp. Ryan?'" he asked. "Would you promise me some things? If anybody ever says anything about him, will you speak up?"
"I promise," Sandra said.
Craig and Sandra were like twins, even though she was 13 months older. They knew each other like no one else — even finishing each other's sentences. So when she looked into her brother's sad eyes that day, she knew what he was trying to say. He didn't need to spill the details. As a teenage street kid in Springfield in the 1980s, he had been picked up for paid sex by Bp. Ryan. It still haunted him nearly a decade later, right up to the moment he took his own life at age 29.
Craig's journey to being one of Ryan's teenage sexual conquests was a difficult and troubled one. He and Sandra grew up bouncing from foster home to foster home. Craig spent time in a mental facility after being labeled hyperactive. Their mother was chronically ill and their troubled father was in prison from his latest conviction for armed robbery. For a time they lived in the John Hay Homes, a crime-plagued public housing project about a dozen blocks east of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. One night while their mother was at beauty school, a gang of men broke into their home. They raped Sandra's older half-brother and Craig. Then they molested her.
"My mom had a nervous breakdown from that," Sandra said. The children were placed in a foster home in Hartsburg, Ill., about 40 miles northeast of Springfield. Sandra said she was often beaten with a wire brush by her foster mother. Her offenses? Accidentally breaking the handle off a toy teapot and poking a hole in a bedsheet. To really teach Sandra a lesson, the foster mother took the child's cherished Snoopy doll and burned it in the back yard with the trash. Sandra found the charred remains.
The siblings were both underfed. Craig took to eating dry dog food to sate his hunger. Things were not always safer when they lived at home. As a preschooler, Sandra recalled, she comforted her sobbing toddler brother when the police came to arrest their father for beating their mother. In later years, both children were molested by a relative. Craig was sexually abused by staff at some of the group homes where he stayed in Springfield and Decatur, Sandra said.
By the time he "aged out" of the child welfare system in the early 1980s, Craig was messed up and addicted to drugs. He hung out at a pool hall in central Springfield. Before long he was part of the city's dangerous street life. "He already knew everybody down there," Sandra said, recalling her first visit to Capital Q Billiards. Like many of the other youths on the street, Craig took to selling himself to older men who cruised the streets for sex. A favorite "john" for the street workers was Bp. Ryan, she said.
Craig moved to Chicago and lived with his boyfriend. Sandra lived with him for a time, but could not stand the conditions and returned home. "He was freebasing cocaine," she said, a practice where the drug is boiled to a vapor and then inhaled. "I said, 'Craig, you've got to stop doing this.' He just wouldn't listen to me." Craig moved to San Diego and got a good job. Things started looking up for him. Then Sandra got a call that changed the world.
"There's something I've got to tell you, but don't tell mom," Craig said over the phone. "I've got AIDS. I'm going to come home." So he did, moving into a mobile home not far from his mother's house. His mother brought him coffee each morning. Sandra visited several times a week, helping him with personal care as his health deteriorated. One night, while they sat watching television, Craig asked, "What do I look like to you?" Sandra said her first thought was of World War II concentration camps. "We always told the truth to each other, so I said, 'You look like a concentration camp victim.'" She regretted saying it, even though she knew he wanted her honest opinion.
On Dec. 17, 1993, Craig called his sister and asked her to bring her two children over for a visit. He'd never asked his niece and nephew to visit before. Sandra was busy with the kids and thought, "I'll do it tomorrow." She never got the chance. When their mother brought Craig his morning coffee the next day, she found him on the floor in a coma. He had swallowed a handful of amitriptyline pills — an anti-depressant. Because he signed an advanced health care directive precluding stomach lavage or pumping, there was nothing the family could do to reverse the damage from the overdose.
Sandra went to see her brother at St. John's Hospital. Their mother stepped out of the room to call her ex-husband and let him know his son was dying. Sandra related the conversation:
"Your son is dying."
"He's dying of AIDS. Aren't you going to come and see him before he dies?"
"What do you expect me to do?"
Sandra wasn't in the room when her little brother died just after midnight on Dec. 19, 1993. After being silent in a coma all the previous day, Craig stood up, ran past the end of the bed and hit the wall. As soon as hospital staff laid him back on the mattress, he died. He was three weeks past his 29th birthday.
When Sandra arrived in the room, she noticed something about Craig that was familiar from growing up. "My brother was laying there with his eyes open and that just broke my heart because of how he used to sleep," she said. "I closed his eyes. I went in the bathroom and I locked the door and just screamed so loud." Craig used to sleep with his eyes open. That habit came from being molested so many times during the night.
Sandra never forgot the promise she made to Craig. It came to mind while she read the local newspaper years later. Bishop Ryan had been accused of consorting with male prostitutes, some in their teens. The bishop and the diocese denied it. The group that made the charges against the bishop, Roman Catholic Faithful Inc., was being attacked as ignorant, angry extremists. Then using her married name Elraghy, she called RCF President Stephen G. Brady to report what she knew about "The Bish" and life on the streets of Springfield. (See "Part Two: Floodgates Open.")
"Craig was why I told on Ryan. I promised him I would. I did keep it, too," she said. "He was with Ryan and it affected him or he wouldn't have made me promise."
Suicides are much more common among victims of priestly pederasty, according to Randy Engel, author of the five-volume book series, The Rite of Sodomy: Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church. "Homosexuality, pederasty and suicide have always maintained a symbiotic relationship," Engel said. "Like its secular counterpart, the clerical homosexual world, of which pederasty is a subset, is historically and universally a world of sexual deviancy, violence and criminality, including drug use, pornography, rape, prostitution, homicide, murder, blackmail, robbery and embezzlement, and suicide."1
Boys who have been sodomized by priests or subjected to other homosexual acts have a dramatically higher risk of suicide, said Engel, who has kept files on victim and perpetrator suicides since 1987. "The performance of adult homosexual acts on minor boys also increases the likelihood that they will adopt a homosexual death-style," Engel said. "In addition to the nature of the sexual abuse — the duration of the abuse — which sometimes covers a period of many years, is a key factor in the high incidence of suicide among abuse victims."
One of the reasons why allegations about Ryan's predatory behavior were not taken more seriously was his victims were often from the margins of society: convicts, drug addicts, prostitutes and people with mental illness. Sandra Fuiten said society often views them as "throwaways" or "trash."
"People who are abused usually take it out on themselves or others, like suicide, domestic violence, aggression," she said.
Former prostitute Frank Robert Bergen, whose story opened this series of articles (see "Part One: The Figure Eight"), has had a long string of run-ins with the law. He has arrests for retail theft, robbery, resisting police, assault with a deadly weapon, criminal trespass to a dwelling, attempted criminal transmission of the AIDS virus, and a number of bench warrants for failure to appear for court dates. In the past year, he had a conviction for forgery and a violation of drug-court probation that put him back in an Illinois prison. His addictions to cocaine and other illegal street drugs stretch across decades. In 2019, he was treated for cancer. He looks a shell of his former self. Fuiten said it's a miracle he is still alive.
The late A.W. Richard Sipe, a former priest who spent decades studying the priest sex-abuse crisis, said the damage done to abuse victims is often permanent. "Violation of sexual boundaries by a person who holds a position of esteem, because he is a representative of religion — and God — not simply harms; it kills something in a person of belief," Sipe said.2
Engel calls priest sex abusers "soul assassins." Sipe wrote about "soul murder," referencing a term coined in the 1989 book Soul Murder by Leonard Shengold, M.D. The clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University wrote of the abuse of children causing "psychic and spiritual annihilation."3 Sipe said research shows victims of priest abusers often experience a loss in meaning of life that once came from their religious faith.
"Victims betrayed and abused by a priest can 'go on' with their lives, but the part that is missing cannot be restored," Sipe said. "Something is dead; something that has been truly killed. The tragedy is compounded because the killer was a clergyman."
Rev. Charles G. Dahlby said it's unfair to view abuse victims as not credible because of their difficult life situations or upbringing. "I was once relating some information I had been given by two male prostitutes concerning their clergy clientele," Dahlby said. "The person I was speaking to said, 'How could you believe them if they are prostitutes?' I explained that people didn't go to Douglas Park late at night to pick up saints. I have always found more honesty in sinners than in false shepherds."4
Brady said the backgrounds of Bp. Ryan's victims doesn't lessen the tragedy; it compounds it. "It is true, many of these men came from broken homes, were runaways, fell into drug addiction and the associated crimes to support those habits," Brady said. “What I'd like to point out is that this aspect, in particular, adds to the tragedy of these victimizations by Ryan. He took advantage of kids that were truly at the bottom of the social ladder. He paid them money for sex — money that often supported drug habits and kept them chained to their wayward means of existence. Ryan knew this."5
Fuiten agreed. "You know what? They once were boys who were abused. There's a reason why they were (out) there. Normal kids that grow up and have a nice life, they're not out there selling their butt on the street,” she said. "They're not addicted to drugs. They're not trying to drown out the demons in their head."6
How much did the sexual abuse by Ryan and his wayward priests affect the victims? Many reported suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Alcohol abuse and use of illegal drugs has been rampant. Most reported a lifetime of problems requiring counseling, medications and even hospitalization. Some victims reported ongoing domestic troubles. Others had criminal records caused by substance abuse and anger. Suicide attempts were common. Other problems included self-mutilation and explosive anger. Many walked away from the Catholic Church and never returned. The effects were massive and in many ways, irreversible.
"I can never come back to Springfield. The pain of those memories there are more than I can handle at this time in my life," Danny Evans said in his lawsuit testimony. (Read Evans' story in "Part Two: Floodgates Open.")
For former priest John Reeves, the hurt of the abuse started with not being believed by chancery officials. "One of the most difficult aspects of this was keeping all of it a secret," Reeves said. "When I did tell people, no one believed me — no one would listen. If I could speak with him today, I would tell Bp. Ryan how much I hate him because he drove me away from the Church. Because of him, I lost my vocation as a Roman Catholic priest. He left me confused and destroyed the part of me that was devoted to the Church. ..."7
Frank T.A. Sigretto said the 1984 sexual assault and attempted rape by Bp. Ryan affected his entire life. "I believe this incident is a large part of what led me to using drugs and alcohol — maybe to forget about him (Ryan)," Sigretto said in lawsuit testimony. "I know when I was young I was a good student and I wanted to be a minister. His assault back when I was 14 really shook my confidence in older people and life in general. Now I don't trust people. I think there is some underlying reason why people are nice to me. I might have succeeded at something if this hadn't happened to me."8
For Fuiten, the suffering came not only from what happened to her brother and her street friends, but also from retribution after she went public about the bishop. She said she was evicted from her apartment and became homeless. Her landlady was angry for being dragged into the Bp. Ryan saga when she provided RCF with canceled checks showing Ryan paid the rent of a male prostitute. Fuiten said she was harassed by the bishop's supporters when she tried to attend Holy Mass.
"I couldn't even take my daughter to church and teach her how to be Catholic because they'd run me off,” she said, “come up to me (and say), 'You! You liar!' Here and my little daughter is standing there. 'We know who you are. You liar, going around talking about Bp. Ryan like that — talking about a good, holy man.'"
What's the final lesson of Bp. Daniel Ryan? More than 20 years ago, Brady was cautioned by two of RCF's spiritual advisers not to look to the Church hierarchy for solutions. "In ordinary times, you'll find justice in the Church," Fr. Alfred J. Kunz told Brady, "but these are extraordinary times and you'll not find justice in the Church." Father John A. Hardon said the lay faithful would be the key. "According to my Vatican superiors, unless the laity do [sic] something, one diocese after another will be lost."9
Thomas J. Droleskey, who wrote about the Ryan case for the Catholic weekly newspaper The Wanderer, was struck by the bishop's brazen behavior, even years after Brady and RCF went public accusing him of being a homosexual predator. "The Bp. Daniel Ryan case was not about a repentant sinner who had a fall or two and then reformed," Droleskey said. "It was about a man who continued to engage in perverted activities even after he had been publicly exposed as a pervert."10
In the 15 years since Ryan left the public eye, little if anything has improved in terms of sexual abuse and corruption in the Catholic Church, Brady said. Motivated by allegations of financial malfeasance and sexual corruption in a number of Illinois churches, Roman Catholic Faithful became active again in 2018 after a hiatus of eight years. Brady and his team have investigations ongoing in Illinois, California, Washington, the Dakotas and other states. He's not optimistic that the U.S. bishops will cleanse the Church of homosexual corruption in the priesthood and episcopacy.
"I don't believe there's any hope for this current hierarchy,” Brady said. "Everyone, to the last man, seems to be an active or silent cooperator in this evil and [has] no remorse, no sense of shame. They will not even name what the true fight is up against."
He added: "This is the worst bunch of criminals I've ever come across, mainly because what they do, they claim to do in the name of God. Once we see a few dozen bishops and cardinals in jail, I will know we are headed in the right direction."
Steve Brady is a single-minded loon.11 At least that's what some of his detractors would like people to think. During his group's multi-year investigation of Bp. Ryan, the pizza restaurant owner turned investigator was labeled a nut job, a conspiracy theorist, a kook, an irritant, an ax-grinding crusader, an embarrassment to the Church, a friendless outlier, an agitator, a bad Catholic, and eventually, a target for death.12
Detractors, among them priests and members of the diocesan curia, publicly labeled him as the problem, more so than the predatory sodomite bishop he spent years trying to dislodge from the Catholic hierarchy. Bishop Ryan called Brady a "troublemaker" the day the bishop tried to get someone to file a complaint against Brady with the state's attorney. In the end, that moniker was no doubt true, for Brady caused the bishop much trouble. A priest who said Mass at the Jacksonville Correctional Center told one inmate that RCF was full of extremists. "They are against Vatican II, want to go back to black robes [cassocks] and fish on Fridays. They are fanatics."13
Bishop Ryan's spokeswoman, Kathie Sass, branded Brady and RCF as "very angry people" who have "their own personal gripes" about the Church and how it is run. "A lot of their issues seem to be grounded in ignorance," she said.14 In June 2002, Sass described the nearly six years of RCF reports on Ryan as “so-called allegations." She said "no credible witness has ever come forward” to pursue criminal charges against Bp. Ryan for his behavior.15
Brady often referred to the pronouncements from Sass and other Bp. Ryan apologists as "fluffing Ryan's pillow" for their "worldly gain." He isn't discouraged by any of the flak. "It drives me to fight harder and to do more and fear no man," he said.
An interesting analysis of Brady and his apostolate to clean up the Church came from Fr. Joseph F. Wilson of the diocese of Brooklyn, New York, who has written for Crux News and The Wanderer:
Steve Brady is not a priest, but he's not just the pizza guy either. He’s a figure as familiar in Scripture as are priests: he is a prophet. He's one of those scruffy, discomfiting figures like Hosea or Elijah, striding across the threshold of history just when God's people need a prophet, someone to raise his voice and remind us of what we have forgotten. The prophet is the one who says, 'Woe to the shepherds.' He reminds us of what we have conveniently forgotten of the Word. He says things like, 'My friend, you are damned,' and he says them in love."16
Despite being seen as "an eccentric irritant" and an "obnoxious nuisance," Wilson said, Brady focused on the damage being done to Christ's Church by crooked shepherds. The 3-inch-thick report on Bp. Ryan that Brady submitted to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was a truly stunning document. "I have never read anything more disturbing, profoundly disturbing in my life," Wilson wrote.
Wilson cited a letter Brady wrote to two members of the Springfield diocesan curia whom he said had known for years of Bp. Ryan's sexual predations, yet did nothing to stop him. "As hard as it may be for you to believe, I have shed more than a few tears for that poor man [Ryan],” Brady wrote. "You betrayed him, you betrayed the Church and most importantly, you betrayed Christ. May God have mercy on you."17
Father Wilson, who is now parochial vicar of two parishes in Maspeth, N.Y., said he was touched by Brady's attempts to reach out privately to Bp. Ryan in April 1997 and offer him help. But the statement that will echo through time, he said, came at the close of Brady's letter to the two members of the Springfield chancery: "I am not giving up and I'm not giving in. The fight goes on and I have learned patience. It will all come to fruition in God's time."
After her brother Craig's death in December 1993, Sandra Fuiten found two books on a shelf at his home. One was The Imitation of Christ, the 15th century devotional classic by Thomas à Kempis.
On Craig's 41st birthday, Sandra placed a memoriam ad in the newspaper that quoted from the book. "As you read alone before you left us: 'Blessed is the man who has ever the hour of death before his eyes, and daily disposes himself to die. If you have ever seen a man die, reflect that you must travel that same road.'"18
The other book on that largely empty shelf was Purgatorio, the second canticle of The Divine Comedy by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Purgatorio is the story of Dante's journey up Mount Purgatory, where he is purified from sin in preparation for meeting God.
Sandra said she has no idea where Craig got the books. He wasn't a big reader. They were the only books in his house and just about the only things he owned aside from his mobile home and his cat, Millie. They were an enduring gift to his sister. Sandra read The Imitation of Christ, which inspired her to enter the Catholic Church in 1998.
"My brother found Catholic truth before he died," Sandra said. "That's why he made me promise to tell on Ryan."
Sandra said her brother repented of his homosexual lifestyle and expressed regret that he never married or had children. She still has Masses said for him on the anniversary of his death.
Another line from the Thomas à Kempis classic seems fitting for Craig's life, especially given his sister's belief that he was forgiven for his overdose and raised up in redemption by his life of suffering and abuse at the hands of others:
"It is vanity to love that which swiftly passes away, and not to hasten onwards to that place where joy abides forever."9
The False Shepherd
Part One: The Figure Eight
Part Two: Floodgates Open
Part Three: 'We are in Schism'
Part Four: More Damage and Corruption
Part Five: Common Denominator
Part Six: Shattered Lives, Lost Faith
Part Six: End Notes
1 "Sex abuse victims and clerical suicide — A study of the toxic legacy of clerical molestation," Randy Engel, The Catholic Inquisitor, February/March 2019, reprinted on RenewAmerica.com, April 2019.
2 "Loss of Faith & Clergy Sexual Abuse," A.W. Richard Sipe, Jan. 23, 2007; published online. Retrieved Oct. 1, 2019.
3 Soul Murder, Dr. Leonard Shengold, M.D., Ballantine Books, March 20, 1991, summary accessed at amazon.com on Oct. 1, 2019.
4 "The Pink Elephant in the Church," Rev. Charles Dahlby, The Remnant, March 12, 2005, accessed in PDF form at BishopAccountability.org.
5 "Roman Catholic Faithful Calls for Joliet Bishop Imesch's Resignation," news release by RCF, Petersburg, Ill., August 15, 2002; included in report to U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops National Review Board, March 2003.
6 Sandra J. Fuiten interview with the author, Oct. 21, 2019.
7 Victim/witness impact statement by John Reeves, given to attorney Frederic W. Nessler, Springfield, Ill., October 1999.
8 Victim/witness impact statement by Frank Sigretto, given to attorney Frederic W. Nessler, Springfield, Ill., October 1999.
9 Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, Roman Catholic Faithful Inc., Petersburg, Ill., May 2004, Page 5.
10 "Six Years Later: the Case of Bishop Daniel Ryan," Thomas J. Droleskey; article included in report to Robert Bennett, Esq., Office for Child & Youth Protection, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, March 2003.
11 These words were used by Rev. Joseph F. Wilson of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., to open an essay about Stephen G. Brady and Roman Catholic Faithful Inc. in 2003.
12 "For your info and interest," e-mail from priest (name redacted) to Stephen G. Brady, Petersburg, Ill., September 7, 2001.
13 "Confidential Notes," Stephen G. Brady, Roman Catholic Faithful Inc., Petersburg, Ill. Brady quoted inmate Frank R. Bergen, who said he asked a visiting priest what he thought of RCF.
14 "Springfield Diocese Condemns Lawsuit," State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill., Dec. 11, 1997, Page 14.
15 "Lucas Appears on List of Those Alleged to Have Protected Priests," Sarah Antonacci, State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill., June 14, 2002, Pages 1, 5.
16 "'My Friend, You are Damned:' A Word Spoken in Love," Rev. Joseph F. Wilson, Queens, New York, N.Y., 2003.
17 Stephen G. Brady letter to Msgrs. John A. Renken and Eugene E. Costa, Catholic Pastoral Center, Springfield, Ill., Jan. 13, 2003, Page 1.
18 "Craig E. Fuiten," Memoriams, State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill., Nov. 26, 2005, Page 36.
19 The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis, published by John August Media, Bainbridge, Wash., accessed online, Chapter 1 Verse 4.