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Survivor Narratives

Frank D. Westhoff

“My priesthood,” Father Frank Westhoff wrote the Diocese of Springfield in October 2002, “has been characterized by a consistent concern for the marginalized, the disenfranchised, those who are powerless, the used, the exploited, the wounded and others of like situation.” A commitment to the most vulnerable would be seen as a virtue for most priests. But it looks very different coming from a substantiated child sex abuser like Westhoff.

Kelly McFadden, who asked that his real name be used, had the whole world in front of him in the summer of 1966. He was an altar server at Saint Patrick in Decatur, the oldest Catholic parish in the city. His family had been loyal members and supporters of the church for more than half a century; during the Great Depression, his grandfather and other business leaders had helped the parish stay afloat and continue to provide free education to neighborhood children. The parish had played an integral role in his family’s life for generations.

As for Kelly, he had just finished the eighth grade and was looking forward to starting high school at Saint Theresa in the fall. His thoughts were consumed by the excitement of joining the swim team—and the pretty girls he was hoping to meet.

“It’s hard to express the level of devastation,” he says. “It was so confusing and disorienting. I could not understand what had happened.”

Westhoff had come to play an important role in Kelly’s life during the two years that had passed since the priest was assigned to Saint Patrick in 1964. Indeed, Kelly was interested in becoming a priest himself. Westhoff encouraged him to pursue the vocation and even took him on day trips to visit seminaries across the state. Kelly considered Westhoff to be his mentor.

But as he grew from a boy into a young teen, Kelly began to notice a change in Westhoff. The priest had become increasingly demanding of Kelly’s time, which made him uncomfortable. He let Westhoff know he would have to stop being an altar server; his schedule was too busy now that he was entering high school and joining the swim team.

On his last day as an altar server, Kelly hung around the church sacristy with the other server after celebrating mass. He remembers it was a beautiful summer morning, redolent with the excitement of new possibilities. All of a sudden, Westhoff approached Kelly from behind and started to tickle him. Kelly asked the priest to stop but he wouldn’t.

It’s hard for Kelly to remember exactly what happened next. He recalls vigorously thrashing and fighting to be able to breathe. He recalls Westhoff yelling at the other server to “get out” and the terrified look on the face of the other server as he ran out of the sacristy. He recalls blacking out and then “waking up” as he fought with Westhoff. Most of all, he recalls feeling he was going to die as his strength waned in the struggle and he fell to the floor and lost consciousness.

When Kelly came to, he found Westhoff kneeling over him—straddling him as he vigorously rubbed Kelly’s crotch and testicles. Westhoff stopped rubbing Kelly’s crotch when he realized the boy was waking up and then began tickling him up and down his ribs and midsection. It was like Westhoff was trying to convince Kelly that there hadn’t been any sexual touching—that this was only “horseplay.” But to this day, Kelly remembers the look on Westhoff’s face as he awoke. It was a look the boy didn’t fully understand for many years. It was the look of sexual pleasure.

The look on Westhoff’s face turned to panic once he saw Kelly was struggling and yelling loud enough to draw attention. The priest jumped up and ran out of the sacristy. Kelly isn’t sure how long it took him to sit up and then stand. When he did, the sacristy was in shambles. Chairs had been toppled over; the clock on the wall and a large crucifix beneath had been knocked to the floor.

As he walked home, Kelly says, “the world looked a whole lot different.” Everything seemed grey and in slow motion. He felt as if his “soul had been murdered.” Kelly had been a happy-go-lucky kid, but now he fell into a deep depression and went silent—unable to speak at all in certain social situations. “It’s hard to express the level of devastation,” he says. “It was so confusing and disorienting. I could not understand what had happened.”

After the abuse, Westhoff twice visited Kelly’s house unannounced—once to lend him a book, and later to retrieve it. “Both times,” Kelly explains, “it was clear his actual purpose was to test me—to see if I had told anyone.”

Kelly told no one about the abuse for more than 35 years. He feels lucky to have entered into a long and fulfilling marriage which now stands at 43 years. He and his wife had a family, a true blessing, he says. He built a successful career in the field of community mental health, where he worked with children and young adults. But still, Kelly wanted the truth of his childhood abuse to be known.

In August 2002, he reached out to the diocese to share his experience for the first time. He met with the review board but soon received a letter from Bishop George Lucas telling him the board could not come to a consensus about whether the abuse had occurred. Westhoff remained a priest in good standing until he died in January 2006.

And that’s where things stood until 2018, when Kelly learned Westhoff had been substantiated as a child sex abuser by the Diocese of Jefferson City in Missouri. He again reached out to the Diocese of Springfield to request that the details he reported back in 2002 be compared to the accusation found credible by the Jefferson City diocese; if enough of them matched up, Kelly reasoned, it could cause the Springfield diocese to reconsider its stance.

But the Diocese of Springfield put up yet another roadblock. Its victims assistance coordinator told Kelly the diocese had a policy not to investigate allegations against dead priests because they would not have an opportunity to defend themselves. Worse, Kelly says, the coordinator seemed “incredulous as to what relevance such an inquiry would even provide.” “The abuse was not as bad as dealing with the Diocese of Springfield,” Kelly insists. “They hid behind their dead priest policy. All I wanted from the diocese was that the truth be told.”

That’s when Kelly reached out to the Attorney General’s investigators to share his experience. “Most survivors of sexual abuse in childhood want their truth to be known,” he explains. And, he adds, they want their truth to be officially acknowledged by the church “so children will be safe and nurtured as they should be. That is the change we most fervently desire.”

The change Kelly so desired finally came, at least in some small measure. As a result of Kelly contacting the Attorney General’s investigators, and making known to them what happened to him, the Diocese of Springfield relented. It now includes Westhoff on the diocese’s public list of substantiated child sex abusers. As a result, Kelly takes comfort in knowing his truth has been officially acknowledged.

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Terms are defined as provided in the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops Glossary of Catholic Terms, unless denoted with *.

Altar server
Individuals, usually children, who assist clerics during liturgical functions such as mass. Prior to 1994, only men and boys were permitted to be altar servers.*
The title given automatically to bishops who govern archdioceses. It is also given to certain other high-ranking church officials.
The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province. It is governed by an archbishop.
Auxiliary Bishop
A bishop assigned to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist its residential bishop.
The highest order of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church. The chief priests in their respective dioceses. Bishops are responsible for the pastoral care of their dioceses. All bishops have a responsibility to act in council with other bishops to guide the church.
A man who has taken vows in a religious order but is not ordained or studying for the priesthood. Sometimes he is called a lay brother to distinguish him from ordained members of religious orders.
Canon Law

A code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church.

Highest-ranking Catholic clergy below the pope. Cardinals are regarded as the pope's closest advisors. Most cardinals are archbishops.
The chief archivist of a diocese's official records. Also a notary and secretary of the diocese’s central administration.
Clergy is a collective term referring to all those ordained—bishops, priests, and deacons—who administer the rites of the church. A cleric is an individual member of the clergy. Only men are permitted to join the clergy.
Confession or Reconciliation
The Catholic sacrament in which one makes a voluntary self-accusation of sins to a qualified priest in private in order to obtain absolution. The priest provides the confessor, also known as the penitent, with a penance to atone for sins committed. A priest who hears confession is forbidden from disclosing the contents of a confession to others under what is called the seal of confession.*
The personnel and offices through which (1) the pope administers the affairs of the universal church (the Roman Curia), or (2) a bishop administers the affairs of a diocese (the diocesan curia). The principal officials of a diocesan curia are the vicar general, the chancellor, officials of the diocesan tribunal or court, examiners, consultors, auditors, and notaries.
Dallas Charter
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People sets forth policies for each United States archdiocese and diocese to adopt as part of an effort to address allegations of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. The Charter was formulated at the 2002 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, Texas. The Charter was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018.
One of three groups that comprise the clergy, meaning those ordained for ministry. Only men are permitted to become deacons. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, but only unmarried men committed to lifelong celibacy can be ordained deacons if they are planning to become priests.
Diocesan Priest
Priests under the direction of their local bishop. Most serve in the parishes of the diocese, but they may also be assigned to other diocesan ministries or released for service outside the diocese.
A territorial division of the Church headed by a bishop.
Extern Priest
A priest with faculties to minister in a diocese or archdiocese who was not ordained in that diocese or archdiocese. For example, a diocesan priest from the Diocese of Springfield who has been granted faculties to minister by the Archdiocese of Chicago is an extern priest.*
Church authorization, given by the law itself or by a Church superior, to perform certain official acts.
Members of the Catholic Church. Derived from Catholic teachings that clergy are like shepherds guiding a flock.*
Laicize or Defrock
The process by which a priest is returned to the lay state. It is sometimes used as a penalty for a serious crime, but also can come at the request of the priest. A laicized priest is barred from all priestly ministry with one exception: He may give absolution to someone in immediate danger of death. The pope must approve all requests for laicization. When a priest is laicized without his consent for a crime, such as committing child sexual abuse, it is sometimes called defrocking.
Any activity conducive to the salvation of souls. It can include ordained ministry such as liturgical leadership and administration of the sacraments, or lay ministry such as instructing children in the faith, serving the poor, visiting the sick, or being an altar server, reader, or music leader at mass.
An honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the pope to some diocesan priests.
A member of a religious order of women who has taken solemn or simple vows.
Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop. A cleric who has undergone ordination is known as ordained.*
A specific community within a diocese with its own church building and under the authority of a pastor who is responsible for providing ministerial service. Most parishes are formed on a geographic basis, but they may be formed along national or ethnic lines.
A priest in charge of a Catholic parish or congregation.
Acts performed to atone for committed sins, as directed by a priest in the Catholic sacrament of reconcilliation.*
Residential housing for clergy provided by the Church. A rectory can also contain administrative offices for a parish.*
Religious Cleric
Professed member of a religious order or institute. Religious clergy live according to the rule of their respective orders.
Religious Order or Order
An institution of men or women, at least some of whose members take solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and whose male members are sometimes ordained.*
An educational institution for men preparing for the priesthood.
A cleric who acts in the name of another cleric.*
Vicar general
A priest, auxiliary bishop, or coadjutor bishop who assists the diocesan bishop in the governance of the diocese.
Victims Assistance Coordinator

A diocesan employee who has been designated to coordinate assistance to survivors of sex abuse by clerics.*