Victims of former Fenwick priest tell their stories

Rev. William P. Farrell accused decades later by two former students

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

It's been nearly a half century since the late Rev. William P. Farrell walked the hallways of Fenwick High School as a teacher, counselor and spiritual guide, but the damage the ordained Dominican priest left behind persists.

Decades after the alleged abuse took place, two victims from Fenwick and another young man from Minnesota targeted by Farrell have made their stories known.

Farrell, who died in 1989, is one of many hundreds of priests in various Catholic orders now accused of sexually abusing minors.

He was ordained into the priesthood on June 5, 1965 and taught at Bishop Lynch in Dallas prior to transferring to Fenwick, where he worked from 1967 to 1970.

He was an associate pastor at Our Lady of God Parish in Edina, Minnesota, beginning in 1971 and also served at St. Albert the Great Parish in Minneapolis, before being transferred to Hammond, Louisiana, in 1973, where he served as chaplain at Southeastern Louisiana University.

Farrell moved to St. Dominic's Priory in New Orleans in 1975, where he worked part-time at Mount Carmel Academy and was a chaplain at Dominican College in New Orleans from 1976 to 1978.

He has been listed as a sexual predator on Bishop-Accountability.org, a website that tracks those who have committed sexual assault within the Catholic Church.

Fr. Richard Peddicord, president of Fenwick High School, said in an email that the school has not directly received any allegations of abuse by Farrell.

Peddicord wrote: "Sexual abuse is a crime and a sin. We hope any victim of sexual abuse will seek the healing they deserve. Any allegation of abuse against a Dominican priest or brother should be directed to the U.S. Central Province of the Dominicans, headquartered in Chicago: (312) 243-0011, office@opcentral.org."

He emphasized that "safety and security of Fenwick students" is the school's top priority and that the school requires all employees to submit to background checks, fingerprinting and a variety of training programs to prevent and report sexual abuse.

Here are two accounts of alleged abuse and one related by a friend for a classmate who has died.

 

Paul McLennan

It was Farrell's final year at Fenwick when he came in contact with student Paul McLennan, 64, who now lives in suburban Atlanta. He was 16 years old when he first met Farrell.

McLennan described Farrell as a "hippie priest" with long hair who smoked a pipe and moderated Fenwick's Human Relationship Club.

Farrell organized students to tutor kids on Chicago's West Side and ran a Human Relations Day event that brought together students and organizations from different races and constituencies, McLennan said.

"I don't have all bad things to say about the man — that's my point, which kind of makes the betrayal worse. I trusted him," he said.

Farrell took a close interest in McLennan from the start, taking him to dinner and buying him alcohol — his first drink was with Farrell at Diana's, a Greek restaurant on Halsted, where McLennan was given Roditis wine and Ouzo, an aperitif liqueur.

McLennan was a Wheaton resident and traveled an hour to get to school every day. "I was the only one from Wheaton, so I didn't bring a lot of friends with me," he said.

McLennan described his admiration for Farrell in part because, he saw the priest as a change from his abusive, alcoholic father. 

He described Farrell's method as "grooming," where a sexual predator befriends a victim and gains their trust.

It was during a student trip to Minnesota in 1970 that McLennan was assaulted by Farrell, who came into his room in the middle of the night, got in his bed unclothed and solicited the teenager for sex.

He declined and Farrell left, telling him that it was "OK," McLennan said. "Like don't feel bad you disappointed me."

McLennan said he's grappled with the experience ever since, particularly with the severity of the assault compared to what other sexual abuse victims have suffered.

"You hear these horror stories of rape and it going on for years, so how does my story compare?" he asked. "It's not as bad as others, but it happened to me."

McLennan has advocated for exposing sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, speaking with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper for an August story responding to a Pennsylvania grand jury's report detailing decades of sexual abuse within the church.

McLennan reported the abuse to the Dominican Friars Central Province in 2017.

Prior Provincial Fr. James Marchionda responded on Nov. 17 of that same year, expressing his sympathies for the assault on him and another victim, Gerald Francis Lynch.

"What happened to you both was indeed, despicable, and I apologize in the name of both the Dominicans and the entire church that you and others like you have had to bear such heavy burdens in life because of the failures of individual priests and many Catholic institutions," Marchionda wrote.

Marchionda, whose province oversees 14 Midwestern states, told Wednesday Journal in a telephone interview that he was not aware of any other incidents of sexual assault involving Farrell.

He noted that like the Chicago Archdiocese, the various religious orders within the Catholic Church, such as the Dominican order, have agreed to release documents this year about credibly accused priests.

"We're all on board on wanting to do that and start setting everything right," Marchionda said, calling it a "moral obligation."

He expressed his regret about Farrell's actions in his 2017 letter to McLennan: "I believe we are doing our best to serve those who have been abused and to prevent any further abuse on our watch, as well as in the future."

McLennan said he became more outspoken about his assault after meeting Steve Hennessey — a former Fenwick student whose late friend was allegedly sexually assaulted by Farrell at Fenwick — in an online forum for abuse victims.

 

Steve Hennessy

Hennessy was a student at Fenwick from 1966 to 1970. He knew Farrell well but was never subjected to sexual abuse.

Hennessy got involved in the movement to expose sexual-predator priests in 2002, when he learned his friend and former Fenwick classmate, whose name is withheld at his family's request, was diagnosed with cancer.

About a year before his friend's death in 2003, Hennessy met with his longtime friend and learned he had been sexually assaulted by Farrell when he was 16 or 17.

"They would meet and visit in the reception room of the priory at the school — rooms where you could have private meetings," Hennessy said.

Sometimes Farrell would provide beer for the teenager.

It was at one of these counseling sessions that Hennessy's friend fell asleep on a couch — when he awakened he was unclothed, Hennessy said.

"Farrell was in the room and [the friend] got the hell out of there," he said.

His friend told him about the incident about a year before he succumbed to cancer.

"He was very angry about it and had held it to himself for quite a while; he didn't go into a great number of details about what happened," Hennessy said. "I, respectfully, didn't want to delve into it."

Hennessy has since spoken to his friend's surviving family members who confirmed that the victim had discussed the assault with them as well.

"I think, as he was very ill, he wanted to process it with his family and friends," Hennessy said.

Since learning about the incident, he has taken an increased interest in the priest sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church since the Boston Globe first began publishing stories on the issue in 2002.

Hennessy began monitoring priest abuse databases online like http://www.bishop-accountability.org/ and Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) http://www.snapnetwork.org/.

"I kept looking to see if Farrell was listed in other instances and he hadn't been," Hennessy said.

It was through his work and the efforts of McLennan and Gerald Lynch that Farrell's name was added to the Bishop-Accountability.org database in late 2018.

It was on a SNAP website conversation forum where Hennessy found McLennan in 2017, and the two began working to expose Farrell. In 2016, Hennessy discovered an article in the Owatonna (Minnesota) People's Press newspaper about another victim.

 

Gerald Francis Lynch

Gerald Lynch, 66, was in his early 20s when he first came into contact with Farrell in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he served as a community leader within the Catholic Church.

"He was the most spiritual person I looked up to," Lynch said in a recent telephone interview. "He was like a second father to me."

That relationship went sideways in 1974, when Lynch and another young man were assigned to drive Farrell to Hammond, Louisiana, where he would serve as a chaplain at Southeastern Louisiana University.

Lynch said he later learned that Farrell was transferred after it was discovered that he had engaged in same-sex relationships with others in the community.

The assault took place while they were on the road to Louisiana, Lynch said.

"Both nights he woke me up around 1:30 in the morning naked …" soliciting Lynch for sex.

"I didn't know what gay was back in those days; I was an innocent Iowa farm boy," Lynch said.

He rejected the proposition both nights but spent decades after that working through the damage.

"I went back to the two coordinators (at Our Lady of God) and told them what happened, and the only thing I can remember they said was, 'Oh, you too?'" Lynch recalled.

Lynch described being confused by the response. "Was it, 'Oh, you're gay, too,' or was it 'Oh, you're one of the victims?'" It shook the foundation of his faith.

He didn't tell the story to anyone again until he was married years later. He reported the assault to the Dominican Province in the 1990s and later received a check from the order for $2,000 to help cover the cost of counseling.

"You know how far that went? Not very far," he said, noting that he's seen a therapist and psychiatrist for the last five years.

Lynch said he has turned to poetry to help work through the pain he's suffered and spoken out publicly about sexual abuse in the church.

"There are victims out there of priest abuse who are unable, for whatever reason, to speak up and tell their truth and let people know that abuse in the church is real," he said.

tim@oakpark.com

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