[The following is the text of the prepared statement read by my client at today’s press conference]
My name is Gregory J. Guggemos. I am married and my wife and I have 2 sons and 5 grandchildren. I am the person who my attorney Dave Mittleman referred to during his press conference last week who settled my claim for sexual abuse with the Lansing Diocese (“Diocese”) for $225,000.
Today I will be reading to you a prepared written statement outlining the factual background beginning with the events which occurred from June of 1954 through the time the settlement agreement was signed by me and the Bishop for the Diocese. I will not answer any questions when I conclude reading my prepared statement. Any questions must be addressed to Dave Mittleman. I may, at sometime in the future, be willing to answer questions from the media. I ask each of you to respect my position on this issue.
My decision to go public with what occurred to me has been a very difficult one for me and my family to make. We decided to provide the media with this written statement because it is the right thing to do for two primary reasons.
The first reason is to try and reach out to other victims of sexual abuse by a priest and encourage them to come forward and seek out the necessary professional assistance so they can embark on the process of healing and to confront the parties responsible for their sexual abuse. I want to tell these victims that they no longer need to hide behind the shields of embarrassment, shame, fear and guilt as barriers to commencing the first step to a much needed healing process. I also hope that any other individual who was abused by John Slowey will have the courage to come forward as well.
My second reason is for me and my family. The pain and suffering which I experienced before and after my discovery that I was sexually abused by Slowey is indescribable. I am now well on my way into the healing process. I know now I did nothing wrong when I was at the orphanage. I have no responsibility for being sexually abused. I am a victim.
In June of 1954, when I was 5 years old, my mother became seriously ill. At that time there were 6 children in my family ranging from the ages of 9 years old to 3 months. I am the fourth oldest. When my mother became ill, my father decided that the four oldest children would be sent to the St. Vincent Orphanage located on Willow Street in Lansing, Michigan.
I remember the first day at the orphanage. I met Mother Superior Felix, the nun in charge of the orphanage. She took me to a room, showed me which bed was mine and outlined what the procedure was that I was expected to follow.
In September of 1954, I was enrolled as a first grader at St. Mary’s Elementary School in Lansing. Since I was only 5 years old, I thought I should have been going to kindergarten instead of first grade. I have a recollection of being told that the Catholic Church didn’t believe in kindergarten and that Mother Felix decided I should be enrolled in first grade.
From the first day I was at the orphanage to when I was released to my parents in the early part of 1955, I have no memory of any contact with my two sisters and brother who were also at the orphanage. In March of 1955 all six children were back with my parents at our home on Poxson Avenue in Lansing. After I left the orphanage, I attended school at St. Casimir’s in Lansing.
In the early part of 1999 I began to wonder why I had no memory of what happened to me while I was at the orphanage. I wanted to find out anything that might help me to remember what I did while I was there. I approached my mother in January and asked her. My father died in 1991. She indicated she didn’t know anything and really didn’t want to talk about it. Respectful of her position, I didn’t pursue it any further with her.
I considered talking to my two sisters and brother who were at the orphanage with me about what they remembered about their experiences at the orphanage. I decided to approach my brother. He is two years older than me. When I asked him about what he remembered about the orphanage he told me he really couldn’t remember much of anything. I then decided not to approach my two sisters.
My mother died in August of 1999. With her death, the shroud of secrecy and silence about my time at the orphanage was lifted. I decided that I should revisit the orphanage and walk through the building to see if I could remember anything or see something that might help me remember. During 1999 I began to wonder if I was sexually abused while I was at the orphanage. In 1999 there were a number of publically reported cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the United States. I read about them with great interest and discovered a somewhat consistent pattern about the priests who abused the minors and the emotional difficulties the victims experienced before pursuing their respective claims of sexual abuse. These patterns were similar to what I had been experiencing.
Around the middle part of November of 1999, I decided to visit the orphanage. I then found out that the orphanage was soliciting people to buy Christmas gifts for the children at the facility in order for these children to have an opportunity to enjoy the holiday season. I contacted the person in charge of the orphanage and told her who I was and that I was at the orphanage for about nine months during the mid 1950’s. I volunteered to sponsor two children if she would arrange for someone to give me a tour of the orphanage when I dropped off the gifts for the children.
About two weeks before Christmas I went to the orphanage, delivered the gifts for the two children and met the person who would be my tour guide. As I walked around the building my memory was jogged a little bit. I started to remember certain rooms and physical characteristics in different parts of the building. As I remembered things, the memories came back to me as if I was three feet tall and 5 years old.
As I walked down one corridor I noticed the ceramic tile on the walls. The tiles started at the floor and went up about four feet high. As my memory of these ceramic tiles was triggered I viewed them in my mind’s eye as if I was five years old. When I looked at the walls, the ceramic tiles were at the eye level of me as a five year old.
I also noticed what the floor looked like. It was linoleum in about one foot squares; half green background with white streaks in them and the other half with a white background with green streaks in them.
I asked my guide if we could go to the room where I slept while I was at the orphanage. I remembered the room was located on the South side of the building. There were between four and six beds in that room when I was there. My older brother and I did not sleep in the same room. He was older than me and slept in another room with boys his age.
My guide told me that changes had been made to the original rooms since I was at the orphanage. We walked to where the room was at and I remembered the windows on the South wall. The configuration of my original room had been changed. In 1999 the room was much smaller and no longer used as a bedroom.
After we left this room we went down a few steps to another hallway. When I stopped in this hallway, I looked to my left and saw an exterior door. When I saw this door I experienced a tremendous knot in my stomach and a sense of fear that I had never felt before. I felt frozen in time. My heart began to race and my breathing became very rapid and shallow. I stood still and allowed these feelings to continue to surface. They were horrible. After about thirty seconds I was able to gather my composure so I could continue the tour. I didn’t tell my guide what I had just then experienced.
We continued the tour and ended up in the garage portion of the building. I remembered being in the garage because this was where the school bus was kept. My guide then introduced me to a person she said had worked at the orphanage since it opened. I told this man that I was at the orphanage in the mid 1950’s.
I walked around the garage area for a few minutes and then asked this man if he remembered the name of the priest who was at the orphanage when it first opened. He told me the priest’s name was John Slowey. As soon as I heard the name, I remembered that name.
I then asked the guide if there were any written records in existence about either me or my siblings which I could review to see if my review of these records might help me remember anything about the time I was at the orphanage. She took me into an office area and opened the drawer of a metal filing cabinet. It was army green in color and contained index cards about 3” by 5”. She found my index card and showed it to me.
The card had my name on it, my date of birth, my parents name, the date I first arrived at the orphanage and the date I was released to go home. I asked her if there were any other written records about me. She said no.
Sometime in the latter part of 2001 I contacted a person I went to grade school with at St. Casimir’s who is a retired law enforcement officer. This person had become a private investigator after he retired. When I contacted him, I asked him if he would be willing to investigate Slowey’s career as a priest. By this time I had reason to believe something traumatic happened to me while I was at the orphanage and that Slowey was involved in it.
A few weeks later the private investigator called me and gave me a summary of his findings about Slowey’s career as a priest. He told me when Slowey was ordained, that he was assigned to various parishes and other positions in the Diocese and that the time spent at each parish or other position was relatively short. Once Slowey left a given assignment, there was no record as to what he was doing for a one to two year period until his next assignment. The private investigator confirmed that Slowey was assigned to the orphanage during the period I was there.
Sometime during the late 1950’s Slowey was made a Monsignor. After he was no longer the chaplain for the orphanage, he was placed in charge of the Catholic Social Services adoption agency. Sometime during the late 1950’s, Slowey founded the Big Brothers of Michigan.
The private investigator asked me if I wanted a copy of his written report and all the documentation he compiled as part of his investigation. At this time I wasn’t prepared emotionally to review it. I asked him to deliver the written report and the other documentation to a lawyer friend of mine who I had spoken to about my belief I was sexually abused by Slowey when I was at the orphanage.
The investigator did tell me that the numerous assignments and reassignments of Slowey were consistent with that of other priests who sexually abused minors.
I then discussed what happened to me at the orphanage and the information the private investigator provided me with my lawyer friend and a psychologist. After these discussions concluded, I decided at that time not to continue to pursue obtaining more facts and information to confirm that I was in fact sexually abused by Slowey while I was at the orphanage. My lawyer friend told me the law in Michigan with regard to the statute of limitations was anti-victims of sexual abuse who were abused while they were minors. I was also embarrassed to come forward and concerned that public disclosure would have hurt my private practice as a lawyer.
When the scandal about sexual abuse by priests in the Boston Archdiocese erupted in 2002, I followed it closely as it was disclosed by the media. I read books written about the numerous cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the United States and stories written about what the victims of confirmed cases of being sexually abused by a priest endured before and after coming forward with their claims of sexual abuse. Because I was still in private practice, I once again decided not to pursue my claim of sexual abuse against the Diocese.
In November of 2008 I decided to retire from the private practice of law and become general counsel for a long time client of mine. I had represented this client since 1985. I started my new career as general counsel effective December 31, 2008. My arrangement with my new employer was to work as general counsel for five years and then to retire when I turned 65.
Within a couple of weeks after I started my new job, I started feeling depressed and experienced a persistent sense of fear that I had never experienced before. My emotional condition deteriorated rapidly to the point that my wife took me to the emergency room at a local hospital during the latter part of January, 2009 because I was not able to function. My most compelling feelings and fears all centered on my belief that I was abused by Slowey while I was at the orphanage.
I became convinced in January of 2009 that I was sexually abused while at the orphanage as a result of my repressed memory about what occurred at the orphanage being triggered as a result of starting my new job.
My employer’s national headquarters are located in downtown Lansing. My employer purchased an old vacant building in 2006 and undertook to renovate it as part of a historic rehabilitation program it was developing. Once the historic rehabilitation was completed, my employer intended to relocate its national headquarters to the restored building. The historic rehabilitation was completed in early 2008 and my employer then moved its national headquarters into the building.
My office at my new job was located on the fifth floor. Every day I walked up and down the five flights of stairs on my way to and from my office. After I started experiencing feelings of depression and fear, I then realized that the walls of the stairway in the building had ceramic tile on the walls similar to the walls at the orphanage and that the linoleum on the steps, hallways and landings for each floor in the stairway was green and white linoleum acted as a stimulus to all the repressed memories about the sexual abuse I endured while at the orphanage.
While at the hospital during the latter part of January, 2009, I underwent a number of clinical tests and procedures to see if there were one or more medical conditions that could be discovered to explain why my emotional condition was deteriorating. All the tests and procedures came back negative.
While at the hospital, I spoke with my family doctor and he recommended that I be examined by a psychiatrist before being discharged. I met with the psychiatrist in the afternoon for about thirty minutes. I told him about my experiences at the orphanage, the tour of the orphanage in 1999, the similarity between the walls and floors of the orphanage and the stairway in the building where I worked. After listening to me, the psychiatrist concluded that I was in fact experiencing the depression and fear due to the triggering of my repressed memory regarding the sexual abuse I endured while at the orphanage. He also concluded that I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) as a result of reliving the events involving the sexual abuse at the orphanage as a result of the triggering of my repressed memory.
After I left the hospital, I immediately advised my boss of my condition and what caused it. I was placed on an extended sick leave in the early part of February, 2009.
The doctors prescribed various medications for me to take in order for me to get stabilized. In about three weeks my condition improved and I asked my doctors if I could return to work. The doctors released me to return to work and my boss agreed to allow me to return to work.
In order to reduce the chance of another relapse being triggered by going up and down the five flights of stairs in the building, I entered and exited the building through the back door and used the elevator to go to and from my office. By using this method to enter and exit the building, my exposure to the ceramic tiles and green and white linoleum was significantly reduced.
In April of 2009, I was driving up north to our vacation home. While driving, I was listening to an interview with a man who was talking about the incidents of sexual abuse of minors by priests that occurred in the United States during the 1940’s and 1950’s. I didn’t hear the name of the person being interviewed. The interview was on the National Public Radio (“NPR”) station. When I arrived at our vacation home, I told my wife about the interview and she told me to go online to the NPR website and obtain a transcript of that interview.
I ordered the transcript and received it in a couple of weeks. I listened to the entire interview and learned the name of the individual who was interviewed. The person interviewed is a reporter with the National Catholic Reporter. I sent the reporter an email and told him I was a lawyer in Michigan and I had a client that was a victim of sexual abuse by a priest and that the abuse occurred while he was a minor. I asked him to call me so I could discuss with him how I should proceed.
The reporter called me and we discussed what he said in his interview on NPR and what I could do on behalf of my unnamed client’s claim of sexual abuse. The reporter provided me with the names of David Clohessy, the national director of a victim’s abuse advocate group called Survivor Network For Those Abused By Priests (“SNAP”), Rev. Thomas Doyle and Jeff Anderson, an attorney from Minnesota. The reporter gave me their email addresses and phone numbers.
I then contacted these gentlemen and told them I believed I was sexually abused by a priest when I was a minor. I was once again informed that based on Michigan law’s anti-victims statute of limitations bar, my claim for sexual abuse was not enforceable under Michigan law.
After my initial conversations with the reporter, Clohessy, Doyle and Anderson, I met with another lawyer friend to discuss him representing me to pursue a claim against the Diocese as a result of the sexual abuse which occurred while I was at the orphanage. He, like all the other lawyers I talked with, told me my claim was barred by the anti-victims statute of limitations of Michigan law. He gave me copies of the reported appellate court cases which provided the precedent to support his conclusion that my claim was barred by the statute of limitations. I read the cases. The law in Michigan was not in my favor.
While this lawyer indicated he would not represent me, he did recommend that I meet with a psychiatrist who practiced in the Lansing area who is world renowned authority who assists people suffering from PTSD. I asked the lawyer if he would contact this psychiatrist to arrange an appointment for me to meet with him. The lawyer called the psychiatrist and I scheduled an appointment with him for April 15, 2009.
Before I left my office on the day for this appointment, I contacted the lawyer who assisted me with the investigation conducted by the private investigator in 2001 and asked him if he still had a copy of the private investigator’s written report and support documentation. He told me he did and a copy of the written report and other documentation would be at the receptionist’s desk at his office for me to pick up. I picked up the sealed envelope on my way to the appointment with the psychiatrist and took the envelope into my meeting. I did not review the contents of the envelope before I met with the psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist and I spoke for about forty five minutes as I described to him the events I’ve discussed previously about the repressed memory and diagnosis of PTSD. I then told him I had a written report from a private investigator about Slowey and he suggested that I open the envelope to review for the first time the written report and other documentation.
When I opened the envelope and removed the stack of papers, the first page I saw had a picture of Slowey. When I saw his picture, I threw all the papers up in the air and started crying uncontrollably. When I saw Slowey’s picture I had an immediate flashback to him, the orphanage and one incident of being sexually abused by Slowey. I continued to be extremely emotional and after a few minutes the psychiatrist asked me if I was okay. I told him I was fine even though I could not stop crying. I explained to him the best I could that the tears were tears of joy and not tears of sorrow or fear. When I saw Slowey’s picture and had the flashback, I immediately felt that all the questions, suspicions and fears I had for a number of years that I was sexually abused by Slowey at the orphanage were confirmed. I experienced a tremendous emotional release and feeling of being cleansed like I had never experienced before.
I continued to work. I felt stable and confident I could perform my duties as general counsel. I continued to receive help from a psychologist over the next few months. She was of the opinion that what I was experiencing was really some form of a manic stage and that I should slow down. I felt that the euphoria I was experiencing was the result of finally being able to deal with the PTSD. She was right – I was wrong.
During the first part of June, 2009, I started once again to experience depression and fear. There was one occasion when I disclosed to two friends of mine I was sexually abused while at the orphanage that I became so emotional that I had to be taken to the emergency room of a local hospital. I had to spend the night in the hospital because the doctor said I was not emotionally stable to be released to go home. I was medicated, spent the night in the hospital and released the following afternoon.
I continued to work but I knew something was going wrong. I took a week’s vacation at the end of June to get away to our place up north to see if I could try and sort things out. I was not able to do so.
After I returned from vacation I met with my doctor and told him what was going on and that my condition was deteriorating. He concluded that I needed to take an immediate and indefinite leave of absence from my job. He then directed me to take 600mg of Seroquel each day in order for my condition to get stabilized.
After my appointment with the doctor was over, I met with my boss and told him what my doctor had ordered about the leave of absence. I knew while I was talking to him that I would be off work for an extended period of time and I did not know that if my condition stabilized whether I would be able to resume my duties as general counsel. During that meeting with my boss, I resigned as general counsel.
What my wife and I had envisioned as to how we would end my career as a lawyer and prepare ourselves to enjoy retirement came to an abrupt and unanticipated conclusion. The date of my resignation was July 8, 2009.
Over the next few months I became a little more stable, but my ability to concentrate, remember things and analyze things like a lawyer was simply not available to me. We came to accept that I would never practice law again in any capacity. In November, 2009 I changed my status as an active member of the State Bar of Michigan to the status of an inactive member.
In August of 2009, I approached Dave Mittleman (another lawyer friend) and asked him if he would be interested in talking to someone I knew regarding a claim of sexual abuse. At that time I was embarrassed to tell Dave that I was the person sexually abused. A meeting was set up at Mittleman’s office. When I arrived at the meeting with Mittleman, his associate Nolan Erickson was there as well. I told Mittleman and Erickson that the victim was me. I then told them everything I have previously discussed.
I told Mittleman and Erickson that I wanted to meet with the representatives of the Diocese and I would like them to represent me at the meeting. They both agreed even though we all knew about the anti-victims statute of limitations bar under Michigan law.
Erickson contacted a representative of the Diocese and a meeting was scheduled for the latter part of September, 2009. There were 2 priests at the meeting on behalf of the Diocese, another employee of the Diocese, Mittleman, Erickson and myself. I told the representatives of the Diocese everything I’ve stated earlier.
At the conclusion of the meeting, one priest told us that the next step was for the Diocese to determine if what I told them was credible and if so, then I would have to meet with the Diocese Review Board. I agreed to meet with the Review Board and asked the priest to contact Mittleman to arrange the time for the next meeting. The meeting with the two priests lasted a little more than an hour – from about 10:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.
Within less than an hour after the meeting with the two priests ended, a member of the Review Board called Mittleman to schedule the meeting with the Review Board. The meeting with the Review Board was scheduled for the Friday of the following week.
Mittleman, Erickson and I met with the Review Board the following week. Only the members of the Review Board were present on behalf of the Diocese.
I told the members of the Review Board the same information I told to the two priests at the prior meeting held the week earlier. The meeting with the Review Board lasted about an hour or so.
Once the Review Board meets with a victim, it is required to prepare a written report about the meeting and provide it to the Bishop. The Bishop is then required to provide a copy of this report to the victim. A copy of the report prepared by the Review Board about my meeting with it has never been provided by the Diocese to me or my lawyers.
In December, 2009 the Bishop of the Diocese sent me a letter. A copy of the letter is attached to the written statement to be provided to each of you. The Bishop informed me that since I was represented by counsel, the Diocese retained a lawyer to represent it with regard to my claim I was sexually abused while I was at the orphanage during 1954-1955.
In January of this year, I attended a meeting at Mittleman’s office, which meeting was requested by the Diocese’s lawyer. Mittleman, Erickson and I were at the meeting with him. I told the Diocese’s lawyer the same things I told during my meetings with the two priests and the Review Board. This meeting lasted an hour or so.
After this meeting concluded, all matters involving the final settlement with the Diocese were conducted between Mittleman, Erickson and the Diocese’s lawyer. The written settlement agreement between me and the Diocese was finalized about 2 weeks ago. I believe a copy of the settlement agreement will also be provided to all of you.
When the Diocese paid the $225,000 settlement, the check was drawn on the Diocese’s bank account. The settlement proceeds paid to me by the Diocese was not paid by a check issued by the Diocese’s insurance company.
In June of this year my wife and I attended the graduation ceremony from kindergarten for our oldest grandchild. There were about one hundred or so children graduating from kindergarten. During the ceremony as I was looking at all these children on the stage, it dawned on me that these children were the same age as I was when I was abused while at the orphanage. I thought to myself, hopefully none of these children experienced what I went through when I was their age.
The events which occurred since December 31, 2008, the date I started my new job through signing of the settlement agreement have bordered on the bizarre and at times were incomprehensible by me and my wife. What was intended to be a five year slow down period for us to prepare for the autumn of our lives and to spoil our grandchildren never materialized. My “dream job” resulted in an eighteen month nightmare. Fortunately, for us we have made it through this extremely difficult period and now can move along the path of healing and hopefully closure. One way we look at it is that we have an additional four years to spoil our grandchildren.
I would like to personally thank Dave Mittleman and Nolan Erickson for believing in me and agreeing to represent me in this matter even though they both knew the law in Michigan did not permit a victim who was sexually abused by a priest while a minor to maintain a claim against the responsible party after discovering the abuse in his later years. Without their support and advocacy I would not be here today telling you my story. Saying thank you is not even enough but that’s all I can do.
I would also like to thank two other people who supported my wife and me though the last eighteen months. They agreed to let me name them publically. Their names are Phil and Sylvia Frederickson. Phil is a past president of the company I worked for as general counsel and is the one I started working with when he retained me as the lawyer for the company in 1985. When the events of the last 18 months started to unravel, we told Phil and Sylvia what was going on and they have been there for us every step of the way. Their unwavering support along with the support of Dave and Nolan has been instrumental in bringing this chapter of our lives further along the healing process.
Thank you for your time and your attention. Again, thank you for respecting my decision, at this time, to not answer any questions. As is apparent, I am still going through the various phases of the healing process. I am in fact healing, but this process is difficult and very painful at times. I continue to experience emotions such as fear, guilt and depression. Please direct any questions to Dave Mittleman.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.