This is the second in a series of reports to be released by LifeSite on the Society of St. Pius X. LifeSite asks readers for patience and prayers as we present our findings, which have been collected over the past year.
Editor’s warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual abuse.
February 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Victoria McQuade was only a teenager when Father Benedict Van Der Putten sexually groomed and abused her at the St. Aloysius Retreat House in Los Gatos, California in the late 1990s and 2000.
In an exclusive interview with LifeSiteNews, McQuade, now in her 30s, is speaking out not only because she believes Van Der Putten, a former priest of the Society of St. Pius X who has never faced jail time, is still a threat to women, but because she wants to help other victims as well.
“I could have very well lost my faith … I can feel the pain of people who have suffered abuse by priests. But my goal is to pray that they know people are human and God is in control.”
“God has led me to this point to share my story, realizing that it will do good for other victims. I hope they can regain their faith.”
McQuade said she wants the Society of St. Pius X, a group of nearly 700 traditional Catholic priests founded in 1970, to institute meaningful, transparent reforms.
“I feel that the Society has not learned their lesson from my case … I feel like it's almost like they didn't believe me in a certain sense back then.”
She additionally remarked that, “my husband and I chose to approach LifeSite with my story rather than another Catholic media organization because I trust your integrity and believed that you would make an unbiased report.”
Upbringing in the faith
Growing up, McQuade, whose maiden name is DeRemer, attended the SSPX’s Los Gatos chapel in California with her mom. She wanted nothing more than to give her life to God.
“St. Therese of the Child Jesus was my inspiration my whole life. I wanted to enter the convent when I was fifteen and to die when I was twenty-four. I had it all planned out.”
McQuade told LifeSite that it was Van Der Putten, a priest ordained in 1992 who was the principal at the school, who helped her with her vocation.
“When I was fifteen, he made it possible for me to visit the Carmelites and ask Bishop Alfonso De Galarreta, one-on-one, if I could enter. Of course, His Excellency said no, so I put my sights on another convent, the Oasis (pronounced oh-ay-sees) in Spain. I visited the Oasis with my teacher, who inspired me to love the religious life, and with my mom. The convent said I could enter once I learned my Spanish.”
McQuade said she struggled with Spanish so, at Van Der Putten’s urging, she considered entering a Franciscan convent in the United States. That eventually fell through so she, along with her mom, another woman from their chapel, and several of her friends, all of whom were 15 years old or younger, planned a group trip back to Spain. Van Der Putten heard about it and decided to tag along. It was there where McQuade came to see him in a new light.
The grooming begins
“A teacher of mine at Los Gatos heard that we were taking a trip and that Father was coming too,” McQuade told LifeSite. “My teacher immediately told me that he tried to kiss her once and that I should be on guard with him. I was taken aback by what she said but decided to play ‘detective’ during the trip, hoping my teacher was wrong about him.”
McQuade, who was 16 at the time, was informed by one of her friends that Van Der Putten pulled on another girl’s bra strap during a backpacking hike. She told her mom about the incident and about how her teacher said Van Der Putten tried to kiss her previously. The mothers confronted him but were met with what McQuade called “a harsh sermon the next morning about rash judgement.”
Van Der Putten began intensifying his grooming tactics back in Los Gatos. For the next two years, he would take McQuade and her classmates for long walks near the retreat center, often tickling them during group activities. Confused but now 18 years old, McQuade was eventually lured into his office after Compline where he recited the Canticle of Canticles and began physically touching her while telling her his love for her was “pure.”
After multiple sexual incidents, McQuade told her mom about what was happening. Her mom Audrey, who passed away in 2018, went to the SSPX’s U.S. District Superior at the time, Father Peter Scott.
“Father Scott told us he would get Van Der Putten out of there right away and that he would arrive in the next several days to obtain a deposition from me and the other girl I knew Father Van Der Putten was abusing.”
McQuade said that Scott arrived days later, on a Friday, and that Van Der Putten had already been removed from Los Gatos earlier in the week.
Van Der Putten was apparently sent to SSPX headquarters in Menzingen, Switzerland at the direct orders of Scott, though LifeSite has not been able to confirm this. LifeSite has also heard, though has been unable to corroborate publicly, that Scott contacted a lawyer about the situation and the lawyer told him law enforcement involvement was not necessary.
McQuade provided LifeSite with the deposition she gave to Scott, who is currently stationed in Africa and is one of its most senior members. Read the deposition by clicking here.
McQuade explained that she gave the deposition in the same office she was abused in and that Scott “made a comment to me about how naive I was to go to Father’s office in the middle of the night.”
McQuade informed LifeSite that Scott instructed her and her mom to “not tell anyone” but that she would still be able to pursue her vocation to the convent later in the year. LifeSite reached out to Scott via email but as of the publication of this story has not received a response.
Pursuing a vocation
In the ensuing months, McQuade was filled with confusion, doubt, guilt, shame, and remorse.
“I prayed and prayed, feeling that I was a horrible person for having told on Father but then also for allowing it to happen. Another SSPX priest, Fr. John Peek, who was a follower of Fr. Van Der Putten’s, told me in the confessional I committed a mortal sin for telling on him.”
“I felt horrible that I betrayed him. I felt I needed to do penance for the rest of my life. At the same time, I would hear my friends saying how wonderful a priest he was and that he was a martyr for having the SSPX persecute him for nothing and for having sent him away.”
McQuade entered in August of 2000 a convent run by the Franciscan Sisters of Christ the King, which was initially in Oregon but relocated to Kansas City, Missouri two years later. There, she struggled to reconcile her abuse with her vocation.
“I just began to feel everything was my fault. I knelt long hours, ruining my knees, and had issues with my weight. I was determined to stay in the convent, not merely to prove Fr. Van Der Putten wrong but to prove to myself that I could work out my vocation.”
A month later, on September 27, 2000, Fr. Scott wrote a letter to McQuade’s mother encouraging her daughter to explain what had happened in Los Gatos to the Mother Superior and to the priest who oversaw the convent.
“I began to journal my feelings and it seemed to help,” McQuade said. “I relied totally on God and never once went to my superiors for the first two years of my convent life … After two years of silence, I could no longer contain my emotions. Mother Superior took me aside and said that I must tell her what was the matter and that I could tell her anything.”
“So I told her what happened to me finally. She was so understanding and knew right away what was wrong. She said I had PTSD and that she would get help for me right away. It was then I began to heal … but it was an uphill battle of emotions.”
Going to the authorities
In 2003, while still at the convent, McQuade sought guidance from the new SSPX District Superior of the United States, Fr. John Fullerton. Fullerton’s term as District Superior began in 2002 and ended in 2008, but he has since been re-appointed beginning on August 15, 2020.
“Fr. Fullerton was the District Superior at the time. He would advise me to forget about it and offer it up. I told my story to him in the confessional. He told me I could say my story in the confessional so as to put away any doubt if I had done any wrongdoing. I found peace for a time but his advice always for me was to forget it and try to offer it up … all of which I tried to do.”
“I feel like he wanted to hear my story in the confessional,” she added. “He could have been doing that on purpose to protect himself or me in case I did something wrong but I don’t know for sure. He also gave me plenty of advice outside the confessional. Either way, I give him permission to talk about it publicly now.”
McQuade revealed to LifeSite that during her time in the convent, she was told by her superiors that she could pursue legal action against Van Der Putten but that she’d have to leave the convent to do so. McQuade said it was basically an ultimatum and so she decided to continue on. Eventually, she left religious life in June of 2004. Father Daniel Cooper was stationed at the retreat center at that time and interacted with McQuade. Cooper has since passed away.
“Fr. Peter Scott said not to tell anyone. He didn't say, ‘don't tell the police’ … It was Fr. Daniel Cooper who told me to not inform the police. Fr. Cooper was the pastor at the retreat center after Fr. Van Der Putten was sent away. When I began to tell him my story about the abuse, so that he could understand me spirituality, Fr. Cooper would say, ‘I don’t want to hear it.’ I told him that I wanted to go to the police, but he said, ‘don't go to the police.’ I never sought spiritual direction again after that with him.”
McQuade is not the only woman who claims to have informed Fullerton about Van Der Putten’s abuse. LouAnn Manwarren and Julie Swehla have come forward in recent weeks stating that they too told Fullerton stories about Van Der Putten in the early 2000s. They say Fullerton didn’t do anything to help them and that reforms in the SSPX are very much needed to this day.
U.S. SSPX spokesman Jim Vogel told LifeSite that Fullerton categorically rejects the claim that he would ever tell someone to not go to the police if they informed him of such allegations.
Dismissed from the Society
Father Van Der Putten was removed from the SSPX not long after McQuade’s deposition in April, though the timeline and reasons why are not entirely clear.
Apparently he was immediately sent to SSPX headquarters in Menzingen, Switzerland at the direction of Fr. Scott, who reportedly wrote an internal memo recommending Van Der Putten to do a lifetime of penance at a monastery with severe restrictions, including no access to children, or be removed from the priesthood altogether.
One media outlet has reported that Van Der Putten was ordered to stay with monks on the island of Papa Stronsay in Scotland but that they found him to be an overbearing nuisance so they asked him to leave.
McQuade told LifeSite that she believes Van Der Putten was sent to the island in May. She also said that a friend of hers, then an SSPX seminarian, informed her that he was with Van Der Putten in Ireland at an SSPX priory in January of 2001.
“When the SSPX said, ‘we will take care of it,’ they really just sent Fr. Van Der Putten to that monastery and then to Ireland … one of my friends was in Ireland and witnessed him there because he was with them in Ireland and Father was in charge of a youth group.”
LifeSite has attempted to but has not been able to confirm this claim.
McQuade says she believes Van Der Putten was expelled from the SSPX in April of 2001.
LifeSite has obtained a PDF copy of a September 2001 “Regina Coeli” newsletter written by Fr. Scott. In it, Scott says that Van Der Putten was expelled from the SSPX because of a desire to reconcile himself with Rome.
LifeSite sent an email to SSPX clerics and U.S. spokesman Jim Vogel to obtain clarification about Van Der Putten’s ministry. As of the time of this story’s publication, Vogel is the only one to have responded but was unable to provide clarity on Van Der Putten's timeline after Scotland.
After the SSPX
A 2018 story published on the SSPX by the California-based Mercury News states that when Van Der Putten was seeking reconciliation with the mainstream church, the Society informed Rome of his misconduct.
“Following the Los Gatos incidents,” the story reads, “the [SSPX] quickly sent Van der Putten to its international headquarters in Switzerland, and reported him to the Vatican, which later relayed the alleged misconduct to a Pennsylvania diocese where he was seeking reinstatement the following year. That was derailed after he allegedly confessed to molesting another teen in 2001. While he was in Europe, the [SSPX] expelled him.”
After his removal from the SSPX, Van Der Putten tried to seek refuge in a priestly group called the Society of St. John, which was primarily composed of priests who had left the SSPX and who lived with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). LifeSite attempted to contact persons familiar with the Society at that time. LifeSite was unsuccessful in obtaining information on Van Der Putten’s experiences with them.
He also tried to be incardinated into the Diocese of Scranton under Bishop James Timlin. Julie Swehla called the Diocese at that time alerting them that Van Der Putten abused her daughter in Los Gatos. The diocese eventually refused to accept him.
According to Horowitz Law, “a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Scranton,” Van Der Putten spent the next several years acting as a sort of part-time, freelance priest, offering Masses and retreats wherever he could before being laicized in 2005. Eventually, his name appeared in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report in 2018 as an abusive priest. (The Society of St. John was also named in that report as having been involved in sexually abusing minors.)
LifeSite has learned that Van Der Putten married a teenage girl and is currently living in Oklahoma, where he has several children. Last week, LifeSite sent him a certified letter through the U.S. Postal Service. The letter (which can be read by clicking here) asked him various questions about his vocation, his time with the SSPX, if he believes he should be in prison, and what he has to say to his victims.
The letter arrived at Van Der Putten’s address on Monday, February 22 but the postal service said he was “not available” when it was delivered. Other media outlets have attempted to contact Van Der Putten as well but have also not heard back. LifeSiteNews will update this article if he responds.
The nature of the investigation
“Local authorities, acting on a tip from Placer County the following year, say they investigated the allegations but were unable to make a criminal case. There are no indications that St. Aloysius ever directly contacted police about Van der Putten.”
Mercury News also said that Sargent Richard Glennon spoke with parents and others at the retreat house in Los Gatos but that ultimately, “there wasn’t [sic] enough hard statements that we could bring a case.”
LifeSite reached out to the Santa Clara Sheriff's office for more information but was denied access to public records.
“The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office is legally exempt from providing any law enforcement investigatory files [regarding this case],” the office said via email.
“The Sheriff’s Office has no new information to provide regarding this investigation. None of the detectives that worked on this case are around anymore either.”
LifeSite asked McQuade about the investigation and what transpired. She said it was her mom’s hard work that caused the police to eventually take up the case and that the SSPX’s decision to not go to law enforcement caused the statute of limitations to expire.
“My mom was a fighter. She was trying to get the police involved. A year after I was in the convent, she, along with some friends, called the police … My mom and her friends went to the police with all this. They got this on the record with law enforcement, not the SSPX.”
“When I talked to the police, they said that they could have done something the first year it happened to me … But a year later, the statute of limitations was over. The SSPX never said, ‘you need to go to the police.’ They told me to be quiet.”
LifeSite sent an email to Fr. Scott, as well as to Fr. Fullerton, to learn if either of them had interacted with police or cooperated with law enforcement’s investigation at the time into Van Der Putten. Apparently legal counsel told Scott he didn’t need to go the police but LifeSite cannot confirm that with certainty. As of the publication of this story, LifeSite has not received a response to its inquiries.
Healing and moving on from the past
McQuade said that the most important part of her recovery was recognizing that what happened to her wasn’t her fault and that she could use her suffering to help those who harmed her.
“You want to break away from everything that you know … you put the blame all on yourself. You begin to hate yourself.”
“But it was my faith that sustained me. When you see all those people who are victims of priests, where their faith isn't being sustained, they turn away from God.”
“My biggest lesson in all this was to understand it wasn't my fault, that what Fr. Van Der Putten did was pure evil, that the superiors in the SSPX that allowed him to walk free and cover things up were only men who lacked integrity. I had to learn most of all patience with myself. I was very, very hard on myself.”
McQuade wants other victims to know that they too can heal by telling their stories and by remaining faithful to Christ, not by turning away from Him.
“I believe in redemptive suffering. It was in the convent that I offered my life for priests. Those four years in the convent may have been a torturous time but somehow I was able to see only God in my suffering. Having to endure in silence forced me to surrender everything over to God. It was a time of spiritual dryness. All my prayers had no feeling, only suffering … outside of the convent I renewed that offering, despite feeling pushed aside … I remained steadfast in trying to forgive Fr. Van Der Putten.”
“The biggest thing for me was to be patient with myself because I felt like I had to start all over again in the spiritual life, as if I was a complete baby,” she continued. “I felt St. Therese was there the whole way guiding me with her little way.”
McQuade says her future husband, who she had known from volunteering at the Los Gatos retreat center in 2000, was also an enormous part of her recovery.
“He allowed me to heal even more because he was listening to me. He understood me. He was patient with me. That was one of the hardest things for me. It was to have patience with myself. And he gave me patience.”
“I found that the greatest healing was sharing my story freely and having friends and family who understood me and who helped me realize none of what I went through was my fault.”
Despite the fact that she’s married to an understanding husband and has largely returned to a normal life, McQuade’s road to recovery has not been without other tribulations.
Her mother died in 2018 and she herself was diagnosed with endometriosis, which caused infertility.
“For 10 years, I offered that diagnosis up for priests. Then, I prayed a novena in 2015 to St. Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese. I asked for twins. By the grace of God, my husband and I were able to adopt two twin boys.”
“We don't choose our path. God shows us the path and we just have to follow that path. Looking back, I just see God's hand in everything, despite the evils, despite the heartache, despite the suffering.
“I can see that God wanted it this way. And I feel that his plan is much more beautiful than what I could have chosen … all the sacrifices that are involved in adoption. It just reflects Christ's sacrifice.”
McQuade says re-telling her story to LifeSite has also brought up many memories of the way her mom helped her and how much of a toll it took on her.
“I've talked to several SSPX people after everything happened, and it was very disheartening because I have people who totally support me and who are very encouraging and then I have others who have said to me, ‘The SSPX did everything they could have in your circumstance. Plus, your mom is the one who went to the police.’”
“They would say things like this, which was kind of hurtful because of the fact that my mom went to authorities right away, meaning, she went to the priest and they told her not to go to the police.”
McQuade says that Fr. Christopher Brandler, a priest who was stationed at Los Gatos during the time Van Der Putten was there, told her mom to redact the story she told to the police in 2001.
“I was disappointed to hear Fr. Brandler had told my mom to not go to the police and that he was the one who told my mom to redact her statement. I only found this all out after my mom's death in 2018 from a letter she had written a friend, and from speaking to the detective in this past year. He is a priest I have always thought was understanding and had good advice.”
“Can you imagine your child having been abused by a priest and being told not to tell anybody and being told not to go to the police?”
“My mom struggled with this until she died. I had to tell her, ‘Mom, just forget about it.’ I felt like if I didn't tell her to just forget about it, she would go insane … I feel like I pushed my mom under the rug.”
Reforms are needed for the SSPX
McQuade says that when abuse allegations within the SSPX came out in April 2020, she prayed about whether it was the right time to come forward.
“I knew I had to get my story out there. I prayed that God would direct me to do the right thing … yet people would say, ‘Well, the SSPX does so much good. Why would you want to destroy them?’”
But “I'm not trying to destroy them,” McQuade said. “I’m trying to stop” any more abuse from happening.
“I don't want the Traditional ‘light’ to be darkened by these stories … my focus is more on victims being silenced even when they're coming forward.”
“These stories have to be out there because there are other victims who are dealing with the same thing and the Society still has not fully dealt with it. I’m glad they have the Plan to Protect … but this is a bigger problem than the Society refuses to face.”
McQuade says she is not out to harm the SSPX but that changes are needed for the sake of victims.
“My mission today is to seek justice for victims and make sure this doesn't happen again and, if it does happen, to make sure people realize the victim is not at fault.”
“I was not offered a counselor after the abuse nor did anyone tell me I would have any problems. It would become a battle between blaming myself and wondering if I did the right thing.”
“It's not like I haven't forgiven the SSPX. I've dedicated my life for priests. But Christ always said that he would go after the lost sheep. I feel that this is a chance to go after those lost sheep. And the SSPX has had that chance so many times but they haven’t.”
McQuade said that despite everything she and her husband still receive the sacraments from the SSPX, although she doesn’t receive spiritual direction from their priests.
“My husband knows that there [are] other abuses within the church. So he knows that the hierarchy should change these things. In every traditional movement, they have their problems. He thinks that by just walking away from the SSPX, because they're not handling these cases right, is not necessarily the answer.”
“I feel more inclined to change the hierarchy. I feel like they need to step up and have transparency. I feel I have more of the feelings of wanting change within the SSPX and wanting them to have that transparency that they first talked about. So, it is hard for me to go to the Society in a sense because of the problems that have cropped up since [but] I’ve long forgiven, forgotten.”
As for Van Der Putten, who lives in Oklahoma, McQuade believes it’s dangerous that he has a family of his own.
“I feel he will continue to do these things. A predator will not stop. I’m worried his daughters and their friends may be abused by him. His family members must also be made aware about his past. A wife is not going to stop his behavior. Something must be done.”
“If the SSPX had dealt with this back then in the right way, and instructed us to get our reports together and bring them to the police for documentation, rather than say, ‘don’t tell anybody,’ this would be an entirely different story.”
Victoria McQuade’s full statement to LifeSiteNews
Warning: explicit content below.
Despite having concerns before my phone conversation with Stephen Kokx, I found him to be very respectful and empathetic. He listened very intently to what I had to say and never made me feel like I had any reason not to trust him.
I had concerns, as I heard through the grapevine that he was working with the SSPX and was biased. But, after talking to him, I didn’t feel that at all. In fact, the opposite was true.
His questions were aimed at understanding what happened and making sure he knew the details so as not to get them wrong. I hope that other victims are not reluctant to share their stories, as it can help both with their own healing and that of others.
I am sharing my story to mainly help victims heal by inspiring them to also tell their story, to help others to be aware, and to show that even though man may disappoint us, God never will.
Even though God may permit these things to happen, He can use evil things to shape us into stronger people, despite the horrendous things done to us by evil men and to those who may just stand there and watch and do nothing.
I pray that what you read may inspire you in this terrible epidemic to speak up and to notice when something is wrong. Do not be silenced anymore. Let us be brave together to fight against not flesh and blood but principalities. This is indeed a great evil of our time that our leaders seem to be blind to!
My understanding of Catholicism began at the age of 12. I was new to Tradition and the Catholic faith. I was three years behind in my schooling. Being 12, I was placed in 4th grade. It was then that a dynamic priest came to be the new principal of the school, Fr. Benedict Van Der Putten.
He was different from most priests, having lots of energy and not being as distant as others. He seemed to many to be a John Bosco-type figure. He came across as wanting to relate to children by his stories and energy. It was no wonder that my formidable years were very much structured under his ideal of how a priest should be.
I was greatly encouraged to take up the religious life. My 5th grade teacher aspired to be a Carmelite nun. Fr. Van Der Putten knew of my desire and tried to inspire the other three girls in my class to aspire to religious life as well. We read lots of books, one of which said that everyone should become a religious – an erroneous, strange heresy from long ago, I later found out.
I feel like Fr. Van Der Putten fed off of my desire for religious life and would often use it to gain my trust by saying I could tell him anything and that he was like a father to me. He would often pull me aside to talk about spiritual things. He often talked about how many saints like St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross would do this – talking for long hours and talking about the love of God.
When I was 15, he made it possible for me to visit the Carmelites and ask the bishop, one-on-one, if I could enter. Of course, the bishop said no, so I put my sights on another convent, the Oasis in Spain. I visited the Oasis with my teacher, who inspired me to love the religious life, and with my mom. The convent said I could enter once I learned Spanish. My teacher ended up entering the Oasis before me and I struggled to learn Spanish.
Fr. Van Der Putten knew my desire was strong to enter the convent as soon as possible and told me of a Franciscan order starting. I planned on entering that order but that fell through because of certain things I had to get ready before entering and because the nun starting that order ended up being an abuser too.
I still had my eyes on the Oasis so my mom, another mom, and five other girls planned a visit to Spain to see about my vocation.
My teacher, who, having left the Oasis, called me when she heard we were taking a trip to Spain and that Fr. Van Der Putten decided to tag along.
She said on a phone call, “Victoria, I don't know how to tell you this because I am not supposed to tell anyone but Fr. Van Der Putten tried to kiss me. And that is all I can tell you because even that is not what I am not supposed to tell you!”
I was taken aback. “What? A priest trying to kiss?” It was unfathomable to me. But I trusted my teacher. She told me to keep an eye on the other girls.
I decided to play “detective” and hoped my teacher was wrong about Fr. Van Der Putten. The trip was quite lovely. We visited the convent and had Mass everyday in the hotel. When Fr. Van Der Putten took the girls on a hike, I didn't want to go due to my fear of heights. I also debated to go or not to go because of what my teacher told me. I prayed that it would be okay and tried to brush the fear aside. I was 16 at this time while the other girls were 15, 13, 12[,] and 10. The moms also did not go on the hike.
One of my friends came back from the hike and told me, “Victoria, Fr. Van Der Putten pulled on X’s bra strap under her shirt.” I was taken aback because I hadn't even told my friend of my concerns.
I decided right then and there to tell the moms about my teacher's concern and about the incident that happened on the hike. They acted quickly, gathering the girls and telling them my teacher’s warning, and of how wrong it was of him to pull X’s bra strap.
The moms decided to wait to tell Fr. Van Der Putten and see what the next step was. But one of the girls ended up telling him and he in turn gave us a harsh sermon the next morning about rash judgement. Also, he didn't elevate the host and chalice at consecration. You could tell he was emotionally upset. The mothers told him he could never touch the girls again and that he had to promise not to.
He reluctantly did promise but behind the mothers’ backs he would make fun of them and say how puritanical it was and that he used to pull on his sister's bra straps when he was a kid and did it in good fun. After the trip, things were much different. He treated us differently. The girl who warned Fr. Van Der Putten of what the mothers had told us was often getting side hugs from him, and he would look at us.
Please note that anyone can be fooled by a priest because we were told pretty much they can do no wrong and because these predators can easily manipulate a situation. What may seem as plain as day to some, that a victim should have known, it really is actually quite confusing, especially when formed under such direction. When I tell my story, it may seem black and white but it is not so black in white when you go through it yourself. Please read with an open heart and understanding mind.
It seemed that after that incident in Spain things really went fast forward.
Fr. Van Der Putten gradually convinced us that his hugs were pure and that he thought our mothers were puritanical. He said he had pure love but all other guys didn't. He often talked badly about the guys volunteering at the church. I thought he did this because he was afraid of us having a crush on one of them, so he often tried to compare himself with them and his pure love.
The high school had dwindled to just another girl and myself. I was 17 and the other girl was 14 that year. Both she and I were in the 8th grade. We had lots of classes with Van Der Putten, as well as one-on-one lessons and hikes. We would often go to his office where he started to give the girl and I long hugs. He told us to read the Canticle of Canticles and discuss what we liked about it.
He even started referring to himself that he was almost like a husband to us because he was like Christ. He even did an engagement ceremony for us and placed a ring on our fingers saying we were engaged to Christ. He would also compare himself to St. Paul and use Phillipians as a theme for his love for us, as well as the Canticle of Canticles. He would give us long hugs several times of the day during school hours. My mom and I volunteered at the retreat center and would stay for a week at a time when there were retreats.
On one of our high school class hikes with Fr. Van Der Putten, we all sat down to rest at one of the views. He sat in the middle of my friend and I. He put his hand under our shirts and kind of tickled me and the other girl and actually touched my breast. I tried to shake it off as an accident but it stayed there for what seemed like an eternity but what was probably more like ten seconds. When I talked to my friend, she said that, yes, he had done that to her and that it was so we could trust him. At that point, I realized it wasn't an accident. On another occasion, he brought me to his office and kissed me on the lips, telling me he loved me.
I again went to my friend and told her about that and she said that he does that to her too. It was then that I realized that my teacher was right in that he tried to kiss her. But he would often ridicule my teacher, saying her love wasn't pure and that she didn't love God enough.
I was so confused and a part of me thought I needed to be a detective and another part told me that maybe that was sanctity and that I wasn't as pure as my friend because it didn't seem to phase her. I began to feel that I had a lot to learn from my 14 year-old friend, but at the same time I was terrified at the thought of how far into “sanctity” we would go.
Every day for a few months consisted of long hugs and kisses on the lips. I also was on a diet and lots of exercise trying to lose weight because Father had mentioned my weight before and I felt that he thought it wasn't saintly to be my weight.
One day I went kayaking with my friend, Fr. Van Der Putten, and another family. Father purposely tipped our kayak over but luckily I had a life jacket on over my white shirt and kept it on until I made it back to my room at the retreat center. Later that day, he hugged and kissed me and said he had a dream about me the night before that I was walking around in a halter top. I felt that that was really strange so I tried pushing it aside as a joke.
Fr. Van Der Putten would often show slide shows at camp of Michaelangelo's paintings and statues. He would say the human body was beautiful. He would even say things like it was more pleasurable for a woman to wear a skimpy bathing suit than to wear nothing. If anyone knew Fr. Van Der Putten, he was big on women not wearing pants or immodest clothing so this was very confusing to me, but again, his mind was “pure,” or so I thought.
I turned 18 in early March of 2000. It was then that the continuous hugging and kissing became very overwhelming every single day, several times a day. He wasn't living in the priests quarters but had moved several times that year from the Cabins to finally sleeping in his office, which was separated from all the other priests offices and was kind of an isolated corner off the front main office and kitchen.
He would often ask me to come in his office after Compline and would give me some hot toddy or Baileys and just talk about the love of God. He would hug and kiss me goodnight.
It was March 31st, after Compline, and he said to me, “If you wake up in the middle of the night, come to my office and we can talk more about the love of God.” My heart pounded in fear. The detective in me was afraid that my teacher was right, but then I also wondered if I was not loving God by not trusting him. For fear of betraying him, I smiled and said, “okay.” He whispered back and said, “I love you, can I keep you?” And then I went to my room off the kitchen with my mom.
I hoped that I would sleep the whole night so that I could tell him the next day that I hadn't woken up so I wouldn't have to tell him a lie. But I ended up waking up. My heart pounded from fear and felt like I had to go to his office so I wouldn't be questioned on why I hadn't gone.
I tiptoed through the kitchen and main office and all the floors seemed to squeak through the kitchen. All the doors from the kitchen to his room were open. It was as if he was waiting for me. He saw me when I looked into the room. He whispered for me to turn on the light after I shut the door and then he gave me a long hug and a kiss. I was there for maybe 15 mins not saying anything. I feared two things: that I didn't love God enough by fearing and then I feared what might happen.
But nothing happened that night and I was relieved. He told me to go back to my room and I breathed a sigh of relief. “I survived, he didn't do anything,” I thought to myself. “Perhaps I was mistaken about his intentions and I really had a lot to learn.”
It was April 1st, April Fools Day, a day I tried not to be distracted by what happened the night before. I spent the day playing tricks on people, maybe to help me keep distracted. I told my friend what had happened and she said she was so excited for me that he was showing me God's love. She too had done this and was happy that I too was able to share in on being on fire with the love of God.
After Compline, I tried to avoid Father Van Der Putten but he hurried after me and told me that if I woke up that night to go to his office once again if I couldn't sleep. He took me to his office and kissed me and hugged me goodnight. As I left, I feared all the more but at the same time I felt obligated to go in the middle of the night to his office.
So, once again, when I awoke, I made my way to his office trying to build up courage. I hoped my fears were unfounded. I retraced my steps several times, not knowing if I should go. I felt something that was saying not to go but fear of not loving God enough and having the wrong kind of love made me go anyway.
I called out to him and he seemed to be asleep this time and then he got up and told me to close the door and turn on the light.
I turned around and there he was, standing sideways naked. I quickly turned around to leave but he said to me not to go and that he was putting on his boxers. I, in my 18 years of life, had not seen a naked man. I was horrified and my instinct was to run away but instead I froze in fear at what would happen next. He hugged me tightly and felt around. He took off my shirt and bra and hugged me without my bra. I remember looking at the statue of Our Lady of Fatima in his room thinking how he needed help and pleaded with Our Lady to protect me and help him. He asked me if I was ready. He touched my breast. I didn't say anything. I just was standing there having to hug him frozen.
He then tried to take off my skirt but for some reason it seemed like he had a difficult time and didn't end up taking it off. I sometimes think it was my St. Philomena cord I was wearing. Whatever it was, he did sense I was nervous and said that I must not be ready. He laid me on his bed and then asked if there was anything I wanted. I laid there with my eyes closed and still didn't say anything. He then gave me a kiss, and helped me up from his bed. He gave me another hug and kiss and said I needed to go. All of this was probably about 45 mins but what seemed like an eternity. I returned to my room absolutely confused and couldn't sleep.
In the morning after prime, he took me up to his office for a hug and kiss and he felt me and said he felt me all night. I didn't want to have these feelings or attention from him. I felt as though he was trying to put it in high gear for some reason, as I was to be going to be entering the convent four months later.
At Mass, as I saw him raise the white host, I thought of him touching me. I felt sick. I had to have composure after Mass and pretend I was okay with everything because I didn't want to give away my mixed emotions about it all. That day was Sunday. He had to go away on a mission. I felt a little relief knowing that something worse wouldn't happen that next night.
Later that day, I spoke to my friend. I pretended to like what Father had done so as to play detective and gather information to see if he had done the same to her. To my amazement, he had done similar things and a shower. That day I was more quiet than usual thinking, “how is this any different than a boyfriend doing this to me?”
I came to the conclusion that it was bad and that I was going to have to confront him when he came back on Tuesday. Monday, I spent the day shopping with my mom. She noticed how I seemed to be shopping aimlessly and seemed kind of agitated. She asked me what was wrong and I just said that I was fine. But I was really far from fine and I pleaded in a secret prayer that even if I had to die as a martyr that I would confront him.
That evening, my mom sat me down and told me that I must tell her what was the matter. I began to cry. I told her that she needed to pray for me to have strength. And she said, “why?” I said, “because I had to confront Father about something.” She said that I could tell her and I said, “Mom, you won't believe me.” My mom hugged me and I told her what happened, crying.
I told my mom I could be strong enough to confront Fr. Van Der Putten but my mom was smart enough to not go back to him. She went right away to the SSPX’s US District Superior.
Since it was late in the evening, we had to wait to talk to them the next day. It was a long day of waiting. The time came to tell the District Superior, Fr. Peter Scott, that not only myself was abused but another girl who was 14 was also involved. He said he would get Van Der Putten out of there right away and that he would get there Friday to have a deposition for me to do as well as the other girl.
I felt I betrayed Fr. Van Der Putten but at the same time I felt I did the right thing. As a victim, you start to blame yourself and think that maybe you yourself were to blame. I held all these emotions in and when I went for choir practice on Wednesday, I decided to pray in church instead so as not to run into Father Van Der Putten.
I didn't know if he was gone yet but he was still there and I almost felt like calling out to him in the church to say I was sorry. But, I remained silent. Friday seemed to take forever to get to.
I talked to my friend and asked if she had talked to Fr. Van Der Putten and she said she had. I said to tell him I was sorry and she said that he did forgive me. I asked her what I should do. She said that he said to answer questions in the deposition rather than saying what happened so as not to have to say everything.
She was first to give the deposition. When she came out, she told me he was being transferred for sure. I then gave my deposition. It consisted of most of the horrible stuff I have written here. I remember the District Superior, Fr. Peter Scott, made a comment to me about how naive I was to go to Fr. Van Der Putten’s office in the middle of the night. I had to give the deposition in the very office the horrendous abuses happened in. It was indeed a nightmare. Fr. Scott said not to tell anyone and that I would still be able to go into the convent.
The following months were full of confusion. I kept to myself. As a victim you go through lots of doubt, guilt, shame, and remorse. I prayed and prayed, feeling as though I was a horrible person for having told but then also for allowing it to happen.
Another priest, Fr. John Peek, who was quite a follower of Fr. Van Der Putten’s, told me in the confessional I committed a mortal sin for telling on him. I felt horrible and that I betrayed him.
I felt I needed to do penance for the rest of my life. At the same time, I would hear of my friends saying how wonderful a priest Father Van Der Putten was and that he was a martyr for having the SSPX persecute him for nothing for having sent him away.
I had to listen to this knowing what I knew not being able to tell. Finally, a few weeks before I entered the convent, I had enough and told a mother not to trust Van Der Putten because he tried to do things that I couldn't tell her. She pleaded with me to tell her but I said I couldn't say. She said she believed me and that she would make sure her children knew. So I went to the convent as if nothing had happened.
As a side note, I had just turned 18 at the beginning of March. He abused me on the last day of March and the first day of April. But in January or February, when I was 17, he did touch me in private areas. The grooming process consisted of years with me. Being that I was three grades behind, it was as if I was younger.
Most victims preyed upon are vulnerable. I didn't have a father figure in my life and Fr. Van Der Putten used vulnerability to manipulate and plan things. He probably knew he couldn't trust me completely so maybe he knew he had to wait to try and do more later. Perhaps he even figured that I would be quiet about it in the convent anyway. It’s hard to know the mind of a manipulator.
This next section is mainly about my struggle after the abuse and not being able to get help through my problems. I was not offered a counselor after the abuse nor did anyone tell me I would have any problems. It would become a battle between blaming myself and wondering if I did the right thing.
I thought I would easily forget what happened to me once I was in the convent but it only consumed me and I felt the devil was attacking my vocation. My constant thought was that I had to prove Fr. Van Der Putten wrong by not letting my feeling of not belonging in the convent get in the way of my vocation. In the back of my head, I would think of what he told me about my teacher when she left the convent. He had told me she didn't have the proper love and that her love wasn't pure. Then, when she left the convent, he used that against her because of when she had warned us on our Spain trip. He said she was pretending when she was in the convent and when she left it just proved that she didn't love God. He constantly put my teacher down and all these thoughts flooded my mind as if he was still abusing me.
My mom became concerned when she felt I was struggling and asked the District Superior, Fr. Peter Scott, if I could tell my superiors what Fr. Van Der Putten tried to do to me. Father gave permission and in confession at the convent, the priest I confessed to asked if Fr. Van Der Putten sexually assaulted me. I thought sexual assault meant sex and I quickly said, ‘No, he didn't do that,’ so the priest said, ‘Then you should be fine,’ not knowing the full extent. Again, this priest had no knowledge of what happened and therefore did not cover anything up but just happened to ask the wrong question.
At this point, I just began to feel everything was my fault. I knelt long hours and ruined my knees. I also gained so much weight after six months of being there, when a year before I had lost so much weight I lost my period with over exercise and under eating. I was determined to stay in the convent to prove Fr. Van Der Putten wrong and to prove to myself that I could work out my vocation and that it was only the devil trying to steal my peace of finally having my vocation.
I began to journal my feelings and it seemed to help. I relied totally on God and never once went to my superiors for the first two years of my convent life. Before my novitiate, I prayed for a sign from God that if I had done the right thing by telling on Fr. Van Der Putten that he would leave the Society. To my great comfort, it was in 2001 that I received word he had left. Although to me it was great news, I still struggled. I felt alone. It was as if all was black. All of the years prior to the convent were bright and cheery and full of fire for the love of God and being able to truly feel I could become a saint. In the convent, my prayer was full of suffering and distraction. All I could do was go through my day to day prayers as if nothing happened. I tried so hard to forget.
I must add that it was also in 2001 when my close family friends were alerted by my mom to what Fr. Van Der Putten had done, so they contacted the police. But since my superiors in the convent didn't know fully what happened, they thought my mom was exaggerating the things that happened and said it would be best that I don't talk to the police.
My other friend also was questioned unwillingly by the police and didn't tell them anything either, from the best of my knowledge. They had nothing they could do legally against Fr. Van Der Putten, who had left the SSPX by then. California is very lenient against sexual predators, so what Fr. Van Der Putten had done to me could not really get him in any trouble. Only the 14 year-old could have gotten him in deep trouble but she remained quiet because she was still in contact with Fr. Van Der Putten, ‘under his power’ so to speak.
After two years of silence, I could no longer contain my emotions. Mother Superior took me aside and said that I must tell her what was the matter and that I could tell her anything. So, I told her what happened to me finally. She was so understanding and knew right away what was wrong. She said I had PTSD and that she would get help for me right away. It was then I began to heal but it was an uphill battle of emotions.
I sought help from the next US SSPX District Superior as my spiritual director, Fr. John Fullerton. I chose him because I liked him least of all the priests because I felt that by choosing one I didn't care for I wouldn't have to worry about anything because I had begun to blame myself again.
He told me I could say my story in the confessional so as to put away any doubt if I had done any wrongdoing. I found peace for a time but his advice always for me was to forget it and try to offer it up, all of which I tried to do. For two years I was counseled by Fr. Fullerton as well as by a Catholic psychiatrist/ therapist. Eventually, Mother Superior felt it best that I leave because I wasn't getting better, but actually worse. She felt I needed to get more help and so I was sent home from the convent.
I am writing about my struggles because I feel it’s necessary to show how much the abuse can take hold of a person no matter how seemingly little it may be, and that offering it up or trying to forget about it does no good. For me, healing began when I told my story. My healing was from getting comfort and understanding from those I loved.
After leaving the convent, I did speak to the detective who originally spoke to my mom and friends but at that point the statutes of limitations were up and the only person who could do something was my friend who had been abused alongside me, and possibly long before me.
I also heard a few of my other friends had also been abused by Fr. Van Der Putten and it saddened me that nothing could be done once I realised something should have been done.
This is perhaps the most important part of my abuse story because it was when I understood that what I went through was abuse and was able to tell my story, then I began to heal.
I told my story to those who would listen and spoke to others who had been abused by Fr. Van Der Putten. I read many books about abuse and tried to understand all that happened. I tried to speak to the new priest at the retreat center, Fr. Daniel Cooper, about what happened to me but he said he didn't want to hear it. He didn't want to know the details and just told me to try and forget it.
When I told him I was going to the authorities (the detective), he got mad. He said it would do more harm than good. I went anyway and was glad I could tell my story, even though they said essentially there was nothing they could do. Only the other girl could do something since she was underage. I have never went to a priest for spiritual direction since then. My healing took many turns and twists because I had to sort out my feelings and emotions and come to the realization as to why I had been suffering.
Having been so isolated from the outside world in the convent, it was quite a shock to come back. Everyone and the world had changed so much and I was still kind of stuck in the Fr. Van Der Putten bubble and had yet to detox my mental state from mental abuse, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse. It was as though I was disillusioned by it all but at the same time steadfast in trying to forgive Fr. Van Der Putten. I had a hard time trusting men and priests and also having to jump back into the world and figure out what to do in my life.
I saw a psychiatrist regularly and a therapist to try and work out all of what I went through. I found that the greatest healing was sharing my story freely and having friends and family who understood me and who helped me realize none of what I went through was my fault.
My biggest lesson was to understand it wasn't my fault, that what he did was pure evil, that the superiors that allowed him to walk free and cover things up were only men who lacked integrity. I had to learn most of all patience with myself. I was very, very hard on myself all those years that it was almost as though I was also abused during the four years in the convent.
I did believe in redemptive suffering and it was in the convent that I offered my life for priests. Even out of the convent I renewed that offering despite feeling pushed aside.
Those four years in the convent may have been a torturous time but somehow I was able to see only God in my suffering. Having to endure in silence forced me to surrender everything over to God, though I felt nothing. It was a time of spiritual dryness. All my prayers had no feeling, only suffering.
This was the biggest reason why I couldn't determine whether I had a vocation or not. I pushed so hard so as not to fail that I didn't realise that maybe God didn't want me to be so miserable trying to become a saint. All the saint books I read seemed like I had to suffer, but what I didn't see was that the saints suffered in peace. I didn't have peace in the midst of my suffering. It was more suffering in the midst of my confusion.
So the biggest thing for me was to be patient with myself because I felt like I had to start all over again in the spiritual life, as if I was a complete baby. I had to stay in the baby stage and I am still there today. I felt St. Therese was there the whole way guiding me with her little way.
My mission today is to seek justice for victims and make sure this doesn't happen again and, if it does happen, to make sure people realize the victim is not at fault.
Raising awareness to these things will help so much. Also, knowing when lines are crossed with priests and bringing things to the attention of the proper authorities is essential. God allowed this to happen for some reason, and ever since then I have wanted to help victims.
Every story of abuse I read or listen to, and each one I hear and see, I notice the same pattern. I also am more keen on who an abuser is and I can usually spot them before they do something. I have had this intuition since my abuse.
If you sense something is off, don't dismiss it. We don't want to live in a world of not being able to trust people but we don't want to blind ourselves either.