A survivor’s story of sexual abuse by clerics
By: Bailey Brown
On Jan. 31, 2019, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio recognized Father Galeb Mokarzel (OMI) as a credibly accused person of sexual abuse or misconduct because his victim, Steve Bartley, spoke up.
From 1962-1973, Bartley experienced abuse from Mokarzel, another priest, and a brother. All three belong to the same religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
At 71 years old, Bartley is a retired law enforcement officer and is ready to publicly tell his story of abuse almost 60 years later. He identifies not only as a victim, but as a survivor of clergy abuse between the ages of 14 to 25. After leaving the seminary, he lived in a seminarian’s family garage and managed a new Burger King in Dallas, Texas. Years later he made his way to Colorado where he began a career in law enforcement. After retiring last year, he is now able to live comfortably at home and is planning to travel.
His decision to come forward at this time was to get his abusers confirmed by the Archdiocese of San Antonio, as well as other diocese, which are separate districts that cover a certain conglomerate of churches, where the abuses occurred.
He said now that he is fully retired, he has the time to talk about it and was encouraged by news reports he had seen of victims speaking about their abuse.
“There is no reason not to. That, and I think because of my age, I have nothing to lose,” he said.
Growing up in Midland, Texas, Bartley and his older brother helped in their Catholic Church as altar servers and would assist the priest any time they needed help. After graduating middle school at 13 years old, he decided to become a Catholic priest with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Beginning at age 14 through high school and minor seminary at St. Anthony’s Seminary in San Antonio, Texas, he experienced abuse by Mokarzel of the Oblate religious order. His abuse continued as Mokarzel stalked him from any school he went to and then back to Midland, Texas before he almost completed his Novitiate, which is the first step towards becoming a priest and temporary vows are taken. While in seminary school Mokarzel was assigned as Bartley’s spiritual advisor, as a mentor and guide on his spiritual journey to becoming a priest.
As his spiritual advisor in high school, Mokarzel could call on Bartley to see him whenever he wanted. He often did as the sexual abuse occurred on more than one occasion. His abuser was “constantly grooming” him, said Bartley.
“Right now, when I see his pictures, it triggers me. I still have nightmares. I don’t suppose those will ever stop. They were pretty bad while I was initially writing the report, I feel like that was the cause of my migraine headaches. If for some reason on TV, or walking down the street, I see a priest wearing a collar, it brings back the memories; not good memories,” he said. “I will never forget his face against mine because he always had a rough yet not a full beard. He would probably shave and then an hour later it was bristly, rubbing against me like sandpaper. I hated it. I don’t think I have missed a day in my life of not shaving. I have to shave in the morning, it’s probably connected somehow.”
He experienced the most abuse from Mokarzel as these abuses occurred hundreds of times. He once asked Mokarzel why he abused him.
“I asked him, ‘what is the significance of kissing and putting your tongue in my mouth and abusing me? How does this happen?’ and he said, ‘because that’s what Jesus would do to show His love for you and I’m His representative,’” he said. “How ridiculous is that? I guess you have to have some kind of rationale when you do that and that was his.”
He was able to escape the abuse for some time as he traveled to other churches for seminary school, but Mokarzel always found a way to follow him and the abuse continued. He graduated from Creighton University with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and political science, and right after graduation he began his Major Seminary Theology courses at the Oblate College of the Southwest.
As he settled into school, he met Brother Tom Weber, who was known as a “Working Brother.” They were responsible for looking after the campus regarding maintenance, groundwork, furniture making, or any kind of manual labor needed. They would take care of the pools, cut the grass, and had a few financial duties.
When he wasn’t doing schoolwork, he was helping Weber keep kids from vandalizing the property or cemeteries as security guards, he said.
“I enjoyed that kind of thing, so I got to know him pretty well and he took a real liking to me. I would say that he was a friend, no doubt about it. He looked after me and I enjoyed his company, and he abused me throughout it,” he said. “He never sexually abused me, but he hugged me and kissed me. That was important to him. He was a big guy and he was manly, but he had that need. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.”
He kept working with him despite the circumstances and wondered why those physical actions were necessary, he said.
“Why [is it that] every time I go into your room or you call me down or wherever, I have to be hugged? Not just a quick hug but a long embrace, and rubbed down, I guess you would call it, and putting your face against mine? So, I knew what was going on and I left there after a while, it was just too much for me,” he said.
In the summer of 1972, he was taking Spanish courses in Mexico City, Mexico. He was accompanied by classmates and their spiritual guide, Father William Watson, he also went by Father Bill Watson. On the way from Laredo, Texas to Mexico City, students could travel by bus but there was also a train they could take.
Watson wanted to take the train to travel across the border into Mexico and asked Bartley to join him, he said.
“I love trains, and I thought others would be going too but none of them did. So, it was just me and Father Watson, riding the train to Mexico City. You leave at two in the afternoon and I think we got into Mexico City the next day around noon, so it was about a 12-hour ride,” he said. “They make a lot of stops, it’s an older train, and there was no air conditioning. I’m thinking ‘wow this is weird.’ So that night on the train he abused me on the way down there. He was pretty intoxicated as he had been drinking quite a bit.”
He took the bus back with the rest of the class and has no idea how Watson got back to school whether by train or bus. He “didn’t want to be anywhere near him.” He never told anyone at the time and feared he would face repercussions at school as Watson was still one of his teachers.
After experiencing the abuse by these three clerics, Bartley decided to leave the seminary in 1973. Father Andrew Wueste (OMI) asked to see him before his last day.
Wueste was a good friend and a great priest Bartley said.
“He wanted to know, ‘why are you leaving? Why have you come to this decision? What can I do to convince you to stay?’ So that’s how the conversation started, and I told him, ‘here’s why. I don’t want to be a priest. I don’t want to be a brother. I don’t want to be involved with the Oblates anymore. I’m done. I haven’t been able to escape it, or put it away, or stop it, and I don’t see it stopping in the future, I don’t want to go down that road.’ [Wueste] understood,” he said. “[Wueste] didn’t say, ‘I’m going to go report it to the superior here or to the provincial,’ or that he was going to confront these people. He was just a very holy guy and said, ‘OK. I understand.’ For me it was like taking a deep breath of fresh air because I just wanted out of there, to pack my bags, get a car, and go home.”
Which is exactly what he did. After leaving the seminary and then working in law enforcement for 28 years, he wanted to have these clerics placed on the Bishop’s Accountability website and to be acknowledged by Siller and the Catholic Church, and to do that he needed to file a police report.
Bartley said what he wanted more than anything was to get a police report number showing that what happened to him was being acknowledged.
“I want something there for the next 200 years, I want something on file that I can say ‘yes you have my report, you accepted my report,’ [that was] reported to law enforcement in 2019, by Steve Bartley,” he said.
On Jan. 15, 2019, he filed a police report and allegations of “molestation, ritual sexual abuse, sexual assault, stalking, trauma, and rape by three predatory Catholic clergy in Texas,” as stated in his report. He sent the report to each of the cities he had been abused in. He sent it to four police departments, and a county sheriff’s office. He sent it to the Archdiocese of San Antonio, and to six other dioceses in Texas.
He said before sending his reports out he felt good about his decision, but he had some reservations.
“I just figured no one was going to believe me, as I am the first one to report this about Mokarzel and these other guys. All I could do was hope that they would take it seriously and obviously they did,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Diocese of Brownsville doesn’t understand that sexual abuse of an adult is also a crime, it’s against Canon Law, and they decided the only people they would put on the reports are child abusers not adult abusers. To me, that’s a real downfall.”
He did not hear from any of the law enforcement offices or any of the diocese except from the Diocese of Brownsville, San Angelo, and the Archdiocese of San Antonio.
The Diocesan Victim Assistance and Safe Environment Coordinator for the Diocese of Brownsville, Walter Lukaszek, told Bartley the “reports about Mokarzel at Sacred Heart Parish in McAllen is a report of sexual contact between consenting adults. That does not lessen the pain; for that we are sorry.” Their reasoning for not placing Weber and Watson on their credibly accused list is because Bartley was older than 18 at the time of the abuse, and because they are both deceased.
He heard the same response from the Bishop’s Accountability team as they chose not to place Weber and Watson on their credibly accused list. However, they added the reports of Mokarzel in their database, and in January of 2020, Pro Publica released their credibly accused database which includes him.
By Jan. 31, 2019, Siller lists Mokarzel on their credibly accused list because of Bartley’s report. The Diocese of San Angelo responded and placed him on their credibly accused list as well. Bartley asked his attorney what the next step should be and he advised him to file the police report in Colorado, which is his home state, and ask them to send it to the other police departments. Once he did, he immediately heard a response and was given a case number in March of 2019 by the Colorado Springs Police Department. Following in their footsteps, the San Antonio and McAllen Police Departments gave him a case number as well.
By April 2019 he sent his police report to the Superior General of the Oblates, Father Louis Lougen. He received a quick response from them expressing how sorry they were about what had happened to him while he was in the seminary and offered to pay for therapy sessions. Bartley said he was grateful for that and began therapy.
Two months later, he sent a letter to the Oblates asking for a compensation. He said if he ever received a settlement, he wasn’t going to sign a nondisclosure agreement. He wants to help other victims and help people come forward.
He said he wanted to receive something for the pain and suffering he went through.
“I asked for $2 million for ten years of abuse, hundreds of abuses, not just one or two, there were hundreds by Mokarzel, and a bunch by these other two,” he said. “I asked my attorney, ‘how do you put an amount on that?’ Maybe if I asked for $2 million, they would give me $10,000, I had no clue.”
The Oblates response to his request was a settlement of $200,000 and they would continue to pay for his therapy sessions. Or they offered $200,000 and an additional $75,000 for Bartley to cover his own therapy expenses. The Oblates said this was the highest settlement they had ever given. He chose to take the $275,000 and has not heard from them since.
Before he asked for his compensation, he asked that the Oblates reimburse him for the postage expenses he made to send his police reports. They sent him a reimbursement check. The check was signed by Father Rocky Grimard (OMI). Bartley googled Grimard and found that in April of 2015 the San Antonio Express News released that Grimard was charged with indecent exposure and tried to solicit sex to undercover police officers.
He said it was disappointing to know they still had him working in the treasury office of the Oblates despite the charges.
“I mean what a slap in the face,” said Bartley.
For now, he said he plans to use this atonement to live out the rest of his life as comfortably as he can.
“I want to travel, and I am making sure my house is accessible for me as I get older. I’m getting handrails and things I couldn’t afford before,” he said. “I also would like to make a contribution to my charities, a larger contribution because I certainly don’t need it all.”
He stopped going to therapy and is currently working on writing a memoir which has helped his healing. He also wrote a guideline on the steps to take to speak out about abuse for all survivors.
He remains a faithful person but does not identify as Catholic. He has never been married or had a successful relationship with a woman. He attributes the reason for being unable to have a steady relationship because of the abuse.
“When I asked for atonement and compensation in my letter, I realized they are responsible for the misery, suffering, problems, trauma, PTSD, everything. They allowed it to happen, or at least their priests did, and I believe they knew about it and didn’t put a stop to it,” he said.
The most crucial thing he wants from speaking out about his abuse is an apology. The only one that can give him that apology is Mokarzel, who is currently living at the Oblate Madonna Residence in San Antonio. He is right across the street from an elementary and high school. He is 89 years old.
Bartley said he can own up to his own faults and wonders why others can’t.
“Why can’t [Mokarzel] pick up the phone? Why can’t he write a note saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ I want to make amends,” he said. “I want to be on the right side of life and people, and I’ve never heard a word from him. Nothing. Maybe I should write him a letter saying I demand an apology.”
That is the next step in his healing process, either writing Mokarzel a letter, or going to confront him in person. He is taking it day by day and is enjoying being in retirement while healing from what happened 60 years ago.
Bartley said he decided to tell his story now to help others and to bring himself some closure.
“This is something I should have done many years ago and didn’t do it,” he said. “It’s like you finally wake up and go, ‘I’m going to do this. I need to get started on this,’ and I did.”