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Friday, January 29, 2010

A Pedophile Mind: As sentencing approaches, priest pours out sexual history hoping for probation, gets notoriety instead

By Kay Ebeling
City of Angels in Santa Barbara

Fr. Van Handel felt he was “a failure with nothing to live for” soon after news broke that he molested choir boys, his therapist said. Facing justice, the pedophile priest wrote out a history of his sex life and gave it to the Court while requesting probation, answering questions about what is wrong inside the Church, inadvertently, and the role of priests that led to this nationwide epidemic of pedophilia.

His sexual outpouring did not earn the felon priest probation, he was sentenced to 8 years, served four in prison, four on parole, and since his release has lived close to his therapists outside Santa Cruz. Today at City of Angels we look at the state of Van Handel’s mind between arrest and sentencing and how his cooperation got his sexual autobiography into the public record.

He wanted to tell it to the world

The arresting officer wrote, “Van Handel made it clear he wanted full disclosure of his acting-out history.” His therapist wrote: “Full disclosures to the best of his ability to recall has a therapeutic effect which outweighs the risk factor associated with the actual sentencing.”

As we read through his “sexual autobiography” and the Probation Report, an image appears of a nervous priest who knows in 1994 that any day he will be named as one of the pedophiles at St. Anthony’s. Once accused, Van Handel jets off to St. Luke’s in Maryland where he spends thirteen months doing a seven-month program with 32 other sexually charged priests

Van Handel watches as more news is released about St. Anthony’s seminary in Santa Barbara. Before his sentencing, I sense almost Stockholm Syndrome in the way Van Handel agrees to cooperate with the police, telling them everything, almost like this sick priest saw in the detectives the father confessors he’d always been looking for in the Church.

Whatever his motivation for writing out the 27-page single space typed document, so much is revealed in it about life behind the cloistered doors of the seminary, the secretiveness, the totally inexperienced adult men teaching boys about sexuality. We will write more about Van Handel’s strange mutation from a freshman who wouldn't dare touch his genitals to the choir director who rubbed and tickled the genitals of hundreds, picking freely from a steady stream of 8 to 14-year olds at his disposal.

By the way, we are not on a bounty hunt for the head of Van Handel on a stick. He is just one of six thousand, one of the perhaps ten thousand Catholic priests who turned out to be pedophiles ravaging children of parish families in the last sixty or so years in the USA, six thousand that we know of. Believe it or not, Van Handel’s crimes and just one more installment as the stories slowly come out about the pedophile epidemic in the Catholic Church.

Here, today, we're exploring what was going on in the mind of this perpetrator priest the weeks before his arrest as he waited for the “crisis to hit,” and the way his life changed after the arrest and conviction, including what I feel is pampering at treatment centers, especially when you compare the treatment this convicted pedophile priest gets to what was done to the lives of pedophile priests’ victims, and where many of us are today.

Many readers have queried, how did the sexual autobiography end up in the public record in the first place?

The arresting officer, Mike McGrew of the Santa Barbara Police Department, describes getting the sexual autobiography into evidence, in his report attached to the Probation Report:

“When I arrested Van Handel, I served a search warrant in his room at the St. Francis Retreat in San Juan Bautista, California. I recovered several pieces of evidence which included various correspondence, letters written by Van Handel, a diary, (January 1993 to March 1994) written by Van Handel, and an autobiography written by Van Handel.” Where “he describes his pedophile feelings and mentions ‘trust’ as a tool for his unlawful acts.

“Van Handel also describes the Santa Barbara Boys Choir as being ‘a constant supply of attractive little boys.’”

His therapist wrote: “Mr. Van Handel made it clear that he wanted full disclosure of his acting-out history as a step in controlling his pedophilic tendencies,” in a letter included in the Probation Report.

I see a state of panic developing in Van Handel during the months between his arrest and conviction.

The MSW continues that Van Handel, “said he fully recognized that his full and candid disclosures increased the risk of additional or maximum sentencing versus the possibility of parole and out-patient treatment. However, he feels full disclosures to the best of his ability to recall has a therapeutic effect which outweighs the risk factor associated with the actual sentencing."

Van Handel molested so many boys he couldn't keep them straight.


What Happened the Weeks Before Van Handel was Sentenced that Led to His Releasing his Sexual Autobiography, for which we are grateful

(NOTE: As I'm typing this stuff, I INTERJECT IN PARENTHESES AND ALL CAPS WHAT COMES TO MY MIND IN THE PROCESS, and we try to open and close quotes so you can clearly see where I'm copy typing and where I'm going off on my own rant.)

After finishing his MA at UCSF in History in June of 1991


“I was asked to work in the Provincial office. I had been listless and unhappy, could not describe any job that would interest me, and was generally depressed. The Boys Choir hired a new director. I was replaced by another administrator in Santa Barbara, and with somewhat heavy heart moved to Berkeley.

“I worked in Oakland at our provincial office, mainly doing secretarial work. As I had nothing else I wanted to do, I was not dissatisfied, but clearly this would be a transition job.

“Sexually I was continuing to masturbate to images both of women and boys, and occasionally I would see FEMALE FRIEND in secret of course.

“The Year sort of bumped along taking me with it.

“In December I visited the choir in Santa Barbara, but already there were boys I had never met. I felt welcomed but estranged. There was a dispute going on about the new director, and I was drawn into the controversy. That was not pleasant.

“In April I joined some of my family for a 10K race in the Redwoods.

“Then in May the letter of intervention arrived.

“This was addressed to me with copies sent to several church officials, including the Provincial, confronting me with a molestation of perhaps ten years earlier.”


“The people who had sent the letter had been my best friends. The tone of the letter was stern, but the writers tried to point out that by forcing me to get help they were not only protecting other boys, but helping me as well.

“Since this time they have become very hostile.


“I sat down with my Provincial and a couple of good friends that same night and told them the accusations were true and that there were many other instances of similar behavior.”


“I was somewhat in shock, but I was not overly surprised that the secret was finally out.

“My confreres promised support and action, and a few days later I left for St. Luke’s Institute in Suitland, Maryland, near Washington D.C. There I was interviewed and tested in every way possible, including medical examinations and a brain scan.”


“The brain scan was a fairly disturbing procedure, but the 32 clergy patients at the hospital (St. Luke’s is a psychiatric hospital) kept assuring me that I would make it.”


Continued in Part 2 here:

Forgot to mention, this is Santa Barbara Story part 8, so what you go to from here is 8A... but who's counting?

1 comment:

city of angels lady said...

Ray posted this in a previous story, we are copying it here for emphasis:

I was a member of the Independent Board of Inquiry Regarding St. Anthony Seminary that investigated the sexual abuse that occurred there. When we issued our report in November 1993 we knew that we had not found all of the abuse but little did we know that we had only scratched the surface of events, there and across the entire Catholic Church. I had known Van Handel personally for many years without an inkling of the heinus crimes he was committing. The Board of Inquiry determined that one out of four Franciscans on the faculty during the period we investigated were perpetrators but the facts that have surfaced since then indicate that the percentage was much higher. I thought I had about heard it all on this topic but now even I realize that it was much worse than I had imagined. This document should be required reading for all Catholics.