St. Charles Catholic School in Columbus did more than prepare boys to become men, according to some former students, it may have also been an environment that fostered bullying, bigotry, and sex abuse.
In August a former student filed a lawsuit against St Charles, as well as the Columbus Diocese, claiming Monsignor Thomas Bennett, who died in 2008, had sexually abused him in the early 2000s. The former student, Kevin Heidtman, said it started when he had detentions with Bennett alone.
"Thatâ€™s when things got more physical. Originally just over clothing but then eventually underneath," Heidtman said.
The lawsuit prompted others to come forward.
Ken Wilcox says Father Bennett abused him when he was a student at St. Charles almost forty years ago. â€œI didnâ€™t tell anybody. I was afraid that no one would believe me. I was sure no one would believe me. How could Father Bennett do that?â€
But before the sexual abuse, Wilcox said Father Bennett allowed his classmates to bully him.
â€œMy classmates would roll up hateful notes saying that Iâ€™m gay and all sorts of obscenities, and theyâ€™d roll those notes up into the overhead projector screen, and when Father Bennett would pull the screen theyâ€™d come fluttering down and I had to pick them up," Wilcox recounted.
Wilcox felt that Father Bennett disliked him from the beginning, describing him as "just mean. He went so far as to compare Father Bennett to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
â€œOmniscient, experienced, smart, authoritative, leading, he was a big guy. I donâ€™t know how tall maybe 6â€™3â€ â€“ 6â€™2â€ â€“ he was imposing, he was big. He was playful, and then thereâ€™s the mean side," Wilcox said describing Bennett.
At the end of his junior year is when He says Father Bennett molested him.
â€œIt was May 1981, I had missed a test, and so I had to go to his residence. It was like 4:15 and by this time the school was a ghost town; he opened the door and he locked the door behind him.â€
Wilcox had to recite the Presidents, Presidentâ€™s wives, and their terms of office for Father Bennett. â€œSomewhere around Buchanan, before Lincoln, he asked me if I was circumcisedIâ€™d hoped I hadnâ€™t heard him. Iâ€™d kept on going with the presidents.and he said â€˜are you?â€™ Then â€˜show me.â€™ I was obedient. I unzipped.â€
He recalls Father Bennett spent the next ten minutes fondling him. Wilcox thinks because he didnâ€™t get aroused, it never happened again.
He also described extreme bullying he says went on at St. Charles.
"As a young person I was also struggling with my sexuality I did not want to be gay but thatâ€™s what God had planned for me. I had been taught as a youngster that was bad you donâ€™t want to be gay itâ€™s against Gods plan - thatâ€™s what they told me," Wilcox said. â€œBeing different in general meant being bullied in some fashion; bullying was a subculture that was accepted clearly by the school leaders at that time because they didnâ€™t stop it. There were plenty of instances of it and bullies werenâ€™t reprimanded they were rewarded.â€
It was in high school at St. Charles that Ken accepted that he was gay.
Wilcox says Father Bennett allowed other students to bully him for being gay.
"He couldâ€™ve stopped it but he didnâ€™t. He seemed to kind of enjoy watching the meek squirm.â€
Wilcox feels â€œsexual abuse is just another form of bullyingâ€ and urges other victims, â€œplease write a letter to the attorney general of whatever state you live in and beg, plead, and implore, that the attorneys general across this country allocate funds to do a thorough investigation because this must stop.â€
Full interview below:
(Warning: explicit language)