Make your home page

Man speaks about his childhood experiences with ‘Father R’

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — A Lafayette man is sharing his experiences with a Catholic priest from when he was an elementary student at St. Boniface School in the 1980s.

Following the release of the lawsuit filed against the Lafayette Catholic Diocese in regards to allegations against Father James Grear, Travis Kearney reached out to WLFI over Facebook wanting to share his own experiences.

The priest in question will be referred to as “Father R.”

“It’s really weird the secrecy around all of it,” Kearney said. “I don’t understand the reason behind it.”

Secrecy surrounds events that took place nearly 30 years ago and, now, Kearney is looking for answers.

Kearney said it started when Father R followed him and his younger sister home from school one day.

“He came to my house unannounced. He asked my mother if he could take me, who was in fifth grade at the time, and my sister, who was in first grade at the time, on a ‘run,’” he said. 

He said his mother was savvy enough to say no and that she sensed something was amiss. He said when he came home one day and asked his mother what he was supposed to do if a girl says “stop,” she replied to him that you stop. He then recalled saying, “Well, that’s not what Father R did.”

He also said he remembers seeing Father R put young girls on his shoulders during recess and take them off church property. After his mother learned more of what Father R was doing in the schools, she reported it to the church. 

Kearney said his mother was not raised Catholic. 

“She didn’t for once have any kind of blind obedience to, ‘oh, this is a priest, there can’t be anything wrong,’” he said. “She immediately thought ‘why is my son asking me what to do when a girl says stop?’ ‘Why is this priest coming to my house?’”

He said seeing how his mother reacted to the situation with Father R caused him to have emotional and psychological damages such as paranoia and trust issues that still plague him.

He said when his mom brought the information she had to the church, she was told to keep quiet and was shunned. 

“She should have been received as a hero coming to help these people but instead it was just deny, deny, deny,” he said. 

Kearney has had multiple classmates reach out to him saying they had similar encounters with Father R. 

One person, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, “I was called over to the rectory three times during recess and he had me take my shirt off. But he never touched me…. I remember him holding my legs as I did sit-ups.”

Others reached out and said they remember their parents letting them go on the “run” with Father R and that “stuff happened.”

Another said they remembered being saved from the rectory with Father R by a custodian, who has since died.

Kearney said he is still a practicing Catholic and that his faith has not been shaken. He knows that priests like Father R are not an accurate representation of the church’s values. 

He is not looking to sue the church, nor wreak havoc on Father R’s life. 

“I pretty much just want an apology to my mom and say our mission statement is to protect souls and we didn’t do that,” he said. “You entrusted us with your children and the protection of your children and we failed in that.”

He also wants to know where Father R ended up and to know that he was not working with the public any longer.

He emailed the Lafayette Diocese asking for more information about Father R, listing a potential date as 1989.

The response said, “We have not been able to positively identify this priest with just the first name … and the years you mentioned don’t match with an assigned priest with that name…. Assuming we get an I.D. about this priest, we would report his name to the police, as is our policy when we get a name and no one has called the police yet — even in cases that are years old.”

After waiting weeks to learn about Father R’s current whereabouts, he decided to take matters into his own hands and did some research for himself.

“I found his age. I found where he’s located. I found that he’s no longer a priest,” he said. “I found a newspaper clipping dated Nov. 21, 1989, stating that he was moved (from Lafayette) to a retreat in Michigan.”

He said this newspaper clipping proves that the church did have knowledge of his whereabouts in 1989.

“They publish pictures from bake sales and clothing drives that took place 50 years ago and yet they tell me that don’t have any knowledge of this one priest in the 1980s?” he asked. 

Kearney said he gave the diocese all the information he had gathered Friday. Lafayette Police Department confirmed that no report has been filed with them.

The Lafayette Diocese released a statement about Kearney’s claims:

“The Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana did receive information from Travis Kearney about this priest. The Diocese and our Conduct in Ministry Officer investigated these reports and were not able to substantiate the claims.” 

Father R is not on the list released by the Diocese of with substantiated allegations.

Kearney said he hopes that, by sharing his story, others affected by Father R will find the courage to share their stories.