Ted Lausche suffered abuse from one of the first priests criminally charged in the U.S. The 50-year-old demons still haunt him.
By Erica Jones
In the living room of his Marshall, Wisconsin, home, 62-year-old Ted Lausche has a clock that reads aloud Bible verses every hour.
For Lausche, these readings trigger memories of the years of physical and sexual abuse he endured at a Catholic orphanage in Louisiana. But he chooses not to shut them off because the readings also remind him of his late partner, a spiritual woman who loved him despite his personal demons.
In the decades since he escaped from the orphanage at age 13, Lausche has suffered from alcohol abuse, drug addiction, mental health problems, three failed marriages and homelessness. Now, he said he is choosing to “take the best and leave the rest,” looking for positivity in an often tough life.
Lausche fled Hope Haven in Marrerro, Louisiana, where he said he suffered 10 years of physical and sexual abuse. That home and the orphanage for younger children, Madonna Manor, have been the subject of repeated allegations of sexual abuse by clergy that continue to surface.
Lausche was part of a 2009 settlement for $5.2 million reached with the Archdiocese of New Orleans and an undisclosed number of adults who had alleged being beaten, berated and sexually abused as children at Hope Haven and Madonna Manor.
These days, he focuses his anger into “back channel” work, from organizing protests at the diocese in Madison to writing letters to state legislators about laws that should be changed.
Working to change the system — and getting some justice for the abuse he suffered — helps him cope, Lausche said.
“The victim is the person who hasn’t come to the point of acceptance of what’s happened,” Lausche said. “You become a survivor once you take some action.”
A decade of abuse
Despite the passage of nearly 50 years, when he recalls the abuse he suffered, Lausche’s voice gets loud and color rises in his face, and a torrent of swear words flow forth.
Lausche remembers sitting on the curb outside of the apartment he shared with his mother at the age of 3. His mother was a prostitute, and when she was arrested, she failed to mention to authorities that she had a young child at home.
Eventually, police picked him up. While Lausche’s mother sat in jail, he was taken to Madonna Manor.
Over the next decade, Lausche said he endured repeated abuse.
From the beginning, Lausche said the employees at the orphanage tried to break the children. They did not own personal belongings. They rarely had any privacy. They did not have access to radio or TV. Despite Hope Haven’s name, Lausche said, “The final ingredient for that environment to exist — the final touch — is to take away all hope.”
And that was not the end of it. He said the priests, nuns and seminarians who ran the orphanage, abused children physically and sexually.
“Imagine a world where the only touch is violence,” Lausche said. For years, he said, he never heard his own name because he was only called “Hey you!” or “Get back here!”
Once, Lausche recalled, he was called into a confessional to find the priest masturbating. When the priest pulled him into the room and attempted to rape him, Lausche said, he fled the confessional and did not stop running. He hid outside all day, getting scratches from the thorny bushes where he took cover.
On a summer afternoon during a dodgeball game, Lausche found himself doubled over in pain after a ball had hit him in the genitals. He said a seminarian, Art Schrenger, took him into the bathroom and told him he could only assess the damage if he masturbated him. Schrenger was removed from the priesthood in 2003 after admitting two unspecified instances of sexual abuse.
Perhaps the worst incident was when Lausche was told to go with then-seminarian Gilbert Gauthe to Gauthe’s parents’ home. The prospective priest, Lausche and another boy headed down the road in a car that Lausche can still recall in detail: a “tricked out” 1957 robin-egg blue Thunderbird.
He paused, breathing heavily, as he recounted the episode.
On the drive out, Gauthe stopped, putting a .45-caliber gun to Lausche’s head, then fired a shot out the window, warning the boy that he needed to do whatever he said. Later, locked in a bedroom in the home, Lauthe was awakened by a pillow being placed over his head while Gauthe raped him.
In the mid-1980s, Gauthe acknowledged sexually abusing more than three dozen boys, becoming what is thought to be the first U.S. priest criminally charged for such crimes.
Lausche is gratified to see more people joining him in the grassroots movement to force the Catholic Church to address years of abuse.
Said Lausche: “It’s our chance. Our time has kind of come.”
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