A molestation charge against a Wyoming priest has brought forth allegations of a bizarre bondage ritual performed on men two decades ago in the basement of a small-town church.
Several men have told investigators they allowed themselves to be stripped, blindfolded, suspended upside-down, whipped, and bound about the genitals while praying for penance, a prosecutor said Monday. Three of the men said they came to realize they had been tricked into an act that was sexual rather than religious, Platte County attorney Eric Alden said. "Every time the stuff would get more extreme, the beatings with the whip would be more extreme--there would be more ornate stuff with it," Alden said.
One man told authorities that after participating in the ritual about a half-dozen times, he rebelled when the priest allegedly touched him sexually. "And at that point in time, he sort of said, 'No more,' " Alden said.
The stories became public after Father Anthony Jablonowski pleaded no contest last week to a charge of taking indecent liberties with a 17-year-old boy in 1982. Alden alleged that the priest molested the boy in the rectory when he came to seek counseling about being gay.
Jablonowski, 67, served at St. Anthony Catholic Church in the southeastern Wyoming town of Guernsey from 1980 to 1988. He was sentenced to 15 months to seven years in prison. Alden said the boy did not take part in the rituals, which allegedly involved as many as three young men and the priest.
The priest's attorney, Dallas Laird, said Jablonowski likened the rituals to initiation rites in fraternities or the Marine Corps and suggested the men's memories of the incident may have gotten hazy with time. "He says that nothing he did was sexual," said Laird. "He admits doing spiritual and religious rituals, called prayers of penance."
The Diocese of Cheyenne is encouraging victims to seek counseling, said the Reverend Michael Carr, vicar general. "It's nothing that I've known the church to have any involvement with, and what I've heard about it is nothing that I could ever imagine the church approving," Carr said Monday. "It was a shock."
A year ago diocese officials began hearing allegations about odd rituals in the basement of the church in Guernsey. The diocese notified Alden, and he asked the state Division of Criminal Investigation to look into the matter. Agents later learned of allegations that Father Tony, as Jablonowski was known to many, had molested the teenager in Guernsey.
In exchange for the priest's no contest plea, Alden agreed not to press charges of felonious restraint, third-degree sexual assault, and battery. Defense attorney Laird said the priest denies the charge of molestation but pleaded no contest because his religious obligations preclude him from talking about the boy.