Moral Low Ground

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“I Could Do Anything With Him That I Wanted”: Pedophile Priest Robert Van Handel’s Twisted Mind Revealed in ‘Sexual Autobiography’

During a psychiatric examination to determine the length of his sentence for molesting young boys, Reverend Robert Van Handel said his worst fear was the public release of his sexual history. That’s exactly what has now happened, yet it still pales in comparison to the lifelong nightmare Van Handel is guilty of inflicting upon his once-innocent victims.

The disgraced priest, who is now 65, was forced to pen the twisted tale of his descent into pedophiliac perversion as part of his psychiatric treatment in 1993 and 1994, around the same time he pleaded guilty to one count of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor and was sentenced to eight years behind bars. A police report revealed that there were at least 15 other victims, but the cases were too old to prosecute.

As part of a $28 million settlement between the Franciscan order and victims of child sexual abuse, the order was forced to release its internal files. Franciscan priests battled hard to keep those documents sealed, but the California Supreme Court ruled that they must be disclosed. They were finally released on May 23 and posted online by BishopAccountability.org.

[click here for to view the documents]

Included among the files is Van Handel’s 27-page sexual autobiography, which chronicles his journey from innocent boy afraid of his sexuality to victim of priest molestation to perpetrator of heinous crimes against children in the very same southern California seminary where he himself was abused as a teenager.

Van Handel, who says his earliest memory is of his father and a doctor examining his penis, grew up in a “proud Catholic family” that was constantly on the move. After his father made him read a book about sex when he was 13, the young Van Handel began dreading the imminent sexual changes puberty would bring.

“Wet dreams were like poison candy,” he wrote. “It tasted sweet but would kill the immortal soul.”

“Masturbation was unspeakably evil,” he added. “Every night I prayed I would be spared a wet dream… I prayed my penis would remain small like a boy’s.”

But adolescence was as inevitable as the tides, and Van Handel decided to join St. Anthony’s junior seminary in Santa Barbara, California in an attempt to escape his burgeoning sexual angst. One night while he was lying in an infirmary with a fever, he was molested by a priest who told him he was trying to lower his body temperature by making him perspire. According to the autobiography, the priest stopped after Van Handel developed an erection.

“That is nearly the exact activity I would perform 10 to 15 years later,” he wrote.

Later, in college, Van Handel discovered his sexual attraction to young boys. He obsessed over them and bought magazines and books containing photos of naked children.

“I began to realize I was different,” he wrote. “Sometimes I worried about this, but I thought that as long as it was just a fantasy, there was no reason to panic.”

But fantasy gave way to reality when he started a boy’s choir in Berkeley in 1970. Soon thereafter, he molested his first victim– a seven-year-old boy, as well as his own five-year-old nephew.

“For the first time I was not carefully monitored,” he wrote. “I flourished.”

“There is something about me that is happier when accompanied by a small boy,” he explained. “Perhaps besides the sexual element, the child in me wants a playmate.”

Van Handel was like a kid in a candy store. It was Berkeley in the early ’70s, after all.

“It would not be uncommon to see children take off their clothes and paddle around one of the campus fountains,” he wrote. “This was of great interest to me, and sometimes I would photograph them with my telephoto lens.”

He did more than take pictures. Van Handel began racking up victims, almost always boys between the ages of eight and 11. At times, he would try to come clean about his sexual desire for children, twice sitting down with a fellow Franciscan to talk.

“I would hint, he would stab and we missed each other entirely,” he wrote.

A few years later, Van Handel was ordained as a priest and was assigned to St. Anthony’s– the same seminary where he’d been molested as a teenager. There, he started another choir and began molesting the boys who sang in it.

“it was clearly my choir and the fulfillment of my fondest dreams,” he wistfully recalled. “There was… a constant supply of attractive little boys.”

His “most beautiful” victim was a seven-year old.

“I took him up into the tower which was stark concrete with steel-barred windows and he posed as a prisoner with few clothes on,” he wrote. “I took some photos of him tied up with a big rope. It was though I could do anything with him that I wanted.”

The first time one of his victims resisted him, Van Handel was taken by surprise. When the 11-year-old boy started to cry, “that snapped something in my head,” he wrote. “For the first time, I was seeing signs that he really did not like this.”

When he read about another boys’ choir director who was arrested for molestation in 1983, Van Handel realized what he was and entered a deep depression. He thought about killing himself.

“For the first time it was before me that what I had been doing could be classified as criminal behavior,” he wrote. He grew paranoid– perhaps rightfully so– that his victims’ parents would learn about his horrific secret. Ironically, Van Handel was appointed to investigate a fellow priest accused of child sex abuse. He was shocked to discover that he had also molested the two brothers who the suspect allegedly abused.

By 1992, Van Handel was outed and removed from his position. As his case was about to go public, he told his family about what he’d done. “It’s all in God’s hands,” his father assured him. But before long, he was in the state of California’s hands, pleading guilty to molestation and facing a lengthy stretch in a place where people like him were considered the lowest of the low.

In there, he would need all the help his “god” could give.

 

 

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