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Friday, October 06, 2006

A trip in the wayback machine

The Late Fr. Bruce Ritter

The first case of a child sex predator I can remember involved Father Bruce Ritter and Covenent House in 1989.

Image of Covenant House Is Eroded by Sex Charges

Published: February 6, 1990

Within days of Mr. Kite's accusations, Covenant House found in an overnight telephone survey that as many as half its contributors were unsure whether they would continue their support. In December, the month when the agency usually receives up to 20 percent of its donations, Covenant House fell $3 million short of the $15 million it had expected to raise that month.

Facing the prospect of a continuing decline in contributions, the agency halted plans to develop programs for Phoenix, St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago and expand programs in New York, New Jersey and Washington. It has also delayed surveys to determine needs in five other nations.

''We're in the middle of a whirlwind,'' said Mark Stroock, a retired senior vice president of Young & Rubicam who has been on the Covenant House board of directors for 12 years. ''We have to wait and see.'' Another Accuser Charges Prompt Franciscan Inquiry The charges against Father Ritter that are the subject of the Franciscan inquiry focus on Mr. Bassile, a 31-year-old worker at a center for the disabled in Ithaca.

After Mr. Kite's assertions were made public in The New York Post on Dec. 12, Mr. Bassile called Father Ritter's superiors in the Franciscan order to lodge his own complaint.

Father Ritter had warned that ''copycats'' might surface in the wake of Mr. Kite's allegations. But Mr. Bassile had mentioned his complaints against Father Ritter to an Ithaca psychotherapist beginning in April 1989, more than a half year before Mr. Kite came forward. Handwritten notes of the therapist, Daniel Matusiewicz, show this.

Mr. Bassile said he had telephoned the office of the Minister Provincial, the Rev. Conall McHugh in Union City, N. J., to file his complaint and when he had not heard back from anyone, contacted The New York Times. Father McHugh sits on the board of Covenant House.

Mr. Bassile was interviewed last week by the Rev. Canice Connors of Winston-Salem, N.C., who was sent to Ithaca by the Franciscan Friary. Father Connors was for eight years director of residential treatment at Southdown, a church program in Aurora, Ontario, for priests with addictions, or emotional or sexual problems.

Mr. Bassile's account, first given in mid-January to The Times, is as follows:

After a childhood of sexual abuse at home, he was placed in 1970 at Mount Loretto, an orphanage and foster home run by Catholic Charities on Staten Island. There, Mr. Bassile said, he was raped and nearly hanged from a tree by three other resident youths.

Living on Rooftops

Mr. Bassile said he ran away and lived for months on rooftops and under a railroad trestle in Queens. In April 1973, when he was 14, he said, he entered an intake center for Covenant House in Greenwich Village and met Father Ritter, who was then living across Washington Square Park at 40 West 12th Street.

He said he visited Father Ritter there on a half-dozen occasions to talk over his anguished past. He said Covenant House had provided a warm, sympathetic environment unlike any he had known.

But on his second visit, Mr. Bassile said, Father Ritter made sexual overtures. He said he did not protest because, with his background, he was used to submitting and ''I welcomed any attention I got.''

On the next visit, he said, Father Ritter began fondling him and they engaged in a sexual act. As on three or four subsequent occasions when they also had sex, he said, he spent the night there. He provided what he said were details of Father Ritter's room, including a desk from which, he said, he stole small amounts of Canadian money.

In May 1975, he said, he ran away from Covenant House and moved to Ithaca. He has been married and divorced twice, has two children, and in recent years sought psychological counseling.

Mr. Bassile said he bore no animosity toward Father Ritter or Covenant House, but wanted an admission and apology from the priest.

''The organization is genuine,'' he said. ''I don't want Bruce Ritter removed from Covenant House. All I want is for the man to get help with his problems.''

'A Sick Kid'

Father Ritter said in an interview last week that he remembered meeting Mr. Bassile only in passing. He said it was possible that Mr. Bassile was one of the many youths who dropped in to his apartment - the building also had a Covenant House office - and sometimes spent the night under his roof. He said that he might have had Canadian money in his desk because he gave talks in Canada, and that a youth might have taken some of it.

Father Ritter recalled only one conversation with Mr. Bassile when the youth was at Covenant House. He said Mr. Bassile was ''a sick kid'' who had asked the priest then to marry him to a man in a wheelchair. Father Ritter said he dismissed the plea as ''crazy'' and that Mr. Bassile, angered, threatened to accuse him of sexual abuse.

He said he had not spoken to Mr. Bassile since.

Mr. Bassile said the man in the wheelchair was a friend, and that he had sought only to have the man named his foster father as a way of leaving Covenant House.

James J. Harnett, the chief operating officer of Covenant House, said records of Mr. Bassile's stay there were missing, as were those of many other youths from the early days of the program, when the organization was more haphazard.

''We should have them but we don't,'' he said, adding that Franciscan investigators also wanted to see Mr. Bassile's records. New Details False Records And Denials Meanwhile, Mr. Kite, whose accusations set off the investigation by the District Attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, has furnished new details of what he says was his relationship to Father Ritter and Covenant House.

In interviews with The Times last week, he reiterated his claims that, after a brief meeting at Covenant House in New Orleans last February, Father Ritter had flown him to New York, immediately driven him to the country estate of a Covenant House board member, and initiated a sexual relationship that was to last eight months.

He said he was introduced to everyone as Father Ritter's nephew before being given another false identity. He was, he said, put up in a Times Square apartment, given thousands of dollars worth of clothes, paid a weekly stipend for virtually no work and enrolled on scholarship in Manhattan College -where Father Ritter had been chaplain - without any high school records. College records confirm that he attended, and files there contain no high school transcript.

Mr. Kite said that last fall he grew disgusted with what he viewed as Father Ritter's ''manipulation'' of him and took his story to a hospital sex-abuse unit, Mr. Morgenthau's office and The Post.

Father Ritter tells quite a different story.

He said, at a news conference on Dec. 14 and in interviews, that Mr. Kite, who is 26, had passed himself off as a 19-year-old hustler and led Covenant House officials to believe that he was in fear of his life from the underworld. The priest said he had given Mr. Kite the name of his nephew, Jim Wallace, to protect him and had paid for clothes and housing to help him get his life on course.

A False Identity

Father Ritter acknowledged taking overnight trips with Mr. Kite but only, he said, as his counselor and ''mentor.''

While prosecutors try to sort out the conflicting accounts - focusing primarily on whether Father Ritter spent Covenant House funds for his personal benefit - new questions have cropped up.

For example, Mr. Kite has denied that he ever feared for his life, maintaining that the story was concocted by Father Ritter to explain why he rushed Mr. Kite to New York within a day of meeting him in New Orleans.

You get the inappropriate behavior, which covered up sex, and led to financial impropriety and a cover up of criminal acts. Ritter was seen as a hero in New York. When the first story broke in the New York Post by Charles Sennott, people attacked him and the paper with an intense ferocity.

Ritter protected kids, he cared about kids. Only problem was that it was cover for fucking them. The annual fundraiser for Covenant House usually had an attractive boy on the cover. Which was odd, because at that time, runaways was usually defined as a female problem. But Ritter was such a hero, he managed to face down Ed Koch to the cheers of the city.

When the Post was proven right, the support for Covenant House quickily collapsed and Ritter forced from the job which had made him famous. He had been a member of the Meese Commission. While the City and State passed on prosecuting him, a private investigation by Kroll and Associates, the white shoe PI/Security firm, did find that he had sex with shelter residents and may have spent Covenant House money on his personal needs.

This is a familiar pattern. A Child Sex Predator finds himself in a position to "protect" kids from other people, while grooming them for sex.

posted by Steve @ 2:54:00 AM

2:54:00 AM

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