For two decades, Mark Holden kept the secret of the man who abused him: a man he believed was next to God, a man he thought was untouchable.
Holden met the Rev. James McSorley in 1971 at Boise’s Sacred Heart parish. In public, Holden served McSorley as an altar boy. In private, Holden said, the 50-year-old priest soon became exploitive, using secluded time with the children to fondle Holden — and possibly others — on multiple occasions over the course of a year.
McSorley bought Holden’s silence with beer, cigars and money. Holden knew the priest’s behavior was wrong — he just wasn’t sure how to end it.
The 12-year-old couldn’t tell his parents, he thought at the time, in part because he’d been drinking beer. Calling police didn’t even occur to him. Only some of the other altar boys knew of the priest’s actions, including his older brother.
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“They robbed my faith — and everyone’s faith,” said Holden, now 58. “...That person was supposed to be the person I could turn to when I feel in trouble. Yet, he was causing my trouble.”
McSorley had abused at least one child before. Records show the priest harmed multiple victims across 20 years in Oregon, Idaho and Washington.
In 1964, he allegedly molested an altar boy in Springfield, Oregon. Between the 1950s and ‘80s, he served in several Washington churches, where records indicate he abused at least one more child.
Holden is convinced the Catholic Church knew — and quietly moved the problem priest to new parishes, where McSorley again abused young victims.
“That’s infuriating,” Holden said. “That’s wrong.”
In Idaho, at least two bishops, eight priests and five other church members scattered over 40 years learned of McSorley’s abuse, records show. None of them called police.
It’s unclear how many more church officials in the Northwest knew McSorley was a threat and continued to move him from post to post.
The Oregon abuse eventually prompted a lawsuit in 2001. But McSorley otherwise was never charged, never defrocked and never disciplined before his death in 2005, officials within the church have said.
“(There’s) this string of people who think that it’s OK to use their position of power to influence, put their feelings above vulnerable people ... vulnerable populations,” Holden said about the priests being moved. “Which makes it appear normal to a child.”
To date, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise has avoided the level of public criticism over abuse cases that took place in cities such as Spokane and Portland. Holden’s detailed account, and the February arrest and charges against the retired Rev. W. Thomas Faucher, bring renewed accusations that Idaho church leaders failed to swiftly and properly handle credible abuse allegations for 40 years.
Church authorities point out that times have changed.
The Boise Diocese in 2003 enacted a formal review board to handle abuse allegations. The church has also made efforts with training and background checks to ensure children’s safety. And, it says it now has policies in place to immediately assist those who have been abused.
Bishop Peter Christensen currently oversees the Diocese of Boise, guiding more than 170,000 Catholics across Idaho. He moved to Idaho from Wisconsin in 2014 — well after the events described in this report.
Christensen declined multiple times to be interviewed about McSorley’s actions or the church’s response to to Holden’s accusations. But he provided the Statesman a written statement emphasizing the church’s revised policies, the declining rate of reported abuse and that child abuse is a widespread issue going beyond just the church.
“Decades ago, the Church in the United States and worldwide and other organizations made serious mistakes, even crimes, in the way child abuse cases were handled,” Christensen said. “Much has changed since then in both reporting requirements and the acknowledgment among medical professionals and Church officials that pedophilia and ephebophilia are more than ‘moral faults’ but psychiatric disorders that cannot be ‘cured’ by weeks or months in a treatment facility.”
Boise police have no record of anyone filing a report against McSorley, despite Holden reporting the abuse to diocese officials twice — in the ‘90s and again in the early 2000s.
Failing to report child abuse today is a misdemeanor under state law. But at the time Holden was abused, that law didn’t exist. And the law doesn’t apply to reports of decades-old abuses, law enforcement experts told the Statesman. Idaho lawmakers in 1995 also added a reporting exemption for ordained ministers, including priests, who learn of abuse in “confession or confidential communication.”
For victims like Holden, it’s also too late to pursue criminal charges. In 1972, the year of his abuse, the statute of limitations for felonies was three years after the crime occurred. It wasn’t until 2006 that the limits on charging those crimes were entirely eliminated.
Holden stressed that he was never abused by Faucher, whom he also grew to know well in his Boise childhood. In fact, Faucher claims he knew about McSorley’s problems for years.
Faucher awaits trial in the Ada County jail on 24 charges involving child pornography. Two people have made new accusations about childhood abuse by Faucher, but he hasn’t been charged in connection to those allegations.
While McSorley’s abuse of Holden happened over the course of a year, its consequences have stretched a lifetime.
Despite a successful career as a videographer and producer on the East Coast, Holden has struggled with alcoholism — a vice that began with McSorley offering him beer.
Did the abuse contribute to Holden becoming “an angry alcoholic”?
Certainly, he said.
He said his goal has never been to take down the church — just get it to acknowledge covering up McSorley’s actions. “All I wanted was an admission that they knew about it. That’s all I ever wanted.”
Idaho’s Catholic Church abuse history
In the past, Idahoans learned of child abuse by priests only when a case produced criminal charges, or a victim spoke publicly.
In 2002, on the heels of the revelations of the Catholic Church’s problems in Boston, then-Boise Bishop Michael Driscoll said he was not aware of any abuse allegations in Idaho, outside of two cases that became public knowledge before his time.
“To anyone in Idaho who may have been sexually abused as a child by a minister of the church, I am sorry and ask your forgiveness,” he said that March, inviting abuse victims to contact him.
Within two years, things changed.
In February 2004, Driscoll announced in the Idaho Catholic Register that the church had 21 credible allegations of child abuse made against 12 priests in this state. Those involved incidents from the 1950s up to 1996; 16 of the allegations were about abuse in the 1970s and ’80s.
None of the 12 remained in the ministry, and no Idaho priests at that time were under investigation for sexual misconduct, Driscoll wrote.
The diocese paid about $140,000 over time for counseling, legal expenses and one settlement, Driscoll wrote in 2004.
As in many dioceses, Driscoll did not identify the priests. Separately, the names of a few priests accused of misconduct during those years have become public. They include:
The Rev. Mel Baltazar pleaded guilty in 1984 to lewd conduct with a 15-year-old boy he met while serving as chaplain at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, according to the Associated Press. He served more than three years of a seven-year prison term before being paroled in 1988.
The Rev. James Worsley was defrocked after the Statesman published an interview with his victim in 1993. The victim told a Boise detective of “approximately 100 episodes of genital fondling and fellatio” between 1975 and 1980, according to a 1993 police report obtained by the Statesman.
The Rev. John Cornelius, a former Idaho priest who ended his career in Washington, was accused of molesting at least a dozen teenage boys, according to the Everett Herald in 2016. The alleged sex abuse occurred in Boise and King County, Washington, in the 1970s. Cornelius resigned in 2002 and was defrocked in 2004.
The Rev. A.J. Ferretti was a Jesuit priest who died in the early 1980s. Three women in 2008 and 2009 sued the Diocese of Boise and the regional Jesuit order, based in Oregon, for abuse they claimed they suffered from Ferretti at a north Idaho parish in the 1970s. The Jesuits, facing several lawsuits, declared bankruptcy and the case was moved to federal court in Oregon. There, the Boise Diocese was dropped from the claims and the case was eventually settled.
The Statesman asked this month for an update on abuse claims. Two additional and credible allegations had been made since 2002, according to church spokesman and Deacon Gene Fadness.
One priest, the Rev. William R. Gould, was removed from the ministry and assigned to a life of “prayer and penance” by the Vatican over alleged sexual misconduct with a boy under 18 in Idaho Falls in about 1981. At the time he was removed, he was serving as a priest at St. George’s Catholic Church in Post Falls. He was never charged. Bishop Driscoll announced the claim against Gould in 2010 when he put the priest on leave.
The second was a Jesuit priest who was returned to the Jesuits’ order at some point since 2002, and never returned to active ministry, Fadness said. Fadness did not provide the priest’s name because the Boise Diocese did not oversee him.
Since Jan. 1, 2006, Fadness said, the diocese has paid $100,569 in payments for counseling and related expenses for victims of clergy members. It has not paid out any further money for legal settlements, he said.
Four dioceses and a Jesuit order around Idaho have declared bankruptcies due to lawsuits over child abuse. Idaho was different for two reasons, Christensen said: State law allowed for far fewer old cases to be prosecuted, and the Boise Diocese has still had fewer reports of abuse than some of its peers.
“Unlike our neighboring dioceses, we have not been compelled by any court to pay settlements to victims,” the current bishop wrote. “We have voluntarily paid for counseling, as we should, for those who have come to us with allegations of past abuse.”
Christensen also noted that abuse reports have declined. He pointed to a 2011 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York; it concluded that total accusations against Catholic priests dropped from 975 in 1985-89 to 73 in 2004-08. The study determined allegations were made against about 4 percent of Catholic priests between 1950 and 2002, which researchers said mirrored overall national abuse rates.
When asked this month for the names of the 12 priests Driscoll referenced, Fadness wrote, “We would not be able to re-create whatever list Bishop Driscoll provided 16 years ago.”
But it seems likely that those dozen also included McSorley. Fourteen years of emotional and frank letters kept by Holden show church leaders were aware of his story by the early 1990s, around the same time that Worsley was investigated.
1971: Abuse occurred in the rectory and a neighbor’s home
In 1971, Holden was a student and altar boy at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Boise. His duties included helping McSorley serve mass, even during weekdays for funeral services. That provided McSorley with time alone with young boys — time for exploitation.
The abuse happened at several places, including the church rectory across from Sacred Heart and a neighborhood home that McSorley was watching for other parishioners. On some occasions, McSorley would tell the boys to take a “nap” after undressing and the priest would then touch them, Holden said.
At the neighbors’ home, McSorley gave Holden and the other boys alcohol. McSorley would touch Holden’s genitals while in the home’s swimming pool.
“We were willing participants and took advantage of the situation,” Holden said about being given beer as a pre-teen. “Maybe it’s a self-delusion that I say, ‘I was a big boy,’ but that’s the way you rationalize it to yourself.”
Holden recalled McSorley “tickling” him as a young man, and Holden told the priest “don’t do that.”
Holden said he knew the only man he should be that physically close to was his father, not the priest. “It wasn’t right for this man to do this,” Holden said.
Holden knows of at least other one child who was abused by McSorley in Boise, he said. Additional children knew of the abuse. Efforts by the Statesman to locate the other boys were unsuccessful. Holden’s brother and his best friend, both Sacred Heart altar boys for McSorley, have both since died.
McSorley was moved to a McCall parish in 1972.
The Statesman couldn’t confirm the reason for the move. Two church leaders at the time — Bishop Sylvester Treinen and the Rev. John Donoghue, Sacred Heart’s other pastor — died in 1996 and 2009, respectively.
But Holden now believes the Diocese of Boise learned of McSorley’s abuse and arranged to move him.
“One day, McSorley was gone,” Holden said. “No goodbye. We had no idea where he went; we just knew that our beer source was gone.”
What happened to McSorley?
McSorley, ordained in 1946, had been moved before.
In 1964, he reportedly abused a boy at Saint Alice Catholic Church in Springfield, Oregon, according to a 2001 lawsuit filed against McSorley and the Archdiocese of Portland.
The lawsuit identified the boy by his initials, T.H. It claimed McSorley gained the trust of the child’s parents, who told the boy to respect McSorley’s “authority and guidance, comply with his instruction, and treat him in all respects as God’s representative on Earth.”
The complaint also alleged negligence by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. “OMI knew the Fr. McSorley had repeatedly used his power and position as a priest to molest children and had an uncontrollable sexual attraction to young boys,” it said. “OMI took no steps to prevent Fr. McSorley from having unsupervised contact with children at St. Alice parish or to otherwise protect the children of the parish from his abusive conduct.”
OMI rebutted that T.H. didn’t provide enough evidence of the abuse, and that it was too late for T.H. to sue. But the lawsuit never reached trial: It was formally dismissed in January 2004 after the Archdiocese of Portland filed for bankruptcy.
Retired attorney David Slader represented T.H. at the time — and dozens of other victims of Oregon priests. He said the bankruptcy filing froze all pending lawsuits against the archdiocese. After lengthy mediation, most victims received individual settlements, Slader said, including T.H.
Slader was unsurprised to learn McSorley had been moved to another diocese.
“That’s what they do,” said Slader. “That’s the game they play.”
McSorley, ordained in 1946, was a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate — a worldwide ministry that focuses on care for the material needs of the poor.
In 1965, the pastor at Saint Alice, Rev. Louis Sohler, wrote to OMI leadership asking that McSorley not come back to the parish, said the Rev. Tom Coughlin, a priest at OMI headquarters in Washington, D.C.
In the letter, Sohler wrote that he was concerned about a 1964 incident when McSorley played cards with children and tickled them, Coughlin said. The letter did not explicitly state McSorley’s behavior was sexual, but it was apparently concerning enough that Sohler did not want McSorley to return.
McSorley next served as a military chaplain in Germany until 1971.
When Boise Bishop Treinen asked for an OMI priest in 1971, the organization sent him McSorley. Coughlin said he could not tell based on OMI records whether Treinen was told of the Saint Alice concerns.
McSorley then came to Idaho from 1971 to 1975, Fadness confirmed. According to the Idaho Catholic Register, McSorley was moved from Sacred Heart in December 1972 to be the administrator of Our Lady of the Lake parish in McCall and the missions of Riggins, Cascade and Council. The Statesman has not found any reports of abuse allegations in those locations.
From there, he returned to Washington state.
In an Aug. 5, 1993, letter to Holden, Bishop Tod Brown wrote that the priest had been on an “inactive list” for about 10 years at the time, meaning McSorley was no longer allowed to practice ministry.
But Seattle Archdiocese records list McSorley’s final service in Washington as a religious priest at St. Thomas Center in Bothell, Washington, from 1984-86. He also worked in Aberdeen in 1982. The Statesman could not ascertain where McSorley was in 1983.
Brown said McSorley had been moved by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
The Seattle records consist of a list released in 2016 of clergy accused of abusing children in parts of Washington state. At the time, the archbishop said he shared the names in the interest of transparency and an effort to encourage victims forward. The list was assembled over two years by the archdiocese’s review board and independent consultants, the Everett Herald reported at the time.
The document did not specify the allegations against McSorley. Neither the Aberdeen nor Bothell police departments have any records of complaints against McSorley.
After Washington, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate again moved McSorley. His 2005 obituary said he became a resident of Oakland in 1985. OMI placed him in a provincial house until 2003, said Coughlin. McSorley was then moved to an Oakland nursing home until his death at age 84.
Today, OMI has its own revised protocol for handling sexual misconduct allegations, similar to changes in other dioceses. It includes a review board, screenings, trainings and inspections.
It’s unclear if McSorley ever confessed to the abuse allegation in Boise. He was never given a ministry assignment while in California; that alone, however, should not be considered a disciplinary action, Coughlin said.
Holden comes forward in the ‘90s and 2000s
At first, Holden said, only the other altar boys knew he had been abused. He gradually told certain family members over the years.
He continued to struggle with drugs and alcohol. In the late 1980s, he “hit bottom.” While he worked to quit those habits, he started to think more about where he developed them.
Meanwhile, abuse by Catholic priests was starting to get media attention. In 1993, “60 Minutes” aired a segment focused on claims involving a New Mexico archibishop.
Holden was 34 that year. He decided it was time to approach the church.
Holden wanted to find McSorley, so he called the McCall church. Rev. Faucher answered.
Holden had also been an altar boy for Faucher, who came to Sacred Heart after McSorley’s departure.
“He said, ‘This is Mark, isn’t it?’” Holden said. “He knew who I was and knew exactly what I wanted to talk about. He said, ‘I can’t tell you anything. I can’t say where (McSorley) is. I can’t say anything.’”
That call, however, prompted a return call to Holden from then-Bishop Tod Brown. The bishop invited Holden to come talk about his abuse, Holden said.
That contact started the string of correspondence that lasted into the mid-2000s. Holden kept all of it, he said, and provided his copies to the Statesman. It includes letters from bishops, priests and diocese staff.
None of the letters dispute Holden’s claims. In fact, the diocese eventually agreed to pay for treatment to help combat the alcoholism he struggled with.
In one letter from 1993, Brown wrote: “Again, please accept my apologies as the Bishop of Boise for the very terrible experiences of your youth that occurred here in this diocese.”
Other letters Holden kept shared a similar tone.
On July 2, 1993, after speaking with Brown in person, Holden outlined his sexual abuse in detail for a deposition taken by the church. The deposition was done at Brown’s request, according to a copy Holden provided to the Statesman. Holden was interviewed by Sister Ellen O’Hara, a canon lawyer who has since died.
Holden said Brown was the only other person in the room. He claims that Brown requested no cameras be present and that no recordings be made other than one Brown created for a later transcript. No law enforcement or prosecutors were present, Holden said, as he described his claims.
Throughout the deposition, Holden was asked how he knew McSorley, about details of the abuse and who else knew of the allegations. Holden listed off the names of other students who knew McSorley was acting inappropriately.
At one point, O’Hara asked, “Now did these memories just come back to you or you know, why now?”
Holden responded that about four or five years before the deposition — while he was sober — he started coming to grips with what had happened. He said he experienced failed relationships, a lack of trust and a loss of faith.
“I’m glad you came forward,” O’Hara told Holden.
When Holden said he wasn’t happy with the Catholic Church’s response, she said, “You know you have a right to feel the way you do because of what happened to you.”
The deposition ended with Holden denouncing child abuse.
“Life is full of that kind of crap out there,” he said. “But you have to put yourself back at 12 years old and then it’s not OK.”
“You’re right. Absolutely. No it’s not OK,” O’Hara said. “It’s not a minor deal. And it needs to be dealt with for as serious as it is.”
While the church did offer counseling to Holden, no other action apparently came from the deposition.
Brown told the Statesman in a phone interview that he did not remember the deposition or Holden, but said an initial interview would have been appropriate for an abuse report. He was unsure why the interview would have been transcribed, unless there was an issue such as a priest facing problems involving church law.
Brown said he couldn’t recall if there were any other depositions taken from people alleging child abuse while he was with the Diocese of Boise.
Holden said he was disappointed by the diocese’s response at the time. He wanted them to acknowledge not just the abuse, but the cover-up.
“I was an angry young man, just because of the way I was treated,” he said. “They wouldn’t say anything, they wouldn’t admit anything.”
“I felt that I was getting nowhere, so I let it slide,” he said.
He dropped the matter for another nine years.
That changed in the early 2000s with widespread media coverage of the priest abuse scandal in Boston. Holden told himself: “I can’t just let this happen, I’m gonna do something.”
He went back to the church to discuss the abuse in 2003.
Still, no one reported the abuse to police.
The diocese, through its new sexual misconduct review board, agreed to provide up to $35,000 to Holden for alcohol rehabilitation and counseling, according to 2005 and 2006 letters from Bishop Driscoll and from Bob Fontaine, the diocese’s former director of human resources.
Despite Holden’s efforts with treatment and counseling, sobriety didn’t stick.
“I’m not here to make any excuses,” Holden said. “I am what I am. I don’t make any excuses. I don’t blame anyone.”
Holden’s other witness: Rev. Faucher, now accused himself
One other person claims to know that Holden was abused, and that the church moved McSorley in response.
Faucher was long a critic of how the church handled abuse cases before his own arrest this year, and the subsequent abuse claims made against him. Prosecutors claim that among other things, Faucher had online discussions about his desire to rape and kill children.
In an exclusive May 7 interview at the Ada County jail, Faucher openly criticized church leaders. He said that before Driscoll, other Boise bishops were less transparent.
Faucher said he knew McSorley abused Holden in the ’70s and of McSorley’s Washington state abuse. Moving McSorley was an “atrocious decision,” Faucher said.
Faucher particularly singled out Bishop Treinen, who led the diocese when Holden’s abuse occurred. Treinen shot down multiple allegations against priests and was well aware of what happened to Holden but refused to believe the claims, Faucher said.
Treinen simply didn’t believe a priest was capable of such abuse, Faucher said.
“In all the cases that Bishop Treinen dealt with, and this sounds bizarre, he did not believe any of the victims and he simply ignored every single allegation of sexual misconduct,” Faucher said.
Faucher wants the diocese to release a full list of clergy in the Boise diocese with allegations against them. That would presumably now include Faucher himself, though he denies the claims against him.
“My approach to this has been that we need to make this — the allegations of sexual misconduct — as public a possible,” Faucher said.
Holden’s collection of letters includes one from July 15, 1993, shortly after his deposition. In it, Faucher wrote that he was helping a Boise detective with “an investigation of clergy abuse” — possibly Worsley — and suggested Holden contact police.
Today, Holden said he doesn’t know if Faucher ever mentioned his case to police in the course of the other 1993 investigation.
“Faucher was covering up (the abuse), just like everybody else was,” Holden said. “He talks a big game, but in my opinion, he never followed through.”
Faucher has said Holden was an adult and he left the decision up to him.
For his part, Holden wasn’t seeking legal action — he wanted recognition from the church.
“It’s everywhere,” he said. “I just thought the Catholic Church would have a higher ethical standard than society at large. Maybe that’s a naive look at it, but that’s what I would have thought.”
In search of change today
For decades, Holden has sought stronger action by the church.
He would like to see the church create a way for children to report abuse to an adult who isn’t a member of the church, nor employed by them.
“There has to be a way for (a child) to trust someone that they can talk to,” Holden said. “Unfortunately, the first person someone is going to say to talk to is your priest. That’s where that hypothesis goes down in flames.”
Church representatives have repeatedly stressed to the Statesman that they no longer operate the way they did in the 1970s, and that they take the issue of child sexual abuse very seriously.
Bishop Driscoll oversaw the diocese’s biggest changes. His efforts included creating the review board in 2003, which consists of church members tasked with investigating claims of sexual misconduct. If it finds “reasonable cause to believe” allegations of child abuse or other claims are true, church policy calls for the board to notify the “appropriate government agency.”
The bishop has the final say on whether abuse claims are forwarded to police.
“Unfortunately, we cannot change what has happened in the past,” Christensen told the Statesman. “But we can do our best to ensure the future is beter for all and that the blight of sexual abuse is dramatically reduced in the church and in every family and institution where it exists.”
That review board isn’t unique to Idaho. It’s a part of widespread changes the Catholic Church made starting in 2000 in response to the national scandals.
Though there is no indication the board forwarded Holden’s case to law enforcement in the early 2000s, it recently passed one of the complaints about Faucher, according to the diocese.
Holden said the review board process still isn’t the most effective way for the church to address abuse — and still relies too much on people affiliated with the church.
Now an atheist, Holden said he entirely lost his faith and will not return to the Catholic Church.
“I don’t blame anyone for anything,” Holden said of his personal struggles in the decades since McSorley abused him. “I just want the diocese to acknowledge that this is what went on, and that ‘we are going to stop lying and we’re gonna acknowledge it.’”
If you have information about the exploitation of children, call police, the Attorney General’s Idaho Internet Crimes Against Children Unit at 208-334-4527, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678.
To file a police report, the Boise Police Department can be reached at 208-377-6790 for a non-emergency report or visit police.cityofboise.org for more information.
The Statesman continues to investigate cases of sexual abuse and harassment. Email reporter Ruth Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, watchdog editor Nate Poppino at email@example.com, or call 208-377-6481.