Pedaling furiously from the past

CLACKAMAS, Ore. — Bill Crane Jr. powers his mountain bike up a steep trail littered with logs and rocks, hiw sinewy legs pumping like pistons. He stops at a clearing created by a mudslide. The view is heavenly: A blue sky hovers over shimmering treetops split by the mighty Columbia River.
“God created this,” Crane says. “Man had nothing to do with it.”

For Crane, 36, a razor-sharp distinction between the divine and the mortal defines his life.

There was a time when this former altar boy thought differently and paid a price. Crane was sexually abused by a priest between ages 11 and 16.

“I now see that God didn’t do this to me, but a man using His name to seek sexual gratification,” he says. “I was deceived.”

Crane has labored to accept his lost innocence and regain a sense of trust. But often, instead of fighting his demons, he fled them. Out of high school he joined the Navy, which took him to Scotland. His tour over, he returned to his New Jersey hometown, only to run 3,000 miles west to Oregon.

He almost lost his sanity, his wife and his life. The only thing that kept him righted was his bike.

“I’d just ride and ride and ride, sometimes 100 miles a day.” He shrugs. “My way of coping.”

Crane’s battle is familiar to all victims of clerical sexual abuse, who include both sexes and most races. With Pope John Paul II’s visit to Toronto drawing many U.S. bishops as well as protesting abuse victims, USA TODAY gives voice to six victims of clerical abuse and examines the continuing problems that abuse triggered in their lives.

No one knows how many U.S. adults were sexually abused by priests as children. The nation’s most visible support group, Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has 4,000 members, “the few who’ve sought help,” says SNAP’s Mark Serrano.

Simple math hints at alarming numbers. There are now about 46,000 U.S. Catholic priests; some 2% over the past 40 years are thought to have had problems with abusing children, according to Jason Berry’s 1992 expose Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children. Some priests have abused dozens; some more than a hundred.

Each child is an adult with a story to tell, a story of betrayal, anger, destruction and, sometimes, rebirth. This is Bill Crane’s.


Crane was a skinny, impressionable seventh-grader in Mendham, N.J., when he first was plied with alcohol and pornographic videotapes by a revered local priest named James Hanley.

Since that encounter, Crane has swung from fierce denial to full acceptance, best represented by his closed-door scolding of top Catholic clergy during a June gathering of bishops in Dallas. “That was the absolute high point of my life,” he says.

But his journey to stability was perilous. And it will never end.

“People say, ‘Hey, it was a long time ago, get over it.’ Well, this isn’t the kind of pain that leaves,” he says, recalling a night in bed when he suddenly recoiled from his wife in horror. “I thought it was him. It’s always a part of you.”

In 1976, Bill and Mary Anne Crane, both Irish Catholics, moved their six kids to Mendham, N.J., so they could attend well-regarded St. Joseph’s School. Bill taught at nearby St. Mary’s Abbey Delbarton School, an exclusive Catholic high school, but money was tight. When Father Hanley entered their lives, so did relief.

“He’d always come around, often delivering food to us,” says Bill Crane Sr. Recalling those days is still painful for him.

“If the boys had said one word (about the abuse), we’d have been all over it,” he says. “But it never crossed our minds.”

Bill and his twin, Tommy, were in Hanley’s “special club,” says Bill Jr. “You’d get to go off fishing with him and other boys. He’d have cases of Bud and porn on the VCR, which was a new invention then. We all had wide eyes.”

Between the conservative atmosphere at the Crane home (“No one talked about sex,” says Bill Jr.) and the boys’ access to all that is alluring to hormone-stoked preteens, Hanley tightened his grip.

Most survivors of abuse face the same questions: Why did the abuse go on so long? Why didn’t you tell anyone? And the most insipid: By sticking around, didn’t you in some way enjoy what happened?

Bill says the answers are simple: “He took young religious boys and manipulated them with power, fear and God.”

All these years later, it remains painful for him to discuss the specifics. Bill begins to talk about “tensing up” each time the priest would get behind him to have his way, then stops.

Hanley was transferred from St. Joseph’s in 1982, when the Cranes were juniors at Mendham High School. Far from disgraced, he left as a lifetime honorary citizen, and, according to press reports from the time, official acknowledgement of his “kindness and compassion to those in need,” especially “the youth.”

(Since those heady days, 15 men known as the Mendham Group — which includes the Crane brothers — claim they were abused in the ’70s and ’80s by Hanley, who lives in an apartment in Paterson, N.J. On June 19, Hanley had a meeting with Bishop Frank Rodimer and agreed to “voluntary laicization,” says Richard Sokerka, spokesman for the Diocese of Paterson. “The paperwork is in, but I don’t know when the Vatican will get back to us.”)

The Crane brothers now are trying to rebuild their friendship. Both live on the West Coast (Tommy lives on Bainbridge Island outside Seattle) and are landscapers. But a special past cannot be relived.

“Bill was my twin, my best friend. We’d throw the football to each other until it was so dark you couldn’t see,” says Tommy. “Our beds were in the same room, and we’d always say goodnight to each other. One night, we just didn’t say it. That was it. We never spoke of the abuse to each other. We just let it tear us apart.”

After high school, the young men went their separate ways. Tommy jumped from one relationship to another, finally marrying, having kids, then divorcing. Bill turned inward. He joined the Navy and in 1985 was stationed at a submarine repair station in Holy Loch, Scotland.

There, frustrated by an inability to build muscle, he followed a sailor’s recommendation that he bicycle in his free time. An obsession was born. Crane biked everywhere, sometimes 150 miles in a day. And he was consumed by hills. “That’s all I wanted to do, ride up them, down them and back up them,” he says.

At around this time, Crane was introduced to a Scottish girl six years his senior. He knew this would be his wife. “Jane was just the kindest person I’d ever met,” he says. “Still is.”

He was smitten but not soothed; the events of his childhood continued to gnaw at him. Finally, Crane summoned the courage to tell a friend, Navy chaplain Richard Powers. His response stunned him.

“He told me that if I told anyone, that sin would be equal to the one done to me,” he says. “Here I was still trusting a priest, and he just wanted to protect his own.”

As soon as his tour ended in 1987, Bill and Jane returned to New Jersey and, amazingly, were married by Powers. Crane cannot explain the move. “I just wanted to trust him,” he says.

Crane was cycling constantly and working on the grounds crew at his father’s school, Delbarton. He still hadn’t told anyone other than Powers about the abuse — not his wife nor his mother after she had flown to Scotland to confront him with rumors of abuse at St. Joseph’s.

But then the dam broke. One day on the job at Delbarton, Crane came across “a bunch of women’s clothing and pornography lying around in the priests’ private quarters, and it all came back.”

Crane told Jane, “fully expecting she’d divorce me.” Instead, she urged her husband to seek guidance. Again, Crane turned to Powers, now a pastor in Owensboro, Ky. The couple drove all night. Crane then poured out his heart, sparing no detail while sobbing. This time, the advice he got would forever bury his Catholic faith.

Powers declined to comment on the encounter. As Crane recalls the talk, “there was never that jaw-dropping look you’d expect when hearing these horrible details. He listened as if it was all routine. And then he told me that he’d helped homosexuals before, and he was sure he could help me.” Crane sighs. “I just couldn’t believe it.”

He called a Navy pal in Oregon. “I asked about the job market. He said it’s the worst in years, I said, ‘Fine, I’ll be right there,’ ” Crane remembers with a laugh. “I wanted to go as far away as I could.”

Bill, Jane and 2-year-old Jess arrived in Portland in 1993. Bill would tell his parents about his abuse in 1995. The two years in between were his personal hell.

In Oregon, Bill dived into work, first as a security guard at the airport and then as a landscaper. And as always, there was cycling. Anything to stuff the past into a dark corner. But his wife was seeing red.

“He was spending thousands of dollars we didn’t have on his bikes. Once he missed Jess’ birthday party because he was riding,” says Jane, whose soft voice belies a strong will. “It was getting bad.”

Bill concurs. “Because of what happened to me, I felt I was owed everything.”

Jane urged counseling, threatening to walk if he didn’t seek help.

“Bill, at his core, is a great guy. But he could be mean and cruel. He wasn’t physically abusive, but there’s a lot of furniture we no longer have,” Jane says. “There was so much he had to work out.”

Bill relented. Jane was happy — until she had to deal with therapy’s nightmarish side effects. Often her husband would bolt upright in bed, convinced she was his former abuser. The couple began sleeping in separate rooms.

Crane soon grew frustrated with counseling, which brought pain and no closure. So he sought a familiar release. In hilly Oregon Crane had become a passionate mountain biker; he began attacking its most perilous trails, often in the cold rain and snow. “I got reckless,” he says. “I started hoping I’d fly off a ledge. If it was steep and slippery, I’d just turn on the speed.”

Desperate for catharsis, he finally told his parents, who had grown resentful of the couple’s seemingly insensitive decision to take their grandchild 3,000 miles away. The couple later rallied behind their son but met the initial news with shock. Bill felt lost. Time was running out.

“Back then, throwing myself into a plate-glass window would be just like walking out of the heat into an air-conditioned room, a big relief,” he says.

But relief would come in a more peaceful form. On a construction site, he met a man who was a born-again Christian. Initially, the foul-mouthed sailor in Crane wouldn’t give him the time of day. But the man’s message — that only God deserves to be called “Father” — pierced Crane’s armor. He began reading the Bible with a passion once reserved for cycling, which he now gladly relegated to hobby status.

While Jane, a lifelong Protestant, was initially reserved about her husband’s newfound faith, she soon embraced his vision. Today, their suburban Portland home abounds with framed religious sayings.

The couple has spent recent years healing the wounds caused by Bill’s abuse. But, as he says, “you stick a nail in a wall and remove it, the nail’s gone, but the hole isn’t. Whether it’s what Hanley did to me or what I did to Jane, it’s a daily struggle.”

Out on the trail overlooking the Columbia River, Crane is careful to point out every picturesque vista, every moss-covered boulder, every hint of beauty.

One thing that has helped him appreciate life’s joys is son Sean, born in 1999.

“He’s come into this world with a mom and dad who are totally changed people from who they were,” says Crane, leaning into his handlebars as he flies down a hill.

“I never thought this moment would come, when the world would be listening to us survivors, and my family would be whole again,” he says, shouting above the noise of the knobby tires beating the rough road. “Now, I could just go away and live my life. But I have to speak out, so this doesn’t happen to others.”

Crane continues, but he’s picking up speed and his words dissipate. He rounds a bend and disappears. But moments later he’s in view — walking his bike.

The path up ahead looks harmless, but actually is composed of a slick rock that would send a careless rider hurtling off into the trees. Certainly the kind of patch the old Bill Crane would have sought out for the final, fatal escape it might promise.

“Take your time,” he cautions. “You can’t be too careful.”

Pedaling furiously from the past
By Marco R. della Cava, USA TODAY
July 23, 2002