Monday, October 22, 2012

A Predator Revealed - A Pediatrician from my Youth

In the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Saturday (Oct 20th, 2012) there was some shocking news. My childhood pediatrician, Dr.Thomas Kowalski, had admitted to sexually abusing Boy Scouts while serving as a Scout camp doctor in the late ‘80’s – the same time I spent part of the summer at camp.

 [the name of the camp where he served was not named in the article and may not have been the same one I attended].

Specifically, two teens reported he masturbated while fondling them in the infirmary. While he admitted the actions to the Sheriff, Scout officials, the D.A. and others, the parents of the teens agreed to keep quiet and not press charges if he attended psychiatric counseling and was reported to the Medical Examining Board.

That medical board denies any report was ever filed with them. Worse yet, the suppression of the truth extended to the media. Scout documents state that a publisher of Milwaukee newspapers knew of the situation but did not reveal the information to his editors.

When questioned by the LA Times last month, Kowalski said the following. “Had that been publicized, I would have been out of business, reputation destroyed, and I don’t know how I would have faced people in church.”

He is correct. And more to the point, that’s what he deserved. The fact that the system – Scouting, law enforcement, the DA, the media – all conspired to protect his reputation is sickening, and of course Kowalski is just a notable local example of a widespread problem in past decades.

Yes, these were ‘teen boys’ and for all I know were nearly full grown, if that makes a difference (it shouldn't). Maybe, as he claims, he sought the counseling and never re-offended.

But the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior, and without an established record of his actions we have no way of knowing if he’s telling the truth. Maybe no one else was hurt. Maybe he left dozens of victims behind. Thanks to a legitimate conspiracy to suppress the truth, we may never know.

Here’s what I do know. I know that my Mom was fed up with Kowalski and dropped him. He never showed up to our births, wouldn't return calls over the years, etc and my Mom just had enough. We soon switched to the late,  great Franscisco Mabini and his wife.

But I still saw Kowalski occasionally, when Mabini was unavailable, and you know what my impressions were of the bow-tie wearing doctor? I thought, even as kid, that he was creepy. That isn't a retroactive observation. Had you asked me the day before I read the article I would have said the same thing. Something didn't seem right with the man, and it made me uncomfortable. I think my Mom had an inkling of the same feeling, although she never came out and said so.

With Kowalski now revealed, it appears my childhood, unbeknownst to me at the time, was a minefield of predators. My grade school music teacher? An admitted abuser. A popular priest at my high school? A disgusting child rapist. My pediatrician? An abuser. There are a couple more that spring to mind, but lacking concrete knowledge of their convictions in my head I won’t list them here.
I am Catholic. I was both a Cub Scout and Boy Scout, and I have loyalty to both organizations. But while the Church is not something you can easily walk away from, and in its own way was handcuffed by philosophical and spiritual beliefs in forgiveness, repentance, and the sanctity of the confessional, what’s Scouting’s excuse?

I know, the current organization is not the same, in policy or personnel, as the one that suppressed the truth. But then as now it was a volunteer organization centered on helping young boys grow into able, healthy men, with “morally straight” being a part of that creed. I can see no way in which the well being of the organization, its mission OR ITS CHARGES was aided by promoting a culture of silence and suppression. Quite the opposite.

Again, I don’t hold the current roster as liable for the sins of the past. But it makes me all the happier that, following the recent dustup over Scouting’s refusal to allow gay leaders or members, we pulled our son out of Cub Scouts. A children’s organization that sat on its hands for decades while boys were hurt, an organization that now somehow finds it acceptable to segregate and exclude children because of their sexual preference (which is *not* something the Church does), an organization that fails to note the bitter irony of their interpretation of ‘morally straight’ - well, that’s not an organization I want influencing my son.

And Mom – thanks for getting rid of Kowalski. I mean it.

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