L.A. Priest Blamed for Legacy of Pain
During 16 years at Loyola High School, Father Jerold Lindner was admired as an energetic teacher exceptionally devoted to his students. Superiors lauded him as the model of “a Christian educator.” A colleague in the English department nominated him as “chairman for life.”
Others outside the school say they knew a different Lindner. Ten men and women portray the Jesuit as a molester who haunted their childhoods, abusing them on Sundays after Mass, during holiday gatherings and on Catholic family camping trips -- nearly always while wearing his clerical collar.
These encounters allegedly began in the 1950s, continued through the 1970s, when Lindner was entering the priesthood, and persisted into the 1980s, while he was teaching at Loyola High, a private, all-boys prep school west of downtown Los Angeles.
Jesuit leaders say they first learned about Lindner’s past a decade ago, when his brother told them that the priest had sexually abused three nieces, a nephew and a younger sibling. After sending Lindner for a psychiatric evaluation, Jesuit superiors deemed the allegations not credible and put him back in the classroom.
Fresh charges surfaced in 1997, when two brothers asserted in a lawsuit that Lindner sodomized them years earlier during weekend retreats in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Jesuits then removed the priest from Loyola and negotiated a secret $625,000 settlement with the brothers. As before, Lindner’s superiors did not inform law enforcement authorities, parents or teachers about the allegations.
In a sworn deposition, Lindner denied ever abusing anyone. In a statement to The Times, he said: “I have devoted my life to helping people, and I insist that the accusations against me are not true.” He said the Catholic sex-abuse crisis has “created an atmosphere where people like me are presumed guilty until proven innocent.”
Lindner, 58, has never been criminally charged, and Loyola officials say they know of no allegations that he molested students or other members of the high school community. He is under investigation by L.A. County sheriff’s detectives and the district attorney’s office.
The priest’s accusers depict a man who began molesting when he was a child and continued to do so even as he soldiered through the rigorous Jesuit rituals of indoctrination. Family members and victims kept quiet and sometimes defended the priest, a Times investigation found.
Lindner’s superiors, when confronted with explosive accusations, tried to keep them “internal to the Society of Jesus,” as one Loyola administrator put it in a memo.
In interviews and legal documents, the 10 men and women have said they were molested while growing up in Los Angeles County, the San Francisco Bay Area and suburban Phoenix. Eight agreed to be identified by name in this article.
Several said Lindner ordered them to lie still while he sexually abused them. Afterward, they said, he called them “dirty” and threatened to harm them if they told anyone.
Four of Lindner’s accusers said they were so traumatized that they tried to commit suicide as teenagers. Others reported suffering failed marriages, depression, flashbacks and a loss of faith.
Many said they had remained silent until now because of a deep sense of shame and because they feared retaliation by Lindner. The alleged victims said they are angry -- at the priest and at the Jesuits.
“We all want him behind bars, where he belongs,” said Tamara Roehm, 35, of Lancaster, one of Lindner’s nieces.
The priest’s mother, 80, said recently that the accounts of victims within her own family had persuaded her that Lindner preyed on young people.
“I know that Jerry needs help, and so do his victims,” Isabelle Lindner said in an interview at her Phoenix-area home. “If he wasn’t a priest and didn’t have the Jesuits standing behind him, I think he would be in jail.”
Lindner now lives in the Bay Area town of Los Gatos at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, a picturesque retreat overlooking the Santa Clara Valley.
The Jesuits say they have barred him from teaching or ministering to the public, but he is free to travel and tutor seminarians and has collected a living allowance from the order.
In preparing this report, The Times reviewed internal Jesuit records, numerous letters Lindner wrote over two decades, and documents related to the lawsuit by the two brothers, including a sworn deposition of Lindner on June 10, 1998.
Loyola High administrators last month informed parents and alumni of the allegations against Lindner for the first time. They took the step after learning The Times was preparing an article on the priest.
In a Nov. 18 letter to parents and alumni, Father Robert T. Walsh, Loyola’s president, said administrators learned of sexual-abuse accusations against Lindner in 1997 and “immediately relieved him of his teaching and school duties.” The letter made no mention of the 1992 allegations. Walsh and other Loyola officials declined to answer questions about Lindner.
A top-ranking Jesuit said no one at the high school noticed any inappropriate behavior by the priest.
“We never had complaints at Loyola High,” said Father Thomas H. Smolich, who as head of the California Province oversees Jesuits in four Western states and Hawaii. “If you look at Jerry’s professional career there, it is very successful.”
Smolich, who began his six-year term as provincial in 1999, acknowledged that the Jesuits did not notify authorities of the accusations against Lindner in 1992 or in 1997. He said that he could provide no explanation and that Jesuit records shed no light on the matter.
“There are things I wish we had done differently,” Smolich said. “If the allegations were reported today, we would contact appropriate law enforcement authorities and respond pastorally to victims.”
Jerold William Lindner was born Nov. 16, 1944, in Columbus, Ohio, into a devout Catholic family. Priests and nuns were frequent visitors to the home.
Before entering elementary school, Jerold announced that he wanted to be a priest, his mother recalled. She said his interest in the clergy never waned.
The family moved to Arizona when Jerold was 6. He served as an altar boy, joined the Boy Scouts and became an avid chess player. A gifted student, he ranked in the top four of his 115-student class during several semesters at Brophy College Preparatory, the all-boys Jesuit high school in Phoenix. Years later, he scored in the “very superior” range on an IQ test.
Members of Lindner’s family said fellow students picked on him. As a freshman, he was forced to kneel on the hot asphalt at school for hours and suffered severe burns. He often came home with stains on his white school shirts, the result of classmates pelting him with oranges.
After graduating from Brophy in June 1962, Lindner applied to become a Jesuit. The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola and is the largest religious order in the Roman Catholic Church, with about 21,000 members worldwide. Candidates undergo years of rigorous training, and members of the society must observe strict vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Lindner’s application was rejected by the order, according to members of his family. They said the Jesuits told him he needed to broaden his life. So he took a job as a courier for a title company, became leader of a Boy Scout troop in Phoenix and dated for the first time.
He reapplied to the Jesuits a year later and was turned down again, this time with the suggestion that he move out of his parents’ home, family members said.
Lindner enrolled at Loyola University in Los Angeles, a Jesuit institution, in the fall of 1963. He was accepted for Jesuit training the following June and sent to the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Los Gatos for two years to study the order’s traditions, rules and expectations.
Early on, Jesuit leaders detected psychological problems.
After Lindner returned to Loyola University in 1968 to earn his bachelor’s degree in English, a routine evaluation found that he “needs emotional and psychological maturing and stabilizing.”
In the early 1970s, he sought therapy for “depression and poor self-image” on the advice of his Jesuit spiritual advisor and suffered “bouts of panic attacks,” say personnel records and psychiatric reports.
Lindner’s aberrant behavior dated to childhood, his mother said. She said she caught her son, at age 10, inappropriately touching his 5-year-old sister in bed. Over the years, she has defended her son and rejected allegations from relatives that he abused them. She now says she has come to believe the accusations.
The sister, Kathy McEntire, also once defended her brother, but now says he sexually abused her for years.
“It started with me,” said McEntire, 53, struggling to fight back tears at her kitchen table in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa.
She alleged that Lindner knelt beside her bed at night and molested her, a practice she said continued until she was about 9. “He got bolder and bolder over time, as he figured out what he could get away with,” she said.
Assigned to Teach
In 1969, the Jesuits sent Lindner to earn a master’s degree in English at St. Louis University in Missouri, where he was active in an urban Boy Scout troop. The next year, he was assigned to teach at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco.
He stayed in the Bay Area more than a decade, enrolling at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley in 1973 and being ordained as a priest in 1976. He returned to St. Ignatius and taught English there from 1976 to 1982. He was also Scoutmaster for an Oakland troop and accompanied boys on weekend camping and ski trips.
During these years, Lindner allegedly molested six children, according to sworn testimony and interviews.
One of them was McEntire’s son, Trevor. He said Lindner molested him on about 20 occasions, beginning when he was 5, during family visits to the Jesuit residence in Berkeley and when the priest made holiday trips to Arizona. He said the abuse lasted until he was 9.
“He touched me a lot,” Trevor McEntire, now 32, said of his uncle. “I tolerated it, because I didn’t know any better. I kind of blame myself for not telling anybody.”
Kathy McEntire said her son told her only recently about the abuse. She said it was devastating to learn that the same man she accuses of molesting her more than 40 years ago had allegedly violated her son. “I’m just coming to grips with this,” she said. “I am so sick and disgusted I can’t stand it,” she said.
Lindner met other alleged victims while volunteering as a spiritual advisor for the Christian Family Movement, a worldwide lay organization of Catholic couples. Lindner said Mass in private homes, heard confessions, attended monthly parent meetings and accompanied families on weekend retreats.
The two brothers who sued the Jesuits said Lindner sexually assaulted them during Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend camp-outs in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1975, when they were 5 and 7.
The alleged assaults are detailed in reports by Lynn E. Ponton, a professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco and expert in sexual abuse who was retained by the brothers’ lawyer.
Ponton said the brothers told her that Lindner sodomized them and forced them to perform oral sex on four occasions in the woods. In one incident, the priest allegedly abused the two boys in a tent.
One of them, Will Lynch of San Francisco, now 35, said in an interview that Lindner coerced him to enter the tent by threatening to harm his younger brother. “Even at age 7, I knew it was wrong. I didn’t want to be there,” Lynch said. “When he grabbed me, I remember thinking, ‘I’m not getting out of this.’ ”
Lynch’s brother declined to be interviewed.
In the deposition, Lindner confirmed attending weekend camp-outs but said he had no recollection of meeting the brothers.
Will Lynch said the abuse had shattering effects. He had nightmares for years, suffered from depression and alcohol abuse, and twice attempted suicide, he said. “Many times I thought of driving down to L.A. and confronting Father Jerry,” he said. “I wanted to exorcise all of the rage and anger and bitterness he put into me.... You can’t put into words what this guy did to me. He stole my innocence and destroyed my life.”
Two women who accuse Lindner of molesting them when they were girls in the Bay Area also said they have had difficulty recovering. Both described the alleged molestations in sworn depositions as part of the Lynches’ suit and in interviews with The Times.
Krista Nemechek, a 32-year-old special education teacher in the Bay Area, said she was 7 when Lindner grabbed her in a bedroom of an Oakland home during a 1977 social gathering.
“I was wearing a dress,” Nemechek said. “He put me in this almost vise-grip of a hug. He pulled me so I was facing him, then he rubbed his hands up and down me. I remember him kissing me really passionately [and] moaning a little bit.... It just didn’t feel right in any way.”
In his deposition, Lindner said he had no recollection of Nemechek or the alleged incident.
Nemechek said the episode haunted her through adolescence. “I know he hurt a lot of people,” she said. “More than anything that happened to me, the hardest part is realizing that I could have done something.”
Debbie Lukas, 36, recalled meeting Lindner when he said Mass at her parents’ house in Oakland. Then 8, she “lit up” at the attention the priest showered on her, she said.
When she was 10, Lukas said, Lindner began making suggestive remarks and forcing deep, full-mouth kisses on her. One evening after dinner, she said, Lindner caught her alone in the basement of her home. She recalled hearing her mother’s footsteps on the kitchen floor above while the priest sexually assaulted her.
“He pushed me down on the bed. I was struggling to get away from him.... He was a big guy,” Lukas said. “I remember him covering my mouth. I could hardly breathe.”
Asked about Lukas’ allegation, Lindner said in his deposition: “I don’t remember doing this. I don’t think I did it.”
Lukas said she was despondent for years and still feels uncomfortable in her parents’ house. “I’ve had this torture all my life,” said Lukas, who runs an herbal-products business in Oregon. “I don’t trust authority. I don’t believe in God anymore.... It has shaped the foundation of who I am.”
Another of Lindner’s nephews says the priest molested him over several nights at a family reunion in Arizona during the 1979 Christmas season. The boy was 11 years old at the time.
“He was French-kissing me,” said the nephew, who spoke on condition that he not be named. “He was holding me tight, and he fondled me. It happened every night.”
In 1982, after eight years at St. Ignatius High, Lindner transferred to Loyola High and was named chairman of the English department.
Founded in 1865, Loyola is L.A.'s oldest Catholic school, occupying ivy-covered buildings on Venice Boulevard near Koreatown. Among the most competitive prep schools in the area, it has 1,096 students and 84 faculty and staff members.
At Loyola, Lindner expressed a preference for working with younger students. An evaluation stated: “Fr. Lindner was quite honest about his wish to teach frosh rather than seniors.”
In 1983, he wrote an acquaintance: “I am tutoring frosh -- I don’t teach them, but I know about 110 of them now. I have a ‘hit’ list with their names and photos (a way to get to know their names). They are fun.”
Lindner organized numerous after-school activities that gradually became known as “Lindner clubs.” They included archery, backgammon, chess, Knights of FRP (a fantasy role-playing group) and remote-control car racing.
Loyola administrators praised his devotion to students. “I want to point out particularly that many of the students in your clubs would have no other avenue into the mainstream of the Loyola community were it not for your energy, ingenuity and organization,” Father Gordon Bennett, then the principal, wrote in October 1984.
Lindner served as an assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 1193 at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, near the Loyola campus.
And he reached out to a boy and girl he had met years earlier through the Christian Family Movement.
One of them was Debbie Lukas. Lindner sent the teenager romantic letters, calling her “my California beauty” and “the flame tree of my life” and mentioning that the residence hall at Loyola had “a place to put people up ... (even you).”
Lindner also contacted Lukas’ mother, Mary Louise Taylor, and suggested that her 12-year-old son spend a weekend with him on the campus.
“I was so shocked,” said Taylor, adding that she declined.
In his deposition, Lindner described the invitation as “a joke.”
Visiting His Brother
Lindner’s move to Loyola made it easier to visit his older brother, Larry, then an LAPD patrol officer who lived in Lancaster with his family. During these visits, Father Lindner allegedly molested three nieces.
“He would hold your face, stare at you and then stick his tongue in your mouth,” said one niece, Susan Edens, now 32, who still lives in Lancaster. “I used to hate him coming over to our house, because I hated that kiss. It was horrid.”
Her sister, Tamara Roehm, said Jerold Lindner did the same thing to her many times.
Larry Lindner’s youngest daughter, Tiffany Swindler, said the priest sodomized her on three occasions when she was between 5 and 7.
“He was meaner the second time,” said Swindler, now 27. “He yelled a lot. He grabbed my hair harder than normal.” Afterward, she said, Father Lindner called her “dirty” and told her: “Bad things happen to little girls who open their mouths.”
Swindler and her father said that the priest molested the girl for the final time around Easter 1984. In separate interviews, they said Larry Lindner walked into the living room to find the priest playing with Tiffany while sexually aroused.
“I threw him out of my house,” Larry Lindner said. He urged his brother to seek treatment but did not report him to authorities.
“I trusted him,” Larry Lindner said. “I told him, ‘I’m not going to ruin your life or ruin your career. Just go get help.’ ... I should have had him arrested right there. But he’s still my brother, and I did what I thought a brother should do.”
Larry Lindner said that until recently he was not aware of Swindler’s allegations that the priest had sodomized her.
Swindler said the abuse ceased when she was 8 but never stopped haunting her. She said she became sexually active at 11 and endured three broken marriages. Recently, she began undergoing therapy for depression.
“I hate him,” Swindler said of her uncle. “I hate the way he ruined my life.”
Larry Lindner retired from the LAPD in 1986, and the family moved to Oregon. In January 1992, his wife found Tiffany crying on the floor of their home after suffering flashbacks about the priest.
Larry Lindner said his daughter’s anguish made him so angry that he called Jesuit superiors to report his brother’s history of alleged sexual misconduct. Loyola’s then-principal, Father Eugene Growney, posted a memo on Feb. 3, 1992, informing the high school faculty and staff that Jerold Lindner had been placed on leave “for reasons internal to the Society of Jesus.”
The Jesuits sent Lindner to St. Luke Institute in Maryland, a psychiatric center where Catholic clergymen accused of sexual abuse are evaluated and treated. Before going, Lindner solicited letters of support from family members. His mother and two sisters submitted five letters on his behalf to Jesuit superiors.
Isabelle Linder wrote that Larry Lindner could not be believed. “Father, they are all lies!” she said.
Kathy McEntire also supported Father Lindner. “I have been informed that one of the lies being made against my brother is that he also molested me when I was in fourth or fifth grade,” she wrote. “I can assure you that in no way is this true.”
Both women said in separate interviews that they knowingly provided false information in the letters. The mother said she was trying to help her son. McEntire said she wrote her letters under duress. “Mom said if all of us did not come forward ... his career would be destroyed and he would get kicked out of the church,” she said.
A confidential St. Luke report that cleared the way for Lindner to return to teaching made several references to the family letters. The report said an examination of Lindner, who told the St. Luke staff that he had never abused anyone, found no sexual disorders or “significant risk factors.”
“We see no reason why Father Lindner should not return to his usual activities,” the report said. The psychiatrists at St. Luke closed with a recommendation that Lindner go on a low-fat diet.
Richard Sipe -- a former Benedictine monk and expert on sexuality in the clergy who has served as a St. Luke board member -- reviewed the eight-page report at The Times’ request. He described it as “deficient and biased,” and said: “They did not provide any kind of sexual history. They did not do any investigation. They simply took his word.”
The president of St. Luke, Father Stephen J. Rossetti, said he could not comment on Lindner’s case but that in general it is difficult to determine through psychological evaluation if someone is a molester. “We are doing a clinical evaluation based on the information we have, and it’s not easy work,” he said.
Lindner returned to Loyola High in fall 1992. He said in his deposition that Jesuit superiors and Loyola administrators never discussed his brother’s accusations with him. He resumed his teaching duties and continued to receive plaudits.
“I cannot begin to thank you enough for your phenomenal generosity and commitment,” Father Walsh wrote on Nov. 8, 1992, weeks after Lindner’s return.
Students dedicated the 1993 yearbook to Lindner, lauding him as “one of the most active and popular teachers at Loyola.”
From 1992 through 1995, he escorted Loyola students on three summer trips to Europe. In late 1996, he boasted in letters to friends that 33 Loyola students had signed up for the 1997 European tour, making it the largest ever.
Lindner later wrote to say that “an unspecified illness” forced him to miss the 1997 trip because foreign travel was “not medically recommended.” In fact, he was barred from the trip because new allegations of sexual abuse had surfaced.
The Lynch brothers, breaking their silence after two decades, filed their suit against the Society of Jesus in April 1997.
Their lawyer, Michael D. Meadows, said he had to pressure the Jesuits to remove Lindner from the classroom. “There was still the same reflexive response of circle the wagons, protect the priest and the institution, and ignore the interests of the kids,” he said.
Lindner was relieved of his teaching duties in late May 1997 and sent back to St. Luke that September. He spent nearly nine months there, receiving medical and psychological treatment for depression and low self-esteem brought on by “the trauma of these allegations,” a Jesuit superior said in a deposition.
In May 1998, Lindner returned to the Jesuit residence at Loyola on condition that he no longer teach.
In the deposition, he said he agreed to the restriction to spare the school a controversy. “It could possibly put the school in a bad light with publicity if this went public,” he said.
Lindner continued to serve with the Boy Scouts at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, near Loyola, records show. Father Dennis P. O’Neil, then pastor of the church, said he was never told about Lindner’s past. “I never heard a thing,” said O’Neil, now auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of San Bernardino.
In October 1998, the Society of Jesus reached a confidential settlement with the Lynch brothers. Documents show that the Jesuits paid $625,000. Among the conditions was a prohibition against publicizing the allegations. “There was no admission to anything, no attempt to apologize,” Will Lynch said. “The Jesuits’ attitude was, ‘Let’s settle this out.’ The only issue was how much.”
At Christmas 1999, Lindner visited his family in Arizona. His younger sister, McEntire, said she confronted him about the pain he had inflicted on his victims, herself included.
According to McEntire, Lindner acknowledged that he “may have crossed the line” in his conduct with one niece and with one nephew. He expressed no regret and offered no apologies, she said.
Freedom to Travel
Since he stopped teaching at Loyola, Lindner has enjoyed the freedom to travel and work as a language tutor with few restrictions. He earned a master’s degree in linguistics at San Jose State and spent several months in Paris immersing himself in French culture. He moved to the Jesuit residence in Culver City last year, teaching English to seminarians from developing countries.
In the fall of 2001, Lindner began teaching English as a second language at Cal State Dominguez Hills. The director of the program, Tony Costanzo, said the Jesuits never informed him of Lindner’s background. “Had I known that, I definitely would not have hired him,” he said.
Lindner was transferred to Sacred Heart in Los Gatos this August. At least five registered sex offenders have resided at the Jesuit center in recent years, including a priest and brother who were recently convicted of sexually abusing two mentally retarded men. In September, the Jesuits agreed to a settlement that will pay the two victims $7.5 million each.
The center is within walking distance of downtown Los Gatos, an upscale village in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Last month, anonymously posted fliers bearing a photo of Lindner appeared in the shopping district. “Warning,” they said. “Pedophile in our community.
Lindner is living under a set of written restrictions laid down by the order, said Smolich, the Jesuit provincial superior. He said Lindner is barred from teaching or ministering to children and cannot say Mass or hear confession in church.
“The world has changed in the last nine months,” Smolich said. “For Jerry’s sake and the public’s sake, we can’t be too careful.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Ten men and women, including his sister and several nephews and nieces, accuse Father Jerold Lindner of sexually abusing them as children. Lindner, for years a teacher at Loyola High School, denies the allegations. A look at his Jesuit career and at the alleged abuse.
1944: Born in Columbus, Ohio.
1962: Graduates from Jesuit high school in Phoenix.
1964: Accepted for Jesuit training.
1970: Begins teaching at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco.
1975: Begins serving as a chaplain for Catholic families in the Bay Area.
1976: Earns master of divinity from Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. Ordained as a priest.
1982: Starts teaching at Loyola High in Los Angeles.
1992: Lindner’s brother reports alleged sexual assaults to Loyola. Lindner is put on temporary leave and reinstated after a favorable psychiatric evaluation.
1998: He is removed from Loyola High.
1997: Two boys allegedly abused in 1975 file suit against the Jesuits. Lindner is again placed on leave.
Alleged sexual assaults:
Dates, places and victims. In some cases, the abuse allegedly continued for several years.
1954: 5-year-old sister, at the Lindner home in Arizona.
1974: 5-year-old nephew, in Arizona and Berkeley.
1975: Two boys, ages 5 and 7, on Bay Area camping trips.
1976: 10-year-old girl, in basement of Oakland home.
1977: 7-year-old girl, in an Oakland home.
1979: 11-year-old nephew, at family reunion in Arizona.
1982: Three nieces, in Los Angeles-area homes.
Times researchers John Beckham, John Jackson and Penny Love contributed to this report.
Glenn Bunting can be reached at glenn.bunting @latimes.com or (213) 237-2290.