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Man abused by Virginia catholic school priest shares story: ‘There’s still shame’

Posted at 11:28 PM, Mar 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-05 23:29:25-05

GOOCHLAND COUNTY, Va. -- Jim Kronzer can still remember the sound of Sunday Mass at a church he has not stepped foot inside of in 40 years.

“I think they had a Wurlitzer,” Kronzer said. “And it was this sound that just, like, rang out.”

In 1976, Kronzer, then 14, left his home in Virginia Beach and moved to Goochland County, to attend Saint John Vianney Prep Seminary.

Saint John Vianney Prep Seminary.

The all-male high school, which opened its doors in 1960, was operated by the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Its campus was situated on a hill high above the James River, near the present day Route 288 bridge.

“I think I was toying with the idea of, you know, priesthood,” Kronzer said. “And coming from a family that had priests in it and had nuns, it was a very noble thing to pursue.”

Almost immediately, he fell in love with the school.

“I felt like I fit into a group of people,” Kronzer said. “I thought it was a magical, golden place.”

But the magic wore off shortly after his freshman year began. His life has not been the same since.

There’s still shame

“There’s still shame associated with, you know, what happened, how it happened, who did it to me," he said.

In the early 2000s, CBS 6 covered a number of cases involving priests suspected of molesting children.

The troubling accusations challenged the faith of many, and divided congregations.

While priest abuse scandals had been reported in other cities - like Boston - the spotlight had never been on Richmond. The thought that there could be predators in Central Virginia parishes was difficult for some to accept.

One of the more high-profile cases involved a Henrico priest named John Leonard, the founder of Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Glen Allen.

In 2004, he was charged with two counts of felony forcible sodomy. Those charges were later reduced to misdemeanor assault and battery, to which Leonard pleaded guilty.

The crimes were committed in the late 1970s, when Leonard was the headmaster at Saint John Vianney.

“It was a small community, and it was run by four priests,” Kronzer said.

Last month, three of those men were included on a list of names published by the diocese. The list identified more than 40 priests found to have “credible and substantiated” allegations of sexual abuse involving children.

In addition to Leonard, Steven Rule, and Julian Goodman were listed. All three worked at the school at the same time.

Rule was a history teacher and the dean of students, while Goodman taught music.

That’s how he met Jim Kronzer.

“All the priests kind of had their favorites, and I ended up being the favorite of this one particular priest,” Kronzer said, speaking about Goodman.

The young priest and the shy freshman bonded over a shared love of music and the arts.

“Even to this day I'll hear something and it's like, 'Oh, I remember listening to that on his record player in his office,’” Kronzer said.

But it was in rooms like that, behind closed doors, where Goodman took advantage of the teenage student.

“It was touching, it was inappropriate touching and it would be in his private quarters,” Kronzer said. “Usually watching TV, there was some kind of distraction, both of us sitting on the sofa.”

“It became very clear to me that this was not right," he said. "In some respects I’m too nice a guy, so you just let this thing happen and then you want it over with as soon as possible so you can move on with your day.”

To make things worse, Goodman became a friend of Kronzer’s family, even going on vacation with them once.

The abuse continued through the end of Kronzer’s sophomore year. It only stopped after Saint John Vianney closed its doors in 1978.

Like many people victimized by priests, Kronzer never went to the police.

“This was something that I didn't reveal to anybody until many years later, when I was in my 30s,” Kronzer said.

In the early 1990s, he shared his story with a close friend while they were eating at a diner.

“He said that you have to talk about this, you have to figure this out, this is big,” Kronzer said. “He said this explains so much about you now.”

A short time later, Kronzer made the decision to report the abuse to the diocese, and to tell his parents about what had happened.

“It was one of the hardest conversations that I think I had with them, the other was when I came out to them as being gay, and actually that was the kind of easier one to do,” Kronzer said. “They felt so helpless that their kid, that their oldest kid, had to sit with this for 15 years.”

When Kronzer first contacted the diocese, he describes their response as cautiously receptive, but sincere.

“They expressed remorse, they expressed sorrow for what happened to me,” Kronzer said. “I asked them to help cover the costs of my therapy, which they did, and so I feel like how all of that was handled was very good.”

But he had another request; he wanted a face-to-face meeting with Goodman.

The church arranged one.

“He was very sorry, is what he said to me. I think he didn't totally realize how his actions would affect himself or me,” Kronzer said. “It was kind of hard to watch, he was a shell of a man that I knew.”

Kronzer got the closure that he needed, and life went on.

Until 2002.

That’s when he said he stumbled across a news article, in which a church spokesman stated that no priest currently serving in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond had any confirmed incidents of sexual misconduct with children.

Kronzer knew that to be false.

And Julian Goodman had not been defrocked.

At that time, he was the pastor at a church in Charlottesville.

“I contacted the Diocese of Richmond and said, 'Hey, we have a problem,’” Kronzer said.

This time, he wanted the church to publicly admit what had happened to him.

And he wanted to help craft that confession.

“It wasn't some side room deal, it was like, alright, now we're going to write a press release together,” Kronzer said. “It wasn't my press release and then their press release. We're going to come up with this thing together and put it out there.”

The joint statement of Jim Kronzer and the diocese was released to the public on August 7, 2002.

The day before, Bishop Walter Sullivan forced Julian Goodman to retire.

Kronzer said the church publicly acknowledging the abuse he had suffered was critical to his healing process. And he was satisfied with the way the diocese handled his case.

“I felt cared for by an institution that held an individual that damaged me,” Kronzer said. “They took responsibility.”

Kronzer no longer considers himself a Catholic, but said if Saint John Vianney had not closed down in 1978, there’s a good chance he would have become a priest.

But as an abuse survivor, and a gay man, he said that would not have been a good decision.

“I would have been this horribly conflicted person, and how dangerous is that, and how dishonest is that,” Kronzer said.

It's not easy for Jim Kronzer to talk about his past, and the innocence that was stolen from him.

But in the wake of the diocese releasing the list of names, and the recent meetings about sex abuse that have taken place at the Vatican, he feels that it's necessary to once again speak out.

“I believe that people like me give courage to others, so I feel like this is a selfless thing to do to help people who have had this happen to them,” Kronzer said.

And he said it is long past time for the church to stop dealing with this problem in the shadows.

“Transparency, I think more involvement of law enforcement treating these abuse cases like they are, they’re criminal cases,” Kronzer said. “I think the talking is done, I think it’s time for showing action.”

Kronzer does not personally plan to pursue any legal action against the church, or Julian Goodman, who is alive and living in the Richmond area, according to public records.

But he would be willing to tell his story to Virginia’s attorney general, who announced last year that his office is investigating clergy sex abuse.

“I think the bigger picture is about the general behavior of the church, so if that’s something that I can help push, I will,” Kronzer said.

Despite the horrible things that happened to him, Kronzer said the brief time he spent at Saint John Vianney helped shape the man he has become.

“I discovered my line of work, which is theater, that was one of the beautiful things that came out of that, and it’s still my profession to this day,” Kronzer said.

But like the sock and buskin masks that hang above the stage, his memories of those two years will always be equal parts joy and pain.

“I’ll never get those back, and I`ll never get back the kid that walked into that seminary optimistic and emboldened by something new in his life that was supposed to be really kind of amazing.”