ST. LOUIS – An alleged abuser and his victim met face to face after 45 years. It’s not what a SLU High School graduate expected when he set out to find his old teacher. The former student’s journey started with a message from the Catholic Church.
The message came in the form of a news release in December 2018 with a “List of Jesuits with credible accusations of sexual abuse of a minor.”
Mike Sullivan found his old teacher’s name on it. Then he found the priest living near the St. Louis University campus.
“He’s still on the Jesuit’s dime. It says he lives under supervision but, you know, frankly if the guy was a lay teacher he would've gone to jail,” he said.
Sullivan found Father Paul Pilgram living at Jesuit Hall on Lindell. It's just a few miles from where he says Father Pilgram sexually abused him.
We stood outside the SLU High School campus medical room.
“Yep, that’s the place,” Sullivan said.
It was 1974. Sullivan was 16.
“He really betrayed a lot of trust there, especially since his modus operandi was to do it under the auspices of instruction,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said he and another boy told SLU’s president and they got action.
“His response was, ‘Well, we can’t have that here’ is what he said and within a day Father Pilgrim was gone.”
He says it never left his mind.
“Later, I realized the entire student-teacher dynamic suffered,” Sullivan said. “I was never really the same student again.”
Sullivan thought he’d let it go and moved on until December 2018, when he saw a news release from the Jesuits. It described how Pilgram moved to other churches after Sullivan’s complaint. Pilgram not only kept working in high schools but students continued complaining – at Regis High School in Denver and Rockhurst in Kansas City.
“The thing that really hurt me the most was reading that,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan also felt empowered by the church because of the Pope Francis’ Christmas address and call for justice.
“To those who abuse minors, I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice and prepare for divine justice," Pope Francis exclaimed.
“The Pope’s own words the other day gave me some comfort in that they should turn themselves in and that his other part of his statement was that uh we need to shine light on this,” Sullivan said. “There’s been too much darkness for too long.”
Sullivan decided he wanted to talk to Pilgram again now four decades later.
We went with him to White House Retreat where the Jesuit news release said Father Pilgram was living. A worker said Pilgram wasn't allowed here because kids are often around. He looked up Pilgram in a Catholic directory and directed us to Jesuit Hall on Lindell. It's home to priests who work on the SLU campus or others who have retired.
Outside, we asked Sullivan, “What do you think will happen?”
“I don’t know. I thought originally they’d say, ‘No, get out of here. You’ll be thrown off for trespassing’ and ‘you are not going to be able to see him’ because they say he lives under supervision. Well, his supervisor is more than welcome to accompany us down to the police headquarters. That’s fine.”
Sullivan went inside and he found Paul Pilgram. They spoke face to face for nearly 20 minutes. He said Pilgram would not agree to go with him to police but he said the priest listened. Sullivan walked out in disbelief.
“I’ll tell you, the face-to-face with him was more emotional for me now than I thought,” Sullivan said. “I’ve had a wonderful life, this aside, but this is one thing that I could never get out of my craw because of the fact he was a teacher. I was a student.”
He said it was important for him to confront Father Pilgram without anger.
“I saw a Protestant church sign somewhere in south county. My wife pointed it out to me. It said ‘those who anger us control us’ and I want that man to have no power or control over me ever again,” Sullivan.
We reached out to Father Paul Pilgram by phone to see if he wanted to respond. He said he did not think it would be a good idea. He's now 80 years old. A Jesuit spokesperson also told me he's restricted to holding masses only for other priests or church employees.