Ted Lausche

Ted Lausche, a survivor of priest abuse, is seen at his house in Marshall, Wis., on July 3, 2019. Lausche is among a group of adults who received a $5.2 million settlement from the Archdiocese of New Orleans after they alleged physical and sexual abused as children at a Catholic orphanage.

In the living room of his Marshall home, 62-year-old Ted Lausche has a clock that reads aloud Bible verses every hour.

For Lausche, these readings trigger memories of the years of physical and sexual abuse he endured at a Catholic orphanage in Louisiana. But he chooses not to shut them off because the readings also remind him of his late partner, a spiritual woman who loved him despite his personal demons.

In the decades since he escaped from the orphanage at age 13, Lausche has suffered from alcohol abuse, drug addiction, mental health problems, three failed marriages and homelessness.

Lausche fled Hope Haven in Marrerro, Louisiana, where he said he suffered 10 years of physical and sexual abuse. That home and the orphanage for younger children, Madonna Manor, have been the subject of repeated allegations of sexual abuse by clergy that continue to surface.

Lausche was part of a 2009 settlement for $5.2 million reached with the Archdiocese of New Orleans and an undisclosed number of adults who had alleged being beaten, berated and sexually abused as children at Hope Haven and Madonna Manor.

These days, he focuses his anger into “back channel” work, from organizing protests at the diocese in Madison to writing letters to state legislators about laws that should be changed.

Working to change the system — and getting some justice for the abuse he suffered — helps him cope, Lausche said, adding “You become a survivor once you take some action.”

A decade of abuse

Despite the passage of nearly 50 years, when he recalls the abuse he suffered, Lausche’s voice gets loud and color rises in his face, and a torrent of swear words flow forth.

Lausche said the employees at the orphanage tried to break the children by depriving them of possessions and privacy. Despite Hope Haven’s name, Lausche said, “The final ingredient for that environment to exist — the final touch — is to take away all hope.”

And that was not the end of it. He said the priests, nuns and seminarians who ran the orphanage, abused children physically and sexually.

“Imagine a world where the only touch is violence,” Lausche said.

Once, Lausche recalled, he was called into a confessional to find the priest masturbating. When the priest attempted to rape him, Lausche said, he fled the confessional and did not stop running. He hid outside all day, getting scratches from the thorny bushes where he took cover.

Perhaps the worst incident was when Lausche was told to go with then-seminarian Gilbert Gauthe to Gauthe’s parents’ home. The prospective priest, Lausche and another boy headed down the road in a car that Lausche can still recall in detail: a “tricked out” 1957 robin-egg blue Thunderbird.

He paused, breathing heavily, as he recounted the episode.

On the drive out, Gauthe stopped, putting a .45-caliber gun to Lausche’s head, then fired a shot out the window, warning the boy that he needed to do whatever he said. Later, locked in a bedroom in the home, Lauthe was awakened by a pillow being placed over his head while Gauthe raped him.

In the mid-1980s, Gauthe acknowledged sexually abusing more than three dozen boys, becoming what is thought to be the first U.S. priest criminally charged for such crimes.

Lausche is gratified to see more people joining him in the grassroots movement to force the Catholic Church to address years of abuse. “Our time,” he said, “has kind of come.”

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The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.