Don't Ask, Don't Tell

For 40 years, the Episcopal Church of Texas turned a blind eye to a priest who was sexually molesting male students.

In his ten years at the school (1958-1968), Tucker was considered by many students to be a friend and confidant. If you got in trouble and the administration was breathing down your neck, Tucker was your ally. Especially if you were a boy. He oversaw the student lounge, where you could shoot pool or play ping-pong. The especially lucky boys would be tapped to run the lounge's canteen, where you could get ice cream and candy. Of course, the set-up was a pedophile's dream. It made grooming them for future sexual advances that much easier. What seemed to seal the deal, though, what made Tucker your real pal, was when he'd have boys over to his on-campus house, where they could watch TV in air-conditioned comfort. Even without students there, it was always a full house — Tucker had a wife and five kids — so there were certain places in the house you weren't allowed to go.

The trust Tucker built up with students during the day paid off for him at night. After lights-out, he'd stroll through the dorms, push through the saloon-style doors of different rooms and take a seat on the edge of a bed. As far as most students knew, Tucker just wanted to check in, see how your day went. See if you needed help with anything.

It's difficult to tell when Tucker became such an expert at his craft, but by the time he slipped into Bob Haslanger's room in 1964, he could sit there telling stories in the pitch-black, with other boys in the room, stroking Haslanger's penis without anyone else knowing what was going on. And that was that. Get up and leave. See you boys at the canteen.

A diocesan-commissioned investigation revealed that Headmaster Becker knew about the abuse at least as early as 1966 and did nothing to stop it.
Courtesy David Evert
A diocesan-commissioned investigation revealed that Headmaster Becker knew about the abuse at least as early as 1966 and did nothing to stop it.
The 2007 investigation did not turn up any records indicating if Headmaster Becker (right) told Bishop James Richardson of the abuse.
Courtesy David Evert
The 2007 investigation did not turn up any records indicating if Headmaster Becker (right) told Bishop James Richardson of the abuse.

Whenever it happened, Haslanger would check out of his mind. He'd go somewhere else.

"The world was a bizarre place," he says. "...Having to deal with this person who was perhaps the most popular faculty member on campus in public, who acted as though nothing was odd, and then once a month or more, he would come into my room and molest me. Well, wow, that's more than my little young teenage brain could handle."

Haslanger's grades started slipping, and although he won't go into detail, he said he started having disciplinary problems as well. He and his faculty adviser reached an impasse. Neither of them knew how to turn things around. Then, all of a sudden, Haslanger got a new adviser. His name was Jim Tucker.

Haslanger says his only refuge during this time was the school's darkroom. Late in his freshman year, when he got involved in photography, he petitioned the administration to invest a few bucks in what he felt was a rather mediocre darkroom. By his sophomore year, the administration agreed. Haslanger couldn't give a damn about developing photographs. He wanted to experience, even for just a little while, the safe feeling that came with a locked door.

"I created a place there at the school that was my own space, and it was dark and it was quiet and it was private," he says.

Something else happened during his sophomore year: He worked up the nerve to tell Headmaster Allen Becker about Tucker. It happened, Haslanger says, when he was called to Becker's office once again for some violation.

"I started to tell him that Tucker came into my room at night and 'messed with me,' I think is the phrase I used," Haslanger says. "...And he called me a liar. He asked me, 'Why can't you tell me the truth?'" Looking back on it now, Haslanger says, "It's odd that he would take my phrase, which was sort of ambiguous, and immediately assume that there was some lie encased in it."

And with that, Haslanger walked out of Becker's office, consigned to two more years of depravity.
_____________________

During a July 2007 Houston Press interview about the allegations against Tucker, diocese spokeswoman Carol Barnwell chuckled over the idea of a "conspiracy." How ludicrous.

Either Barnwell wasn't being candid, or her boss didn't fill her in on the fact that the diocese had hired a risk analysis company to investigate the allegations and had, three months earlier, outlined clear evidence that there was in fact a conspiracy among St. Stephen's and diocesan authorities. And, in September 2007, the diocese released a summary of that investigation, which substantiated Haslanger's claim that he told Becker about the abuse in 1966, and that Becker did nothing.

Instead, Becker's response to continued allegations was to tell the St. Stephen's community that Tucker had heart disease and was leaving Austin for St. James Episcopal Church in Houston. Apparently, this satisfied everyone — no one questioned why Houston was better for his heart than Austin.

Then again, Becker's word was gold, especially among the more progressive families who sent their children to St. Stephen's. According to a 2000 article in Focus on St. Stephen's (an alumni publication), when Becker "was offered the position of headmaster [in 1957], he accepted on one condition — that the school 'remove race as a criterion for admission.'" The school had long been coeducational, but, reflective of the time, the school's trustees found the idea of black students studying alongside white students unpalatable.

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