Book links poet, priest in chronicle of abuse

Herald file photo
Jasper native Norbert Krapf's book, “Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet’s Journal of Healing,” will be released April 1.

Herald Staff Writer

It’s been nearly 60 years since Norbert Krapf was a young altar boy at Holy Family Catholic Church in Jasper. But what happened to him there has stuck with the former Indiana poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize nominee and is the subject of his 26th book, “Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet’s Journal of Healing.”

The book of poems chronicles the sexual abuse Krapf said he endured as a boy serving at the church under Monsignor Othmar Schroeder in the mid-1950s. Schroeder, who died in 1988, has since been alleged to have sexually violated at least 15 boys during his 27-year tenure at the church he founded.

Krapf, 70, said it was exactly five decades since the abuse when, in 2007, poem after poem about the abuse poured from his pen.

“It took me that long to be ready to do it and to want to do it,” said Krapf, who lives in Indianapolis. “After having pushed everything down in my subconscious for so long, it was amazing the recall I had once I started. The memories came back volcanically, and everything just spewed out so quickly.”

After delving back into the trauma of the abuse for the better part of a year, producing 325 poems, Krapf needed to take a break. He set the project aside for three years, then spent four more years editing, revising and finding a publisher willing to accept the controversial subject matter.

Book cover courtesy Norbert Krapf
The book of poems chronicles the sexual abuse Krapf said he endured as a boy serving at the church under Monsignor Othmar Schroeder in the mid-1950s.

“Catholic Boy Blues” will be released April 1 by Greystone Publishing of Nashville, Tenn., to coincide with National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the National Poetry Month.

“It’s been seven years of living with these poems,” Krapf said. “I’m so relieved it’s finally happening and is being released.”

Krapf, born and raised in Jasper before moving away in 1961, is aware that dredging up sexual abuse may irritate, and even anger, some residents of his hometown and the larger Catholic community. But he says the book’s purpose — to help other victims of sexual abuse by giving them a voice — is too important to ignore.

“In a sense, I wrote the poems to heal myself, but I knew that I would have to publish them and thus help heal others,” Krapf said. “As a poet, I had an obligation to do that, help others heal, show others it could and can be done, though the doing might not be easy.”

Krapf names no one in “Catholic Boy Blues.” Msgr. Schroeder is simply referred to as the priest.

“This book is not an attack on the Catholic church and not an attack on the town I grew up in,” Krapf said. “The town did not abuse me. One individual did.”

His self-proclaimed most challenging project to date, the book is written in four voices — the boy who was abused, the man he became, the priest and Mr. Blues, a fictitious counselor-like character who speaks in the rhyme and rhythm of the blues, and acts as “an agent of healing.”

Krapf, a longtime scribe of blues poetry, said writing in separate voices happened naturally. Adding the voice of the priest, however, came at the suggestion of a therapist Krapf has been visiting for seven years.

“My therapist said a great device for many victims to deal with the abuse is to write letters to their abuser. I was already doing that with my poems,” Krapf said. “Writing in the voice of the priest gave the young boy a chance to talk back.”

In poems that use the priest’s voice, Krapf often included a rebuttal from the boy’s point of view. By the end, he finally condemns the priest’s actions face-to-face.

In an exchange, the boy and the priest discuss the photo on the cover of the book — a picture of a young Krapf taken by Msgr. Schroeder during the period of abuse. In several poems, the boy asks the priest if he can see the hurt in the boy’s eyes. The boy asks why the priest took the photo and why he then gave it to the boy’s parents, assuming they would never recognize the pain on their son’s face.

Krapf said writing poems about a complicated subject has helped him heal.

“No way I could have planned this. It was all ready to happen, and I had to open myself to it, let it come through and out,” he said. “Now I have all these voices, the sides of myself, to share, to speak to and for others, to help others move forward.”

To continue addressing child abuse in the church or elsewhere, Krapf has planned a book reading in Indianapolis. The reading and book signing will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 24, at the Indiana Interchurch Center at the corner of Michigan Road and 42nd Street.

Joseph Tobin, the Archbishop of the Indianapolis Diocese, will be present at the reading and will say a prayer of healing for victims of abuse.

Three trained counselors will also attend and be willing to speak to any victims or family members of victims, Krapf said.

Krapf said he publicly read his poetry nearly 500 times, but the April 24 event will be the most challenging.

“I have to think about a lot more with this one. There may be other survivors in the audience. These aren’t pleasant poems, either, I know they will irritate some people,” Krapf said. “I’m not afraid, though. I believe in the poems, I’ve lived with them for so long. It’s time they help others heal.”

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