Courts & Crime

Former altar boy shares abuse stories with dead youth's family

Don and Rosemary Teeman were waiting in the parking lot when Jon David Couzens drove up.

Couzens sat in his van, trying to summon the strength to open the door. The Teemans’ son had committed suicide 28 years earlier. The night before last, Couzens had told them that their son was sexually abused by a priest before taking his life.

It was the worst thing he’d ever had to do. But the Teemans wanted to talk more, this time face to face. And they deserved to know everything.

Couzens had been up all night, sick to his stomach, going over and over in his head how this moment would play out. He sat there for 10 minutes, trying to keep from throwing up. It seemed like forever.

He finally climbed out and walked toward their car.

Rosemary Teeman looked at him, then opened the door and got out. They didn’t say a word, just hugged and cried.

Then they all walked to the building together, hand in hand.

As they sat around a large round table in Kansas City, Couzens told them about the abuse that he says he, Brian Teeman and two other altar boys suffered at the hands of Monsignor Thomas O’Brien and about the threat — that if they ever told, they would be kicked out of the church, their parents would disown them and they would go to hell.

As they talked, Brian’s suicide note seemed to make sense to the Teemans for the first time.

When Rosemary found Brian’s body, she found the note that said, “I didn’t want to get yelled at.”

For those 28 years, Don Teeman told Couzens, they had no clue why Brian committed suicide. Eventually, Don just took the blame and decided it had to be something he did.

But in the back of his mind, Don always wondered if something had happened to Brian at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Independence, perhaps involving sports or bullying.

Couzens recalls the emotional reaction of Don’s wife that July day:

“Rosemary stood up and hugged him and just hovered over him and said, ‘Honey, I’m so sorry I blamed you all these years.’ ”

Don replied, “I knew I wasn’t a bad dad.”

Jackie, Brian’s sister, was at the meeting, too. Now married with two children of her own, she heard her parents acknowledge for the first time that Brian committed suicide — that it wasn’t an accident.

“I had a feeling that Brian took his own life, but we never talked about it,” she said.

“As I grew up, I heard pieces about Monsignor O’Brien from all the friends that I was in school with, and I always had a thought about it, like, I wonder if that ever happened to my brother?” she said. “But nobody ever said anything to me about it.”

It took the Teemans a few days for everything to sink in.

“It was painful when we lost him, and now it’s painful knowing why he’s not here with us,” Rosemary says. “We’re going through it all over again.”

Couzens’ revelations hit another family, too.

Tom Caffrey Sr. was stunned to learn that his stepson, Chuck, was one of the four altar boys Couzens told about.

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