by Michael Clancy
David Michael Pain Jr. was laid to rest in early December, during a small service at St. Francis Cemetery in Phoenix, nearly 18 months after he died. His father, David Sr., said he remembers his son with the help of Scripture — a prodigal son, a lost sheep, a sinner Christ came to save.
The older man, who goes by the name Michael, told those gathered at the service that he finds solace in those Gospel passages when he thinks of his son. He believes David’s chance at a good life — or, for that matter, a life at all — was lost 25 years earlier when he was allegedly sexually abused, at age 13, by a Catholic priest.
Michael Pain reported the abuse to the Phoenix Diocese within weeks of his son’s death. After a 10-month investigation that deemed the report credible, the diocese suspended the Rev. John “Jack” Spaulding last June from his position as pastor of St. Timothy Catholic Church in Mesa and sent the case — along with three more that surfaced since Pain’s report — to the Vatican in Rome to determine the priest’s future.
The 25 years between the alleged abuse and David’s death in 2010 are complicated. The boy his sister remembers as “heartfelt” and “unbelievably engaging” would struggle through his parents’ divorce, accept — and later reject — Spaulding’s friendship, and quickly fall down a rabbit hole that escalated from minor juvenile crimes to felonies, drug use, prison and failed rehabs.
By the time he died, just three months shy of his 39th birthday, he had spent a majority of his adult life behind bars.
Even with David laid to rest, there is plenty that hangs in the balance while the Phoenix Diocese and David’s father await the Vatican’s ruling. That could come at any time now, and it will be the key to whether Spaulding will be allowed to continue as a priest, whether Michael Pain will receive any compensation for his pain over his lost son, and if any of this brings the issue to a close.
Forming a bond
In the mid-1980s, Pain referred David, then 12, to Spaulding, who was pastor of the family’s church, St. Maria Goretti parish in Scottsdale. Pain and his wife had been separated for five years, and he hoped the priest could help his son deal with their divorce.
It didn’t take long, Pain says, before the young boy and the priest became friends. They spent time together, watching movies, eating dinner, even relaxing in a hot tub at Spaulding’s home in Scottsdale near the church, he said. Spaulding became so close to the family that he came over for dinner on occasion, including a birthday gathering in January 1985. He sent a note in response.
“Thank you so much for the birthday flowers!” he wrote. “Also thank you for allowing me to share the love of your son. David is becoming very special to me.”
Pain now believes that throughout this time, Spaulding was grooming his son with gifts, movies and dinners. He alleges the priest then began systematically abusing the boy.
The friendship was so close that Pain allowed his son to take a vacation with Spaulding to the beach in California. No one else went along.
In today’s world, eyebrows rise quickly at the thought of a priest — or, for that matter, any unrelated adult — spending so much time alone with an adolescent child. But in the mid-’80s, the Catholic sex-abuse scandal would not explode for nearly 20 more years. Not only did Pain never suspect a priest would abuse a child, it was more common for a pastor to be among the most trusted adults in a child’s life.
But during that trip in the summer of 1985, Michael Pain says, David called and demanded to come home, saying he was uncomfortable away from home and missed his family. He refused to see Spaulding again afterward, and Spaulding began to ignore the family.
A teenager’s free fall
It wasn’t long afterward, Pain says, that his son started getting in trouble.
In August of 1987 — a month before he would turn 16 — David was convicted of traffic and curfew violations. In October, he took his father’s car out joyriding and was in trouble again.
Many teens get into scrapes with the law, but most are minor and the kids move on, lessons learned. But just a couple of months later, in January 1988, David was fined for possession of liquor, and a month after that he was caught shoplifting. Each time he committed a crime, he also incurred probation violations, until in June 1988 — not yet 17 — he was sent to juvenile prison, where he remained until his 18th birthday.
While there, David completed his GED and did well. His father has a package of letters from teachers in the juvenile system, each praising David’s work and encouraging his future efforts.
But within nine months of his release, David was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping charges that involved the threat of a weapon. This time, the crime was major. This time, David was an adult. And this time, the sentence was eight years in prison in Arizona. The teen who just got out of juvenile prison would be in his late 20s before he was free again. He would miss almost the entire decade of the 1990s.
When he did finish his Arizona prison sentence, he entered rehab, appeared to be doing well, and moved to Indiana, where he started taking classes at Holy Cross College in South Bend.
But a girlfriend broke up with him and David left school, ending up in California. There, a couple named Jody and James Kirkwood took him in after he did some work for them at their home in Long Beach.
“We saw a new man emerging as David took positive steps in his life,” they wrote in a letter to a judge in California after a subsequent criminal conviction. “He was a loving young man with a big heart, an incredibly bright mind and great potential for success.”
But unknown to the Kirkwoods, David was still involved with drugs, his father said. And when someone did not pay him on time, he stole the person’s skateboard in payment. He was convicted of burglary and, with California’s three-strikes system, spent most of the next eight years in prison there.
The David who seemed to be making a fresh start in his late 20s would be in his late 30s before he was released once more. Another decade, mostly lost.
‘A creator, a thinker’
When David was young, said his younger sister, Katy Soukup, her brother “was a creator, a thinker, not a kid who ever relaxed in front of the TV or played video games.”
Soukup, who lives in the Valley, says her brother, when sober, was energetic and enthusiastic about life.
“People paid attention when David talked because he was very intense and unbelievably engaging,” she said. “He was the guy who was unforgettable after first meeting him.”
He threw himself into everything 100 percent, even persuading Don & Charlie’s restaurant in Scottsdale to sponsor him as a bicycle racer though, as a 12-year-old, he never had owned a bike before, Soukup said. He ended up winning a trophy that still is displayed at the restaurant, she said.
“David, as an adult and as a young boy, was very heartfelt,” she said. “He wanted to please and make people laugh, and he never wanted to see somebody sad.”
But as he got older, his problems caused strife within the family. Soukup moved on with her own life, getting married and having a child.
Over the years, David saw a number of counselors, psychiatrists and drug-rehab specialists, and was diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to letters from doctors that his father provided to The Republic.
But as with many mental illnesses, those things can be difficult to prove. And David was never good about taking his medication or even keeping his appointments, according to several reports from psychologists and others that his father provided.
While David was in prison in California, Pain says, a former teacher who had David as a student at the former Gerard High School in Phoenix called to inform Pain that David had told her he had been molested. The teacher had remained in touch with David and decided to call the boy’s father. Pain says the teacher identified Spaulding as the abuser.
It was the first time the father ever considered that his son might have been abused.
It was the first time he ever suspected the priest.
David was released from prison in California in 2008, and his father tried to talk to him, tried to persuade him to speak to an attorney, or the police. But by then, the younger man had developed a strong distrust of authorities and never pursued the matter.
A rage, a shot, a fatal wound
David spent much of the next 18 months in and out of rehab, on drugs and back off. Pain said he could tell his son was on a downward spiral once again.
David’s inner turmoil would end with his death on June 17, 2010.
According to Pain, his son burst into his Scottsdale home in a rage, probably fueled by the methamphetamine and cocaine an autopsy would find in his system. Michael Pain, who said he feared for his life, backed into his bedroom and picked up a gun. As David continued to advance, his father shot him, aiming at his leg so as to stop his son, but not kill him.
Instead of David’s leg, however, Michael hit a pelvic artery. Arteries are large and strong, and carry fresh blood from the heart. When damaged, they can lose blood so quickly — and be so hard to control — that the situation can be life-threatening in minutes.
David left his father’s house with unidentified friends, who promised to take him to a hospital. But he did not end up getting medical help, and police found him in a Mesa motel parking lot later that night. He had bled to death.
Michael Pain called Scottsdale police immediately after the shooting and was at the police station talking to officers when he was told that David’s body had been found. He broke down when he heard the news.
Police later determined the shot was fired in self-defense.
‘A semblance of truth’
Michael Pain reported David’s possible abuse by the priest to the Scottsdale Police Department in 2008, but police never investigated or prepared a report because David would not cooperate with an investigation. Pain notified the diocese of the alleged abuse in August 2010, just weeks after his son died.
In a letter to the vicar general of the Diocese of Phoenix, the Rev. Fred Adamson, Pain detailed the relationship between Spaulding and David.
Spaulding, he wrote, “groomed him for perversion by continually buying him new clothes and shoes, took him several times to his home and got him into a hot tub, ultimately gave him oral sex, masturbated him several times. … Fr. Jack first saw David as a troubled young man of 12 and returned him to me a mentally damaged party who suffered deeply and never recovered from that association.”
The diocese conducted a 10-month investigation into Pain’s allegation, using a retired FBI agent to interview 14 witnesses. Rob DeFrancesco, the spokesman for the diocese, said Spaulding was notified after the diocese’s investigator “put together a reasonably reliable time line and a reasonably reliable understanding of the underlying facts.”
Spaulding was given an opportunity to rebut the allegation, but because the report has not been made public, it is not known whether he did so.
Ten months after receiving the allegation, the nine-member Diocesan Review Board determined unanimously that the claim was credible.
“The allegation has a semblance of truth about it,” the diocese said.
In June 2011, a year after David Pain’s death, Bishop Thomas Olmsted suspended Spaulding, 68, just days after he resigned as pastor at St. Timothy because of an unrelated investigation. Spaulding had been a priest for more than 40 years but could be stripped of his priesthood if the charges are found to be true, DeFrancesco said.
In that time, Spaulding was known for his advocacy for the disabled, his leadership of several parishes and his devotion to the Blessed Mother. He took over St. Timothy at a difficult time, after the Rev. Dale Fushek was charged with abuse in connection with boys in his youth ministry, pleaded guilty to one count of assault and resigned his position. Fushek later was excommunicated for his role in starting an alternative church.
But Spaulding’s job already was in jeopardy because he sheltered another priest accused of sexual misconduct, the Rev. Loren Riebe, at his home near St. Timothy and at other parishes several times, according to DeFrancesco. Riebe was suspended by his home diocese of Los Angeles.
A month after suspending Spaulding, the diocese announced a second accusation of sexual misconduct had been made against the priest that dated to the 1970s, when Spaulding served as associate pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale. The accuser has remained anonymous.
And in October, the diocese said it had deemed credible the second allegation plus two others that allegedly took place in the 1970s in Glendale.
Thus far, Pain is the only accuser who has gone public, and he is believed to be the first family member to bring an allegation to the diocese after the alleged abuse victim had died.
Patrick Wall, a former priest and an expert on clerical abuse, said David Pain’s story “is almost an iconic case of abuse.”
He says abuse survivors universally have “long-term physical challenges that come out in a lot of different ways,” from drug abuse to sleep disorders. The majority of the time, Wall said, survivors do not confront the abuse publicly until they reach middle age, or until they have children who reach the age at which the parent was abused.
Every child’s psyche is individual. Many victims of abuse can recover, with intervention and therapy. But sexual abuse shatters a child’s trust in the very adults who should have kept that child safe.
Mary Gail Frawley O’Dea, the only psychologist to address the American bishops in Dallas in 2002, when they approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, has worked with abuse survivors for 30 years.
The abuse causes victims to feel betrayed, and trust issues develop with parents or other adults who, in the victim’s eyes, failed to help, she says.
“It is from this epicenter of betrayed trust that the mind-splitting impact of sexual abuse ripples outward,” she told the bishops, resulting in “a debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder that affects every domain of the victim’s functioning, and lasts for years and years after the abuse has stopped.”
Commonly, the victims have nightmares, flashbacks, even dangerous behaviors. Those affect relationships with others, including rage and “chaotically unstable relationships.”
The young person’s inability to process the abuse can lead to an array of self-destructive behaviors, she said, including drug abuse, criminal activity and suicide.
For the caregiver, helping the person can be extremely difficult, she said.
“I always thought it was the drug addiction,” Michael Pain said. “I never knew that it was just a symptom of something deeper.”
Pain says he wants compensation for his suffering from the church that he still loves to this day.
The diocese agreed to inter David Pain’s cremated remains in the Catholic cemetery, where the Rev. Doug Lorig led services. Pain could have had his son buried sooner, but he wanted the diocese to pay for the service.
Diocese officials also told Pain they would consider a donation to Crossroads, a rehab facility where David was treated, but would not meet Pain’s request for reimbursement for his son’s rehabilitation. Pain says he has receipts showing he spent close to $80,000 taking care of his son’s medical and therapeutic needs.
Pain says a lawsuit is unlikely. As a lifelong, devoted Catholic, he was never eager to sue the church, and lawyers have told him his case would be difficult, at best.
“The church is my life,” said the 70-year-old Pain, who attends Mass daily and counts several priests as friends. “But I am disappointed with how the diocese has handled it.”
Pain’s mother was out of the picture when all this took place. She attended David’s funeral but left before it was over, and has not been available for comment.
Spaulding could not be located, and his attorneys did not respond to calls seeking comment. One of them, Don Wilkinson, had previously denied the allegations.
As long as Spaulding is suspended, he may not perform priestly duties in public or even wear priestly garb. He may celebrate Mass only in private. Like others accused of abuse, he remains on the diocese payroll.
Pain hopes his and his son’s story shows what harm can be done to a child who is abused by a trusted adult.
“He became a poster boy for being abused,” Pain says. “He was a good boy who could have had a great future, but he ended up having a horrible life.”
He awaits the Vatican’s decision. But regardless of what it rules on Spaulding, Pain says he will not be joyful.
“I might write him a letter telling him I am worried about his salvation, and tell him that if he does not deal with the truth, his salvation will be in jeopardy.
“But it is not going to bring my son back.”
Reach the reporter at email@example.com.