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The diocese fought back. In a July 2004 interview with the official diocesan newspaper, Orange County Catholic, Brown dismissed Casteix's vocal opposition as "false and misleading." He also said Hodgman "was fired immediately when the school administrators learned about the matter, and a report was filed at the same time with Child Protective Services"—a statement not supported by Dominguez's memos. At protests, Catholics pushed Casteix, cursed at her, reported her to the police.
Casteix was undeterred. "For 15 years, people had said horrible things about me," she says. "Now, it was my turn to present myself in the way I wanted to be presented. The church had already destroyed my good name and dignity—I had nothing to lose."
Despite all the evidence, Casteix's critics still try to impugn her story at every chance. In February, someone anonymously faxed the Weekly a copy of Casteix's Daily Nexus piece. In a cover letter, the person wondered why Casteix has never called for Dominguez's resignation and why she never filed criminal charges against Hodgman. "I have always felt she deliberately waited for the criminal statute of limitations to expire before going after the church so the testimony of other witnesses would not interfere with her public version of events," the unsigned fax read.
Asked about this in February, Casteix laughed. "I've been protesting against Lu for years!" she said. (For more on the fax, visit our blog, Navel Gazing, at ocweekly.com, and click on the "Ex Cathedra" category.)
* * *
In December 2004, the Orange diocese settled with 93 victims of sex abuse for $100 million—at the time, the largest settlement in the history of the Catholic Church. Terms of each settlement were private. Casteix received a monetary award, but the money never mattered to her; what was important, she says, was that the world see the documents that proved Hodgman had abused her.
"If it weren't for the efforts of Joelle and so many other brave victims who told their stories in public, I really don't think there would be any settlement," attorney Manly says. "What she did took more courage than I can ever hope to have."
At a January 2005 conference announcing the settlement, Brown consoled a tearful Casteix in front of national media. An Associated Press picture of the touching moment was printed across the country. The goodwill lasted four days.
A Toledo Blade reporter discovered Hodgman worked as the choir director for Adrian College, a small liberal-arts institution in southeast Michigan, and asked him about the Orange diocese decision. Hodgman dismissed Casteix's story as "bogus"; school officials admitted they knew about their employee's molesting past but supported him.
The Blade then contacted the Orange diocese for comment. Diocesan spokesman Joseph Fenton told the paper, "Under no circumstances does the settlement imply any guilt on anyone's part."
Hodgman tried to block the release of the documents he signed so long ago. Even after they were released, Adrian College stood by its employee. Some students wore ribbons in support of their professor. "We've supported Tom Hodgman since we hired him. He continues to do great things for us," an Adrian College spokesperson told the Associated Press, adding Hodgman had suffered "personal harassment" because of Casteix's efforts to publicize their past.
Casteix traveled to Adrian College a couple of months after the settlement to speak with school officials. They handed her a copy of the Daily Nexus article she wrote so long ago, claiming it proved the relationship was consensual. They stated that Hodgman wasn't going anywhere.
Casteix hasn't given up hope she can get Hodgman fired; she wants Hodgman to never again work with teens or young adults. Last year, she set up a website (protectkids.wordpress.com) that hosts the once-secret Mater Dei files disclosing her cover-up. In response, Hodgman set up thomashodgman.com, which mostly features testimonials about "his consistent record of excellent teaching evaluations from students, administrators, community leaders, colleagues and alumni. The evaluations and letters listed . . . are a sample of the hundreds collected over 20 years of teaching in higher education." Also included on the website: Hodgman's first faculty photo, from Mater Dei High School, circa 1987.
"Tom Hodgman enjoys hearing from friends, family, colleagues and students," his website states, listing his personal e-mail address. "Feel free to send a message and say hello." He hadn't responded to a Weekly request for his side of the story by press time.
Pursuing Hodgman doesn't take up much of Casteix's time—more important, she says, is helping other victims.
"The church looks at victims as the great unwashed, and they don't like them," Manly says. "The nice thing about Joelle is that she's articulate; she knows what happened to her and has the ability to speak for others who can't speak for themselves. That is a gift."
Casteix recently started volunteering for the National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children (NAPSAC) and another non-profit set up specifically to help students molested by teachers. Like her work with SNAP, all of it is pro bono.
"People think I want to take down the Catholic Church—no," she declares. "But the church has to be held responsible, and the survivors of their crimes can't be forgotten. It's very depressing to hear the stories, but so often, I'll get a call that thanks me for the work I've done. That's what always makes it worth it for me."
Casteix's cell phone rings. It's a victim. She excuses herself from the room.
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