The Father Crews we know
In the living room of his campus home, with a grand piano in one corner, stacks of paper piled in random disarray and afternoon sunlight streaming in a western window, the Rev. John Crews, until last week the executive director of Hanna Boys Center, recalled the moments immediately after he was called up for service in the Navy Reserve following the tragedy of 9/11.
“When the kids were told I would be gone indefinitely, one of them said, ‘But who’s going to buy me Slurpies?’” Crews stopped and blinked back tears.
“It was the first time since 1983 that I’d been away from the center,” he said, and then stopped again as his voice broke. He tapped his chest several times, as if freeing something inside, more tears formed and for a long moment he was silent, deeply moved.
“When I got to Pearl Harbor, something felt wrong. I was surrounded by people in uniform, but I suddenly realized I was lonely. I missed the kids, their young energy.” He paused again. “They have this genius for cutting to the quick. They’re not the least bit impressed by uniforms or stripes.”
That conversation unfolded three years ago and today John Crews is gone. But his spirit permeates the campus he supervised and inspired for nearly three decades. And to have observed the bond between John Crews and the 110 adolescents who, at any one time, called Hanna Boys Center home was to witness something both ordinary and sacred.
Crossing the campus, boys trailed in his wake, calling out to him, “Hey father, yo padre.”
He knew every boy by name, he knew every boy’s story and every boy knew him. He coached them, counseled them, taught them, preached to them, prayed with and for them, gave them a family and, after he helped them navigate successfully through high school, he opened doors and checkbooks to help them get into and through college.
Last week, an unsubstantiated allegation, more than 40 years old, involving an alleged victim of sexual misconduct who is now deceased, drove John Crews out of Hanna and out of the lives of those boys.
He left, by all accounts, without rancor, without protest, without bitterness – and without admission of guilt – because he understood the issue was far bigger than him and that no cloud of doubt should ever be allowed to linger over Hanna.
But from the safety of the sidelines, it is impossible to ignore the obvious irony when a priest of such profound grace and achievement is forced to exit a transformative ministry while, a few years earlier, a parish priest who would be criminally charged with multiple felony counts of child sexual abuse, managed to flee to Mexico because the Santa Rosa Diocese did not file a mandatory report in time.
We understand the reporting imperatives of the Catholic Church today. The Los Angeles Archdiocese has already paid $660 million to more than 500 victims sexually abused by priests, after knowingly protecting some of the worst offenders from legal intervention. We wish the church had acted responsibly years sooner.
We cannot judge the guilt or innocence of Father John Crews, but we can judge the legacy he leaves at Hanna. And by that standard, the man is a hero and an example of brotherly love to which we all can aspire.