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Catholic scandals prompt some women who had relationships with priests to ponder whether they, too, were abused

May 13, 2019

By Marisa Iati

He was a 24-year-old seminarian from a blue-collar family. She was an idealistic 19-year-old psychology student. He wanted to teach. She wanted to be a missionary. They hung out at the Rathskeller, a now-defunct bar at Mount St. Mary’s College, to drink draft beer and eat soft pretzels.

When Theresa Engelhardt became pregnant with their son 15 years later, she ended her relationship with the Rev. Robert Dreisbach for the seventh — or was it the eighth? — and final time.

During the years that followed, the Diocese of Allentown in Pennsylvania offered her regular child-support payments, she said, in exchange for her silence and a promise that neither she nor her son, John, would contact Dreisbach.

Now 62, Engelhardt said she has a different perspective on her relationship with Dreisbach than she did as a love-struck student. Although she realizes that she was an adult who made her own decisions in the relationship, she says Dreisbach emotionally abused her by pressuring her to stay silent about their relationship to protect his career. And Engelhardt feels even more abused by the church, which she said treated her as unworthy when she became pregnant.

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