Longform

Father Joe

The road dips into rocky washes, winds through forests of saguaros and climbs up a windswept hill to a toppled wooden cross that marks the entrance to Father George Bredemann's twenty-acre kingdom.

Father George spent practically every weekend at his "Castle." Nestled a few miles south of U.S. 60-89, the highway that links Sun City West and Wickenburg, the priest's desert hideaway is miles away from the nearest neighbors and can be reached only by the primitive dirt road.

The grounds are strewn with donations from Catholic charities and loving parishioners, gifts meant to help the priest as he built his retreat for altar boys, retarded Boy Scouts and troubled youths.

Even when Father George was there, the donations rotted and rusted randomly throughout the acreage--lawn chairs, loose nails, barbecue grills, stoves, wheelbarrows, mattresses, rolls of carpet and padding, used lumber, insulation, roofing, a children's swimming pool. There are also empty beer cans and vodka bottles. At the far end of the hill there are thirteen old toilets and several sinks, and next to them is a grave marked by a wooden cross that bears no name. The grave contains the ashes of a Catholic who wished to be buried at the Castle, says deputy county attorney Cindi Nannetti, who prosecuted Bredemann.

The Castle itself is a two-story shack built by the priest and a few parishioners. On the first floor is a kitchen, living room and a medical room with a doctor's examining table and a large picture of a tortured Christ. On the second floor is Father George's bedroom, where he and the boys slept. It's a room that can be reached only by a set of stairs that swing upward; it's designed for absolute privacy from the rest of the house.

"The pollution up at the Castle is an example of how chaotic that man's emotions are," says one nun, who declines to be identified. "Take a look at the term `castle.' It's the epitome of absolute control. That was his refuge. I don't think he ever had an intention of completing it. He was living a life of absolute fantasy, and the children were part of that fantasy, somehow."

Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Father George Bredemann would pull out his CB radio and alert neighbor boys that he had arrived. Usually, he already had a couple of altar servers (he called them "critters"), a retarded youth or perhaps a troubled boy in need of counseling with him in his old van. Practically the first thing Father George did when he arrived at the Castle--assuming there were no women around--was to take off his clothes. The middle-aged overweight priest loved to swim, stroll and cook naked when only he and the boys were at the Castle. Sometimes, he'd have a boy sleep naked with him in his bed.

"George was a little crude," explains Fred Noll, a semi-retired mechanic and St. Catherine's parishioner who became good friends with the priest after fixing his van.

Noll, who wrote the court on Father George's behalf and is still the priest's most loyal defender, recalls: "Many times after being out at the Castle working all day and living in a building that has no cooling, after the sun goes down you take a shower and sit around in the nude to cool off. I know there were times when we were out there and we'd sit around nude. He's not too modest. I usually had to wear shorts, at least."

Often, Father George would ask the boys if they wanted to take off their clothes, too. It was natural, Father George told them. Nothing wrong with it. One boy later told police that Father George once shot a .22 caliber rifle nestled next to his own naked penis to prove that such a gun had no dangerous recoil.

Father George's nudity upset at least five altar boys who were later interviewed by police. One boy said the nudity embarrassed him so much he would always pretend to fall asleep downstairs in front of the TV. That way, he wouldn't have to go "upstairs" where the priest slept. Prosecutor Nannetti says Father George paraded around nude to "groom" the boys for future sexual activity.

"He didn't see anything wrong with being nude in front of young boys and older men," says Noll. "But if there was ever a lady out there, he never sat around in the nude. He did respect that. But I don't think he differentiated between young boys and men--we were all made the same way and all had the same parts. I never seen George ever do anything you'd consider hanky panky with young kids."

But in the summer of 1989, after he struck his plea bargain, Father George admitted to a polygraph examiner that he'd been sexually involved with a thirteen-year-old boy on at least two occasions while he lived in Scottsdale. He claimed he woke up in the night to discover this particular boy was performing oral sex on him. Father George admitted enjoying it. The priest also told the same examiner that in 1985 he'd engaged in mutual masturbation at least twice with another thirteen-year-old boy.

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Terry Greene