National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  July 30, 2004

Daughter accuses Hendra of sex abuse, says confessional bestseller not whole story

A July 1 article in The New York Times reported that Jessica Hendra, 39, charged she was sexually molested as a child by her father, Tony Hendra, best-selling author of Father Joe.

Jessica Hendra originally submitted an essay containing her allegations to the Op-Ed page of the Times. Instead of using the essay, editors decided to have reporter N.R. Kleinfield investigate her claims.

Father Joe is the story of Tony Hendra’s 40-year friendship with the Benedictine monk Fr. Joseph Warrilow, who remained his spiritual anchor from the time Hendra was 14. The book has been lauded widely for its fine prose and Hendra’s frank confession of his failings. The book garnered a lead review in The New York Times Book Review.

According to the Times article, when Jessica Hendra read her father’s book recently, “her reaction was stunned anger.”

“It’s being seen as completely confessional, totally honest, the whole story,” said Jessica Hendra in the article. “It’s not the whole story. By not saying anything, I felt I was being complicit in it. This book is an erasing of what happened to me. I want people to understand these things don’t go away.”

Jessica Hendra is the younger of two daughters Hendra had with his first wife, Judith, whom he divorced in 1985. Jessica Hendra said her father molested her once when she was 7 -- which he blamed the next morning on a drug or alcohol-induced haze -- and molested her again, in the shower, on two occasions when she was 9 or 10.

Three of Jessica Hendra’s friends, two therapists who treated her, her mother Judith and her husband Kurt Fuller told the Times reporter that Jessica Hendra had told them about the abuse at different points in her life, from age 12 on, and that she was credible.

Tony Hendra, 62, repeatedly and “categorically” denied the allegations. He now lives in New York with his second wife, Carla, and their three young children. “It’s not a new allegation,” he said in the article. “It’s simply not true, I’m afraid.”

Carla Hendra as well as another friend of Tony Hendra who once dated Jessica Hendra supported his denials.

According to the article, Jessica Hendra tried to confront her father many times over the years about the abuse, but they never achieved any resolution. When she confronted him about the book’s omission, he said it wasn’t a “comprehensive confessional.”

The July 1 Times article said that Jessica Hendra’s version of the events of Tony Hendra’s life caused one to question the bestseller’s premise that Hendra had atoned for his sins and found redemption.

In a July 11 Times essay headlined “When the right to know confronts the need to know,” public editor Daniel Okrent questioned whether the Times should have printed such a long article about the allegations, which have not been proved and which some readers thought was a private family drama. Okrent’s article said that editors thought Father Joe’s success and its subject were what made the daughter’s accusations newsworthy.

Compiled by NCR staff from New York Times stories on the Web.

National Catholic Reporter, July 30, 2004

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