Interview of Susan Gallagher
Professor of Political Science, University of Mass., Lowell
Co-Director, Coalition of Catholics & Survivors
Survivor of Clergy Sexual Abuse
Interviewer: High school student Billy Doyle, Reading MA
I grew up mostly in New Jersey and came from a big, Irish Catholic family – seven kids – and was raised by a single mother. My father left us when I was three years old and my mother raised us on her own, working low-wage jobs, so it was a hard childhood.
Where were you among the seven kids?
I was the youngest. So the oldest kids knew my father. They lived a different life. He was an up-and-coming executive, and we were pretty well-off, and then when he left we just sunk into poverty.
And you probably don’t remember what the change was like…
No. I have very vague memories of him. But my older brothers and sisters were highly aware of it. And also because we grew up in a parish more than a town. We went to a Catholic school in a suburb. It was a poor town in a rich area. We were seen as the kids from the broken home. It was very difficult that way. In the Catholic community then, nobody was getting divorced, and my mother would never refer to herself as divorced – she always said she was separated. In that community, we were singled out. We weren’t seen as trashy, I have to say, because we were all very smart and well-read and did well in school, but as pathetic, like charity cases.
Part of that whole deal was that this priest came into our lives and he took me and my older brother Patrick and he started giving us money. We became financially dependent on him. My mother really could not afford to feed us, and she would never, ever, ever go on welfare or ask for anything, even if she had no money, so we became financially dependent on him.
You knew him from the parish?
He was a vocations director. In those days, the church started focusing on boys when they were in eighth grade. One route to the priesthood was to go to a seminary high school, so he was basically recruiting two of my brothers, Brendan and Patrick, for the priesthood. If they had agreed, they would have gone to a sleep-away seminary high school in New York State, but they both didn’t want to be priests. My brother Patrick was actually a juvenile delinquent. My brother was on that road. [Laughing] He would break into houses and pour ketchup all over the tables. He was really looking for attention and help.
Father Nugent started to give Patrick money with the idea that he wouldn’t steal if he had money. So it started out with just a little bit of money.
My brother Patrick and I, even though he was four years older than I, looked almost exactly alike. He was girlish; I was boyish. We looked like twins. People often couldn’t distinguish us from one another. He had long hair; I had short hair. We had the same exact face. There’s no other way to describe it – we just looked exactly alike. So Father Nugent started to focus on me in addition to Patrick. He was a very, very mentally ill person. He needed treatment. He needed to be institutionalized.
Could you tell that as a child?
We couldn’t. We were kids. We grew up in an environment where nothing was ever explained to us. The attitude was, “If you don’t know, then you don’t deserve to know” – about everything. So we didn’t really understand what was happening. We knew that it was bad. But we also went from being some of the poorest kids in town to some of the richest kids in town. When I was in fifth grade, Father Nugent started to give me twenty dollars a week, and then the amounts increased. When you’re getting sixty dollars a week and you’re in eighth grade, that’s a lot of money. He also bought us food and clothes and gifts and ski equipment – stuff we would never have otherwise. And Patrick just took it. Patrick had several cars and he went around the world – he just turned it into this amazing thing. Father Nugent stole tens of thousands of dollars from the church. We weren’t the only kids. There were other kids in New York City who were in this group that he took on trips and gave gifts to and took out to dinner all the time and on shopping sprees.
Do you know or suspect that he abused those other kids as well?
Yes, I know he did. He [Nugent] was like someone who never grew up. He was like an unpopular kid who was trying to buy friends. You know how kids will say, “I just got a new toy. Come over my house”? Same thing. And we also made it clear to him we’d never hang around with him unless he gave us a lot of money. He really wasn’t entertaining or funny or smart – he had nothing to recommend him except he had money. And he knew that Patrick and I had no way out, and the other kids--same thing. The other kids were even poorer. They came from New York City. One of them had no parents and was just living like an orphan in an apartment in the Bronx. Another came from a family of twelve living in a tiny apartment – really poor kids. But throughout the 1970s, my brother Patrick was this guy’s main focus.
So in the town, we had tons of money. And this was at a time when drugs were freely available. So Father Nugent would also give us money for drugs. So we were known as bad kids. Everyone saw us with him all the time, so the other parents in town would not let their kids hang out with us because of Father Nugent.
The other parents knew that Father Nugent might have been abusing you?
I think some people knew and others didn’t. It was an age in which nobody had any terms to describe it. You would not even be able to say it. It was a sin to even think about it. It was a sin to have any thoughts related to that part of the human brain, so if you even thought of it, you’d be committing a sin. People knew and didn’t know. Like my mother. She knew that Father Nugent … I would come home with so many bags from shopping that I wouldn’t be able to get in the front door. She knew that she couldn’t stop it.
Did you know that this was not right?
I knew it wasn’t right, but I couldn’t say why. The other thing is Father Nugent started to give me alcohol when I was nine years old, and when he started to give me money for drugs, I would buy pot. I didn’t go to high school, actually. I just stayed home and I read all the time. I loved reading and I love education.
I don’t really remember a lot of my adolescence. I just don’t remember it. So that was also part of it. Everything was in a haze.
Why do you think that is?
I think it was the only escape I had. I don’t drink anymore, but I’m an alcoholic. I come from a line of alcoholics. Alcohol was my only solution, and it was my problem already. I’d drink and I couldn’t stop. Now I haven’t had a drink in almost nine years. Everyone in my family – the whole older generation – was an alcoholic. There weren’t any responsible adults on the scene. And we were allowed to do whatever we wanted. My mother often worked six days a week from eight in the morning until nine at night. And we were all incredibly energetic. We were the rule-breaking type people. So it was interesting. My older brothers and sisters were sort of like hippies, very counter-culture. So the house was unlike any other. There were no parents on the scene. Kids would come over and we’d say, “You’re allowed to do anything you want in this house. You want to burn down the house? Go ahead.” We would literally start fires. It was crazy. We would set the lawn on fire just to see what would happen. We’d write our names in the lawn with gasoline and light it. So it was a very crazy time that we thought was free. We thought, “This is freedom.” One of the things with people with a past like mine is that you really don’t realize how bad it is until you look back.
What was your relationship with your mother like?
She was very overwhelmed by her situation. In the culture of that time, if a woman like my mother couldn’t keep hold of her husband, it was her fault, no matter how bad he was. He [my father] was a terrible alcoholic, violent… But her job was to hold onto him and she failed, so she regarded herself as a failure. And she took refuge in work. She just worked as a secretary. She had no power in her job. She wasn’t paid very well. But she really respected working hard. And she respected anyone who had a job, no matter what the job was. She was also a real Democrat. Her obituary says she was a Democrat. She was a very traditional, Franklin D. Roosevelt, “government-should-help-people”, “we-should-live-in-a-fair-society” Democrat. She couldn’t raise her family, but she was committed to civil rights. She was somebody who, had she lived in a different time, would have been a very different type of person. She wouldn’t have had seven children and wouldn’t have been so overwhelmed in a situation she couldn’t handle.
I felt sorry for her. In retrospect, I wish she had taken better care of us. But I also understand the burdens that she had to carry.
What were your siblings doing as you grew up?
They were all leaving the house. Since my mother was working all the time, the oldest were supposed to take care of the younger kids. When I was ten, my sister Anne, who was my second oldest sister, who was kind of the main care-taker, went away to college. So they all left the house. My mother was an alcoholic, and as her kids left, she drank more and more and more, and that’s because she had a little more money. So she sort of deteriorated as they left the house, and everything got worse and worse and worse. She died when she was 68. She died of lung cancer but she would have died of alcoholism.
It’s pretty amazing to me that your siblings and you were able to go to college.
The main value in our house when we were growing up was intelligence. No matter what, you wanted to be smart. What you had going for you was that you were intelligent. Everyone in the family was very smart. Everyone read all the time. That was the thing that distinguished us. There were other families in the town that were single-parent, very poor families, but the thing that distinguished us was that we always had books in the house. We had all the great literature of the world in the house. Everyone was a reader, and even though we caused trouble, we all distinguished ourselves in school.
How’d you afford college?
Scholarships. Father Nugent and I had a mutual parting of the ways when I was sixteen. I was sick of him and he was sick of me and I was getting too old. He usually dropped kids when they were about sixteen. He didn’t drop my brother. My brother Patrick was the worst off among my family. He was drunk all the time. Father Nugent gave him money, so he didn’t need to work. So I turned away from Father Nugent and went to college. I was seventeen when I went to college. I got scholarships. Even though I didn’t have a high school diploma, I got into every program I could get into and really excelled in college.
What college did you go to?
I went to a small state school: Ramapo College. And actually it affects me now because I got a very good education at a small public college. I became a visiting student at Columbia University. I would never have been able to do that, because I didn’t have a high school diploma, so I was a visiting student. But I knew that if I was going to go to graduate school I needed to have recommendations from Columbia professors. So I got my diploma from this little state school, but I hooked up with professors from Columbia and that allowed me to do very well when I applied to graduate school.
I was also helped by my college professors, who were the first responsible adults I had ever met. They intervened in a huge way to help me.
You said you value education and intelligence. Was this before or because of your college experience?
I always wanted to read. Reading was like a drug when I was growing up. My house was very violent and chaotic and I could just read to get away from it all. Also we didn’t have a TV for a long time, so we were forced to read. My brother threw the TV down the stairs, and that was the end of that. And it actually really helped because I read and read and read. Also, when I didn’t go to high school, one of my reasons was I really loved reading, and I just wanted to read novels. It was like I didn’t have time to go to school because I had so much reading to do.
How did you transition from your life after college and grad school to your involvement with the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors?
Like a lot of victims, I couldn’t come forward or do anything about this part of me until my mother died, because it would be like accusing her of failing to take care of me if I ever said anything about it. Also, my brother’s death was directly related to the abuse. He told everyone what was happening. He was very old at the time for a Nugent victim, and everyone couldn’t take the news. He just cried and cried and cried. So he drove a car owned by the church into a pond. We don’t know if it was suicide – it was a suicidal act, that’s all we can say. So that made it even harder to come forward, because it would be like blaming my whole family for my brother’s death, and that would just be terrible. I always wanted to do something about it, because I knew he [Nugent] was hurting other kids. Right after my mother died in 1992, I heard specifically that he was abusing kids. He had been transferred after my brother died from New York, where he was serving, to Massachusetts, to Ipswich. And I heard from his friends that he was abusing kids in Ipswich. I was living at the time in New Jersey. So that’s when I first came forward [1993-1994]. I wasn’t going to do a lawsuit or anything; I just wanted to tell the church to keep this guy away from children. Their response was, “We will destroy you if you say anything in public.” This was their rationale: “The good accomplished by the church far exceeds any harm done to you or your brother.” I wouldn’t stop. I’m pretty known for never stopping. [Laughing] So I kept on writing them letters. And then a very crucial thing happened: I got sober. I stopped drinking.
When was that?
That was in 1996. So it took me a long time between first coming forward and then getting sober. It was part of the process. For the first time, in 1993-1994, I was writing to the church. Then, by 1996, I was still a well regarded graduate student, but I was drunk all the time. I was near the end of my PhD program. That’s when I stopped being able to pull off this double life of being a very good student and being drunk all the time. Luckily, I got help. People intervened to help me. So in’ 96 I got sober with the help of a program. And I just happened to get my first academic job in Massachusetts. Father Nugent was still living in Ipswich. So I kind of stepped up my efforts since I was living nearby. I was also afraid of running into him. I was afraid to see him.
Why were you afraid of him?
He was so creepy. After my mother died he actually called me. I couldn’t believe it. One of the things that scared me was that nobody was keeping this guy in check. He could come over and there would be nobody to stop him. Even though he’s 5’1”, little runty guy, he was just so sick that I never wanted to be in contact with him. When he called me, I said, “OK OK thanks a lot bye.” In 1994 or 1995, over two years after my mom died, I thought that I didn’t need to do any more about Father Nugent because the church told me they put him in a program of treatment. So I thought, “This is great. He’s being treated. He’ll never have access to children again. My job is done.” And I really felt great. I thought, “I am different from all the adults in my life. I intervened. I protected children. I’ve taken some action.” And then I found out in 1998 they did send Father Nugent to treatment, and then they transferred him to New Jersey and they made him the administrator of a children’s camp. They put him in charge of finances at a children’s camp. I just went crazy. So I did a lawsuit, which they settled within a few months. The whole time I had been writing letters. I was really lambasting the church for knowingly exposing children to this danger. So they settled the lawsuit. They gave me $250,000 and they asked me to sign a confidentiality agreement, which I did, with the understanding that they finally paid me $250,000 …. I thought, “OK, they’ll keep Father Nugent away from children, because if they don’t, it will cost them so much money.” But they didn’t. Instead they moved him into a youth center. They moved him into the same building as a youth center. And even though he was getting old, he was celebrating mass, he was living in a youth center, he was teaching courses on how to become a priest. He was a known pedophile. In 2002, ___ I was writing to the church all the time and saying, “Keep up your end of the bargain. I’m sick of this.” And they were saying, “We won’t release you from your confidentiality agreement.” They implied that if I spoke out in public, they would try to get the money back from me. I didn’t have it anymore. So then the scandal broke, and that’s when I really started to argue with the archdiocese of Boston, because Father Nugent was serving in the archdiocese of Boston. So in April 2002_______ I started to call the Boston Globe and the archdiocese of Boston within days of the first articles on Geoghan, because I thought, “You should know about this other guy, who has even more access to kids because he runs a retreat house in Ipswich.” _____ for 15 years. That’s a long time. The first group that I found that was willing to really speak out in public and that understood the depth of the crisis and how big it was your mother [Anne Barrett Doyle], Lori Lambert, Joseph Gallagher, Susan Renehan – this was the first group I’d met that was actually trying to solve the problem. Every other group was trying to manage it, or they wanted to be around forever by becoming permanent groups, whereas the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors, it seemed to me, came together because of this crisis and their aim was to do everything they could to solve it. They were really the most practical people I had met. And they weren’t worried about ____ They weren’t Voice of the Faithful. They were determined to deal directly with the abuse crisis and solve the problems with the church at hand.
So what were the logical ways that they tried to deal with the crisis with?
Publicizing it. Right when I was meeting them, they organized the candlelight march for the Ford family. They also wanted to reach out beyond the church community ____ to whoever would pay attention to the crisis. Also, your mother and Joe Gallagher were the first Catholics that I met that had the proper reaction, which was complete outrage. They couldn’t believe that _______[switching tapes]___ like Susan Renehan, who really had this victims’ perspective. They allowed themselves to be changed by her. I was really struck by that. Other Catholics I had met were trying to put the crisis into their same old mindset, whereas Joe and your mother and Lori Lambert are different people now. They really have changed. At the same time I met them, The New York Times did an article on Father Nugent, and lo and behold, just days after refusing to release me from me confidentiality agreement—I was actually dealing this whole time with the Salesians of Don Bosco. The Salesians of Don Bosco is the religious order—When they realized The New York Times was going to do an article – this was after they refused to release me from my confidentiality agreement and refused to remove Father Nugent from the youth center in which he was living, refused to stop him from saying Mass, refused everything – all of a sudden when they find out that an article is going to be published in The New York Times, they write me this email apologizing abjectly , releasing me from my confidentiality agreement, they removed Father Nugent from where he was living, they placed him under the constant supervision of two other priests – this was a complete turnaround, because of the New York Times article. So from that I realized that what the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors was doing, which was publicize not only in the church context but in general what was happening, that that’s the best way to go, that’s the most effective avenue of change. That was in 2002. I think it’s amazing that the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors has been able to do what it’s done – it’s only five people. We say, “It’s an ‘umbrella group,’” whenever people ask us who’s in it. And I think it makes sense that your mother has now moved to Bishop-Accountability.org, because all we can do is document what happened and hope that sooner or later those documents are going to make a difference.
And you are probably not Catholic anymore.
No. In fact, I’m anti-Catholic. I don’t respect the religion. I actually want to get a bumper sticker that says, “The Reformation was a good beginning.” [Laughing] Because I think this could really be a time when the church is becoming an anachronistic institution. Somebody can’t just put on a hat and expect people to bow down just because he has a hat on. So I think the abuse crisis is symptomatic of a larger historical change that’s ongoing. All kinds of people are less willing to accept authority. The bishops now are asking people to choose between a dictatorship in which they decide what you should believe and democracy in which people live according to their own consciences. In the end, the bishops are asking people flat-out to make that choice.
When you were a child, did you agree with the Catholic doctrine?
I believed it, and I really wanted to be good. I thought that Father Nugent was a bad person. I thought he was morally bad, specifically because when I was eleven or twelve, Father Nugent wanted to promote sex between teenagers. And I thought that was wrong. And I told him, “That’s wrong.” I said, “Father Nugent”— [Laughing] I always called him Father Nugent. He always wanted to call him Unc – he had these stupid nicknames he made up: Nuge—And I would say, “Father Nugent, they’re not married.” I was just a kid, and I believed in the church. I didn’t want to be a nun; I wanted to be a saint instead. I was so ____ this almost magical refuge. I thought that Christ was watching me, and that Christ would understand if I did anything wrong – like I’d be smoking by myself in the woods and think that Christ understood. [Laughing]
When I wanted the church to be the moral institution that I felt that it should be, it disappointed me every time. Now, the church is responsible for thousands of crimes, and it’s only tried to hide it. They told me straight-out, “If you speak out, we will destroy you.” That’s been their policy. Just two weeks ago, I was talking again to the vice-provincial of the Salesians, and the guy just told me straight-out, “All our actions are determined by legal liability. We have to do whatever the lawyers tell us to do.” And at the end of this long conversation where I was asking this guy to reach out in Massachusetts, because I know there are victims in Massachusetts of Father Nugent who are too scared to come forward. At the end of this conversation, I actually asked this guy, “If you saw a baby on fire in the street, would you put the baby out? Or would you consult with a lawyer first?” And the guy was like, “I don’t know what to say.” He was so ineffective. And that’s what happened to me is these people who are very ineffective and I think would fail in any other walk of life were given power by this institution, given power over the lives of families and their children, and they failed. And now they’ve failed to take responsibility for their failure.
The church is declining at a rate that is so quick. The fact that O’Malley is closing all the parishes is just the clearest evidence. The church is shrinking. People aren’t going. There’s a 75% drop in seminary enrollments. There are no priests to say the Masses anymore. Who would want to be a priest in this time? I think that we’re witnessing historical change. _____ We’re watching its death throes now.
Even though I’m not really Protestant either, I believe in God and I believe in spirituality and I believe in helping others as the main principle. What happened to me, I think, is part of a larger historical shift. Father Nugent had a previous generation of victims. I even knew their names. They were in their 50s. I believe he molested them when he was newly ordained. They all stayed in contact with him and they all remained his friends. And the older victims from my generation are still probably his friends to this day, and they’ll never come forward. But I think the next generation after me, they’re not ready to come forward yet, but the ones from the 90s, they will come forward. I hope that they will get some sort of justice. I don’t know if they will.
From what you’ve told me about the other victims and your own story, it seems you weren’t really mad at the church until…
In 1980, that’s when my brother died, Father Nugent said the Mass. But everyone knew it was inappropriate. Everyone knew that this was weird and were just going along with it. The idea that it was OK was over. It wasn’t like any of us would ever go to Mass in any other context at that point. There’s a part of me that was always mad at the church because Father Nugent’s fellow priests knew what was going on, and they would look at us disapprovingly. There’s a part of us, and that’s one of things about if you’re a kid and you’re being abused, even though you’re helping your perpetrator keep a secret, you also want someone to come to your rescue. You want someone to rush in and stop the whole thing. You don’t know why you do – you just do. So there was a part of me that wanted those other priests to, instead of just scowling at us, actually stop it. Especially because my brother was so troubled and so needed help, and Father Nugent was always there to prevent him from getting any kind of help. So everyone in my family was mad at Father Nugent and the church for seemingly helping Patrick down the road to destruction.
But I thought the church was kind of irrelevant, and I thought it was my own private thing. I didn’t think it was the church – I thought it was just Father Nugent and his superiors. I thought, “These are bad men.” I didn’t really care about the rest of the church. I didn’t know. I had no idea that it was so widespread. Since the scandal broke, it’s like everyone in my family has been touched in other ways. So you have my case, and my brother’s case. In the parish where we grew up, abusers have been removed. My oldest sister worked for an orphanage in the 70s that’s being investigated for facilitating abuse. My other sister moved to San Francisco and became part of this whole crowd of people that were friends of a molesting priest. That priest is a notorious molester and has now been maybe even arrested. So everybody in the Catholic context has been touched in one way or another. We didn’t know how systemic it was. We didn’t know.
You said that you and Father Nugent decided mutually to split. Do you think you could have done that earlier if you had wanted to?
Well, I did it when I was 16. I still needed money. I don’t want to overstate my awareness, but I was always complaining to Father Nugent that he was immoral. I was always saying, “This is wrong. This is wrong. This is wrong.” And I wouldn’t be that clear on what was wrong or why it was wrong, but I just would say it was wrong. Because I had my brother’s example in front of me, and he was so clearly—He smelled, and he was drunk all the time. And he was a stupid drunk. He would go into a bar, and he was a little guy – really little, skinny – and he would insult some big guy and get beat up. He was always smashing cars, always being arrested,. And he would be living in the woods or living in a hotel. He was so lost and we blamed Father Nugent. And we did blame Father Nugent. So when I was 16, Father Nugent was sick of me complaining, and I was sick of him hurting Patrick. And it was easier for me to complain on behalf of Patrick. That was the easier thing to do.
Actually, this is really dumb. I started this store in my town. It was a plant store. And he brought me enough to get started: all the plants that I needed. I think I had five customers. [Laughing] It didn’t work. So then the store closed. I went to college. I started living off scholarships, and I had a waitress job. The money part was playing a huge role in this. Patrick and I referred to ourselves and the other victims, the whole abuse thing, we never spoke of it, we never were clear about it, but we would refer to it as being “on the payroll.” So when somebody new would come in to the group, we would say, “Is she on the payroll?” and we knew what that meant. After I fell out of touch with Father Nugent – he would have usually the same number of girls and the same number of boys – I was replaced by a girl, who then was “on the payroll.”
I know that recently you became interested in the case of Paul Edwards.
Can you tell me about that?
Paul Edwards reminds me a lot of my brother. He’s very sweet and means well, seems like somebody who’s overly trusting. But because they did to Paul Edwards what they threatened to do me. They said to me, “If you speak out, we will destroy you.” And they didn’t. I got a specific and public apology, and an admission of guilt. That’s what I finally got out of the church. And I thought, “Everybody will get this now.” Nobody’s gotten it. The fact that they successfully destroyed Paul Edwards with false information drives me crazy. I can’t believe that you have this powerful institution that if they want to they can just destroy someone. So I’ve always always. always stood up for Paul Edwards.
My mom also told me that you recently decided to withdraw?
It’s obsessive. It’s so big – the church is so huge – and there’s so many crimes. And you hear about these traumatic crimes. You read these things like this priest in the Midwest is hanging altar boys upside down and torturing them and you’re like, “Oh my God. I can’t read anymore.” It’s so horrifying, and there’s so little appropriate reaction. I already kept on thinking for these two years that something’s gotta push them over the edge, and finally the whole criminal justice system will step in and say, “This institution has got to be supervised.” It hasn’t happened. I’m withdrawing. One is I don’t want to say it’s hopeless, because I think over time change will come. But in the meantime, for a lot of people, I think we just have to accept this wrongdoing the same way you accept a death in your family: It’s wrong. It’s unjust. It will never be made right for you. I don’t want this to run my life. I went through this phase where it really was my whole entire conversation. I started to focus all my scholarly work on it. Everything started to be focused on uncovering the crimes of the church and broadcasting their wrongdoing. Now I just need to pull back and realize that I’ve made a contribution, but if I let them run my life and my consciousness, then it’s as if I will never recover.
What were your thoughts towards the church when you split from Father Nugent and in the following years?
Well, it’s more like they became irrelevant. I don’t even remember when I stopped going to church. The church as an institution just became irrelevant. Just in my context, ___, I never heard an intelligent sermon when I was growing up. And now I’ve actually met some really brilliant Catholics, but at the time it was so boring and seemed so empty and superficial, like religion was like a strip mall – there was nothing to recommend it. And then I also became interested in philosophy. I was consumed with ideas. My main subject is really political theory. I loved intellectual history. I started to read Marx and be completely radical and anti-religious, “let’s have a better world right now”. I always was idealistic. Through all this I’ve been very idealistic. I thought of getting involved in politics. I started to get involved in anti-nuke groups and go to graduate school and thinking, “We can make a better world by understanding history better.”
But I always had in the back of my mind that Father Nugent was hurting other kids. I always knew it. So I felt guilty. I felt misplaced guilt. I felt that I should have intervened on behalf of my brother, even though he was four years older and I really couldn’t have. I always felt bad that when he spoke out, I said nothing. I did like the rest of my family and we just pretended we never heard it.
When did he start to speak out?
Probably ‘77 or ‘78.
Was that after you had…
After I had moved away from Father Nugent.
What was your relationship with Patrick like at that time?
I felt sorry for him. He was just a lost person. We were crazy together. He would say, “I gotta go to 7-11.” And then we’d be on our way to 7-11 and he’d say, “Do you want to go to Florida instead?” And I’d say, “OK.” And we’d go to Florida. We’d call my mother from the New Jersey Turnpike to just say, “We’re staying at Beth’s house.” And we would go to Florida and get totally sunburned and come back. He was really immature. Not that I was the paragon of maturity, but he was more immature than I was. And he was always in trouble. He wrecked at least ten cars – spectacular accidents – before he finally died. And I was mad at him because he would always show up drunk. And I was drinking myself, but he was like the designated drunk in the family. So it was a mixture of feeling sorry for him and being mad at him.
Patrick also at the end of his life was—He’d be walking down the street in broad daylight in Manhattan and he’d say, “Oh, I need to take a piss.” And he would just do it. We’d be on Broadway. I would be running away in horror, and he’d be like, “What’s wrong?” He became somebody who almost couldn’t live.
But Patrick was somebody who was always asking for help. The way I described
him was he was like a car alarm going off over and over and over again,
and nobody paying any attention.
I was very codependent with my mother. I lived with her on and off throughout graduate school. I was in her house. She would give me money, because I would be running up a $600 phone bill. I was very irresponsible. We were together in this very codependent, very mutually self-destructive relationship. I would describe myself in those days as “Mom’s manager.” So if any of the other kids wanted to get to mom they had to go through me. So I was very close to her. One of our unspoken agreements was we would never ever ever talk about Father Nugent.
What years were you in grad school?
I took time off in between undergrad and grad, so I think it was from 86 to 96. So I took ten years because I was working all these jobs, dealing with my insane family, living partly in New York City. I was just very very very slow.
What years were you at college?
79-83. I’m still in contact with my professors from college because they helped me so much that I became friends with them after I graduated. In particular there’s this one – she’s an art historian. Her name is Carol Duncan. She probably influenced me more than anyone else in my life. I’d had teachers who told me I was smart and I was bright or whatever. But she really told me what I needed to do in order to succeed. And she didn’t doubt that I could. One of the interesting things was: she stayed my professor. She didn’t become my friend. She was just my professor. She made it clear that she wasn’t going to become my friend until I graduated. So she was the first person I knew that knew how to maintain boundaries. [Laughing] She was incredibly inspiring. She was brilliant, funny, wonderful teacher, great writer. In a way, just to impress her, I got a 4.0 average. Everything I did was to impress her. Now I’m friends with her. She’s just great.
In 1992 you started writing letters to the church because you didn’t want Father Nugent to hurt more kids. What was it that made it snap for you then?
After my mother died, I realized that I didn’t want to be like her. Before that, I thought it was OK to just drink and drink and drink. But then I realized, “I want to be a responsible adult.” I really did. I wanted to be someone who would not look at weak people and children being harmed and do nothing. I wanted to distinguish myself from the adults in my family. One of my first acts was: OK, if I want to be a responsible person, this is the first thing I need to do. And I didn’t tell them. I didn’t say that I was abused by Father Nugent. I just told them about my brother. And I was very vague. I said that Father Nugent was a bad person and a danger, but I was very very vague about it.
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