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Victims of "Fathers" Lose Religious Faith

By Carl M. Cannon
San Jose Mercury News
December 30, 1987

[See a linked list of all the articles in the Priests Who Molest series.]

Thomas H., 10, is a morose, silent boy who scowls as he watches television in his small living room. Once, his mother said, he was outgoing and cheerful — right up to the day he was sodomized by his parish priest.

''That priest baptized this child," she says, pointing to her son on the couch. "And then one day he just closed up."

Hundreds of children molested by Catholic priests in the United States during the past five years have suffered severe emotional trauma, say parents, psychologists, police officers and attorneys involved in the cases.

Victims are middle-class and poor, whites, Hispanics, blacks and Asians, and often come from homes with marital discord. Almost all the victims have been boys, although when girl victims are found, they exhibit the same effects.

Typically, the children are afflicted with guilt, confusion about their sexual identity, humiliation, fear of rejection by their family members and a loss of religious faith. Numerous psychiatric reports say that being molested by a priest makes the damage worse.

''You've got to be Catholic to appreciate the indoctrination you get as a child," said George McGrath, an investigator with the Essex County, N.J., prosecutor's office. "Priests are Christ's representatives here on earth."

McGrath investigated the case against Richard Galdon, a Newark priest sentenced last October to 25 years in prison for engaging in anal and oral intercourse with young boys.

''The symbolic aspect of the title 'Father' should not be overlooked in understanding the position a priest has in relation to a child," said a report prepared by five Lafayette, La., psychologists who interviewed 14 boys and one girl molested in that diocese by Father Gilbert Gauthe.

''Consider, if you will, the impact on a child (who) is sexually abused during the week, and on Sundays witnesses his parents bowing, kneeling, genuflecting, praying, receiving sacraments and graciously thanking the priest for his involvement in their lives. Such events (make) him believe that such sexual activities have been sanctioned by their parents."

The report continued, "The even more . . . astonishing act of molesting the child while in the confessional, followed by granting of absolution to the child, would be expected to inculcate very, very strong feelings of guilt."

Ultimately, the children must come to terms with this guilt and their sense of betrayal.

Katherine R., a Florida girl fondled by a priest in her own home when she was 12, told her psychologist two years later:

''When I was little and looked up at him, I thought he looked like God. . . . How could the church cover all this up?

''I think 50 percent of all men are child molesters. I know it's not true, but I still feel it. I sit in church and look at fathers with their kids and wonder which ones are.

''I know I'll feel weird when I'm getting married and go to the altar."

The girl's psychologist said that she will struggle with these issues all her life. "In that sense," he said in a written evaluation, "there is permanent emotional damage."

Boys who are molested have those symptoms and more, according to their counselors.

They worry about becoming homosexual when they grow up. They worry that they have been infected with the AIDS virus. They worry that photographs taken of them have been sold or given to other pedophiles. Most frightening, when they hear the priest who molested them tell a judge that he was molested as a child, they worry that they, too, will grow up to be molesters.

And unless they get help, many will keep all this to themselves.

''The counselor states that the victim is reluctant to speak about (what) occurred," said a pre-sentence report in the Galdon case. "However, the counselor acknowledges that he has a hole in his office wall attesting to the anger still present within the victim."

Eight years ago, a 12-year-old Emerson, N.J., boy took his own life after a summer at a Boy Scout camp in upstate New York, where he was made a virtual sex slave of a Franciscan brother, claims a lawsuit by his parents.

''It wasn't worth living," the boy wrote in a note before he took an overdose of a non-prescription medicine called wintergreen.

The family's attorney, David Jaroslawicz of New York, said in a November interview that church officials knew the boy and his brother were molested by the cleric, but refused to help.

''This family turned to the church for help, and all the doors slammed shut," Jaroslawicz said. "They were the all- American family. Daddy was a Boy Scout leader who worked in the computer industry. The mother was a nurse. They had a house in a little suburb and two kids who they sent to Catholic schools. Apple pie. And then from out in left field comes this thing. It blew this family apart."

The psychological effects can be long-term, too, the experts say. In April of this year, 27-year-old Dennis C. of Orlando, Fla., who had suffered from repeated psychological problems, hanged himself in his back yard. Eleven years before, he had been molested by a priest at Bishop Moore High School in Orlando. Before he died, Dennis told his brother Pete, "Contact Father S. — and tell him I forgive him."

The status of the priest makes these crimes similar to incest, generally considered one of the most debilitating forms of molesting, more than a dozen experts said. Added to that is the victims' loss of faith in God and their alienation from the church, particularly when the church compounds the damage by covering up the crimes. For example:

An Orange County boy whose mother reported that he was fondled refused to set foot in church after nothing was done about their complaint. Three years later, that priest, Father Andrew Christian Andersen, was convicted of child molesting, but the family, which was once devout and active in church affairs, still stays away.

While jurors wept, Faye and Glenn G. testified in a civil trial against the Lafayette diocese about their loss of faith because Gauthe sodomized their 7-year-old son on his first day as an altar boy and for a year afterward until the priest was transferred out of the parish without explanation.

Asked at the 1986 trial about her feelings toward her church now, the mother of this child gazed from the witness stand to the defense table, where Lafayette Bishop Gerald Frey and Monsignor Richard Mouton sat with the church's lawyers. She then graphically recited the sex crimes committed by the priest.

''That's what I think about when I look at them," she said.

In Jackson, according to criminal and civil allegations, the older son of Juanita S. was molested by a priest and then molested his younger brother. The mother is suffering from "an acute psychotic episode, profound depression . . . (and) extremely acute feelings of betrayal and victimization," said Jackson psychologist Billy R. Fox in a report to the court. He attributed the mother's condition to "both the non-prosecution of the priest in question and the active pursuit of her family by the priest's attorneys."

And Helen H., the mother of the boy who stares in silence at the television, has yet to get a trial date on her lawsuit.

''It's not the money," she said. "It's the beliefs that were torn down. All my beliefs were built up in this man. We really had placed him on a pedestal like God. But it turns out that this man has been molesting boys for 30 years, and the church knew his history. And I just feel my child deserved more than that."

 
 

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