'Great Silence' Finally Ends for Abuse Victim

By Mary Nevans-Pederson
Telegraph Herald [Dubuque IA]
February 22, 2006

[Note from See the Telegraph Herald's series Sins & Silence.]

Dubuque -- Jim Cummins was a 17-year-old altar boy when he was sexually abused by his parish priest in 1962. More than four decades after he was molested, Cummins' feelings toward his abuser are too painful to talk about.

Jim Cummins

That same clergyman, the Rev. William Roach, went on to molest at least two other teenage boys, yet continued to work in northeast Iowa Catholic parishes for another 24 years, until he was killed while driving drunk.

The sexual abuse caused numerous psychological problems for Cummins as a young man, including a major panic attack. Cummins, 60, suppressed his memories of the abuse and went on to become an award-winning journalist for NBC News.

But the horror of his own abuse came flooding back one day in 2002, when he was interviewing the family of a suicide victim, a young man, who had not survived his abuse at the hands of a priest.

"There were two crimes (in my case)—the sexual assault and the cover-up. I call it 'the great silence,'" said Cummins Tuesday from his Dallas news office.

Cummins contacted a Waterloo law firm and in June 2004 he filed the first of 15 lawsuits that the firm eventually would bring against the Archdiocese of Dubuque and priests accused of molesting children.

Cummins' case was set to be the first to go to trial, scheduled to begin Feb. 13, but it was delayed until settlement negotiations between the plaintiffs and the archdiocese were completed.

Late last week, Cummins and his wife, Connie, sat across a table from Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus as the former altar boy described how Roach molested him on two occasions, each time joined by a different priest and how that abuse damaged his psyche for years.

"(Hanus) listened to everything I said. He was very compassionate and asked for forgiveness for all the victims," Cummins said.

Tuesday, Cummins congratulated both sides after terms of the settlement were announced.

"For an adversarial situation, the archdiocese was always fair in the process," he said.

Of Chad Swanson and Thomas Staack, attorneys for the victims, Cummins said, "they performed a real public service, with the research they did for the victims and for getting out the information they did."

"I feel very liberated today," said Debbie Gindhart, 57, who now lives in Indianapolis, but was molested by a
priest when she was growing up in Waterloo.

"I always felt as if the archbishop protected priests and not the parishioners. I am very adamant that this is a situation in our country of child abuse ... and silence about it just protects these people," Gindhart said.

She is one of five women who sued the archdiocese, claiming they were molested by the Rev. Patrick McElliot. Gindhart said the priest abused her in the sacristy of a Waterloo church in 1962 when she was 13. McElliot died in 1987.

The Associated Press contributed.


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