Weakland, Dolan Meet with Victim
Extraordinary Session Focuses on 'Road to Healing' in Abuse
By Meg Kissinger firstname.lastname@example.org and Tom Heinen
Journal Sentinel Online
July 10, 2003
In an extraordinary meeting Thursday, retired Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland joined Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan in apologizing to a former altar boy who had been sexually abused by his parish priest nearly 29 years ago.
"The 'I'm sorry' is heard," said Scot Edgerton, now 41, of Milwaukee. "The understanding is something that we're still working on."
The 3 hour and 15 minute meeting ended with Dolan hugging Edgerton, and Weakland shaking Edgerton's hand, Edgerton said. Weakland offered to hug Edgerton's mother, but she refused to return the gesture, said Edgerton.
Weakland was not available for comment. Archdiocesan spokesman Jerry Topczewski issued a statement saying Dolan and other archdiocesan representatives "were pleased with the honest and open dialogue of the session, and hopeful that the progress made today will ensure a successful completion."
The meeting was believed to be the first time Weakland has met with a sexual abuse victim since he retired in June 2002 after acknowledging that the archdiocese paid $450,000 to a man who claimed that Weakland sexually assaulted him in 1979 when the man was a 30-year-old graduate student. Weakland denied the assault but conceded "an inappropriate" relationship with the man, Paul Marcoux.
Edgerton said the purpose of Thursday's meeting was to have both sides understand what caused the events that began in 1974.
"This was not me screaming about what has happened to me, but a chance for both sides to understand," he said. "This was a session in restorative justice, a road to healing."
Edgerton said Dolan and Weakland agreed to meet with him again. No date was set.
The archdiocese issued a statement on the meeting, referring to it as "pastoral mediation," but Edgerton said the more correct terminology would be "restorative justice," stressing that he was not interested in suing the archdiocese.
Eventually, he said, he would like the church to pay for him to get schooling that the emotional effects of abuse prevented him from seeking earlier. And, he would like to be compensated for some living expenses when he goes from full-time to part-time employment to attend school.
Edgerton, who works as a lot manager for Boucher Volkswagen in Franklin, said he would like to pursue a career in advocacy for senior citizens.
Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba had previously apologized to Edgerton.
Edgerton said Thursday that he had tried for several years to get an audience with Weakland to ask the archbishop why he had allowed the late Father Richard Nichols to continue as a priest after Edgerton had reported the abuse to him.
Nichols, who also worked as a child psychologist, surrendered his license in 1985 after another boy reported to the state's Psychology Examining Board that he and Nichols had engaged in oral sex. Nichols pleaded no contest to the allegations.
Nichols was barred from performing priestly duties after news of the board's action was published in The Milwaukee Journal in February 1985. He died of a heart attack at age 63 in 1996.
Thursday's meeting at the archdiocesan headquarters in St. Francis was closed to the public.
The meeting was attended by at least 15 people, most of whom were invited by Edgerton, including Edgerton's parents; one of his sisters; Terry Ryan, regional coordinator of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic reform group; and state Rep. Peggy Krusick (D-Milwaukee).
Krusick and state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) have introduced a bill that would, among other things, enable victims of child sexual abuse to file civil suits against churches and clergy until age 35 and require clergy to report suspected child sexual abuse except when information was disclosed in confession or other confidential communications.
The meeting was moderated by Janine Geske, a former state Supreme Court justice.
Edgerton was in eighth grade at St. Aloysius Church in West Allis in 1974 when he was attacked by Nichols in the sacristy after serving a funeral Mass. Originally, Edgerton said that the priest had thrust his hands down his pants and grabbed his penis. In recent months, however, Edgerton has modified his story to say that the priest actually raped him.
"I wasn't ready to talk about the extent of it," Edgerton said Thursday, explaining the discrepancy. "I now feel that I have such a strong support system that I can handle anything."
Edgerton said he kept news of the priest's assault secret for years. Four years later, when he was a senior at Pius XI High School, Edgerton wrote Weakland detailing the abuse and saying that two other boys told him that they, too, had been sexually abused by Nichols.
"I feel very sorry for this person because I realize that this could be the end of something he has devoted his life to," Edgerton wrote.
Weakland wrote back, saying, "I will do my best to see that Father N. gets the help - spiritual and psychological - that he needs."
Weakland went on to say that he was concerned about Edgerton. He wrote:
"In tomorrow's Mass and all next week I will make you a kind of special personal intention, praying that you learn to have the same compassion that Jesus had for sinners, that your faith in God - and humans - stays strong, and, most of all, that this unfortunate event be a means of spiritual growth for you."
Last fall, Dolan and the archdiocese held two extraordinary large-group listening sessions for victims of clergy sexual abuse at the Midwest Airlines Center. Since then, Dolan also has met individually with victims on three meeting days at a Catholic Charities office.
The archdiocese has offered to enter into pastoral mediation with victims. But the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has been sharply critical, partly because of an archdiocesan requirement that victims agree not to have a lawyer present and that they drop any lawsuits before mediation.
At least five victims have agreed to those conditions for mediation, archdiocesan spokesman Topczewski said earlier this year. He said pastoral mediation might involve financial issues but would also attempt to achieve a holistic sense of healing by focusing on spiritual/pastoral, emotional/psychological and restorative justice issues.
"This was not me screaming about what has happened to me, but a chance for both sides to understand."
- Scot Edgerton, abuse victim
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