Pain of Abuse, Betrayal Endures: Church Releases File on Alleged Victim
By Robin Washington
February 16, 2003
To many, the names James Porter, Paul Shanley, Richard Lennon and Barbara Thorp are little more than media fodder in the seemingly unending crises in the Catholic Church.
But to Christine Hickey, they are real people who, in ways unmeasurable and sometimes unthinkable, have made an indelible impression on her life.
A 46-year-old private school admissions coordinator from a large Catholic family, Hickey's life was for many years marred by alcoholism and suicide attempts after allegedly being raped at age 11 by then-Rev. James Porter at Stoneham's St. Patrick's Church.
Though she said she had long buried memories of the abuse, that terror was rekindled during Porter's 1992 trial and conviction for molesting scores of other children.
Then, she found solace from the Rev. Paul Shanley, another former St. Patrick's priest, who had once reported Porter's abuse to church officials.
But when Shanley faced abuse allegations of his own last year, Hickey again sought counseling from the church. And, she says, she was betrayed again.
"I just don't know who to trust or believe," she said following the revelation last week that Barbara Thorp, the Boston Archdiocese's director of Healing and Assistance and a licensed social worker, had turned over detailed notes of a private session with her to the church's clergy abuse investigator, which placed them under a court-ordered release to the media.
Though Hickey, who has become well-known in the victim survivor movement, had already gone public with much of her story, Thorp's version contained factual errors and mentions of sensitive issues Hickey says she was not ready to address.
Foremost was her visit to Shanley in Middlesex Jail last year, where he was held before his release on $300,000 bail while awaiting trial on charges of raping four Newton CCD students in the 1980s. The families, including that of Gregory Ford, now 25, have also filed suit against Shanley and the church.
"I didn't want people to know about the visit without knowing the context behind it," she said, adding that her fondness for Thorp has evaporated, especially after what she termed an insufficient apology from Thorp citing Hickey's "misunderstanding" about the confidentiality.
Hickey's jailhouse meeting with Shanley had followed an e-mail correspondence with him shortly before his arrest in May 2002. In it, she expressed concern for him and thanked him for helping her in the past. She also noted she had been sober in the nine years since then.
"Congrats on the nine years. That's a pretty big number," he wrote back, adding that he could not discuss the details of the charges against him.
Yet, she says, torn that the priest who once helped her may have himself molested children, she wanted to know if the allegations were true.
In the visitor's room, he said they were not.
"I never had sex with a child and I never forced anyone to have sex with me," Hickey recalled Shanley saying.
That mantra may indicate his defense strategy. Though Shanley has been named in numerous civil cases, most allege sexual abuse of young adults and teens over the age of consent, not 6-year-olds as in the Newton cases.
But, Hickey said, those allegations also troubled her. After the visit, she said, her confusion remained, leaving her more resolved to return to counseling. Because the therapist she preferred was difficult to reach without a car, she asked the church's Office of Assistance to authorize payment for an hourly rental Zip Car.
Her request denied, she said she nonetheless felt better after talking to Thorp, and was promised a meeting with Bernard Cardinal Law, and upon his resignation, Bishop Richard Lennon, in January.
To him, she told details of her abuse by Porter, including that he had raped her in the sacristy.
"He flinched at that point," she said, adding that he appeared to listen intently and impressed her with his self-deprecating humor.
She also mentioned her acquaintance with other now-accused priests while growing up in Stoneham and as a counselor and director at New Hampshire's Camp Fatima, which was frequented by the Revs. Robert Gale and Edward Kelley and other alleged molesters.
As news of the allegations against them metastasized throughout 2002, Hickey would express her astonishment with trademark cries of "Yikes!" and "Oh, my God!" - words that, to some in the growing victims' movement, revealed a naivete and penchant to be too trusting.
Arthur Austin, an alleged Shanley victim, has heard that criticism and disputes it, saying it instead shows "the goodness of her soul."
"I think the emphasis is wrong. It isn't a question of Christine being too trusting. It's a question of Barbara Thorp and the church not being trusting enough," he said. "Why shouldn't you trust Barbara Thorp? Why shouldn't you trust a priest?"
Though Austin publicly despises Shanley, he and other alleged victims have offered Hickey support, refraining from criticizing her for visiting the priest.
"The reality is that he helped her, regardless of whatever else he did to me, (alleged victim) John Harris, Greg Ford or any number of people. It's been very difficult for her to be caught in this because this was someone she loved."
Remarkably, that view is shared by a different camp.
"I find her very brave. When I go to the mailbox and there's a card from her, saying `I'm thinking about you,' that means a lot," said Teresa Shanley, the priest's niece and supporter.
"Christine was the first of many people to contact me to let me know what a positive influence my uncle had on her life. That was difficult to do in the face of everything that was being said about him."
That compassion does not come without tears. Hickey, who said she has for the first time in her life found a home in the victims' movement, said the pain of abuse and betrayal endures.
"I do cry a lot. Sometimes people think it's because they hurt my feelings or something but that's not why I cry," she said.
"I cry when I get angry and because of the frustration I have and people like me have over our difficulty in maintaining close relationships," said Hickey, who has never married and has struggled to talk about the abuse with her family.
Yet she is a hero to her older brother.
"We try to make heroes out of lofty figures, but people like Christine are determined every day to find their way out of the blackness they're in," Timothy Hickey said.
"She was just the sweetest little girl who seemed like she would have a happy, well-rounded life. She has it now but she lost something close to 25 years in misery and pain."
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