Mom of Priest's Victim Helping Others to Heal

By Richard Lake
Review Journal [Las Vegas NV]
Downloaded April 30, 2003

When her youngest son asked whether he could trust her family's new priest, Debbie Tullgren did not know how to answer the boy.

"I had to tell him, 'I don't know,' " she said.

Tullgren's oldest son was sexually abused by his priest, Mark Roberts, in 1996 when he was a teenager.

"I feel like I failed my son," said Tullgren, who has formed a local support group for other abuse victims. "I guess I'm just trying to protect as many kids as possible."

About a month ago, Tullgren started a local chapter of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. On Tuesday, she and members of the group handed out fliers at the Clark County Courthouse urging a harsh sentence for Roberts.

"We're pushing for the maximum possible sentence because, in the past, sentences (for priests) have been very light," said Tom Bara, the group's national treasurer.

Roberts, 52, pleaded guilty in January to one count of open and gross lewdness and four counts of child abuse by neglect. He is to be sentenced next week. He faces a maximum of five years in prison but also could get probation.

Tullgren said she would like to see Roberts sent to prison, but if he received probation, "I would have to accept it."

Tullgren and a group of other families whose children were abused by Roberts have filed a civil lawsuit against him, the Diocese of Las Vegas, Bishop Joseph Pepe and his predecessor, Daniel Walsh. Because the case is pending, Tullgren was reluctant Tuesday to talk about the specifics of her son's case.

According to court records and Roberts' confession, Roberts abused five boys in his parish at St. Peter the Apostle church in Henderson.

Roberts acknowledged that he made his victims remove their clothing and spread their arms in a mock crucifixion. He then whipped them with a cord. He also admitted to ordering one boy to give him a massage and another to fondle his penis.

Roberts' confession came after nearly a year of firm denials and a strong showing of support by other parishioners.

Tullgren said the rejection that she and her family received from some of the other parishioners made their ordeal more difficult.

"My children have not been invited to certain functions that we used to go to," she said. "My son has been accused of being gay."

She has left St. Peter's for another Catholic church, she said.

She said she and her husband consulted with their son, who since has moved out of state, before they decided to go public. "He said, 'Mom, do it,' " she said.

"There are people out there that this can help," added her husband, Paul.

Debbie Tullgren said her son, now 21, joined a chapter of SNAP where he now lives. He found that knowing there were other people like him helped a great deal, she said.

"It's a shame we need this type of organization," she said.

She'd rather focus on the group than on Roberts, she said, though she will speak in court when he is sentenced.

"We need to take his white collar off and look at him as a molester, not a priest," she said of Roberts.

The local SNAP chapter can be contacted at 380-7145.


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