The Long, Tough Road from Abuse Victim to Survivor
He Was a Little Guy, As I Was

Republican [Springfield MA]
May 27, 2004

A public school kid whom I didn't meet until we were on the same 10-12 Our Lady of Hope baseball team.

He could play. He batted left-handed and didn't so much swing as slash at the ball, kind of like Ichiro does for the Seattle Mariners. And like Ichiro, he could run.

Like he was being pushed by a gale-force wind. He could turn routine grounders to second into base hits. He played center field with daring and reckless abandon. And I would marvel from my perch at second base how he could go back on a ball. The Sisters of St. Joseph were still working on improving my vocabulary. The best I could do back then to express awe was "Wow."

He even had a baseball player's name:

Marty Bono.

He was a Yankee fan, as I was. And in the summer of 1967, being a Yankee fan was the closest thing someone as white as I will ever come to feeling like a minority.

In that summer of Yaz and Tony C. and Jim Lonborg and Joe Foy and Jose Tartabull and the rest of the Cardiac Kids, Marty and I would play catch before games and practice and talk of the exploits of Horace Clarke and Roger Repoz.

Our family didn't have a car when I was growing up. Often Mr. and Mrs. Bono, Marty's parents, drove some of our team in their big old Ford station wagon to play Carl's Supermarket or Wachogue at baseball diamonds around the city.

I remember the stubble of Mr. Bono's beard. He had a tan, even in May. He always rode shotgun. I guess he never learned how to drive. He worked in a factory, like pretty much every other father on the Hill. I saw him on Sundays, which was when I sold papers for Bob Hough in front of Our Lady of Hope Church. Devout Catholic could have been carved on Mr. Bono's headstone. And maybe it is.

I lost track of Marty Bono after our baseball days. But I did see him when Bruce Springsteen played the Civic Center in 1976. And the way he tipped those bottles up like they were a trumpet, I could tell he had a problem with the drink.

By the early 1990s, we had met again. He had hair down to his shoulders and a beard an Old Testament prophet would covet. Marty was sober. He was married. He was a family man with three kids. His oldest is now in the Navy. After putting in a full shift starting at 6 a.m. as a custodian in the Springfield school system, he works nights with those convicted while driving under the influence of alcohol.

I hadn't thought of Marty Bono for the longest time until last September when I was called and told he was filing a suit against the diocese. He was a victim. Make that alleged victim. Our old parish priest, Richard Meehan, the guy who had worn his hair a tad long and flashed the peace sign, was the accused.

My legs went weak. I went to the bathroom and threw up the Planters peanuts and the 20-ounce Coke I had indulged in before I'd gotten the news. Believe me, vomiting doesn't make me a good guy. It was all involuntary. Then I thought "poor Marty," and "lucky me."

Those monsters with the turned-around collars never got me. Even as I write this, my wife had to ask again, "Were you ever... ?"

I wasn't.

And I am sure it was only by the grace of God. All those rosaries my mother made us say when we were kids. Or maybe it was because my uncle was a missionary priest in Africa.

Who was I going to tell if some guy in a black suit mounted me? Or inserted or touched something no adult should without permission?

I never had to hear a priest say: "No one will believe you."

Knowing full well, until recently, he was right.

I didn't have to deal with nervous breakdowns or nightmares that show up every morning at 10 of 2. The estrangements. Or with the aggressive legal tactics by diocesan lawyers. Nor did I have to worry about the silent majority of priests never sticking up for me. Or a new bishop smearing the only priest who has stood with victims by comparing him to a convicted child molester.

But Marty Bono did.

As have too many others.

He and I talked the other night. The Republican had a story about a long overdue possible settlement for dozens of alleged victims.

Marty never mentioned money. He talked about the settlement possibility translating into having the word "alleged" stricken from every future sentence that contains his name.

"I was never an alleged victim," Marty says. "I was a victim."

He pauses for a second before adding, "And now I'm a survivor. And like everybody else, I can't wait until this is all over."