Man Confronts Alleged Abuse after 50 Years
Ex-Bay Area Resident Adds to Lawsuits against Church, Reunites with Area Sisters
By Melissa Evans
The Argus [California]
August 31, 2004
Russ Marley says he was betrayed by both of his fathers.
The late Rev. Cornelius Patrick Leehan, the central authority in his cultural and religious life, sodomized him at age 5 in the vestibule of St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish in San Leandro, Marley says. Seven years later, the priest returned to the parish after being transferred and fondled Marley again.
When Marley mustered the courage to tell his biological father, a founding member of the parish who often golfed and drank with the priest, "he said to tell no one."
"'Never speak about a priest that way,'" Marley recalls his father saying.
He obeyed. For five decades.
Marley left the Bay Area -- more like ran -- in his 20s. His two older sisters did not understand why their brother had so many problems: He dropped out of high school and rarely contacted them; he has been married four times and has had difficulty holding a job.
Last spring, after joining the 150 lawsuits pending against the Roman Catholic Church in Northern California, Marley finally told his sisters.
"I had no idea whatsoever," says Kathie Spencer, a 30-year Union City resident. "I'm the oldest, and I thought for sure I would be able to protect him."
She and her sister, Peggy Young of Hayward, never liked Leehan, who died in 1996 at age 75. Unlike many of the abusing priests, he was feared publicly and privately, they say.
He was a tall man, about 6 feet tall, who wore black-rimmed glasses and was known to kick at altar boys for faltering on their Latin, former members say. Still, "you wouldn't believe back then that (abuse) was possible," Young says.
Diocese of Oakland officials do not doubt Marley's story. Sister Barbara Flannery, the diocese chancellor who has counseled many priest abuse victims, says she has developed the ability to tell when victims are telling the truth.
"I don't have to prove it anymore," she says. "I believe (Marley)."
St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish is part of the diocese, but day-to-day operations are run by the Redemptorists of Northern California, a missionary religious order founded in 1732 that takes "the simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience," according to their Web site.
Officials within the Denver-based order did not return telephone calls for this story. Marley says he also has received no response from the order since filing his lawsuit in December 2003.
Though Marley is part of a statewide lawsuit, he does not want a settlement. He wants to testify before a jury.
Like many victims, telling his story publicly has become part of the healing process.
It took a long time.
After the initial abuse at age 5, Marley began shaking. Doctors concluded there was nothing medically wrong with him.
"Mom always said it was because he was growing too fast," Spencer says.
Marley guesses that it is because he was -- and still is -- scared. Smoking marijuana was the only thing that numbed the two recurring nightmares that have plagued him since adolescence.
The first involved Leehan's black boots -- the kind that come mid-calf and do not lace up; not cowboy boots, but workers' boots with a rounded toe, Marley recalls with intimate detail -- lying on the floor of the church vestibule. Next to them is the toy cash register the priest used to gain favor with Marley.
In the other dream, Marley is standing on a raised platform with two other people. The others find a ladder and lower themselves to safety, and he remains stranded. Alone.
It does not take a psychologist to figure out the symbolism. Like many victims, Marley still says he was robbed of the ability to trust, and that meant living in a lonely world.
Ever since telling his family, he has become closer to his sisters, who are eager to help their younger brother recover.
Marley, meanwhile, is studying for his General Education Degree and recently bought a home in Phoenix. At age 52, he is starting over, determined to become a survivor instead of a victim.
"I've lost so many years," he says. "I want my life back."
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