Money Can't Buy Justice for Abuse Survivor

By Bill Janz
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [Wisconsin]
October 23, 2004

People fight for justice, even when it's unattainable, probably because the battle is more important than the result. It defines who they are.

Mark J. Salmon is one of those people. His business has suffered and so have some of his relationships, but he continues to help people who were victimized the way he was as a child.

How can any of these people receive justice, though, when they lost their childhoods to evil Catholic priests and teachers, some of whom insisted that it was the will of God that the children permit the abuse?

Recently, Salmon received $100,000. Is this justice? Nope, just the lottery.

"I've got a better chance of winning the lottery again than I ever have of receiving justice from this archdiocese," Salmon said.

It was ironic, though, that Salmon won all that money in Powerball, just one tantalizing number away from winning $95 million. If he had won that last amount, he could have bought his own church.

In Salmon's battles with leaders of the Catholic Church, he has been fighting for himself, too, and wants to be compensated, but this column isn't about that. No amount of money would compensate for what a Catholic teacher did to him.

Salmon and I had been talking by e-mail for nearly two years, but I'd never met him. When we finally set a lunch date recently, he told me in an e-mail how to recognize him at the restaurant:

"I'm 6 feet, 185 pounds, 50 years old, and I have an appearance of not trusting the Archbishop."

He is straightforward with his humor, his anger, his disgust, his sensitivity, his attacks on church leaders. He is vocal, and more vocal. Sometimes his letters and e-mails shout. He doesn't seem to hide anything, as the teacher who abused him, and the priests who abused thousands of children in the United States, hid their wickedness.

Salmon has been helped extensively by his wife, Brenda, and his parents, Pat and Ron J. Salmon. His parents are still Catholics, still "love their faith. But they can't stand the leaders," Mark Salmon said. He and his wife have two children about the age he was when a pervert hiding in the Catholic school system abused him.

Salmon attended St. John de Nepormuc Catholic Elementary School, which was near 37th and Townsend in Milwaukee. Over the years, there were four priests and one teacher who were pedophiles at that parish, Salmon said.

He was 10 when he was molested repeatedly, he said. He was 12 when parents got together about reports of the teacher abusing many youngsters. Catholic leaders sent the teacher on his way, not charged, of course. Thinking only of themselves, and the reputation of their church, church leaders tried to hide the scandal and begged parents, he said, not to go to authorities.

The parents and children had thought that church officials were "good people and would do the right thing," Salmon said. "We were wrong on both accounts."

Much later, the teacher, a former seminarian with a history of child abuse, was charged with abusing children in other elementary schools. So we can certainly understand - and maybe Catholic officials working to solve problems now can understand - why Salmon said church leaders then "drove the getaway car." Later, he also said, "Reputation and money were more important than the safety of kids."

During the 1980s, Gary Kazmarek, the teacher and coach, was sentenced to five years in prison in Wisconsin for abusing children in a public grade school. He is serving time in prison in Kentucky, after being sentenced to 13 years for abusing children in a Catholic school in the Louisville archdiocese.

"It took 36 years for anyone in the church to say they were sorry to me," Salmon said.

He, and others, are fighting to change laws so that religious organizations can be sued in Wisconsin, as is permitted elsewhere. Salmon has a $600,000 court judgment against Kazmarek, but he doesn't expect to recover a penny.

A financial adviser with Elmbrook Financial Services, Salmon also is a leader with Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Survivors want to continue to impress upon church leaders that long ago they should have built thick walls to protect little children. Justice will come with more bricks.

Meanwhile, Salmon unexpectedly won $100,000. But don't expect him to tithe.


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