'Tears in the Fathers' Eyes' – Victims Tell Priests of Human Dramas Tied to Clergy Sex Abuse
By Susan Brinkmann
September 25, 2006
Wynnewood, Pa. (CNS) – As rain fell on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, hundreds of priests from the Philadelphia Archdiocese heard three speakers tell of the evil of clergy sex abuse that they or their family members endured.
"In the past year, we all have read the stories of the victims – but it is extremely important to hear their stories firsthand, so that we may see the human face and hear the human voice, rather than simply read words on a printed page," said Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali.
The cardinal organized the Sept. 15 event at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood to acquaint priests with the human dramas behind the clergy sex abuse crisis. The three speakers included two victims and the mother of two other victims. The impact of their stories about victimization by priests serving in the archdiocese was profound and disturbing.
Grace, a mother of two victims, said that she was raised in a devout Catholic home and was taught "that clergy were men of God. But two of them were not."
The priest who abused her second son was a close friend of the family who came for dinner every weekend and often said Mass in her home, she said.
Afterward, he would take the boy for a ride that – unknown to anyone else – ended in a bedroom in a South Philadelphia friary where the priest sexually molested her 10-year-old son, she added.
Grace read a letter from her son, who is now in prison, in which he described his fear and trembling as he sat on his bed every Sunday, looking out his window and hoping the priest's car would not pull up.
Grace said that a year ago she learned that her youngest son had been molested by the same priest and by a priest who taught at the Catholic high school he attended.
"'Survivors' is a word I use guardedly, because of the fragile state of my two sons to this day," she said. "We have suffered from the effects of drug abuse, and several attempts at suicide."
Grace described the many times she felt herself drowning in a pool of guilt: "How did I not know? How did I not see it?"
Next to speak was Vicky, who said that her sexual abuse began at the hands of a sexually deviant and violent father and her three brothers.
By the age of 14, Vicky said, she was struggling to cope and sought help from the district head of her Catholic Youth Organization, Father Richard D. Dolan, who has since been laicized.
In spite of promising to help her, Dolan began to abuse her at their first meeting at the rectory, she said.
"Usually, sexual predators groom or seduce their victims, but not Dolan," she said. "He was violently aggressive, and used intimidation and shock to make me submit."
For the next year and a half, she was raped repeatedly by the priest, in his office, bedroom and car, she said. One of her worst memories, she said, was of being sexually abused on Dolan's desk.
"As I was looking at the cross on the wall across from me, he kept repeating to me that I was raping God," she said.
She said she told the pastor of her parish, but nothing was done and Dolan remained there for eight more months.
A subsequent sexual relationship with a priest would last for 28 years – even after he was transferred to Pittsburgh by his religious congregation, said Vicky.
"The attention I received, the great dinners and other positive elements of the relationship kept me attached to him," Vicky said. "I didn't see the damage this relationship did to my entire life."
Now, she said, she suffers from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual confusion and associative identity disorder. Because of her disabilities, she lives on Social Security, said Vicky.
The final speaker was Ed, another victim of clergy sexual abuse.
"I've heard hundreds of victims' stories – and there's a single thread in them all," he said. "It was as if the priest had sucked the soul out of the person, and replaced it with a vacuum."
Ed criticized the archdiocese for handling the sex abuse crisis "administratively," instead of ministering to the needs of the victims.
"Kicking this down to be handled by central administration was not the way to handle it," he said.
He compared the abuse to a tactic used by the Romans when they entered a stubborn village and poured salt on the fields, so that no crops would grow for a period long enough to starve to death the entire community.
"This salt planted by these perpetrators has ruined generations of Catholics" and has prevented the faith from reaching many younger generations, Ed said. "They won't know the joy of bringing a son or daughter to baptism, the peace that comes from reconciliation, or ... go to Communion and believe what we believe – that this is the bread of life."
He called on the archdiocese to find new ways to reach out to the victims.
"We have apostolates for immigrants, for the poor, for the aged," he said. "Where is the apostolate for the victims of clergy sex abuse?"
When the speakers finished, the priests adjourned to St. Martin's Chapel for prayer and Benediction.
It was hard not to hear Grace's words whispering through the silence that there "are tears in the fathers' eyes today."
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