Abuse Victim Haunted by Memories

By Gillian Flaccus
Associated Press, carried in LA Daily News [California]
December 2, 2006

A former nun who says she's haunted by her memory of being molested by a pedophile priest as a young girl hopes a landmark settlement by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will help her heal.

Mary Dispenza, 67, no longer calls herself a Catholic, no longer attends church and doubts she will be able to reconcile the abuse with her faith.

"Everything that I knew, all my identity, was wrapped up in the church in one way or another; I was just lost," said Dispenza, who lives in Bellevue, Wash. "I felt we both lost: The church lost me, and I lost the church. And we both had invested a lot in each other for all those years."

She expects to receive $1.33 million as part of the $60 million the archdiocese said Friday it would pay to settle 45 sexual abuse lawsuits, the largest church sex abuse settlement since 2004. The payments cover cases from periods when the nation's largest archdiocese had little or no sexual abuse insurance - cases before the mid-1950s and after 1987.

The agreement should be completed by early next week, said Ray Boucher, the plaintiffs' lead attorney.

For years, Dispenza said, she repressed the memory of her abuse at the hands of the now-defrocked Rev. George Neville Rucker, also accused of molesting 37 other girls over three decades.

Rucker, now 86, was criminally charged in 2002 with 29 counts of molestation and pleaded not guilty. The charges were later dropped after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned a California law that erased the statute of limitations for filing criminal molestation cases.

Rucker's attorney, Donald Steier, said Friday he would not discuss the alleged abuse but was glad Dispenza was able to settle the claim "and put it behind her."

Dispenza said she was a 7-year-old girl in 1947 when Rucker reached down her panties and fondled her after she had wandered into the darkened auditorium of her Roman Catholic primary school.

After he abused her, Dispenza says, the young priest held her hand as he walked her to the back of the auditorium. She washed her hands before returning to her mother and didn't tell anyone what had happened for more than 40 years.

"I went into this little bathroom and I remember washing my hands, washing and washing. As a 7-year-old, I think I thought that would clean me or something," she said in a telephone interview. "That's where I left little Mary for many, many years. I just detached and split."

Dispenza worked for six years at St. Alphonsus School in East Los Angeles, the same school where she says Rucker abused her, and joined a convent for a time.


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