|A Crusade against Abuse
Family Speaks about Pedophile Priest
By Lori Van Ingen
Intelligencer Journal [Pennsylvania]
April 27, 2007
Lancaster County, Pa. - The "death of a soul" is how Pat and Lou Serrano describe what happened to their son, Mark, and to other children sexually abused by priests.
The Serranos, of Mendham, N.J., told their son's story to about 20 people Thursday night at Highland Presbyterian Church at a meeting of Parents Reaching Out to Parents of Sexually Exploited Children.
"He was a lovely, sweet, innocent boy," Pat said. "We lost him when he was 9. We never saw him again. We have a wonderful son now, but we never saw that happy-go-lucky boy again."
Many years later, the Serranos found out their son was violated repeatedly by their priest from the time he was 9 years old until he was 16.
The priest, James Hanley, would give boys orange juice and vodka and show them pornography as he "groomed" them for the sexual abuse that was to come and trapped them in a cage of silence, Pat said.
"Nobody in our family knew," she said. "There were nine of us, and he shared a room with two older brothers, and nobody caught on."
Mark kept up a facade through high school and college.
But in 1985, she said, Mark read a story about a priest in Louisiana who had abused numerous boys. He realized he went through the same thing.
He went to the bishop in Paterson, N.J., to report he had been sexually abused by a priest. The bishop told him not to tell his parents because it might upset them.
Mark kept quiet from March until Thanksgiving. Then he finally told his father.
Lou Serrano, a veteran New York City police officer, said he and Hanley were best friends.
"I helped him with his alcoholism," he said. "As I served on the altar (as a Eucharistic minister giving Communion) with him, he was sodomizing and raping my 9-year-old son, along with others."
His son told him, "Dad, it happened on your watch." That guilt is compounded, he said, because when Mark first told him about the abuse, Lou didn't grasp the full nature of the abuse.
"I didn't realize how serious it was," he said.
A couple weeks after Pat learned the truth, the local newspaper had a picture of Hanley saying Mass with little boys around him.
"The bishop knew (what he had done) and kept him in the ministry," Pat said.
When the Serranos confronted the bishop, "his white face turned beet red," she said. He told them, "Mark is not my boss; the Pope is."
"I said, 'Mark is the victim, and he will be satisfied,' " Pat said.
Mark sued the diocese to force them to adopt a policy to protect other children. "Our Catholic lawyers had us sign a confidentiality agreement," Pat said.
On the surface, Mark didn't show the scars. "But the pain was always underneath," Pat said. "He'd rarely come home. He wouldn't come to weddings or even answer the invitations."
Then, in 2002, the Boston Globe broke the story of a priest who abused children there.
That was the break Mark needed. He contacted The New York Times and told them his story. Mark was the first male victim to disclose publicly his priest had sexually abused him.
The Serranos' phone began ringing off the hook, not only with media requests for interviews, but with survivors of abuse who told them Mark's story also was theirs.
Pat and Lou already had become active in trying to protect other children from sexual abuse.
In 1996, Pat founded the support group Healing Our Survivors Together. In 2002, she became the New Jersey family outreach director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. The couple have become nationally known speakers because of their willingness to share their story.
"If one person is helped, if one child is saved, it's worth the effort," Pat said.
"My message is, support your children," Lou told the group Thursday night. "Be active in this crusade because it's not going away. It gets worse and worse. There's lies and deceit by those in charge."
The Serranos sat on the bishops' ad hoc committee that wrote the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which says there will be no confidentiality agreements in cases of sexual abuse of minors.
The Serranos hope to get the statute of limitations for sexual abuse dropped — as it has been for murder — because this is a "soul murder. It's the death of a soul."
Web sites are now available for survivors of sexual abuse, Pat said. They include www.snapnetwork.org and www.abusetracker.com.
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