|Man Abused by Priests Urges Blacks to Speak out
By Sylvester Brown Jr.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 10, 2007
Charles Spearman felt a sense of warmth after bumping into an old friend outside Cardinal Ritter College Prep last week. It was an unexpected feeling because there was nothing warm about his visit.
Spearman, 38, took part in a sidewalk news conference with members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. In April, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Jesuit and Redemptorist orders settled a lawsuit filed by Spearman in 2004. He accused four priests, three of whom taught at Cardinal Ritter, of molesting him during the 1970s and 1980s.
He went to the high school Thursday, he told me, to speak publicly about the abuse he endured, to encourage any "past or present victims" to speak up and to urge the Archdiocese to confront the issue of pedophile priests.
He also wanted to send a special message to African-Americans like him.
After a hearty greeting, his old friend — now a teacher at Cardinal Ritter — told Spearman he'd read about his story in the May 28 edition of Jet magazine.
"What was that about?" the friend asked.
The teacher thought it unfair that Spearman had "gone public" against priests who couldn't defend themselves. The four named in the suit, Thaddeus Posey, Michael Barry, Chester Gaiter and James Thiel, are no longer active in the area. Gaiter and Thiel have retired, Barry is deceased and, according to David Clohessy, SNAP's director, Posey's whereabouts are unknown.
"Why did you wait so long?" the teacher inquired.
The questions sapped the warmth from the reunion. Spearman said he stumbled for an articulate answer but could only provide the one that motivates his actions today:
"I was a child."
Spearman's parents, Carrie Spearman and Charles Fairfax, wanted to provide the best educational opportunities for their son. They chose Catholic schools because they offered excellent education, responsibility and Christian values.
While Spearman attended St. Paul's school in Pine Lawn from third to eighth grades, his parents encouraged his relationship with Thiel.
The priest took an interest in the boy, taking him on camping trips and care-package deliveries and allowing him to work odd jobs at the school, Spearman told me. His parents weren't concerned with the long hours he spent with Thiel. They were also unaware of what was really going on with the priest, Spearman said.
Cultural and religious taboos, he added, made it difficult to tell his parents. The African-American community still struggles with how to react to homosexuality and pedophilia, he said.
"Coming from a very testosterone-driven, African-American community, I heard negative things about homosexuals," Spearman said. "I was in limbo. I knew I should not be involved in these acts, but everybody loved Father. Father was good. Father knows best."
The abuse continued while Spearman attended Cardinal Ritter Prep, he says. He knows now that he was an easy target, a kid with low self-esteem who had problems fitting in with his peers. The priests befriended him, plied him with drugs and alcohol and played "mind games" to keep him quiet, according to Spearman.
"'No one will understand,' they'd say," Spearman recalled. "'Keep this between us. Everybody's doing it. You'll understand when you're older.'"
He became an expert at living a double life, making up elaborate tales when his parents asked about his whereabouts. As an adult, he even took pride in "keeping it together," going on to earn undergraduate and master's degrees from St. Louis and Fontbonne universities, respectively.
But growing news reports about pedophile priests started to shame him.
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