|John Fidler: Families of Abuse Victims Share Their Pain and Anger
May 21, 2010
No priest will say Mass at Grazia Rozzi's funeral. The lifelong Catholic wants it that way.
She has given up on the church, because, she said, its priests and bishops did not protect her son.
"I call them the middle men," Grazia told me recently. "The middle men are responsible for this."
This is the sexual abuse crisis that has swept the Catholic Church worldwide.
In the living room of her Muhlenberg Township home, facing photographs of her four children and her late husband, Lucio, she spoke about the sexual abuse her son, Mark, said he and other boys endured in the 1980s by the Rev. Edward Graff in the Holy Guardian Angels parish rectory. Mark told his story in my last column ("Abuse victim shows courage in quiet strength of his voice," Reading Eagle, May 7). Graff died in 2002 before he could be tried on charges of abusing a Texas teenager.
"I am angry, but not at God," she said. "He is helping us.
"I want the world to know," she said of her campaign to help Mark tell his story. "I'm putting it out there. I'm sailing."
After attending a funeral in a Catholic church in Reading - only her second time inside a Catholic church in the last year - she felt the pain of her son's abuse all over again.
"An altar boy looked just like Mark and I wondered, 'Who is protecting that boy?' "
In response to the allegations of abuse made by Mark Rozzi in my last column, the Diocese of Allentown said in a statement: "The Diocese regrets that any person might have been the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of any cleric, particularly within the Diocese. In keeping with Diocesan policy, the Diocese has reached out to any victim who has come forward and will continue to do so."
Another mother, Louise, who lives in Berks County but asked that her real name not be used because her son has not made his story public, said Graff abused her son in the 1980s at Holy Guardian Angels. A convert to Catholicism who taught Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes, Louise spoke of her conflicted feelings.
"I would kill to defend my children," she said. "Yet I wonder why I didn't do something (at the time)."
She described Graff's slow approach to her son as courting: "He gave him books, took him to movies. He was in our house one time and asked for something to drink. When I offered iced tea, he asked for something stronger. He was a raving alcoholic."
After the abuse, Louise said her son began having his own problems with alcohol, marijuana and the bad stuff, especially in college.
"He tried to kill himself (in college)," she said. "Fortunately, he found a good therapist who told us, 'This was a cry for help.' "
Louise said she thinks often about the far-reaching effects of what she and others say happened at Holy Guardian Angels.
"All the lives it's touched and the ways it has touched them," she said. "I feel betrayed.
"A numbness took over. I get physically ill at the thought of ever going back to Holy Guardian Angels."
Like Louise, Judy Deaven, who lives in Harrisburg, was in touch with me after reading Mark Rozzi's story. She is another convert to Catholicism.
Her son, Joseph Behe III, who attended Holy Guardian Angels, said he, too, was abused by Graff. He was reluctant to tell his story until recently. In fact, he made up a story about a friend who'd been abused. His friend thought about killing himself, Judy said.
"He's full of pent-up anger," Judy said. "Graff took his life away. He has nothing to show for it."
Judy said her son has been from therapist to therapist. Doctors prescribed so many medications that he ended up in drug rehabilitation.
"I have so much hate for the church and the people in it," she said. "They have ruined so many lives."
Judy said she's been in church once in the last few years, for a baptism.
"Graff told Joey he'd go to hell if he told anyone and that he'd go to jail for underage drinking after he drank the alcohol Graff gave him," she said.
"I don't know what else to do for him," Judy said. "The Diocese chewed him up and spit him out."
Knowing the burden each of these women carries, I asked Grazia Rozzi if she'd go to church again.
"Not in my lifetime," she said.
"The church is doing a terrible job of handling this," she said. "They would rather protect the priests than protect the children."
John Fidler is a copy editor and writer at the Reading Eagle. He holds a master's degree in English from the University of Chicago. Contact him at 610-371-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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