|Families of Church Sex Abuse Victims Suffer Wounds, Too
By Tom McKee
July 2, 2010
COVINGTON, Ky. - Sue was deeply into a peaceful sleep one night, when all of a sudden her eyes popped open and a wave of fear instantly washed over her entire body.
Her husband, Bill, hovered overhead in a trance, one of his arms fully extended and the hand tightly clenched into a fist.
"It did scare me," she said. "It was somebody in his dream that he was going to hit, but I was going to be the one to get punched."
The same nightmarish scenario happened many times with Sue unable to explain the reasons behind Bill's mental anguish and Bill not providing any clues on why it was happening.
Finally, after 30 years of marriage, the truth came tumbling out.
Sue said after three decades of marriage Bill confided to her that as a teenager he had been sexually abused by a priest on 50 separate occasions in four different locations within the Diocese of Covington.
The nightmares were caused by recurring memories of what had taken place five decades earlier, according to Sue. Bill was raised in the Catholic faith and attended Catholic schools. Sue said psychologist told her that her husband was acting out in his mind against a predator who had stolen some of his adolescent innocence.
"I was surprised," said Sue. "I thought it was awful."
"Bill" and "Sue" aren't their real names, but their story is true.
Bill has never talked publicly about the abuse. He never even told his parents before they died. He also wasn't the only member of his family to be victimized.
While Bill has chosen to remain silent, Sue is speaking out.
She wants others to know that those who are abused aren't the only victims. Spouses, children and other family members can feel the emotional trauma as well.
Another reason behind Sue's public comments is that she wants to make sure nobody else goes through the turmoil she and her husband experienced.
The decision to go public was solidified when the couple became part of the class action lawsuit against the Diocese of Covington. The case was settled in Boone Circuit Court on May 28, 2009 with the creation of a $90 million dollar victims' settlement fund.
"The time period covered by our case was 1948 through 1994," said Bob Steinberg, one of the victims' attorneys, who said a total of 80 church personnel were documented as abusers. "While the majority were priests, there were nuns, there were brothers and there were employees such as teachers or coaches."
A total of 400 people submitted claims for compensation.
"Exactly 250 of them were found by two well-qualified special masters to be credible," said Steinberg. "There are a number of people -- at least 200 I know of -- who contacted us that did not make claims because they didn't want their information to be disseminated even in the private setting of this case."
Payments ranged from $5,000 to $1 million for claims that were validated.
Bill's recollections proved to be accurate enough to receive a substantial settlement, but the amount remains confidential.
Court records indicate that he was abused by the late Rev. James Kleman from 1958 to 1961. Some of the encounters occurred at Covington Catholic High School, where Bill was a student and Rev. Kleman taught Religion and Latin. Those same records show others took place in the Rectory at St. Anthony Church in Taylor Mill.
The Diocese of Covington was asked to respond to Sue’s story but declined.
Sue recalled one incident in particular that Bill shared with her.
"The pastor walked in on them during the abuse and he just turned around and walked out," she recalled. "Nothing was ever done. Kind of makes you sick doesn't it."
Sue said Bill had been taught to trust a priest, but that the abuse shook his ability to extend that trust to others -- even to her.
"In all of our married life up to that time he never trusted me and I didn't know why," she said. "It was very hurtful."
After getting involved with the lawsuit and the counseling that was part of the settlement, Sue learned from psychiatrists that Bill's response was predictable based on his experiences.
"I finally realized, oh my gosh, that's why he never trusted me," Sue exclaimed. "It wasn't me."
Sue said she was angry at the church's initial response to claims of abuse, especially when priests were sent away for treatment and then put back in the same situation with church leaders thinking that the abusers had been cured.
"They figured if we don't talk to these children about it and we don't acknowledge that it happened that they forget about it," she said. "Guess what? They don't forget. It gets worse! "
That is because those who were abused were often made to feel as though they were at fault for what happened, she said.
"They even told people, 'Don't say anything about this because if you do you're going to get excommunicated,'" Sue said. "It wasn't their fault. They were going to punish the victims and they'd already been punished."
The attitude toward sexual abuse within the Diocese of Covington drastically changed when Roger Foys was installed as Bishop in 2002. It was the year before the class action lawsuit was filed.
"I would have to characterize his response to this case as very professional and pastoral," said Steinberg. "He showed great compassion for victims. He understood problems that the victims had. He attempted to meet with each and every victim and he eventually cooperated in the settlement process in the case."
That included selling church property in Erlanger to help pay for the settlement fund. That meant moving the Diocesan offices from The Catholic Center to the former Covington home of St. Elizabeth Hospital.
Sue and Bill met with the Bishop and agreed that he was extremely compassionate.
"I think Bishop Foys has done a good job in a bad situation," she said.
Another person who has high praise for Bishop Foys is Bill Burleigh, retired chairman of The E.W. Scripps Co. and a co-special master in the case with retired federal judge Thomas Lambros of Cleveland.
"He is a hero who will never get the kind of credit that he deserves for what he did and he's not looking for the credit," Burleigh said. "It cost him dearly in his health. It cost the Diocese all of its resources. They moved from a beautiful suburban campus to inner-city Covington."
"I can't think of any other way that he could have demonstrated his sincerity in wanting to settle this while other bishops were hiding behind law firms and trying to obfuscate the obvious," Burleigh said.
It was Burleigh and Lambros who reviewed every victim's claim to see if it was supported by solid evidence.
"Somehow justice had to be brought," he said. "No amount of money could ever repair the damage that was done to some young people, but I think the process that took place in the settlement of this case did bring a certain amount of closure -- as much as a civil action can bring."
Compensation was based on a grid system -- the more severe the abuse the higher the award. Burleigh said the process made him realize the terrible toll abuse takes on a person throughout their entire life.
"A psychiatrist once told me that a normal person can recover from abuse with some scars, but what I was not prepared for was how in some victims it ruined their lives," he said. "They were changed forever for the worse."
However, the impact extended well into entire families -- such as Bill and Sue.
"In many cases family members many years later are not aware of the abuse and yet they have suffered because of the psychological scars that it left on one member of the family and that kind of scar tissue rubs off even without having knowledge that it was caused by abuse," Burleigh said. "I can remember several cases where it went to the grave and the relatives who survived only after death learned about the abuse and then it started making sense why certain things had happened throughout that family's lives."
"For some, it's a terrible chapter that they've tucked into their psyche," he said. "Psychiatrists say that's not healthy, that somehow it has to be vented. I can't imagine what kind of courage it takes for a person to face those terrible chapters. Innocent children who were victimized by horrible predators."
The years spent on the case are days, weeks and months that Steinberg said he won't forget.
"It gave me a lot of insight into problems facing people's actions that you just don't understand," he said. "We worked with some of the top psychologists who specialize in childhood sexual abuse and they were very helpful in explaining to us and to the victims themselves why they were acting in the ways that they were amongst their family and friends and how that was caused by the abuse they suffered as children."
Sue says she and Bill have some closure now because of the counseling that the settlement provided.
"I would just say it has had a big impact on our lives," she stated. "I think it has to stop and people have to take responsibility and the church has to take some responsibility and I think they finally are."
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