|Philadelphia Woman Speaks up about Alleged Sex Abuse
April 7, 2011
Amidst the decision of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to suspend 29 priests following an investigation of an alleged sex scandal, one woman is reminded of her own abuse and the childhood that was stolen from her.
Patricia Clancy, 55, clenched a pillow as she painfully recalled a day close to her 9th birthday when she received news that her brother died. The first person to tell her was a close family friend and a former Christian Brother from the Brothers of the Christian Schools, George Costigan.
“I remember feeling responsible for his death because Costigan warned me that bad things could happen if I didn’t keep ‘our’ secret,” said Clancy.
She claims that between 1965 and 1972, she was molested on multiple occasions by Costigan, who was present during church services. He also taught courses at West Philadelphia Catholic High School for Boys which is overseen by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, according to Bishop Accountability, a website that tracks priests who are accused of abuse.
The release of the 2011 Grand Jury report that accused several Philadelphia priests of alleged sexual abuse brought back feelings of resentment for the church Clancy feels should have protected her when she was eight years old.
“Costigan was my dad’s best friend, so he was a frequent visitor to our home,” she said. “My dad is mentally ill and has been in psychiatric hospitals for the past 58 years. He would come home for a time, then get sick again and have to return to the hospital. “
“George Costigan inserted himself into our family and became like a surrogate father to me,” said Clancy, who also says her father’s illness manifested itself through his obsession with Catholicism.
Clancy’s mother embraced the support that Costigan offered to the family. Clancy says Costigan often took them on trips where she claims the abuse continued to escalate.
“Sometimes I look at my grandchildren and I wonder who can do this to someone so innocent,” she said.
For years, Clancy was scared to speak up. She says the abuse continued until her sophomore year of high school. Shortly thereafter, at the age of 16, Clancy says she attempted suicide, taking an overdose of her father’s anti-psychotic medication. During her month-long hospitalization, Clancy says she was abused again.
“Once you become abused, it’s easy to become a victim again,” said Clancy.
The abuse adversely affected every aspect of her life and continues to do so, she says. Although she is grateful for the healing she has worked for over the years, the residual effects of the abuse remain.
Clancy became easy prey for multiple perpetrators. She became rebellious and promiscuous in her teens which led to multiple gynecological problems, depression, suicide attempts, hospitalization for psychiatric problems, unintended pregnancy, and “an utter fear of everything.”
Medical bills started to pile up as Clancy continued to see doctors and therapists after her alleged abuse. The relationship between Clancy and her strict Irish Catholic parents became strained over the years as neither one of them wanted to believe a member of the church, not to mention a close family friend, could do this to their own daughter.
“My parents are sick and old and have little time left in their lives,” she said. “How incredibly sad and painful it is to have the abuse still be a wedge in our relationships.”
Clancy always wanted to report what happened to her. However, it was not until 1993 when she got the courage to reach out to the Philadelphia archdiocese and file a complaint against Costigan.
Clancy met with William Lynn, who was then under the supervision of Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua, and requested a meeting with Costigan to confront him about the abuse. Clancy says that it took several follow up phone calls to Lynn before he agreed to facilitate a meeting.
Accompanied by her therapist, Clancy met with Lynn and Costigan in November 1993 at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia office. She states that she “looked Costigan in his eyes and reminded him of the crimes he committed against me when I was a kid and the devastating effects those crimes have had on my life.”
Costigan reportedly denied Clancy’s allegations. Clancy says she stated to him, ”I know what you did. You know what you did. And God knows what you did”.
Clancy requested financial assistance from the archdiocese to cover future therapy costs. She reports that William Lynn agreed to help but she never received assistance. According to Clancy, Lynn neither confirmed nor denied the abuse happened, but he reportedly told Clancy that she needed to seek financial assistance from the Paterson diocese where Costigan was working at that time.
When asked whether the Philadelphia archdiocese knew of Clancy’s allegations, a spokesperson for the church declined to comment.
Clancy reports that in that same year, she contacted Rev. Thomas Zazella, Director of Clergy Personnel of the Paterson Diocese in New Jersey where Costigan had been ordained a priest in 1974, after her alleged abuse ended. Reverend Zazella as well as Lynn reportedly told Clancy that since Costigan was not a priest in the Paterson Diocese at the time of the alleged abuse, she needed to contact the Christian Brothers.
With little luck from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Paterson, Clancy tried reaching out to the Christian Brothers, who she says did not understand their responsibility to help her. In a letter to Brother Oliver Benedict, she explained her allegations against Costigan and her request for financial assistance to cover therapy costs, but she claims they ignored her requests.
“No one wanted to take responsibility and passed me on to different jurisdictions,” said Clancy.
Father James Martino, FSC, the director of administration at Brothers of the Christian Schools, verified that Costigan was a Brother at the time of Clancy’s alleged abuse, but he could not comment on any complaints of abuse during that time.
Despite not providing the financial assistance Clancy requested, the Paterson diocese did place Costigan on administrative leave soon after they were made aware of her allegations.
Richard Sorkerka, a spokesperson for the Paterson diocese, confirmed that Clancy did file a complaint against Costigan.
After Costigan had been on administrative leave for several years, Clancy was told by a friend that Costigan had died. However, in 2005, while researching his assignment record, she found out that he was alive and well. She also discovered that despite being placed on administrative leave in 1993, Costigan had been portraying himself as a priest on multiple occasions over the years and was listed in the official Catholic directory as having served as a military chaplain in 2006.
According to Sokerka, Costigan’s latest appearance was in 2007 where he was seen celebrating a West Catholic Reunion mass at St. Dorothy’s parish in Drexel Hill, PA. A congregant informed the pastor after Mass that Costigan had credible allegations of sexually abusing a minor and was supposed to be on administrative leave.
It is unclear where Costigan currently lives.
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