|Abuse Victim Wants to Help Others
By Kim Norvell
St. Joseph News-Press
June 25, 2011
In the midst of new sex abuse allegations against the Catholic church, a St. Joseph man abused by a priest in the mid-1960s is hoping more victims will find the courage to come forward and hold the church accountable.
The man, now 60, is a resident of St. Joseph, but asked that other identifying features be concealed. In April 2010, 46 years after the abuse began, the victim started what he described as one of the hardest years of his life — publicly acknowledging that he was in fact a victim of clergy abuse and seeking recourse for years of shame, confusion and anger.
“I don’t want anything that happened to me to happen to anyone else. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back and say ‘I’m a martyr,’” he said. “ ... I want you to know so it doesn’t happen again.”
While criminal charges were never filed against the priest, a civil case was settled against the Vincentians, an order that works in conjunction with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, which acknowledged the abuse and provided payment for the victim’s therapy.
In 1964, the man was a freshman at St. John’s Minor Seminary in Kansas City, a priest training facility for high school boys that is no longer open. Within the first month, the students were asked to choose a confessor and a spiritual adviser. He decided to choose the same man, the late Rev. Thomas Parrott, for both roles.
The abuse started during their first meeting, after he confessed to the priest that he masturbated. Immediately after that divulgence, he said, the priest locked the door and exposed himself.
For two years, the priest would masturbate in front of his 14-year-old victim, claiming it was aversion therapy for his previous sins.
“You don’t question someone like that. The way we were always taught in school is you don’t bring shame on the church. Priests are God’s representatives here on Earth, Christ’s representatives here on Earth,” the man said. “So when he tells me something, I’m believing it. If he told me black was white, I’d probably believe it.”
The man describes the acts as “sickening,” getting progressively worse and more frequent as time went on. At one point the priest began taking him up to his personal room, a place where students were forbidden, aggressively pushing him against walls and forcing the victim’s head into his genital region.
Meanwhile, the victim’s grades suffered, as dyslexia inhibited his performance in school — a circumstance the priest used to defend the abuse, describing it as punishment. Teachers and his parents thought he was lazy, confounding the problem and creating more issues for the priest to hold over his head, and making it harder for him to report the crimes. He left the school after two years for poor grades.
Yet the victim said he never told anyone about the sexual acts until much later in life.
Many victims of clergy sex crimes typically take longer to come forward because the betrayal comes from a person the victim holds in the highest regard, said Caroline Gibbs, licensed professional and nationally certified counselor.
“These priests are representatives of God to these children, they’re not just people,” she said. “And they’re not just representatives of the church — they’re stand-ins for God. That’s what makes it globally destructive psychologically.”
The issue is confounded when a victim is aware that those close to him have the same views, and may choose to defend the priest and the church, rather than the victim, she said.
The former St. John’s student made the decision to come forward after hearing from another priest that the only way to begin the healing process was for him and the church to acknowledge the abuse.
“Many victims will be taught their entire lives that they are bad because of what happened. It takes some form of therapy to revisit the whole idea to understand that this was abuse and it was perpetrated on them,” said Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City attorney who’s handled hundreds of clergy abuse cases.
Because the initial relationship with Rev. Parrott was supposed to be as his spiritual adviser, the victim managed to convince himself that the crimes were part of his priestly training, and perhaps he had deserved them for things he had done in his past.
“It wasn’t until very recently that he was able to understand that he was victimized,” Ms. Randles said.
In 2010, the victim met with the Vincentians, the order that taught at St. John’s, and opened up about his experience.
At the same time, he met with Ms. Randles to draft a list of demands, most of which were non-monetary, in order to begin a process of healing not only for himself, but for other victims as well. He said he hoped that by his coming forward, other victims would also find the courage to take action.
“Being proactive can help the victims as well as the church,” he said. “We might even save souls in the process.”
Kim Norvell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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