Pain of Long Ago Wounds 'Just Doesn't Go Away' for Families
By Steve Israel
October 7, 2012
More than 25 years after the boys and their families were victims of sexual abuse by two local priests, an eternal flame of anger burns within them. It flares when they see another adult – such as former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky – allowed to put himself in a position of authority and trust so he can feed his appetite for young boys.
"It brings back everything," says Catherine Westfall of Port Jervis. Her son Patrick was sexually abused by Francis Stinner, a now defrocked priest who served at St. Mary's Church in Port Jervis and taught at John S. Burke High School in Goshen in the 1980s and '90s, where he also coached soccer.
|The memories of sexual abuse come flooding back for Patrick Westfall, left, and his mother, Catherine, because of the Jerry Sandusky case. At right, an excerpt from a letter to former priest Edward Pipala by a mother of a boy who belonged to his club, “The Hole,” where initiation was masturbation.
Just days before Sandusky is scheduled to be sentenced for sexually abusing at least 10 boys, some local victims of sexual abuse by Stinner and Edward Pipala, another defrocked priest who served in Goshen and Monroe, say there isn't a prison sentence severe enough to extinguish their rage.
"He (Pipala) got seven years. We got life," says one victim of Pipala, who served his time in federal prison after he abused some 50 boys while serving at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Monroe and St. John the Evangelist in Goshen in the '80s and early '90s. The victim first said that after Pipala was released from prison in 2000. He repeated it last week.
"Every time I hear there's a homicide in Mount Vernon, (where Pipala lives as a registered sex offender), I hope it's him," adds the victim, whose mother gave Pipala a T-shirt that said "Trust Me, I'm a Father" – before he abused the troubled son.
"Whatever he (Pipala) got, it will never ever be enough," adds the father of one more victim who has passed away. He's one of several victims who have died since the abuse. The causes have included suicide and drug abuse. That anger isn't just aimed at abusers like Stinner, who abused altar boys as he was helping them on with their white cassocks, or Pipala, who plied young teens with Jack Daniels and St. Pauli Girl beer in his club called The Hole – where masturbation in front of the priest was initiation.
It's aimed at the church that allowed the abuse to occur – by moving the priests from one parish to another after receiving reports of past abuse, instead of reporting it directly to the police.
"You change the name of the institution and everything's the same," says Patrick Westfall, 47, son of Catherine, who was abused by Stinner. "The playbook is straight from the Vatican."
Earlier abuse revealed
Pipala, who was youth minister in Monroe and Goshen, offered shelter and guidance to troubled boys like the 13-year-old who was cutting school, smoking cigarettes and drinking. Since the boy's father wasn't around, his mother wanted Pipala to become a father figure. So she had the priest over for dinner and encouraged her son to spend nights with the priest. She even gave him the T-shirt that said, "Trust Me, I'm a Father."
Stinner did the same. He made sure Westfall got good grades at John S. Burke – without studying. He also made sure he made the soccer team – without that much talent, Westfall says.
And then, after the priests abused the boys and their parents reported it, the families learned from news reports that there had been previous reports of that abuse in other churches and schools where the priests had served. Yet the church still let the priests near children.
So as much as the abuse of the boys hurt, that pain drilled even deeper because the priests destroyed something the victims held most sacred – their belief in God – and his representatives on earth, those priests.
"When an institution that was a conduit to God betrays you, Oh God, what do you have left?" Potter says.
So while many of the victims and their families have moved on – raising families, holding jobs, even attending church – others remain prisoners of that burning pain. It's a pain that's ignited when they pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV and learn of yet another case of hushed-up abuse, by Sandusky and Penn State, by the Boy Scouts, by a church or any religious group.
That's why one mother of a boy in Pipala's sex club, who named him the godfather of another younger child, demanded that the church "take his g..damn name" off the registry (of godparents).
Other once devout victims and parents haven't set foot in church for years.
One victim, now a father, won't join his family in blessings before a meal.
Another victim, abused by Stinner when the former priest coached soccer at a high school in Rockland County, can no longer stand the game he once loved.
A mom won't let young relatives go away to sleep away camp – or shower in a locker room with only the coach around. "There's almost no place to turn," says one mother thumbing through a folder of worn newspaper clippings of abuse cases. "It's with you every day. Every single day."