Ahead of Pope Francis’ Visit, Survivors of Sexual Abuse Take Stock
By Vivian Yee
New York Times
September 15, 2015
|Dan Ogrodowski was sexually assaulted by a priest as a child, while attending St. Augustine of Hippo, left, in Milwaukee. Like many victims, he wants Pope Francis to stop the church from spending millions to fight lawsuits and unseal the names of thousands of accused priests. |
Dan Ogrodowski stayed silent into middle age. He expected to go to the grave, he said, without speaking out about the Milwaukee priest who had raped him as a child.
But now, embittered by what he calls the Roman Catholic Church’s continued betrayal of abuse survivors, he is publicly describing his childhood torment for the first time, hoping that Pope Francis will prioritize the needs of victims and will hold priests and bishops accountable during his visit to the United States this month.
“Pope Francis said these beautiful words about reparations and weeping for us,” Mr. Ogrodowski said. “How could he watch us be pummeled for years?”
Francis is likely to meet privately with victims of abuse during his visit, as Pope Benedict XVI did during his 2008 trip to the United States, according to church officials. But Mr. Ogrodowski and many other survivors of abuse say the church has yet to live up to its promise of reconciliation. They want Francis to stop the church from spending millions of dollars to fight sexual abuse lawsuits and keeping sealed the names of thousands of accused priests, as well as the outcomes of some disciplinary cases sent to the Vatican.
“I think the time for lofty words has kind of passed,” said Barbara Blaine, the president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a victims’ advocacy group that is planning events in a dozen cities to highlight the issue during the pope’s visit.
She added: “He’s going to be addressing the man-made problems that contribute to global warming and the destruction of the earth. What about the man-made problem of destroying the innocence and the lives of so many?”
New cases involving active priests are rare, but there are still indications of a continuing struggle over transparency. Last week was the start of the federal trial for a Pennsylvania priest, the Rev. Joseph D. Maurizio, who is accused of sexually abusing boys in an orphanage in Honduras for which he raised money.
Allegations of abuse were reported to his diocese nearly five years before church authorities removed him as a pastor last September, according to court records.
Advocates and victims say that while the church has improved in preventing abuse, it is still resisting full accountability. It blocks efforts to overhaul statute of limitations laws that protect many priests from prosecution and the church from lawsuits that could lead to more payouts to victims, they say. Outside the United States, the church still does not require those who face accusations of abuse to be removed from active ministry. And the Vatican has never explicitly punished a bishop for shielding accused priests, instead quietly accepting a few resignations.
Francis has already taken several clear steps to confront the scandal, creating a commission on sexual abuse prevention, which includes abuse survivors, and expressing his intention to appoint a Vatican tribunal to judge bishops accused of shielding priests accused of abuse. During meetings with victims, he has begged for their forgiveness.
This year, he also accepted the resignations of three American bishops — one in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, and two in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — who were criticized for failing to act against pedophile priests.
To Kenneth M. O’Renick, 72, who said he was 6 when a priest offered him milk and cookies and groped him at his parish school in Kansas City, Mo., the bishops’ removal offered proof of Francis’ sincerity.
“This pope has only begun, and I only hope and pray he lives long enough to continue the changes that he has begun,” he said.
To some advocates, however, the move was incomplete: Francis could have done much for transparency simply by confirming that the bishops were removed because of their negligence in abuse cases, they said.
He could also direct archdioceses to release the names of credibly accused American priests, at least 2,400 of whom have never been identified, said Terence McKiernan, the president of BishopAccountability.org, a group that documents clerical sexual abuse.
“One obvious reform Francis could start would be to say to dioceses, ‘Transparency means really being honest about what happened in the past,’ ” Mr. McKiernan said.
Another powerful change, advocates said, would be to extend to the rest of the world the rule, adopted in 2002, that requires American bishops to strip from active ministry priests facing credible accusations of abuse.
“Pope Francis could say that if you’ve ever abused a child, you’re out,” said Joelle Casteix, an abuse victim and longtime victims’ advocate who is publishing a book about preventing sexual abuse. “If you’ve ever covered up for child sexual abuse, you’re out. Everyone reports to the civil authorities, no matter what.”
Mr. Ogrodowski said that only bold action from Francis would allow the healing so many need, even after so many years.
He said that when he was an altar boy in Milwaukee in the early 1970s, he asked a priest, the Rev. Frederick Bistricky, for advice. He was afraid, he said, that his father would go to hell for having killed people in World War II.
The priest was reassuring, saying he had special powers to keep the boy’s father safe. But the priest then began abusing him after Mass every Sunday, Mr. Ogrodowski said, first twisting his nipples after he made mistakes at Mass, then raping him.
Mr. Ogrodowski said he would climb into a trash hauling bin, crying, to throw away his underwear on the way home. He believed that if he told his parents, his father would kill Father Bistricky.
He did tell the pastor of his parish where he was abused, he said, but was brushed off — the last attempt he would make to reveal his abuse for four decades. Father Bistricky was transferred to another parish in 1976. Others later reported that he had abused them, leading to his removal from ministry, but he died in 2006 without ever facing criminal prosecution.
Mr. Ogrodowski, 52, is one of 570 people who have filed reports of abuse against the Milwaukee Archdiocese after it declared bankruptcy in 2011. After long and rancorous negotiations, Archbishop Jerome Listecki announced in August that the archdiocese had reached a $21 million settlement with 330 of the victims.
The amounts for each victim have not been determined. Jerry Topczewski, an archdiocese spokesman, said the number of people receiving payments would most likely rise, but lawyers for the victims said the settlement should have been larger. They also accused the archdiocese of keeping under seal the names of at least 100 priests facing accusations.
Mr. Topczewski said the archdiocese had published the identity of every diocesan priest with a substantiated allegation of abuse — virtually all of whom have died, been removed from the priesthood or barred from public ministry — and had voluntarily posted 60,000 pages of documents about those priests online. The archdiocese is not responsible for accusations against priests in religious orders or lay employees, he said.
“We’ve been very forthcoming, very transparent, very open about all our records, documents, finances,” he said. “We reached an agreement consensually in mediation, and so we hope we can move forward with some resolution, some reconciliation.”
Mr. Ogrodowski said he had hoped the archdiocese would soften its stance and would stop fighting reports of abuse after Francis appeared to be to setting a new course. But little has changed, he said. Far from healing him, he added, coming forward and becoming involved in such a contentious process had only intensified his suffering.
“Who would think that an innocent decision, a decision to be closer to Jesus as a little boy, would result in trauma?” he said.
“I signed up for ‘healing and resolution,’ ” he added. “Not the pain.”