Man relives a personal hell to tell story of boyhood abuse by priest in Maine
By Eric Russell
Portland Press Herald
March 6, 2016
|Neal Gumpel, 57, regularly protests outside the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, the Manhattan headquarters of the Society of Jesus. Gumpel says he was sexually molested by a Jesuit priest, the Rev. Roy Drake, during a visit to Maine Maritime Academy in Castine in June 1974. |
Photo by Michael Rubenstein
|The Rev. Roy Drake taught at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine for a stretch in the 1970s. He died in 2008.|
|Protesting outside the Jesuits’ headquarters in New York, Neal Gumpel of Connecticut says he’s been seeking some official acknowledgment from the Roman Catholic Church for the abuse he says he suffered at the hands of the Rev. Roy Drake at Maine Maritime Academy in 1974. Drake’s own twin brother says the priest admitted to him he “was a pedophile.”|
For 40 years, Neal Gumpel kept the details locked away in a dark corner of his memory.
Details about the night he met the Rev. Roy Drake while visiting his brother at Maine Maritime Academy. The night Drake violently molested him. The night everything changed.
Though he kept it hidden, the encounter shaped his entire life. It led to alcohol and drug abuse, helped ruin his first marriage, kept him awake nights and even affected his health.
“It sounds dire, but I felt like I was at a point where I had to come forward or I was going to kill myself,” Gumpel said.
At the urging of his wife, Helen, who feared she was losing her husband, Gumpel contacted Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston lawyer who has represented hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by clergy and helped expose a massive cover-up of pedophile priests by the Catholic Church.
During that call in May 2013, Gumpel told Garabedian everything, thinking – hoping – that his pain finally would be acknowledged, that the church would take responsibility for what was done to him.
As it turned out, Garabedian already knew about Drake. He had helped secure a public apology and financial settlement a few years earlier for another of Drake’s victims, a man named Richard Cerick, who said the priest raped him in the 1960s in New York when he was just 13. The details of Cerick’s allegations were strikingly similar to what Gumpel endured in Maine years later.
Gumpel ended that initial phone conversation feeling hopeful that the church would issue a public apology and offer compensation.
But it hasn’t happened.
Since The Boston Globe uncovered the scope of the clergy abuse scandal through its Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories in 2002 – the basis for the movie “Spotlight,” which won the Oscar for best picture last Sunday – the Catholic Church has settled thousands of cases with victims of priest sex abuse for tens of millions of dollars.
But not everybody gets justice. Sometimes, the church digs in and says no. That’s what happened to Gumpel.
Now, he protests regularly outside the Manhattan headquarters of the Society of Jesus, the order of the Catholic Church that held jurisdiction over Drake for most of his life. Gumpel said he’ll continue protesting as long as he’s able.
“It’s all I have,” he said.
• • •
Gumpel, 57, who lives in Connecticut, told his story to a reporter in January in a hotel lobby overlooking the Charles River in Boston.
The trip to Maine Maritime Academy came in late June 1974 when he was 16. His brother, Stephen, was a junior engineering student at the small college in Castine.
Gumpel, one of 10 siblings in an Irish Catholic family, said he was a popular kid but didn’t do well in school. He was visiting MMA to see if the college might be a good fit for him, as it was for Stephen.
He drove the seven hours from his parents’ home in Port Chester, New York, with a friend.
Upon arriving in Castine, Gumpel’s brother said he and the friend could stay with Roy Drake, a charismatic young professor with an apartment near campus.
Gumpel said the arrangement seemed strange but he was young and didn’t question it.
Drake had come to Maine Maritime Academy in 1973 to teach chemistry. Although he was a Jesuit priest – an order of the Catholic Church whose members focus on education and evangelization – there is no evidence that he celebrated Mass or led any religious services while in Castine. The church has said he was on a “leave of absence,” and little else is known about Drake’s time in Maine.
The night started innocently, Gumpel said. He and a bunch of other young men gathered in Drake’s apartment. There was alcohol and marijuana. One by one, the others left, until Gumpel and his friend were alone with Drake.
Gumpel declined to identify his friend, saying he didn’t think it was fair to bring him into the story without his consent. The two haven’t spoken in years.
Gumpel said his friend had passed out on the couch. Drake started talking about boxing. He opened up a cabinet in the kitchen that was lined with bottles of Jack Daniel’s.
“Next thing I know, he’s pouring it and I’m drinking Jack Daniel’s,” Gumpel said.
Drake showed the teen a pornographic movie featuring gay men. He asked him if that “did anything for him.” Gumpel said it did not.
Then Drake began talking about sex, asking Gumpel about his own sexual encounters.
“He was saying stuff like, ‘Oh, you wouldn’t know what to do,’ ” Gumpel said. “But he was getting angry about it. Then he started punching me. It was playful at first but forceful, you know. I started to get really nervous.”
Drake left the living room and Gumpel said he panicked. He left the apartment and frantically ran toward campus, but it was late and most students had already left for summer break. Then he remembered that his friend was still passed out at Drake’s apartment. So he went back.
“He was standing there outside the door and said to me, ‘Where did you go?’ I told him I went to look for my brother,” Gumpel said.
That’s when it happened.
Drake, who was tall and thin but muscular, slammed Gumpel on the counter inside the kitchen. He put his hand down the back of Gumpel’s pants and sodomized him with his fingers.
“It was so violent,” Gumpel said, his voice shaking. “He was lifting me off the ground. I was fighting him with everything I had, but he was as strong as an ox.
“I never really believed in angels or demons or ghosts until that night. Because when he turned me around and looked at me, his eyes were black. I’m talking scary, horror film black.”
Then Drake put his hand down the front of Gumpel’s pants and fondled his genitals violently, choking Gumpel with his other hand.
“He was saying things like no one could stop him and he didn’t care who knew,” Gumpel said. “Then I lost consciousness.”
When he came to, Drake was gone.
Gumpel said he stayed on the couch until the sun came up the next day. When he heard sounds from the other room, he pretended to be asleep. Then he watched through mostly closed eyes as Drake came out of the bedroom fully dressed, fixed a cup of coffee and left.
“As soon as I knew he was gone, I got up, helped my friend get dressed and then we drove all the way home,” Gumpel said.
Before he left Castine, Gumpel tried calling his parents in New York. When his mother answered the phone, he said: “Mom, I need help. I was just attacked by a priest.”
That same night, back in Port Chester, where Gumpel’s father was a well-known doctor, there had been a massive fire at a local restaurant called Gulliver’s. Twenty-four people died, and dozens more were injured. It was one of the biggest tragedies of that year anywhere in the country. His father was running triage at the hospital, his mother told him.
“She basically said: ‘I don’t care what happened to you. Do you realize what we’re going through here?’ ” Gumpel said.
If his own family wouldn’t believe him, he thought at the time, no one would.
• • •
Soon after his encounter with Drake, Gumpel began to withdraw from his friends, especially the friend who accompanied him to Maine. He gave away his drum sets. He started using drugs. He gave up on college.
He did catering work for most of his early adulthood and then got into screenwriting, somewhat by accident. He worked with the Irish film director Jim Sheridan and sold a script to Dreamworks. He said he was successful for a time but never really hit it big.
He also struggled with anxiety, depression and alcoholism, a combination that ruined his first marriage and strained his relationships with his three children, now grown. Those relationships are better now and Gumpel has two grandsons, all of which he says bring him a little happiness.
He’s still a screenwriter but hasn’t written much recently. He says his “creative juices are drained.” He has had health problems, too, which played a role in his decision to share the story of his abuse.
“I think he’s never really dealt with what happened and it’s taken a tremendous toll,” said his wife, a former fashion model and actress.
She pushed her husband to address it, partly for selfish reasons: She wants her husband back.
Robert Hoatson, a former Catholic priest who founded a nonprofit, Road to Recovery, to assist victims of sexual assault, has gotten to know Gumpel and said it’s obvious his past left him broken.
“His is a classic case of a life that went off the rails,” Hoatson said.
The statute of limitations for both criminal charges and civil lawsuits had long passed by the time Gumpel called Garabedian, but the lawyer contacted the church anyway because of Drake’s past abuse.
Before MMA, Drake was at the Jesuit-affiliated Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx from 1965 to 1971, according to the Official Catholic Directory of clergy. It was during that time that he abused a then-13-year-old Richard Cerick in his Bronx apartment.
Cerick came forward about a decade ago and received a public apology and a mid-six-figure settlement.
“Mitchell told me, ‘The church is making good on these claims and your story is very credible,'” Gumpel said. “Right then, I thought, ‘This is great.’ ”
• • •
The church conducted its own investigation into Gumpel’s allegations.
Drake had died three years before Gumpel came forward. So church attorneys questioned the alleged victim. They asked him everything, not just about his interaction with Drake but about his wife and children, his drinking, whether he had ever been hospitalized for mental health reasons. He had.
Garabedian believes the church was attacking his client’s credibility, the way a defense attorney might do to a witness on the stand.
Michael Berardino, an attorney who represents the U.S.A. Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus, could not talk about Gumpel’s case but provided a statement.
It said that the alleged abuse occurred while Drake was on a “leave of absence,” and that he was employed by Maine Maritime, not the church.
“The allegations made were investigated in a thorough and comprehensive manner by the province,” Berardino said. He didn’t say what the investigation found.
Garabedian said the church offered Gumpel an apology, but not a public one, and to pay for a couple of years of counseling.
The lawyer called the offer an insult and said the church’s claim that Drake was not its responsibility at the time is absurd.
“You’re a priest until you renounce or are defrocked,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on leave.”
Garabedian said it’s likely that the church allowed Drake to go to Maine on leave because he was already suspected of abuse in New York. The Boston Globe’s investigation revealed a pattern of shuffling around priests who had been accused of sexual abuse.
It’s likely that MMA had no idea who Drake was or anything of his background.
William Brennan, the school’s president since 2010, said he was made aware of the allegations in late 2014 and referred them to the Maine Attorney General’s Office, which is standard.
After the Telegram asked about Drake’s employment there, MMA hired a Portland attorney, Peter DeTroy, to investigate Drake’s time at the college. That investigation revealed little, Brennan said, other than the fact that Drake was an unremarkable teacher for a period in the 1970s but never practiced as a priest while there.
Brennan said he has no way of knowing whether Gumpel’s claim is true, and found no evidence of other victims. He offered sympathy to Gumpel nonetheless.
“The whole thing troubled me obviously,” he said. “My heart goes out to anyone in this situation.”
• • •
With almost every story of suspected abuse, there is doubt. The abuse usually occurs without physical evidence or outside witnesses. And in Gumpel’s case, he’s the only one alive who knows the truth.
His brother Stephen, the one who encouraged Gumpel to stay at Drake’s apartment, said he has no memory of the night of June 29, 1974. He said he remembers Drake as “flamboyant” and “theatrical” and “a little strange,” but doesn’t remember his brother’s visit.
Stephen didn’t learn about the alleged abuse until a few years ago, from another sibling. He and Neal don’t talk, for reasons beyond what happened decades ago.
“It very well could have happened,” Stephen said by telephone. After graduating from MMA in 1975, he spent more than three decades as a merchant mariner and now is a vice president for the American Bureau of Shipping, based in New York.
Marilyn Norton, a clinical social worker in Cumberland, was Stephen’s girlfriend in the 1970s. She said she often visited Stephen at MMA but wasn’t there that weekend in 1974. Norton does, however, remember Drake, who was known as “Drake the Snake,” she said. When she asked about him once, Stephen told her, “Don’t worry, he’s interested in young boys, not girls,” Norton recalled.
Another person who has bolstered Gumpel’s story is George Drake, Roy Drake’s identical twin brother. George is 85 and lives in Washington. He and his brother, despite being identical twins, were not close. But George knew about his brother’s sins.
“My brother admitted to me he was a pedophile and that the church had to pay over a million dollars to settle a charge against him,” he told a Sunday Telegram reporter. “How can that church now claim that they have no responsibility?”
Hoatson, who has assisted dozens of victims, said cases like Gumpel’s are more common than people think.
“If they can get away with it, they are going to deny,” he said, referring to the church. “In some cases, I think they dig their heels in for fear that one settlement might open the floodgates. What I don’t understand is that they knew about Roy Drake when Neal came forward.”
Gumpel said he’s still angry at the Jesuits. The hardest part has been having to retell and relive the abuse, only to be told by the church: Sorry, we can’t help you.
He also gets angry whenever someone refers to him as a survivor.
“I don’t feel like I survived anything,” he said. “I think a part of me died that night.”