Child Sex Abuse Survivor Says Catholic Church’s ‘hush Money’ Settlement Won’t Ease Horrifying Nightmares of Assault
By Kenneth Lovett, Stephen Rex, Brown Reuven Blau
New York Daily News
May 31, 2017
|Peter Marghella (pictured) says he was abused by priest Msgr. Kenneth F. O’Connell in 1973. (PROVIDED)|
When Peter Marghella hurt his ribs wrestling with some friends at summer camp he had no idea it would change his life forever.
Marghella, who was 12 in 1973, was away at Camp Spes Mundi in Hope Falls, when, he says, a priest sodomized him inside a private house.
The priest, Kenneth F. O’Connell, suggested Marghella stay with him after the injury, away from the other campers, so he could keep an eye on him throughout the night.
"Sometime in middle of the night, I woke up and O’Connell had crawled into bed with me naked and sodomized me," Marghella recalled Tuesday.
"I went in and out of consciousness from the pain," he added. "He never said a word the whole time. It was brutal."
O’Connell, who was Chaplain of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting from 1973 to 1975, left the camp next day.
Marghella never saw him again.
|Marghella said he's still furious with the Catholic Church even after accepting the settlement after saying the abuse "sticks with you for your whole life. There's no buying it off." (LUIZ C. RIBEIRO/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS )|
But the memories, and self-loathing, have left a permanent scar, in the form of panic attacks and intense nightmares.
In January, roughly 44 years later, the Archdiocese of New York reached out to Marghella and offered him a "high six figure" settlement as part of its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.
The program, created by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, pays people who were abused by clergy when they were kids.
All told, 118 have received money, and no one has declined, said Joseph Zwilling, an archdiocese spokesman.
"I think that speaks to the integrity of the program," Zwilling said. "People believe they are being treated fairly."
Marghella, now 56, accepted the money, but remains haunted by the abuse, and furious with the Catholic Church.
"The church has never apologized," he said. "It kind of felt like it was hush money, like shut up and go away. I don't think we got the fair shake we were hoping to get in court."
"But how do you get this off your neck?" he asked. "The answer is you don't. It sticks with you for your whole life. There's no buying it off."
Years after the alleged sexual assault, Marghella tried to confront O'Connell, and called his Larchmont church.
That's when he found out O'Connell had been promoted to Monsignor before he died in 1984 at the age of 54.
Professionally, Marghella, a father of three, served in the Navy for 20 years where he oversaw planning for different types of medical catastrophes. In that position, he wrote the national small pox response plan and was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I suppressed everything about the actual memory," he said. "I enlisted in the Navy."
|Retired Naval officer Peter Marghella is tortured to this day by memories of abuse, nearly 45 years ago, by the Rev. Kenneth O’Connell at a church-run summer camp. (OBTAINED BY NEWS)|
But he was unable to completely forget.
He began to suffer nearly paralyzing panic attacks and twice came close committing suicide, including one near attempt when he was in Bahrain before the first Gulf War when he put a loaded gun in his mouth.
"It's like an awake nightmare," he said about the panic attacks. "Your heart begins to palpate and you feel like you're being crushed. It's hard to breath. You sweat profusely. Your eyes dart all over the place. You look like a wild animal in a cage."
"This went on for years," he added. "I sort of learned to control it. I became an exercise fanatic."
Shortly after 9/11, he looked into filing a lawsuit against the Archdiocese.
But the case was never brought due New York's strict statute of limitations which requires victims to come forward by age 23 with their abuse charges.
|Pietro Marghella at age 7. (HANDOUT)|
With three weeks to go in the legislative session, advocates are still pushing for passage of a Child Victims Act that would do away with the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases, create a one-year window so survivors who can't bring cases under current law could do so, and treat public and private institutions the same.
The bill still faces a tough road in the GOP-controlled Senate, where it has been blocked for years.
Gov. Cuomo has said the issue would be a priority for him this legislation session, which is scheduled to end June 21. The Assembly currently has a bill that advocates dubbed too weak.
The Daily News launched a campaign last year to pressure officeholders to support the Child Victims Act.
As for the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, Marghella was eligible under Phase I which covered people who previously documented allegations of abuse to the Archdiocese. By accepting settlements, they consented to never file their cases in court.
Phase II of the program covers anyone who files a new claim of abuse against the Archdiocese. That stage is underway with a July 1 deadline.
As for O’Connell, the majority of his close relatives have also passed away. Calls seeking comment from other relations were not returned.
Marghella’s lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, who is played by Stanley Tucci in the movie "Spotlight," hailed his client's courage.
“In coming forward,” he said, “Pete has empowered himself, other sexual abuse victims and made the world a safe place for children.”