"a Nightmare." Man Tells All, Says He Was Abused by Mississippi Priest More Than 75 Times
By Sarah Fowler
Mississippi Clarion Ledger
January 22, 2019
Mark Belenchia remembers the first time he saw his would-be abuser.
Belenchia was playing third base, wearing a white, wool baseball uniform with green socks pulled up to his knees. A matching green hat covered his mop of dark brown hair. He was 12 years old.
The year was 1968, and the Rev. Bernard Haddican had just arrived in Shelby, a small town nestled in the Mississippi Delta. From his position on the field, Belenchia saw Haddican arrive, mingling with parents and parishioners of St. Mary's Church, the local Catholic parish. He was in street clothes and was personable. No one in Shelby had ever met a priest like him.
"All of the priests prior to him stayed real close to the church, in the rectory," Belenchia said. "They didn't get out in the community and, when they did, they were always dressed in black, with their collar on. That's the way priests presented themselves.
"He showed up at the Little League baseball game and he wasn't in a collar. Here he was, this breath of fresh air, coming into our town. He was different. He took up with the youth, he was at a baseball game. It was a moment to be proud and to relish, 'Here's our guy.'
"The protestant preachers, their kids were there and they might have been an umpire or a coach or whatever. We just didn't have that...it knocked down a bunch of shields right there, just because he came and saw a Little League baseball game."
Six months later, give or take, Belenchia says, Haddican touched his penis for the first time. The abuse would progress. It continued for years.
In hindsight, Belenchia believes he was being groomed by Haddican from the moment the priest met him.
The church announced in November that dioceses in Mississippi and Alabama would be releasing the names of priests who were removed from the ministry after allegations of abuse. Haddican, who has since died, was never removed from the ministry.
Belenchia said by sharing his story with the Clarion Ledger, he's hoping the Jackson Diocese will feel compelled to go ahead and release the names of priests identified as abusers.
Maureen Smith, communications director for the Jackson Diocese, said the list of names is expected to be released this spring.