East Haven man wants Bridgeport diocese to help him heal from abuse
By Ed Stannard
September 29, 2019
|John Seymour of East Haven, who was sexually abused by three priests, with his Labrador retriever Chip. |
Photo by Peter Hvizdak
EAST HAVEN — John Seymour turned 55 on Saturday, but there are times when he feels like a 6-year-old bundle of pain.
That’s when the abuse started. That’s when he said the Rev. Joseph Malloy anally raped him in St. James Roman Catholic Church in Stratford, in the sacristy, where the priests prepare themselves to celebrate Mass and lead the people in worshiping Jesus Christ.
The flashbacks come without warning, causing Seymour to clench his jaw so hard he has broken seven teeth. “A year ago I was suicidal. … I found myself three times in the process of committing suicide,” he said.
He has spent thousands in therapy, and all he wants is for the Diocese of Bridgeport to pay for his treatment. But all he’s been offered is $5,000. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which he believes was exacerbated by his service in the Middle East during the Gulf War era as an Air Force master sergeant, though he did not see combat.
Seymour receives $1,403.71 per month in disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs. His claim for higher benefits was denied because, according to the VA, his disability is not service related.
Malloy, a cousin of former Gov. Dannel Malloy, died in 2016. While he denied the accusations of sexual abuse, the Diocese of Bridgeport named him in a $12 million settlement in 2001 along with five other priests. However, the diocese lists Joseph Malloy among those priests who its review committee did not determine was credibly accused.
Seymour said Joseph Malloy “was a brand new priest when I was at St. James. I was kind of a loner already and I used to bring flowers to the nuns.” A listing of accused priests on the website of the law firm Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney of Bridgeport lists St. James as Malloy’s first parish, serving there from 1971 to 1974.
Seymour said he didn’t tell his parents about the rape. “The only thing I told my mother was he didn’t spank me, and she said that was a good thing,” he said. “All I know is that my body exploded in pain somehow.”
His memories are like snapshots in time, which he cannot always place in the correct order. “I remember going inside myself. I remember not seeing anything. I remember disappearing. My brain was in complete and total panic mode.”
Two other priests whom Seymour has accused of abuse are also dead. One, the Rev. Raymond Pcolka, died in 2009, after the Diocese of Bridgeport settled lawsuits with 23 of his victims. He “would play kind of sick and twisted games,” Seymour said, involving oral sex.
“I was kneeling and there was another altar boy kneeling as well and he had his penis out,” Seymour said. A nun discovered them “and just say, ‘Ray,’ ” Seymour said, breaking into tears.
In the case of a third priest, Msgr. Joseph Murphy, who died in 1988, Seymour’s is the only accusation, according to diocesan spokesman Brian Wallace, who said that any accusations made against priests, living or dead, are thoroughly investigated, no matter when they may have occurred.
“I think it was only once or twice and I think that was [an] out-of-the-blue opportunistic thing,” Seymour said.
Gail Howard, Connecticut co-leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told him, “Even if that was the only thing that happened to you, it would have turned your world upside down.”
Seymour, who is unable to hold a conversation on the phone, is frustrated that he cannot get the diocese to pay for his therapy. “The world expects me to overcome my symptoms in order to ask for help,” he said.
The abuse made Seymour’s life difficult. He said he had no childhood friends, was bullied at Fairfield Prep high school — once buried in sand up to his neck, thinking he would die — and he has had three failed marriages.
“When your mind doesn’t make sense to anyone else, it’s very difficult to have a relationship,” he said. He does have a 33-year-old son.
For much of his life Seymour has lived through his trauma with blank spaces in his memory. “People would never have known that I was not experiencing what I was doing, to be honest,” he said. “Literally my brain jumps to something else to think about. … My train of thought is not something I can keep together.”
At times he’ll simply sit and stare at the wall. “I look at the clock and four hours have passed,” he said. “The clock just jumps. If the clock wasn’t there, I’d tell you it was two minutes.”
Seymour had a successful career as a network engineer at General Dynamics and Subway, for which he’s thankful, because he made enough money to pay the $1,365 a month for therapy. But when his flashbacks started, he left Subway because he had gone on disability once and feared losing it if he took time off again.
“I would not be alive if I was not making really good money when this happened to me, if I did not have savings,” he said.
Now he trains guide dogs for the blind, and has a pet Labrador retriever named Chip, who failed the guide program because he’s blind in one eye, as is Seymour.
“I can’t reach out for help,” Seymour said. “When I finally get hold of somebody, for them to say I have to do more stuff when I’ve spent years reaching out, it’s disheartening.”
But he has improved with therapy. “I’ve done a lot of progress since January,” he said. “Right now … I spend about half my time able to experience, which is actually not as wonderful as it might sound. … It’s frightening at first.”
He uses medical marijuana to help him sleep. “It also helps when I’m having real bad panic attacks,” he said. He criticized the medical marijuana program for its lack of guidance in finding doctors and in determining what strains of marijuana to use. He uses low doses with half CBD and half THC.
While he said he’s improving with therapy, Seymour said, at this point, his biggest frustration is with the diocese.
“The big injury is how I was treated in the last year. The church reached out to me and said it would help. … All I’d want them to do is pay for my therapy. My choice right now is to quit therapy or find a place to live. Quitting therapy is a death sentence.” He said he may end up living on a boat.
He said he was approached by the diocese’s lawyer. “The help I need is to pay for my therapy. Instead they tried to get me in the legal system. That’s not what I want,” he said.
The three Catholic dioceses have released lists of priests who have been accused of sexual abuse and Bridgeport Bishop Frank Caggiano launched an investigation led by retired Superior Court Judge Robert L. Holzberg. Holzberg will issue his report on Tuesday.
The Diocese of Bridgeport’s April 23 letter offering Seymour $5,000 said, “we have done as complete an investigation as possible into your allegations,” but that investigators had not been able to reach anyone he named in order to corroborate his story. The letter continued, however, that diocesan staff are “acutely aware of your personal trauma and are extremely sympathetic to your difficulties.”
The letter, signed by diocesan Secretary Anne O. McCrory, said staff had spoken with his therapist and “were able to get a better sense of the work you are doing to heal and work through your difficulties. For this opportunity, we are most grateful.”
The offer of $5,000 was made to help pay “for your ongoing care, both physical and emotional,” according to the letter. “John, we certainly always want to accompany you and assist you in your healing journey and want you to know that the resources of the Diocese and our healing ministry are available to you. However, should you choose to accept the financial assistance offered, we will consider this a final resolution of any financial obligation of the Diocese to assist with the costs of your counseling or other expenses.”
Wallace said the $5,000 offer came from a fund created by a donor specifically to help those who are outside the statute of limitations “to give them some support to reach out to us right away. … It’s not meant as any long-term settlement because they’re beyond the statutes. … We would encourage him to come back and work with us.”
A new bishop
Wallace said Caggiano, who was installed in September 2013, is “totally and fully committed to transparency and accountability in every way.” When he became bishop, Caggiano held listening sessions with abuse survivors and “out of those early meetings came the victims and survivors group that we have,” Wallace said.
The diocese also has listed all priests who have been accused, including those, like Joseph Malloy, who were included in settlements without a finding of a credible accusation.
Members of the support group, some of whom now speak to groups and to those who come forward with accusations, said Caggiano has proven to be committed to helping them.
Peter Philipp of Bristol, a member of the group, said Caggiano “relies on the survivors to give him advice. We’re very fortunate. A lot of these bishops — could they be any worse?”
Philipp said the first meeting was held in January 2015. “There were about 21 of us and we met at Fairfield University, and the idea was for us simply to tell what happened to us,” he said. “I think all of us in the room, including Bishop Caggiano, wondered what was going to happen.”
He said Caggiano built trust by simply listening the first time they met. “You could trust him. He’s a man of his word,” Philipp said.
He said the group will listen to anyone’s story if they attend a meeting, but that the focus is on moving forward. He said the group will accept anyone who has been sexually abused. “We don’t want anybody to feel like they’re out there on their own,” he said.
“It helps us all by getting together,” Philipp said. “A lot of those people are my friends now. … People who are out there alone, like husbands who have never told wives — our group is where you can begin to tell about that.”
The group meets at the diocesan center, he said, because meeting at public places like libraries “didn’t really encourage people to come.” But, he said, if Seymour or others felt uncomfortable coming to the Jewell Avenue center, “We’d be happy to make arrangement to meet someplace else. It’s not a problem at all. It’s our business to serve. All of us are in different places in our journey.”
Philipp said he considers those who have been abused survivors, not victims. “Otherwise, the priest wins, and a lot of these priests are dead and there’s nothing you can do.”
David D’Andrea of Greenwich, who, like Philipp, speaks publicly about his abuse, said the survivors group has “really been tremendous. Probably the best thing that ever happened.”
He said the outreach by the diocese, led by Erin Neil, a social worker who is director of safe environment and victim assistance coordinator, is “amazing.” There is a Mass of Hope and Healing held twice a year. There is a survivor and witness hotline at 833-990-0004 and a website to report abuse: www.lighthouse-services.com/diobpt.
“It helped me a lot to be out there,” D’Andrea said. “I’ve given my story a lot of places. … I just cannot say enough good about Caggiano. He’s the real deal. … As far as Bridgeport goes, he will clean it out.” D’Andrea said he’s become “more forgiving of the person” who abused him.
With the release of the priests’ names — many of whom are dead — Howard asked, “Why is Connecticut not investigating the Catholic Church? That’s what we’re asking. … Here we are in Connecticut, the dioceses have issued lists but why should we believe the church when they’ve been caught over and over lying about it?”
One reason is the statute of limitations, which, beginning Tuesday, will be extended three years, until a victim is 51 years old, three years longer than before. However, SNAP and others had wanted a 27-month window lifting the statute of limitations and eliminating it for anyone now younger than 48 if an incident occurs after Oct. 1.
The law also establishes a commission to determine whether the time limit should be extended further, but Howard said only half the members have been appointed.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said the statute of limitations prevents his office from investigating many claims. “There are many of them that are beyond the statute of limitations and we’re not going to investigate cases that are beyond the statute of limitations,” he said. “We’ve tried to make it clear to people … that any victims that come forward, they’ll be investigated” if their time hasn’t run out.
He said his office won’t initiate an investigation and interfere in people’s lives if they’re not willing. “We don’t want to go knocking on victims’ doors,” he said. “If they don’t come forward, we don’t want to interject ourselves into their lives. I think it’s a terrible intrusion into their lives. These cases really have to begin and end with a cooperative and willing victim.”
Kane said extending or eliminating the statute of limitations wouldn’t necessarily resolve many more cases. “The older a case gets, the harder it is to prove, no matter what the case is,” he said.
Seymour said the statute of limitations is unfair to those who are only able to come forward later in life. “I can’t help that it took 48 years to remember it,” he sad. “It just means I was capable of handling it longer. Gee, thank you.”