Support Groups Sprout Nationwide to Help Victims

By Debbie Salamone, Gene Yasuda and Jim Leusner
Orlando Sentinel [Florida]
September 17, 1995

No one was around in 1987 when a 27-year-old man walked to the giant shade tree in his front yard, tied a rope between a thick branch and his neck, and jumped off the hood of his car.

No one really knows why the troubled man committed suicide. He had suffered financial, work and relationship problems. He had turned to drugs and alcohol. And he had been sexually abused - by a neighbor and later by the priest he confided in, the man's brother says.

It was painful for the family. But it helped persuade his brother to confront what he says was his own abuse by the same man: Former Orlando Catholic priest Thomas Sykes.

The brother settled out of court with the Catholic Diocese of Orlando several years ago.

In the 1970s, his dead sibling's allegations prompted church officials to force Sykes out of the diocese, according to a deposition Sykes gave in 1987 in a Brevard County case involving another priest accused of molestation.

Sykes did not respond to requests for comment.

The brothers' story of painful memories is not unfamiliar. Dozens of people live with the ugly reminder of abuse by a handful of former Catholic priests in Central Florida.

They are victims of a nationwide problem that has afflicted thousands, prompting the formation of national victims' support groups.

Some cannot talk about the times as children that they slept naked with their priest in a rectory bed. Nor can they talk about the deceitful games that led to sex, or the supposedly innocent touching where friendship took a twisted turn.

Many keep their secret for years, finally coming forward in their 20s and 30s after maturity helped them deal with the emotional fallout. Often, depression, alcohol and drugs have filled their lives.

Some priests endeared themselves to the boys' families - making some parents so trusting that the signs of abuse, or stories from their own children, seemed unbelievable.

Some victims have turned to the courts when they think the church has failed them.

The man who hanged himself never shared details of his abuse, his brother said. Likewise, the surviving brother kept quiet for years. Today, at 36, he talks openly about his alleged abuse in the 1970s at St. John Vianney in Orlando.

"I feel like I should have known better. I should have done something," he says. "When you've been so betrayed and you've been able to put it away and live with it and to have that betrayal come back with the death of a family member ... "


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