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  Victim: 'I'm Not Going to Let Him Destroy My Life'
David Gagnon Tries to Move Past the Pain of Being Abused As a Teen-Ager by a Priest He Trusted

By John Richardson
Portland Press Herald (Maine)
February 17, 2002

As a teen-ager, David Gagnon was the model son of a French Catholic family. He was a former altar boy and a singer in the church choir.

Gagnon was urged to become a priest, but he saw musical ministry as his career. He was the only child of protective parents, a trusting teen in no big hurry to grow up.

But Gagnon says his adolescence ended abruptly at age 15, when the Rev. Michael Doucette, who was then a parish priest in Biddeford, started sexually abusing him. The abuse, and the reaction of church officials who wanted to keep it quiet, still affects every aspect of his life, he said.

He has spent the past 22 years recovering from the abuse that occurred over a period of three years.

"I'm determined I'm not going to let Mike win. There's no way that Doucette is winning this battle. I'm not going to let him destroy my life. That's the cornerstone of the battle for me."

Although neither Doucette nor the Diocese of Portland would name his victim, David Gagnon, his family and others familiar with the case say he was the 15-year-old boy who Doucette admitted abusing.

Doucette and diocesan officials have acknowledged the pain suffered by his victim. Doucette, in fact, asked parishioners last Sunday to pray for the person he victimized, but did not name.

Gagnon, who is now 37, has become an outspoken advocate for victims.

"David's a really courageous guy," said Cynthia Desrosiers, a victim of sexual abuse by a priest and coordinator of a support network in Maine.

But that does not mean Gagnon has moved beyond the pain caused by his molestation. For Gagnon and his family, and for the church itself, the ripples of pain are still spreading.

As Claudette Gagnon, his mother, simply explains: "It's ongoing."

"It has been hell," David Gagnon said. "I would not even wish this on Doucette."

Growing up in a traditional French Catholic culture, the priest's starched white collar conveyed complete respect and complete trust, Gagnon said. Doucette also was a friend of Gagnon's family and a leader of the youth group at St. Andre's Parish.

Gagnon said Doucette arranged for them to be alone, touched him and told him to perform sexual acts on him numerous times.

Gagnon said he was intensely frightened, confused and guilty.

The abuse ended after Gagnon grew more confident and able to resist, he said. But, for 10 years, he couldn't bring himself to tell anyone, not his friends, not his girlfriend, not his parents.

"It was a complete and total violation of myself - emotionally, spiritually and sexually," he said. "It was a constant battle of trying to forget."

Living in Ottawa in 1991, he saw a television news interview with the victim of sexual abuse by a priest there.

"I first understood what had happened to me was not a misunderstanding, it was sexual abuse," he said.

Gagnon remembers shaking with fear as he confronted Bishop Joseph Gerry in Portland in 1991. At 26, his healing reached a new stage, painful in different ways. And, he said, the diocese's reactions only made it worse.

Doucette and the church offered him money to not sue and to keep quiet, he said. Gagnon told police, but it was too late to file charges because of the statute of limitations.

He said the church provided therapy for a while. Gagnon eventually agreed to an out-of-court settlement that would pay for therapy but require him not to discuss the case publicly. Neither Gagnon nor church officials would disclose the amount of money in the settlement.

Unable to name his abuser, Gagnon said he lived in fear that Doucette might hurt other boys in other parishes. A church-funded evaluation concluded Doucette was not a threat to other children, and there have been no other allegations, according to the diocese.

The revelation that Doucette had abused Gagnon exploded through Gagnon's family.

Some members of his extended family turned on him for attacking their church and God, he said. Gagnon's parents, once friends of Doucette's, were supportive but horrified. "It was utterly devastating. I really don't think my father will ever recover," he said.

Gagnon's mother started a Maine Chapter of SNAP - Survivor Network for those Abused by Priests.

Gagnon's life seemed normal, even successful, on the outside. He earned a bachelor's degree in pastoral sciences and a master's degree in music ministry.

But it wasn't normal.

"He totally derailed my own natural development."

Gagnon said he has had strong relationships with women, but hits an emotional wall when it comes to being physically intimate. "It's a kind of paralysis."

Gagnon also is convinced that his coming forward in 1991 derailed his career working as a worship coordinator and music director in Catholic parishes in Ottawa. He was fired from one parish right after reporting the abuse, and has been rejected from other jobs, for reasons that were never explained to him, he said.

Gagnon said he is now unemployed, broke and ready to give up on a career in the church.

But his inner healing may have reached a new, positive stage last week, he and his family said.

Gagnon's mother said that, even in her son's voice over the telephone, it is clear that a weight has been lifted from him. "It relieves you," Claudette Gagnon said.

"I'm glad now that the public knows he's an abuser," Gagnon said.

But he still thinks the diocese's statements and policies are putting people at risk and prolonging the pain of victims. He said he has even asked to address the people of Doucette's parish, so they can have "all the facts."

Gagnon said he's fortunate to have avoided the fate of some victims who turn to drug and alcohol abuse, crime, suicide or who even become abusers themselves.

"I am not going to continue this cycle of abuse," he said. "That's one good thing that comes out of all this. At least the buck stops here."

 
 

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