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Preyed upon by a Man of Prayer
Metro Priest Betrayed Sons, Two Families Say

By Gayle White
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
April 21, 2002

[Note from BishopAccountability.org: This article has been redacted at the request of one of the survivors mentioned in it. His name has been replaced with son, and his parent's names have been replaced with mother and father. Other identifiying details have also been redacted.]

There is a surreal sense to the reunion of friends. The coffee is hot and aromatic and the apple pie is served on heirloom pink glass plates.

But the bond shared by the two couples around the oval kitchen table is a Roman Catholic priest they say molested their sons two decades ago in Dunwoody.

Old wounds feel fresh again for Jan and Frank Larango and father and mother), who gathered at the Larango home in redacted this month to talk about their experiences in the light of widespread charges of sexual misconduct by Roman Catholic priests around the world. Their lingering pain illustrates the ripple effect of holy men who break their trust. Hundreds of people from Boston to Los Angeles have recently come forward to say they have been victimized by clergymen. Their feelings of betrayal are magnified by the realization church leaders sometimes moved child molesters from parish to parish.

The cumulative effect is rocking the church all the way to the Vatican. American cardinals are headed to Rome, summoned by Pope John Paul II, for meetings Tuesday and Wednesday on the crisis in the church.

"We are concerned about the effect this has on people's lives and their families," said Atlanta Roman Catholic Archbishop John Donoghue. "We feel it's proper to offer whatever help we can."

Yet repercussions seldom end when abuse stops and can deeply affect families, parishes and communities.

Lost innocence

The four parents in the Larango kitchen have kept in touch over the years. Mother, 75, plump, gray-haired and a mother of redacted, sits at one end of the table. On her right is her husband, father, 78, wiry and tough, a retired redacted who spent most of his career working for the redacted.

Across from him is Jan Larango, 63, with dark hair and eyes. Her husband, Frank, 72, is a mild-mannered retired funeral director.

Fourteen years after hearing allegations of sexual abuse against Stanley Idziak, then a priest, the parents still struggle with anger and resentment. They suffer guilt for not having figured out what was happening to their children. And they grieve for their sons' lost innocence.

Son, 39, mother and father's youngest child, has daily thoughts of suicide, he said recently on the telephone from redacted, where he works as a redacted at redacted.

"One of the reasons I've convinced myself not to do it is that it would be too hard on my family," he says.

It is the first time he has talked publicly about Idziak.

He says he has a hard time forming relationships with men or women. One of his closest friendships is with a woman who was molested by her grandfather. "I feel in a way we're both lepers," he says.

He feels he has little in common with his siblings.

He gave up on the church after being chastised by a redacted name of town priest for putting a note about his experience into an offering plate because the note might be seen by church members.

And he is disillusioned with God. "When you die, you die. It's over," he says.

He has been in therapy since 1993, at first twice weekly but now less often, funded by the Atlanta Archdiocese. He says the church has spent about $50,000 on his counseling.

Rick Larango, 43, a critical care nurse in south Fulton County, says he tried therapy for a while but found no help in it. He says he believes he has dealt with the molestation.

The biggest impact is his lack of trust in people, he says.

"He feels most people have an ulterior motive," says Nancy Griggs, 44, who has been in a two-year relationship with Rick Larango, whose only marriage ended in divorce.

The Larangos' younger son, Bill, a freight pilot, died unexpectedly taking a shower after a flight in 1994. A medical examiner's report attributed his death to an enlarged heart.

Both son and Rick Larango have ambivalent feelings about Idziak, who they say seemed genuinely interested in their lives --- while he also was molesting them, taking them to strip clubs and getting them drunk.

"I thought he was my friend," says Rick. "I don't know whether he was really my friend or pretending to be my friend to get what he wanted."

Such ambivalence is "very common," says Vicki Boardman, clinical director of the DeKalb branch of the Georgia Center for Children, a nonprofit advocacy organization, "especially when children have a close association with their abusers."

After being abused, "they are no longer sure what it means when people say, 'I love you,' " she says.

The parents' feelings are not mixed.

Several years ago, the father and mother visited Albuquerque, N.M., where Idziak lives. They put copies of a newspaper account of his case in his neighbors' mailboxes and tacked them on bulletin boards in neighboring churches.

"What would you have done if you'd run into him?" Jan Larango asks father.

"I don't know," father replies. He pauses and answers matter-of-factly, "Maybe I'da killed him."

'I respected him'

The four parents are all "cradle Catholics," raised in a pre-Vatican II world when Mass was in Latin, the laity rarely spoke out, and priests were regarded as above reproach.

"My mother told me their hands were anointed," says Jan Larango.

The Larangos and father and mother met for the first time at a birthday party for Idziak, a priest the Larangos had known in their previous home, North Tonawanda, N.Y.

Idziak, in his 30s then, was 6 feet tall, with a paunch and thinning dark hair, a member of the Pallottine religious order.

Rick was 10, and Bill, 4, in 1968 when their father first brought the priest to the Larango's funeral home after Mass. Soon Idziak's yellow car was always outside the Larango home. He dropped in so frequently Frank gave him a key to the house.

In 1977, the family moved to DeKalb County, where Idziak soon reappeared. The priest's sister lived in Atlanta, and he had applied to join the Atlanta Archdiocese. He lived with the Larangos while he awaited his assignment, which turned out to be the Larangos' parish, the newly formed All Saints in Dunwoody.

Father was checking on redacted at the future site of All Saints church in 1978 when he met the new associate pastor. Soon afterward, wife mother was planning a gathering for her visiting redacted, a nun, and included priests from the parish.

Idziak became a regular visitor. "Because he had the Roman collar, I respected him," mother says.

At both houses, he developed close relationships with the families' sons, then teenagers, even taking them on trips. At the Larango home, he shifted most of his attention from Rick to Bill, five years younger. As Idziak moved to other parishes, he kept in touch.

Confessions

In 1988, more than a decade after the move from upstate New York, he was serving St. Michael's parish in Gainesville when he dropped by the Larangos' house to let them know he was being sent to Washington for "medical treatment."

A few days later --- May 10, 1988 --- Jan Larango was reading a newspaper article and realized their family friend had been accused of molesting boys at Corpus Christi parish in Stone Mountain.

She leaned against the wall and passed out. When she regained consciousness, she couldn't speak. Her co-workers thought she had had a stroke.

That night, Idziak called the family, and her husband confronted him with the accusations. The priest insisted he speak to her, she says.

"The first thing he said to me, and he repeated it three times, was, 'Jan, there was no penetration. There was no penetration. Jan, there was no penetration.' " Then, she says, Idziak both apologized for, and denied, the accusations at Corpus Christi, where he had served between All Saints and Gainesville.

Confronted with the news, the Larango sons, both away at college in Oklahoma, told their parents they had been victims of Idziak.

Jan Larango remembered Idziak had brought son to the Larango home. She wanted to call his parents.

Mother recalls Jan called her on a Sunday night.

Son, who was in school at redacted, at first denied any sexual involvement with Idziak, but eventually broke down crying.

Court records show the Archdiocese of Atlanta settled a 1991 lawsuit with the Corpus Christi family, Charles and Karen Ross, for more than $500,000. The Larangos gave depositions in the case. The archdiocese also agreed to pay therapy costs for Rick and Bill Larango and son.

Idziak, by then in a treatment center in New Mexico, turned in his collar in 1993. Reached Friday at his home in Albuquerque, he refused to comment on allegations against him.

"The settlement brings this matter to an end," said the Rev. Peter Dora, then spokesman for the archdiocese.

But for the Larangos and the father and mother, the horror was far from over.

Apology demanded

At the Larangos' kitchen table, mother holds two dog-eared books. One is a Bible. The other is a copy of "Lead Us Not Into Temptation --- Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children" by Jason Berry.

The Scripture she emphasizes comes from Matthew 18:6: "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea."

From Berry's book, she reads from a chapter called "The Bishops' Tragic Flaw," quoting Jeffrey Anderson, a lawyer who has represented sex abuse victims suing the Catholic Church. "Each one down the line suffered a terrible arrest of personality development and sexual identities. . . . They suffered in silence and secrecy for years. None of them escaped the ravages --- chemical dependency, suicide attempts, broken self-esteem, sexual compulsions."

This, she fears, has happened to her son.

She and the other parents blame Idziak, but their stronger feelings are directed at the Catholic hierarchy. Mother met Friday with the vicar general of the Atlanta Archdiocese to ask the church for an apology.

In the mid-1990s, Jan Larango started a program called Project Aware, in her son Bill's memory, to educate parishioners and clergy about sexual abuse.

As the program was getting off the ground, she received a call from a woman in Milwaukee who said her brother was molested by Idziak at a high school in Wisconsin in 1964. After the complaints, the priest was moved to the Larangos' church in New York state.

"If that bishop would have done something then, look at how many people would have been saved," Jan Larango says. She can forgive Idziak, she says, "because he was sick. But I can't forgive somebody who knew what he was doing."

"The church isn't bad," says father, who, like the other parents, remains Catholic. "It's the damn fools who run it."

The mothers' harshest criticism is directed inward, for failing to realize what their sons were enduring.

"I thought I was a good mother," says mother, choking up. "I don't feel so good about myself."

"Rick showed so many signs," says Jan Larango. "He withdrew. He read the Bible for hours. Friends would call, and he'd say, 'Tell them I'm grounded, Mom.' " In her concern about him, she went to the person she thought most likely to help.

The priest.

Idziak.

 
 

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