Ex-Altar Boy Feels Betrayed by Church
Was Raped by Priest, Ignored by Archdiocese
By Jim Nolan
Philadelphia Daily News
April 29, 2002
It was a cold Sunday in February when the altar boy was summoned to the Incarnation of Our Lord rectory.
He was scheduled to serve noon Mass. And Father Nilo C. Martins wanted to see him.
The boy ascended the stairs to the third floor. There he entered two rooms occupied by Martins - a visiting priest from Brazil who had come to the church on N. 5th Street roughly a year before to minister to the Portugese-speaking parishioners in the working class Olney section.
Martins took the altar boy into the bedroom. Then the priest told him to take his clothes off and get on the bed.
Then he raped him.
The altar boy has lived with the memories of that day for 17 years.
He's experienced the horror that most of us have only read about in the last few months - the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Church.
And as the shameful legacy that remained hidden for decades unfolds in public, the boy, now 29, is angry that the behavior has been allowed to continue. He feels betrayed by the church.
And he is still profoundly wounded. "It's like someone dropped a bomb in my lap," he said, speaking for the first time about his 1985 ordeal and the ongoing scandal. "It's something I'll always remember. It's going to be a part of you."
The sexual abuse suffered as a 12-year-old altar boy is the reason that he doesn't set foot in a church - and wouldn't, even for his father's funeral.
It's the reason he's not the person he wishes he could be.
"Something was stolen from me," said the man, whose name is being withheld by the Daily News. "My virginity was taken from me. It was a very painful physical situation. It basically left me in a position where I didn't feel I could trust anybody."
And it is the reason the altar boy became a cop.
"I want to be an advocate for victims," he said.
"Back then, there was nobody else there for me. They treated me with respect. They were very understanding," he said of the Special Victims Unit cops who investigated his claims of abuse against Father Martins following the Feb. 2, 1985, incident.
"Never once was I made to feel like some kid making anything up. They treated me with dignity."
Martins was arrested and pleaded guilty in May of that year to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and corruption of a minor. It is the only known sexual abuse arrest and conviction of a Catholic priest in Philadelphia in the last 30 years.
It is a remarkable statistic, given the fact that the Archdiocese itself has documented 35 instances of what it terms "credible" allegations of sexual abuse by its priests over the last 50 years.
Yet, only three of its priests, Martins and two others from Bucks County, are known to have been criminally charged for their wrongdoing.
Equally remarkable is the idea that Martins was ever brought to justice. Last week, the Inquirer quoted a former Philadelphia police chief inspector who said there used to be an "unofficial policy" in the department not to pursue sex abuse allegations against priests and other clergy, provided the victims agreed to have their complaints handled by religious authorities.
The inspector supervised the Juvenile Aid Division from 1969 to 1984. Martins committed his crimes in 1985.
What steps the church took to help the abuse victims they know about is largely unknown. The Archdiocese has refused comment on the particulars of any of the cases.
But in the case of Martins, the ex-altar boy-turned cop provided an answer: Nothing.
"I was a 12-year-old kid and not once did they ever show any concern for me," he said. "They did not make any attempt to reach out to my family. Not once did they make any effort to provide any type of counseling or anything."
After the attack, the altar boy's grades plummeted. He got in trouble with graffiti. He got teased mercilessly by fellow children, who soon found out.
"The church is supposed to be about love and compassion and support," said the victim, who is now single and living alone in Philadelphia. "A place where you can turn to for help. I never saw any of that."
If anything, the altar boy was ostracized. He was told that he could not be an altar boy anymore. While he stayed enrolled at Incarnation School, much of his connection to the church died with his encounter with Martins.
"My home life was not a stable one. I didn't have a happy childhood," he said. "The church was my escape - school and being involved. When you're 12 years old and someone you trust violates that trust, what more can you say?"
The abusing priest, by contrast, received more support than his victim. Following his arrest, the Archdiocese sent Martins to its psychiatric hospital for months of counseling and treatment.
While the archdiocese did not pay for his legal representation, a church psychiatrist submitted a glowing report at his sentencing hearing arguing that Martins did not "pose a threat" and suggesting that jail would be "counterproductive."
The judge in the case, Bernard Avellino, sentenced the priest to 23 to 46 months prison, and paroled him after serving just five weeks of his sentence. He was supposedly sent back to Brazil Oct. 17, 1985, though immigration officials have not located a record of his deportation.
To this day, the ex-altar boy says the thought of what Martins did to him "disgusts me to the bottom of my stomach." His family never filed suit, something the man wishes his mother would have done at the time.
And the cop is concerned over what happened when Martins returned to Brazil. Was he still a priest? Was he still a licensed pediatrician?
"It certainly makes me angry that possibly he could be in the position to victimize other children," the cop said.
Attempts to reach Martins have been unsuccessful.
As far as the other allegations that have surfaced, the cop believes the cases should be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
He praised District Attorney Lynne Abraham for convening a grand jury to probe priest sex abuse, but expressed concern that the public and law enforcement remember the civil rights of people accused.
"In no way should we jump the gun," the victim said.
Now, at 29, the ex-altar boy is still a victim. And he's still a cop, sworn to protect and serve. Trying to find justice in the world without losing his faith.
"I'm trying to turn all the negative energy into something positive," he said.
"I still believe in God."
Contact: Jim Nolan email@example.com
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