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  Pair Abused by Clergymen Start Chapter for Victims

By Bill Murphy
Houston Chronicle
June 11, 2002

Miguel Prats says he thought he had left behind the memory of a priest trying to molest him in St. Louis nearly 30 years ago.

Kate Payne has never forgotten being groped by a priest in a Kansas town in the mid-1960s.

But the clerical sex abuse scandal that has unfolded over the past half-year has kindled their anger.

Channeling that rage, they have formed a Houston chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. SNAP, a nationwide group, helps victims and is pressuring the Catholic Church to change the way it handles abuse allegations and related lawsuits.

SNAP representatives will meet in Dallas this week, concurrent with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where bishops will debate toughening policies on clerical sex abuse offenders.

"The main reason I'm doing this is to protect children," said Prats, who stopped attending church after the incident but has since returned. "I pray for victims like me and Kate. I even pray for those guys who did this to us. But I can't forgive bishops like Cardinal Bernard Law (of Boston), who transferred these guys from parish to parish."

Payne, 52, and Prats, 50, got together through the national SNAP Web site. (The address is www. survivorsnetwork.org . Those wanting to reach the local chapter may leave a message at 713-554-5732).

The chapter will encourage victims to come forward and get counseling, pressure the church to reform, encourage the prosecution of clerical offenders and lobby lawmakers to extend statutes of limitations for sex abuse cases, Payne said.

Prats said he recently went through a divorce and was badly shaken by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the death of his best friend. Then the clerical sex abuse scandal broke, dredging up ugly memories. Prats said he has had to take a leave of absence from his job as a travel agent.

When he was 17, he says, he met the Rev. James Pavlik while on a tour of Japan in 1970. He said he used to attend Mass every morning in Pavlik's room and would drink beer with him and others in the evening.

Back in Houston, Prats, then 18, said he was troubled at the direction his life was taking and called Pavlik, who invited him to come stay with him at his rectory in St. Louis.

While there, Pavlik told him that there was only one bed and that they would have to sleep in it together, Prats said. He balked at first but decided it would be all right. "I trusted and liked him like a big brother," Prats said.

Prats said Pavlik then tried to grope him in bed.

"Basically, I had to fight him off all night long," he said. "He was trying to hug and hold me. I basically told him, 'When you go to sleep, I'm going down and getting the biggest butcher knife and take it to you.' He basically left me alone after that. I can play crazy real good when I want."

Prats said he left the rectory the next morning but never reported the incident because he felt he was somehow to blame.

The St. Louis Archdiocese took away Pavlik's privilege to serve as a priest after the diocese substantiated that he engaged in sexual misconduct, said archdiocesan spokesman Jim Orso. The incident occurred in 2000, said the Rev. Donald Carey, pastor at Holy Martyrs of Japan Church in Japan, Mo., where Pavlik was serving at the time he was dismissed.

In 1994, the archdiocese investigated, but could not substantiate, an allegation that Pavlik committed sex abuse in the 1970s, Carey said.

Orso said Pavlik is now living at a Catholic halfway house where priests are treated, but he did not know its location.

Pavlik could not be reached for comment.

Payne said what happened to her was minor compared to other incidents but galling nonetheless.

About 1966 or 1967, when she was 16 or 17, she was at a parish dance when the chaperone, a priest, came up from behind and groped her breasts, she said. She said she cursed him and told him to leave her alone.

After that, she began to drift away from the church and later left it altogether. She hasn't returned.

"He only killed my faith. He didn't hurt me physically," she said. "Seeing that guy up there on the altar, knowing what he did to people - he had no moral authority."

"I still love the church," Prats said. "I compare it to the U.S. government. It has massacred a lot of people, decimated the Indians. But we're still the greatest country in the world. The church is similar. It has done a tremendous amount of good in the world."

 
 

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