Journey to Healing
Survivor Confronts and Responds to Scars of Childhood Sexual Abuse
By Jessica Trobaugh Temple
South Bend Tribune (Indiana)
February 2, 2003
LAKESIDE — Strolling the leaf-blanketed paths along Lake Michigan, Patti Black peers past a grid of bare branches and into the clear blue sky beyond.
She reminisces about the carefree days she spent at her grandmother's in Lakeside, where she and her family visited every summer.
Back then, Black passed her days splashing in the waves with her brothers and running these same woods with them and the family's dogs from dawn until dark.
Around the lake, neighbors "were like family," Black says. And every household opened its doors to everyone else.
But other memories from that time cloud her happy recollections.
As Black recalls, it wasn't uncommon for visitors strolling the beach or the shady paths to meet priests who also vacationed there.
The Indiana Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross owns property on the lake, along with a retreat house where priests and brothers of the province meet to relax and share one another's company.
It was 1969 when Black met the Rev. Ralph Luczak, then 37, who was serving as assistant pastor at Christ the King Catholic Church in South Bend. Her mother invited the priest to dinner.
In time, when an adult couldn't accompany the children to the beach, Black's mother would ask Luczak to keep an eye on them. The priest would meet Black and escort her down the trail that runs past the Holy Cross property to the lakefront.
It was on one such trip, when Luczak was alone with Black, that he fondled her through her clothes, Black alleges.
"I didn't understand what was going on," she says. "And I didn't tell anyone."
Through that summer, the incidents occurred more often. At one point, the priest, Black says, became "really brazen," fondling her in the water while the two of them swam with family members.
After that, Black says, she wouldn't go down to the beach when Father Luczak was there.
One day, after choosing to play at a friend's, she ran home to get a toy she'd forgotten. When she arrived, Luczak was at the house.
She speculates that the priest, who had been at the beach, noticed her absence that day and went to find her. "Everyone else was down at the beach," Black says. "And he asked to see my room."
Black says that once in her bedroom, the priest stood Black in front of a mirror, undressed her and performed oral sex on her. She was 10 years old.
That evening, while washing the dishes, Black broke down and told her mother what had happened.
Later that night, Black says, her mother contacted a family friend, who was a doctor from Illinois, and an officer with the Michigan State Police.
In a letter Black's mother sent to her daughter in 2002, she wrote that both men discouraged her from making a report, saying that doing so would only add to her daughter's suffering.
In the same letter, Black's mother, who has since moved away and whom Black has asked not be named, says that she went to the Holy Cross retreat house the next day and relayed the incident to the Rev. Charles Carey.
A few days later, Black says, Maurice Choquette, a retired Holy Cross priest who had served as a bishop in Haiti and had been living in the rectory at Christ the King, arrived at the house in a car with Luczak beside him.
"(Choquette) said they would take (Luczak) to California and put him in a monastery," Black says, adding that Choquette said he was going with him.
In the days leading up to and soon after Luczak's departure, Black's mother shared her story with other Holy Cross priests visiting Lakeside.
The following year, Black and her mother learned that the 38-year-old Luczak had died of a heart attack.
Black, like most survivors of childhood sexual abuse, says she struggled for years, tormented by the memories of the crimes committed against her by someone she trusted.
In time, she quit going to church.
Looking back, Black says, "I was a complete screw-up after this happened to me." During her teenage and early adult years, she adds, "If there were bad choices, I made them."
Pregnant at age 16, Black dropped out of school and got married. When she was 21 years old with two daughters, her husband left.
"I had no education, no job, no car. I was living on welfare," she says.
She married again a few years later, this time a man she claims had a drinking problem and a bad temper. After her second divorce, Black says she looked at her children and decided, "I have to get my act together for their sake."
Black eventually earned her GED.
Then, deciding to take after her great-grandfather and father, Black, then 28, pursued a career in law enforcement. In June 1986, she enrolled in the Chicago Police Academy and graduated later that year. "I was looking forward to bettering my life," she says.
But working the streets as a beat cop would take more than physical stamina, intelligence and courage, Black learned.
While today she bears a broad scar on her elbow, a reminder of a recent altercation with a male suspect, Black spent years dealing with the much deeper scars from her past.
Until the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church came to light in early 2002, Black says she hadn't given much consideration to the possibility that Luczak might have assaulted others.
But the stories that emerged — of priests who for decades committed such abuses, perpetuated by bishops who ignored warnings, covered up the crimes and passed errant priests from parish to parish — sparked Black's concern.
She enlisted the help of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) by posting an inquiry about Luczak on the organization's Web site. She also contacted Holy Cross Province Archives looking for information on the priest.
An obituary from the April 1970 issue of the "Province Review" confirmed that Luczak died in February of that year. But among the glowing words that described Luczak's life and ministry, Black found what the stories had led her to suspect.
The summer Luczak left Lakeside, not only did he go to live in a monastery in San Leandro, Calif., but he was assigned as the director of the new facility. And in the fall of that year, he was given a teaching position at Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward, Calif.
After his death, a school scholarship was established in his name, and for 32 years it has been awarded to one graduating senior.
"I was mad then," Black says, referring to Luczak's reassignment and the subsequent tribute paid him. And though she's angry at the people who handled her mother's report, she's also angry at herself.
"I just blindly believed."
Black's discoveries prompted her to contact the high school and Holy Cross, Indiana provincial the Rev. William Dorwart and assistant provincial the Rev. Robert Epping, who indicated to The Tribune that they reviewed Luczak's file and found no record of the allegations.
Because the deadline for the statute of limitations had passed, Black had no legal recourse against Holy Cross but requested that the school drop the scholarship.
But having this request met was neither simple nor easy for Black.
Initially, she contacted the high school's administration, which then forwarded her information to the local provincial's office in May.
A day later, Dorwart acknowledged he received the information in an e-mail to Black in which he also indicated that Epping would, be contacting her.
In August, Black was still waiting to hear from him.
In a subsequent letter to Dorwart, Black inquired again about the call she was supposed to receive and the status of the scholarship.
Dorwart's response to Black noted that Moreau seemed to indicate that it would alter the scholarship but that Black would be contacted when the provincials knew for sure.
It was September before Black received any word.
"We've made the decision to change the name of the award," Joseph Connell, president of Moreau Catholic High School, said in a phone interview with The Tribune on Sept. 10, 2002.
Connell wouldn't disclose who initiated the scholarship or comment on whether former school administrators had heard or had a record of any allegations against Luczak.
A check of court, police and diocesan records in California, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan turned up no complaints, charges or cases involving Luczak.
In some instances, The Tribune was denied access to files. In other cases, police or court records didn't extend back that far or had been purged.
The Diocese of Oakland, Calif., and the Archdiocese of Chicago did not answer The Tribune's request to check for other complaints that may have been filed against Luczak.
In a meeting last fall with Dorwart and Epping, Epping told The Tribune, "I would fully suspect that there wasn't a clue by anyone" (at the high school about the allegation against Luczak). He added that he was still looking into the situation. "We had no knowledge of a scholarship out there until this spring, until she mentioned it."
Epping added that Choquette, who died in 1996, may have been friends with Luczak but would have had no authority over him. "Choquette may have gone out (to California) with him or traveled with him. ... But I'm sure it had nothing to do with whisking him out of the area," Epping said.
Since she's spoken with Epping, Black says that the order has offered to pay for counseling sessions for her, but she declined them. "I've worked things out on my own," she says.
Changing hurtful pattern
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse, health professionals and survivors themselves say, can spend much or all of their lives attempting to come to terms with their abuse.
During childhood, when the brain begins fashioning the capacity for trust, abusive experiences can hinder or halt that critical process.
At the same time, the abusive act inflicts shame, fear, feelings of debasement and self-loathing.
As a result, the survivors' self-worth plummets — to the point that they may even blame themselves for the abuse — and their ability to trust and form healthy, meaningful relationships withers.
Often crippled by these effects, survivors are unable to seek help or counseling.
When Black looks back on her life, she sees a pattern. "I was always being victimized," she says, often by the tough-guy type of men that for years she sought out.
"In retrospect, I think it was because I wanted someone to protect me."
Then, too, she lived in constant fear that someone might hurt her daughters. At times, she admits, those fears still haunt her, especially since one of them also has joined the police force.
But after receiving a series of faith-based tapes from a friend, something in her life changed.
The tapes "talked about pain and anger and disappointment and different ways you could look at those things ... how you could turn those into something positive," Black says.
"That's when I came to the realization that God was with me ... and that I always was able to manage by the grace of God only.
"When I got religion involved in my life is when my recovery started."
But her job, too, she says, helped her work through her fears and mistrust and work her way out of the life situation that contributed to her lack of confidence.
"The job gave me a lot of self-esteem," Black, who today sees her life experiences as preparation for a job marked by stress and high emotions, says.
Black, who was named one of eight Chicagoans of the year in 1996, will mark her 17th year on the police force this June. She credits her work for contributing to her recovery. "It taught me a lot of discipline and restraint," she says.
But somewhere along the way, the one seeking healing became the one giving it.
On the streets, Black witnesses scenes of unspeakable brutality and violence. She is there to comfort families and victims, who are mostly women and children. Her stories are the stuff of nightmares.
But she keeps at it, she says, because as a survivor, "you just have more compassion and can listen." Sometimes, when the situation calls for it, she adds, "I don't keep (my experience) to myself. I talk to them" (about it).
Not surprisingly, health experts agree that victims of sexual abuse aid in their own recovery by extending care to others.
Feeling at peace — finally
On Black's dining-room wall hang portraits of two blond girls wearing bright smiles and white Christening gowns.
One is Black, when she was 5 years old. The other could be her twin sister, but instead, Black says, beaming, "That's my granddaughter."
As the girl's legal guardian, Black has chosen to raise her in the Catholic Church, though she herself rarely attends.
"I get up every morning and watch that sun come up through that window," she says. "That's my church."
Black's neighbor, the girl's godmother, takes the child to church occasionally, and she'll attend with another neighbor on Sundays and sometimes weeknights.
When her granddaughter reaches first grade, Black intends to enroll her in CCD (continuing Christian development) classes. "I want her to have faith in God," she says.
Today, Black still experiences some mistrust toward priests, but she wouldn't think of depriving her granddaughter of the sacraments.
"Those are the tradition," Black says. "They go way back to the time of Christ."
So, every month she writes out a check to the church where her granddaughter was baptized and attends Mass.
"It kills me to do it, but I do it for her," she says. "I'm putting my personal feelings aside for her because I want her to have that base."
Besides, the Bible is too difficult to decipher on one's own, Black, who these days tunes in to the Moody Bible Institute's radio program, says.
Though she could blame God for what happened to her, she doesn't.
She expresses gratitude that the bad which befell her wasn't worse.
"Out of that bad I think God had a purpose for me," Black says. "He used that in me to work other things ... to turn it into something good.
"Even though it was horrible, I'm here. I've got my granddaughter to be with. I can play with my dogs. ... I can hear that bird singing."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.