One boy: How a Vermonter rose above priest abuse


September 29, 2019

By Kevin O’Connor

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series on the Vermont Catholic Church’s hidden history of clergy abusing children. Part 1, “One boy,” offers the perspective of a survivor. Part 2, “One priest,” reveals how the state’s most problematic cleric stayed on the job. Part 3, “One diocese,” reports on the collective past and current attempts to acknowledge and atone for it.

Vermonter Dan Gilman was a 15-year-old free spirit when, climbing a tree lurching over a friend’s aboveground pool July 28, 1972, he leapt upward.

“I imagined I was one of those cliff divers they show on ‘Wide World of Sports,’” the Rutland resident recalls. “In that split second, everything was light and sparkling.”

Then it all came crashing down. Gilman felt his head snap into his chest upon hitting the shallow pool floor. Fracturing his spine, the teenager was paralyzed from just below the shoulders to the soles of his feet.

“This is bad, this is bad, this is bad,” Gilman thought as he lay in a hospital bed listening to doctors give him a less than 1% chance of recovery.

Feeling helpless, the boy accepted a priest’s invitation to receive a blessing. The stranger pulled a privacy curtain around the bed. A cleric’s hands hold healing powers, the adult said before placing a communion wafer on the boy’s tongue, followed by a kiss on his lips.

“You will be cured,” Gilman recalls hearing, “and you will be a normal kid again.”

The boy wanted to believe as the priest went on to undress him.

“I closed my eyes and hoped to God it was true,” Gilman recalls. “I prayed that putting my faith in his hands, literally in his hands, would lead to great things for me.”

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