With hope and fear, victims wait to learn whether report on Baltimore archdiocese sexual abuse will be released

Baltimore Sun [Baltimore MD]

December 21, 2022

By Jean Marbella

Even now at 70, Tom Sawicki harbors a revenge fantasy.

He would travel from his home in Hawaii, back to his native Baltimore, to picket in front of Archbishop Curley High School with a sign:

“I was sexually assaulted at this school.”

Instead, Sawicki waits for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office to speak out on his behalf, and on that of the more than 600 people, many of them now grown-up children, who the office says were sexually abused by Baltimore archdiocese clergy over the past 80 years.

The office has completed a 456-page report on its investigation of the Roman Catholic archdiocese, but it remains secret, held up in a court battle over its public release.

After decades in which he repressed the abuse, only belatedly realizing how it contributed to his life veering off from what it might have been, Sawicki feels hopeful about the secrecy lifting.

“It’s all going to come out,” he said from his home near Hilo on the Big Island. “There is going to be some justice.”

Others are less sure. They point to how the archdiocese, which said it supports the report’s release, is paying lawyers to represent some members of an anonymous group who are named in the report, although not as abusers. That group has intervened to keep the court proceedings secret.

“When they first announced they weren’t going to object to the release, I thought, ‘Maybe they’ve had an epiphany,’” said Buddy Robson, 67, of Berwyn Heights in Prince George’s County, who has accused a priest who was his sixth grade basketball coach of abusing him. “Now it’s come out there’s an anonymous group, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore is funding it.

“There’s a part of me, I’m not surprised,” he said, “and another part that’s just angry.”

In early December, Baltimore Circuit Judge Anthony Vittoria ordered all proceedings in the case kept confidential. How much of the report will be made public, and when, is unknown.

For those who dredged up their memories, and those who have advocated for them, the wait continues.

“This has been very difficult,” said Gemma Hoskins, an activist against clergy abuse. “This has exacerbated the anxiety.”

As featured in the 2017 Netflix series, “The Keepers,” Hoskins investigated abuse in the 1960s and ‘70s at her former high school, Archbishop Keough, and its possible link to the unsolved murder of a teacher, Sister Cathy Cesnik. While not victimized herself, Hoskins has served as an unofficial liaison between abuse survivors and the attorney general’s office, helping set up interviews.

She is wary of saying much more given the sealing of the case, in which she and others from “The Keepers” intervened to support making the report public. She vows that their efforts will succeed.

“We’re going to get that released,” Hoskins said.

‘Rock stars for Jesus’

It never occurred to Sawicki to refuse.

“The priests were rock stars for Jesus to us,” said Sawicki, who grew up in Northeast Baltimore. “The priests performed miracles. They were turning bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.”

He was a talented science student, and as an eighth grader at St. Francis of Assisi School in Mayfield was sent to Curley to take a freshman class. Entering the high school the next year, he was placed in a sophomore-level science class taught by Father Alfred Ewanowski.

The priest told him that because he was a freshman, he wouldn’t have the skills to write the required term paper, so he should do a special project instead, Sawicki said.

Ewanowski told him to come to the biology lab after last bell, and to bring his gym clothes, Sawicki said. There, the teacher locked the door, turned off the lights and took him into a closet.

“We’re going to learn the muscles of the human body,” Sawicki remembered the priest telling him. “Take off your clothes.”

Ewanowski took off his black robes, “down to his skivvies,” and said they were going to wrestle. Sawicki remembers the teacher’s bad body odor, how “creepy” it was, and his own utter bafflement and innocence.

Sawicki said he told no one about what turned out to be weekly, 45-minute wrestling sessions. He does remember telling his mother the following year about how he saw Ewanowski on campus and approached to say hello, but the priest wordlessly turned his back on him.

“I was an ‘A’ student,” he said. “I ate up that class. I always raised my hand. It hurt my feelings.”

In the mid-1990s, when he was in his 40s, Sawicki said he decided to call Curley and report what had happened. He had broken his back while on a job as a plumber, and during a long recovery, he started thinking about his life and seeing a psychiatrist.

He said the archdiocese eventually offered a monetary settlement, less than what he said he’d been told was their maximum payout because he hadn’t been “penetrated.”

Sawicki thinks an entry on Ewanowski in the Baltimore archdiocese’s “List of Priests and Brothers Accused of Sexual Abuse” is his report — with the correct year of the abuse, 1967, although the listing goes on to say Ewanowski joined the school the following year. The section also notes that the archdiocese “learned of additional allegations” of Ewanowski abusing students at Curley, where he taught until 1976. He died in 1990, according to the archdiocese.

The abuse destroyed his faith, Sawicki said. He went from revering priests and their holiness to thinking: “They’re just like everyone else. The whole thing is a sham.”

He is outraged anew when he gets mailings from the school seeking donations, or thinks about a caption under a picture in his high school yearbook of his abuser: “What evil lurks in the minds and hearts of students? Only FR. Alfred Ewanowski … knows.”

The attorney general’s office contacted him to let him know its report would be forthcoming, Sawicki said, although he was not interviewed for it.

It took decades for Sawicki to realize the toll the abuse took. It was a tumultuous time anyway, with the Vietnam War raging and adding to his sense of being “alienated from society,” he said. Sawicki’s senior year school ID card shows a peace sign colored into the Curley logo.

He had been an advanced science student with high IQ and SAT scores who was accepted to the Johns Hopkins University, but instead moved to Hawaii. He surfed, worked in restaurants, as a plumber and massage therapist, and now as a jazz guitarist. He went through a “terrible” addiction to cocaine in his 30s.

While he’s had longtime girlfriends and helped raise two boys he considers stepsons, he never married or had kids of his own.

“I always keep a part of me hidden from others,” Sawicki said. “The intimacy of marriage — I wouldn’t feel comfortable being exposed to someone like that.”

‘I was always worried about you’

Buddy Robson was on vacation in Ocean City with his son in June 2018, watching the morning news, when a report prompted him to burst into tears. The former Washington archbishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, had been ousted from the ministry after “credible and substantiated” allegations of sexual abuse.

The news brought back long-repressed memories for Robson, now 67. He was in sixth grade, on the school basketball team at St. James in Mount Rainier, when the coach, Father Timothy Slevin, started “grooming” him, Robson said. Slevin offered to help him with his basketball skills and began inviting him to the rectory.

“He seemed to gravitate to kids from broken homes,” said Robson, whose parents were separated. He lived with his mother. “All kids like attention. Here’s someone taking an interest in me, helping me, trying to be something I didn’t have at home.”

Even now, Robson falls silent when asked about the abuse.

“Kids didn’t know what sex is all about, what healthy relationships are like, what’s appropriate,” is all he’ll say.

He never told anyone, and about a year and a half later, Slevin was transferred to another parish.

“Once he left, the problem went away,” he said he thought. “I didn’t put it together until years later.”

His grades fell, he said.

“I felt like I was getting more angry. I didn’t know why,” he said.

He remembers when he was in high school running into a nun from St. James who had since left the sisterhood and told him, “Buddy, I was always worried about you.”

She gave him her number and encouraged him to call if he wanted to talk. He never did.

He went to DeMatha Catholic High School — the same time as Gov. Larry Hogan, he noted — but with his grades “falling through the floor,” he switched to public school.

In 1986, after Slevin was transferred to different parishes and removed from the priesthood, he pleaded guilty in Washington to sodomizing a minor and told police he had abused other boys. According to The Washington Post, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a sentencing memo that Slevin had engaged in “repeated, constant and calculated pedophilia” for 20 years.

By then, Robson had gone to community college and become a UPS driver. He is now retired. He married twice and had three sons, and said he was an “overly protective father” who made sure he was “very visible” at school events.

After the revelations about McCarrick punctured the wall he had built around his childhood abuse, Robson got involved in the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and other activist groups. He said he learned of the attorney general’s probe and in February 2019 went to its office in downtown Baltimore to speak to several staff members, including investigator Richard Wolf and Special Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Embry.

At their first question, Robson said, “I just lost it.” He wept so hard, they tried to make it easier on him by trying to ask yes or no questions, Robson said. After a three-hour interview, he returned to his car and cried some more, he said.

Robson said that although the office interviewed him about his experience in the Washington archdiocese, which includes the capital’s Maryland suburbs, he was told it decided to focus its report solely on the Baltimore archdiocese.

The office’s website put out a notice in 2018 asking victims of sexual abuse at schools or places of worship to make contact via email or a hotline, without limiting it to the Baltimore area. A spokeswoman said that while its current report focuses solely on the Baltimore archdiocese, the office will consider any victim’s account for possible charges.

Robson said he has “high hopes and high expectations” for the report. The hope is it will be released with no redactions, he said, and the expectations are that it will provide two things, one for the victims and one for the church.

“First, it validates the victims, to have your abuser named in a report,” Robson said. “And the second thing is, there’s some sort of accountability.”