250 at Church for Talks
Congregation seeks healing after allegations

By Gary Gentile
Hartford (CT) Courant
May 18, 1994

Vernon, CT - There is a time for keeping silent, said the Rev. Stan Szczapa, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, and a time for speaking.

Tuesday, more than 250 people gathered at the church to heed the advice from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes and to speak about allegations that a former pastor had sexually abused two boys during the 1980s.

Last week, Matthew and Mark Nutt, 28, charged in a civil lawsuit that the Rev. Thomas J. Doyle began molesting them separately beginning when they were 14 years old.

One woman asked how her two young children would be able to trust in authority figures ever again.

"How do I give them a sense of who to trust, because in my heart I want to tell them not to trust a living soul -- don't trust your father, don't trust your mother, don't trust anyone," she said. "I'm crazy, I'm paranoid, I'm nuts about this and I'm afraid I'm making them paranoid."

Another woman expressed similar frustration.

"I've always told my children that if you can't talk to me, talk to the priest or a guidance counselor and now they're telling me, 'Mom, you're sending us to the wrong people'," she said. "As an adult, I trusted him [Doyle], and now I'm losing my faith in God and in the church from everything that is going on."

Four representatives of the Willimantic-based Northeastern Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services Inc. were on hand to answer parishioners' questions and talk generally about sexual abuse and its consequences.

"Right now, you're going to feel rocky about your belief system," said Kim Herwerth, a child advocate. "It's very difficult to handle when you hear that a priest may have committed a crime, especially a crime like child sexual abuse. What you're feeling is very normal."

The brothers say the priest gave them expensive presents and took them seperately on trips in the Northeast, but neither knew the other had engaged in sexual relations with Doyle until they came to discuss it during a college class on human sexuality in 1990.

Several people said they were upset the parish wasn't told about the charges in 1992, when Bishop Daniel P. Reilly removed Doyle as pastor after allegations against Doyle first were made.

"I'm upset that the bishop didn't tell us the truth," one man said.

"We didn't hear about this from the church, we heard about this from the media," said another.

Several people emphasized the importance of caring about Doyle and praying for him despite hating the actions of which he has been accused.

"The good he did can never be erased," said one woman, who was applauded for her comment.

But Ray Grasso, a parishioner and principal of Rocky Hill High School, said he was not so sure about his feelings for his former pastor.

"Should these allegations be true, it's going to be very hard for me to love Father Doyle because in my job I see the results of sexual abuse on young people," Grasso said. The effect of sexual abuse on young men is devastating, Grasso said, because it makes them question their sexual identity.

"It makes them say 'What did I do to make this man sexually attracted to me?' The answer is 'you did nothing,' but try to tell that to a teen- aged boy," Grasso said.

Szczapa said the the session was the beginning of the healing process for his congregation.

"We have to get all the denial and anger out," he said. "I think the questions being asked are good ones and needed to be asked."

Jeanne Palmer, a community educator with Northeastern Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, Inc., said she was surprised, but pleased at the large turnout.

"If you're looking for faith, look at each other," she said.


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