Victim Breaks Wall of Silence

By Paul Vitello
August 21, 1997

Cops and priests, in the opinion of most people, answer two of the higher callings of life - the one protecting us from the waywardness of others, the other from the waywardness of ourselves. There was a time when the best and the brightest of the working class aspired to these jobs.

Most people never fall victim to the enormous power invested in these two protectors, who at their best are patrolling the perimeters, and responding to the calamities, of everyday life.

[Photo caption: Demonstrators march outside State Supreme Court in Riverhead, where the Rev. John Mott has been charged with child molestation.]

When allegations are made against them, it is usually from the muted fringes of society. Charges of police brutality often come from minorities, charges of sexual abuse by priests from former children, now grown.

"His attention made us feel like little angels, close to God. We felt, well - he's a priest - and a priest can do no wrong," said Judy Cajigas, one of three women who have filed suit against the Catholic Church and a priest named John Mott, who allegedly molested them when they were children under his supervision at St. Raphael's Church in East Meadow.

You can let cynics argue otherwise, but it is still hard for most people to accept that this kind of thing happens, though many hundreds of cases are alleged and dozens have been proved in Boston, Chicago and most recently in Dallas, where a jury awarded $119 million to the families of 11 boys molested by a priest when they were acolytes.

Whether it didn't used to happen, or whether it didn't used to get attention, people didn't used to have to wonder about their local priest or cop: Would he molest my kid? Would he try to kill me if I resisted arrest?

They didn't wonder: Is there really a blue wall of silence among the cops? Is there also one among clergy members?

It depends on your experience, of course, but all institutions have them, or used to. It may explain why we are shocked when the rare case gets over the wall.

If you have watched the news footage from Brooklyn, you have seen the shock, as well as rage, in the demonstrators who have demanded justice for the torture and sodomy of Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant allegedly assaulted by police officers in a 70th Precinct bathroom: We might expect this in Haiti, they said. Not in America.

Though it is many years later, you would see the same shock and rage in the face of Cajigas and two co-litigants against the Rev. Mott - Janet Ostrowski and Patti Hastings - who demonstrated yesterday with supporters outside the State Supreme Court building in Riverhead, where one of their cases is pending.

They wanted to bring attention to the fact that despite their allegations, Mott is still assigned to a church school, at Our Lady of Mercy in Hicksville.

"My mother brought me to see him because I was this troubled child' - I was interested in boys," said Ostrowski, now 47, who described Mott as a "handsome, fun-loving, Pied Piper of a guy" who allegedly manipulated her into sexual intimacies between the ages of 15 to 19 that have haunted her since. She blames the alleged abuse for a lifelong struggle with chronic depression and thoughts of suicide.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre did not return phone calls yesterday but denied the allegations against Mott when the suits were initially filed against him - Ostrowski's in 1994, Hastings' and Cajigas' six months ago. A judge dismissed Ostrowski's case last year on the technical ground that the alleged abuse, from 1965 to 1969, occurred beyond the reach of the statute of limitations.

"He bought me gifts, he called me the prettiest, the most special of the girls, and told me he was falling in love with me and was going to leave the priesthood to marry me," said Ostrowski.

If there is a blue wall of silence by which cops protect one another, the wall among members of the clergy is at least as high - and compounded by a wall of shame within the victim.

Though Hastings and Cajigas were close friends, neither knew that the other would allege the same abuse against Mott until they were connected by a nationwide computer service that was set up by victims as a clearinghouse for allegations against priests.

"I hope to meet him face to face one day so I can see him as he is now," said Cajigas. "When I have nightmares, he is still as he was then. If I could see him now, older, it might help." Mott is 68. He was in his 30s when he allegedly molested Cajigas, then a member of a church group for young girls.

In the dream, she is running and he is chasing her.


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