Hoping to Remove Dagger 'From My Heart'

By Karen Thomas
USA Today
July 24, 2002

ABUSER: Church says he's deceased, but victim disputes it

Church lawyers say all players in the alleged abuses are dead. There's no one to sue.

"I remind them: I'm still alive," says Gerald Payne, who believes his abuser is alive, too, and says the church hasn't proved anything to the contrary. "I don't feel like he's dead. If he were, there would be a dagger removed from my heart."

In April, Payne filed suit against the Roman Catholic diocese of Owensboro, Ky., saying officials knew of the abuse but didn't do anything. A hearing is scheduled Monday. More than 168 other victims of sexual abuse by priests also have come forward in Kentucky, which now leads the nation in lawsuits.

For Payne, 45, working with victims and navigating a crushing legal system is the first thing that has made him feel "alive" since he was an 11-year-old altar boy. That's when Payne says Raymond Waldruff, a priest reeking of bourbon, forced him to engage in oral sex during an overnight stay at the rectory. Payne says the abuse lasted about two weeks. His parents thought Waldruff was guiding their son into the priesthood.

Payne remembers he wasn't yet at the age when girls mattered. "My mind was on baseball, and suddenly the only thing I could think was, 'This is sick. I'd never do this to a girl!' "

Payne spent 30 years trying to "conquer that moment" with 115 sexual encounters with women, resulting in 115 failed relationships. When two women became pregnant 18 years ago, he married the one who he says didn't push him away. He's still married, though the years have been rocky. They have three children, and he aggressively hunts for a daughter from the other relationship, Ashley-Damita, whom he has seen only once.

Unlike victims who stay silent, Payne and his parents reported the abuse to a bishop, who removed Waldruff from duty and sent him for treatment. "Actually, he was 40 miles down the road" at another parish, Payne says, "and all this time I thought he was far, far away."

His parents sent him to confession ("that was my therapy") and made him promise to "never tell a soul." Payne says his life seemed doomed from then on. Nervous tics set in within weeks. His home was only three blocks from church, and "every day, three times a day, I'd hear those bells and they would remind me. I came to hate those bells so much -- hate them because I once loved them so much."

He became the town bully. At 18, he left, to escape "the stares."

Twenty times Payne has left Owensboro, only to return after months or, perhaps, a year. Maybe two. He attended seven colleges in California and Kentucky to earn an associate degree. He has done a stint in the Navy and another in a drug treatment center, and he has filed for bankruptcy. He has changed careers 18 times and switched religions five. Currently unemployed, Payne remains uncomfortable in any church.

Therapy, which he "finally" started recently, helps him understand the nightmares. But still, "I hate that other people don't have this in their lives."

Payne's wife begs him to let it go, get a job, so they can pay some bills. Instead, he spends 15 hours a day talking with lawyers and victims, and paces away the night "chewing on my brain." Every day, he says, someone remarks, "I thought you were over this." Yet Payne remains undeterred in his legal quest. Yeah, he says, it's destroying his life. Again.

"But I'm trusting God that this is the right thing to do."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.