He Remembers, Tries to Forgive

By Bill Zajac
Sunday Republican [Springfield MA]
September 14, 2003

The Rev. Bruce N. Teague has twice visited the grave of the priest who sexually abused him when he was 9 years old.

Teague, a longtime Springfield diocesan priest, is planning more visits to the grave that he accidentally stumbled upon 10 years earlier while looking for a friend's headstone.

"I'm in the process of trying to forgive him," Teague said.

The visits and the forgiving are not easy for the priest. He believes the abuse triggered years of depression, isolation and anger. It left him emotionally absent in situations in which he was physically present to others - not a good mental disposition for someone who counsels others.

"I want to feel the beauty of life," said the 56-year-old Teague, who is feeling healthier than he has in decades.

Teague becomes the second priest from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield and one of a couple dozen nationally to identify himself as a clergy sexual abuse victim.

The Rev. Kevin B. Sousa, the former director of Holyoke Catholic High School, left active ministry in the 1990s when he confronted what he said was years of childhood sexual abuse by the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne, a childhood mentor.

Teague, whom diocesan officials refused to reappoint as pastor of St. Brigid's Parish in Amherst a year ago, believes his healing is occurring because he is trying to forgive the priest. Teague refuses to identify the abuser because he isn't able to defend himself.

"Certainly any family he may have alive aren't responsible for his behavior," said Teague.

Teague believes his healing started amid the current clergy sex abuse crisis when he started helping and receiving help from other clergy sexual abuse survivors.

"It has been listening to other survivors and their stories over the last 18 months that has given me courage to talk. Before that, there wasn't a way to articulate what happened," Teague said.

Teague's abuse occurred at St. Brendan's Church in Dorchester, the same church at which recently murdered, notorious clergy pedophile John J. Geoghan was removed from an assignment in 1984 when he was accused of sexual abuse.

Teague's roots run deep in the parish. His maternal grandfather John Fagan helped found the church in 1929. Teague doesn't hide his pride when talking about his grandfather and others creating a beautiful and secure place for immigrants to worship during the country's greatest depression.

At the time of his abuse, Teague's mother was mourning the loss of her recently deceased father. Teague's father was on active duty with the U.S. Navy.

A Jesuit priest assigned to St. Brendan's showed interest in the 9-year-old Teague, a reliable altar server.

"He gave me small presents at first - religious items such as religious pamphlets, rosaries, crucifix sets," Teague recalled. In retrospect today, Teague believes he was being seduced.

"I was obviously missing the company of my father. I enjoyed the attention," he said.

The priest eventually began sexually abusing Teague. It occurred in a sacristy every Sunday before Mass for three to four months. The priest had the fully clothed Teague bend over a railing, then he leaned against Teague.

The abuse ended when the priest was suddenly removed from the parish.

The priest blamed Teague for his removal, accusing the boy of telling others of a secret he never promised to keep.

"I didn't tell anyone. I didn't understand what was going on," said Teague, several times repeating that he didn't betray anyone.

Teague recently learned it was the father and uncle of one of his friends who came forward with an accusation.

"Incrementally, this guy was moving toward a more genital phase, but it never took place. Certainly it was a violation of a child, using me for his own perverse reasons," said Teague.

Teague kept the abuse a secret until he was in his 40s, although "it had always been rolling around in my consciousness," he said.

The arrest of Lavigne at his home in Chicopee in 1991 on molestation charges and the publicity surrounding it triggered Teague's desire to share his secret for the first time. He told several people, but, in each case, it involved only one conversation. Sousa was one of those with whom he shared his secret.

One person he told was his clinical supervisor in a pastoral studies program in which he was enrolled.

"His response was: I wouldn't doubt that many priests would have experienced that before," Teague recalled.

Teague, who was working as a chaplain at Western New England College at the time, believed he could heal himself. "I became a bookaholic, reading everything I thought I needed to help myself," said Teague. He also gravitated toward work with people with severe problems in an attempt to minimize his own problems.

A decade later, when the national sex abuse crisis was revealed, he realized he failed to help himself.

Regardless, the news of Lavigne and several other sexually abusive Springfield diocesan priests being removed from ministry in the 1990s by then Bishop John A. Marshall created a lot of turmoil in Teague. He never shared his story with Marshall, but discussed clergy sexual abuse with him several times.

"I think he intuitively knew I was abused," said Teague, who, at about this time, "was ready to pack it in as a priest."

When Marshall, who died a year or so later, announced the formation of the all-lay Misconduct Commission to review accusations of any clergy misconduct, Teague believes it saved his clerical career.

"If Marshall hadn't taken those steps, I may have left ministry just like Kevin (Sousa)," said Teague, who still considers Marshall a leader "of great integrity and great heart."

By the time Marshall formed the lay panel, Teague was well into his clerical career.

Although he grew up in Dorchester, Teague came to Western Massachusetts upon his ordination in 1980 because he had relatives in Amherst.

Teague's decision to become a priest was greatly influenced by his childhood parish pastor Monsignor Joseph Brandley, a kind, strong spiritual leader whose presence, Teague said, made his entire neighborhood community a much better place. It was Brandley who was pastor when Teague's abuser was banished.

"I guess throughout my career, I have felt Monsignor Brandley's benevolent presence with me," said Teague.

Teague's assignments have included work at Blessed Sacrament parishes in Holyoke and Springfield, Perpetual Help in Holyoke and St. Brigid's in Amherst.

He worked 10 years as chaplain at Western New England College. He currently works part time as chaplain at Amherst College. He spends most of his time in Boston, working as a part-time chaplain at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and filling in for other priests for Masses when needed while attending to his ill father there.

When the massiveness of the clergy sexual abuse crisis was exposed last year, Teague began confronting his own past - this time with the help of others.

"Until then, I thought I had been the only one abused at St. Brendan's," said Teague, who has since learned of at least three other priests who sexually abused children at that church during the past several decades.

The abuse was terrible, but Teague said keeping the secret was worse.

"It's the secrets that kill (sexually abused) people. It's the stuff that leads people to alcoholism, drug abuse and broken relationships, loss of jobs, unemployment and violent behaviors," Teague said.

"Somehow the secret has to be broken," said Teague.

For Teague, it occurred when he embraced the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), where he found comfort and strength in hearing others tell their stories. He found hope in other survivors telling how they have coped.

Linkup, another organization providing support and education to clergy sex abuse victims, is lauded by Teague as a great resource.

These organizations are helping dissipate the cloud of isolation that enveloped him for decades.

"I'm no longer feeling isolated," he said.

Several months ago, for instance, he testified as an abuse survivor at a legislative hearing about the possible removal of the statute of limitations on sex abuse crimes.

Teague praised the work of Peter Pollard, the coordinator of the newly formed Springfield affiliate of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

He admires people like Mary Ryan of Burrillville, R.I., who turned down a $400,000 sex abuse settlement with the Diocese of Providence. Instead, she prefers to legally fight to expose all that diocesan leaders knew about accusations of abuse.

Teague believes confidentiality agreements impede the healing process in many people.

He never considered filing a suit against the church.

As closely as Teague identifies with other victims, he knows, as a member of the clergy, he is very different.

"Being a priest and a survivor can be a double-edged sword because survivors have been abused by priests and have every reason to express their anger toward me, and some have," Teague said.

He praised several fellow priests for reaching out to victims. He cited the work of several local clerics, including the Rev. James J. Scahill, Eugene D. Honan and Ronald F. Sadlowski.

Scahill, the pastor of St. Mary's in East Longmeadow, is protesting the financial support of Lavigne by the diocese by withholding money from collections from the diocese. Also, he is doing outreach work with clergy sex abuse victims.

Honan, the pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Northampton, has publicly supported a sexual abuse victim who claims his accusations of sexual abuse against Lavigne were ignored by the diocese well before any criminal charges were filed against him.

Sadlowski is the pastor of Sacred Heart in Feeding Hills who has been reaching out to sexual abuse victims after it was disclosed his parish had at least one alleged sexually abusing priest several decades ago.

Teague hasn't always had an amicable relationship with the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, bishop of the Springfield Diocese.

Teague and Dupre were at odds more than a year ago after it was reported that the diocese refused to renew Teague as St. Brigid's pastor because he told Amherst police that Lavigne was frequenting St. Brigid's in violation of his probation.

In a recent interview, Teague refused to discuss the situation and said that Dupre treated him kindly when Teague revealed a year ago that he was a victim of clergy sex abuse.

Teague postponed discussing his abuse with The Republican until he completed telling his story to church leaders.

Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley and Teague met for an hour Aug. 11, a few weeks after O'Malley was installed as the head of the Archdiocese of Boston.

"First, I asked him to have patience with people who are demonstrating outside his door. I told him that they are not the enemy. They are people in pain," said Teague.

Teague believes O'Malley is the best thing the United States church had to offer to the situation.

"It doesn't mean he is a savior or anything like that. But he will be setting the tone and style for the rest of the church," said Teague.

O'Malley has had an immediate positive impact, according to Teague, by hiring a new law firm, making a settlement offer and meeting with sex abuse victims.

O'Malley is also restoring confidence in the church leadership among active priests, according to Teague.

"Many priests have felt alone and unsupported the last two years," Teague said.

"It's a beginning," said Teague, who believes a healing will come when an honest dialogue about these issues occurs among clergy, leadership and laity.

The seed to his own healing may have been planted when he accidentally stumbled across his abuser's grave a decade ago. It allowed him to know where to go in August when he wanted to visit it again.

"A friend of mine said to me recently that you never get out of victimhood until you face your own flaws. And that is where I'm at - hopefully beginning to face my own flaws," said Teague.

"I am trying to be honest in how this has played out in my life and look at my skewed behaviors and try to make amends when I can for people who I may have hurt," Teague said.

Teague believes he would have nothing to offer as a priest if he couldn't forgive another person.

So, Teague has visited the grave and plans to return.

"The guy who used me for his needs, I put him in the sick category. Can I not forgive a sick person and still claim the priesthood for myself? No," said Teague. "I'm not free of sin, so when I look down at that grave I know he was also human," Teague said.

Teague understands that some of his fellow survivors may not be ready for that, but it is transforming him. "I feel freer than I have ever felt," said Teague, adding he is inspired by the resurrected Christ.

"When Jesus Christ had visited the apostles after his resurrection, Thomas felt the wounds. Christ was transfigured, but the wounds were still there," Teague said.

"In that I find hope that my own transformation can occur," he said.


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