Priests' Accuser Says'... It's Ok to Speak up'
Man Alleges Sex Abuse Occurred in the 1960s at Church in Hopewell

By Alberta Lindsey
Richmond Times-Dispatch [Virginia]
October 27, 2004

Steve Kopalchick says he has been plagued by depression most of his life.

"I've considered myself a type of person who would not stand up for myself," said the 52-year-old Chesterfield County resident.

Now, he says, that is changing.

Kopalchick is speaking out about alleged sexual abuse more than 30 years ago by two Catholic priests.

He said he never talked about the alleged abuse until about two years ago. He tried once to tell his elementary school principal about it, he said, but the principal paid no attention to him.

According to Kopalchick, when the priest sexual-abuse scandal broke in Boston in 2002, it stirred up memories of molestation he had endured from 1962 to 1966 at the hands of priests at St. James Catholic Church and elementary school in Hopewell. The school closed in 1992.

In 2002, Kopalchick said in a recent interview, he was severely depressed. "I couldn't sleep and had bad dreams and nightmares," he said. "I lost a lot of weight."

With help from a psychologist, Kopalchick decided it was time to identify himself and talk publicly about the abuse that he alleges began when he was 10.

Trial date yet to be set

In August 2003, he filed a $5 million civil suit in Richmond Circuit Court against the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, alleging that two priests sexually molested him. No criminal charges have been filed.

At the time the suit was filed, Kopalchick was identified only as John Doe. Later, he decided to attach his name to the suit and talk about his allegations publicly - including the interview that led to this article.

Kopalchick's suit alleges that two priests at St. James Church, the Rev. Thomas M. Summers and the Rev. Andrew Roy, also known as Andres Rodriquez, assaulted him. Summers died in 1992 at age 73. Roy, who has Alzheimer's disease, retired in 1981 and lives in Spain.

No trial date has been set.

At the time the suit was filed, a diocesan spokesman said the diocese had never received any complaints about the two priests.

Kopalchick, an engineer with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that because of the alleged abuse, he left the Catholic Church and is now a Baptist. He is married and has three children and five grandchildren. His first marriage ended in divorce.

Kopalchick's lawyer, Edward L. Weiner of Fairfax County, said, "It's not the money that's driving this thing. In the court of law, money damages is the only thing that can be awarded. The only offer by the diocese at this point is that Steve could receive counseling through the church."

Kopalchick said there is "no way, no shape or form I would ever go to one of their priests for counseling."

The suit is about accountability, he said. "I came forward to get this out on the table so I can go on with my life. And so that others will know it's OK to speak up."

Weiner says the diocese was negligent in its supervision of the priests.

Asked to comment on the suit, diocesan attorney William F. Etherington said only, "I don't believe in trying these cases in the press, and I don't think it's appropriate to comment on any of it beyond saying the discovery has barely started."

Drug and alcohol allegations

Kopalchick said that although he underwent counseling years ago for depression, he never mentioned having been sexually abused as a child. "When I went to counseling this time, we discussed the abuse in detail."

He said he did not want to discuss specifics of the sexual abuse. The suit alleges that Summers and Roy used drugs and alcohol to incapacitate the victim.

Kopalchick said he grew up in a poor family that received financial assistance from the church. "The priests threatened to take me away from my parents," he said, "or stop the support payments if I didn't do what they wanted. You think a priest is the next thing in importance to God."

Kopalchick said that during the four-year period when the abuse occurred, " 'dirty' would be a good word to describe my feelings. I felt truly scared all the time. I didn't want to discuss the abuse. Sometimes I was hurting so bad I would come home and go directly to bed."

He said he recalled one time trying to run from Summers, who caught him and slapped him in the face. "He said if I didn't do what he wanted, he would go to social services and have me taken away from my parents.

"I'm very disappointed in the Catholic Church. I was a victim when I was 10 to 14 years old, and I think the Catholic Church is making me a victim again. Let's push forward and let's get ready to go to trial. I refuse to be another victim of the Catholic Church."


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