Man Abused by Pedophile Priest Tells His Story

By Mary Beth Smetzer
Fairbanks News-Miner [Alaska]
March 24, 2005

Standing in the sanctuary of St. Raphael Catholic Church just below a large sculpted crucifix, Dennis Gaboury paused before launching into his personal tale of clerical sexual abuse and his long, painful path to healing.

He first thanked the church's pastor, the Rev. Pat Berquist and Bishop Donald Kettler for allowing him to speak without censorship.

"I don't know if this has ever happened where an actual victim comes to a church in front of a cross and talks to parishioners," said Gaboury who has spoken publicly many times before, including national television programs such as CNN and "Oprah."

Gaboury, 53, grew up in Massachusetts during the 1950s and '60s, in "a very Catholic home," where priests and nuns were considered more holy than human. He detailed the culture of secrecy at the time when no one spoke of sex abuse.

In 1961, he was 10 years old and an altar boy, when he was raped by his parish priest, James Porter.

Gaboury's recollection of the hourlong attack is splintered. Details surface, like a large mahogany desk and an Oriental carpet, and finding himself on the floor with Porter on top of him. But despite many years of therapy, much remains unknown to him.

Gaboury said he recalled the shock of sexual exposure, of which he had no previous knowledge.

"I was split in two," he said, explaining that part of him was a boy nearby watching while the other boy was being victimized.

"The (whole) boy was gone. It was a door that was slammed shut," Gaboury said. "My immediate reaction was to become super religious."

In addition to "praying constantly and having visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary," he recalled saying to himself, "Porter is good, but this is bad. I am bad, I am bad."

At age 13 he spent a short time at a seminary and attended a Catholic high school. Following graduation he went to college in Nebraska. By the time he graduated, he had thrown away previous standards, becoming promiscuous and involved with drugs.

"Drugs were like something from heaven. To me at the time it was the perfect solution," he said.

Gaboury taught special education children for several years, saying he related well to the children but in his off time got deeper and deeper into drugs.

His journey got rougher. Eventually he moved back to the East Coast looking for help, trying therapy and fighting bouts of suicidal depression.

"By the time I was 30, I looked like a drug addict. I was 130 pounds and I looked like and I felt in the inside--like completely rotten," he said.

Gaboury tried many times to get off drugs, and failing. Moving to Puerto Rico, he switched to alcohol and prostituting himself, before moving on to Martha's Vineyard.

There he entered AA once again and eventually went into a rehabilitation program.

"It's either live or die now, those were my choices," he recalled. "I cried for three days. Those were tears of grief--a lot of grief."

With multiple daily AA meetings and counseling, Gaboury eventually moved to Washington, D.C. A friend loaned him an apartment for a few months until he found a job as a mail clerk in a law firm. He continued to read--Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell and others--searching for the source of his pain.

"I knew something was dead in me, I just didn't know what," he said.

A therapist, he said who has become a father figure for him, helped him unravel his childhood trauma after much hard work.

"He brought me awareness, that was critical to me," Gaboury said, "... then the rage started."

Gaboury went back to Massachusetts, hired a private investigator to find Porter and asked for family support. Neither immediately materialized. The private eye was stonewalled by the diocese and his twin brother, who was comfortably settled, didn't want to be involved in a scandal.

But with the support of his therapist, Gaboury managed to cast aside as he puts it, "20 years of gut-wrenching grief," and deal with the secrets of his past.

In the early 1990s, Porter's whereabouts became known and Gaboury quickly joined the first three victims who came forward. By the weekend there 40, with many more to surface.

"We were a power," he said.

Porter, a serial pedophile who was moved from parish to parish when parental complaints became too numerous, was eventually defrocked. He married and molested his own children before he was arrested. Porter served 12 years in prison, and afterward was confined to a psychiatric hospital as a sexual predator until his recent death.

"Porter was a sick man and a criminal. The sick and criminals are always going to be with us," Gaboury said. "The Catholic Church was protecting him."

Gaboury has gone on with his life, earning a master's degree, but continues as an activist prodding the church to be open and honest and to stop protecting the criminals in their ranks.

"I had to take my powerlessness and make it force," he said. "I view healing as a very personal affair ... that takes work," Gaboury told Wednesday night's audience.

While he was healing, Gaboury met his wife, Elinor Burkett, a journalist who has written a book, "A Gospel of Shame," on the subject. She also spoke Wednesday.

Gaboury said his long ordeal has been very hard on his mother, a devout Catholic, who left the church for a few years when she was in her 80s.

"It was devastating to her," he said.

Gaboury said his older brother, a priest, gave her good advice, saying, "You can let your faith be led by a bishop or hierarchy or you can take your faith directly to God. This is your challenge."

Gaboury and his mother have both returned to church.

"This is where life comes full circle for me. I came back to a church where people are a community of faith, and I closed the circle. And being with you in this church, the broken boy is sitting over there," he said, gesturing to a nearby empty seat.

Gaboury challenged the audience to continue the dialogue and protect their children.


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