Michael Iatesta's Story of Priestly Abuse
By Matt C. Abbott
Renew America [New Jersey]
June 8, 2005
The following is the story of Michael Iatesta, a survivor of clergy abuse. It is a slightly edited version of a statement he gave at an April 17 press conference.
"Gerald Ruane, a recently retired priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, parish priest, college professor, campus minister, chaplain, director of the Sacred Heart Institute of Healing, and a national charismatic healer is also a child sex offender.
"I was one of his victims.
"I was raised in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and received all of my education from Catholic institutions. I graduated from Sacred Heart Grammar School in Bloomfield, Immaculate Conception High School in Montclair, and received my Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Seton Hall University in South Orange. I now reside in Westfield, New Jersey.
"I'm a human rights activist, and for the last decade have worked to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS around the world. Most recently, I have worked for the Centers for Disease Control's Global AIDS Program. I am here to tell you my story and to inform you that I will be filing a civil law suit against the Archdiocese of Newark, Father Ruane and the archbishop for years of emotional and psychological exploitation. I am fortunate to have attorney John Aretakis to represent me.
"In 1973, when I was eleven, my father was dying of cancer. Hoping for a cure, I was introduced to Father Ruane at a charismatic healing Mass by my cousin who worked for him at Caldwell College between 1973 and 1977. Unfortunately, my father succumbed to his illness and died in 1974. During the next year, I remained a vulnerable, depressed young boy who was desperately seeking comfort and solace from the ordeal of my father's illness and subsequent death.
"In 1975, I was reacquainted with Father Ruane when he began his healing ministry. Instead of providing care, spiritual strength, and support to me, Gerald Ruane had his own corrupt self-interest in mind, which was neither priestly nor 'fatherly.' Throughout the rest of my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, Father Ruane subjected me to sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse. Father Ruane told me during our earliest encounters that, since I no longer had a father, I required 'ten hugs a day by a man to grow up normal.'
"He also told me that I shouldn't date or fantasize about sex with girls, that I shouldn't go out with my friends who were outside the charismatic movement, and that I should consider living in their House of Prayer, a Christian group home where prayer would be the focus of the day. At an early age he instructed me to provide the sacrament of healing and communion to the congregation. I knew this was wrong but felt he had a hypnotic spell over me making it difficult to say no to any of his wishes or advances.
"Throughout the years of 1975 – 1982, I would often be invited to visit Father Ruane at Caldwell College in Caldwell, Sacred Heart Church in Bloomfield, Our Lady of the Lakes Rectory in Verona and The Sacred Heart Institute of Healing in Caldwell. During these visitations for prayer and healing he would instruct the sister or rectory keeper to leave and would instruct that we were not to be disturbed for any reason. Behind locked doors, I would be given my prescription of 'hugs.'
"Eventually these hugs led to sexual touching. Father Ruane would instruct me to lie on the couch, and then he would lie on top of me, breathing hard, kissing me on my neck and lips, whispering in my ear, and fondling my genitals inside my pants, exploring every private area of my body. While in his room in the rectory, he would frequently ask me to take off my shirt, and, if I was comfortable, my pants, so he could give me a massage that, inevitably, would once again lead to him on top of me engaging in the same behavior as in other times.
"This went on for all of my adolescent years. After leaving I was always in tears, feeling ugly and dirty, hoping I would die, so I wouldn't have to face another visit with the priest.
"During this period of time, I was also invited to be Father Ruane's racquetball partner. I didn't like the game, but again, I was under his spell and couldn't say no. After these games, he would insist that we shower together. I wanted to shower at home because I was a modest and insecure teenager. While in the shower, Father Ruane would always stare at me and compliment me with lewd comments and wash me. All I could do was to stand, frozen. Afterwards, he would ask me to place my hands on his head and pray for his forgiveness. I often felt shame and guilt after these showers and said so to him. In reply to this, Father Ruane once wrote to me stating '...you're much too hard on yourself; you should be much harder on me.'
"I slowly began to hate his hugs and touching more and more and tried to back away, but this proved difficult for a child who was raised to always obey and respect priests. I also believed he really loved me. Moreover, Father Ruane was very charismatic. He supposedly healed people, and was loved by many. His status nationwide made me question why I feared his closeness and affections while others would consider his touches a blessing and a privilege.
"I felt ungrateful for his love. At this time, I thought if I confronted his actions, admitted to others or to myself that his behavior was wrong or motivated by a selfish sexual desire, it would mean our relationship was based on a lie, and the declarations from him of love, friendship and support were meaningless. I couldn't accept another loss of a relationship that, despite its disturbing and abusive aspects, had meant so much to me at the time of my father's death.
"After college, when Father Ruane learned that I had started to date and have sexual relations with a girl, he became very angry; he was jealous. He told me I was sinning and that I should leave her and come to live in their House of Prayer to avoid these temptations. Fortunately, my girlfriend helped me to realize how much control this priest had on me and for the first time I began to see things from another perspective.
"In 1986 I began to see a psychologist and was soon hospitalized at Carrier Clinic for major depression with suicidal ideation. After my hospitalization, I attended group therapy. With the group's support I realized I needed to confront Father Ruane. One night after meeting with the group, I drove to the rectory and was greeted by the housekeeper. It was around 10 p.m. I asked for Father Ruane, and she said he was in his room asleep. I told her it was an emergency; she reluctantly called him.
"When I saw him I began screaming at him. He told the housekeeper to leave and brought me to an adjacent room. I asked him if he had sexually abused me, and he repeatedly said no, then said, 'I went too far because I fell in love with you.' I asked him if he was gay, and he repeatedly said no, and then said, 'I might be, I'm not sure, I'm confused.' He told me someone in the Church was counseling him and that he was also seeing a private therapist. He apologized for what he did over the years and admitted that he was 'out of control and crossed boundaries' and stated that he still loved me. I replied, 'What you did to me was not love — you took advantage of me.'
"In 1992, I still had a lot of anger toward Father Ruane for what he did to me emotionally and physically. I remained depressed and was in great debt because of outstanding psychologist bills, hospital expenses and college tuition. My co-worker and closest friend advised that I needed to bring closure to what happened between Father Ruane and me. She explained that it was not helpful to be angry toward the Church for the actions of one of its priests. She suggested I speak with another priest. My psychologist at the time happened to know of a priest in her parish who was sensitive to issues similar to mine. She said, 'The Church at least owes you this much.' I was anxious at first because of my experiences with Father Ruane, but she assured me that I would be safe with him.
"I met with Father McNulty from the Blessed Sacrament Church in Roseland. After speaking with him, he echoed what everyone else said about the wrongdoings of Father Ruane, but he also gave me some hope. I was surprised when he advised me to report Father Ruane to Church authorities. He told me that I needed to forgive both myself and the priest and that it might be helpful to talk with Father Ruane again now that some years had passed. Taking this advice, I found out where Father Ruane's office was, called, and asked to see him. I explained that I was ready to forgive him, and he agreed to meet me.
"I met Father Ruane at his new West Caldwell office and told him I forgave him. He appeared cold and distant and simply said, 'I'm glad.' He asked me how I was doing and I told him that I was working in Newark on a federally-funded AIDS prevention project, was in a solid relationship for several years and was thinking about going back to church. He asked me if I was married (he saw no wedding ring) and I said no. He then asked if I was having sex with this person. I replied yes, and we were very happy and my family and friends loved and accepted us.
"He got out of his chair, went into the other office and came back with a book. He asked again if I was living and having sex outside of marriage and I replied I was. He then gave me book on sexual addictions and suggested I read it and perhaps think about attending a sexual addiction recovery support group given my history and current situation. I gave him back the book and told him 'no thank you' and that he might benefit from reading it himself. As I left his office I asked if he had done to others what he had done to me. He said no. I drove home hoping he had told me the truth but remained skeptical, thinking there were probably others like me whose trust he had betrayed.
"That was the last time I saw him.
"My cousin, who had regrettably introduced me to Father Ruane, has said that during the time she worked for him, she would be called very late in the evening to do non-relative work, and work as the gatekeeper. While there, she witnessed numerous young men, some of whom had driven there, others who were too young to drive, request to see Father Ruane. These late night visitors varied from a single young man to several men. When my cousin asked about these late night visitations to his room, Father Ruane became infuriated and gawkily mentioned the young men were coming to receive 'vocational counseling.' My cousin quit her job because of his erratic behavior, angry outbursts, daunting male ego, and her having to be the custodian of secrets.
"In 2002, when the Church scandal involving the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy was exposed in the media, I began to experience crying spells, flashbacks, and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I'm attending weekly therapy sessions with a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a trauma specialist. Among the residual effects of my years of abuse by Father Ruane are difficulties with intimacy, major depression, an inability to trust, a corruption of my Christian beliefs, blocked access to God, loss of faith, low self esteem, identity confusion, panic attacks, PTSD episodes, suicidal ideation, dissociate flashbacks, debilitating triggers relating to abuse, sense of shame and guilt.
"For additional support, I have been attending meetings sponsored by the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). One of the SNAP members happens to know Father Ruane personally and recently spoke with him about his retirement. She mentioned that he is planning on writing another book. For the sake of his own healing, and for the sake of those he may have abused, I hope this book reflects truth and self-examination around his secret life involving abuse, betrayal, and sin.
"Another member also mentioned that Father Ruane is having quite a 'remarkable' house built down in South Jersey, and that she saw him concelebrating a Mass during Easter Week despite the archdiocese informing me that he can no longer function as a priest in any diocese. Do priests with whom Father Ruane concelebrated Mass realize that they were on an altar with a pedophile?
"A different priest reported seeing Father Ruane in Rome being interviewed by a roving CNN reporter. He was presenting himself as a priest and was wearing priestly attire — both banned by the archdiocese. The question is: Who's keeping an eye on him? Does anyone really care? Are safeguards in place so priests like Father Ruane remain in compliance to their restrictions?
"More recently, the New Jersey Prosecutor's Office has reported two similar cases of sexual abuse, during the same time frame, citing Father Ruane as the offender. Furthermore, I am told that Father Ruane has undergone treatment at a group facility for priests exhibiting sexually deviant behavior. To my mind, this evidence indicates that his alleged sexual behavior has been a long-standing problem and that there may be many other victims out there who have yet to come forward.
"Despite my overwhelming fear, I decided my story had to become public. Faced with these facts, the troubling question that remains unanswered is: Why has the Archdiocese of Newark given Father Ruane so much autonomy at the cost of other victims? I regret having fallen into Father Ruane's trap and remain troubled by how closely he remains protected under the powerful yet shameful wings of Archbishop Myers.
"I tell you my story as a testimonial that sexual abuse remains a huge problem in the church and in a desire that priests who violate the Church's trust and injure vulnerable young people for their depraved self-satisfaction should be held accountable, forced to receive treatment, and be removed from all of their ministerial duties so that the possibility of others being harmed is eliminated. I only hope that in the time it took for me to understand Father Ruane's behavior for what it was — sexual abuse — there have not been others who also have been abused by him.
"Despite my own feelings of guilt for not speaking out sooner, it is Father Ruane who has sinned and who has committed a crime. I share this with you to demonstrate to others, as well as myself, that no one should have to keep such secrets. For I have come to realize, after a long, hard road, such secrets are kept at a great cost to those who keep them, as well as to those from whom they are kept."
Matt C. Abbott is the former executive director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee and the former director of public affairs for the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League. He is a Catholic journalist and commentator.
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