Rigali Hears the Horror Stories
Victims Recount Sexual Abuse Inflicted by Archdiocesan Priests

By David Gambacorta
Philadelphia Daily News
September 16, 2006

[See also Priests Hear Victims' Pain, by David O'Reilly and Kera Ritter, Philadelphia Inquirer (9/16/06), and the Philadelphia grand jury report.]

GRACE STOOD behind a wooden podium, clutching several pages of notes as hundreds of pairs of eyes watched her intently. A small golden crucifix hung on a thin necklace, protruding every few minutes from behind her purple jacket.

Her gaze never lifted from those stark white pages as she emotionally recounted a sickening tale of manipulation and abuse.

She recalled meeting her husband decades ago, and a charming, generous priest who soon became a close family friend.

The priest was a constant presence in their lives as Grace and her husband raised their daughter and three sons. He even said Mass in their home on Sundays.

"Little did I know we were being groomed for his future," she said. When each of her sons turned 10, Grace said, the trusted priest began sexually abusing them. The vile acts continued on a weekly basis for years.

Turning her attention to the stiff, tight-lipped men who listened to her account, Grace offered a terse assessment. "I respectfully suggest that you really don't get it."

And so it went yesterday for more than an hour inside a small auditorium at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, where Cardinal Justin Rigali and about 330 priests gathered to hear horror stories from survivors of sexual abuse by priests.

The gathering, dubbed "Witness to the Sorrow," was called by Rigali and shown live on the archdiocese's Web site.

"These individuals, along with many others, were abused by our brother priests," Rigali said before the meeting began at about 4:30 p.m.

"As priests, we are called to reach out and administer to those who have been abused. However, it is extremely important for us to hear their stories firsthand so we may see the human face and hear the human voice. So this evening, we listen and witness."

And listen they did, although Rigali and his fellow priests probably wished they weren't hearing some of what was said.

Grace read a letter one of her sons wrote detailing his sexual encounter with a priest in "a rectory bedroom in South Philly."

"The more I would resist, the more he would come on to me. It was like he enjoyed the struggle, the challenge, and would not be satisfied until I gave in to his demands," Grace said, quoting her son's letter.

Grace said her older son is now in prison, following a period of living in alleys and on railroad tracks. She continued to read from his letter: "Are you feeling my pain? I just wanted to scream."

Victoria Windsor Cubberly, a middle-aged woman dressed in a white suit, followed Grace.

Speaking in halting sentences, she offered lurid details of abuse inflicted by several priests and a twisted relationship with another priest that lasted 28 years.

Cubberly recalled contemplating suicide on New Year's Eve when she was 15 and being abused by a priest who was 54.

"At an age when my peers were begging to go out on dates, I was already a seasoned victim of date- rape by priests," she said.

Cubberly said her abuse left her struggling with "issues of trust, insecurity, anger, sexuality, fear, worthiness, guilt, shame and so much more."

She said she was later abused by two other priests.

Though clearly difficult to sit through, the meeting was considered essential by Rigali. An hour-long prayer service was held after the meeting in St. Martin's Chapel.

Resentment lingers because many victims were prevented from suing the archdiocese by a statute of limitations on abuse.

Edward Morris, a married father of two, compared the trauma of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest to a festering wound.

"Your Eminence, with all due respect, it still smells bad," said Morris, 44, dressed in a black suit and striped tie. "The wounds that were caused, to this point, have been superficially wrapped."

The sharp words were just the latest in an on-going war of words over the abuse scandal.

In July, two former city prosecutors sent a scathing letter to Rigali. The letter accused the archdiocese of not thoroughly addressing the sexual-abuse problem, thus leaving children vulnerable to future attacks.

The letter was nowhere near as devastating as the three-year grand-jury investigation that slammed the archdiocese in 2005 for concealing clergy sexual abuse for decades.

The investigation accused former Cardinals John Krol and Anthony J. Bevilacqua of enabling abuse to continue by reassigning abusive priests to other parishes.

The grand jury concluded that hundreds of minors had been abused by clergy. The archdiocese released a 70-page response that rejected the grand-jury's findings. [See also the district attorney's examination of the archdiocesan response.]

Still, some priests tried to end yesterday on a positive note.

"Being listened to is a big part of the healing process for these victims," said Monsignor Nelson J. Perez, the pastor of St. William's Church in Crescentville. "I think that tonight, that beginning step was accomplished through this witness."


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