Clergy Abuse Accusation No Excuse for Foley

By Jean Marbella
Baltimore Sun
October 6, 2006,0,6105291.column

Let's say Congressman Mark Foley indeed was sexually abused as a teenager by a clergyman.

If we've learned anything in the years since clergy abuse was revealed as a pervasive problem that church officials covered up for years, it's that we need to listen when someone claims to have been a victim - even if he is a shamed politician desperately throwing out explanations for some pretty inexplicable behavior.

Joe Radko, like Foley, was once a Catholic altar boy. And - you can see where this is going - he says he was sexually abused by a priest on trips to Ocean City back in 1978.

But when Foley suddenly announced on Tuesday that he was a victim of clergy abuse - four days after he resigned in disgrace over his sexually explicit e-mails to teenage congressional pages - Radko's reaction was: "What does that have to do with anything?"

Radko is 44 years old now, and a computer programmer who lives in Frederick. For years, he tried to report the sexual abuse he says he suffered at the hands of a priest, John Danilak, but couldn't get church or law enforcement officials to believe him. Finally, in 2002, the year that the clergy abuse scandal exploded in Boston and eventually forced the resignation of that archdiocese's cardinal, Bernard Law, Radko tried again. He had heard Danilak was working in a parish in Pennsylvania, in contact with children, and this time, succeeded in getting the priest indicted on multiple counts of sexual abuse dating back 24 years.

Two more victims would come forward, bolstering the case, and Danilak was scheduled to go on trial in May 2003.

"But then he died, unfortunately," Radko said of the priest, who a month before his trial was found dead in his house, apparently of HIV-related complications.

Even now, it's hard for Radko to talk publicly about his charges against Danilak. He credits the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests with helping him, and now leads support meetings for SNAP's Washington-area chapter.

It bothers him that Foley has thrown the issue of clergy abuse into the middle of his own political scandal.

"It seems calculated," Radko says of Foley's revelation, which came through his attorney Tuesday. "It seems like it's being used to garner sympathy."

It's not that Radko doesn't believe him, even though he's suspicious of the timing of the congressman's revelation.

"I'm sorry he might have been abused when he was younger," Radko says. "He should have taken care of it in some other more appropriate way."

Indeed. Foley's seemingly daily confessions - I'm alcoholic, I'm gay, I'm a victim of clergy abuse - come off as acts of desperation rather than of cleansing. Why not, for example, reveal you're gay during the good times, rather than when you've hit bottom? Why mix homosexuality with the entirely separate issue of an attraction to minors? And why unload a sensitive issue - that you're a victim of clergy abuse - in the midst of an exploding news story? Such a charge can't possibly get the full and serious treatment that it deserves when transcripts of your salacious e-mails and instant messages are all over the Internet, when the FBI and the House Ethics Committee are investigating you and when your Republican Party leadership is scrambling to contain the damage from spilling over into the November elections.

For Bob Russell, who heads SNAP's Maryland chapter, the fact that Foley now is saying he is the victim of clergy abuse is sadly ironic.

Russell says that as a student at Calvert Hall College in the 1970s, he was abused by a priest, Laurence Brett. The former chaplain and teacher has been accused of abuse by multiple people in various parts of the country but has eluded prosecution. The Hartford Courant, which investigated abuse charges against him, found him living in the Caribbean several years ago.

When Russell, 49, first heard of the Florida congressman's e-mails to underage pages, he says he was "sickened."

"It's the abuse of power over vulnerable people," Russell says. That abuse is the same, he continues, whether your power comes from the state or the church, whether you're wielding it over a page or a student.

"So he more than anyone," Russell says, "should know better."


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