|In Her, Priests' Collars Touch off Night Terrors
By Patricia Snyder
October 29, 2007
Cynthia Falter was just 5 years old when a man of God brought her into her own personal hell.
Over four years, the former Los Angeles resident suffered fondling, groping and rape by a Catholic priest whose deeds led to her pending lawsuit settlement, said Falter, now 49.
"He took my virginity for my Communion," she said. "He said I was his little bride."
The experience has had a lifelong effect. She has had trouble keeping a job, with her relationships, with finding peace of mind.
She's still reconstructing herself, and part of that effort involves speaking out so others know they're not alone - the way she felt for so long. Falter was in Grants Pass this week, looking for property in an effort to move back to a place where she found a measure of peace in the early 1990s.
"It was a very healing thing for me to be here," she said.
Falter was living in Anchorage when Los Angeles police detectives arrested George Neville Rucker and brought him through the Alaska city after catching him on a ship bound for a two-month cruise. The retired priest was arrested on Sept. 27, 2002, on 23 felony counts of lewd acts with a child under 14 years of age based on allegations by more than 20 adult women regarding activities from the 1940s through the 1970s.
Falter later decided to come forward and join others in the hope that maybe someone, this time, would believe her.
As a child, she sought adult help but was instead beaten for claiming to be abused by the priest - a man in a position of community esteem.
"He was talking for God," she said. "He was at the right hand of God."
Later, nun Sister Mary noticed how distant she was. Falter recalled a meeting at the church after she told Sister Mary what was happening. A police officer attended. Her attorney has tried to find information about that investigation, without much luck. Falter felt alone in her experiences.
She sought out Sister Mary afterward but couldn't find her.
"She was trying to help me, and they sent her away," she said, her voice cracking.
Young Falter was terrified she was going to hell, that she was "bad."
"That feeling has never left," she said.
She ran away at age 13 and kept heading north. She's been across the nation and out of the country. She kept moving, unable to trust others despite her desire to, sometimes not recognizing the true hand of friendship. She has wrestled with drinking problems as she has tried to escape the pain.
She recalled sitting on a beach, watching couples and longing to be like them. But she instead ended up in unhealthy relationships. She's been in therapy off and on throughout her adult life. She developed a confused sense of sexuality and expectations, afraid of being raped if she didn't give men what they wanted but longing to be liked for who she was inside.
Falter often worked in construction because of the ability to just walk away. It's hard to find an employer who understands she suffers panic attacks and needs to go home where she feels safe, she said. She still experiences night terrors and flashbacks, triggered by crucifixes, church bells, priestly collars.
Molestation not only hurts a child, but it robs society of potential, Falter said. She's an intelligent woman, she added, but it shames her that her own behavior at times doesn't fit with "correct thinking."
"I could have done greater things in life," she said.
She feels a sense of accomplishment from being able to raise two sons for five years in Josephine County, away from harm and with the chance to play in the woods and the river. One is now 20 and an apprentice mechanic. The other is 25 and has served two tours of duty in Iraq. A third son, 9, was taken by authorities during the pending civil lawsuit because they said she couldn't provide for him.
Falter left Grants Pass after the death of her former mother-in-law. She felt a longing to try to connect with her own estranged relatives, but her talk of abuse created a barrier between them.
She's longed for family ties, something she's discovering in other survivors of abuse. She's joined Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which she explained is open to any victims of clergy molestation regardless of denomination.
Rucker was freed in July 2003 following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning a California law allowing prosecution of child molestation charges based on crimes before 1988. Until 1994, molesters could not be prosecuted in California more than six years after the offense, but the court said the new law couldn't be applied retroactively. Media reports at that time estimated the decision affected as many as 800 people accused or already convicted of sexual offenses.
Being abused as a child carries such shame that a statute of limitations should be eliminated, Falter said.
A participant in a civil lawsuit, she expects a settlement pay-out in December, providing the more than 500 plaintiffs agree to settlement terms against the church for not acting to protect victims of its priests. The resolution was not cause for celebration, she said.
"There's no winning," she said. "I didn't feel any kind of joy.
"I really didn't want to settle," she said. "I wanted to go to trial. I wanted the whole world to know the depth of the heresy and the depth of the secrecy."
Once attorneys are paid, she'll have enough money for some therapy and maybe to buy a house, she estimated, although she worries about her ability to keep a job to pay for utilities.
Falter's dream is to create a haven for still-struggling survivors. She imagines a place where people can interact with animals, which have meant so much to her.
In spite of her experience, Falter believes it is God who has been with her even in times of great despair, including when she contemplated suicide. She's had unusual appearances of animals she believes God sent to her, such as a dolphin, a white owl during the day, a bird landing near her face and a rogue horse turned friend.
"They always seemed to come to me when I was at my worst," she said.
She was angry with God because of what happened to her, she said. People need to protect children because abusers often are the very ones who seem trustworthy, she said. Those abused by a member of the clergy face an additional spiritual challenge.
"It's soul murder," she said.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has a Web site at www.snapnetwork.org and a toll-free number of (877) 762-7432.
Reach reporter Patricia Snyder at 474-3817 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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