Victim of Abuse Thinks Little of Pope's Apology
By Jeffery Kurz
April 27, 2008
CHESHIRE - When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States for the first time, he expressed remorse over the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the American church. The pope met with a handful of victims and, during Mass at Washington's Nationals Park before 50,000 people, said "no words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse."
Though surprised that the pope so directly spoke about the issue, Jim Hackett remains unimpressed. The 44-year old computer programmer, who lives in Cheshire, went public in 2005 with his story of being sexually abused three times by the same priest in 1976, when he was an altar boy and middle school student at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Hamden.
Hackett considers the pope's comments public relations "spin."
"Now he's saying he's sorry, again," said Hackett. "They're trained to be consoling."
Hackett was among 43 victims sharing $22 million in a settlement of abuse claims with the Archdiocese of Hartford.
The pope's words ring hollow because the church continues to work to prevent abuse claims from coming forward, he said.
"Now that it's out there, how are they going to protect their image?" he said. "The only way to do that is to say we're going to handle this. To come out and say he's sorry about it is disingenuous."
Hackett, who was included in a victims' photography exhibit at a SoHo art gallery during the pope's visit, waited three decades before going public with his story.
In an e-mail message following an interview at a Cheshire restaurant, he explained why he felt it was ultimately necessary to speak out.
"I think it is important for people to understand, not only that these things are happening and being covered up by those who purport to be a moral compass for society, but, also people need to understand what a lasting effect the abuse has on the victims," he wrote.
"Victims are subjected to a lifetime of internal strife that causes low self esteem, and in many cases self-destructive behavior often resulting in alcoholism, drug abuse, and even suicide."
Since the pope's visit, victims from across the nation have been calling in for the first time to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Beth McCabe, co-leader of the organization's Connecticut chapter, which has about 75 members.
"What's really interesting to me is that every single survivor I talk to, they think they are the only ones," said McCabe, a 59-year-old Canton resident who was abused by a priest when she was growing up in Long Island.
"It is just such a betrayal," McCabe said. "Survivors are dealing with it on a sexual level, an emotional level, and most importantly on a spiritual level. We were taught they were God's messengers."
The pope's comments were "a small step that is coming way too late," McCabe said. "Yes, it's good he said those things, but it's taken the church so long to acknowledge the pain and suffering of the survivors, and there's a lot of cynicism from the survivors."
"Unless there's some very concrete action that follows, his words will be meaningless," she said.
Hackett describes himself today as "a struggling Catholic." He and his wife and two daughters no longer attend church services.
"I believe in God and the Bible and what it says about how you should behave," he said.
Hackett was in the seventh grade when the first abuse occurred. Before he was molested, he was an excellent student; afterward, he struggled, with C's and D's, he said.
"I'm lying in bed at night pissed off at the world, thinking about how I'm going to bash this guy's head in," he recalled. "It definitely takes the zest for life right out of you."
Even though his parents complained to the school, the priest was allowed to stay on. The priest was Hackett's gym teacher in the eighth grade.
"It would have been difficult enough if he had disappeared from my life after I'd turned him in," Hackett said.
The Rev. Louis Paturzo, whom Hackett accused of molesting him, was stripped of his priestly faculties following the settlement, according to published reports.
It wasn't until he was about 18 that Hackett said he felt like he could get on with his life.
"As years went by I'd still go to Mass, but I'd still be thinking about that," said Hackett, referring to the sexual abuse that had taken place in the back of the altar.
When friends of his were killed in an accident, Hackett said he wanted to pray for them, but found himself too haunted by the memory of his experience. "My faith was tainted by that," he said.
For years, Hackett kept the experience mostly to himself. He had been considering filing an anonymous, or John Doe, complaint against the church when in 2002 he watched an account of the priest scandal on television news. The memories flooded back, "and I thought, should I come out?" Hackett said.
"Not from the perspective of what happened to me, but of little kids," he said.
"I decided at that point I wanted to come out," he said. He contacted the Bridgeport firm of Tremont & Shelton, which was handling cases of clergy sex abuse victims. The settlement with the Archdiocese of Hartford was reached in October 2005.
"My whole thing was getting the story out there," he said. "I didn't want the money."
In a statement released when the settlement was reached, Hackett said: "While I am grateful that the diocese has offered this compensation, I want to make it perfectly clear that no amount of money can replace what was taken from me at the hands of a child molester who wore a Roman collar and called himself, 'Father.' No financial compensation can even begin to make up for the horror that I endured and the subsequent feelings of loneliness and rage that are all too common for the victims of such atrocities against children."
Tremont & Shelton has represented more than 100 victims since the firm started handling church abuse cases in 1993. Many of the priests involved in settlements are still within the church, said Cindy Robinson, a Tremont & Shelton attorney.
Many victims are unable to be as articulate as Hackett when it comes to talking about what happened to them, Robinson said. "There are many people who will never have a whole life," she said.
"It takes a lot of courage to come out and talk to the media the way he has," she said.
In his e-mail message, Hackett wrote: "every time a story is published about survivors of abuse, more victims come forward seeking help in attaining the empowerment that I have been fortunate enough to finally find within myself."
During his five-day visit to the U.S., the pope said it's important "that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention."
"The pope said he expected churches to reach out to victims," said McCabe. "They, quite frankly, treat us as lepers."
"None of us will ever, ever get over this," she said.
The Archdiocese of Hartford did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
The Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests is on the Internet, at www.snapct.org.
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