Abuse Victims Speak

By Leah Hope

August 13, 2008

[with video]

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Two of the 16 church abuse victims spoke out Tuesday about the settlement and about their own struggles following the abuse they suffered.

Two of the victims involved in the settlement shared their stories - lives deeply affected by what they say was betrayal by their priests and their church.

It's been 40 years since Therese Albrecht's first communion. She said looking at the pictures of that day is bittersweet.

Albrecht says when the pictures were taken, she was being raped by Father Joseph Bennett at Saint John De Lasalle, starting when she was 8 years old.

"The same hands that sexually abused me held the holy Eucharist in his hand and placed it on my tongue. That doesn't make any sense<" she said.

Bennett is part of the settlement announced with the archdiocese. In two letters from the archdiocese review board in 2005, it was recommended Father Bennett be removed from ministry.

And a transcript of Cardinal George's testimony he's asked, "Do you have doubt whether Joe Bennett committed sexual abuse against minors, Cardinal?"

He responded, "No, I share the review board's conviction."

Albrecht said the abuse haunts her sleep. She says she was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. She says suicidal thoughts were common until she came forward.

"A year ago, you would not have seen me sitting here. You would have seen a very sad person, a very sick woman as far as my mood level and as far as my zest for life. There was none. But this has really helped me," she said.

Bob Brancato said he attempted suicide three times. Brancato has also endured a similar life of battling depression and PTSD. Brancato said his principal, Father James Steel, abused him at Saint Joseph the Worker in Wheeling.

"It changed your whole life. You think God is mad you and doesn't want you to be alive. You believe you aren't good enough to accomplish anything," said Brancato.

During a press conference with their attorneys, Brancato was deeply moved by the announcement. He never finished college and said he will put his settlement toward a degree in criminal justice. Brancato, now a father of four, said he hopes his advocacy makes it safer for all children.

"They have been taught from a beginning age that when they're old enough to understand, (they know) this is right, this is wrong& I refuse to let what happened to me happen to another child. I will do whatever I can and however I can to prevent another child from being victimized," he said.

Albrecht never had children. She says the abuse caused her to think no child could be safe.

The details of how much money the victims will receive has not been disclosed, but for some, it was the nonmonetary parts of the settlement that mean more. For instance, Albrecht said she wants to return to the basement room at De LaSalle where she says she was abused for closure.


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