The Words of a Victim

New York Times
March 26, 2010

UNITED STATES -- Steven Geier, 59, is among the former students of St. John's School for the Deaf who has accused the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy of sexual abuse. He spoke Thursday to David Callender, a reporter covering the story for The Times, in Madison, Wis. The following is a transcript of their conversation. It has been edited and condensed, and it contains mature language.

The interview began with a question to Mr. Geier asking how he felt about his treatment by the Roman Catholic Church.

A. I feel my church has been very mean to me. When I attended St. John's, the priests and the nuns were always mean and never nice to any of the children. I've never forgotten that the nuns and the priests told us that we were deaf because that was God's way of punishing our parents. When I saw my mom, I told her that and she said that was not true. She told me that I became deaf because of a high fever.

But now I think about how could they have said something like that. It just totally turns my stomach to think that they could think of us in that way and say those things to us.

Q. So when did you try to tell anyone what had happened to you?

A. I started in 1966, and I told three different priests in the Madison area.

I went home (from St. John's) every weekend, went to church on Sunday; I was an altar boy, and I was 16. I talked to the priest there, and told him that Father Murphy had abused me. The priest told me to just forget about it. He didn't want to talk about it, didn't want to hear about it, and he said: "And you should forget about it, too. You're wrong, and there's no way it could be true." I honestly thought they were going to try to help me, but they really didn't.

I went to a different church after that. (The priest) kicked me out.

Several years later, I wanted to have a blessing of my marriage. I told the priest what had happened with Father Murphy, and the priest just said: "Forget about it. It didn't happen. You're wrong."

In 2005, I went through mediation. ... Mediation did not help.

There's so much involved in the history of this. I held this in for so many years, and it had physical effects on my body. I had no authority to do anything. ... I feel like I have not had a good life with the Catholic Church. It's been terrible. I wish I would never have been a Catholic. But my family was very strong in the Catholic faith. My aunt is a nun. My father was a devout Catholic. When I hear the word 'Catholic,' I don't think of religion. I don't think of people doing God's work. I think of all the abuse.

I remember years ago, I asked a priest if I should read the Bible. And the response was, you don't have to read the Bible. You don't have to follow the Bible. So I got the impression that the Bible was worthless, that it's a myth, that it's a joke. I believe that Catholic priests just did their jobs rather than being men of God and doing God's work.

Q. How do you feel about Father Murphy being buried with priest's honors?

A. I think it's terrible. He was able to keep the title of priest, and he kept it for many, many years, and it's not right. That man should have been in prison for a very long time, but he was lucky.

Q. How old were you when you went to St. John's?

A. I was either 8 or 9 years old.

My father thought that St. John's offered the best education, and of course, he was very proud of the Catholic Church and all it had to offer. He thought it was the best school, and it wasn't true. It was terrible. I think my father wasted all his money for my education. I did not get a good education there. My dad paid for me to attend that school, and then Father Murphy abused me, touched me. All I learned was sex.

I left school in 1966, after seventh grade. They had built a new high school. I did not want to attend the high school, so I transferred to the Wisconsin School for the Deaf for high school. I left at age 16.

Q. How did Father Murphy abuse you?

A. The abuse happened over the course of one year, when I was 14 to 15 years old. I was raped. I was not a willing partner of Father Murphy. I told Father Murphy no, and he raped me.

There was a boy who was the dorm supervisor, same age as me, was Father Murphy's pet. During the night, I was 14 years old, I started having sexual development.

I did not know what happened, so said something to dorm supervisor. I said, "Somebody spit on my pajamas," and the boy said: "That is the seed. That is how you can have a baby."

And he told me, "You know, I'll tell Father Murphy because Father Murphy is responsible for sex education."

And I said, "Why are you going to tell him?"

The next day, Father Murphy was aware of it because he came to my classroom, and he said: "Hi, Steve, I want to talk to you. Let's go to my office."

But en route, he changed his mind and he took me upstairs to my dorm. And he talked about sex, and I understood what he was saying. And then he said, "Come here," and he took me into the closet. The reason he took me in there was so nobody could see us.

And he said, "Please, take off your clothes," and I said: "What? Why do you want to take my clothes off? There is no need. I understand what you're trying to explain." And he said, "Please, you have to take off your pants." I said no. I refused. But he forced me. He grabbed my clothes and ripped them off me. I didn't do anything. I had no idea why he was doing this. I was shaking. I was sweating. And I felt like I had no recourse because he was such a powerful individual. And he told me that God had told him that he needed to teach me this and I had to keep it secret because it was under the sacristy of confession.

And all of the deaf boys never talked about it. It was extremely difficult for me. He forced himself on me four times, all four times in the same closet.

Q. Father Murphy claimed to the investigators that he only fondled boys who didn't refuse him. What's your reaction?

A. That is an out and out lie. He forced himself upon me. He raped me.

Q. Did anybody at school ever talk about what Father Murphy was doing?

A. Never. Never. Everybody would deny it. You know, I would say negative things about Father Murphy, and some other student would tell Father Murphy, and I would be punished. If any of the students wanted support, they did not share anything with me at all. But most of the students did like Father Murphy. The ones who revered Father Murphy would be mean to me. It was very difficult for me. People would say to me, "Shame on you for saying those things." I couldn't really understand why. I felt like I was a bad person. ...

It was really a hard time for me. I felt isolated. I felt lonely.

Q. You kept the picture of him at communion for all these years. Why would you keep a picture of someone who had abused you?

A. It was a picture from my first communion. It was my memory. My father was so proud because he was a devout Catholic and I was a good Catholic boy. There was a high holiness around it, a connection to the church, but there was really nothing there. After Father Murphy assaulted me, my whole world turned upside down. I almost went crazy. My emotions went into overdrive, and my wife has seen me go through that in several different periods. I get very angry. I'll go on about the Catholic Church. And old habits die hard. I feel scarred by the Catholic Church.

Q. But why did you keep it?

A. I don't know. I should throw the picture away, but I also look at it as my proof. You know, to prove it to myself that it actually did exist. ... If I threw it away, how would I prove that what happened actually did happen? Because if I throw it away, I'm throwing away the evidence. ...

The Catholic Church as a whole did nothing to help me. There was no support system for me. And it didn't feel good. It's a church. Come on.

I have diabetes, stress, I take Zoloft, and it's not helpful.

Q. Do you think your health issues are related to the abuse from Father Murphy?

A. Oh sure, definitely. I was a good Catholic boy. Now I feel nothing. Nothing. I feel ripped apart. I don't think about church or anything like that. Before I used to go to church and feel good. But now, I feel better that I don't belong to the church. It's not helping. The Catholic Church destroyed my body.

Q. When did you tell your parents about Father Murphy?

A. The first person I told was my sister. We were very close. Then I told my parents. My father said, "Why didn't you tell me before?" I said: "Because I was a young boy. You wouldn't have believed me. You wouldn't have believed me about the priests and the nuns. Their word was the truth." I was very hurt. It was my father's fault. It was very hard for me. My father is of German descent and very Catholic, and my uncle nearly became a priest.

You know, I think about the day after Father Murphy abused me. First thing in the morning, we took communion, and as he passed out the communion wafers, I thought about how many boys did he touch with those hands and all of the germs, all of the filth of his hands. I heard that Father Murphy had said it was the fault of the deaf boys that he abused them because they accepted it. Not me. I was not a willing participant. I left. It's just a terrible lie. Terrible.

Q. When was the last time you saw Father Murphy?

A. Father Murphy visited me twice at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf. The first time, they called me to the principal's office and they said Father Murphy wanted to see me, and I thought, "Why do I want to see this guy?" But they made me see him.

He asked me to forgive him. I was like, "No, too bad." He said, "I've said five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys, and I am sorry."

He could say "I'm sorry," but his words were empty.


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