|John Fidler: Abuse Victim Shows Courage in Quiet Strength of His Voice
May 7, 2010
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Profiles in Courage," then-U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy chronicled the experiences of eight U.S. senators who spoke out against sometimes overwhelming forces of political opposition.
This is another profile, no less courageous than the senators', for the quiet strength of its voice against the louder voice of a powerful institution.
It is the story of a man who has harbored a secret for most of his life and who has decided the time is right to reveal it.
It is Mark Rozzi's story, and it begins with the kind of moment that at first lacked the ballast the ensuing years would give it.
"Father Graff yelled at me in class," Mark, 39, told me, "and I really wanted to please him, to win his trust. And that's how he roped me in."
President of Rozzi Brothers Inc., Mark that day entered a world populated by thousands of people who say, many years later, that they were sexually abused by Catholic priests over the past 50 years.
Mark's corner of that world was Holy Guardian Angels school in Hyde Park, where the Rev. Edward Graff taught. Graff died in 2002 in a hospital in Texas after breaking his hip, according to published accounts.
Those accounts said that at the time of his death, Graff was awaiting trial on charges that he had sexually assaulted a 15-year-old boy who worked at a Texas church rectory.
According to court papers cited in the accounts, the boy told investigators he watched pornographic movies with Graff "to prepare himself for adult relationships," and that Graff performed oral sex on him.
Mark said that one day in 1984, Graff invited him to the Holy Guardian Angels parish rectory, where Graff gave him alcohol and showed him pornographic movies.
Later, Mark said, Graff brought him into Graff's bedroom to look at pornographic magazines. Eventually, Mark said, Graff got Mark's pants off and took photographs of him naked. Graff also touched Mark sexually, Mark said.
During a subsequent visit, Graff sexually assaulted Mark in Graff's shower, Mark said.
Mark said he panicked and fled, but not before Graff told him to keep his mouth shut.
Mark then entered Central Catholic High School, but being in the same school with more priests was too much for him.
"I was having nightmares," Mark said, reflecting his fear of any priest because of what he said occurred at Holy Guardian Angels. "I had to get out."
He finished out his freshman year there and transferred to Muhlenberg High School.
In a statement, the Diocese of Allentown said it "regards sexual abuse of a minor by any person as a serious crime, a sin and a fundamental breach of trust. That sin and breach of trust are even more intolerable when they are committed by a cleric.
"The Diocese regrets that any person might have been the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of any cleric, particularly within the Diocese. In keeping with Diocesan policy, the Diocese has reached out to any victim who has come forward and will continue to do so."
Mark said he had a call from a representative of the diocese on April 28, the same day I called its spokesman for a comment about this column.
"I'd been waiting for that call for 25 years," Mark said. "Just another slap in the face."
Until last year, Mark had told only his mother and his father about the abuse. And as if the trauma of what he said he endured were not enough, a friend committed suicide last year.
"He was abused by the same priest," Mark said of his friend. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about it."
Many years later, Mark feels guilty because he was not able to stop the abuse of other boys, boys whose pictures he said he saw in Graff's room.
"I'm the one that let it happen because I didn't say anything at the time," he said. "I could have put an end to it back then."
Today, Mark Rozzi has the support of his family and many others. His family, he said, has abandoned the church.
"I can't let anything happen to other boys," he said. "If you keep quiet, you're just as guilty as those who harbor the predators."
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