Victim of Priest Sex Abuse Gives Advice to Parents

By Tom Roussey
July 8, 2010

[with video]

GAFFNEY, SC (WBTV) - David Fortwengler says he knows what the man who came forward alleging abuse by a North Carolina priest feels like. Because he's been there.

The latest allegations are against Father Joseph Kelleher, who allegedly sexually abused a 14-year old boy in Albemarle in 1977 while serving at Our Lady of the Annunciation.

Fortwengler, who now lives in Gaffney, was sexually abused in 1968 at a church in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

He says Robert Petrella, the Catholic priest convicted of abusing him, abused a total of over two dozen children.

Fortwengler praised the alleged victim in the Albemarle case and says he wants to encourage any other potential victims to come forward.

"History shows us that rarely does someone who commits this kind of crime only have one victim," he said.

Fortwengler said it can be hard to come forward to police; it took him 35 years to be able to do it. He says it's important, in part because it will help stop a pedophile from abusing any more victims. But he says it's also important for the victim.

"It's the best way to pursue your healing and to counter the effects of what's happened to you," Fortwengler said.

Fortwengler gave WBTV insight into how the priest went about abusing him. He believes the priest started by testing his reaction to improper touching.

"I was an altar boy," he said. [He was] tucking in our shirt before mass. So you would kind of think, 'did he touch me?'"

Fortwengler was 11 at the time, and says the way he reacted must have convinced Petrella that he could get away with doing worse things.

The priest escalated his actions from there, and eventually sexually assaulted Fortwengler twice.

"He never threatened me, said to be quiet or to not tell," Fortwengler said. "I think he just felt confident that I wouldn't. And I didn't."

Fortwengler says it's important for a child to have a parent or trusted adult that they won't be ashamed to go to if the actions of another adult make them uncomfortable or if they are abused.

He says as an 11-year old he couldn't bring himself to tell his parents what happened.

"I was so scared of coming forward and telling, and especially when we're talking about a Catholic priest with all the deference and the reverence that their parishioners give them," he said.

"[And] I was just so scared that I wouldn't be believed. I was scared that my parents wouldn't believe me. I was 11. I wasn't even sure how to explain to them what actually happened."

Fortwengler strongly recommends the website, which has tips for parents on talking to their kids about the issue. He says the tips are very age appropriate.

Fortwengler is a member of a group called SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests).


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