John Fidler: Victim Battles to Recover from Abuse

Reading Eagle
March 25, 2011

In "Surviving and Other Essays," Bruno Bettelheim (1903-1990), the Holocaust survivor and child psychologist, wrote: "What cannot be talked about cannot be put to rest. And if it is not, the wounds will fester from generation to generation."

In the fallout from the ongoing sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, the festering continues.

So do demonstrations of courage from the survivors of horrific abuse by Catholic priests.

Silent for decades, one, Mark Rozzi, bravely began talking about the abuse he said he suffered at the hands of the Rev. Edward Graff at Holy Guardian Angels school in Hyde Park in the 1980s. I was privileged to have Mark share his story with me for this column.

And now another brave soul has stepped forward.

He is Joe Behe of Dillsburg, York County, who said he, too, was sexually assaulted by Graff. His mother, Judy Deaven, told me some of Joe's story in May. Now Joe is ready.

Joe, who is on disability because of the psychological damage caused by the abuse he said Graff committed at Holy Guardian Angels, spoke deliberately about his frightening experiences and the effects they have had on his life.

"It's its own hell," Joe said. "I wake up at night not knowing where I am. I want to escape. Sometimes my girlfriend has to come over to bring me back."

Joe suffers from dissociative identity disorder, which, according to the website, was formerly called multiple personality disorder.

He said his mind is trying to protect itself from the horrors he said he lived through with Graff, who kept him locked up overnight during the assaults and threatened him with damnation if he ever came forward.

"He made it seem that I was locked into some sort of secret," Joe said. "I'm already in it. It was a horrible experience. I am frightened beyond reason about the concept of hell."

Joe said he has flashbacks at night. The dark images return. "I pray to God to let me go back to sleep."

Only once did Joe's voice break, not, interestingly enough, when he was talking about the abuse, but when he spoke of his circle of friends and family, his support network.

"It's so hard for them to do what they do," he said. "They have to watch us suffer. I wouldn't want to watch another person suffer the way I have. I couldn't imagine it. It's like being burned at the stake."

Yet despite his colossal torment, Joe said he has just two wishes: to get better, of course, and to help other survivors attain justice.

"In some ways it's my mission," he said.

He's focusing a lot of his attention on the legislation that was introduced in Harrisburg earlier this month that would abolish the criminal and civil statutes of limitations on all future sexual attacks on children and create a two-year window of opportunity, starting in July, that would allow past victims to sue no matter how long ago they were abused.

"This is extremely important," Joe said, "for the safety of children of the future, and it would be a step toward redemption for the children of the past."

Joe described the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church as a cancer that will eat at the justice system forever unless it is addressed now.

"You can't hide history," he said. "You can't hide slavery, the Civil War, the Holocaust."

As our conversation wound down, Joe spoke eloquently about Jesus carrying the cross, a cross he was forced to carry.

"I have not given up on God," he said.

In many ways, the survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests bear crosses forced on them by their abusers.

Outside, a stubborn winter was beginning to yield to spring. Joe said he could hear birds chirping. I heard them too over the telephone.

"Spring it's a sign of hope, isn't it?" he said. "I hope I can be of help."

John Fidler is a copy editor and writer at the Reading Eagle. He holds a master's degree in English from the University of Chicago. Contact him at 610-371-5054 or


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