|"Waiting to Be Counted': One Man's Story of Sexual Abuse at the Hands of a Priest
By Ivey Dejesus
April 4, 2011
A boy is molested by his priest, the transgressions committed in the church rectory and in a car.
Inappropriate touching leads to depraved acts, and the boy, consumed by fear and confusion, tells no one.
Todd Frey says that happened to him in 1982, when he was 13.
The years have muddied the adolescent memories, but Frey sets them straight with the help of letters from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. The letters are for him as much affirmation that what happened to him was devastating as it was illegal.
In April 1996, then-Bishop Nicholas C. Dattilo wrote to Frey to say: “The life of a bishop has many joys and many sorrows. The most profound of sorrows is for a bishop to discover that one of the priests of his diocese has betrayed his office by sexual misconduct.”
No criminal charges were ever leveled on Guy Marsico, a former priest assigned to St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Rohrerstown, Lancaster County.
“I’m still struggling with this issue to this day,” said Frey, who lives in Lancaster County.
Now 42, Frey clings to assurances from his mother. Years of therapy have done little to ease his torment.
“I’m still stuck in the anger mode,” he said. “As a man, I should be able to say that happens, get over it. But I can’t.”
Frey puts a human face to the sexual abuse scandal engulfing the Roman Catholic Church, its latest epicenter the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which has suspended 23 priests pending investigation into a grand jury report that, over the course of decades, they molested countless minors.
A high-ranking church official also was indicted, charged with covering up years of abuse, the first time that has happened in the U.S.
Over the past two decades, the Catholic Church has paid out billions of dollars in settlements in the scandal — considered the Vatican’s worst crisis since the Reformation — involving parishes in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and others worldwide. Few priests have been criminally charged. The majority have faced civil suits.
Indeed, Frey’s story underscores the dilemma faced by clergy abuse victims in this country: For many, statutes of limitation have simply expired.
Frey and his family reported the abuse allegations to the Harrisburg Diocese in 1994, when he was 25. By then, the statute of limitations had expired. At the time, state law required allegations to be reported within five years after turning 18.
“The problem with Frey is everything happened in the ‘80s,” said Sean McCormack, chief deputy district attorney in the Dauphin County District Attorney’s Office.
Tormented for years, Frey last June contacted Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico’s office. The Marsicos are not related.
Diocesan spokesman Joe Aponick said the church, back in 1994, launched an immediate investigation and removed Guy Marsico from the priesthood. The church also paid for Frey’s counseling and medication, and remains willing to work with Frey.
Under the current statute of limitation, sexual abuse victims who were minors when they were assaulted have legal recourse up to the age of 50.
Statutes of limitations, once expired, cannot be re-applied even if the Legislature extends the statute.
“One of the sad things with these abuse situations is everybody is affected differently,” said McCormack, head of the child abuse unit. “It can be a lifetime. It can affect someone for life.”
Guy Marsico now works as a midstate travel agent. The Patriot-News spoke with Guy Marsico for this story, but he declined to comment.
As a fourth-grader at St. Leo the Great, Todd Frey was a timid boy who often fended off bullying from classmates. He aspired to become a priest and found an ally in Father Guy, a popular confessor and wedding celebrant.
The priest forged a special bond with the boy, and when he was transferred to St. Rose of Lima in York, he invited the boy to spend the weekend at his new parish.
Only Frey provides an account of what he said happened that night — and again several other times. But his words bear weight against the letters the diocese sent him in the wake of their investigation into his allegations.
The letters from the diocese lack details, but they acknowledge that what happened to him was a “source of pain and anguish.” A letter from the Rev. Paul C. Helwig, then-secretary for clergy and religious life, mentions Marsico by name and the investigation that eventually led to his dismissal from the ministry.
“The diocese presented your report to the priest and, after appropriate inquiry, he was relieved of his duties. He is no longer active in priestly ministry,” the letter states.
In a letter, Datillo acknowledged his profound sorrows at learning that one of his priests had betrayed his office by sexual misconduct.
Frey said that, on that night at St. Rose of Lima, after Mass and dinner, the priest led the boy to his rectory bedroom. The room had two beds, but one was covered in boxes. The priest told the boy he could sleep with him. The boy asked if he could have his own bed.
“He said, ‘No. You will sleep with me,’” Frey said.
The priest ordered the boy to bed, then began to fondle the boy, Frey said. Eventually, the priest made the boy fondle him, Frey said.
“He gradually pulled his hands towards his crotch and he put his hands on my crotch,” Frey said.
The boy was confused and frightened.
“He orally manipulated me,” Frey said. “His mouth went down to my crotch area. I should’ve jumped out of bed and gone to the police ... but did not. I felt I was under his control.”
Frey said he passed out and to this day believes the priest drugged him.
After that, the priest began to take the boy on drives, sometimes to nearby places, other times to out-of-state parishes. Frey said Marsico liked to drive around York County, pointing out adult bookstores and bars.
“He’d touch my legs all the time,” he said. “And he would tell off-color jokes. Jokes a priest shouldn’t tell.”
Frey was 16, a student at Lancaster Catholic High School, when he said he told his mother of the abuse. By then, he was failing classes and using drugs. His mother didn’t know what to do and did not call police.
“That’s how things were done back then,” she said. “We knew it was morally wrong, but didn’t know it was legally wrong. There wasn’t anything you could do. You didn’t go to police. You went to the diocese.”
The clergy sex abuse scandal has confirmed what once seemed preposterous to her. But she says she never doubted her son.
“It was such a different time,” she said. “In our lives, the priest was above people.”
At 18, Frey entered a drug rehabilitation center.
Relieved of duties
In 1994, 12 years after the alleged abuse happened, Frey and his parents contacted the Harrisburg Diocese. The diocese launched an immediate investigation.
That August, the family received a letter written on plain paper and dated Aug. 8, 1994:
“I write to you with deepest regret. My words may not be many, but they are heartfelt. ... no words could ever begin to express how sorry I am for having hurt you —— all of you ... I’m a very different person today ... I pray that God will bring you healing. I also pray that with time and His help, He might move you to forgive me. If you were able to look into my heart and soul you would see how regretful I am...”
The letter had no return address and was signed simply: Guy.
The diocese says it has no knowledge of this letter. Frey said he has little doubt the letter was written by his former priest.
A few months later, Helwig wrote a two-page letter to Frey informing him that Marsico had been relieved of his church duties and acknowledging “a pastoral responsibility to assist you in working toward recovery and healing.”
The diocese had arranged for Marsico to pay for Frey’s therapy and medication, Helwig wrote. But Frey’s request for financial compensation — $975,000, a sum he calculated would cover pain and suffering, loss of wages and the educational expenses incurred by his parents — raised serious questions, Helwig wrote.
“Since prior to your report the diocese was not aware of any problems the priest may have had, it was determined that the diocese cannot be responsible for the actions of a priest which are performed for his own ends and which are condemned rather than approved by the Church,” Helwig wrote.
Dattilo was not “at liberty to disburse diocesan funds in cases like this where there is no legal responsibility on the part of the Church,” he wrote. “These funds were contributed by the people of the diocese for the ministries of the Church.”
The diocese had no knowledge of the sexual abuse at the time and, therefore, bore “no legal responsibility for his actions and consequently has no legal obligation to provide financial compensation,” wrote Dattilo, who passed away in 2004.
The church’s Victim Assistance Program tends to the “real needs” of victims, ranging from tuition, therapy and aid for the family, Aponick said. Financial compensation is typically connected to a cost incurred by the victim.
“I trust Bishop Dattilo made the right ministerial judgment on it,” Aponick said.
Aponick said the Diocese eventually lost contact with Frey.
McCormack believes that the Harrisburg Diocese is diligent about contacting law enforcement authorities any time it receives abuse allegations.
“I think they’ve been out in front of this issue more so than many other places in the country,” said McCormack, who has headed the child abuse unit since 1995.
In 2004, Dattilo reported that the Harrisburg Diocese paid out $1.9 million from 1950 through 2002 in connection with 35 credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors against 22 priests, according to BishopAccountability.org, a Massachusetts-based online watchdog.
Aponick said in most allegations, the priest has been dead for years.
‘A tremendous betrayal’
Jason Berry, an award-winning writer on the clergy sex abuse scandal, counts Frey among the thousands of “walking wounded.”
“Even though many people tend to be knee-jerk cynical about the culture of victimization, the reality is that there are many people whose lives have been thwarted, harmed, in some cases, deeply damaged,” said Berry, whose latest book, “Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church,” was released last summer. “If there were a fair mechanism by which they could get compensation, it would help them at least get on their feet or have a shot at a happier existence.”
Berry has heard countless victims talk about the trauma of the abuse.
“It’s a very humbling experience,” Berry said. “Most abuse survivors feel a tremendous betrayal, not just from the priest but the church hierarchy. It has a searing affect on their spiritual life. The notion that somehow faith itself abandoned them.”
Barbara Blaine, the president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an influential advocacy group for victims of clerical sexual abuse, said the diocese’s refusal to award Frey the $975,000 smacks of insensitivity and loopholes.
“It shows a disregard for the pain and suffering of victims,” said Blaine.
In 1995, Blaine received an $80,000 out-of-court settlement from the Toledo, Ohio diocese after she threatened legal action against the diocese and a priest, she said, sexually abused her for years.
“For a bishop to claim they can’t help because they didn’t know about it is ludicrous and it’s insensitive,” said Blaine, pointing out that Pope Benedict has urged the Catholic church “to do all it can to help victims.”
Bishop Joseph McFadden, who took over the Harrisburg Diocese last summer, said he has reached out to Frey, inviting him to visit and talk, and explore spiritual healing.
McFadden said that throwing money at an injury isn’t going to help victims heal.
“For some people it may be easy to say, ‘Here just take $50,000 and tell them to go away.’ That’s not a proper response for a church,” he said. “The church needs to embrace victims and try to help them put their life back together the best they can. We can’t put it back together perfectly because something has been stolen that cannot be replaced. But I would suggest that the idea that money somehow replaces that, money does not. What replaces it really is care, concern, compassion for the victims, a willingness to hold them and walk the journey with them.”
Blaine said recovery from clergy sex abuse is difficult. Victims commonly abuse drugs and alcohol, or have eating disorders. Many remain marginalized, unable to maintain jobs and relationships.
“We have difficulty with intimacy — that means sexual relationships, but even ordinary relationships,” she said. “Many have strained relationships with family members.”
An issue of trust
Todd Frey’s mother is exhausted with the past.
“It doesn’t mean it’s not important,” she said. “But it’s been 25 years. It’s old. I’m tired of it. It’s disgusting. It’s so aged, I wish it would disappear.”
She has left the Catholic Church.
Frey has been baptized a Mennonite. He struggles to have healthy relationships and has never married nor been in a long-term relationship.
“I don’t trust people. I have a tremendous trust issue,” said Frey, who joined SNAP a few months ago.
He keeps envelopes and folders filled with copies of letters from attorneys and details of interactions over the years with the Harrisburg Diocese.
“I’m looking for validation,” Frey said. “I have people say, ‘Move on.’ I haven’t. I’m still waiting to be counted.”
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