|Texas Woman Claiming Abuse As Child by Parma Priest Wants Diocese to Remove Plaque
By Michael O'Malley
June 5, 2011
PARMA, Ohio -- Barbara Johnson of Fort Worth, Texas, held a deep, gnawing secret inside her for decades, going all the way back, she says, to the late 1950s when she was a Catholic schoolgirl growing up in Parma.
She and her family were members of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church on Ridge Road, where Johnson received the sacraments of confession, confirmation, holy Communion and matrimony.
It was the place where she learned her catechism and the sacred rituals of her creed; the place where she grew spiritually through the words and prayers of nuns and priests.
But something happened at St. Charles. Something, she says, she was afraid to talk about.
"It was disgusting," Johnson told The Plain Dealer. "I remember his tongue in my mouth. He was old and overweight and he smelled bad. He tried to fondle my breasts. I kept moving his hands away."
Johnson, 65, said she was repeatedly groped and kissed by the Rev. Nicholas Monaghan, pastor of St. Charles, when she was in her early teens.
Monaghan died in 1967 at age 85. A bronze plaque bearing his image and honoring him as the founder of the parish, hangs in the church today. Johnson has asked the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland to remove the plaque, saying it honors a pedophile. The diocese has refused, although it has been paying for more than two years for Johnson to see a therapist in Texas.
The abuses, said Johnson, took place in the priests' rectory, where she answered phones and did office work after school and on Saturdays.
'He was just a dirty old man'
A classmate and co-worker in the rectory, Karen Roman, now living near Boston, said she, too, was groped and kissed by Monaghan, but added, "I was not traumatized like Barbara was."
"He was just a dirty old man and I put up with his antics," said Roman, 64. "He would insist we couldn't get paid until we kissed him. He would try to get his tongue in my mouth, but I would clamp my lips shut."
Monaghan, a big man with a fleshy face, was in his 70s. He smelled of cigars.
"I can see that face," said Johnson, a psychiatric nurse practitioner who works with children and adolescents. "I spent decades trying not to remember, but this damn thing won't stop bubbling inside me."
About five years ago, Johnson, who has lived in Texas since 1971, attended a Mass at which an official from the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese spoke about sexual abuse of children by priests and urged any victims in the congregation to privately contact the diocese.
Following the Mass, Johnson said she took the official's business card and slipped it into her wallet. But she was afraid to make the call, feeling embarrassed and ashamed. So she held onto the secret.
After six months, she made the call, but hung up when a voice recording asked to leave a message. "About every six months I would call and hang up," she said.
But one day, after about two years of carrying the business card, the secret bubbled out of control and Johnson, driving in her car, had to pull off the road into a parking lot where she sat behind the steering wheel and sobbed.
She made the call and got a live voice. "I was crying so hard, I could hardly talk," she said.
Working with the dioceses
The Fort Worth diocese immediately reached out to Johnson, setting her up with a therapist of her choice and paying for weekly sessions with no questions asked. The diocese also paid Johnson mileage to and from the therapist, about 65 miles round trip.
Johnson began therapy in January 2008. In April of that year, Johnson and her therapist, Louise Weston of Health Services of North Texas, decided that Johnson should come to Cleveland and tell her story to the diocese here.
In July 2008, Johnson came to Cleveland and met with diocesan officials, including Sister Laura Bouhall, the victims' assistance coordinator for the diocese.
Together, they visited St. Charles. Johnson asked that the plaque be taken off the church wall and that the name "Monaghan Hall" be removed from a parish building. She also asked that the diocese actively seek out other possible victims of Monaghan and offer them counseling.
She said the diocese refused all three requests.
"The nun said to me, 'That would scandalize the parish,' " said Johnson. "They told me, 'We cannot verify your story so it would be wrong to do this to his name.' "
A December 2008 letter to Johnson from the Rev. Lawrence Jurcak, then the diocese's Secretary and Vicar for Clergy and Religious, reads: "We cannot meet all of your requests.
"I trust that you can appreciate the difficulties that we face with an allegation of abuse that occurred more than fifty years ago, and where the accused died more than forty years ago . . . Please know that you continue to be in our prayers."
The matter was never turned over to the diocesan Review Board, which decides whether abuse complaints against clergy are credible, because the accused was dead and the complaint was too old, the diocese said in a statement last week.
"The diocese chose not to devote substantial resources to trying to determine the credibility [or not] of the allegation," the statement said.
"The diocese elected to treat her information as having been presented in good faith and responded accordingly, with financial support for counseling," the statement said.
It also said that, as in other parishes over the last nine years, St. Charles has asked people to come forward if they know of possible inappropriate behavior toward children by someone associated with the church.
The Cleveland diocese has been paying for Johnson's therapy since December of 2008. Each session is $110. Johnson no longer goes every week. She said she usually goes every other week or once a month.
"I send them invoices and they keep paying," said Weston, her therapist.
Weston, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in sexually abused women, said Johnson's silence about the attacks for all these years is typical of child victims.
When children are sexually abused, she said, they become confused, embarrassed and ashamed. They feel they have done something wrong.
"Before you become a sexual being you don't have a way to discuss sex," Weston said. "You don't have words to conceptualize or process what happened to you, so it becomes a secret. You hold it in. And that's what pedophiles want."
Johnson, said Weston, was further confused because her attacker was a priest. "You don't talk bad about a priest," she said. "He's the holy father. He's God's messenger. So here you have this man clad in robes and mystery and then he does this dark, ugly thing to you."
Asked whether she had any doubt about Johnson's story, Weston said: "I wouldn't doubt it one single bit. After 26 years as a counselor, I go by what my gut tells me. I feel her sincerity. Her story is absolutely true.
"And part of her healing process is to tell her story."
Weston said that traumatic or stressful experiences later in life can cause repressed secrets to come to the surface.
Johnson points to two incidents. Her daughter was sexually harassed by a college coach in 2000, she said. "I said to myself, 'Here I am fiercely defending and protecting my child, but I'm not protecting myself.' "
The other incident was the priests' sex scandal that broke in Boston in 2002. "I remember reading about it and being horrified," she said, noting how she admired the victims for breaking their silences.
"I was thinking, 'These brave people are coming forward to tell their stories and I'm such a coward.' "
Helping others by speaking out
Johnson said she finally told her two adult children her childhood secret just over a month ago. "They said, 'We're very sorry this happened to you.' It was such a relief hearing this," she said.
"I'm slowly telling more and more people," said Johnson. "And when I tell someone, sure enough, the sun still comes up in the morning. When you start to open up and reveal those secrets, their power over you goes away.
"I want other victims to get help. It has made a big difference in my life. And maybe someone out there hearing my story might say, 'Oh my God. It's not just me.' "
Meanwhile, the plaque honoring Monaghan still hangs in the church vestibule. Johnson said she first saw it in 1999 when she returned to St. Charles for her father's funeral.
"After the funeral Mass, I remember walking down the church aisle holding my mother's arm," she said. "When we got to the back of the church, I saw it. And I said to myself, 'I can't believe he's being honored.' "
During another visit to the church, Johnson came eye-to-eye with the image again. "When I saw the plaque again I felt sick," she said. "I took a picture of it. I don't know why, but I took a picture of it.
"Quite frankly, I don't think they'll ever take the plaque down or the name off the building," said Johnson. "But I'm glad I made the request. And if some victim gets help from hearing my story, that's more important than a plaque."
Plain Dealer news researcher Jo Ellen Corrigan contributed to this report.
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