One Abuse Victim’s Call to Action: the Church Must Change
By Jaime Cook
Watertown Daily Times
May 23, 2018
After receiving an offer of funds from the Diocese of Ogdensburg intended “to assist victims of clergy sex abuse in their healing process,” one recipient says that the Catholic Church must either change or cease to be.
“When I opened it, I thought it was a joke, a cruel joke,” said Jim Cummings, a 58-year-old man who lives in Alexandria Bay with his family. “Prior to me receiving this letter, I was coping quite well, and so was the other victim I know. Occasionally something would remind me, but now, since that letter, every day I cry because they do not get it. The bishop does not get it — at all.”
The letters follow the creation of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program at the Diocese of Ogdensburg March 1. Its two-person panel, Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, will determine if the 38 victims claiming sexual abuse by priests in the diocese should be financially compensated.
Mr. Cummings said he was sexually abused by the Rev. Paul F. Worczak in the early 1970s. The incidents took place when Worczak was a priest at Holy Family Church, Watertown.
“He knew that system of reward and punishment absolutely,” Mr. Cummings said. “There’s nothing more demeaning or degrading than being told that you’ve committed a sin and that you have to atone for that sin, and he was all about that. He was a master manipulator. He had us all dancing.”
He said that the manipulation began the priest’s first day at the church.
“He came in, introduced himself at the pulpit, spoke real fast, and he stood in that church at the end of Mass in a mink coat shaking hands,” Mr. Cummings said.
“He introduced himself to all of us kids, and he held us back, and he said ‘Boys and girls I’m going to get to know each and every one of you, because you’re important to me.’”
The priest began by treating the children to outings for ice cream, burgers and movies, Mr. Cummings said. Then he created a coffee house in the church basement with a vending machine and a juke box to appeal to older children.
Soon, he began inviting his group of favorites into his personal quarters. While with them there, he would impersonate the Bishop Stanislaus J. Brzana, swearing and making sexual innuendos in an imitation of the bishop’s voice, Mr. Cummings said. He played them Janis Joplin, The Doors, and T. Rex on his five-foot column speakers and stereo amp.
“We were all mesmerized by this new breed of priest,” he said. “And if Worczak said someone had done something to make him mad or to violate his trust, we were all very happy to do his bidding. He steered us to ignore certain kids.”
MANIPULATION AT PLAY
The next step of manipulation came when Worczak hired the then 11-year-old Mr. Cummings to clean his personal living quarters each week. Mr. Cummings said that the room’s floor would be littered with dirty coins, wadded papers and money, both bills and coins.
“The deal was, any money on the floor was mine,” he said. Only in hindsight did he later recognize how he was baited.
When the sexual abuse turned overt, his mother found evidence of it and went to the rectory. Worczak and the group of children immediately shunned him, Mr. Cummings said. That same year, his parents separated.
“The other children went along with ignoring me because it had been done so many times before. With the mentality of an 11-year-old, I was distraught, confused, hurt. ... I was an emotional wreck,” he said.
Worczak let that isolation linger for months, and then tried again, Mr. Cummings said. After that incident, he ran away from Worczak and ignored him for years.
In fact, it would be years until he understood what had happened to him.
“My father was stoic. Worczak had appeared like a healthy relationship. I was already in college when I realized it,” he said.
Even as he had those first glimpses of processing the events, too much time had already passed for action.
“‘While the statute of limitations may seem unfair...’ — you can’t imagine how many times I’ve heard that,” he said Monday.
So, he buried those thoughts, and set upon living his life.
“You suppress it,” he said. “Something may happen and it comes back out, not just a thought, but everything, and then you have to reply to it and interact with it again.”
PROGRESS, THEN RELAPSE
In 2002, a conversation with two women from church brought “everything” back up, as they mentioned how they had told Worczak to stay away from their children all those years ago.
“My wife came home from work and found me sobbing. It took me most of the evening to tell her what had happened to me as a child. She helped me see then that I had to tell someone,” Mr. Cummings said.
He went to his diocese to report the abuse in 2002. He says that two priests, Monsignor Robert L. Lawler and the Rev. Joseph A. Morgan, questioned him about the physical and sexual aspects of what happened.
Once he walked out of that office, he didn’t hear from them again. And the priest who had abused him was not removed from his post.
“I have never felt so alone. I loved the church. I loved it. And they slammed the door and left me by myself,” he said.
For the next year, Mr. Cummings sat down weekly and called priests throughout his diocese, telling them about Gerald Michael Barbarito’s inaction, imploring them to do something.
“Some of them hung up on me. Others were helpful. ‘Why are you bothering me with this?’ was one man’s response,” he said.
A year later, in June 2003, he heard that his abuser was finally out of the church.
But the next blow came when he realized that the church had no intention of telling people why Worczak was a threat. After leaving his position, no one would know the risk that he posed.
“Father Worczak is on administrative leave and is not functioning as a priest for personal reasons,” said Father Terry R. LaValley at the time.
“Any time that we have an individual going on administrative leave, that’s a personnel issue and we don’t discuss personnel issues,” he said. “All I can offer is that the allegations that have come forward, we have addressed.”
To Mr. Cummings, this was unthinkable.
“I told Monsignor Lawler and Father Morgan, ‘I am worried that he’s going to continue doing something and I will feel awful if I didn’t do enough to make sure that he didn’t,’” Mr. Cummings said.
“They said, ‘Don’t worry about it. He’s physically incapable of any kind of sexual act.’
“I looked at them. I said, ‘He’s not about penetration. It’s all a control game to him. He wants puppets. He wants to see people move. And he did it. He did it in just unbelievable ways. You couldn’t imagine.’”
At that point, Mr. Cummings went to the Watertown Daily Times, and asked it to report his story anonymously, so that the public would know that Worczak was not safe.
THE HURT RETURNS
Then he returned to his life and began the long process of coping again, he said.
“I suppressed it quite nicely. Until this February, when that letter came out,” he said on Monday.
He went to Bishop LaValley on March 8 to explain what the previous deposition and the current letter had missed.
The emotional, mental and spiritual abuse he had endured, followed by the ignoring of it, had shattered his faith in the church.
“This is bigger than most people realize,” Mr. Cummings said Monday. “This diocese is no different from any other diocese. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the United States, if it’s Canada, or if it’s in Chile, it’s the same problems. Just take out the name of the diocese on any report and you can reinsert the Diocese of Ogdensburg and visa versa. It’s unbelievably identical.”
What would actually make a difference?
To people who want to dismantle the church, he responds “No.” However, he said that it needs a major overhaul.
His personal faith is a work in progress, but he raised his son in the church, and it is to his son, and the upcoming generation that he gives his charge.
“I had never told my son about this, until yesterday,” Mr. Cummings said. “He was sitting in a chair in the garage and I handed him my file and said, ‘Here, read this.’ I walked out to the edge of the driveway and I had my back towards him, and I waited and I waited. And I waited.”
“All I could think of was of a guy waiting for someone to put a gun to his head and shoot him. That’s how bad it felt,” Mr. Cummings said. “My fear. My fear that I didn’t know how he’d react, if he’d reject it.”
The conversation that followed was one that lifted a weight, he said.
“My son doesn’t like the church. He loves it. I played the part. I was a lector at Masses. Now he is. He seems to have mirrored me all the way up,” Mr. Cummings said. “Except the difference is that his is real. He loves the people. He loves the priests.”
“I told him, ‘It’s your generation that is either going to fix this or not. Because if it doesn’t get fixed, it is on a collision course. They’ll be shutting more churches down,’” he said.
“It’s a problem that someone can fix. I don’t know that I’m that guy, but I could be the guy to get that person or group going,” he said.
“They’d have to fix everything — to literally restructure the whole church. They need more lay people and less isolated pockets of power with no oversight. Transparency — it’s a word that’s been bantered about in politics so much so that it’s lost meaning. The church would have to call it something else just so that people would take it seriously, but it would be a start.”
Respondents to the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program have until May 31 to file their applications for review, Mr. Cummings said.
When reached for a comment, the director of communications for the Diocese of Ogdensburg said that people could refer to its website for its position on the issue.