Gary Smith exposed child sex abuse and cover-up in the Catholic church
By Bruce Vielmetti
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 24, 2018
|Gary Smith with Pauline Sherman|
A Milwaukee man who played a key role in exposing the child sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church has died.
Gary Smith had been suffering from cancer and died Monday evening at St. Francis Terrace at the age of 68, said Kathy Shallow, a close friend whose sister was Smith's domestic partner.
As a child, Smith attended St. John's Boarding School for the Deaf in St. Francis, where he and as many as 200 other hearing-impaired children were molested for years by the late Rev. Lawrence Murphy.
Murphy worked at St. John's from 1950 to 1974. Bishops had known about the abuse for decades but did not move to defrock him until he was near death. He died in 1998.
His victims, including Smith, distributed fliers outside Milwaukee's Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in 1974, protesting inaction by the church regarding Murphy.
Peter Isely, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said he believes Smith was possibly the first survivor anywhere to sue the church over the abuse, in the 1970s.
He said the initial effort only got Smith threatened and forced to sign a settlement that required him to apologize to Murphy, in exchange for $5,000.
But Smith never stopped trying to expose the greater scandal and help other survivors, especially other students from St. John's.
"He tried to get help," Isely said. "He continued to struggle with other deaf students to petition and force the archdiocese to reveal this dangerous man to others."
Isely called Smith gentle and kind, but "absolutely insistent, indefatigable," about the exposing and holding accountable abusive priests and their protectors. "That guy would take a bullet for another survivor," Isely said.
Smith went on to tell his story in the Journal Sentinel, the New York Times and other outlets, including the HBO documentary film, "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God".
Shallow said she's known Smith since she was about 12, and he rode up on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to pick up her older sister, Pauline Sherman, who is deaf and also attended St. John's, for a date.
She said Smith, who had retired from the post office in Texas, moved back to Milwaukee about 10 years ago when he heard Sherman had divorced, and the couple was together since.
She said Sherman said, "He was my first boyfriend and my last boyfriend."
Smith also lived in Florida for a time, Shallow said, and traveled around the country on his Harley. He was never married and never had children.
She said he was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, and last week was failing, so they decided to have a big pizza party Monday night. She said about 35 people came and each wrote him a note, and he was awake, smiling and laughing for 90 minutes.
After everyone had gone home, she said, Smith died.
Funeral arrangements were pending Tuesday.