Mark Crawford Wants No Statute in Limitations for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse
By Deena Yellin
North Jersey Record / NorthJersey.com
September 8, 2018
|Mark Crawford with the pastor who allegedly abused him for years. The photo was taken in Crawford's house and Martin gave him the photo when he left for college. "Look how he's clenching me, that was common," said Crawford. "I hated my life back then."|
For a long time, Mark Crawford was afraid to tell anyone he was sexually abused and beaten by his family's priest when he was a child.
"I feared he would take his own life and mine if I ever disclosed the abuse," he said, recalling the emotional manipulation and violence that went on for years. "There was constant fear and anxiety. At times, I feared for my life."
And when he finally summoned the courage to tell church leaders his tale of horror, he said he was dismissed.
Now, a 55-year-old married father of three, Crawford has turned his pain into a positive force as an advocate for other victims of sexual abuse. He's the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. He has testified before the New Jersey State Senate about sex abuse of minors and appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in a segment about sexual abuse.
The Woodbridge resident is now lobbying for two bills before the New Jersey legislature: S477 in the Senate and A3648 in the Assembly. The bills aim to eliminate the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse and hold institutions accountable for failing to protect children. Current laws demand that civil action be filed within two years after a victim turns 18.
West Milford resident and abuse survivor Ed Hanratty agrees that these bills are important.
"Many of these abusers are still out there, some of them working in the same profession that they were when they were first accused of abuse," Hanratty said. "Tearing down this roadblock will open the door to full and total transparency. Who could possibly argue with that?"
Abuse in Bayonne
Crawford grew up in a devoutly Catholic family of nine children who regularly attended St. Andrew's Parish near their Bayonne home. In 1977, a new associate priest, the Rev. Kenneth Martin, joined the parish and quickly made himself a fixture in the Crawford household.
"He was at our home more than he was at the rectory," Crawford recalls.
At first, the then 13-year-old Crawford welcomed the special attention from his family pastor. Martin frequently spoke to him about his passion for model trains, his education and dreams of becoming a priest. He also showered him with expensive gifts.
"He was a father figure to me, concerned with my school work and ensuring I had plenty of responsibilities around the house and in the parish," Crawford said.
On a cross-country train trip on which Martin took the then teenaged Crawford, they shared a bunk bed in a sleeper car. During the night, Martin climbed into his bed and that's where the abuse began, said Crawford.
"He explained that this was normal when two people love each other and that he loved me," he recalled. "He molested me almost daily during this trip and several times a week thereafter for the next three years."
'I feared for my life'
|Mark Crawford as a teen with his pastor (Photo: Mark Crawford)|
Then Martin became more controlling and sometimes violent, said Crawford, recalling that he once beat him for not wanting to sleep in his bed during one of their trips.
"I feared for my life at times," he said.
Even after the sexual abuse ended, the emotional abuse continued for several years, he said. "He constantly forced me to say I loved him and got angry (and beat me) if I wasn't spending enough time with him."
When he was 17, he tried to escape by attending Salesian College of Don Bosco in Newton. But Martin continued to call, write and, Crawford said, show up uninvited to the seminary.
Crawford supplied handwritten letters to NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey on the letterhead of the Rev. Kenneth Lewis Martin that portray a lovesick man.
"Mark, all I want to say is that I love you. I cannot even put into words or actions how much," Martin wrote. "I just know that it is in a whole lot because I have never missed anyone as much as I miss you."
Later, Martin wrote,"I admit I can make a real mess of things but I never take my eyes from you — my heart belongs to you."
Years later, Crawford said he discovered Martin began sexually abusing his younger brother once he left home.
In all that time, nobody in the family suspected anything was amiss with their spiritual leader. Crawford's father died before he could learn the truth and Martin officiated at the funeral. His mother learned of the abuse shortly before her death and was stunned.
While Crawford was in seminary, he summoned the courage to confide his painful story to a priest, who, "turned white as a ghost and never spoke to me again."
Crawford left seminary after two years.
In the late 1980s, he revealed the abuse to a bishop in the Newark Archdiocese. He was unsympathetic, Crawford said, implying that "I was making it up because my dad died or because I read a story of abuse in the newspaper."
Audience with McCarrick
Finally, in 1996, after many requests, Crawford was to get an appointment with then Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Initially, it seemed like he was responsive: He told Crawford he had never met a clergy abuse victim and that "I helped him understand the suffering of such abuse ..."
He agreed to allow Crawford to share his story with other priests and seminarians so they could learn about the harm done to children who are abused. McCarrick also allegedly vowed that Martin wouldn't have access to children.
|Letter from Rev. Martin to Mark Crawford. (Photo: Courtesy of Mark Crawford)|
"He said he would never abandon me," he said. He also appeared to hear Crawford's insistence against the pledge of confidentiality, which the church kept bringing up.
But McCarrick's promises turned out to be hollow, Crawford said.
Not long after the meeting, Crawford recalled reading the diocesan newspaper and finding a photo of McCarrick along with Martin surrounded by children at a hospital, where Martin had been assigned as a chaplain.
In frustration, Crawford sent letters to every American cardinal, to the papal nuncio and to the Vatican Secretary of State. Letters supplied to a reporter reveal that those who responded advised him that church protocol was to seek help from McCarrick.
According to Newark Archdiocese spokesman James Goodness, records show that Crawford contacted the Chancery to make allegations against Martin in March 1996. In turn, Goodness said, those allegations were presented to the Archdiocesan Response Team.
"The Response Team did look into this matter and found sufficient information to support the accusations," Goodness said.
The Archdiocese offered and provided counseling to Mark Crawford and his brother, and the Archdiocese reached a financial settlement with the two of them for more than $200,000, Goodness said.
Martin placed on leave, later reassigned
Following the investigation, Martin was placed on leave "without faculties," said Goodness. That meant he was prohibited from being involved in public ministry for a specific time period. Afterward, Martin was permitted to return to a restricted ministry not involving minors, Goodness said, adding that he was assigned to a hospital chaplaincy.
Martin voluntarily left the ministry in 2002, said Goodness. Martin then worked for New Jersey Transit until Aug. 28 of this year, according to NJ Transit officials.
Reached at his Brick home recently, Martin's voice sounded calm and steady until a caller revealed herself to be a reporter. Suddenly, Martin's voice became rushed.
"I'm busy right now taking care of my mother," he said and hung up the phone.
Crawford forges ahead
Crawford laments that Martin was never punished for his misdeeds. He is still listed (and praised) on the website of Holy Name of Jesus in East Orange, where he served in the 1990s.
"They found my story credible," Crawford said. "But why was he never defrocked? That means he's still a priest."
The church must change by becoming more supportive to victims, said Crawford. For starters, the two pending bills deserve the public's support, he said.
"This says that no more will we tolerate a predator to operate in this state with impunity," Crawford said. "It will help prevent abuse of future generations of children and It will also help heal those who have been victimized in the past," he said.
Victims must be made to feel heard and believed, Crawford argues. Church officials must reach out to survivors, he believes, and offer them a platform for their stories and stop asking for confidentiality agreements that hide the truth.
Crawford, who retells his story calmly and with clarity, says that despite what happened to him, he is leading a happy life as a husband and father. In addition to his volunteer work as an advocate, he works full time for an airline as an inspector.
But in many ways, he will never be free. For years, he's suffered from nightmares and little things can trigger him.
"For victims of abuse, it's a life sentence," Crawford said.