A Betrayal of Faith Family Loses Trust Amid Allegations Priest Abused Sons

By Gayle White
Atlanta Journal and Constitution
July 26, 1992

[Note from The names of a survivor's parents have been redacted at the survivor's request.]

Bill Larango nervously fumbles a Marlboro between two fingers whose nails have been gnawed into the quick as he describes being sexually molested by a Roman Catholic priest.

Now 28, married and the father of three young sons, this man with classic dark Italian hair and eyes was 9 when the Rev. Stanley Idziak first took him out in his car. Away from the house, the priest invited him to sit on his lap and drive.

"He'd unzip my pants and play with me," Mr. Larango said.

The Rev. Idziak had been a friend of the family for about six years and, unbeknownst to Bill, already had molested his older brother, Rick, according to the Larangos. The family - Bill, Rick and their parents, Janet and Frank - have agreed to tell their story because they are angry: Angry at the Rev. Idziak, who they say worked his way into their family circle and then betrayed them. He has been in a New Mexico treatment facility since 1988.

Angry at the Atlanta archdiocese, which paid a settlement to another family who sued over alleged molestation by the Rev. Idziak without publicly acknowledging his guilt.

Angry at the Roman Catholic Church, which they say continues to underestimate the seriousness of the nationwide problem of pedophile priests.

Angry at the state of Georgia for a statute of limitations that does not permit them to prosecute the Rev. Idziak.

And angry at themselves for not seeing, or understanding, what the Rev. Idziak was doing.

Nationally, more than 400 priests have been accused of sexually molesting children since 1982, according to Jason Berry, author of a book about pedophile priests scheduled for publication in October, and the Catholic Church is treating such cases with increasing seriousness. At a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops last month, Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, conference president, said, "No single pastoral question is more painful to us as bishops" than the problem of clergy sex abuse.

Much of the pain, for the bishops, is due to the profound threat the problem presents to the church's spirit of trust, confidentiality and purity. The church hierarchy has paid as much as $ 400 million to settle these cases quietly while it discusses the general problem in hushed tones or behind closed doors.

The bishops have not adopted a national policy on the issue, although a comprehensive report from medical, legal and church experts urged uniform procedures as early as 1985.

At last month's meeting, following a seven-hour closed session of the bishops discussing sexual abuse - the fifth such discussion in recent years - Archbishop Pilarczyk concluded, "Far more aggressive steps are needed to protect the innocent, treat the perpetrator and safeguard our children."

That is now the position of the country's largest church body.

The Larangos want to push the church further. They have not filed suit against the archdiocese and have refused to accept settlement money that would have required them to exonerate the archdiocese. An attorney for another family allegedly victimized by the Rev. Idziak said he believes the Larangos hope to protect others from what they have been through. "They could not have been kinder and more cooperative," Seaborn Jones said.

Reached by telephone in Albuquerque, the Rev. Idziak said, "I have nothing to say," and hung up.

Dennis Mackin, an Atlanta attorney representing the Rev. Idziak, declined to address the allegations. The Larangos, he said, "have to do what they have to do in their consciences."

This is their story.

'Their hands were anointed'

A 22-year-long friendship between the Rev. Idziak and the Larangos began with Sunday morning coffee in North Tonawanda, N.Y., where both the family and the priest lived before coming to Atlanta.

Rick was 8 and Bill 3 when their father first brought the priest to the family's funeral home across the street from Our Lady of Czestochowa Church after Mass one Sunday.

The Rev. Idziak, a member of the Pallottine religious order, had grown up two blocks from the church in the tightly knit Polish community where "if you spit out the window people could tell you which direction it went," Mrs. Larango said. The priest, who taught school during the week, conducted both the 9 a.m. and noon Masses at the church.

The Rev. Idziak became a regular in the family's home between Masses, afterward for lunch and for drop-in visits throughout the week in his yellow car nicknamed "the banana" by parishioners. "Eventually my husband gave him a key to the house," Mrs. Larango said.

At that time the priest, about 6 feet tall with a plump face, a paunch and thinning dark hair, was in his 30s.

When Rick, now 31, was about 10, the Rev. Idziak began taking him out for a ride, saying he wanted to go get a toasted cheese sandwich, Mrs. Larango said. He turned down her offers to make sandwiches at home.

Sometimes Rick would say he didn't want to go, but she encouraged him to go with the priest. When Rick got older, the priest invited Bill instead, she said, but never took both boys together.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Larango grew up in strong Catholic families where priests were revered. "My mother told me their hands were anointed," Mrs. Larango said.

She said she saw the Rev. Idziak's interest in her family as an opportunity to share her sons with a man who had given up marriage and family for the church he - and she - loved.

'He was my closest friend'

In the early 1970s, Frank Larango had a heart attack and decided to sell the business to resettle in the South. Bill was in the eighth grade in 1977 when the family moved to DeKalb County.

"I was like any kid," Bill said. "I was mad. My parents were taking me away from my friends. I didn't want to move."

Shortly after the family moved to Atlanta, the Rev. Idziak reappeared on the scene.

The Rev. Idziak, whose sister lived in Atlanta, had applied to leave his religious order and come to the archdiocese as a priest, according to archdiocesan records. After a trial period, then-Atlanta Archbishop Thomas Donnellan agreed.

Then at All Saints parish in Dunwoody, he took Bill to a youth group there. The priest also would pick up Bill, who was too young to drive, and take him to the All Saints rectory to mow the grass, wash his car or do other work, Bill said.

One day, Bill said, the priest asked him for a massage.

"He took me into the bedroom and took his clothes off and lay down on the bed. He started off on his stomach, but then he would turn over. When he turned over, he took my hand and put it where no man's hand is supposed to go."

Afterward, Bill said, the priest acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Several times, Bill said, the priest asked whether he would like a massage. "I said no."

Bill estimates that there were 15 massage sessions. "I just wanted them to hurry up and end," he said. "I didn't know how to get out of it. I just remember I wanted it to stop."

Having been brought up to think the church and the priest were holy, he said, he thought "it would be wrong" to say anything to his parents. As for friends - "He was my closest friend. I didn't know who else to go to. It was so damn confusing."

Trips to bars, nightclubs

As Bill grew older, his relationship with the Rev. Idziak changed, he said. The priest still came by several nights a week and invited him to go out. But instead of molesting him, the priest took him to bars and nightclubs, including Limelight and the She Club - "gay, straight, strip, drag, you name it."

One night, at a gay bar, something happened that Bill refuses to recount. "If I could forget that one moment, I don't think things would be so bad sometimes," he said.

There were trips with the Rev. Idziak back to Buffalo and one to New York - with the priest sitting naked in the driver's seat - all while Bill was still in high school.

"It's hard to talk about it," he said. "Here's this good Christian boy, an altar boy who went to a Catholic grade school, out doing this kind of stuff.

"Did I like it? Did I hate it? I don't know what the right answer is. . . . But if my parents knew I did all this. . . . " "The boys had to be in bed by 9 p.m. practically through high school," Frank Larango said. "I knew every family my boys had friends with. I knew every moment what my boys were doing - or thought I did."

"The only freedom they had was with him," Janet Larango said. "He was the only one we trusted them with."

Apologies and denials

The family's trust in the Rev. Idziak collapsed in the spring of 1988.

A co-worker of Mrs. Larango's at an Atlanta funeral home mentioned a newspaper article about a priest accused of molesting children. By then the Rev. Idziak was serving St. Michael's parish in Gainesville, but was still keeping in close touch with the Larango family. He recently had been to their home to tell them he was being sent to Washington for medical treatment.

Even though the article did not name the priest, Mrs. Larango said she knew immediately from the circumstances that it referred to the Rev. Idziak. It described a priest who had been "granted a leave of absence from his North Georgia parish and is in a treatment center for troubled Catholic clergymen near Washington, D.C."

Mrs. Larango was literally struck dumb.

She walked back to an area where much of the funeral home staff was eating lunch, leaned against the wall and passed out. When she regained consciousness, she couldn't speak. "They thought I had had a stroke."

The night the article ran in the paper, she said, the Rev. Idziak called the family, and her husband confronted him with the accusations. Although she couldn't speak, the priest insisted that he speak to her, she said.

"The first thing he said to me, and he repeated it three times, was, 'Jan, there was no penetration. There was no penetration. Jan, there was no penetration.' " Then, she said, he both apologized for and denied the accusations, which centered on a DeKalb County district attorney's investigation of alleged molestations at Corpus Christi parish in Stone Mountain, where the Rev. Idziak had served between All Saints and Gainesville.

Corpus Christi already had been shaken by charges against a visiting British priest, the Rev. Anton Mowat, who fled the country for 21 months before being apprehended and pleading guilty to molesting four altar boys.

Both Larango sons were away in school, in Oklahoma, by the time the articles appeared. Not wanting to confront their sons over the telephone, the Larangos went to Oklahoma and talked to Bill and Rick together. Both denied that anything had happened.

'I thought I was the only boy' Mrs. Larango found out the truth through a nephew who had been close to her son Rick.

The nephew had promised Rick he wouldn't tell what Rick had confided to him years before, she said. But knowing he was near death with AIDS in October 1991, the nephew wanted to tell the family Rick's secret.

Rick, Mrs. Larango said, had gone to his cousin's house late one night and "crying his eyes out" told him that he had been raped by the priest.

Confronted individually with what their cousin had said, both boys admitted that the priest had sexually molested them.

"There were times when I worried if I was gay and didn't know it, and times when I knew it was wrong and would do it anyway and feel remorseful," Rick said recently. "I thought I was the only boy."

Bill, the younger brother, said it's still hard to talk about his experience with the Rev. Idziak. "I'm scared to tell my wife. Scared to tell my parents. Scared, even, to tell Rick. I don't want people to think I'm a bad person."

He wipes the corner of his eye.

Both Bill and Rick said they were horrified to learn that the other also had been involved.

Sitting in his parents' living room recently, squeezing a sofa pillow against his chest, Rick looked at Bill and said softly, "If I had known he was doing that to him, I would have killed him."

Families become crusaders The Larangos told their family's story to other priests and church officials. They gave depositions under oath in a recently settled lawsuit brought by [name redacted], a Stone Mountain couple, against the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Rev. Idziak for the alleged molestation of their sons.

On July 6, they and redacted, another couple whose sons had been involved with the Rev. Idziak, met with Atlanta Archbishop James P. Lyke.

The two families had met only once - at a birthday party for the Rev. Idziak - before allegations against him became public. Now they have become allies in what they see as a crusade.

Both families are dissatisfied with the church's handling of the Idziak case and cases of sexual abuse by priests in general.

Bishops of the church frequently issue pastoral letters about other subjects, they said. Why not about priests who molest children? Why hasn't the Atlanta archdiocese acknowledged the Rev. Idziak's guilt? Why hasn't he been defrocked? The church has not publicly acknowledged the Rev. Idziak's guilt because "his guilt is a question for a court to determine," said the Rev. Peter Dora, archdiocesan spokesman. The Rev. Dora said Archbishop Lyke, who is suffering from a recurrence of cancer, was unable to talk about the situation.

The settlement payment of an undisclosed amount to the [name redacted] family "was not an admission of guilt," the Rev. Dora said. "It's a recognition of a serious claim and obvious anguish on the part of the family."

An attorney for the [name redacted] declined to comment.

The Atlanta archdiocese followed "a proper procedure" in the handling of allegations against the Rev. Idziak, the Rev. Dora said. Since that time, the archdiocese has adopted guidelines for alleged abuse by archdiocesan employees.

Archbishop Lyke does not have the power to force the Rev. Idziak to step down as a priest, the Rev. Dora said, but the archbishop has urged the Rev. Idziak to petition to be returned to the lay state. The archbishop has made it clear that the archdiocese would "never, ever recommend Father Idziak for ministry here or anywhere else in the world," the Rev. Dora said.

Complaints of 'hush money' Mrs. Larango no longer contributes money to her parish. Instead, when she gets a solicitation from the church, she writes back complaining about the use of Catholic funds to keep priests "in seclusion" and to pay off legal settlements, which she calls "hush money."

Many archdioceses, including Atlanta, are no longer covered by insurance agencies for malpractice suits against priests. The Atlanta archdiocese is now self-insured for these cases.

Mrs. Larango has begun efforts to form a network of people who have been sexually abused by the clergy, tentatively called Project Aware.

"I've thought long and hard about this," she said, "and I've had a lot of long conversations with the Lord. I think the Lord is tired of this."

The Larangos also want to take on the state, to increase the current seven-year limitation on prosecution of child abuse, which has been in effect since 1987. Before that, the limit was four years.

Since most children suppress or deny instances of abuse for years, the Larangos say, the statute prevents prosecution of many cases.

J. Tom Morgan, a DeKalb County assistant district attorney who has become nationally known for his work on child abuse, agrees, saying, "Georgia still has one of the shortest statutes of limitations."

Although in some states the statute of limitations applies to the time a victimized child legally becomes an adult or the time the alleged crime comes to the attention of authorities, Georgia courts have ruled that indictments must be returned within seven years of the time the offense was allegedly committed, he said.

Mrs. Larango said she will persist in her campaign because "I've been through hell. I don't want any other parent to go through what we've been through."

Once an avid churchgoer, she said she cannot bear to accept sacraments from a priest.

"I feel the church has betrayed me."

The address for Mrs. Larango's network, Project Aware, is P.O. Box 81746, Chamblee, Ga. 30366.


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