Priest Says 2 Pastors in Parish Abused Him Sexually As a Teenager
He and Two Other Men Who Say They Were Victims Sue Catholic Bishops Group

By Dale Russakoff
The Washington Post
June 11, 1993

The widening saga of alleged sexual abuse by priests took a unique turn today with filing of a federal lawsuit in which one accuser is a Roman Catholic priest alleging that he was grossly abused as a teenager by two parish pastors. The suit called the nation's bishops conference a "corrupt organization" that has obstructed justice in abuse cases.

"I am seeking justice in the courts because I could find no justice in my church," said the Rev. Gary R. Hayes, 40, of the diocese of Owensboro, Ky., who alleged that he was abused in the diocese of Camden, N.J., from ages 15 to 17. He said he first brought his charges to diocesan officials six years ago without result.

Meeting reporters here as the suit was filed in U.S. District Court in nearby Camden, Hayes said he remained quiet for more than a decade because "the only thing I ever wanted in my life was to be a priest" and because he needed the support of his parish priest, the Rev. Joseph F. McGarvey, to be ordained.

The lawsuit said McGarvey, on a self-imposed leave since March, and the Rev. William C. O'Connell, a retired priest in Providence, R.I., convicted in 1986 of sodomy in unrelated cases, "repeatedly sexually molested and battered" Hayes and two other plaintiffs, Steven M. Stolar and Terrence M. Smith, both of Millville, N.J.

The abuse allegedly included "nonconsensual and intentional touching of the genital areas and buttocks" and, in Smith's case, "the crime of sexual penetration," according to the suit.

The complainants were students at the parish school and frequently on church grounds for activities. Hayes was an altar boy and worked at the church. They said McGarvey gave them alcohol and made sexual advances only when he and they were drunk. They said McGarvey and O'Connell took them to New England on summer trips and molested them in motel rooms there.

The suit also charges that bishops in the dioceses of the two pastors repeatedly were told of the priests' activities but ignored the warnings in "a conscious decision to protect the reputation of the church."

It accuses the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of encouraging a coverup, citing a speech at a 1990 conference by a bishop who is a canon lawyer. There, he advised other bishops that they might send damaging personnel files to the apostolic delegate, the pope's U.S. representative in Washington, "because they have immunity to protect something that is potentially dangerous," the suit said.

In a statement today, the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) did not address specific charges but said the bishops have developed principles for dealing with sexual abuse cases in the last decade "as society at large along with the church has begun to grasp the magnitude of the problem. . . . "

The principles include prompt response to credible charges of abuse, discipline and treatment of alleged offenders and reporting abuse cases to authorities and the community.

The USCC represents the bishops and describes its mission as dealing with public affairs, "including social concerns, education and communications," on a national level.

Today's suit was filed against the bishops' conference under state racketeering law and against four individual bishops under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. Stephen Rubino of Ventnor, N.J., Hayes's lawyer, said the RICO law was invoked in part because the plaintiffs are alleging obstruction of justice.

In Vatican City Tuesday, Pope John Paul II called recent sex and molestation scandals "tragic for the victims and for the clerics involved." He urged stricter screening of candidates for the priesthood and prayers for all affected by "this misconduct."

Today's news conference at times had the air of a support group session as the plaintiffs and their parents, also plaintiffs, aired allegations that they said they had been unable to make public. All are members of a group called Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Everyone's voice cracked at some point. Hayes became tearful while answering questions and said he could not go on. At that point, Smith, his fellow plaintiff, and SNAP founder Barbara Blaine walked to his side. Hayes composed himself and continued.

The men and their parents recounted severe emotional distress, but no story was more compelling than that of Hayes. In an interview later, he said he grew up in a strong Catholic family. "There was God, there were priests and then there was just everybody else," he said. When abused, he said, "at first, I thought God was doing this to me, that I was being punished."

When he finished Catholic school, he said, he could not forget the experience. He dropped out of religious training, "bounced around from job to job" and in 1987 began psychotherapy. Then, he said, he applied to become a priest in the Camden diocese and filed charges against McGarvey.

The diocese, he said, rejected him, saying it "would not be a healthy atmosphere for me to work in" because McGarvey remained active. He said Camden recommended him for his position in Kentucky.

The Rev. Carl Marucci, a spokesman for the Camden diocese, said officials there had not read the charges and could not comment. He said the diocese had begun investigating Hayes's charges but did not finish "because Father Hayes contacted an attorney."

Rubino said McGarvey took leave soon after learning that Hayes had consulted a lawyer. Hayes said he went outside the church because he was told that the investigation had been closed when McGarvey denied the charges.

"The scripture says the truth shall set us free, and I take these steps that I might finally attain freedom from the devastating effects this abuse has had on my life," Hayes told reporters.

"I would like to see children be able to come to church and have their innocence protected, not violated," he said. "Jesus loved little children."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.