When Priests Prey on Young Parishioners
Going Public Often Leaves Victims Feeling like a Church Enemy
By Robin Fields and Marian Dozier
Sun-Sentinel [Fort Lauderdale FL]
June 21, 1998
In the summer of 1989, the Pensacola boy was 16 and hung out with his friends at the rented beachfront summer house of the Rev. Richard Castillo.
Castillo's parties were well-known to local teens _ he provided beer to his underage guests and a place to crash if they overindulged. Then came the night the boy got drunk and, hours later, awoke to find the priest performing oral sex on him.
The boy did not tell his parents. Patrick and Janice Watts found out in late 1996, when their son told his story to a criminal court judge to reduce his 12-year sentence on a DUI manslaughter charge.
When the Wattses repeated his allegations to the diocese's leader, Bishop John Ricard, they got the response victims routinely receive from the Catholic Church: verbal support, counseling and assurances that their child's attacker would be prevented from harming other children.
But the family also discovered that the well of compassion often dries up if a cleric's accuser goes public. Or sues _ as the Wattses' son threatened to do when the church refused to pay for his post-prison therapy.
"They say they'll pray for you, try to make you feel like they're good guys, but when you say, 'Are you guys going to help us?' they send in the lawyers and have nothing else to do with you," Patrick Watts said. "They made us feel like we were the enemy."
Robert Emmanuel, the attorney for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, said the church moved swiftly to deal with Castillo and blamed the confidentiality rules that govern complaints for the Wattses' sense of isolation.
"We weren't able to communicate as much to the Watts family as they might want to be communicated," he said.
Many victims and their families find ways to forgive the abusers, but are left with a stinging bitterness toward the church as an institution.
"We've left the church," Janice Watts said. "We have nothing to do with the Catholic Church because they had nothing to do with us."
The church's treatment of sex abuse complaints has been hotly debated since Bishop of Palm Beach Joseph Keith Symons resigned three weeks ago, with long-buried evidence emerging that he molested five boys early in his career.
At least on paper, the modern church seems to have made progress in dealing with allegations of pedophilia and the parishioners who make them.
Most dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Miami and the Diocese of Palm Beach, have adopted formal policies on how to handle abuse allegations against clergymen.
Some have created case managers, independent review boards, even crisis response teams. Collectively, the church has doled out millions _ maybe as much as $ 1 billion _ for counseling and private settlements.
Ricard embraced the Wattses that day they came to him in his living room.
He relieved Castillo of his duties and appointed a response team to investigate charges against him, said Emmanuel, the diocesan attorney. The diocese even paid for a portion of the family's counseling up to then.
The family also took the accusations to the Escambia County Sheriff's Office and the state attorney. The statute of limitations had expired and police never investigated, Officer Rusty Hoard said.
Nevertheless, it took a signed release saying the Wattses would not file a civil lawsuit to get the diocese to pay for ongoing therapy, Janice Watts said. Neither Ricard nor other area priests would talk to the family after their initial conference, she said.
Critics say the new policies help abuse victims only as long as they keep clergymen's dirty laundry within church walls. Even now, the church has not made the cultural leap of openly acknowledging sex abuse complaints and treating pedophilia not only as a disease, but as a crime, they say.
"Generally, the church still doesn't take victims seriously," said Richard Sipe, a former priest and author of several books on the clergy, including Sex, Priests and Power. "There are very elaborate treatment programs set up for priests, while the victims will have to fight for treatment, negotiate for treatment, and prove the harm that was done to them."
Harsh as that sounds, the church's responses now are light years more sophisticated than they were even 10 years ago.
Up through the early 1980s, dioceses systematically insulated top officials from direct dealings with accusers and their families, former priest Thomas Doyle wrote in an affidavit filed with a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Miami and Rev. Rocco D'Angelo.
Instead, a designated "handler," usually a local priest, would promise the family that the abuser would get treatment and would not work with children again. Then the family was offered spiritual and sometimes psychological help, Doyle said.
"These assurances were made solely as a means of controlling the family and preventing them from taking any public action," Doyle said.
Families who approached the church with sex abuse allegations in this era say their experience matched Doyle's description all too well.
A Riviera Beach mother says she called and wrote the Archdiocese of Miami in the late '60s when her young sons accused D'Angelo of sexually assaulting them.
She received two letters back, she said, "worded so carefully that no one would ever know what they were about."
She would not give her name for publication out of respect for the wishes of her sons.
She had one face-to-face meeting with the bishop, but dealt mostly with a parish priest, Father Joseph McLaughlin.
"He was very concerned, very upset _ he even told me Father D'Angelo had threatened to kill himself," she said. "But he still was pushing the case that good Catholics didn't make trouble for the church."
Two decades later, the family is suing, angered by the church's broken promises to pay for their counseling and to make sure D'Angelo never again worked with children.
The Symons and D'Angelo cases reveal a pattern repeated nationwide: pedophilia allegations one and two generations old, re-emerging in the '90s. These cases often illustrate how far the church has come _ and how far it still has to go. Therapy on condition Bob Swart, of St. Louis, says he was molested repeatedly by a Tampa Jesuit priest in the early '60s. He reported the assaults after discovering in 1992 that the cleric had pleaded guilty to criminal sex abuse charges.
The New Orleans-based southern province of Jesuits paid for Swart's therapy, even setting up a direct billing plan and directing him to a clinic run by an ex-priest, he said. But they would not pay for group therapy in which he could meet and exchange stories with others like him, Swart said.
"Most of the church programs don't allow survivors to meet," he said.
Even when the church provides financial help, victims sometimes feel shortchanged.
Marlene Debrey-Nowak reported her sons' allegations of sexual abuse to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in the 1970s, but the church did not publicly acknowledge their complaints and others until a stream of lawsuits hit in the '90s.
Her sons reached a sealed financial settlement with the archdiocese, but the church reneged on promises to pay therapy bills for her and her husband, Debrey-Nowak said. More importantly, she added, the family felt cut off by the institution that had been their cornerstone.
"The support we had from the community of the church was just nil," she said. "My experience as a mother was that they did as little as possible for us and as much as possible to protect the financial security of the church."
Officials with the Archdiocese of Santa Fe declined to speak specifically about Debrey-Nowak's case. 'Our hands are tied' Vice Chancellor Sister Nancy Kazik said, however, that the church's response was in accord with a policy created in 1990, after the archdiocese was besieged by accusations that pedophile priests sent to the Servants of the Paraclete treatment center had been recycled into New Mexico parishes.
Like those of most dioceses, Santa Fe's updated policy is based on five mildly worded instructions issued in 1992 by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Clergy Sexual Abuse: * Respond promptly where there is "reasonable belief" abuse has occurred.
• Relieve the alleged offender of his duties.
• Notify and cooperate with civil authorities.
• "Reach out" to victims and "communicate sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being."
• "Deal as openly as possible with the members of the community."
Kazik acts as a social-services-style case manager, investigating claims and referring provable ones to civil and criminal authorities. A board reviews her work.
For victims, the Santa Fe Archdiocese pays for up to two years of one-on-one counseling and also supplies in-house support, she said. Unless the accuser sues _ then the money and help cut off, she acknowledged.
"Our hands are tied," she said.
The Archdiocese of Miami and Diocese of Palm Beach have created similar mechanisms for handling sex abuse complaints.
The policies are a start, victims say. But often, they lack the simple emotional connection craved by those betrayed by the people and the institution they trusted most. In search of an apology Tom, a St. Louis man who declined to give his last name for publication, confronted his diocese in 1988 about being sexually abused by a priest in the 1940s, after other accusations surfaced about the same man.
"They were happy to offer me therapy, but that was it," he said. "They indicated they had known about the priest's problems all along. I gather they sent him on retreat."
It was progress, but it was not the response he wanted, he said: "Every survivor I've ever met is waiting for an apology."
Before entering a treatment program, Symons left behind a written apology to the five boys _ now middle-aged men _ he acknowledges molesting.
They may well accept the gesture and forgive him. As unthinkable as it seems, abuse victims and their parents sometimes manage to reach a private peace with abusers.
"We know the father is a sick person," Janice Watts said of Castillo. "It's hard to forgive the impact it's had on (our son's) life, but. . . . I believe my son has forgiven."
Debrey-Nowak said the priest who abused her sons later approached her and asked for forgiveness.
She gave it.
But she could not extend the same pardon to the church as a whole.
"I have not returned to the sacraments," Debrey-Nowak said. "I do not participate in the church at all."
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