Hickey's Nephews Charge Sex Abuse

By Kevin Rothstein
Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA)
March 12, 2002

To his young nephews, the Rev. Gerald Hickey was a large man in size and spirit.

Celebrating Mass in their home, Uncle Gerry seemed as large in life as the football players he knew in his days as chaplain to the New England Patriots.

"I thought he was going to be the pope," Daniel Hickey recalled.

Now grown, Daniel and Joseph Hickey have come to think otherwise of their uncle.

On the basis of memories they say were repressed for 20 years, the brothers say he molested them.

"My uncle is a very charming man with a great sense of humor, great presence," said Joseph Hickey, an actor living in New York, but you have to know that that same charm and that same humor are the same things he used to engender trust in my family."

Science has largely discredited the notion that horrific events can be repressed by a person, said Richard J. McNally, a psychology professor at Harvard University and expert on traumatic memories.

Claims of forgotten abuse cannot, however, be dismissed easily. A child may try not to think about an event that is confusing or mildly upsetting and, after time, forgets what happened, McNally said. An adult may recall those memories in the same way names and faces of once-forgotten classmates can be recalled.

Acting under its new "zero-tolerance" policy for priests accused of molesting children, the Boston Archdiocese removed the Rev. Hickey from active ministry Feb. 7 after discovering an allegation had been lodged against him. His name was also forwarded to prosecutors.

Joseph Hickey said he first told the archdiocese the Rev. Hickey abused him in an Aug. 10, 1992, letter he wrote to Cardinal Bernard Law.

That was two years before the Rev. Hickey's abrupt departure from his post as pastor of St. Bridget's Church in Abington. It is not clear if the accusation is the one cited by the church to justify the priest's removal last month from St. Helen Church in Norwell.

Hickey, who is 64 and now lives in Scituate, has been unassigned since 1994, but had been assisting at the Norwell church for about six years.

The Rev. Hickey has not responded to several phone messages left at his home. A man who answered the door at his home one evening told a reporter the priest could not be reached.

The Hickey brothers, speaking out for the first time about the alleged abuse, say they felt compelled to come forward after reading that parishioners at St. Helen's applauded the Rev. Hickey at services on the weekend following his ouster.

While their accusations are based on repressed memories, the brothers say they have no need to convince anyone of the abuse because they know what happened to them.

"We both have busy, successful lives," said Daniel Hickey, a publishing executive living in the Midwest. "There's no reason to stop our lives right now and make these accusations if it weren't for the truth."

His brother agreed.

"I know what happened to me, and my whole purpose is to put a face to that accusation and to tell the truth as I know it," hesaid.

As children, the Hickey brothers said they revered their uncle, a towering man who once ministered to the Patriots players.

The brothers grew up in Michigan, part of a family of eight brothers and sisters. Their father, a teacher, took summer jobs in Massachusetts so his children could spend summers on the Cape. Their uncle would stay with them in the cottages they rented.

Joseph Hickey, 34, the youngest in the family, was a top student in high school. His life took a turn for the worse, though, when depression set in during his early 20s. At an emotional "breaking point" and desperate to learn the cause of his unhappiness, he began seeing a therapist in 1990.

His first recollection of abuse came in the fall of the following year. They kept coming and in increasingly sharper focus.

Through intensive therapy, he said he pieced together recollections of being abused by the Rev. Hickey from the time he was 2 until he was about 11.

The first time was in the bathroom of a church in Detroit, where he remembers his uncle's smell and the coolness of the floor tiles. Other abuse occurred on the Cape. Joseph Hickey said his clearest memory is of one night on the Cape, sleeping on a pullout couch in a room next to his parents.

"I just remember waking up in the middle of the night with his hand on my genitals. I remember clearly the shorts I was wearing, these light blue, soft shorts, I think a hand-me-down from my brothers," hesaid.

After reporting the abuse to the archdiocese -- and writing an accusatory letter to his uncle -- Joseph Hickey, then 25, hired a lawyer. The archdiocese agreed to pay for two years of therapy. The letter to his uncle went unanswered, he said.

The case was dropped, apparently when the law firm representing him, Eckert Seamans, would no longer work for Hickey on a contingency basis. His lawyer at the time, Matthew McNamara, does not remember why the decision was made.

McNamara, now practicing in Osterville, said he remembered being generally cautious of claims that might be false, but he recalled feeling comfortable representing Joseph Hickey after consulting with Hickey's therapist.

Joseph Hickey said he has no interest in pursuing further litigation and is uncertain whether the Rev. Hickey should be criminally prosecuted, if that were possible.

Michael O'Keefe, first assistant district attorney for the Cape&Islands district, would not say if the Rev. Hickey is among the six priests whose names have been turned over to his office for investigation.

Daniel Hickey, 42, entered therapy in the mid-1990s to help him handle relationships better. He said he recovered memories of his brother's abuse, then his own.

He said when he recalled walking in on his uncle molesting his brother, "All I can remember is being very confused about it and kind of ashamed I saw it."

He was in therapy for another two years before a memory surfaced of an alleged assault when he was 8. He said his uncle molested him in the middle of the night while the family was staying with him in a rectory in Boston.

Daniel Hickey said he is not sure why the incidents remained bottled up inside him for so long. He wonders if he was too young to understand what was happening.

Hickey didn't tell the church what he remembered until last month. He said he spoke once with the Rev. Charles Higgins, the personnel secretary for the archdiocese, but said three later phone calls were not returned.

"I'm not interested in litigation. What we are interested in is protection and healing," he said.


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