Stories of Broken Victims Lie behind Catholic Summit

By Jim Schaefer and Alexa Capeloto
Detroit Free Press
April 24, 2002

DETROIT _ They are men now, no longer boys growing up in the Catholic parishes of Michigan.

One cheated on his wife and has been separated from her for 11 years.

Another turned to the bottle and struggled through two failed marriages.

A third flits from job to job. He tried to kill himself. Twice.

These men say they were sexually abused as children by priests, men who they thought represented God. Their stories _ brought out in interviews and, in some cases, lawsuits _ are decades old.

But the words and the pain of people like them have prefaced the extraordinary meetings that are under way this week in Rome, where 12 U.S. cardinals have gathered at the Vatican under the guiding eye of Pope John Paul II. With victims in mind, the group is discussing what to do about the growing scandal over the church's handling of sexually predatory priests.

There has been great speculation over what the meetings will yield. Some want the steadfast church to allow the ordination of women or for priests to be permitted to marry. Others want the church to focus solely on quicker, decisive action against abusers.

No one knows what, if anything, will result. But there is no doubt over what prompted the discussion: the voices of sexual molestation victims from around the country who came forward in recent weeks to rekindle painful memories in public _ the voices of people like Tom Paciorek, William McAlary and Michael Mason.

In published articles and broadcast interviews, some victims of priests said they were molested for years. Others claimed just one encounter. But a common thread in their lives, as these boys became men and then grew to middle age, was trouble.

Tom Paciorek is 55, a commentator for Fox SportsNet and a retired major league baseball player. He has been estranged from his wife since the early 1990s. His relationship with his children went rotten years ago, and has only recently improved, he said.

Some people turn to drugs or alcohol or crime after suffering childhood abuse. Paciorek, who spent 20 years in professional baseball traveling from city to city, said he began having affairs.

He attributed the behavior to his guarded emotions and a lack of trust that prevented a fulfilling relationship with his wife _ fallout from years of abuse by a priest.

"I was never able to share any type of intimacy with her," he said last week.

Paciorek first publicly detailed his abuse last month in the Detroit Free Press, a day after the Rev. Gerald Shirilla was removed as pastor of St. Mary Church in Alpena, Mich. The priest has denied improper behavior. Church leaders said allegations against him were credible.

Paciorek said Shirilla abused him in the 1960s from ages 15 to 19 when Paciorek was a standout athlete at Hamtramck's St. Ladislaus. When they met, Shirilla was a lay teacher. The molestations continued after Shirilla left for the seminary, Paciorek said.

Like the other men interviewed for this report, Paciorek said he was not speaking out to get money from the church or to garner pity. The men said they simply want the church to change how it handles abuse cases and to help the victims who remain silent. They are tired of abusive priests being shuttled from parish to parish.

That's what happened with Shirilla, the man who Paciorek says haunted his thoughts during his early years in professional baseball. To cope, Paciorek banished the memories to the far reaches of his mind, he said. The pain was muted, but irrational behavior took its place.

"Nothing seemed to be fulfilling," he said. "I always marveled at guys who were happily married at the time."

Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said an inability to have healthy relationships is a common effect of abuse. So are addictions to drugs and alcohol, a lack of trust in and resentment of authority figures, suicidal thoughts and a lack of self-esteem.

"The trauma of the abuse has such an impact on our lives, we develop coping mechanisms," Blaine said. "We develop a way of life that fits us when we are being abused, but not a normal way of living."

Blaine has spoken to at least 1,000 people who say they were abused by priests around the country. The first account was her own.

She said she was molested by the Rev. Chet Warren, a priest in her Ohio parish who later briefly served at St. Paschal Baylon Church in Taylor, Mich. She reported the abuse in 1985, but Warren was not defrocked until 1992.

Traumatized by her experience and the lukewarm response from church officials, Blaine founded the national network in 1991. A group of metro Detroiters is preparing to open a chapter, she said.

"Victims are led to believe that the abuse is their fault," she said. "So we all experience these feelings of shame and guilt and embarrassment. Many of us go through life with those feelings but don't even consciously realize where they come from."

For a long time, William McAlary couldn't remember being molested by his priest, he said. Now he can't forget it.

He knew the Rev. Stanislaus Bur as the associate pastor of his family's parish, SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Ionia, Mich. He now remembers being watched by Bur in the parish school's shower room after basketball practice, and the priest touching himself during confessions.

But most of all, he remembers the morning in January 1958 when he woke up in his home to find Bur kneeling by his bed. The priest's hand was in the boy's underwear.

McAlary said he screamed at Bur and chased him out of the house, then ran to the kitchen to tell his mother, who had allowed the priest to wake her son during a visit. She looked at the boy, then turned silently back to the dishes she was washing, he said.

"That was the last time we talked about it for many years," McAlary, 57, of Farmington Hills, Mich., said.

He said he blocked the memory for decades. He suffered through two short marriages, 20 years of alcohol abuse, numerous firings and emotional distress so severe he considered suicide.

"My spirit was broken, like a broken heart," he said.

He said he recalled the abuse during therapy in the early 1990s and contacted the Diocese of Grand Rapids. The diocese did not admit liability but found McAlary's allegations credible, John Tully, an attorney for the diocese, confirmed Monday.

The church paid up to $1,000 a month for McAlary's therapy from 1992 to 2001. Church officials also tracked Bur to the Diocese of Saginaw and had him retire from active ministry in the early 1990s.

Bur, now 81 and living in Cheboygan, told the Free Press he may have touched boys' genitals to teach them about their bodies, but he never abused anyone. Two years ago, the Saginaw Diocese honored Bur for 50 years in the priesthood.

The honor shocked McAlary, who said it shows a pattern of protecting abusers from scrutiny and accountability. He suggested that people take abuse allegations to police, not the church.

Some victims claim they suffered further after complaining to the church or filing lawsuits.

Wayne County Circuit Court records show a pattern of aggressive defensive tactics used by church attorneys, even when the accused priests admitted the allegations.

The Archdiocese of Detroit successfully fought off Michael Mason's lawsuit filed in 1994, in which Mason claimed the Rev. Robert Burkholder molested him in 1968 when he was 12 at a lake side cottage. The church won a ruling that Mason failed to sue within the statute of limitations.

The boy's father, Larry Mason, testified in a deposition that an archdiocesan bishop admitted 25 years earlier that Burkholder had abused Michael. Larry Mason said he also accepted the bishop's offering: a 2-week trip to Miami, paid in part by Burkholder.

The church also made another offer that is common in such cases: counseling for Michael and his parents. Larry Mason said recently that the counselor, a priest, sent him and his wife away after just one session, telling them, "You and Barbara are more concerned about this than Michael."

Years later, after depression, lost jobs, a failed marriage and the death of his young son in a car accident, Michael Mason said he tried twice to commit suicide.

Now remarried, Mason said last week the details of his suffering are true, but he didn't want to rekindle painful memories by talking about them in depth.

Like Mason, Paciorek said he is trying to move on with his life.

"We were victimized and it was a tragedy, but at the same time we have to accept responsibility for the people we have hurt," he said.

McAlary said retelling his story is painful but may help others.

"People like me are survivors. The victims are the ones who never could get help."


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