Decades of Sadness and Pain for Former Priest

By Jennifer Kingsley
Star-Gazette (Elmira, NY)
June 9, 2002

BURDETT - The former Catholic priest who admitted to molesting John Hayes in 1966 and other boys in the 1950s and 1960s said he has struggled for more than 30 years to deal with his compulsive behavior.

"My life has been filled with remorse, regret and sorrow because of the damage, hurt and confusion in others resulting from my behavior years ago," said John Gormley, 69, who now lives in Burdett. "I am also saddened and personally burdened by the way the church handled this problem in the past."

Gormley eventually left the priesthood and the Catholic church. He said he has worked more than 30 years in therapy to help his recovery for his sexual compulsivity.

"I found help in intensive therapy for what I learned was an addictive and compulsive psychosexual mental disorder," Gormley said. "It was the consequence of various contributing factors, some tracing back to my childhood."

Gormley said the behavior stopped many years ago but he is still in therapy to deal with bouts of depression and thoughts of suicide.

"I've had many, many suicidal thoughts, but never an attempt, during the worst parts of my despair," Gormley said.

He said he recognized early in his pastoral career that he had a sexual attraction to underage boys.

Knowing he was unfit

Gormley said that in 1957, two years before he was to be ordained, he consulted with the spiritual director at St. Bernard's Seminary in Rochester because he feared he was unfit for the priesthood. An incident occurred with an adolescent boy and Gormley said he wanted help to control his sexual compulsivity.

Instead, Gormley said, he was told that his problem required prayer and spiritual discipline, but that it wasn't a barrier to keep him from being ordained.

In 1959, when he was 26, Gormley was ordained and assigned to Holy Redeemer Church in Rochester, where Gormley said inappropriate sexual activity happened again.

"It was like friendships that became inappropriately sexualized," Gormley said. "There wasn't a rape, just inappropriate touching."

Gormley said that after each incident he would take the boy to confession with him because he was desperate for help from the diocese and distraught over his problem.

Time after time, Gormley said, he was given absolution through confession, but his sexual problem remained a secret.

In 1962, his last year in Rochester, Gormley said, "A priest finally asked if I would like some help from outside the rectory."

Gormley said he was relieved that his problem was being recognized.

Later that year, Gormley was assigned to St. Mary's in Corning where he was an associate pastor. On his own initiative, Gormley sought counseling from a psychiatrist in Binghamton to control his sexual and psychological difficulties.

Gormley spent four years in Corning and during his last year, his behavior was no longer a secret. Gormley said there was a discussion with the senior pastor about his compulsion. The senior pastor sent Gormley back to Rochester.

"I told the diocese that I was seeing a psychiatrist in Binghamton and that I wanted to continue seeing that psychiatrist," Gormley said. "That's when I was assigned to Watkins Glen."

It was in Watkins Glen that Gormley met Carroll and Elizabeth Hayes.

Breaking a family's trust

The Hayes family often entertained members of the clergy in their home, including Gormley. That's also where an inappropriate relationship began between Gormley and their 9-year-old son, John Hayes.

"John was the youngest boy I had a relationship with," Gormley said. "I've always felt terrible about that."

Gormley said his relationships were usually with teen-age boys. Gormley was training John Hayes to be an altar boy.

During the next few years, Gormley said, he continued to struggle with his behavior, often seeking absolution from the confessional.

In 1966, Gormley moved to St. John Evangelist in Clyde, and later opted for a rural ministry outreach called Galilee House, which served Tioga and Tompkins counties.

Gormley said feelings of deep remorse and suicidal thoughts consumed his life. In 1969, the diocese granted Gormley a leave of absence.

"It was during that period I continued the search for help," said Gormley, noting that he lived outside the diocese at that time.

Two years later, Gormley was allowed to leave the priesthood.

"I was penniless, working as a waiter," Gormley said. "The only education I had was from the seminary."

That same year, 1971, Gormley met and married his wife. He said he told her about his past and she encouraged Gormley to check himself into a residential treatment center in Hartford, Conn. He stayed there for seven months in 1972.

Through the years, Gormley has operated his own business and held teaching positions, most recently as an adjunct professor in the continuing education department at Elmira College, where he taught stress management, interpersonal relations and alcohol and drug management courses.

He resigned from Elmira College last month when his past was brought to the attention of the administration.

"They didn't ask for my resignation," Gormley said about Elmira College's administrative panel. "I offered it so they wouldn't have to ask."

Finding a way to heal

"I have worked over 30 years in ongoing therapy to achieve and then maintain recovery," Gormley said. "I have tried to work for reconciliation with those involved whenever possible, made amends the best I could, respected confidentiality, and sought ways to contribute productively to society."

Gormley said the support and love of his wife, family, friends and colleagues, and the help of mental health professionals helped make his recovery possible.

"I thank them for that," he said.

Gormley said he understands that having adults disclose they were abused as children or adolescents, and even confront their abusers, helps the healing process, and should be encouraged.

"I hope that I can contribute to the healing process and to find lasting solutions to this serious problem with honesty, openness and compassion for all involved," Gormley said.

He hopes that by telling his side of the story, "that we can all learn to work together to provide help and healing to all others so affected and so afflicted and to find solutions to this serious problem in an atmosphere of reconciliation and compassion rather than of alienation."

Gormley's pastoral appointments

The appointments of John Gormley, former Catholic priest:

" June 1959 - Holy Redeemer Church, Rochester.

" June 1962 - St. Mary's Church, Corning.

" June 1965 - St. Mary's of the Lake, Watkins Glen.

" June 1966 - St. John Evangelist, Clyde.

" June 1967 - Rural outreach program, Galilee House, serving Tioga and Tompkins counties.

" June 1969 - Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester grants Gormley a leave of absence at his request.

" June 1971 - Gormley is allowed to leave the priesthood.


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