Man Files Report Alleging Sexual Abuse from Priest

By Sarah Ovaska
The Monitor
January 10, 2004

It began with a sleepover at the Prince of Peace's parish house in Lyford 30 years ago.

An 11-year-old altar boy from a mission outside of Raymondville, along with several other youths, had been invited by the priest to spend the night.

The altar boy, now a 41-year-old man, said the youths attending the sleepover were all altar boys and had stripped to their underwear to sleep in. He said that they had been drinking alcohol provided by the priest.

"He (the priest) told us to get in our underwear and we ran around the house like it was nothing," he said.

The former altar boy said in a recent interview with The Monitor that he walked to another room, from which the priest had asked him to get something.

He said that when he bent over to retrieve the object, the priest pulled down his shorts and sexually assaulted him.

"He grabbed me from behind and he pulled down my underwear," the former altar boy alleged. "It was painful."

The boy never told anyone, including his family or church officials, about what had happened.

"I was feeling bad, stomach hurting" from the alcohol, he said. "I didn't say anything about it. I just coped with the pain."

That sleepover began what became a more than six-year relationship during which the priest allegedly had repeated sexual contact with him, the former altar boy said.

On Friday, 30 years after the sleepover incident, the former altar boy filed an offense report with the Willacy County Sheriff's Department to create an official record of his allegations. In that report he named Father Mike Zilligen as the priest who had allegedly sexually assaulted him. He said he will contact the Brownsville diocese about the relationship with the priest. The accuser is not being named because he is a possible victim of a sexual crime.

Zilligen is no longer with the Diocese of Brownsville and is not listed as a practicing priest in the 2003 Official Catholic Directory. He could not be located for comment.

The Diocese of Brownsville will not respond to specific allegations of abuse reported only through the media, Brenda Riojas, spokeswoman for the diocese, said Thursday. She did say that the diocese is concerned about the man and hopes that he approaches the diocese for support.

During the more than six-year relationship, the former altar boy said he was also victimized by another priest. While looking for Zilligen one day, he was approached by another priest who he alleges sexually assaulted him at gunpoint, and ordered him not to tell anyone about what happened.

In the years since the alleged abuse, the 41-year-old man said his life has been ruined.

"It's messed up my life," he said.

Miguel Prats, the Texas coordinator for the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said many victims often attempt suicide or go on to abuse drugs or alcohol.

"This problem does not only ruin lives; it kills people," Prats said at a news conference Friday.

After a suicide attempt at age 18, the former altar boy said he spent many years abusing alcohol.

As an adult, he tried to sexually abuse a 16-year-old boy.

"I almost tried to do it to another victim," he said.

He spent more than six years in prison out of a 15-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault of a minor. When he was released from prison and began attending sex therapy sessions as part of his parole supervision, the victim said he began to talk about his abuse.

To this day, he said he cannot have an intimate relationship.

"With females or males, I don't have no relationship," he said.

Five years ago, he told his mother what had happened to him.

When she first heard about the abuse, his mother said she was angry and upset.

"I had a lot of anger and hurt because my child was violated," she said. "You put him in (the care) of a man of God."

Now, she said, she is trying not to be angry and to keep her Christian ideals. The family began attending a Baptist church when the former altar boy was a teenager.

The victim said he does not blame the Catholic Church for what happened, but rather blames the priest.

"I'm not angry," he said. "Therapy has helped me out a lot to cope with it."


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