Priests' Victims Finding Closure

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Times Union [Albany, NY]
February 28, 2005

On the surface, the two men couldn't be more different.

One, a 59-year-old professional, left the area years ago for sunnier climes out West and has been gainfully employed ever since.

The other, a 47-year-old who still lives in the Capital Region, once aspired to the priesthood but hasn't been able to keep a job for very long.

What they share is the experience of having been sexually abused as boys by priests. By the time they turned 13, their innocence and faith were long gone.

The two men are among the first seven to receive monetary compensation from an independent mediation program.

The initiative, overseen by retired Court of Appeals Judge Howard Levine, was commissioned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany last year as a way to handle abuse allegations independently.

Here are the two men's stories:

The West Coast man said he was molested 50 times over two years by the late Rev. Edward Leroux. The priest at St. Mary's of Gloversville was careful not to tip off the boy's parents, who were his friends. Leroux died earlier this year.

Nothing can salve the pain of being sexually abused by a trusted priest, but the man said the mediated settlement all these years later was a good first step.

The man, who has been in contact with the Times Union for more than a year, and does not want his identity made public, said he was 11 when the abuse began. He said he reached out to the mediation program after his attempts to meet face-to-face with his abuser through the Albany diocese failed.

Mediation wasn't perfect, he acknowledged, and he has doubts about its independence. "But am I better off because of it? The answer is `definitely.' "

"Given the fact that they did compensate me, that I didn't have to share it with an attorney, that I haven't had to testify in public, that it was more than I expected given the statutes of limitation ... I think it went well ... and I'm glad it's settled."

He also said he felt the mediators were too closely aligned with the diocese and that his case was "a done deal" before it began.

Bishop Howard Hubbard removed Leroux and five others from their churches in June 2002 after the U.S. Conference of Bishops adopted a zero-tolerance policy banning all priests with a known history of abusing minors.

In all, Hubbard has removed 20 priests, and investigations are continuing against nine others, including two in active ministry.

Ken Goldfarb, the Albany diocese's director of communications, said not everyone will be 100 percent satisfied with the mediation program because each victim has unique issues and concerns. "But overall, our sense is that it's working," he said.

Leroux's death, at Glens Falls Hospital on Jan. 16, came in the middle of settlement negotiations. "Through it all, I was forced to confront my anger," the man said, adding that the mediation process "had a very definite and clearly calming effect on me."

"I was surprised by the feelings of compassion I had," the man said. "Aside from the loss of trust and disgust for him, mainly because he was doing this to me right under my mother and father's noses, there were also many examples of the good he did for my family, packed deep inside my memory."

The man did not disclose how much money he got. While Levine has not provided details, he has said that the settlement sums are "substantial."

In addition to the payments, victims may also receive counseling, vocational training and other services, as needed and wanted.

The Capital Region man also said mediators treated him courteously and resolved his claim quickly.

Back in 1971, he recalled, he had his hopes set on the seminary when he transferred to the former Keveny Academy in Cohoes.

But a string of inappropriate touches, spanks and sodomy with the principal, the Rev. James Kelly, stole that dream, he said. >From that point on, his life was mired in shame and disillusionment, and the abuse "has been with me every day since," he added.

He contacted the diocese when news surfaced that Kelly was facing other allegations. In 2003, Hubbard removed Kelly from ministry. At the time, the priest was a prison chaplain in Carson City, Nev.

Hubbard acted just after an Arizona man had accused Kelly of physically and sexually abusing him in the late 1970s when he lived at Girls and Boys Town - the world-renowned home for youths in Nebraska where Kelly had been a chaplain.

In an 2003 interview with the Times Union , Kelly denied sexually abusing any children but did recall asking teenage boys to drop their pants for "a few whacks on the bare behind."

The abuse victim said that, as a boy, he believed in the spiritual adviser who took him under his wing to help develop a priestly vocation. That made the subsequent abuse even more sickening, and "That kind of thing really messes you up."

In the wake of Kelly's removal, two years of negotiations with the diocese brought no settlement. It was only when Levine launched the mediation program last fall that relief seemed possible, the man said.

The sense of betrayal is still as strong today as he struggles to find his way back to the church, said the man, who does not want his identity disclosed. He said he would like to be able to walk into Mass with a peaceful heart, but that day is still far off.

"I was truly a happy-go-lucky kid," he recalled. "I wasn't a bad guy, but I wasn't a saint, either. He took away a good Catholic upbringing and a strong faith as well as the ability to trust anyone."

The man said the mediators never gave him a reason to mistrust them.

That was a relief, he said, considering his claim had already been investigated by the diocese and he'd feared the process would have to begin anew.

But the program picked the case up where the diocese had left off and brought it to an end in less than three months, he said.

"This process has really gone a long way to at least open up the thought of getting my faith back," the man said.

He said very few members of his family are aware of what happened.

Although he, too, declined to specify his settlement, the man said he went into negotiations with a figure in mind and settled for a lot less than he expected, "but I'm comfortable with what they've done," he said.


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