Seeking Justice, Closure

By Joe Happ
News Guard
August 16, 2005

"I'm not trying to bring down the church," said Tidewater resident Peter Carlich. "I'm looking for closure, for justice."

Carlich, 59, is one of 68 men currently making claims of sexual abuse by priests against the Archdiocese of Portland. He is seeking $10.2 million in damages and alleges he was molested as a sophomore at the now-defunct Tillamook Catholic High School by the late Rev. Gerald Dezurick, a local parish priest. The claims are now in crucial settlement talks that are expected to run through the middle of September. Carlich's lawsuit was merged with the others after the archdiocese declared bankruptcy in July of 2004. "We're not even litigants any more; we're creditors," he said, with a note of bitterness creeping into his voice. Carlich said he decided to sue the archdiocese after sex abuse charges against priests in the Boston Archdiocese surfaced a few years ago. Unlike many men he knows who have similar histories, he said he has no trouble being open about it. Carlich, the subject of a front-page story last week in The Oregonian, added, "I'm proud to speak for the men making these claims. We were innocent little boys and these priests knew what they were doing."

Two of the incidents Carlich alleges in his claim took place in his family's home in Tillamook in 1960. The third, he said, took place in the rectory at St. Joseph's Church in Cloverdale. The priest, who died in 1986, doubled back then as the high school's basketball coach and Carlich was a member of the team. Father Gerald was a frequent dinner guest in parishioners' homes, Carlich said. One Friday night, Dezurick had dinner at the Carlich residence. "Afterwards, he came to my room to give me a 'sports massage.' I had pulled a leg muscle at practice," Carlich said. Carlich said he became increasingly uncomfortable as the priest administered the thigh massage on his bed and touched him inappropriately. "I asked him to stop, and he did," Carlich said, noting that the priest had been breathing differently and making small sounds during the encounter. Dezurick left the room, Carlich said, and he didn't mention the incident to his parents. The same thing happened a week later, he said, but he still said nothing about it to his parents. A third incident, Carlich said, occurred some time later during an overnight stay in the rectory at St. Joseph's Church in Cloverdale. Carlich said he had been assigned to serve Sunday Masses at St. Joseph's, which had no priest or altar boys of its own. "There was a Mass at 6 a.m., so when you were assigned to that, you went down with the priest the night before," he said. Dezurick picked him up at home Saturday night and told him that a second altar boy who was to make the trip couldn't come, Carlich said. Shortly after they arrived in Cloverdale, Carlich said, "Father Gerald got a bottle of Mogen David wine — you know, the sweet sticky stuff — from the trunk of the car and poured two glasses. "Then he started to question me about whether I liked it when he was giving me the massages. I said, 'No, I didn't,' and he said I seemed to be enjoying it."

Carlich described the sleeping quarters at the Cloverdale rectory as a large, open room. "There was a cot on one side and a cot on the other side and a big open area in between," he said. "I got into bed in shorts and a T-shirt � that's what we slept in in those days. When I woke up in the morning, I had a raging headache and my shorts were on the floor near the bed. I had a feeling something bad had happened."

That morning, he said, the priest's demeanor changed, too. "He seemed angry," Carlich said. Later, after they got back to Tillamook, Carlich said, his father told him the priest had accused him of coming to his bed that night wanting sex. "I denied it, but my parents didn't believe me," he said.

What happened then, according to Carlich, profoundly affected the rest of his life. He said he was confined in a Portland psychiatric ward for two-and-a-half months that spring, "They were going to cure me of homosexuality. I remember being drugged every day and being groggy a lot of the time."

Back in Tillamook after his release, he said, he was treated like a pariah. "Nobody'd let me date their daughter. I felt like I was trapped here."

He soon ran away to Portland, where he stayed in the apartment of a young woman he'd met while undergoing treatment. "They found us after a couple of weeks. But, before they did, I spent a lot of time proving my sexuality."

The episode, he said, caused enormous strains within his family that were made worse the following year by the accidental death of one of his two younger brothers. He dropped out of school and left town as soon as he could. His life since, he said, has been one of trying to prove his sexuality as often as he could. "You can't do that and be married at the same time without getting into trouble," he said, and he has two failed marriages to prove the point. Carlich said he has been in a stable relationship with a woman for the past eight years. "I know there will be people in Tillamook who will think this is about money," he said. "It isn't. "You finally get to a point in life where you figure things out," he said, noting that he has not undergone any psychiatric therapy since his experience in Portland 45 years ago. "If you break your leg, you move on; you don't let it dominate your life. That's where I am now."

Carlich, who has lived in Lincoln County for more than 20 years, has worked as a marine contractor, although his license is currently inactive. For the last 25 years, he has owned the Reliable Steam Engine Company.


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