Abuse Victim Bitter

By Theresa Conroy
Philadelphia Daily News
December 22, 2005

As Martin Donohoe sat beneath a blanket on an antique sofa in his Medford, N.J., home, he quickly moved from one issue to the next, ruminating over details.

He could spend an hour deconstructing a single moment in time. He could live inside the nuance of one gesture or one statement.

Donohoe's obsession is understandable - even expected.

For two years, when he was between the ages of 15 and 17, he was repeatedly molested, manipulated, dominated and defiled by a Roman Catholic priest. His attacker, the Rev. James Behan, was a trusted teacher at North Catholic High School when Donohoe attended in the late 1970s.

For more than two decades, Donohoe yearned for the day when the priest would get his just punishment. The victim, now 42, edged closer to that dream when he first reported the allegations to the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office in April 2002.

And when Behan admitted to the crimes, by pleading guilty in February to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and corrupting the morals of a minor, Donohoe saw the day of reckoning looming just ahead.

It would mean "removing toxic waste from the center of my belly," he said.

"That dirty feeling about me would be gone forever," he said.

It didn't happen.

Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe said she believed that Behan's good works as an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales during the last 25 years offset his assaults against the teenager. She said she had read more than 300 letters written by supporters of Behan, 60, the area's only Catholic priest convicted in the church's sex scandal. Then, she spared him a prison sentence and, instead, ordered Behan to serve 12 years' probation.

Donohoe was devastated.

"I had an attack two days ago," Donohoe said Tuesday, less than two weeks after the sentencing. "I was just like this, staring down, and thinking of that courtroom and I'm a loser. That's how I feel. It's just a feeling of violation."

In an effort to shed that feeling, Donohoe invited a Daily Newsreporter into his home to discuss the impact of the sentence. He knew venting might not be enough. Donohoe said he plans to seek his own justice by filing a civil suit against Behan.

After leaving North Catholic in 1980, Behan served in the diocese of Raleigh, N.C., spending more than a decade as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, in Wilmington, N.C.

He was removed from public ministry in 2002, when Donohoe brought the accusations.

Since then, Behan has worked with elderly and sick retired priests at the Oblates' headquarters in Childs, Md.

Meanwhile, since the day of sentencing, Donohoe said he has been unable to sleep or concentrate. Stuck in a dark place where he feels soiled, he said it feels like he was frozen in time.

"We want to move on with my family, and we don't want to feel that way," he said.

Donohoe, who has an unrelated neurological disease called Reflex Sympathetic Nerve Dystrophy, had his life partner, Bob Derer, and brother, Gene Donohoe, by his side to lend support - and focus - during the interview. The two men, using a gentle yet direct manner, stepped in frequently to urge Donohoe to stay on track.

They prepared a list of offenses from the hearing.

Gene Donohoe was appalled that the judge opened the hearing to Behan's former parishioners, who traveled to Philadelphia by bus from North Carolina and had sent 325 letters to Dembe urging leniency. Why hadn't she offered the same opportunity to Donohoe's relatives and supporters in attendance?

Martin Donohoe was upset that the judge, who openly wept during the hearing, described Behan as "godly."

Derer, who has been with Donohoe for 21 years, said he was outraged that the hearing focused more on Behan's life since the crime than on the two years of sexual abuse.

The assaults included several occasions in which Behan performed oral sex on Donohoe inside the priest's Kensington home. Donohoe said Behan also had abused him in a Germantown parish church and several times in North Carolina.

"Those people did not want to hear and understand or admit that Behan was a child molester," Derer said. "Somebody had to remind them of that. Who cares what he did over the last 25 years? You're here not because of what he did over the past 25 years.

"We're here because he's a child molester."

Martin Donohoe also wondered whether his homosexuality inspired anyone in that courtroom to view the assaults less seriously.

"If I had a wife next to me instead of my partner, it might have been a totally different situation," he said.

The three men were most shocked that Dembe had lifted a stay-away order preventing Behan from contacting Donohoe. Dembe explained her action at the time by saying she had "a sensation of some unfinished business between these two men."

"Can you imagine?" Donohoe asked. "I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [from the assaults]. She must have thought things were hunky-dory."

A woman who identified herself as Dembe's law clerk said yesterday that judicial ethics barred the judge from discussing the case.

During the sentencing, Dembe, regarded as one of the city's most astute, fair and reasonable judges, admitted several times that she was unsure if she was making the right decision. She told the packed courtroom she had agonized over the case.

"The one thing that I feel comfortable about after reviewing all of the communications [from parishioners] is that there has been no further abuse of youngsters," she said.

She went on to say that prisons were not intended for offenders like Behan.

"And so, at bottom," Dembe said at the sentencing, "it comes down to, on the one hand, a man who has done something terrible... against someone who is universally described as gentle, humorous, humble, thoughtful, godly, attentive."

The judge left out one description, according to Gene Donohoe:

"He's a criminal."



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.