Quincy Man Charges Years of Sex Abuse by Uncle, a Priest

By James L. Franklin
Boston Globe
July 29, 1993

When his father died in March, Sean O'Sullivan, his mother and sister all stayed away from the funeral because the Mass was celebrated by his uncle, Rev. Eugene M. O'Sullivan.

At 32, Sean is already nearing death. But he says that living with AIDS has brought him clarity and simplicity and even restored the faith he says he lost because he and his brother TJ were sexually abused as children by their uncle, a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

Father O'Sullivan pleaded guilty in 1984 to raping another child, a 13-year-old Arlington altar boy. Though he was back working in ordinary parish ministry in New Jersey less than a year later, Father O'Sullivan was recalled to Boston in July 1992 - during a review by the Boston Archdiocese of past sexual abuse cases - and banned from all priestly activities.

Archdiocesan spokesman John Walsh said that officials made one exception to that ban, allowing Father O'Sullivan to officiate at his brother Timothy's funeral in late March, "as an act of mercy."

But it was no act of mercy for Timothy's son, Sean, who says his uncle sexually abused him for a nine-year period beginning when he was 9 years old and had abused his older brother, TJ, now deceased, for years before that.

Father O'Sullivan declined to comment on the charges by his nephew after a message was sent to him through his sister.

"We were told he would no longer be involved with the church," said Sean, "that he would no longer be able to practice as a priest. At the time of my father's funeral, my uncle asked the archbishop if he could say the Mass and he was given the right to say the Mass. I did not go to my father's funeral for that very reason, nor did my sister or my mother."

It was not the first time that "Father Bud," as the priest is known to family members, had offered to minister to them. In 1989, when TJ died of heart failure, some members of the O'Sullivan family asked the uncle to say his funeral Mass.

"He would have said the Mass if I said yes," said Patricia A. O'Sullivan, mother of the two men, who refused the offer. "That's when he promised to come and speak to the family. . . . But he never did." Patricia and Timothy O'Sullivan had been divorced for 17 years at the time of his death.

Sean's sister, Kathleen O'Sullivan, recalled talking to her uncle by phone after TJ's death. "Father Bud was talking about how he was sorry this had happened, that he knew he had hurt the family, that he was going to come over and apologize. I'm hysterical, swearing, but my mother told me to be quiet and give him his chance. But he never came to apologize."

TJ "had a lot of anger towards my uncle," said Sean. "I think he was in the middle of pressing charges when he became sick with heart failure and passed away."

Sean, a lanky man with red hair and freckles, spoke during an interview at his home in Quincy about nine years of abuse, his struggle with AIDS and finding the power to forgive.

He said he too considered bringing charges against his uncle but delayed for years for fear that it would hurt his father. "My father had this old-generation feeling of always protecting the name. His brother was a priest and he couldn't imagine how I could do this to his brother, my uncle, even though my father believed that I had been molested."

Sean says his abuse began when he was about 9. "My dad and I were just over there visiting his mother. I remember my uncle sitting next to me and saying something to the effect that 'I've been waiting for the right time to do this.'

"It continued that way for years, at family functions, with all the relatives around. . . . My uncle would take me aside or say, 'Let's go upstairs and you could show me your drawings,' any excuse really to get me out of the room and separate me."

Sean says he now realizes that as a young man he had been both frightened and grateful for the attention. "I grew up with an alcoholic father. . . . My mother is an ex-nun and I have always had a sense of reverence for God. That certainly confused the situation. Not only was he my uncle . . . but he was a priest as well, and I guess I was looking for a father figure."

Sean, who now identifies himself as gay, said he realized as he grew older that the relationship with his uncle was entirely one-sided, that "I was just servicing him." Finally in high school, "I just stopped" the relationship, he said.

But he said he did not stop the behavior learned in years of abuse. "I desperately tried to find other figures of that stature. . . . Unfortunately, I went through a few years of searching for love and acceptance in ugly, ugly ways."

Later, he says, he understood his maladjustment. "I used to think all gay men lived their lives by this promiscuous kind of closeted activity. But when I tried to have a few relationships, I could see my intimacy issues were much bigger than I ever anticipated. I don't know if I ever made love in my life."

He has now lived with AIDS for four years. He said his uncle's abuse did not cause him to get AIDS but did start him on a promiscuous lifestyle. The AIDS, he argues, resulted from "sexual confusion directly related to my uncle's abuse . . . at a time when it's very, very dangerous to be ill-adjusted sexually."

Four years ago, after his brother's death, Sean says, he asked his father to set up a meeting with his uncle. Sean told Father O'Sullivan of his own pain, his suicide attempts as a teen-ager, and how the abuse had affected his family. "I have a very bitter and angry sister because of this. I think there is a lot of shame that my mother carried . . . because she never believed my brother when he came running to her at age 6. No one could believe this could actually be the case."

The meeting produced no great reconciliation. His uncle asked Sean for forgiveness and assured him he had never abused anyone else, even though Sean knew of the 1984 rape conviction and his own brother's abuse. "But by confronting my abuser the roles were reversed. . . . I took the parent, father, adult role in this . . . and he was just a bumbling child, and in that process I regained some of what he took away from me," he said.

It was a hard moment when his uncle asked forgiveness, but in saying no at that time, Sean realized "I had never forgiven myself, and that there was a lot of shame there inside."

He said he kept silent about the experience out of love for his father, and because his uncle's family denied any of the abuse had taken place, even the charge which he pleaded guilty to in 1984. But Sean said that since 1989, he decided to forgive his uncle and not seek prosecution, because of his own poor health and because "I determined not to go on hating." Yet he said he is speaking out now "in hopes of helping someone else.

"I want to help people understand how important it is to resolve these issues, and how important it is for parents to listen to their children when these issues come up, and to see how truly life-threatening denial and avoidance can be."

Paradoxically, through his illness, "I have been gifted with the lesson of love and compassion and forgiveness in a way I never would have experienced . . . And that certainly had a start with me forgiving myself and my uncle."

"The Catholic Church is responsible for my foundation, of realizing how important faith is," Sean said. "I have since found faith in almost everything . . . There's a miracle to be had in everything, even pain and suffering."


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