4 who appeared before grand jury discuss testimony about abuse in Berks County
By Beth Brelje
https://readingeagle.com/news/article/4-who-appeared-before-grand-jury-discuss-testimony-about-abuse-in-berks-countyBERKS COUNTY, PA —Berks County victims of sexual abuse are cycling through their emotions after the release of a grand jury report outlining how more than 1,000 children were molested by Roman Catholic clergy in six of the state's dioceses, including the one that covers Berks.
The long-awaited report made public Tuesday included details of alleged abuses, and accusation against more than 300 clergy from the dioceses of Harrisburg, Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Erie, Scranton and Allentown, which includes Berks County.
Among the accused were 26 clergy who worked in Berks.
Berks parishes where priests named in the report served were St. Ignatius Loyola in Sinking Spring; Most Blessed Sacrament in Bally; St. Catharine of Siena in Mount Penn; Sacred Heart in West Reading; Holy Guardian Angels in Muhlenberg Township; and Holy Rosary, St. Paul, St. Margaret and St. Peter, all in Reading; plus the former Reading Central Catholic and Holy Name high schools, also in Reading.
Abuse was documented through lawsuits and nearly a half-million internal church memos, letters and other records. The report also describes how the church failed to adequately respond to the allegations.
The Reading Eagle interviewed four people who testified before the grand jury, including state Rep. Mark Rozzi, one of the most high-profile victims to testify and speak publicly.
Rozzi, a Muhlenberg Township Democrat, said that he told the grand jury how the Rev. Edward Graff groomed, raped and sexually abused him when he attended Holy Guardian Angels School.
During his years in ministry, Graff raped scores of children, the report said. The diocese, the grand jury found, minimized Graff's criminal conduct while secretly noting the significant danger that he posed to the public.
Rozzi said that he was also questioned about his experience in the General Assembly as he tried to pass legislation to lift the statutes of limitation to allow older victims to report sexual abuse from childhood. Such a move could reveal more abusers.
Rozzi said that he faced intimidation and political pushback from other lawmakers the last time the bill was close to passing in spring 2016. He continues to advocate passage of the bill.
"The truth comes out first and justice follows," Rozzi said in an interview. "That is all we ever wanted was the truth to come out. This was a major wall we tore down and a major victory for victims."
Because he made his abuse public, Rozzi said his office often receives calls from others claiming to be sexual abuse victims. His office referred more than 20 people to the state attorney general for possible participation in the grand jury.
Not the only one
Mary McHale of Kenhorst testified that she was sexually assaulted by the Rev. James Gaffney, a priest at Central Catholic High School, when she was a senior in the late 1980s. She had intended to keep the abuse a secret forever.
"I thought maybe I was the only one," McHale, 46, said in an interview. "I was in high school, then graduated and didn't have to look back. I was going to stuff my feelings down for the rest of my life."
Then, in 2004, Gaffney was charged with abusing another girl, so McHale called an attorney handling that case hoping to offer that victim support.
"They said, 'You have your own case,' " McHale said.
An attorney took her statement, but the statute of limitations had run out, leaving her no legal recourse.
She was one of 17 seated next to Attorney General Josh Shapiro during the press conference Tuesday in Harrisburg detailing the report, and has made her name public.
Since then, she said, she has been contacted by others who say they were abused.
"I started out with a secret. He made it a bigger secret," she said of Gaffney. "Now I feel like the secret is out."
The report shows multiple victims accusing Gaffney of sexual abuse.
A friend of the family
Thomas McDevitt, 57, of Spring Township has deep Catholic roots. His uncle was a respected priest who had a positive influence in his life and impressed upon him that priests have a direct connection to Jesus. From an early age he wanted to pursue the priesthood and spent seven years studying for that life in seminary.
He told the grand jury that he was groomed, manipulated and molested multiple times by a priest who lived in his uncle's rectory, the Rev. Paul Puza, who had gained the trust and friendship of his family.
"He came to our home for dinner," McDevitt said. "He did the homily and sang at my brother's wedding."
He first reported the abuse in his 20s, while attending Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Montgomery County. The report went nowhere. Through the years he told others, but was advised to keep quiet.
"Three or four people in the church told me the same thing, almost to the letter: 'You should never tell anyone about this. No good will ever come of you telling anyone,' " McDevitt said.
He left the seminary, got married, raised his children Catholic and worked in social work with troubled youth.
A work training session on identifying kids who may have been sexually abused led McDevitt to a realization.
"I was like, 'I was sexually molested,' " he said. "This wasn't my fault. I'm probably not the only one."
He wanted to make sure it didn't happen again, so he reported it again.
Puza admitted the abuse and was eventually removed from ministry. But it was handled quietly, and Puza's name never came out until the report was released.
McDevitt expected many names to be released but the report still shocked him.
"It's far worse than I imagined, the deviancies that many of these priests exhibited," McDevitt said.
'He killed my potential'
Reading native Judy Deaven said that her son, Joseph Behe III, was a victim. He was 45 when he died in 2015 of an accidental overdose of painkillers.
Deaven, who now lives in Harrisburg, testified that her son used painkillers because his back was permanently injured during sexual assaults.
He was victimized at Holy Guardian Angels when he was 16 and 17 years old. In a 2007 letter to the diocese, he named Graff as his abuser. The report indicates Graff had multiple victims.
"Father Graff did more than rape me. He killed my potential and in so doing killed the man I should have become," Behe wrote.
Behe's words are included in the grand jury report.
"Joey was told he would go to hell if he told," his mother said. "He was told nobody would believe him and people would think he was a homosexual. By the time he was able to come forward, with the statute of limitation, it was too late."
Behe was in his late 30s before he told his mother about the abuse, Deaven said.
Behe suffered from flashbacks, vividly seeing items on the dresser in Graff's bedroom and smelling the scent of his cigar smoke.
Deaven shared this with the grand jury in August 2016. She was shown Graff's photo and asked if she could identify him. She testified that he was the man who abused her son.
Then she waited. For two years. A date in June was set to release the report, but it was delayed with legal challenges until a redacated version was released Tuesday.
"They never admitted anything happened," Deaven testified. "It was like he was trying to prove his entire life what had happened and that he was telling the truth."
Deaven, who also was seated next to Shapiro on Tuesday, dabbed her eyes when he turned to her and said the grand jury believed the abuse happened and said her son's trauma led to his death.
That validation is one reason the report is important to victims.
"This is not only the voice of my son. It is the voice of thousands of victims," Deaven said. "They need to be heard."
Since learning of her son's abuse, Deaven has attended just one Catholic Mass: Joey's funeral three years ago.
Beth Brelje | Reporter
Beth Brelje is the transportation and politics reporter for the Reading Eagle.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.