OKC man shares story about priest's abuse
The "monster" that haunted Nick Yascavage for decades didn't come creeping out from under his childhood bed.
It wasn't some faceless stranger that his parents had warned him about.
The Oklahoma City man's nightmare walked into his parents' Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, home one afternoon as a revered guest of honor.
The "monster" came wearing a clerical collar and eventually asked his mother and father if 12-year-old Nicky wanted to go with him to get ice cream
This was no troll or bogeyman. The nightmare was real.
It was the new priest in town.
Yascavage, 53, has spent more than 40 years trying to repress the memories of his encounters with the man who started out as his youth pastor only to turn into his abuser.
The U.S. Army veteran and one-time restaurateur told only one person, a spouse, about the experiences that tainted his childhood.
Then, the attorney general of Pennsylvania called a grand jury to review allegations of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. The grand jury's report, released in August 2018, shocked the nation with details of priests preying upon children.
The Associated Press said the report revealed that hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania had molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s and the bishops charged with safeguarding the youths in their dioceses regularly covered up the abuse. AP reported that in nearly all of the cases, the statute of limitations had run out, meaning that criminal charges can't be filed.
The grand jury's report included information obtained about abuse in the diocese of Harrisburg, where Yascavage attended church, plus the dioceses of Erie, Allentown, Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Scranton.
Reading the report was an awakening of sorts for Yascavage because he realized that numerous children had been sexually abused by priests — children much like him, children living in his hometown, in his community, in his region.
"I thought, 'They're telling my story. This is what happened to me. I'm not alone,'" he said.
Accompanied by his local attorneys, Yascavage traveled to his home state of Pennsylvania and gave a statement about the ordeal that changed his life forever.
He said he is sharing his story publicly now with the hope that his own courage in talking about the abuse will inspire other abuse victims to speak out — perhaps not to the media, but to professional counselors, trusted family members and friends.
"In some strange way, my mission moving forward is to somehow help victims in getting better," he said.
And then there is another aspect of sharing his truth.
"I have to say the real reason is because when you're living with this, you're feeling like this had to be an anomaly. I believed that for years," Yascavage said.
"They're saying that time heals all wounds. I think time doesn't heal all wounds because this is something that will outlive me, I'm sure."
'The touching began'
Yascavage remembers taking a road trip with the Rev. Ronald Chiasson and thinking of ways to kill the priest.
It was the only way his youthful mind could see a way to end the cat-and-mouse game he said the clergyman played with him on the sacred grounds of the church, the priest's living quarters and other places.
And now they were on a trip with no one nearby to potentially put a stop to the abuse.
The man whom he had once thought of as a friend and mentor had become someone who inspired murderous thoughts.
Things had taken a drastic turn since the priest had come to Yascavage's Catholic parish.
Yascavage said he was a 12-year-old altar server in the 1970s when he met Chiasson, who was to serve as the youth pastor at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church. He said Chiasson was a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate religious order.Looking back, Yascavage said within two weeks he'd become Chiasson's target. The priest initially asked for his help in doing work around the youth recreation room at the church. He said as they worked together alone, Chiasson would wrestle with him and touch him in a manner that he didn't think too much about at first.
The priest also started dropping by the Yascavage home to see if he could take Nick, then called Nicky, for a frozen treat. He said his parents seemed honored that the priest had singled their young son out in this manner.
"When a Catholic priest shows up at your door to take your son for ice cream, it might as well be Jesus Christ," he said.
Yascavage said the priest quickly began interjecting himself into their family dynamics, showing up with gifts for his young parishioner, like money or a stereo that the church youth program planned to replace with a newer model.
Eventually, the priest asked Yascavage's parents if Nick could regularly serve as an altar boy at all his Masses. Yascavage said his family didn't see this request as unusual because he attended the parish school and he would still be able to get to class before school started after early morning Masses.
Yascavage said one day after Mass, after eating breakfast in the rectory, the priest led Yascavage to the third floor, where he slept. It was in this room — the priest's bedroom — that Yascavage said he began to realize something inappropriate was happening.
"The touching began again. My shirt came off. He rubbed oil on me. It felt very strange and uncomfortable. You knew this isn't normal," he said.
Yascavage said these encounters happened several times over the course of almost three years.
"At this point, your eyes are closed, your teeth are clenched. He puts his clothes on, so you know it's over. You go home and hope it doesn't happen again, but inevitably it does," Yascavage said.
A particularly low point in a series of such encounters, the priest asked Yascavage's parents for permission to take him on a two-week, out-of-state trip, and they agreed.
"My parents thought this was wonderful — 'Wow! This man wants to take Nicky on vacation,'" he said. "I don't blame my parents at all. They were just doing what they thought was best."
Yascavage said the priest took him to a relative's home. He said he had begun sleeping with his clothes on but the priest would come in and begin rubbing his body with oil. And at a stop in Maine, the priest set up a camera and began taking pictures of Yascavage naked.
The pair eventually made their way to Nova Scotia, Canada, where they stayed in a cabin by themselves. Yascavage said that was where he first began hatching plans to kill the priest — perhaps there was a way to poison him, he thought.
Yascavage said the priest plied him with liquor that he later thought might have been tainted with some type of drug because he passed out, only to wake up disoriented and wondering what had happened. He said the priest continued to take nude pictures.
"It's at this point in my life that I realize that I'm nothing more than a piece of property. Within this 10-minute span, I reinvent the murder plan. My only thought was I'm going to take the (car) wheel and drive the car into a bridge or embankment," he said.
Shortly after the pair returned home from the trip, Yascavage learned that the priest had left the parish.
Unpacking the story
Chiasson died in 1999 at age 60, according to an obituary found online.
After serving in Harrisburg, he became a youth pastor at another Catholic church in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, served as a Navy chaplain and prison chaplain and worked as a truck driver, the obit said.
Yascavage's eyes filled with tears as he said he has wondered why he didn't tell his parents or anyone else about the abuse when it was happening to him.
"My biggest regret is the thought that had I come forward, maybe not at age 12, 13, 15 or even 17, but maybe somewhere in my 20s, I could have prevented all these victims behind me. That's the hardest thing that you have to live with," he said.
And then there's what he called the "collateral damage" that being sexually abused by a trusted member of the clergy causes in the victim's life.
"You are truly on an island. Your faith is taken from you. You fall through the cracks, so to speak. When this began, I started alienating myself from others. I started feeling that I was betrayed by someone who I thought was my friend. There's a lot of shame and embarrassment because you think it's your fault," Yascavage said.
"You bottle this up. You're keeping this inside and before you know it, 40 years goes by."
Yascavage said he reached out to the Pennsylvania attorney general's office last year and was encouraged to share his story to officials with the Diocese of Harrisburg. When he did, he said the diocese immediately offered to pay for counseling.
The Oklahoman reached out to the Diocese of Harrisburg regarding Yascavage's allegations.
"Upon becoming aware of the allegation, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg promptly reported this allegation of abuse to ChildLine and the District Attorney," Rachel A. Bryson, the diocese's executive director of public relations, said in a statement.
Yascavage eventually traveled to meet with Harrisburg Diocese leaders to make an official statement about the abuse. His Oklahoma attorneys Ben Baker, Rusty Smith and James McClenny — founding partners of the Spartan Law Group — traveled with him earlier this summer on a matter related to his case.
"Nick has participated in the Harrisburg Diocese's victim compensation program," Smith said.
"In June, we all went to Boston and tried to work this out and we appreciated the opportunity. The challenge is the alleged limited funds available to the victims because they are paid by the individual dioceses under the victim compensation programs. We don't think funding should be limited to the local parishes. It can and should come from above."
Baker said clergy who prey on children entrusted to their care betray the youths in the most horrible way because the men are representatives of God in the eyes of their young parishioners. He said the experiences leave children questioning how they can pray to a God who would allow these priests to do such things to them. Was there something wrong with them that the "man of God" singled them out for abuse?
Baker said Yascavage was left to grapple with such thoughts, causing him confusion and mental anguish for years. He said because of this years-long torment and the ripple effect for the victims' families and everyday life, he would like to see state legislation eliminating the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes.
"Priests have created a mental prison for these kids," Baker said.
He said "holy man" and "priest" are not titles "that these monsters deserve."
"My faith was taken and I still don't know what I believe. I don't even know if I believe in God. I know there will be people who will read this story and dislike me and say, 'Why would you want to blacken the eye of the Catholic Church?' — but this was created by the Catholic Church," he said.
"These events are impossible to forget but they're also too painful to remember. It just never leaves you. How do you heal from that?"
Nick Yascavage of Oklahoma City shares his story about being sexually abused by a Catholic priest when he lived in Pennsylvania during his youth. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman] Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide...Read more ›
Nick Yascavage of Oklahoma City shares his story about being sexually abused by a Catholic priest when he lived in Pennsylvania during his youth. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]
Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide...Read more ›
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