Sins of the Father

By Anderson Cooper
CNN, 360 Degrees
March 19, 2007

[For the video of this program, see Sins of the Father, by Anderson Cooper, CNN, 360 Degrees (March 19, 2007).]


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight's hour is about a childhood stolen and a long journey taken to overcome the scars and seek justice.

We usually hear about only the aftermath in these kind of stories, but tonight you're going to hear something rare. A firsthand account of methodical abuse suffered at the hands of someone you would least expect.

The emotion and the detail in the following hour is raw and sometimes graphic and so might not be suitable for children. But it is, however, the unfortunate truth of what happened to one of our own.


COOPER (voice-over): This is Thomas Roberts.

THOMAS ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Thomas Roberts. Hi everybody. We'll get straight to the headlines. A suicide car bomber...

COOPER: He's an anchor at "HEADLINE NEWS."

T. ROBERTS: I'm 33 years old now. And over the past two years I just started to realize how interrupted my life really was. In certain respects I've spent two-thirds of my life completely emotionally frozen.

COOPER: For 20 years now, Thomas has been carrying a dark secret, the memory of a crime that took him on a terrible journey and caused him to question the value of everything he knew, even his own life.

Thomas grew up in Towson, Maryland, just outside Baltimore. His father, Rob, worked at the local bank. His mother, Michelle, was a stay-at-home mom.

Thomas and his older sister, Patsy, were the best of friends.

T. ROBERTS: You know, childhood was good, you know, the first eight years of school and my friends and my life, very good. It was great.

COOPER: Great until 1984, when Thomas's parents decided to separate. Thomas was in the seventh grade.

T. ROBERTS: At that point, life for us really flipped upside down, you know, for my sister and I. (CROSSTALK)

COOPER (on camera): How so?

T. ROBERTS: I knew, from that point forward, life was going to be different for us. I knew things were going to be different. You know, we weren't going to be this little family of four anymore.

COOPER (voice-over): The divorce became final when Thomas was in the eighth grade. To make ends meet, his mom had to return to work.

Angry about his parents' split, and embarrassed over his broken family, Thomas began to withdraw at home and at school. His grades began to drop, jeopardizing the one thing he still cared about, getting into the elite Catholic high school in his suburban Baltimore neighborhood, Calvert Hall.

(on camera): That was the plan, to try to get into a Catholic school?

T. ROBERTS: That was always the plan. That's all I ever knew.

COOPER: How big was religion in -- in your life as a kid?

T. ROBERTS: Religion was very important. I mean, that's what we were molded in the Catholic Church, with Catholic grade school.

I remember thinking that I was so lucky that I got to go to a Catholic grade school, because I was being exposed and -- you know, to this beautiful religion, you know, and learning all of these fascinating things, and going to church once a week, and really felt like I was growing, at an early age, spiritually.

COOPER (voice-over): With his low grades, Calvert Hall rejected Thomas. At 13 years old, he thought his world had come to an end.

T. ROBERTS: The biggest thing in my life at that time was school. You know, you're that age, that's what you have going on for you.

MICHELLE ROBERTS, MOTHER OF THOMAS ROBERTS: I was raised Catholic, and had decided that the kids would go to Catholic school all the way through, because they would have wonderful moral values -- and, you know, planned to do that. It wasn't working out for Thomas. And that was very upsetting.

COOPER: One summer day, however, Thomas's luck seemed to change. It happened in June 1986 during a mass for his mother's 25th high school reunion at Notre Dame High School. Thomas caught the eye of a local priest known as Father Jeff.

T. ROBERTS: I got dizzy. And I started to fall backwards, to pass out. And my sister kind of caught me, and nudged me, and pulled me over to a chair.

And, at that time, it was communion. And Father Jeff invited everyone up to do self-service communion. And he came over to me, and knelt down next to me, and said, are you OK? You know, what's your name?

I said, I'm Tommy. And he said, you know, are you sure you're all right?

I said, yes, I'm -- I'm OK. I just got a little dizzy from -- I haven't eaten breakfast.

COOPER: That conversation, brief, seemingly meaningless, altered Thomas's life forever. Father Jeff was Jerome Toohey, and he was the chaplain at Calvert Hall.

M. ROBERTS: I came home that day, after being at mass, and meeting him, and I called my family up. And I said, a miracle occurred today.

COOPER (on camera): And Father Jeff was that miracle?


COOPER (voice-over): Highly respected in the Baltimore community, Father Jeff had the power to help Thomas get into Calvert Hall.

T. ROBERTS: Next thing you know, we're getting the call at the house that you should be getting a letter in the mail. You have been admitted. And you can report, you know, coming up in the fall, for the freshman class.

M. ROBERTS: Thomas called me when the letter came, you know, jumping for joy, and screaming, I'm going to Calvert Hall.

He was so excited. We were thrilled.

COOPER (on camera): Do you think you would have been different had you not, you know, passed out that time?


T. ROBERTS: You know, that moment changed the course of everything, just like the -- you know, those moments in your life where you can recognize that there's almost two different paths you're going to go down. And, for me, that shifted everything, which I thought was the path that was going to be the good life, definitely.

COOPER (voice-over): But that's after 20 years of trying to make sense of all this. At the time, of course, Thomas was only a boy, and couldn't even begin to guess where that harmless incident would all lead.

(on camera): When you see that house, what do you think?

T. ROBERTS: I wish I had never seen it. I wish I had never seen this house -- never.




COOPER (voice-over): In the fall of 1986, Thomas Roberts started his freshman year at the prestigious Calvert Hall. He adjusted quickly to the new school, but the strain of his parents' divorce was a constant source of struggle.

T. ROBERTS: My relationship with my parents, through that time, and with my mom going back to work, and all these changes, I pulled back. I kind of disconnected from my family environment.

COOPER: By Thomas's sophomore year, his mom, Michelle, realized the emotional and financial difficulties at home were too much for her son to deal with alone. Struggling herself just to make ends meet, she looked to a familiar face to help mentor her son, someone she felt she could trust. She turned to the man who had already helped Thomas get into the school, Father Jeff Toohey.

M. ROBERTS: I thought he needed a male influence. And who better, you know, than the Catholic priest, who is charming and kind and wonderful? You know, I -- I wanted Thomas to be just like him.

COOPER (on camera): Who better?


T. ROBERTS: That night, I remember getting dropped off at Father Jeff's house. And we began a conversation in his den, where he just started to ask, what's going on with you?

And, so, he took a kind ear, you know, and listened -- listened to me. I remember it was a conversation that I cried. I let Father Jeff know that my relationship with my parents wasn't where it should be. From this conversation forward, he pretty much knew that I was a kid without anybody, you know, to talk to.

COOPER (voice-over): No one to talk to except, of course, Father Jeff. After that first conversation, Thomas believed he finally had someone he could confide in. He trusted Father Jeff, and continued to return to the priest's house on Cottage Lane.

(on camera): When you see that house, what do you think?

T. ROBERTS: I wish I had never seen it. I wish I had never seen this house -- never.

COOPER: Did it raise any red flags when the suggestion was made that Thomas should sleep over there?

M. ROBERTS: Actually, it didn't. And, for that, I will be forever sorry that I didn't pick up on it, because he lived around the corner from the school. And, you know, he was like, well, Thomas can come over. And I'm going to cook some hamburgers for dinner. And, you know, we will have a counseling session. And, then, you know, he could just stay over. And I will take him to school in the morning. I will help him with his homework.

And I was like, oh, that's great.

You know, I was like -- didn't think twice.

COOPER (voice-over): What Michelle Roberts didn't know was, the priest she viewed as a messenger of God would soon begin to prey on her vulnerable 14-year-old son.

T. ROBERTS: After the second time of being there, and having a really heartfelt and deep conversation, and him asking me a lot of questions, he asked me if I wanted to stay in his room.

Again, I had been crying, upset. And I said, OK.

That was the first time that I ever stayed in his room. And, from that night, that's where the abuse began.

COOPER (on camera): What did he do?

T. ROBERTS: He rolled me over on his stomach, and all he did was kiss my ear and lick my ear.

COOPER: And, when he -- when he started to do that, what was going through your mind?

T. ROBERTS: I thought, what in the world just happened to me?

COOPER: Did you guys talk about it, or did it...

T. ROBERTS: No. Went to bed. It was never discussed. It was never discussed.

And, in these moments of going to bed from that point forward, there was always -- you knew it was going to happen. You knew something was going to happen.

COOPER (voice-over): Too innocent to realize what had been taken from him, and too scared to question it, Thomas never said a word to anyone.

(on camera): What did you think would happen if you told?

T. ROBERTS: I thought I would be kicked out of school. And getting into that school meant everything to me. And I thought I would be kicked out. I thought I wouldn't be believed.

COOPER (voice-over): Day in and day out, Thomas kept his lonely secret, continuing to go once a week to Father Jeff's house on Cottage Lane.

Here, in the darkness, in the silence, the abuse continued.

T. ROBERTS: He would push the envelope a little bit more. And it got to a point where, you know, does this kid have a breaking point? And what's it going to be?




T. ROBERTS: I was robbed here of, you know, my self-respect, of my -- my own image, you know, part of my soul, even. I mean, this place paralyzed me into thinking that I would die with this secret. I would die with this secret.

COOPER (voice-over): At 15 years old, Thomas Roberts was trapped, trapped by the one person he was supposed to trust, his counselor, his priest, Father Jeff Toohey.

T. ROBERTS: It's probably the worst place you can be in your life, because there's so much shame that goes along with this. There's secrecy. There's shame. There's self-hatred, self-doubt, every mixed-up emotion you can have that you don't feel that you can talk to anybody about.

It was a prison. I mean, it was like back-upping into a corner with nowhere to go.

COOPER: Father Jeff would not relent. With each counseling session, he tried to push Thomas just a little bit further.

T. ROBERTS: One evening of Father Jeff, you know, kissing my ear -- the next instances of abuse, and how they would graduate, would be Father Jeff licking the palm of his hand, to then, you know, touch me, and using -- using his hand to then masturbate me.

Instances after that would then graduate to kissing, where he would rub his tongue across my teeth, clenched -- mine would be clenched, until, time after time, I relented.

This is -- I don't want to -- this is really too painful.

COOPER: What happened inside that dark house left Thomas believing he had only one way out.

T. ROBERTS: I will kill myself, and I will get out of it that way. I will get out of it that way. And, then, no one will have to know. I will never have to tell. And I won't have to live like this.

Dear everybody, I'm very sorry. I wish I could be there to tell you this.

COOPER: This is dated November 1, 1987. Without revealing the abuse he was suffering, Thomas wrote a goodbye letter to his family and friends. Then, on his dresser, he lined up a bottle of his mother's painkillers, and swallowed one after another. He laid down on his bed, waiting for it all to be over.

(on camera): And, as you were taking the pills, what was the feeling? What were the thoughts?

T. ROBERTS: The feeling was, I will be out of this, you know? I won't have to deal with this anymore. And I'm sorry that I wasn't able to, but I just can't.

COOPER (voice-over): His attempt to take his own life was interrupted by his older sister, Patsy.

PATSY ROBERTS, THOMAS ROBERTS' SISTER: I'm like, what did you do? And he started to tell me. He started to cry. And I was like, OK, I'll fix it. You know, that was always my answer, OK, we'll fix it. And we fixed it.

COOPER: After calling a friend who was a paramedic, 18-year-old Patsy raced to the grocery store to buy Ipecac, a medication to rid Thomas's body of the painkillers and ultimately save his life.

P. ROBERTS: This is my kid brother. I mean, this is a kid that, you know, I love with every fabric of my being, and to think that he was trying to, you know, to leave this planet and that, you know, I would never see him again.

I didn't understand. I always thought -- I mean, we were so close. My brother and I to this day, we were extremely close. And to think that there was something there that I wasn't picking up on, it's tough.

COOPER (on camera): When you got home and realized what had happened, I mean, what were the thoughts?

M. ROBERTS: Well, I never thought that it was related to anything but what was going on in our household. You know, the divorce, the emotional problems that we were going through at that time.

COOPER (voice-over): Surrounded by his family, Thomas sought medical attention. But even with the help of a psychologist, he still refused to speak of the abuse.

T. ROBERTS: The option of walking through the front door, of telling the truth, it wasn't -- it wasn't even something I fathomed. I thought that would be suicide, as well, by telling the truth. It would wreck any semblance of, you know, a life that I could have. So I just thought, I'll carry this.

COOPER: He carried his dark secret back to school, back to his life, and incredibly, back here to the house on Cottage Lane and Father Jeff Toohey.

(on camera): It just stuns me that, after the suicide attempt, you go back to Father Jeff, and I mean, you would just think any decent human being would stop at that point. But he didn't.

T. ROBERTS: No. The abuse continued. There was never a time where it stopped. It never stopped. It just kept going and growing.

COOPER (voice-over): Thomas did what he could to survive.

T. ROBERTS: Monday, July 24, 1989, over/out. Tuesday, August 29, December 20, February 14, 1990. November 29.

COOPER: He hid it all inside, revealing only hints of the truth in his private journal.

T. ROBERTS: Sunday, January 14, 1990, over/out.

I wrote everything down, because that's what was going on in my life. I wrote the evenings down in code. It was called over/out. So that if anybody looked at this, they wouldn't be able to decipher exactly what I had written down and what I had meant by it.

COOPER (on camera): What did over/out mean?

T. ROBERTS: Over there, out of here. It meant over at Father Jeff's and, you know, out of my life. It's almost like I was a twin. I was walking two different lives.

This is where the Christian (ph) brothers lived.

COOPER (voice-over): For 2 1/2 years at Calvert Hall, Thomas went on pretending everything was OK.

(on camera): When you see it now, what do you think?

T. ROBERTS: I mean, I can look at this building and I wonder, you know, how did I -- how did I go here day in and day out? How did I get by and survive?

(voice-over): In the cafeteria, walking the halls, presiding over every mass, Father Jeff was at every turn in Thomas' life.

(on camera): And what did you think when you were sitting there, watching him give a sermon or give communion?

T. ROBERTS: I thought how people respected him. I thought how people really looked up to this man. Even -- not even understanding what was happening to me, you still have respect for this man in this position, as your priest. And I realized also that he had the power, not me.

COOPER (voice-over): Thomas says he was powerless against the priest and that all he could do was sit and wait until finally he was old enough to escape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Jeff. Father Sandy (ph) and Father Jeff.

COOPER (on camera): Was there a good-bye to Father Jeff? T. ROBERTS: Father Jeff came to my graduation party when I graduated from high school. And that was pretty much last time I saw him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Father, say something nice about Thomas to the crowd.

COOPER: I can't imagine him coming into your aunt's home and being surrounded by all of these people who don't know, and you know. You have this secret.

T. ROBERTS: You know, at that time, when he was in a social situation with my family, they're all hailing him as the hero, the guy that got me into Calvert Hall. Now look at him, Tommy, he's graduating. How wonderful. Congratulations.

COOPER (voice-over): That fall, Thomas fled to college, thinking he finally had escaped and, once and for all, could bury his secret and all of its lies.

(on camera): You thought you were the only one?

T. ROBERTS: I thought I was the only one. Yes. I mean, I believed I was -- I believed I was the only person in the world that was going through a situation like this.




COOPER (voice-over): In the fall of 1990 Thomas Roberts went off to Western Maryland College. There he hoped to escape his past and Father Jeff Toohey.

But then, in his junior year, Thomas learned he was not the only victim of Father Jeff. In fact, there had been another one. A young man whose name was withheld came forward with civil charges, alleging he had been sexually abused by Father Jeff in the 1980s. That was shortly before Thomas' abuse began.

(on camera): When you heard that Father Jeff had done it before, what did you think?

T. ROBERTS: Out of sheer denial I did not want to believe it to be true. But I knew deep down it was, but on the surface I didn't want to believe it to be true. In conversations that family and, you know, friends would have with me, I would defend him. I would defend Father Jeff. Oh, no, that can't be true. Because if I said it were, it would almost be an admission of my own abuse.

COOPER (voice-over): Thomas could not admit to himself, let alone the world, he was just like that boy.

T. ROBERTS: That was not my life. And there was no way, no way, I was going to go back and walk through that ring of fire again and admit to everybody, hey, you know, that was me, you know. I share, you know, part of this boy's story. I was abused, too.

COOPER: That boy was Michael Goles.

Raised in a strict Catholic household, just 20 miles from Thomas in Bel Air, Maryland, Michael was one of four boys, though he was always considered the different one.

In 1985, when he was 15, Michael was struggling with his sexuality and how to fit in.

MICHAEL GOLES, ABUSED BY FATHER JEFF TOOHEY: Growing up in such a Catholic environment and in such a conservative household, I didn't know what gay was. I didn't know -- all I knew was that it was wrong at that point in time.

COOPER: Michael's father, a Catholic deacon, had hoped psychologists could fix his son. But when they said no, he turned to the church for guidance.

The church steered the Goles to Father Jeff Toohey, who at that time was president of John Carroll High School where Michael was a sophomore.

(on camera): When you first met him, what did you think?

GOLES: There was probably a bit of relief that finally someone was there for me, that someone was paying attention to me and interested in me.

COOPER (voice-over): Michael's parents instantly bond with the kind and charismatic priest, and Michael began counseling sessions every Wednesday afternoon at Father Jeff's house, the house on Cottage Lane.

GOLES: I remember sitting in his living room, and would just sit and then ultimately wind up next to me with his arm around me, encouraging me to sink into him, stroking my leg, feeling my neck, running his fingers through my hair.

When you haven't received that kind of -- I won't say love, because my family is very loving, but you haven't seen that kind of -- received that kind of warmth and that kind of attention, it's confusing.

COOPER (on camera): You thought he wanted to help you?

GOLES: For sure, absolutely.

COOPER: You trusted him?

GOLES: Absolutely. He was a priest. He is, you know, the next best thing to God in the Catholic community. My father being a deacon, you know, I blindly trusted him.

COOPER: And your parents trusted him?

GOLES: Absolutely. He was an integral part of our family.

COOPER (voice-over): The Goles welcomed Father Jeff into their home. He was a regular guest at special family dinners, at birthday parties, graduations, even became Michael's confirmation sponsor.

No one knew the whole time he was molesting Michael. Afraid of being isolated from the one person he says accepted him, Michael continued to go to Cottage Lane, where the petting and fondling continued for four years until one evening when Michael was 19 and Father Jeff forced himself on him.

GOLES: A good friend of our family's passed away, and I was going through some difficult times transitioning in college, and he invited me to his home. We were drinking. He had encouraged me to lay on top of him. And that's when 15, 20 minutes later his lubricated hand was down my pants and up my shirt, and I was frozen.

COOPER: Michael repressed the incident for four years until he was 23 and could no longer stand it. He confided his shame and his torment to his older brother.

GOLES: My brother talked to my dad. My dad talked to me. And it was just what we had to do to go get the guy and speak the truth.

COOPER: But when Michael came forward, no one wanted to hear it. The community turned its back on the Goles and rallied in support of the priest they knew and loved.

T. ROBERTS: They wanted to have faith in the man that they had always had faith in as I always thought that they would. And they tore Michael down. Tore the boy down.

COOPER: Editorials were written in support of Father Jeff. Fundraisers were held to help pay his legal fees, and vigils were organized to pray for the alleged justice against the holy man.

And finally, after the pain and humiliation Michael suffered by coming forward, nothing happened. Nothing. His case was thrown out, because under Maryland law he was too old and too much time had passed for him to seek civil charges against his abuser.

(on camera): When you heard that there were candlelight vigils for Father Jeff, people making signs for Father Jeff?

GOLES: I wanted to run, and I did. I ran away. I could leave. The lawsuit was being dismissed because of the statute of limitations. And there was clearly nothing left for me there.

COOPER (voice-over): Michael ran away to New Mexico, trying to distance himself from his pain. He couldn't, however, run from the feelings inside him. He began to self-destruct, and for the next 10 years abused alcohol and drugs and ran from every relationship and job along the way.

Of course, he didn't know there was another young man out there who knew he was telling the truth. Another young man who believed him.

(on camera): When Michael had come forward and did you think about maybe I should come forward?

T. ROBERTS: Never got that far ahead. Never got that far ahead. Never even processed the idea of moving forward at that time. I couldn't. I still wasn't together enough with myself and what I had been through to actually turn around and stand up for this kid, you know, stand up for this kid that was abused. It was out of self- preservation that I just kept marching forward.

COOPER (voice-over): Marching forward until one day Thomas Roberts finally realized he wasn't moving forward at all.




COOPER (voice-over): In January 2004, Thomas Roberts broke his silence and sought professional counseling. At last, he began to come to grips with the abuse he suffered and found the courage to share his secret with his family.

T. ROBERTS: There were a lot of reasons, you know, to come forward with this. My sister started having kids, and for her not to know completely what happened to me, you know, as a young man as she starts to put her kids on waiting lists for schools -- you know, Catholic schools, I thought it was an injustice to her as a parent.

P. ROBERTS: I felt completely helpless. I mean, because here, you know, we're not -- we're not those kids anymore. We're grown adults. And you know, what can I do to make it go away? How can I help? You know, it's that -- how can I fix it?

MICHELLE ROBERTS, THOMAS' MOM: Actually I wrote Thomas a letter, after he told me. And it was a very heartfelt letter. And I told him how sorry I was that I had failed him as a parent. And he has told me over and over again that that's not the case. And I still feel in some ways that I did fail him as a parent, and I'm really sorry about that.

COOPER: With the support of his family and months of therapy, Thomas decided he wanted justice. He reported the crimes against him to the archdiocese.

T. ROBERTS: I was petrified, petrified about coming forward.

COOPER (on camera): Petrified of what?

T. ROBERTS: I was petrified of what everyone would think. What would everyone say? How would people treat me? What would happen to me at work? Would I get fired?

COOPER (voice-over): He was especially apprehensive about reaching out to Michael Goles. He knew Michael had been shunned by his community 10 years earlier. Anxious, afraid, Thomas still decided to place the call.

GOLES: I picked up the phone, and the voice on the other end said, is this Michael Goles? And I said that it was. And he just started in about that he had been abused by Jeff.

T. ROBERTS: After I reported to the archdiocese, I asked to get in touch with him, because I felt that I owed him -- that I owed him an apology, that I needed to tell him that he wasn't alone, and that if nobody in this world believed him, that I did. That I did.

COOPER (on camera): When you had that conversation with Thomas, you learned there was someone else there who was going to come forward. You hang up the phone. What was that feeling like?

GOLES: My life flipped that the point. I was no longer alone.

COOPER: Do you feel anger towards Thomas not coming forward sooner?

GOLES: I'm reluctant to say that I'm -- I'm not angry with him. I've been hurt at various points, but I understand his struggle in not being able to be there. Because you're not even present in your own life. So denial is easy, I think.

COOPER (voice-over): They were complete strangers with a terrible bond. Even though they connected, they couldn't, however, compare their stories.

(on camera): Have you guys discussed with each other, I mean, the abuse? Have you discussed, I mean, much about this?

T. ROBERTS: Legally, we chose not to. We had that conversation. And so we made, you know, an agreement early on: Let's not talk about that. You know, we know what happened to us individually. Let's tell the state's attorney, but there's no reason for us to discuss this now.

GOLES: And that was super difficult for me, finally having somebody who shared that experience, not being able to share that experience.

COOPER (voice-over): The state attorney's office decided to move forward with Thomas' criminal charges against Father Jeff. In November of 2005, the case went to court.

(on camera): What was it like seeing Father Jeff in the courtroom?

T. ROBERTS: I had prepared visually and, you know, thinking about this and just talking in. And I literally had to stop dead in my tracks when I got into the door that had those small glass panes that you could see through and I saw the back of his head. And I just had to stop. I had to regain my courage, you know, to walk through the door and to go in there and face this. COOPER: But a jury never heard the details, because the defense asked for a plea agreement. Father Jeff would agree to plead guilty with one stipulation, Michael Goles' complaint be incorporated into the plea deal.

GOLES: I had about five minutes to decide what I wanted to do. I couldn't talk to Thomas specifically about it, you know, so I had the weight of that entire situation on my shoulders at that point.

And what I could say to Thomas was that I was just -- I wasn't there. I was completely out of my body, which was not anything due to me. And you just looked me and you said, flip the switch, get back in your body. And I did. And I took the time to really think about what it was that I wanted to do. And I chose to request for the opportunity to speak at the sentencing hearing to show that this was not an isolated case.

COOPER: That meant Michael was giving up his right to pursue additional criminal charges against Father Jeff Toohey.

With his two victims united, Father Jeff Toohey pled guilty to sexually abusing Thomas. He was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

(on camera): When you heard that word, "guilty," what did you think?

T. ROBERTS: For me, having Father Jeff say "guilty" was the biggest vindication. For him to admit the truth and stand up and take responsibility for his own criminal actions, that was a big deal.

COOPER (voice-over): Incredibly, later that same day, Father Jeff asked Thomas and his family to meet with him.

T. ROBERTS: I opened up and let him know exactly what he had done to a child and how dare he take advantage of this kid that was put in his care for help? And why in the world would he take such great advantage of me and sacrifice this kid, literally sacrifice this kid and burden, burden him, you know, with so much at such a young age.

And he just sat there and listened. Couldn't muster up a tear, but he said he was, you know, just so sorry and just so upset by all of this. And -- but I didn't see that day a lot of remorse.

M. ROBERTS: And I said that I entrusted you with my child. And you betrayed that trust, and you abused a child who had already been abused. And for that, I'll never forgive you. And you're going to burn in hell. That burning in hell is going to be the big one when he faces God.

COOPER: It was February last year when they all returned to court for Father Jeff's sentencing. This time both Thomas and Michael heard from their abuser.

Moments before his sentence was handed down, Father Jeff Toohey apologized, saying: "Michael and Thomas, I want you to know that I'm very, very sorry for any pain that I've inflicted upon you, any difficulties that it has caused you or your family. I express my sincere apologies, and I'm truly sorry for that. I'm sorry, as well, for the harm that I brought not only to your families but to mine, as well, through my actions. None of the families deserved the pain and heartache and stress that they've experienced.

"And I would also like to say to the church and Calvert Hall, who have suffered because of my actions. I would like to extend my heartfelt apology and sorrow to them for any damage that I've done to their reputation and to who they are, and I ask their forgiveness."

Father Jeff received a five-year sentence with all but 18 months suspended. That meant he only had to serve 18 months at this Baltimore County detention center.

But Father Jeff didn't even serve those 18 months.

T. ROBERTS: I don't know how to define justice in this. What's justice? I mean, what -- do I get early release from this?

COOPER: When "Sins of the Father" continues.




T. ROBERTS: Father Jeff pleaded guilty to the crimes against us and was sentenced to 18 months. All of you have asked about what the criminal route serves. Well, that's it.

Meanwhile, in a different criminal courtroom that very same day, a man who abused the public library system of this state received a three-year sentence for not returning an overdue library book. And it really saddens me the state where I grew up values an overdue library book more than it does a child who was molested for three years ago.

COOPER: A year ago in March, just one month after Father Jeff Toohey's sentencing, Thomas Roberts and Michael Goles sat side by side before Maryland's Judiciary Committee. They were there to speak on behalf of two bills that would extend the civil statute and in essence give abuse victims a voice.

T. ROBERTS: As a survivor, I'm never going to be able to deliver consequence. It's just not mine to deliver. But I can sit here and I can try and effect change to protect others.

COOPER: As the law in Maryland currently stands, a victim would have to come forward with a civil charge by the age of 25.

T. ROBERTS: Instead of sitting here in front of me, get behind me and work to change the laws for the state. And, Chairman, before you cut me off, one thing, you have the power to send a no tolerance message. Don't leave it up to the church. They're not their own city. They're not their own state body. This state is in charge of the laws. You are in charge of the laws.

COOPER: But the Archdiocese of Baltimore launched a fierce lobbying campaign against the bills, even going as far as asking people to pray against the bills. In the end, the Catholic Church won out. The two bills went nowhere.

(on camera): Does it upset you that the Catholic Church lobbied so strongly against these bills?

T. ROBERTS: I expected them to. Why do you need those bills if the church were there to do the right thing? Why put the laws in place if they're going to stand up like they say and have a zero tolerance policy and transparency? What do you need laws on the books for? Well, of course, they're afraid of something. And laws actually hold their feet to the fire.

COOPER (voice-over): This past December, barely 10 months into his sentence, Father Jeff Toohey was granted a hearing.

There, Toohey's attorney complained that his living conditions were extremely tough. The priest was locked in solitary confinement 23 hours a day for his own protection. Toohey's attorney requested the rest of the sentence be served as home detention or even probation.

(on camera): They said his detention was particularly difficult.

T. ROBERTS: It's jail. I mean, I'm surprised that he got special treatment. I think that a lot of prisoners and people that admit their guilt to sexually abusing two kids would probably prefer that.

COOPER: You spoke -- I mean, you tried to get the judge to listen to your side.

T. ROBERTS: I told the judge that I thought it was a lenient sentence to begin with and that a trusted system let me down years ago, meaning the Catholic Church. And I think that a trusted system -- the judicial system was going to let me down today, and it did.

COOPER (voice-over): It did, indeed. The judge granted Father Jeff Toohey's request to serve the rest of his sentence in the comfort of his own home here in this gated community in Lutherville, Maryland. Our repeated requests to speak on camera with Father Toohey were denied. Wearing an ankle bracelet, Toohey can leave his home for church, appointments with doctors and lawyers. He can even have a job.

(on camera): Is that justice?

T. ROBERTS: In the Maryland court system, apparently it is.

COOPER: To you?

T. ROBERTS: I don't know how to define justice in this. What's justice? I mean, what -- do I get early release from this? No. You don't get early release from knowing what happened to you. You just have to deal with the fact that that was your life, you did it, you had to put up with it to survive and it will be your story for rest of your life. No early release from this story.

COOPER (voice-over): Although the church relieved Father Toohey of his duties as a pastor after Michael Goles' allegations in 1993, to this day he remains a priest.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore says it has requested that the Vatican defrock Father Toohey; however, no action has been taken.

When he finishes what little is left of his home detention, he won't even have to register on a sex offender list because his crimes against children pre-date those laws.

(on camera): Do you think of him? Do you think of Father Jeff?

T. ROBERTS: I try not to think about it anymore. I mean, there were times during his time in jail where I would be maybe at work or maybe at a social event or with friends or cooking dinner and I would think about it, like, what's going on, you know, right now? Where is he? I'd think about it for a second and I'd move on.

Knowing -- the realization of where I am today as opposed to where I was, it's overwhelming.

COOPER (voice-over): For Thomas Roberts, telling his story to us is the end of a long struggle. He hopes it will have the raw power to get laws changed and protect other children from being abused.

Now, for the first time in nearly 20 years, he can see his life without the burden of the secret of what happened in that house on Cottage Lane.

T. ROBERTS: I hope to be able to build my life beyond all of this now, you know, build my life forward and continue to grow as a person, not be mired down and so consumed by the shame and the secrecy that surrounds this and just move forward. And I feel like I'm finally at that place.

COOPER (on camera): It's over?

T. ROBERTS: I want to believe it's over. I mean, I have invested 20 years of my life into this. When it comes to this part of my life, I've been to hell and back and survived.

COOPER (on camera): Despite their defeat last year, victims of sexual abuse in Maryland are steadfast in their fight for what they say is justice.

Earlier this month, they shared their painstaking stories with the Senate Judiciary Committee in the hopes that they would gain support for a bill that would allow a one-year window for childhood victims of sexual abuse, regardless of their age, to press civil charges against their abusers. The Catholic Church was also represented, arguing against the bill. We contacted the Archdiocese of Baltimore and asked them why. In a statement they said, quote: "The bill is fundamentally unfair to defendants to resurrect dead claims from 50 years ago and financially devastates the good work and faithful parishioners of today. This legislation does nothing to protect children, rather it encourages delays in reporting allegations of abuse leaving more children vulnerable."

Late last week the bill came up for a vote in the Maryland State Senate Judiciary Committee, it was defeated by a vote of 8-2. But the sponsor of the bill, Senator James Brochin, tell us he has every intention of bringing it back next year and continuing to, quote, "fight for justice for victims of past child sexual abuse."



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