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Victims of Sexual Abuse by Priests Speak Out

Aired June 13, 2002 - 12:14   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Now we are waiting for the beginning of the presentations by the victims of sexual abuse. We still do not know exactly how many. There have been a number who have been trying to get their way into this conference and make their presentations before the bishops.

Now let's listen in and listen to this particular presentation. I can't hear exactly who this is, but let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... meetings know how difficult and daunting a task it can be. And when the message to be given is painful or horrendous, personal or severe, it's all the more difficult to speak.

And, therefore, I want to thank very personally and very deeply Mr. Craig Martin of the diocese of St. Cloud for agreeing to come to speak with all of you this morning.

Craig was raised in the twin cities area of St. Paul in Minneapolis, grew up in an active Catholic household. His wife Julie (ph), Craig and their children now live in St. Cloud.

He is a successful business owner and with his family he is very active in his home parish. Please join me in opening your hearts to welcome and hear Mr. Craig Martin's message to all of us -- Craig.

CRAIG MARTIN, VICTIM: Good morning. I believe it is still morning, I'm not sure. It has been a long day so far.

My name is Craig Martin, and my presence here today represents a (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which has been a very difficult and long journey for myself, my families, and others who are close to me. I speak today for myself and for no one else.

Before I begin, I would like to speak directly to the media in attendance. Today is very difficult for me. I ask you to respect my privacy and my family's privacy and let this statement today speak for itself. I will need time after this.

There may come a time when I will tell more of my story, but today will not be the day. Thank you for respecting my wishes.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the conference of bishops for inviting me to share my story today. Although this is extremely difficult and scary for me to do, my greatest hope is that I will be able to help others by sharing my story. Before I begin I would like to recognize three people.

First, I would like to recognize Father Kevin McDonnough (ph). Father Kevin, who I'll refer to simply as Kevin is a vicar general with the Archdiocese of St. Paul in Minneapolis. Kevin has assisted me most in this journey, when he's taken off his collar, stepped away from being a church executive, and dealt with me person to person. I thank him for those times.

However, those times, when the church forced him to wear his collar are the times that I felt conflict and alone. Those times, where I did not feel as though my church wants to help me down this very difficult path.

Next, I'd like to recognize David Clohessy. David is the executive director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He and his organization are very much needed. Survivors must be able to talk, to share, to rebuild and to move forward. Thank you, David, and other survivors who have come forward to share their stories. Knowing that I'm not alone provides comfort and hope for me. Thank you very much.

As always, I saved the best for last. I want to thank my best friend, my wife and my partner in this journey. Julie (ph), thank you for your support and love. I know that my pain at times has unfairly flowed into your life. Your faith sustains me and it's the beacon that's helped lead me here today. I thank you and I love you.

Next I'd like to share with you lyrics of a song. This song is connected with me and it echoes this bear that I felt and how my calls for help were ignored by my church. This song goes like this: "Hello darkness my old friend. I've come to talk with you again, because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping. And the vision that was planted in my brain still remains within the sounds of silence."

"In restless nights I walked alone narrow streets of cobblestone. 'Neath the halo of a street lamp, I turned my collar to the cold and damp, when my eyes were stashed by the flash of a neon light that split the night and touched the sounds of silence. In that naked light I saw 10,000 people, maybe more. People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening, people writing songs that voices never shared, no one dared, disturb the sounds of silence."

Gentlemen, I've wanted so desperately to be heard. I wanted someone to listen to me. I wanted someone to help me. I wanted to break the silence and despair that was killing me. I wanted someone to hear my story.

I find it's easier to tell my story using the name John Doe. I can revisit my pain and not hurt myself again. I found different stories that helped me to understand my suffering. I'd like to share those today so that others may be helped.

In John's late 20s he meets his wife Julie. This is a start to his recovery, yet John has no idea. John's wife brings him back to religion and also introduces him to a priest that helps in John's recovery. I wish I could say recovery started here, but John wasn't quite ready.

John had to read an article out of "Sports Illustrated" dated September 13, 1999 entitled, "Every Parents Nightmare." This describes to John why he was in a position to be heard.

It goes like this: "While society has no trouble envisioning the violent molester and the child who is forced to submit to a sexual predator, many people are baffled by how adult seducers are able to get kids to go along with them voluntarily. These men seduce children, in this case, boys, exactly the same way men and women have been seducing each other since the dawn of mankind."

"In other words, they flirt with them, laugh at their jokes, shower them with attention, with gifts, with affection. They seize up their weaknesses, their vulnerability, their needs. They will target the kids who are more vulnerable."

The amazing part of when I allowed John to talk about his abuser is how this man also offered kindness and love. How this man became John's best friend. John has showed very little anger towards his abuser. I was amazed at who John directed his sorrow to. He directed his sorrow not at his abuser, but at his parents.

John tells a story of how his abuser wants to take John fishing. The abuser asks John's parents if it's OK. John's parents thought it was a great idea for John to go on a fishing trip with a Catholic priest.

John talks of how his relationship with his parents changed, how he no longer trusted them, how alone he feels. Mom and dad, I'm terribly sorry for how I treated you. Please accept my apology. I know now that the only thing that I have in my heart for you is love. I love you both dearly.

You see a child who is abused is put in a frightening and confusing situation. They may have never have heard of anything like this happening. Nobody has told them it's right, nobody has told them it's wrong. Everybody may like and respect the person who is doing these things.

John remembers the motel that night with the priest, but hardly anything else. John has no idea how he got home. It is only 35 years later that John is starting to remember what happened that horrible night.

Abused children often hide their anger and distress from others so that no one will suspect that they're being abused. They may also keep their feelings under control while they're being abused to protect themselves from feelings of distress and pain. Or because they don't want the abuser to see how much he's hurting them.

Many adult survivors continue to cope by blocking feelings and trying to forget about the past. Survivors often have a lower opinion of themselves and lack self-confidence and self-esteem. They may feel worthless, useless and unloved. Many survivors put on a front and present them as capable, cheerful, confident, while feeling retched inside. Survivors may be so overwhelmed by their low opinion of themselves and lack of confidence that they may suffer bouts of depression, making them unable to act positively or find pleasure in things.

I say these words because they describe John's feelings exactly. John became sexually active shortly after his abuse. John described some very unhealthy attitudes towards women and admits to seeking out women in a predatory way.

Alcohol also started to control John's life. It was many years before he finally sought help for alcoholism.

Although sexual compulsivity and alcoholism had major effects on John, it was his need for self-esteem that's kept him alive. John still admits today to having low self-esteem. John has shown symptoms of low self-esteem, depression, anger and the need to control. John has been able to survive only because of his family, his friends, his children and the therapy he continues to go through.

Wendy Maltz, in her book, "The Sexual Healing Journey," has these kind words for John Doe: "Begin your journey only when you're ready for it. Go slowly. Pace yourself. Trust yourself and remember it is your journey."

These words have helped John Doe to start peeling back the onion. This phrase applies to the layers of destructive behavior most people acquire to save their life. Many of these coping skills become (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by nature, much as they did for John Doe.

Many times people like John Doe must reach a low point in their lives before they can ask for help. John found that the pain was so intense in his life that the fear of being re-traumatized was less threatening.

Through organizations such as SNAP, and other information resources, John has found out that he's not alone and has found ways to heal many different aspects of his life. Individual and group therapy are very important in John's life. Journaling is a healthy way to confront the secrets of abuse, as are many 12-step programs, which John adheres to.

The seductive nature of male abuse has limited research. It's only recently that men have begun to seek help for sexual abuse. Since most men have ignored or have been unable to relate to their own abuse, this further hinders research.

This situation of secrecy, coupled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, has caused considerable problems for the reconciliation between the John Does in the Catholic Church. The following excerpts are from a research paper I wrote for a class at St. Cloud State University.

"Exploring the steps taken by the Catholic Church in dealing with people like John Doe, I have found great discrepancies between church and state. While the St. Paul Minneapolis Archdiocese has made strides in the area of sexual abuse, I still have grave concerns about the church."

"I feel the church has decided the rules and how the game is to be played. I feel the church has shown its need for power with court cases involving people who have been hurt by clergy. This is where the conflict between church and state exists. The Catholic Church hides behind its lawyers and legal rights."

"The church also tries to avoid damages caused by its own clergy. Finally, the church wants the authority to heal its own members and then make payments as they feel appropriate to John Does."

I'd like to read an excerpt from "TIME" magazine to help people understand why this is more than just a fiscal violation of a child by a priest.

"For years, most cases that made it to trial were civil complaints, but they were financially devastating, sometimes costing millions. Some dioceses adopted hardball legal tactics that abused victims all over again. Church lawyers attacked the victims' credibility and besmirched their families. They bombard victims with as many as 500 written questions, demand 30 years worth of tax returns, require names and dates for every doctor visited to age 12."

"They cross-examine mothers about their children's sex lives. As victim Lee White (ph) says, it's intimidation. I feel like I'm being reabused."

Father Kevin McDonnough (ph) and others recommend reconciliation vs. litigation. Yet, which one is protecting John Doe and which one is protecting the church? The church cannot wear both hats in to the arena of sexual offenders and try to heal those who have been abused because of such actions. The church must acknowledge the magnitude of its damages.

Acknowledgement by the church might be the first step that needs to be taken for people like John Doe to start the recovery process. A major issue facing the church is the fact that it has tried to handle this problem internally for so long. This has only increased the secrecy and helped the church to continue to have control over those who have been hurt. Is the church willing or able to give that type of power back to those who have been traumatized?

I feel the church must establish an independent resource for the healing of both victims and offenders. The health community, law enforcement agencies and social service agencies can help provide the service. Social workers can help in starting and continuing the healing process. Health professionals can administer necessary programs. And law enforcement can protect and enforce the rights of all parties involved.

I feel it's essential to the people like John Doe that the church be responsible for the actions of its employees. In regards to any financial settlements, I feel it's vital for the church and John Doe to avoid litigation. This scenario will only retraumatize John and cause additional conflict among the members of the church. These members are essential for stewardship and the funds needed to provide the programs necessary to help all parties to recover.

I would hope that a trust fund can be provided by the church to establish the monies necessary. An administrative board could handle these funds, with all concerned parties having access to the funds. A need-basis account could be established for emergency situations. The establishment of this fund would extract some of the church's power and show responsibility on the part of the church.

In closing, I ask, can the Catholic Church respond in such a way to end harm caused by its employees? I firmly believe it can. You see today, I can be John Doe. I have made progress in my recovery. And the church has played major role in that. It's my personal experience that I can understand the pain and suffering of all those involved. I'm committed to helping other John Does and to helping the church to find solutions to this enormous problem.

I can only hope and pray that the church will find a way to admit its wrongs, to ask for forgiveness from every person from every walk of life, to help them to successfully continue their journey.

I would like to share a prayer with you that I have learned from a man by the name of Cecil (ph) in Canada.

God, treat me today the way I treated others yesterday.

Thank you very much.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Craig.

HARRIS: An incredibly emotional presentation that we listened to here by Craig Martin, a victim of abuse by a priest in his past.

Father Thomas Reese, for those of us who have never experienced any of that, of course, we will never, ever really know. But I think, just by watching Craig Martin here try to tell his story, I think we sort of get a sense of just how difficult his life must have been.

REV. THOMAS REESE, "AMERICA": I think -- and this was very important for the bishops to hear. The lawyers tried to keep the bishops away from meeting with victims. The insurance companies didn't want the bishops to meet with victims.

But the victims really needed to be heard, to have someone in the church, an authority, listen to what happened to them, to believe them, to apologize to them. This is extremely important. I mean, this man, I think his presentation has to move the bishops. It's obvious the pain he has experienced. When he -- I was touched especially when he spoke to his wife and thanked her for the support that she gave him all of these years in helping him.

I mean, you can just imagine how much -- how difficult it must have been for him to work through this terrible experience that has scarred him for life. He is never going to be completely healed, ever. And I think that is the tragedy here that the bishops need to be aware of, so that they take this problem very seriously and make sure that people like him are never injured again.

HARRIS: I noted the same thing, his comments to his wife.

But, Father Reese, what a was even more striking to me than that was the fact that he had to tell the story as if it was someone else.


HARRIS: He couldn't even say this is what happened to him. He talked about this as if it was it happened to someone John Doe.

REESE: I think it became very clear that, if he talked about this in the first person, if he started describing it as "I experienced this," I don't think he could have finished the talk. I think he would have broken down. I mean, this is still so raw. This is so painful for him to experience.

HARRIS: All right, he was the -- Craig Martin was the first of four expected speakers here. And I believe the second one is just about to begin.

PAULA GONZALES ROHRBACHER, ABUSE VICTIM: I would like to thank Bishop Gregory for inviting me to share my story here today.

When I was a little girl, my family, at the request of Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, befriended several Mexican seminarians who were students there. The seminary placed one of these young men with my family who was also Hispanic, no doubt to ease his transition to life in the United States.

My mother, who regarded him as a son and encouraged my siblings and me to treat him as a brother, generously welcomed him into our family. We housed him over school holidays and summer vacations. The young seminarian that my family sponsored was named Jose.

Our family situation was difficult when I was a child. My father died in 1960, leaving my mother a widow with 14- and 8-year-old sons and myself, age 5. During summer vacations, she had no choice but to leave us at home while she worked. The summer of 1967, Jose lived with us during his break from the seminary. He took advantage of my mother's trust in him and sexually molested me.

As difficult as it is for me to reveal these deeply personal aspects of my life to you, and probably uncomfortable for you to hear, I feel it is important for you to understand the harm he did to me.

Jose molested me by digital penetration of my vagina and fondling. I was terrified to do anything but keep quiet and not move while he violated me. He told me, "Don't tell mom." Because I was afraid of Jose and the effect that I believed disclosing the abuse would have had on my family, I did not reveal his actions to anyone and hid my horror and shame for many years. Because of his status as an adult, a man, and as a future priest, I believed at the time and continued to believe for many years that the abuse was somehow my fault.

Jose continued to be treated as a member of my family. My mother was a special guest at his ordination to the priesthood and was as proud of him as if he were her own son. In 1984, when I was 29 years old and pregnant with my first child, Father Jose came to visit my husband and me in Juneau along with my mother. This visit precipitated a nervous breakdown.

I disclosed the abuse to my husband after the visit and sought counseling at his urging and with his encouragement. I have been in counseling because of the effects of the sexual abuse off and on for almost 18 years. Treatment for depression, rage, anxiety and sexual dysfunction has involved medication, group therapy, and individual and couple counseling.

Although in recent years, the therapy and medication helped to make my situation more bearable, the recent revelations from Boston and elsewhere have reopened wounds that I had hoped were in the process of healing. While I hope this is not the case, I fear that my need for therapy and/or medication will be ongoing for the foreseeable future.

This crime has left deep scars on my soul. Father Jose violated my innocence, ruined my adolescence, and deeply wounded my self- confidence, self-esteem and sexual response. I have suffered from chronic depression and anxiety since the abuse, depression and anxiety so severe at times that I have contemplated suicide. It is only through the divine mercy of God and the support and love of my family and friends that I am alive today.

As you know, there are many victims who have ended their lives because of the pain of sexual abuse. The abuse I suffered has had a continuing impact on my marriage. Because of Father Jose's abuse, it is very difficult for me to trust or to be open and giving sexually to my husband, whom I love very much. This beautiful sacramental sign of total self-giving and union has, because of the abuse I suffered, been too often for us an experience of division and separation, to the point that several times in our marriage, we have seriously considered separation or divorce.

It has been with the help of God and the strength of our commitment to each other that our marriage is intact. Other victims in similar situations have not been so fortunate. Marriages can and often do founder under the weight of such trauma. I wrote to Father Jose in 1986 previous to a visit to Portland to visit my family to confront him about the abuse and to tell him that I did not want to see him or have him anywhere near my daughter.

He replied to my letter and admitted his guilt. These documents constitute substantiating evidence that he did indeed commit the crimes of sexual abuse of a minor. In 1986, Father Jose left active ministry, although he was not officially laicized, to marry a woman with whom he had a relationship and who had become pregnant.

In 1991, I revealed his sexual abuse of me to my mother and siblings, resulting in his estrangement from our family. His lies and betrayal have caused immeasurable pain to my mother and to all of us. At the invitation of Bishop Michael Warfel, I have shared my story with the priests, deacons, religious and lay ministers of the diocese of Juneau. I think Bishop Warfel for his compassionate response to my experience and for the support I have received as a victim.

I have recently contacted the Archdiocese of Portland and Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary to tell them about the abuse committed by Father Jose. I have been fortunate in that I have been listened to and believed. I am even more fortunate in having been treated so far with concern, compassion and understanding by church leaders.

Tragically, this has not been the case for many women and men who have been victimized by seminarians, priests and bishops. Through all of this, I have remind a faithful and active Catholic laywoman. I have always sought to distinguish between the actions of one unfaithful minister and the church. But it has not always been easy, especially in recent months. I have sought healing and peace in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Unfortunately, the abuse and its aftermath continues to make recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation very difficult for me.

I ask all of you, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals, to remember me and all victims of this crime against children and adolescents as you make your decisions at this meeting. Please heed the words of our holy father. There is no place in the priestly ministry for those who harm children. I urge you to adopt the policy of zero tolerance for all offenders, whether they have abused one child or adolescent or many, whether past, present or future.

This policy will send a message to all of us who are victims that we are your primary concern and that you desire our healing and our reconciliation with the Catholic Church. I pray that the holy spirit will be with you and all of us in the days ahead.

Thank you.


HARRIS: We've been listening to Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher, another victim of sexual abuse, telling her story to this assembly of bishops here.

And, Father Thomas Reese, it strikes me that her story just shows the range of the kinds of experiences that different people have had and the vulnerabilities out there. Here was a case where this seminarian was invited to live with them in their own home.

REESE: I mean, an incredible violation of trust. The person was invited into their home, made part of the family. The mother treated him like a son. And then he goes ahead and abuses her daughter. I mean, this is -- I mean, it's awful. I mean, this is just terrible.

HARRIS: Can you imagine how a young girl must feel to know that her abuser is being honored by her mother?

REESE: Yes, yes, and that her mother is so proud at the time when this man, this abuser is made a priest.

It just had to be an awful experience for her. And the way she talks about how this caused so much depression, tempted her to suicide, how this is an ongoing problem in her marriage, where they have considered separation and divorce. This continues. She continues to be victimized by this man.

HARRIS: And these are some of the things for which she expressed guilt, much the same thing we heard Craig Martin talking about, where it wasn't something he did. Something happened to him. And they feel guilty about it.

REESE: This is the awful thing: that the children are made to feel guilty about this. They think it's their fault. "How could this priest do something wrong?" It's their fault.

And then, when they are treated badly when they come forward and express it, thank God when she came forward, she found some people in the church that listened to her, believed her, and helped her. But so many victims didn't find that. The bishops have to be close to tears listening to this woman talk about her experience, and seeing the damage that was done, and realizing that they were responsible. Some of them were responsible because they moved people around and didn't make sure that children weren't abused.

This has got to put the fear of God into their hearts and to motivate them to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again. So, I'm pleased to see her up there. It takes great courage. And I really admire her for coming up and talking to the bishops this way.

HARRIS: For something they couldn't even -- she and the other victims will be speaking as well were not even able to talk to their families about, they are now sharing with the world.

REESE: Imagine when she told her mother about this and what her mother must have felt...

HARRIS: It's hard to imagine what that was like.

REESE: ... who had been so welcoming and treated this man like a son, and to find out what he had done. This is one of the reasons a lot of victims don't come forward, because they don't want -- they fear the reaction of their parents when they find out that this happened to them.

HARRIS: Well, we'll have to stand by and watch what the reaction of these bishops is going to be, because they are going to be going into their executive session in just a matter of another hour or two from now. And we have to wonder exactly how what we have been hearing is going to play out in the deliberations that they will be going through in coming with this policy that they will have to vote on tomorrow.

Father Thomas Reese, thank you very much for joining us. You're going to be with us. We appreciate you being with us throughout this morning, throughout this remarkable morning and what's been a somewhat difficult afternoon to this point, to listen to some of these stories. We sure do appreciate your insights. And we look forward to hearing some more from you.




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